“Yes, I am proud of our people,” he said. “It is greatly to their credit.” One could not help silently wondering that the spiritual needs of this handful of lonely houses should demand so ambitious a structure. But the symbols of the soul can never be too impressive. Then we said good-bye to our friends, and struck out into the morning sunshine, leaving the village of song behind.
Yes! in Sheldon Center they sing from morning till night—at grave-making!
It was a spacious morning of windswept sunshine, with a wintry bite in the keen air. Meadow-larks and song-sparrows kept up a faint warbling about us, but the crickets, which yesterday had here and there made a thin music, as of straggling bands of survivors of the Summer, were numbed into silence again. Once or twice we caught sight of the dainty snipe in the meadows, and high over the woods a bird-hawk floated, as by some invisible anchorage, in the sky. It was an austere landscape, grave with elm and ash and pine. For a space, a field of buckwheat standing in ricks struck a smudged negroid note, but there was warmth in the apple orchards which clustered about the scattered houses, with piles of golden pumpkins and red apples under the trees. And is there any form of piled-up wealth, bins of specie at the bank, or mountains of precious stones, rubies and sapphires and carbuncles, as we picture them in the subterranean treasuries of kings, that thrills the imagination with so dream-like a sense of uncounted riches, untold gold, as such natural bullion of the earth; pyramids of apples lighting up dark orchards, great plums lying in heaps of careless purple, corridors hung with fabulous bunches of grapes, or billowy mounds of yellow grain—the treasuries of Pomona and Vertumnus? Such treasuries, in the markets of this world, are worth only a modest so-much-a-bushel, yet I think I should actually feel myself richer with a barrel of apples than with a barrel of money.
From a corn-growing country, we were evidently passing into a country whose beautiful business was apples. Orchards began more or less to line the road, and wagons with those same apple-barrels became a feature of the highway.
Another of its features was the number of old ruined farmhouses we came on, standing side by side with the new, more ambitious homesteads. We seldom came on a prosperous-looking house but a few yards away was to be seen its aged and abandoned parent, smothered up with bushes, roof fallen in, timbers ready to collapse, the deserted hearth choked with debris and overgrown with weeds—the very picture of a haunted house. Here had been the original home, always small, seldom more than four rooms, and when things had begun to prosper, a more spacious, and often, to our eyes, a less attractive, structure had been built, and the old home left to the bats and owls, with a complete abandonment that seemed to us—sentimental travellers as we were—as cynical as it was curiously wasteful.