Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

land, and the cloudless sky was blue as a plowshare, they clattered away to the nearest pond, where the jay and the snowbird dashed amid the glorified willow trees, and the ice outspread like a burnished share. On such mornings the air was so crisp 5 and still it seemed the whole earth waited for the sun.

At night during the full moon nearly all the boys and girls of the neighborhood met, to rove up and down the long swales and to play "gool” or “pom, pom, pull away" upon the frozen ponds. These games could be played with skates quite as well any other

way. There was a singular charm in these excursions across the plain at night, or winding up the swales filled with imprisoned and icebound water. Lincoln and Rance often skated off alone and in silence, far away from the others, and

the majesty of the night fell upon them with a light which 15 silenced and made them afraid.

10

as in

THE WONDERS OF SPRING

There was a singular charm about this time of the year. Travel was quite impossible, for the frost had left the roads bottomless; and so upon the chip pile the boys sat to watch the

snow disappear from the fields and draw sullenly away from the 20 russet grass to take a final stand at the fence corners and in the

hedges. They watched the ducks as they came straggling back in long flocks, lighting in the cornfields to find food. They came in enormous numbers, sometimes so great the sky seemed dark

ened with them, and when they alighted on the fields, they 25 covered the ground like some strange, down-dropping storm from

the sky, and when alarmed they rose with a sound like the rumbling of thunder. At times the lines were so long that those in the front rank were lost in the northern sky, while those in

the rear were dim clouds beneath the southern sun. Many brant 30 and geese also passed, and it was always a pleasure to Lincoln

to see these noble birds pushing their way boldly into the north. He could imitate their cries, and often caused them to turn and waver in their flight, by uttering their resounding cries.

10

One day in late March at the close of a warm sunny day (just as the red disk of the sun was going down in a cloudless sky in the west), down from a low hilltop, and thrilling through

the misty, wavering atmosphere, came a singular, soft, joyous, 5 "boom, boom, boom, cutta, cutta, war-whoop!"

"Hooray!" shouted Lincoln. "Spring is here.”
“What was that?" asked the hired man.

"That? Why that's the prairie chicken. It means it is spring!”

There is no sweeter sound in the ears of a prairie-born man than the splendid morning chorus of these noble birds, for it is an infallible sign that winter has broken at last. The drum of the prairie cock carries with it a thousand associations of warm

sun and springing grass, which thrill the heart with massive joy 15 of living. It is almost worth while to live through a long un

broken Western winter just for the exquisite delight which comes with the first exultant phrase of the vernal symphony.

Day by day this note is taken by others, until the whole horizon rings with the jocund call of hundreds of cocks and the 20 whooping cries of thousands of hens, as they flock and dance

about on the bare earth of the ridges. Here they battle for their mates, and strut about till the ground is beaten hard and smooth with their little feet.

About this time the banking was taken away from the house, 25 and the windows, which had been sealed up for five months, were

opened. It was a beautiful moment to Lincoln, when they sat at dinner in the kitchen, with the windows and doors wide open to the warm wind, and the sunshine floating in upon the floor.

The hens caw-cawing, in a mounting ecstasy of greeting to the 30 spring, voiced something he had never felt before.

As the wood pile took shape, Mr. Stewart called upon Lincoln and the hired man to help fan up the seed wheat. This the boys hated because it was a dusty and monotonous job. It was of no

use to cry out; the work had to be done, and so, on a bright 35 afternoon, while Jack turned the crank of the mill, Lincoln dipped wheat from the bin into the hopper or held the sacks for his father to fill. It seemed particularly hard to be confined there in the dust and noise, while out in the splendid sunlight

the ducks were flying, the prairie chickens calling, and the ice 5 was cracking and booming under the ring of the skaters' steel.

THE EASTER OUTING

Another diversion of the boys at this season of the year was the hiding of Easter eggs. The hiding of eggs for Easter was a curious custom, quite common among the children of the set

tlers from New York and the Middle States. The avowed pur10 pose was to lay up a supply of eggs for Easter Sunday. But

as they were always extremely plentiful at this season of the year, and almost worthless, the motive must be sought deeper down. Perhaps it was a survival of some old-world supersti

tions. Anyhow, Lincoln and his brother Owen began to hide 15 eggs in all sorts of out-of-the-way places for fully three weeks before Easter Sunday.

It was understood by Mr. Stewart that if he could discover their hiding places the eggs might be confiscated, and he made

elaborate pretense of searching for them. One of the shrewd 20 ways in which the boys made concealment was by lifting a flake

of hay from the stack and making a hole beneath it. Upon letting the flake of weatherbeaten thatch fall back into place, all signs of the nest disappeared. As the hens were laying a great

many eggs each day, it was very difficult for Mrs. Stewart to tell 25 how many the boys were hiding—she did not greatly care.

In his meetings with Milton and Rance, Lincoln compared notes, as to numbers, and together the four boys planned their Easter outing. Day after day Mr. Stewart, to the great dread of the boys, went poking about, close to the very spot where the eggs were hidden, and twice he found a small “nest.” But this only added to the value of those remaining and stimulated the boys to yet other and more skillful devices in concealment.

They were able, in spite of his search, to save up several

30

[ocr errors]

dozens of eggs, which they triumphantly brought to light on Easter morning, with gusty shouts of laughter over the pretended dismay of their parents.

With these eggs packed in a pail and with a few biscuits and 5 some salt and pepper, Lincoln and Owen started out to meet

their companions, Rance and Milton; together they all set forth toward the distant belt of forest in which Burr Oak Creek ran.

There, in the warm spring sun, on the grassy bank beside the stream they built their fire and cooked their eggs for their mid10 day meal. Some they boiled, others they roasted in the ashes.

Rance caught a chub or two from the brook, which added a wild savor to the meal, but eggs were considered a necessary order of the day; all else was by the way.

Something primeval and splendid clustered about this unusual 15 camp fire. Around them were bare trees, with buds just begin

ning to swell. The grass was green only in the sunny nooks, but the sky was filled with soft white clouds. For guests they had the squirrels and the blue jays. It was a celebration of

their escape from the bonds of winter and a greeting to spring. 20 There was no conscious feeling in this feast, as far as the boys

were concerned. But the deep-down explanation was this: they had gone back to the worship of the Anglo-Saxon divinity of spring; they had returned to the primitive, to the freedom of

the savage, not knowing that the egg was the symbol of regen25 erate Nature.

As a matter of fact, the flavor of these eggs was not good; the burned shell had a disagreeable odor, and the boys would have been very sorry if Mrs. Stewart had served up for them any

thing so disagreeable of flavor. But the curl of smoke from the 30 grass with which they started the fire, the scream of the jay,

the hawk sweeping by overhead, the touch of ashes on their tongues, the smell of the growing grass, and the sky above made it all wonderful and wild and very sweet. When at night they

returned, tired and sleepy, to the warmly-lighted kitchen and to 35 mother, they considered the day well spent, uniting as it did the

pleasures of both civilization and barbarism.

NOTES AND QUESTIONS

very much?

Biography. Hamlin Garland (1860- ) was born in Wisconsin. His father was a farmer pioneer, who, lured by the hope of cheaper acres, better soil and bigger crops, moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota, from Minnesota to Iowa, and from Iowa to Dakota. When Hamlin Garland turned his attention to literature, he was keen enough to see the literary value of his early experiences. He resolved to interpret truthfully the life of the western farmer and its great hardships and limitations, no less than its hopes, joys, and achievements. This selection is taken from Boy Life on the Prairie.

Discussion. 1. How did the settlers on Sun Prairie feel at the coming of spring? Why? 2. What was the first outdoor work of the spring ? Can you give any reason why this would be the first work done? 3. Would you like to do the boys' part of this work? Give reasons for your answer. 4. Would the maple logs interest you as much as they interested Lincoln ? Explain why. 5. What does the fact that Lincoln watched the migrating birds tell you about his interest in Nature? 6. What work was the boy called upon to do at this time that he disliked

Find the sentence that tells why he did not complain about it. 7. What experiences did Lincoln have that you would enjoy? What experiences that you would not enjoy? 8. What qualities made Lincoln a worthy home-member and a good American citizen?

9. Is such a life as his necessary to produce these qualities? 10. What would be the result if all boys and girls would persevere in unpleasant duties as Lincoln did? 11. How would our country be helped if all its citizens worked in this way? 12. On page 84, lines 14 to 25, the author compares the boys' picnic to the ancient celebration of spring by primitive peoples. What did you learn on pages 23 and 24 about the influence of Nature upon early peoples? 13. In the Introduction on page 24 you were told that an important part of our business in life is “to establish relations with the world in which we live.” Can you show that the boys of this story had established such relations, and that this added great enjoyment to their lives? 14. What were you told in “Literature and Life,” pages 17 and 18, about literature as a source of learning the “facts of life"? How does this selection give you a clearer idea of the “facts of life” on a mid-western farm than you could gain from your history or geography or from an encyclopedia ? 15. Find in the Glossary the meaning of: inundated; conical; transitory; swales; infallible; ecstasy; confiscated. 16. Pronounce: exquisite; horizon; jocund; savor; primeval.

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »