It is always the old man’s voice, crooning his tuneless song as he trudges home in the twilight, his well-filled creel at his side,—the good-for-nothing dog in his arms; or it is that look of sweet contentment on his face,—the deep and thoughtful eyes, filled with the calm serenity of his soul. And then the ease and freedom of his life! Plenty of air and space, and plenty of time to breathe and move! Having nothing, possessing all things! No bonds to guard,—no cares to stifle,—no trains to catch,—no appointments to keep,—no fashions to follow,—no follies to shun! Only the old wife and worthless, lazy dog, and the rod and the creel! Only the blessed sunshine and fresh, sweet air, and the cool touch of deep woods.
No, there is no story—only Jonathan.
Hidden in our memories there are quaint, quiet nooks tucked away at the end of leafy lanes; still streams overhung with feathery foliage; gray rocks lichen-covered; low-ground meadows, knee-deep in lush grass; restful, lazy lakes dotted with pond-lilies; great, wide-spreading trees, their arms uplifted in song, their leaves quivering with the melody.
I say there are all these delights of leaf, moss, ripple, and shade stored away somewhere in our memories,—dry bulbs of a preceding summer’s bloom, that need only the first touch of spring, the first glorious day in June, to break out into flower. When they do break out, they are generally chilled in the blooming by the thousand and one difficulties of prolonged travel, time of getting there and time of getting back again, expense, and lack of accommodations.
If you live in New York—and really you should not live anywhere else!—there are a few buttons a tired man can touch that will revive for him all these delights in half an hour’s walk, costing but a car-fare, and robbing no man or woman of time, even without the benefits of the eight-hour law.
You touch one of these buttons when you plan to spend an afternoon along the Bronx.
There are other buttons, of course. You can call up the edges of the Palisades, with their great sweep of river below, the seething, steaming city beyond; or, you can say “Hello!” to the Upper Harlem, with its house-boats and floating restaurants; or you can ring up Westchester and its picturesque waterline. But you cannot get them all together in half an hour except in one place, and that is along the Bronx.
The Bronx is the forgotten, the overlooked, the “disremembered,” as the provincial puts it. Somebody may know where it begins—I do not. I only know where it ends. What its early life may be, away up near White Plains, what farms it waters, what dairies it cools, what herds it refreshes, I know not. I only know that when I get off at Woodlawn—that City of the Silent—it comes down from somewhere up above the railroad station, and that it “takes a header,” as the boys say, under an old mill, abandoned long since, and then, like another idler, goes singing along through open meadows, and around big trees in clumps, their roots washed bare, and then over sandy stretches reflecting the flurries of yellow butterflies, and then around a great hill, and so on down to Laguerre’s.