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Between The Lupin And The Laurel
by [?]

Living in a university town, and participating with fidelity in its principal industry, I find that my own particular nightmare of monotony takes the form of examination papers–quires of them, reams of them, stacks of them–a horrid incubus, always oppressive, but then most unendurable when the book-room begins to smell musty in the morning, and the fire is unlit upon the hearth, and last night’s student-lamp is stuccoed all over with tiny gnats, and the breath of the blossoming grape is wafted in at the open window, and the robins, those melodious rowdies, are whistling and piping over the lawn and through the trees in voluble mockery of the professor’s task. “Come out,” they say, “come out! Why do you look in a book? Double, double, toil and trouble! Give it up–tup, tup, tup! Come away and play for a day. What do you know? Let it go. You’re as dry as a chip, chip, chip! Come out, won’t you? will you?”

Truly, these examination questions that I framed with such pains look very dull and tedious now–a desiccation of the beautiful work of the great poets. And these answers that the boys have wrought out with such pains, on innumerable pads of sleazy white paper, how little they tell me of what the fellows really know and feel! Examination papers are “requisite and necessary,” of course; I can’t deny it–requisite formalities and necessary absurdities. But to turn the last page of the last pad, and mark it with a red pencil and add it to the pile of miseries past, and slip away from books to nature, from learning to life, between the lupin and the laurel–that is a pleasure doubled by release from pain.

I think a prize should be offered for the discovery of good places to take a free and natural outing within easy reach of the great city and the routine of civilized work–just-over-the-fence retreats, to which you can run off without much preparation, and from which you can come back again before your little world discovers your absence. That was the charm of Hopkinson Smith’s sketch, “A Day at Laguerre’s”; and an English writer who calls himself “A Son of the Marshes” has written a delightful book of interviews with birds and other wild things, which bears the attractive title, “Within an Hour of London Town.” But I would make it a condition of the prize that the name of the hiding-place should not be published, lest the careless, fad-following crowd should flock thither and spoil it. Let the precious news be communicated only by word of mouth, or by letter, as a confidence and gift of friendship, so that none but the like-minded may strike the trail to the next-door remnant of Eden.

It was thus that my four friends–Friends in creed as well as in deed–told to me, one of “the world’s people,” toiling over my benumbing examination papers, their secret find of a little river in South Jersey, less than an hour from Philadelphia, where one could float in a canoe through mile after mile of unbroken woodland, and camp at night in a bit of wilderness as wildly fair as when the wigwams of the Lenni-Lenape were hidden among its pine groves. The Friends said that they “had a concern” to guide me to their delectable retreat, and that they hoped the “way would open” for me to come. Canoes and tents and camp-kit? “That will all be provided; it is well not to be anxious concerning these sublunary things.” Mosquitoes? “Concerning this, also, thee must learn to put thy trust in Providence; yet there is a happy interval, as it were, between the fading of the hepatica and the blooming of the mosquito, when the woods of South Jersey are habitable for man, and it would be most prudent to choose this season for the exercise of providential trust regarding mosquitoes.” Examination papers? Duty? “Surely thee must do what thee thinks will do most good, and follow the inward voice. And if it calls thee to stay with the examination papers, or if it calls thee to go with us, whichever way, thee will be resigned to obey.” Fortunately, there was no doubt about the inward voice; it was echoing the robins; it was calling me to go out like Elijah and dwell under a juniper-tree. I replied to the Friends in the words of one of their own preachers: “I am resigned to go, or resigned to stay, but most resigned to go”; and we went.