The bright days of summer were a short-lived joy at Poganuc. One hardly had time to say "How beautiful!" before it was past. By September came the frosty nights that turned the hills into rainbow colors and ushered in autumn with her gorgeous robes of golden-rod and purple asters. There was still the best of sport for the children, however; for the frost ripened the shag-bark walnuts and opened the chestnut burrs, and the glossy brown chestnuts dropped down among the rustling yellow leaves and the beds of fringed blue gentians.

One peculiarity of the Puritan New England régime is worthy of special notice, and that is the generosity and liberality of its dealing in respect to the spontaneous growths of the soil. The chestnuts, the hickory-nuts, the butternuts—no matter upon whose land they grew—were free to whoever would gather them. The girls and boys roamed at pleasure through the woods and picked, unmolested, wherever they could find the most abundant harvest. In like manner the wild fruits—grapes, strawberries, huckleberries, and cranberries—were for many years free to the earliest comer. This is the more to be remarked in a community where life was peculiarly characterized by minute economy, where everything had its carefully ascertained money-value. Every board, nail, brad, every drop of paint, every shingle, in house or barn, was counted and estimated. In making bargains and conducting domestic economies, there was the minutest consideration of the money-value of time, labor and provision. And yet their rigidly parsimonious habit of life presented this one remarkable exception, of certain quite valuable spontaneous growths left unguarded and unappropriated.

Our Fathers came to New England from a country where the poor man was everywhere shut out from the bounties of nature by game-laws and severe restrictions. Though his children might be dying of hunger he could not catch a fish, or shoot a bird, or snare the wild game of the forest, without liability to arrest as a criminal; he could not gather the wild fruits of the earth without danger of being held a trespasser, and risking fine and imprisonment. When the Fathers took possession of the New England forest it was in the merciful spirit of the Mosaic law, which commanded that something should always be left to be gathered by the poor. From the beginning of the New England life till now there have been poor people, widows and fatherless children, who have eked out their scanty living by the sale of the fruits and nuts which the custom of the country allowed them freely to gather on other people's land.

Within the past fifty years, while this country has been filling up with foreigners of a different day and training, these old customs have been passing away. Various fruits and nuts, once held free, are now appropriated by the holders of the soil and made subject to restriction and cultivation.

In the day we speak of, however, all the forest hills around Poganuc were a free nut-orchard, and one of the chief festive occasions of the year, in the family at the Parsonage, was the autumn gathering of nuts, when Dr. Cushing took the matter in hand and gave his mind to it.

On the present occasion, having just finished four sermons which completely cleared up and reconciled all the difficulties between the doctrines of free agency and the divine decrees, the Doctor was naturally in good spirits. He declared to his wife, "There! my dear, that subject is disposed of. I never before succeeded in really clearing it up; but now the matter is done for all time." Having thus wound up the sun and moon, and arranged the courses of the stars in celestial regions, the Doctor was as alert and light-hearted as any boy, in his preparations for the day's enterprise.

"Boys," he said, "we'll drive over to Poganuc Ledge; up there are those big chestnuts that grow right out of the rock; there's no likelihood of anybody's getting them—but I noticed the other day they were hanging full."

"Oh, father, those trees are awful to climb."

"Of course they are. I won't let you boys try to climb them—mind that; but I'll go up myself and shake them, and you pick up underneath."

No Highland follower ever gloried more in the physical prowess of his chief than the boys in that of their father. Was there a tree he could not climb—a chestnut, or walnut, or butternut, however exalted in fastnesses of the rock, that he could not shake down? They were certain there was not. The boys rushed hither and thither, with Spring barking at their heels, leaving open doors and shouting orders to each other concerning the various pails and baskets necessary to contain their future harvest. Mrs. Cushing became alarmed for the stability of her household arrangements.

"Now, father, please don't take all my baskets this time," pleaded she, "just let me arrange——"

"Well, my dear, have it all your own way; only be sure to provide things enough."

"Well, surely, they can all pick in pails or cups, and then they can be emptied into a bag," said Mrs. Cushing. "You won't get more than a bushel, certainly."

"Oh yes, we shall—three or four bushels," said Will, triumphantly.

"There's no end of what we shall get when father goes," said Bob. "Why, you've no idea how he rattles 'em down."

Meanwhile Mrs. Cushing and Nabby were packing a hamper with bread-and-butter, and tea-rusks, and unlimited ginger-bread, and doughnuts crisp and brown, and savory ham, and a bottle of cream, and coffee all ready for boiling in the pot, and tea-cups and spoons—everything, in short, ready for a gipsy encampment, while the parson's horse stood meekly absorbing an extra ration of oats in that contemplative attitude which becomes habitual to good family horses, especially of the ministerial profession. Mrs. Cushing and the Doctor, with Nabby and Dolly, and the hamper and baskets, formed the load of the light wagon, while Will and Bob were both mounted upon "the colt"—a scrawny, ewe-necked beast, who had long outgrown this youthful designation. The boys, however, had means best known to themselves of rousing his energies and keeping him ahead of the wagon in a convulsive canter, greatly to the amusement of Nabby and Dolly.

Our readers would be happy could they follow the party along the hard, stony roads, up the winding mountain-paths, where the trees, flushing in purple, crimson and gold, seemed to shed light on their paths; where beds of fringed gentian seemed, as the sunlight struck them, to glow like so many sapphires, and every leaf of every plant seemed to be passing from the green of summer into some quaint new tint of autumnal splendor. Here and there groups of pines or tall hemlocks, with their heavy background of solemn green, threw out the flamboyant tracery of the forest in startling distinctness. Here and there, as they passed a bit of low land, the swamp maples seemed really to burn like crimson flames, and the clumps of black alder, with their vivid scarlet berries, exalted the effect of color to the very highest and most daring result. No artist ever has ventured to put on canvas the exact copy of the picture that nature paints for us every year in the autumn months. There are things the Almighty Artist can do that no earthly imitator can more than hopelessly admire.

As to Dolly, she was like a bird held in a leash, full of exclamations and longings, now to pick "those leaves," and then to gather "those gentians," or to get "those lovely red berries;" but was forced to resign herself to be carried by.

"They would all fade before the day is through," said her mother; "wait till we come home at night, and then, if you're not too tired, you may gather them." Dolly sighed and resigned herself to wait.

We shall not tell the joys of the day: how the Doctor climbed the trees victoriously, how the brown, glossy chestnuts flew down in showers as he shook the limbs, and how fast they were gathered by busy fingers below. Not merely chestnuts, but walnuts, and a splendid butternut tree, that grew in the high cleft of a rocky ledge, all were made to yield up their treasures till the bags were swelled to a most auspicious size.

Then came the nooning, when the boys delighted in making a roaring hot fire, and the coffee was put on to boil, and Nabby spread the table-cloth and unpacked the hamper on a broad, flat rock around which a white foam of moss formed a soft, elastic seat.


"How the Doctor climbed the trees victoriously, how the brown, glossy chestnuts flew down in showers.... And Nabby unpacked the hamper on a broad, flat rock."—p. 226.

The Doctor was most entertaining, and related stories of the fishing and hunting excursions of his youth, of the trout he had caught and the ducks he had shot. The boys listened with ears of emulation, and Dolly sighed to think she never was to be a man and do all these fine things that her brothers were going to do.

But in the midst of all came Abel Moss, a hard-visaged farmer from one of the upland farms, who, seeing the minister's wagon go by, had come to express his mind to him concerning a portion of his last Sunday's sermon; and the Doctor, who but a moment before had thought only of trout and wild ducks, sat down by the side of Abel on a fragment of rock and began explaining to him the difference between the laws of matter and the laws of mind in moral government, and the difference between divine sovereignty as applied to matter and to mind.

The children wandered off during the discussion, which lasted some time; but when the western sunbeams, sloping through the tree-trunks, warned them that it was time to return, the Doctor's wagon might have been seen coming down the rough slope of the mountain.

"There, my dear, I've set Moss right," he said. "There was a block in his wheels that I've taken out. I think he'll go all straight now. Moss has a good head; when he once sees a thing, he does see it,—and I think I've clinched the nail with him to-day."

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