— Old Romeo is a curious specimen of Adirondack humanity. He is silent and retiring. Shut in as he has been, during his long life, by the remoteness of his abode and his inability to read, he can scarcely be said to share the knowledge and beliefs of other men. For more than fifty years he has been an excellent house carpenter, having in a way of his own solved the difficulties of his trade without being able to decipher the figures on his iron square. It has been one of the marvels among the people that Romeo could “ lay out ” frames for buildings with success, and do the finishing inside with accuracy, without a knowledge of letters or arithmetic. He is not inclined to he communicative ; but it is known that he has rules which he guards as sacred mysteries.
During his many years of toil, what thoughts, ideals, and changes have brightened this man’s existence ? There have been events winch have come to my knowledge. The first of these in chronological order seems to have been an era in his estimation, for it is noticeable that he measures the flight of time from that date. In his youth, he made a journey on foot to the county town, and there saw a criminal executed. The excitement was very great, the details of the tragedy having spread through all the settlements of the wilderness. The mind of the young man was deeply impressed: he still refers to the year when Videtto was hanged as others refer to anno Domini.
I am not aware that this villager has ever seen the inside of a church, unless it may have been when he was helping to build it. This has been due to no lack of reverence. He is very modest and unassuming, rarely speaks when he can avoid it, and would shrink from a public service of any kind. I learn that he has expressed sincere religious feeling in the privacy of his family.
A noteworthy trait in Romeo is his distrust of loans, mortgages, banks, and all kinds of financial securities. He has heard of such inventions, but regards them with aversion. In his prime, he at one time accumulated a considerable sum by faithful labor in his calling. The problem of investing it troubled him, but he found a solution which revealed his character and ingenuity. His dwelling was rude and unfinished : huge posts of seasoned ash ran up the walls at the corners of the building, and were exposed to view inside. He resolved to make these his place of deposit. Having changed his money into gold, he bored deep auger-holes into the posts, and put in the coin. Then he drove a wooden pin into each hole, and sawed off the pin. The gold remained for years in this situation, being dug out as he needed it.
As already intimated, there is proof that an ideal element exists in this life, which in the main has been so realistic. It appears first in his name and that of his brothers, as if it were in the family line. When they were all living, there was a Hannibal, a Romeo, and a Horatio among the sons, and names of like quality among the daughters. But the ideal element of my hero has gone much further than an intimation. It has appeared vividly in a side pursuit, which has taken no little portion of his time, and has undoubtedly been the bright dream of his long life. Since the earliest recollection of him by his descendants it has been known that he has believed in the possibility of finding treasure. He has entertained no vulgar ideas about buried money, and perhaps never heard of Captain Kidd. His has been the larger view, justified by rumors of pearls, diamonds, mines of precious stones, and the promises which nature holds out to her children. On one side of our village flows a brook, the most attractive and beautiful I have ever known. Starting from sweet, clear springs, the whole line of its long course is a deep, delightfully shaded, and fascinating valley. This brook, braiding its amber water over the pebbles that shine through, seems to defy the rough usage and all the outrages of man. If he hacks away the foliage and clears the ground along its margin, it is still very beautiful, and with endless pertinacity the verdure immediately grows again.
It was this brook that in his youth won the heart of Romeo, and still holds it. For more than fifty years he has crept along its banks, and explored its shallows and eddies, during the bright Sunday afternoons of summer and many of the quiet hours of week-day rest. He has gathered thousands of white stones and quartz specimens, and (far down, near a beaver meadow) a few freshwater shells. There has been no time for half a century that he has not had collections of these stored in his garret. Now and then, of a rainy day, he has crushed hundreds of the specimens, hoping to see the almost supernatural prismatic ray which he has come to believe will attest the presence of a diamond. Again, he has explored the detritus of the stream, and opened minute bivalves, expecting to see the pale light of a pearl.
With characteristic modesty, Romeo has striven to conceal his favorite pursuit, and has not allowed it to interfere with his business. When he pays the great debt of nature, as he soon must, there will remain a few white pebbles, as the sole record of the darling passion of his life. In order to appreciate the mind of this man and gain his point of view, one needs to remember that during all his prime he was shut in by the great mountains and the deep woods. They made him a dreamer and a poet “ without words.”