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Hark! was not that sound the report of a gun? I listen: I hear nothing farther, only the reverberating, many-voiced echoes of that startling sound, chasing each other like things of sense, rattling on now like the clapping of myriad hands, now like peals of hoarse laughter, through the quiet woods, across the lake, and losing themselves among the woodcrowned heights' on the southern shore beyond. I look forward, from where I lie stretched at length upon the grass, underneath the cooling shadows of this clump of heavy.foliaged hickories; I look forward toward the west, and just emerging from the thickets upon the western shore of this pretty LAKE RYE, away down there by the Thompson Lot's' lower border — I mean that sunny slope yonder facing me, where that low rocky ledge juts into the water - I see my brother Ned jump from the steep side-hill down upon Betty's Rocks. He has killed a king-fisher, and is picking him up. The bird flutters, and with a spasmodic effort to escape tumbles into the water. OLE Bull plunges in after him; has already gotten the prize in his teeth, and scrambles out of the water upon the rocks again. The bird is landed. My brother sits down and re-loads his gun. The petty bluffs of a miniature precipice rise behind him, and a narrow shelving of solid dark rock, worn and fretted into many a curious channel by the ceaseless beating of the wavelets of the lake, stretch out some rods on either side of him along the shore. The water looks dark under the rocks there, indicating its great depth. A broad sheet of purest crystal spreads out before him a little to the north, and far away for a mile toward the south, shaped (as appears from this point of view) not unlike a goodly river.
This scene unfolds itself to my eyes, while I lie here, full half a mile distant from those rocks, at the top of this side-hill lot, that descends to the lake on this easterly shore. The northern shore is a flat rich-bottomed meadow, being the upper end of the basin scooped out of the hills to hold the waters of the lake. Much of the other shore is bold; some very rocky; most of it wood-skirted, and heavily fringed with a deep darkgreen embroidery of oaks and hemlocks. This northern shore, for a quarter of a mile back, looks as if it had once been the bottom of the lake, and as if the continual wearing down of those sandy hills beyond had gradually filled up the hollow, and driven the waters back on the bolder and more rocky shores.
A lovely scene is projected before me. I have walked over every inch of the ground a hundred times. From infancy to manhood, every thought of my life has come up to me at some time upon some portion of it or another. Every tree, every rock, I had almost said every cloud over head, and every ripple of the lake at my feet, seem to me familiar household things. Like the interlacing roots of those willows (as another has hinted to me) on the margin of yonder green-fringed brook, supporting the earth, and preventing the ceaseless current from washing down the banks of the stream; so these recollections of events, places and persons, revived by this scene often revisited, sustain my individuality, and prevent the reckless stream of present affairs from overflowing and absorbing my whole moral nature.
Down on that smooth meadow on the northern shore I frolicked with my brothers and cousins in times past, as far back as my memory can go. Close by the water's edge stood the old button-wood tree, under which we stripped on many a summer's day, to bathe in the clear water that ripples there over the whitened beach. The old tree has gone, and a younger has succeeded it. And some of the boy-faces that were wont to mingle in those childish pastimes have gone too; dead ! — dead ere their prime! Who can summon back the days of childhood without many a pang ? Fix for a moment any scene, and then follow out the pathway of each actor in it down to the time of the reminiscence, and you see so much to produce pain and unhappiness in the issue and the contrast, that you cannot but think the Cynic philosopher was right, who thought the art of forgetting was more worthy to be learned than the art of memory. And yet the angels tell us this bitterness is a tonic to the soul !
Yonder, on the shore beyond the button-wood tree a little, you may yet see the ruins of a mimic pier, constructed by my uncle Field as a mooring for his sail-boat. How vividly comes back to me the launch of that sail-boat! It was an era to us boys.
For several summer's we bad navigated every tiny bay and harbor of that petty sea in a fleet composed of a decrepit scow and a log boat. The scow leaked so badly that a man was constantly required at the pumps; and the log-boat so rolled with its uneasy crew, that we caught many a ducking from our bazardous exploring expeditions. It was rare fun though, and we were the most courageous fellows in the world to dare it. Ah, we had all the requisites of the Horatian prescription, that now rises to my lips involuntarily:
"Illi robur et æs triplex
Commisit pelago ratem
Major, tollere seu ponere vult freta.' But this boat was a sail-brat! How we shouted and clapped our hands with glee as she was brought down the hill and launched! llow she glided ti.rough the water foaming at her prows! No bailing out the boat now; no rowing, no paddling, no tipping over, no hugging the shore to keep in shoal water: we dared to brave the billows of the deep! She did not even need a bush in her bow in a strong wind; indeed, she sailed quite as well without it. But, alas ! all bread and butter falls butter-side down: the boat would upset every now and then, when a flaw of wind struck her; and among these hills the wind is all flaws. At last a man in her was drowned. Keyer LANE, poor fellow! went down and never came up. We believed it was done by him out of spite against us boys, who used to laugh at him because he was a cripple and limped in a
Quo non arbiter Hadria
ridiculous way; but he never came up again, and so the pickerel ate him, and the boat was condemned as unseaworthy by all our mothers, and she rotted at her wharf, and all our robur et æs triplex circa pectus' was of no avail; and with this catastrophe all boating fell into sad disrepute, and the lake grew more and more dangerous every day.
Yonder too you see, not far from the ruined pier, stretches out a waterfence, as it is called, being a wall dividing two fields running down upon the sand, and extended beyond the shore over the deeper water by long and heavy poles, projected out so far that cattle cannot ford around it. At sight of it now, the time of a rare exploit recurs to me as yesterday. I was strolling down by this shore one afternoon in September. I had my father's “training 'musket for a fowling-piece, and was in pursuit of robins and squirrels. That old musket! – how I used to coax it, oil the lock, cleanse the barrel, pick the fint! To how many a luckless robin and scoundrel clape and squirrel it has done bloody murder! Well, I had come to this water-fence, which was then thickly studded on either side with a hedge-row of hazel-nut bushes and grape vines, and was peering in the bushes to see if any grapes were still left, when I heard a tremendous clanging and fluttering noise, 'like the rushing of a mighty wind,' immediately over my head. I looked up and saw a small flock, consisting of some half dozen, of wild geese. They are rare visitants of the lake, and I had heard only dim traditions of captures there. Now, thought I, for a triumphal feat of arms, to put all the sportsmen of the neighborhood to the blush. I crept softly along the fence, and saw the snowy troop alight in the water close to the shore, within some forty yards of the place where I stood concealed. My gun was very apt to “hang fire,' and my nerves were quite in a flutter at the vastness of the enterprise before me.
Now a distressing reflection occurred to me: my gun was loaded with mustard-seed shot! What should I do? There plashed and screamed the finest game I had ever seen or known of in my life; here was I within easy gun-shot. The birds would soon fly. A thought struck me. I drew from my pocket my pen-knife, opened a blade at either end, and dropped it into the muzzle of my gun, raised the old musket cautiously, rested it upon the fence, and getting the best 'sight’I could among the twigs and leaves, pulled trigger. Bang! went the gun with a terrible explosion. It was the first time it had been used for some months, and I had probably overcharged it with powder, for it kicked backward in a most graceful manner, and completely carried me off my feet, rolling upon the ground. The birds all flew as if their greatest enemy was at hand, leaving the water a little discolored with blood, and covered with feathers enough for a bolster. What execution my pen-knife did I never knew; but I counted with some complacency on the blood and feathers, as evidence of what I might have done with a good rifle. Away went the birds screaming through the air, helter-skelter at first, but soon forming their battalion, one ahead and two rows behind, in shape not unlike the letter V, as composedly as if nothing had happened. Even now I look about me, to see if I am quite alone, and my ears tingle with shame.
Do you see yonder dark speck in the water, at the southern end of the lake, that looks so very like a whale ?' Hill Rock ! — what a treasure wast thou! A sail to that distant island was like a voyage to Polynesia.
It brought up all the vivid visions of the voyages of Sinbad. You see it is but a single rock, some few yards in circumference, and the rocks descend from this peak under water, by a rather precipitous slope, into the deepest part of the lake. What rare sport to paddle out in our crazy craft to that .barren island!' It was more than half a day's sail from our southern shore. There was the spot for fishing! Pickerel and clouders prowled stealthily about there, and longed for the hook. It was a grand event to go over there and fish. We were never trusted thus far alone. Sometimes our uncle Dan (who was a great sportsman, and knew every thing, and with whom we were sure to be safe) would go with us.
Then, too, it was such exquisite fine fun,' as Harry Daring says, to see him, sheltered behind a bush in the end of the scow, shoot hell-divers; a small black duck, that frequent this sequestered shore. And then the fishing with buoys: hooks and lines attached to small branches of a tree, and left to float at random on the water. Hill Rock! bless thy flinty heart !
Look now from this rock to the west, and you will see that the lake is nearly twice the size you thought when you looked from where I am on this eastern side-hill. You may now perceive that this is too broad an expanse of water, and pushes too far in to the land there at ‘Sag HarBOR' on the west, to be deemed a mere cove. There too you may see the shore is gentle and easy for a little space, although the hills mount up quickly behind. What a sweet serenity is breathed over the whole landscape. Not a human habitation visible, except a little cottage there in the edge of the forest, where my grandfather's man, Jim Hopps, lived for more than a quarter of a century. His successor has laid his Vandal hands upon the native shrubbery that skirted this part of the shore. Heaven pardon me for hating the villain! See, he has robbed • High Point of those dear old trees and bushes, where we lay in early days and rested from our toilsome pleasures, and lazily watched the mock-tides of this mimic sea.
Imagine we are sitting upon the top of that projecting promontory, 'High Point. It rises perpendicularly from the water some sixty feet, and is at the point where the western shore breaks from its line, and runs into the west, forming the harbor. Standing upon the top of the ‘Thompson Lot,' that rises so high at the back of ‘Betty's Rocks,' you might see the whole of the lake spread out at your feet; and its shape, like that of every other thing indescribable—if shape it may be called which shape has none'- its shape then (shade of Italy!) is like that of a man's boot. The leg runs up to the southern shore, and the top is bounded' by those pretty meadows. The eastern shore runs nearly straight — with a slight bow for the calf of the leg there among the hemlocks down to · CROMWELL’s Cove,' where it turns westerly, and the heel runs into the land. Curving up slightly, to fit the hollow of the foot, the shore now pushes westerly, and passing beyond Hill Rock'down into 'SAG HARBOR,' where the toe is planted, turns again and bends up to 'High Point,' where the instep is fixed, when again it hinges nearly at right angles, shooting along almost in a straight line; and passing ‘Berry's Rocks’ up to the meadows again on the north, it strikes the top whence we set out in the circumambulation. From ‘High Point' we can look, as you discover, diagonally across to the south-eastern shore, where those willows wave over the sandy