“I understand,” I said, “but you know I’m giving the books to you—and I couldn’t take them back again.”
“Well,” he said, “you’re a good one, anyhow. Good-bye again,” and then, suddenly, business naturally coming uppermost, he remarked with great enthusiasm:
“You’ve given me a new idea. Say, I’ll sell ’em.”
“Carry them carefully, man,” I called after him; “they are precious.”
So I went back to my work, thinking how many fine people there are in this world—if you scratch ’em deep enough.
[Illustration: “Horace ‘hefted’ it”]
April the 15th.
This morning I broke my old axe handle. I went out early while the fog still filled the valley and the air was cool and moist as it had come fresh from the filter of the night. I drew a long breath and let my axe fall with all the force I could give it upon a new oak log. I swung it unnecessarily high for the joy of doing it and when it struck it communicated a sharp yet not unpleasant sting to the palms of my hands. The handle broke short off at the point where the helve meets the steel. The blade was driven deep in the oak wood. I suppose I should have regretted my foolishness, but I did not. The handle was old and somewhat worn, and the accident gave me an indefinable satisfaction: the culmination of use, that final destruction which is the complement of great effort.
This feeling was also partly prompted by the thought of the new helve I already had in store, awaiting just such a catastrophe. Having come somewhat painfully by that helve, I really wanted to see it in use.
Last spring, walking in my fields, I looked out along the fences for a well-fitted young hickory tree of thrifty second growth, bare of knots at least head high, without the cracks or fissures of too rapid growth or the doziness of early transgression. What I desired was a fine, healthy tree fitted for a great purpose and I looked for it as I would look for a perfect man to save a failing cause. At last I found a sapling growing in one of the sheltered angles of my rail fence. It was set about by dry grass, overhung by a much larger cherry tree, and bearing still its withered last year’s leaves, worn diaphanous but curled delicately, and of a most beautiful ash gray colour, something like the fabric of a wasp’s nest, only yellower. I gave it a shake and it sprung quickly under my hand like the muscle of a good horse. Its bark was smooth and trim, its bole well set and solid.
A perfect tree! So I came up again with my short axe and after clearing away the grass and leaves with which the wind had mulched it, I cut into the clean white roots. I had no twinge of compunction, for was this not fulfillment? Nothing comes of sorrow for worthy sacrifice. When I had laid the tree low, I clipped off the lower branches, snapped off the top with a single clean stroke of the axe, and shouldered as pretty a second-growth sapling stick as anyone ever laid his eyes upon.