On another occasion, we had been seated awhile under a walnut tree growing near a farm, and scattering its fruitage half across the highroad. Colin had been anointing his suffering foot, and, as I told him, looked strongly reminiscent of a certain famous corn-cure advertisement. Meanwhile, I had been once more quoting Virgil: “The walnut in the woodland attires herself in wealth of blossom and bends with scented boughs,” when there approached with slow step an old, white-haired lady, at once gentle and severe in appearance, accompanied by a younger lady. When they had arrived in front of us, the old lady in measured tones of sorrow rather than anger, said: “We rather needed those walnuts—” Dear soul! she evidently thought that we had been filling our knapsacks with her nuts, and it took some little astonished expostulation on our part to convince her that we hadn’t. This affront seemed to sink no little into Colin’s sensitive Latin soul—and they were public enough walnuts, anyway, scattered, as they were, across the public road! But Colin couldn’t get over it for some time, and I suspected that he was the more sensitive from his recently—owing, doubtless, to his distinguished Gallic appearance—having been profanely greeted by some irreverent boys with the word “Spaghetti!” However, there was balm for our wounded feelings a little farther along the road, when a companionable old farmer greeted us with:
“Well, boys! out for a walk? It’s easy seeing you’re no tramps.”
Colin’s expression was a study in gratitude. The farmer was a fine, soldierly old fellow, who told me that he was half English, too, on his father’s side.
“But my mother,” he added, “was a good blue-bellied Yankee.”
We lured him on to using that delightfully quaint expression again before we left him; and we also learned from him valuable information as to the possibilities of lunch farther along the road, for we were in a lonely district with no inns, and it was Sunday.
In regard to lunch, I suppose that in prosaically paying our way for bed and board as we fared along we fell short of the Arcadian theory of walking-tours in which the wayfarer, like a mendicant friar, takes toll of lunch and dinner from the hospitable farmer of sentimental legend, and sleeps for choice in barns, hayricks or hedgesides. Now, sleeping out of doors in October, if you have ever tried it, is a very different thing from sleeping out of doors in June, and as for rural hospitality—well, if you are of a sensitive constitution you shrink from obtruding yourself, an alien apparition, upon the embarrassed and embarrassing rural domesticities. Besides, to be quite honest, rural table-talk, except in Mr. Hardy’s novels or pastoral poetry, is, to say the least, lacking in variety. Indeed, if the truth must be told, the conversation of country people, generally speaking, and an occasional, very occasional, character or oddity apart, is undeniably dull, and I hope it will not be imputed to me for hardness of heart that, after some long-winded colloquy or endless reminiscence, sententious and trivial, I have thought that Gray’s famous line should really have been written—“the long and tedious annals of the poor.”