ALTHOUGH I am not so very old, not yet forty, I am quite old enough to have been ineffaceably impressed with the transitoriness of things. The thick woods through which as a child I straggled home from school, browsing on young beech-leaves, ground-nuts, and crinkleroot, are now but a ragged fringe of shabby trees. The great beeches at whose feet I was sure of finding the earliest hepaticas were long ago reduced to ashes, and the hepaticas, lacking their shelter, have died out. Even the hardy little spring beauties have become homeless wanderers, fleeing across the road to the farther fence corner, and camping there in bewilderment, with little chance of reaching the as yet unmarred belt of woodland across the unprotected pasture. It is not merely the shifted point of view of maturity that makes the brook where we fished more shallow and the hill where we coasted less high and steep. The great apple trees, nine feet in girth, from which the swing and hammocks hung, are gone, never to be replaced. The buckboard which bore us so buoyantly over miles and miles of country road went to the junk-heap long ago, and the little Morgan mare who pulled it is dead.
Already is apparent the first threat of the abandonment of the old home, a change to which all the other changes are as slight shadows to the falling of night itself.
I have seen this happen to many of my friends. I know the tragedy of it to the core — the inevitable sacrifice of the precious, worthless Things. Rubbishheap, fire, corner auction, unappreciative friends, mothand mouse-infested storage,—the last but an ineffectual delay,— these are the destinies of the Things that we have lived with. Perishable and transitory even while they had our familiar care, they become positively evanescent when deprived of it. And with them, I cannot but feel, goes some outlying portion of myself. I have not changed. The subjective part of my childhood is still intact in my soul. I could re-live it to-morrow if I had the Things to do it with. But Things are not as indestructible as souls. I have heard people complain that their friends ” changed,” but I have not found it so, even in the “great change ” of death. Personalities are stable and immutable in comparison with Things. I have little sympathy with Pierre Loti when he makes pathos of Jean’s little ribboned hat existing after the death of the stalwart young soldier. It is when the little relic fades and moulders before the eyes of the lonely old mother that its pathos enters, as it always does, with the perishability of Things.
So strongly have I felt this that when I read, a few weeks ago, that the old Nutter House at Portsmouth was being restored to the precise condition and appearance which it possessed in “Tom Bailey’s” childhood, I experienced a thrill of joy and triumph quite disproportionate to any obvious personal interest in the matter. Truly, now, the old house will “prove a tough nut for the destructive gentleman with the scythe and hourglass,” and the seaward gable may well defy the east wind for generations to come.
I shall never, in all likelihood, have a chance to visit it, and perhaps it is as well. Very likely the rehabilitation is more complete in my fancy than it is in fact. It is hardly likely that the six black-silk eyepatches, with their elastic strings, “still dangle from a beam in the attic,” waiting for Tom Bailey to get into difficulties again; and the most scrupulous and devoted Memorial Association could not put Gypsy back in her old stall. But when I read that all is “restored in accordance with Aldrich’s own descriptions,” it is so I see it. Nor that only, for the illstarred little Dolphin rocks beside the mouldering wharf, and Sailor Ben’s shipshape sky-blue cottage with its painted portholes is as real as the stage — specifically mentioned as extant to-day — upon which Pepper Whitcomb played so disastrously the part of the young Tell.
It was in a battered old volume of Our Young Folks that I met Tom Bailey, when we were both too young to have detected any differing validity in literature and life. My name was n’t “Wiggins or Spriggins,” and we did in very truth “get on famously together” and become “capital friends forever.”None of the boys ever minded my being a girl. Like a certain little flesh-and-blood playmate, they voted me “as good as a boy,” and even Gypsy relaxed in my favor her discrimination against the sex.
Those were great days, in spite of the awful Sundays at the Nutter House and Conway’s threatening presence at the Temple Grammar School. Shall I ever forget the night we burned the old stagecoach, and the snow fights on Slatter’s Hill ? Certainly not while I can think that the two hundred and sixty-eight crimson-spotted yellow birds, “not counting those split in two where the paper was badly joined,” are still ready to take flight in a little boy’s dreams from the walls of the hall room over the front door.
No, I would not choose to visit the Aldrich Memorial if I could; I should surely look for Kitty Collins in the kitchen, and expect Miss Abigail to descend the old staircase and offer me a dose of hotdrops. But there were happy tears in my eyes when I learned what the Memorial Association had decided upon. Here is one old home which will not be dismantled, here at last are Things which will be held from passing, Things that give me back a bit of my childhood and the playmate who shared it.