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On Going Afoot
by [?]

There is a tale that somewhere in the world there is a merry river that dances as often as it hears sweet music. The tale is not precise whether this river is neighbor to us or is a stream of the older world. “It dances at the noise of musick,” so runs the legend, “for with musick it bubbles, dances and grows sandy.” This tale may be the conceit of one of those older poets whose verses celebrate the morning and the freshness of the earth–Thomas Heywood could have written it or even the least of those poets who sat their evenings at the Mermaid–or the tale may arise more remotely from an old worship of the god Pan, who is said to have piped along the streams. I offer my credence to the earlier origin as the more pleasing. And therefore on a country walk I observe the streams if by chance any of them shall fit the tale. Not yet have I seen Pan puffing his cheeks with melody on a streamside bank–by ill luck I squint short-sightedly–but I often hear melodies of such woodsy composition that surely they must issue from his pipe. The stream leaps gaily across the shallows that glitter with sunlight, and I am tempted to the agreeable suspicion that I have hit upon the very stream of the legend and that the god Pan sits hard by in the thicket and beats his shaggy hoof in rhythm. It is his song that the wind sings in the trees. If a bird sings in the meadow its tune is pitched to Pan’s reedy obligato.

Whether or not this is true, I confess to a love of a stream. This may be merely an anaemic love of beauty, such as is commonly bred in townsfolk on a holiday, or it may descend from braver ancestors who once were anglers and played truant with hook and line. You may recall that the milk-women of Kent told Piscator when he came at the end of his day’s fishing to beg a cup of red cow’s milk, that anglers were “honest, civil, quiet men.” I have, also, a habit of contemplation, which I am told is proper to an angler. I can lean longer than most across the railing of a country bridge if the water runs noisily on the stones. If I chance to come off a dusty road–unless hunger stirs me to an inn–I can listen for an hour, for of all sounds it is the most musical. When earth and air and water play in concert, which are the master musicians this side of the moon, surely their harmony rises above the music of the stars.

In a more familiar mood I throw stepping stones in the water to hear them splash, or I cram them in a dam to thwart the purpose of the stream, laying ever a higher stone when the water laps the top. I scoop out the sand and stones as if a mighty shipping begged for passage. Or I rest from this prodigious engineering upon my back and watch the white traffic of the clouds across the summer sky. The roots of an antique oak peep upon the flood as in the golden days of Arden. Apple blossoms fall upon the water like the snow of a more kindly winter. A gay leaf puts out upon the channel like a painted galleon for far adventure. A twig sails off freighted with my drowsy thoughts. A branch of a willow dips in the stream and writes an endless trail of words in the running water. In these evil days when the whole fair world is trenched and bruised with war, what wisdom does it send to the valleys where men reside–what love and peace and gentleness–what promise of better days to come–that it makes this eternal stream its messenger!