LIVING IN THE COUNTRY

By Frederick Swartwout Cozzens ( 1818 - 1869 )

( from the "Sparrowgrass Papers" )




IT is a good thing to live in the country,-- to escape from the prison walls of the metropolis -- the great brickery we call "the city" -- and to live amid blossoms and leaves, in shadow and sunshine, in moonlight and starlight, in rain, mist, dew, hoar-frost, and drought, out in the open campaign, and under the blue dome that is bounded by the horizon only. It is a good thing to have a well with dripping buckets, a porch with honey buds and sweet bells, a hive embroidered with nimble bees, a sundial mossed over, ivy up to the eaves, curtains of dimity, a tumbler of fresh flowers in your bedroom, a rooster on the roof, and a dog under the piazza.

When Mrs. Sparrowgrass and I moved into the country, with our heads full of fresh butter, and cool, crisp radishes for tea, with ideas entirely lucid respecting milk, and a looseness of calculation as to the number in family it would take a good laying hen to supply with fresh eggs every morning, -- when Mrs. Sparrowgrass and I moved into the country, we found some preconceived notions had to be abandoned, and some departures made from the plans we had laid down in the little back parlor of Avenue G.

One of the first achievements in the country, is early rising, -- with the lark, -- with the sun, -- while the dew is on the grass, "under the opening eyelids of the morn," and so forth. Early rising! What can be done with five or six o'clock in town? What may not be done at those hours in the country? -- with the hoe, the rake, the dibble, the spade, the watering pot? ,To plant, prune, drill, transplant, graft, train, and sprinkle! Mrs. S. and I agreed to rise early in the country.

Richard and Robin were two pretty men,
They laid in bed till the clock struck ten:
Up jumped Richard and looked at the sky:
0 Brother Robin! the sun's very high!

Early rising in the country is not an instinct: it is a sentiment, and must be cultivated.

A friend recommended me to send to the south side of Long Island for some very prolific potatoes, -- the real hippopotamus breed. Down went my man, and, what with expenses of horse hire, tavern bills, toll gates, and breaking a wagon, the hippopotami cost as much apiece as pineapples. They were fine potatoes, though, with comely features, and large, languishing eyes, that promised increase of family without delay. As I worked my own garden (for which I hired a landscape gardener, at two dollars per day, to give me instructions), I concluded that the object of my first experiment in early rising should be the planting of the hippopotamuses. I accordingly rose the next morning at five, and it rained! I rose next day at five and it rained! The next and it rained! It rained for two weeks! We had splendid potatoes every day for dinner.
"My dear," said I to Mrs. Sparrowgrass, "where did you get these fine potatoes?"
"Why," said she, innocently, "out of that basket from Long Island!"
The last of the hippopotamuses were before me, peeled, and boiled, and mashed, and baked, with a nice thin brown crust on the top.

I was more successful afterwards. I did get some fine seed potatoes in the ground. But something was the matter; at the end of the season I did not get as many out as I had put in.

Mrs. Sparrowgrass, who is a notable housewife, said to me one day, "Now, my dear, we shall soon have plenty of eggs, for I have been buying a lot of young chickens." There they were, each one with as many feathers as a grasshopper, and a chirp not louder. Of course we looked forward with pleasant hopes to the period when the first cackle should announce the milk-white egg, warmly deposited in the hay which we had provided bountifully. They grew finely, and one day I ventured to remark that our hens had remarkably large combs, to which Mrs. S. replied, Yes, indeed, she had observed that; but if I wanted to have a real treat, I ought to get up early in the morning and hear them crow.
"Crow!" said I, faintly; "our hens crowing! Then, by 'the cock that crowed in the morn, to wake the priest all shaven and shorn,' we might as well give up all hopes of having any eggs," said I; "for, as sure as you live, Mrs. S., our hens are all roosters!" And so they were roosters! they grew up and fought with the neighbor's chickens, until there was not a whole pair of eyes on either side of the fence.

A dog is a good thing to have in the country. I have one which I raised from a pup. He is a good, stout fellow, and a hearty barker and feeder. The man of whom I bought him said he was thorough-bred, but he begins to have a mongrel look about him. He is a good watch dog, though; for the moment he sees any suspicious-looking person about the premises he comes right into the kitchen and gets behind the stove. First we kept him in the house, and he scratched all night to get out. Then we turned him out, and he scratched all night to get in. Then we tied him up at the back of the garden, and he howled so that our neighbor shot at him twice before daybreak. Finally we gave him away, and he came back; and now he is just recovering from a fit, in which he has torn up the patch that has been sown for our spring radishes.

A good, strong gate is a necessary article for your garden, -- a good, strong, heavy gate, with a dislocated hinge, so that it will neither open nor shut. Such a one have I. The grounds before my fence are in common, and all the neighbors' cows pasture there. I remarked to Mrs. S., as we stood at the window in a June sunset, how placid and picturesque the cattle looked, as they strolled about, cropping the green herbage. Next morning I found the innocent creatures in my garden. They had not left a green thing in it. The corn in the milk, the beans on the poles, the young cabbages, the tender lettuce, even the thriving shoots on my young fruit trees had vanished. And there they were, looking quietly on the ruin they had made. Our watch dog, too, was forgathering with them. It was too much: so I got a large stick and drove them all out, except a young heifer, whom I chased all over the flower beds, breaking down my trellises, my woodbines and sweet briers, my roses and petunias, until I cornered her in the hot bed. I had to call for assistance to extricate her from the sashes, and her owner has sued me for damages. I believe I shall move in town.


We have put a dumb waiter in our house. A dumb waiter is a good thing to have in the country, on account of its convenience. If you have company, everything can be sent up from the kitchen without any trouble, and, if the baby gets to be unbearable on account of his teeth, you can dismiss the complainant by stuffing him in one of the shelves and letting him down upon the help. To provide for contingencies, we had all our floors deafened. In consequence, you cannot hear anything that is going on in the story below; and, when you are in the upper room of the house, there might be a Democratic ratification meeting in the cellar and you would not know it. Therefore, if anyone should break into the basement, it would not disturb us; but, to please Mrs. Sparrowgrass, I put stout iron bars in all the lower windows. Besides, Mrs. Sparrowgrass had bought a rattle when she was in Philadelphia, -- such a rattle as watchmen carry there. This is to alarm our neighbor, who; upon the signal, is to come to the rescue with his revolver. He is a rash man, prone to pull trigger first and make inquiries afterwards.

One evening Mrs. S. had retired, and I was busy writing, when it struck me a glass of ice water would be palatable. So I took the candle and a pitcher and went down to the pump. Our pump is in the kitchen. A country pump, in the kitchen, is more convenient; but a well with buckets is certainly most picturesque. Unfortunately, our well water has not been sweet since it was cleaned out. First I had to open a bolted door that lets you into the basement hall, and then I went to the kitchen door, which proved to be locked. Then I remembered that our girl always carried the key to bed with her and slept with it under her pillow. Then I retraced my steps, bolted the basement door, and went up into the dining room. As is always the case, I found, when I could not get any water, I was thirstier than I supposed I was. Then I thought I would wake our girl up. Then I concluded not to do it. Then I thought of the well; but I gave that up on account of its flavor. Then I opened the closet doors; there was no water there; and then I thought of the dumb waiter! The novelty of the idea made me smile; I took out two of the movable shelves, stood the pitcher on the bottom of the dumb waiter, got in myself with the lamp, let myself down, until I supposed I was within a foot of the floor below, and then let go.

We came down so suddenly that I was shot out of the apparatus as if it had been a catapult; it broke the pitcher, extinguished the lamp, and landed me in the middle of the kitchen at midnight, with no fire, and the air not much above the zero point. The truth is, I had miscalculated the distance of the descent: instead of falling one foot, I had fallen five. My first impulse was to ascend by the way I came down, but I found that impracticable. Then I tried the kitchen door; it was locked: I tried to force it open; it was made of two-inch stuff, and held its own. Then I hoisted a window, and there were the rigid iron bars. If ever I felt angry at anybody it was at myself, for putting up those bars to please Mrs. Sparrowgrass. I put them up, not to keep people in, but to keep people out.

I laid my cheek against the ice-cold barriers and looked out at the sky: not a star was visible; it was as black as ink over head. Then I thought of Baron Trenck, and the prisoner of Chillon. Then I made a noise. I shouted until I was hoarse, and ruined our preserving kettle with the poker. That brought our dogs out in full bark, and between us we made night hideous. Then I thought I heard a voice, and listened: it was Mrs. Sparrowgrass calling to me from the top of the staircase. I tried to make her hear me, but the infernal dogs united with howl, and growl, and bark, so as to drown my voice, which is naturally plaintive and tender. Besides, there were two bolted doors and double deafened floors between us: how could she recognize my voice, even if she did hear it? Mrs. Sparrowgrass called once or twice, and then got frightened; the next thing I heard was a sound as if the roof had fallen in, by which I understood that Mrs. Sparrowgrass was springing the rattle. That called out our neighbor, already wide awake: he came to the rescue with a bull terrier, a Newfoundland pup, a lantern, and a revolver. The moment he saw me at the window he shot at me, but fortunately just missed me. I threw myself under the kitchen table and ventured to expostulate with him, but he would not listen to reason. In the excitement I had forgotten his name, and that made matters worse. It was not until he had roused up everybody around, broken in the basement door with an ax, gotten into the kitchen with his cursed savage dogs and shooting iron, and seized me by the collar, that he recognized me; and then he wanted me to explain it! But what kind of an explanation could I make to him? I told him he would have to wait until my mind was composed, and then I would let him understand the whole matter fully. But he never would have had the particulars from me, for I do not approve of neighbors that shoot at you, break in your door, and treat you, in your own house, as if you were a jail bird. He knows all about it, however; somebody has told him: somebody tells everybody everything in our village.






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