Published originally in The Little Pilgrim, Philadelphia, 1843.
OUR old homestead (the house was very old for a new country, having been built about the time that the Prince of, Orange drove out James the Second) nestled under a long range of hills which stretched off to the west. It was surrounded by woods in all directions save to the southeast, where a break in the leafy wall revealed a vista of low green meadows, picturesque with wooded islands and jutting capes of upland. Through these, a small brook, noisy enough as it foamed, rippled, and laughed down its rocky falls by our gardenside, wound, silently and scarcely visible, to a still larger stream, known as the Country Brook. This brook in its turn, after doing duty at two or three saw and grist mills, the clack of which we could hear in still days across the intervening woodlands, found its way to the great river, and the river took it up and bore it down to the great sea.
I have not much reason for speaking well of these meadows, or rather bogs, for they were wet most of the year; but in the early days they were highly prized by the settlers, as they furnished natural mowing before the uplands could be cleared of wood and stones and laid down to grass. There is a tradition that the hay-harvesters of two adjoining towns quarrelled about a boundary question, and fought a hard battle one summer morning in that old time, not altogether bloodless, but by no means as fatal as the fight between the rival Highland clans, described by Scott in “The Fair Maid of Perth.” I used to wonder at their folly, when I was stumbling over the rough hassocks, and sinking knee-deep in the black mire, raking the sharp sickle-edged grass which we used to feed out to the young cattle in midwinter when the bitter cold gave them appetite for even such fodder. I had an almost Irish hatred of snakes, and these meadows were full of them,–striped, green, dingy water- snakes, and now and then an ugly spotted adder by no means pleasant to touch with bare feet. There were great black snakes, too, in the ledges of the neighboring knolls; and on one occasion in early spring I found myself in the midst of a score at least of them,–holding their wicked meeting of a Sabbath morning on the margin of a deep spring in the meadows. One glimpse at their fierce shining beads in the sunshine, as they roused themselves at my approach, was sufficient to send me at full speed towards the nearest upland. The snakes, equally scared, fled in the same direction; and, looking back, I saw the dark monsters following close at my heels, terrible as the Black Horse rebel regiment at Bull Run. I had, happily, sense enough left to step aside and let the ugly troop glide into the bushes.
Nevertheless, the meadows had their redeeming points. In spring mornings the blackbirds and bobolinks made them musical with songs; and in the evenings great bullfrogs croaked and clamored; and on summer nights we loved to watch the white wreaths of fog rising and drifting in the moonlight like troops of ghosts, with the fireflies throwing up ever and anon signals of their coming. But the Brook was far more attractive, for it had sheltered bathing-places, clear and white sanded, and weedy stretches, where the shy pickerel loved to linger, and deep pools, where the stupid sucker stirred the black mud with his fins. I had followed it all the way from its birthplace among the pleasant New Hampshire hills, through the sunshine of broad, open meadows, and under the shadow of thick woods. It was, for the most part, a sober, quiet little river; but at intervals it broke into a low, rippling laugh over rocks and trunks of fallen trees. There had, so tradition said, once been a witch-meeting on its banks, of six little old women in short, sky-blue cloaks; and if a drunken teamster could be credited, a ghost was once seen bobbing for eels under Country Bridge. It ground our corn and rye for us, at its two grist-mills; and we drove our sheep to it for their spring washing, an anniversary which was looked forward to with intense delight, for it was always rare fun for the youngsters. Macaulay has sung,–