A BIT OF FOOLISHNESS.
BY SARAH O. JEWETT.
When Jack and Alice Denfield's mother heard the story of this adventure of theirs, she was much annoyed at first, and thought they must have been in a good deal of danger. Afterward, when she was convinced that they came to no harm but very slight colds, she laughed at them heartily, and said it had been a good lesson, and if she had been twenty years younger she probably should have enjoyed it as much as they did.
They had all three been staying at the White Mountains; they had planned to be at the Glen House through July and early August, and then go to the sea-shore to stay until late in September. But the very first of August Mrs. Denfield found that she must go to Boston for a few days to attend to some business; and they were all sorry, for they had counted upon having a week or ten days more among the mountains. They had had a most satisfactory time, for they knew a charming set of people at the hotel, and every pleasant day there had been long drives or walks, small fishing parties or large picnics. Jack and Alice always were glad to be together; they were very near the same age, and had always been great cronies from their babyhood. They were equally fond of out-of-door life; Jack had said more than once that his sister was exactly as good company as another fellow, and she responded that she did not have such good times with anybody else in the world. I think it is seldom one sees such a friendship between a brother and sister. They both had a great many friends, but they were always delighted to have vacation come, and get back to each other.
They came in late to supper on Monday evening. They had been out all day, and it was their last chance for a long expedition, for they were to go down by the stage the next day to take the train. For a little while Jack was uncommonly silent, and did not pay much attention to the chattering of the other young people at the table; but suddenly he said to Alice, who happened to sit next him, "I have made a plan"; and she stopped to listen to it with great interest. "Suppose we ask mamma to let us stay here a little longer, and then go down to Boston by ourselves? She will have to be there for a week, she told me, and we could go up Mount Washington with the Eastfields and Dunns. You know they're going to walk up the mountain, and stay all night. It'll be great fun."
Alice was delighted at the idea, and after supper was over they went at once to propose this change of plans.
"I do not know why not," said Mrs. Denfield, slowly. "You are surely familiar enough with travelling, and almost grown up, at any rate, you tall creatures! But you must not take any longer journey" (they had all three wished to go farther up among the mountains); "you must be in Boston Saturday evening."
So next day Mrs. Denfield started off by herself, and Alice said, just after the stage had gone, "I wish we had asked mamma if we could not walk part of the way; we could send our trunks on by the stage to North Conway."
Jack's eyes began to shine with delight. "Of course she wouldn't mind," said the boy. "Don't you remember how sorry she was when you couldn't go down through the Notch with the rest of us last summer, because you had sprained you ankle? Let's do it, Alice. We can go up Mount Washington to-morrow, and come down next day. Yes, there will be just time enough to reach Boston Saturday night. Why, it's nothing to do; we have walked almost as far a dozen times."
"But not by ourselves," said Alice, "in such a wild country. I'm not a bit afraid, though--you needn't think that."
So they made their plans, and kept them great secrets, for Jack said that everybody would insist upon going with them, and making a public occasion of it, and it would be much better fun to go alone by themselves. They had often taken short excursions together, and they knew that they could get on much faster. It was settled that they were to start early Friday morning, and to say good-by to everybody the evening before, and then go away even before any one would be down to see them start by the stage.
The walking party up Mount Washington was a grand success, and the afternoon and evening of the day were just the right sort of weather, cool and fresh and bright, with a most glorious sunset, and a clear though very late moonrise. But the next morning it was damp and cloudy, and most of the party thought it would be more sensible to drive back to the Glen instead of walking. They found that the clouds were only around the tops of the high mountains, and that it was really a pleasant day, after all, when they reached the valley; and after they had told the story of their expedition, the party scattered itself about the piazzas and rooms of the hotel and Jack presently went to find Alice, and asked her eagerly why it would not be a good plan to take half their journey that day, and the rest the next, and spend the night somewhere on the road. Then they would have more time in North Conway, for there were some friends there whom they both wished to see.
"We will start by the stage just after dinner, and ride a little way, and then get down," Jack told his sister; and Alice at once hurried off to finish their packing, and to say good-by to her friends.
They meant to go ten or twelve miles that afternoon. Jack was sure he remembered the road perfectly, and knew where they could find lodgings for the night. Some one found out that they were going afoot, and said that it was a capital day for it; but the long climb up the mountain the day before seemed to have tired almost everybody but themselves, and no one offered to accompany them except two or three of their cronies, who strolled along with them for half a mile or so.
Our friends were in the highest spirits, and started off at last side by side without a fear, keeping step and looking around at each other every few minutes to smile and say what fun it was. Jack had a traveller's back slung over his shoulders with a strap and Alice carried a little lunch-box and her light jacket, and they both had the sticks which they had carried on all their tramps about the mountains. They felt like poeple who were journeying in earnest, and were not merely out for a stroll.
They were both capital walkers; they had had good practice during the last few weeks at the Glen, and they went gayly down the road for the first few miles without taking much thought of anything but the mere pleasure of walking. There had been a good many rains, and the streams were full, and the foliage was as fresh and green as if it were the first of June. The mountains stood up grand and tall, and there was not a cloud to be seen.
"It is even clearer than yesterday," said Alice. "I am sorry we are not just coming to the mountains instead of just going away. Jack! there must be trout in that brook."
"I was just thinking of that," said the boy. "Here is a line in my pocket; I mean to cut a little pole and rig it, and go up the hill a little way. You could be resting."
But Alice disdained the idea of being tired, and sat down to wait in a most comfortable place under a pine-tree. "I wish there was another line," she said. "I put all my tackle in my trunk before we thought of letting mamma go on without us."
Jack was soon ready, and pushed in through the bushes, and in the silence that everything kept but the brook, his sister could hear him for a few minutes as he went on from point to point, sometimes snapping the dead branches that he stepped upon. It was growing warmer, and she was, after all, not sorry to sit still for a little while. She called to Jack once or twice to be sure he had not gone too far away, and he whistled in answer, softly, as if there might be some chance of a trout, and at last he did not answer at all.
Alice looked at the mountains, and pulled an envelope out of her pocket and began to make a little sketch of a strange old tree the other side of the road, and she did not hurry about it; so after she had finished it she said to herself that Jack had been gone long enough. There was no possible danger of his losing his way, but it was long past the middle of the afternoon already, and they must go on. So she whistled again the odd little call with which Jack was very familiar, but he did not answer. He had evidently gone a good way up from the road; and she shouted, but he did not shout to her, and she said to herself that it was very wrong of him, and that there was no more fishing to be done on that journey out of sight of the road. She grew very worried at last, and annoyed as well; the mosquitoes had grown troublesome, and she did not like staying there alone for so long; and the thought seized her that her brother must have fallen over the rocks and hurt himself badly, for it was over an hour since he had gone away.
She followed the brook up its bed for some distance, and at last she heard the bushes rustling, and called eagerly, and there was Jack, safe and sound, with three or four good-sized trout on a birch twig.
"There are the best trout I have caught this summer," said he triumphantly.
And Alice forgot to scold him at first, she was so pleased. "We must have them for our supper," she told the proud fisherman; and they hurried back to the road-side.
"I haven't been gone long, have I?" asked Jack, persuasively. "I hated to turn back, you know."
And Alice said that they must hurry; it was already nearly five, and they had five or six miles further to go to the house where they were to spend the night.
But Jack was hot and tired, and said he must have some buscuits, and rest a few minutes. It was so bright a day that it would not be dark early. And who cared if it were? The road was straight and safe enough, and it would be much cooler after the sun went down a little. It was really very hot, and Alice was satisfied, now that he had come back, and she made no objection when he had finished his lunch, and had taken a drink of the cold brook water, and threw himself down to rest.
"You have been sitting still here while I have been going up the side of the hill," said he. "No wonder that you are ready to go on."
Alice wrapped the trout in some great beech leaves, and tied a bit of fish-line round them. One was unusually large, and Jack was very proud of it, and told her what a hard time he had in catching it, and how it came very near going into the brook again after he had fairly landed it. After a while they got up unwillingly and set off again. The sun was almost down behind the mountains; but the air seemed to grow hotter and hotter, although they were in the shade. The leaves were perfectly still on the trees; there did not seem to be a breath of wind.
"I don't think this is very good fun," said Jack, angrily; and Alice laughed, but she thought that pedestrianism in hot weather was not so full of pleasure as it might be.
"I wish a stage would come by," she said, laughingly. And when they met one bound for the Glen a little later, I think they were both tempted to hail it and take passage.
Jack whistled manfully, and they both made fun of themselves; but the little knapsack which Jack carried was not the trifling weight it seemed at first. It was as heavy as lead; and he wondered what was in it, and shifted it to the other shoulder and back again with a manner as if he did not like to carry it at all. "It must have been the tramp yesterday that makes us so fagged," said he. "We have walked so very far, you know. I say! look at those clouds coming over. It's going to rain. There's going to be a tremendous shower. What had we better do?"
But Alice did not know. "Go on, I suppose," said she, "as fast as we can. Very likely some one will drive by. Somehow I never thought of its raining."
"Nor I either," answered Jack, dismally. "I wish I had not stopped for the trout: that took up so much time. But aren't they beauties?" and he held them up for consolation. The leaves about them were already wilted, and the colors of the fish looked dull. "I wish I had my little scales here," said Jack; "I took them out of my pocket only yesterday."
The wind suddenly grew very cold, and blew the trees angrily, and turned their leaves the wrong way, until it seemed like a furious storm. It had been still, and the sun had been hot and glaring, but suddenly the air felt like autumn, and our friends looked around every now and then to see the shower chasing them, and covering the hills and woods with heavy white mist. The fragrance of the wet pine woods was very sweet, and the coolness was delightful, but the clouds looked strangely yellow, and as if a great deal of rain would pour out of them presently, while there were flashes of lightning every now and then, and distant thunder began to growl among the mountains.
"It will be here in a few minutes," said Jack, looking at his sister anxiously. "I'm awfully sorry, Alice." And they both hurried; as if by walking fast they could get away from the rain. "And our clothes have all gone to North Conway! how shall we ever get dry?" he added, ruefully; but Alice laughed.
"You know we were all drenched coming home from Gorham that day. It wasn't very bad, and it won't be chilly like this for very long, at any rate."
The first great drops of the rain began to spatter among the leaves, and our friends found the shower at first very refreshing, but when their clothes became so soaked that the weight of them was something surprising, and streams of water began to run along the road, they did not like it so well; but they made the best of it, and laughed heartily, though they were both beginning to feel very tired, and wondered if there would never be an end to the woods. It was growing darker too, and if some one did not drive by before long, it would be most discouraging. Early in the afternoon they had passed several loaded carts, besides pleasure parties that were driving to or from the Glen House, but for some time there had not been a traveller on that part of the road except themselves.
The rain ceased falling; it had been a heavy shower, but luckily it did not last long. They had taken shelter under a great beech-tree when it had become altogether too hard work to walk, and Alice wrung the water out of her skirts as well as she could, and they started on again.
The clouds looked very heavy, and the sunset was a very pale one, and it seemed to be growing dark early. In that deep valley the twilight begins much sooner than out in the open country, and Jack and Alice had lost so much time already that they were a good way from the house they meant to reach by seven o'clock, and just after that time Alice said, despairingly:
"I don't believe I can walk much further, Jack. I'm ashamed to give in, but I don't think I ever was so tired in all my life."
"I'm tired myself," said Jack; "it's the hardest walking I ever did; but I suppose there is nothing to do but to go on. I think it's very odd that it is so long since we have passed anybody."
Alice went on without saying any more for a little while, but at last she sat down by the road-side, while Jack stood at her side and waited uneasily.
"I think we are getting out of the track of the shower," said he. "Suppose we go on a little further, and find a good dry place, and build a camp fire, and get dry and rested at any rate. I begin to feel like an old jelly-fish trying to roll along on his edge."
Alice laughed, and started out again. It was really getting to be drier footing, and the air felt warmer, and it was not long before Jack touched the earth with his hand, and said that he was sure the could be nothing but dew on the ground, and they might as well stop. They listened and listened for the sound of wheels, but even the thrushes had stopped singing, and all they could hear was a brook tumbling over the ledges, and the cry of a hawk or an owl far in the woods.
Jack chose a safe place at the side of a great rock, where there seemed to be no danger of setting the woods on fire. It was so dark they could scarcely see, but they heaped up a pile of pine-needles and dry twigs and birch bark, and it seemed very cheerful when they had lighted it. Jack was delighted because Alice had some little wax matches in the bag he carried on his shoulder, and I think the first flicker of the fire gave a great pleasure to both our friends.
"I'm going to find some larger wood," said Jack, "and then I am going to cook the fish. I shall starve to death. We are like the Babes in the Wood, aren't we? Get as near to the fire as you can, Alice, and you'll soon be dry."
They had a magnificent blaze before very long, and Alice hung her jacket and wet, heavy skirt on stakes beside it. They were in a little open place not far from the road, and Jack began to tell stories of his experiences the summer before when he had been off on a fishing and camping-out excursion with some friends in the Maine woods.
Alice had heard them all before, but they were none the less interesting. She had always wished to camp out herself, and this experience was, after all, a great satisfaction, now that she was a little rested, and was getting dry and comfortable. It was not so bad to be damp even, but she hated the thought of going any further that night.
In the lunch-box there were still some hard crackers and a paper of salt, and after Jack had baked his three trout--and he did not do it badly either, for a guide had taught him once how to wrap them in some leaves and dig a little place in the hot ashes for an oven--they ate their supper, and were as jolly as possible. The fire was a great success; they had gathered all the old dry wood they could find, and at last they were willing to let it go down, for it was growing too hot; the night was warm at any rate. They sat together on the slope and leaned against the rock. The trout had been very good--they only wished there had been more; but they were very comfortable, and they watched the strange shadows the flickering light of the fire made among the trees. They were neither of them a bit afraid, and presently Jack was silent for a few moments, and his sister found that he had gone to sleep.
She would not wake him, she thought; he might sleep a little while just as well as not, and they could go on if they liked an hour later. By that time the moon would be up, too. Alice looked up through the branches at the stars; there was an old hemlock almost overhead that was like a roof, but there seemed to be very little dew falling.
The mosquitoes were beginning to be troublesome, now that the fire was down, and she said to herself that she would get some more wood presently if Jack did not wake--and in three minutes more she was as sound asleep as Jack himself.
He waked first; it was late in the night, and the moon was high in the sky. The fire was out, and at first he could not think where he was; but Alice was there, sure enough, and the hemlock-tree, and the rest of the woods. He felt a little stiff and chilly, and he started to his feet to look around, and suddenly he heard two or three roosters crowing, and at that sound he began to laugh.
"Alice! Alice!" said he; and his sister waked quickly, but was even more bewildered at first than he had been.
"I never slept better in my life," she said sleepily. "There's nothing the matter, is there Jack? Ought we to go on, do you think? I am as stiff as Rip Van Winkle, and my arm is sound asleep." And she sat up and rubbed her eyes.
"Will you listen to those old roosters?" asked Jack, going into fits of laughter, and Alice laughed too. "There must be a house close by," he told her, "and we though we were cast away. I suppose if we had walked ten minutes longer, we must have seen it." And they gathered up their possessions and took the road again. I do not think they cared to take another nap on the ground. Jack said that the mosquitoes had had their Christmas dinner in summer that year, and though he did not confess it, his neck was very stiff, and they both began to sneeze with great energy.
There was really a small house about an eighth of a mile away, and our friends walked about it and surveyed it in the moonlight. A sleepy little yellow dog appeared and barked at them, and after Jack had pounded at the door for some minutes, some one opened a window and asked what he wanted.
"Can you take two people in for the night?"
"'Deed I can't," said the woman, snappishly. "we don't keep tavern. Young fellows like you better be to home this time o' night. Trampin', I s'pose, ain't ye? The men-folks is all to home here, so ye needn't try to scare me."
"I'm not a tramp," mentioned Jack, with great dignity and politeness. "We started to walk through from the Glen, but the shower stopped us a while, and it got dark and we didn't know we were near any houses until we heard your roosters crowing. We've been asleep in the woods."
"Oh!" said the woman, in a different tone. And after a minute's meditation, she added: "Well, you kin go into the barn, I s'pose, and sleep on the hay--on your right hand 's you go in; it's new hay. We ain't got a spare bed in the house. I do' know 's I kin do any better for ye."
Alice was in the shadow, and at some little distance from the house, and she and Jack laughed as they went to the barn. "She said there was some new hay, didn't she?" Alice asked. And as they laid themselves down in it, it seemed a most luxurious bed. There was an old horse in the barn, who looked at them with astonishment as they opened the door, and the dim light shone in upon him. The dust made Alice sneeze worse than ever, and she watched the moon shining through the cracks of the barn, and after a good while she went to sleep again.
Early in the morning somebody came to the door, and our friends waked unwillingly.
"My good land sakes alive!" said the woman who had talked to them from the window. "Why didn't ye say there was a lady with ye? I looked round for your mate, and I couldn't see nothing o' nobody. I took it for granted ye were two young fellows, and I was all sole alone. My man's gone down to North Conway, and I thought I wouldn't bother to get up and let ye in. Well, I am mortified and ashamed. You should ha' had the best I got. I hope ye ain't got your death o' cold. 'Twas a warm night, though. Wan't ye eat up with 'skeeters? Why hadn't ye spoke young man?"
"I don't know," said Jack. "I supposed you knew. I didn't think. My sister was right out in the yard there." And they all laughed.
"I'll get ye some breakfast anyway," say the woman, who seemed very good-natured that morning, though she had been so cross the night before. "I've got a nice young fowl picked all ready, and I'll have her fried with a bit o' pork in no time at all. Come into the house now, won't ye?"
Such a breakfast as our friends ate that morning! and such a pleasant ride as they had to North Conway afterward! for Mrs. Dummer, their hostess, was going there to meet her husband, who had gone down some days before. It was too hot, they thought, to walk the rest of the way, and yet there was a fine breeze blowing. I think they were a little tired after their experience the night before, but they were young and strong, and the wetting did not do them a bit of harm after all.
Mrs. Dummer brushed and cleaned Alice's dress for her--at least they did it together. It was blue flannel, and made short in the skirt, and so, after it had its crumples taken out by a little ironing, it looked as well as ever.
Mrs. Dummer seemed much excited by their adventures, and she was sorry to part with her guests. She had not been married very long, she said; she had lived at North Conway in a boarding-house for several years, and it was a great deal livelier there in the summer-time. She did not know how she was going to like living 'way up in the woods on that lonely farm after cold weather came. But she said, shyly, that "he" was real good company, and that her sister was going to spend part of the winter with her.
"If you would come and stop a while some time, he'd take you off fishing," she told Jack; "he's a great hand to go off for trout." And Jack promised to remember the invitation the next summer.
It seemed an uncommon adventure at the time, and our friends enjoyed it on the whole, only they were sorry afterward they had not walked all the way to North Conway, and poor Jack never has ceased to mourn because nobody can ever know how much his big trout weighed.
"A Bit of Foolishness" appeared in Harper's Young People (2:635-37 and 651-53) on August 2 and 9, 1881, where it was illustrated. Click here to view the illustrations. If you find errors or items needing annotation in this text, please contact the site manager.
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White Mountains: Jewett has set this story in an actual location. The Michelin Guide to New England (1993) characterizes the North Conway as "the gateway to the White Mountains" of New Hampshire. From North Conway, one may travel about 25 miles north through Pinkham Notch to Glen House, which is the head of the road that ascends Mount Washington, the highest peak of the White Mountains. When Jack later refers to the Notch, however, he may mean the more famous Crawford Notch.
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Babes in the Wood: Also known as "The Children in the Wood," "Babes in the Wood" is a long British broadside ballad, printed as early as 1595. In the collection Percy's Reliques (c. 1601), the lyrics are attributed to Rob. Tarrington. The following transcription from a recent recording represents part of a longer ballad:
O don't you remember a long time ago
Those two little babies, their names I don't know.
They strayed far away one bright summer's day.
These two little babies got lost on their way.
Pretty babes in the wood, pretty babes in the wood.
On don't you remember those babes in the wood.
Now the day being long and the night coming on,
These two little babies sat under a stone.
They sobbed and they sighed, they sat down and cried,
These two little babies, they lay down and died.
Now the robins so red, so swiftly they sped.
They put out their wide wings and over them spread,
And all the long night the branches did throng
They sweetly did carol and this was their song.
(Source: Ozark Folk Songs, Vance Randolph, 1982; Research: Chris Butler and Betty Rogers).
Further information would be welcome.
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Rip Van Winkle: See Washington Irving's humorous story from The Sketch Book (1819-1820).
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