DEAD LOW WATER

They ascended the rising ground, passing along the edge of the orchard,
till, upon gaining the height of land, they entered upon a broad, level
field of twenty-five acres, smooth as a lawn, green in all the verdure
of spring, and giving promise of an abundant yield of grass. A variety
of forest trees were scattered over it, among which the walnut and white
oak predominated. Here and there a clover head was seen, and bobolinks,
balancing on spears of herd’s grass, were exhibiting themselves to the
best advantage, while now and then a forward apple tree on the warmer
ground was covered with white and red blossoms.

“Your father never planted these trees,” said Morton, gazing at the
massive trunks, covered with moss and rough scaly bark; “who did?”

“I’m sure I don’t know whether it was the wind, the crows, bears, or
squirrels, but they were here when the white men came.”

In the centre of the field stood the mansion house. It was painted
white, with green blinds, and, seen through the mass of foliage by which
the house was surrounded, the color produced a very pleasing effect,
being scarcely more prominent than the streak of white peeping through
the green folds of an opening rose-bud.

Several very large white birches were scattered in front of the
buildings among other trees, that beautiful green peculiar to the leaves
of this tree in the spring contrasting pleasantly with the white bark of
the trunk and branches. The house, fronting the river, stood endwise to
the main road, from which a broad avenue led to it, approaching by a
gradual curve the front, a less spacious one conducting to the back
portion and the out-buildings. Both of these avenues were lined with the
Lombardy poplar, then highly prized throughout New England as an
ornamental tree. They still linger, a few in nearly every town, often
rising with decaying branches over some grass-grown cellar–sole memento
of a departed generation.

The mansion, standing in the midst of this vast green, large on the
ground, and high studded, without a fence to belittle the effect and
obstruct the view, with abundant out-buildings, well arranged and in
perfect repair, as seen through the mass of foliage, produced an
impression better felt than described.

Morton, enraptured with the sight, stood long before the main entrance
silent, his arm in that of his friend. At length his eyes moistened as
he said,–

“Rich, I never saw anything like this spot; so grand and beautiful!
Everything is fresh, in perfect repair, and yet these oaks and birches
seem two hundred years old. I never saw such trees, except in the
forest. I shouldn’t be in the least surprised to see a black bear
acorning in one of them.”

“I’ve no doubt they have done it. I’ve heard my grandfather say that the
whole of this land between us and the river was a heavy growth of such
trees as you see here, except the low ground, where it was yellow birch,
white maple, and elm; that a man by the name of Dingley, who was well
off, came here from Salem, built this house, cleared the land, all but
about two acres in front of the house; but his wife died, and his two
boys didn’t want to stay here–wanted to go to sea. He went back to
Salem just before the embargo, and let the place to the halves. Then a
friend of his–another Salem captain, who had made money going to the
coast of Africa, when the embargo put a stop to his business–bought it.
He also spent money at a great rate; made the house almost over, built
stables, took away the fences, and as he was determined to have just
what trees he wanted, and didn’t mind expense, selected those he wished
to remain, cut down the rest, and all the underbrush, and hauled the
trunks and brush off, because he knew, if he put fire into it, he should
kill the whole. That’s the way, grandfather said, these old trees came
to be left here.

“While Captain Norris was building, planting, clearing, and turning
everything upside down, and making improvements, after some models he
had seen abroad, and while the embargo and the war of 1812 lasted, he
was contented; but when he had made about all the improvements his purse
would allow, and maritime business began to revive after the war, he was
as uneasy as a fish out of water, and sold the place to my father, with
all his improvements, for half what it had cost him, and went back to
Salem, and to sea again.”

“It must have been a sad day to you, when you came to take leave of this
home, and–”

“And go to the place where you found us, you mean. Well, it was a bitter
day to all of us, but there were some reasons that made it especially so
to me. Father and mother had known sorrow, and so had my sisters. I had
a little brother and sister, neither of whom I ever saw. They died
within a year of each other, and my sisters were old enough to realize
it. But never since I can remember has there been a cloud in our sky
till now. Father was prosperous, I was petted and indulged, had all I
wanted, loved my books and my parents (never knew how much I did love
them till now), and never had a sorrow, except when some pet animal
died; but those tears were soon dried, and when I awoke the next morning
the sorrow was all forgotten in some new pleasure, or some new pet. It
seems to me now that I was just like one of the humming-birds that
always come to the honeysuckle that hangs over that western window.–By
the way, that was my room, Mort.”

“I see it all, Rich; and now, let me tell you, I wasn’t in a very
cheerful frame when, on my way to college, I met you at Portland. I had
left home, and was looking forward to a four years’ course at college,
with hardly any funds, and the prospect for the future was gloomy
enough, when you came across my path, just like a gleam of sunshine, and
appeared so buoyant, happy, and trustful, that I said to myself,
‘There’s a boy that’s grown up in some happy home, without a care or
sorrow.'”

“Just so, Mort. But there was another thing which gave to this place a
charm for me that it did not possess for the rest of our family.”

“What was that?”

“I’ll tell you. The girls were born in Portsmouth, and their earliest
associations were there. My father and mother also have had homes at
other spots; but if I was not born here, I grew up among these great
trees, and, I can tell you, the very roots of them were in my heart, and
it was hard parting. One of the very first things I can remember is,
crawling out of the front door, when mother’s attention was turned, and
making for dear life towards that birch with the hang-bird’s nest on it.
Sometimes in my haste, I’d tumble down the steps–roll from the top to
the bottom. If it half killed me, I wouldn’t cry, for fear mother would
come and get me before I reached the tree; and when she did, O, didn’t I
yell some? Here I made my little gardens, dug wells, and put water in
’em; here I had my pets, hens and ducks, pigeons, and kittens, and
birds; and when any of them died, I buried them under that walnut with
the drooping branches, because I thought it felt sorry for me. I didn’t
have many playmates, for I was a shy boy, and so I loved the trees,
birds, and flowers all the more, and played with them, and my sisters,
and Uncle Robert. You see that large maple that stands next to the
hemlock–the biggest tree in the field?”

“Yes, it is almost as large as the great pine in the glen at Brunswick.”

“Don’t you think, when I was a little thing, wore long clothes, red
stockings, and red morocco shoes, my father tapped that tree, and used
to give us the sap to drink. One washing day, when they were all busy, I
got away, ran for the maple, and got down on my hands and knees to drink
out of the trough. I was having the nicest time, putting down the sap,
when a bee came whiz in my face, struck me on my upper lip, and ran his
stinger in the whole length. I suppose he thought I was going to drink
up all the sap, and he shouldn’t get any. The girl was hanging out
clothes, heard an outcry, and saw me flat on my back, kicking and
screaming. She ran, and mother ran, and my sisters, and such a time as
there was when mother pulled the stinger out. I tell you, Mort, no other
place ever seems like the one where you played when you were little.”

“That’s so, Rich. The corn in the dish on the table don’t taste half so
good as that you roast out doors, and down with it, all over smut and
ashes, and half raw; and the apples they carry round in the evening at
home don’t begin with the ones you’ve hid in the haymow, and eat when
they are so full of frost it makes your teeth ache.”




“We might have staid in the house through the summer. It is empty, and
like to be; but father and mother said they had rather go at once than
be dreading it. The neighbors were very kind, and helped us move (what
little we had to move), as everything of any value went to the
creditors, with the exception of my books and stock of tools; that
father didn’t give up, because he said they were my tools, with which to
earn my bread. They had been given to me by him when he was solvent, and
the creditors could not touch them.

“During the labor and excitement of moving, and before the neighbors,
we strove to appear as cheerful as possible; but when all was over, and
we came out on to this platform where we are sitting, each bearing
something that had been forgotten,–I my violin and a pair of andirons,
mother her press-board and a coffee-pot, the girls knives, forks, and
spoons, father shovel and tongs,–I tell you, the sound of the bolt
going into its place when he locked the door gave me a heartache.

“After we got off the steps, and turned round to take a last look at the
old home, that never seemed half so lovely before, we couldn’t any of us
keep the tears back. I don’t know but you will think it weak, but it
made me feel real bad to see my dog, Fowler, wagging his tail, and
frisking as though it was a holiday, and I almost wished I was a dog.”

“Weak, Rich? A boy that could leave a home like that, where all his
associations were formed, as he would leave an inn, or get out of a
stage-coach, and never look back, could not be a friend of mine.”

“The old cat would not go. She came and rubbed up against my legs, then
went back, sat on the steps, looked after us, and mewed when we called
her, but would not come.

“‘Give me your things, my son,’ said father, ‘and go and get her.’

“I took her up, and carried her with us, but she went back the next
day.”

“I see a black and white cat now,” said Morton, “sitting on the spur
root of yonder big white oak.”

Rich called, “Puss, Puss.” The cat came running, jumped into his lap,
and put her fore paws on the collar of his vest, opening and shutting
her claws, lifting her feet up, and putting them down in the same place,
as cats do when they feel happy, rubbing the side of her face against
his chin, and shoving her nose between his vest and shirt bosom, and
purring all the time.

“She loves me,” said Rich, “but she can’t bear to leave the old
place.–We must go, Mort. Our folks won’t know what has become of us. I
do wish you could have come up here to thanksgiving, as you were going
to do when we were in college, and the place was ours. To see it now is
very much like looking at persons after they are dead–the house all
shut up, and nothing alive but a homesick, heart-broken cat.”