But, as I said, our friend in the buggy was by no means limited to potatoes for his conversation. He was learned in the geography of the valley and told us how once the Cohocton River, now merely a decorative stream among willows, was once a serviceable waterway, how it was once busy with mills, and how men used to raft down it as far as Elmira.
But “the springs were drying up.” I liked the mysterious sound of that, and still more his mysterious story of an undercurrent from the Great Lakes that runs beneath the valley. I seemed to hear the sound of its strange subterranean flow as he talked. Such is the fun of knowing so little about the world. The simplest fact out of a child’s geography thus comes to one new and marvellous.
Well, we had to say good-bye at last to our friend at a cross-road, and we left him learnedly discussing the current prices of apples with a business acquaintance who had just driven up—Kings, Rambos, Baldwins, Greenings, and Spigs. And, by the way, in packing apples into barrels, you must always pack them—stems down. Be careful to remember that.
A DITHYRAMBUS OF BUTTEEMILK
One discovery of some importance you make in walking the roads is the comparative rarity and exceeding preciousness of buttermilk. We had, as I said, caught up with Summer. Summer, need one say, is a thirsty companion, and the State seemed suddenly to have gone dry. We looked in vain for magic mirrors by the roadside, overhung with fairy grasses, littered with Autumn leaves, and skated over by nimble water-bugs. As our friend had said, the springs seemed to have dried up. Now and again we would hail with a great cry a friendly pump; once we came upon a cider-mill, but it was not working, and time and again we knocked and asked in vain for buttermilk. Sometimes, but not often, we found it. Once we met a genial old man just leaving his farm door, and told him that we were literally dying for a drink of buttermilk. Our expression seemed to tickle him.
“Well!” he said, laughing, “it shall never be said that two poor creatures passed my door, and died for lack of a glass of buttermilk,” and he brought out a huge jug, for which he would accept nothing but our blessings. He seemed to take buttermilk lightly; but, one evening, we came upon another old farmer to whom buttermilk seemed a species of the water of life to be hoarded jealously and doled out in careful quantities at strictly market rates.
In town one imagines that country people give their buttermilk to the pigs. At any rate, they didn’t give it to us. We paid that old man twenty cents, for we drank two glasses apiece. And first we had knocked at the farm door, and told our need to a pretty young woman, who answered, with some hesitancy, that she would call “father.” She seemed to live in some awe of “father,” as we well understood when a tall, raw-boned, stern,