Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Why Bull Garnet so enjoyed the cutting down of a tree, none but those who themselves enjoy it may pretend to say. Of course we will not refer it to the reason assigned in the well-known epigram, which contains such a wholesale condemnation of this arboricidal age. In another century, London builders will perhaps discover, when there are no trees left, that a bit of tuck-pointing by the gate, and a dab of mud-plaster beside it, do not content the heart of man like the leaves, and the drooping shadowy rustle, which is the type of himself.
Bull Garnet stood there in the October morning, with the gate wide open, flung back by his strong hand upon its hinges, as if it had no right to them. The round bolt dropped from the quivering force, dropped through the chase of the loop, and bedded deep in the soft, wet ground.
With much satisfaction the gate brought up, and felt itself anchored safely; Bull Garnet gave the bolt a kick, which hurled all the rusty screws out. Then he scarcely stopped to curse the blacksmith; he wanted the time for the woodcutters. At a glint from the side of his vast round eyes—eyes that took in everything, and made all the workmen swear and believe that he could see round a corner—he descried that the axemen were working the tree askew to the strain of the ropes. The result must be that the comely young oak, just proud of its first big crop of acorns, would swerve on the bias of the wind, stagger heavily, and fall headlong upon the smart new fence. There was no time for words—in a moment he had kicked the men right and left, torn off his coat, and caught up an axe, and dealt three thundering strokes in the laggard twist of the breach. Away went the young oak, swaying wildly, trying once to recover itself, then crashing and creaking through the brushwood, with a swish from its boughs and leaves, and a groan from its snaggy splinters. A branch took one of the men in his face, and laid him flat in a tussock of grass.
"Serve you right, you lubber; I'm devilish glad," cried Bull Garnet; " and I hope you won't move for a week."
The next moment, he went up and raised him, felt that his limbs were sound, and gave him a dram of brandy.
"All right, my fine fellow. Next time you'll know something of the way to fell a tree. Go home now, and I'll send you a bottle of wine."
The boy leaped the new X fence very cleverly, through the fork of the fingers, and stood before his father in a flame of indignation. Mr. Garnet, with that queer expression which the face of a middle-aged man wears when he recalls his boyhood, ere yet he begins to admire it, was looking at his own young life with a contemplative terror. He was saying to himself, "What cheek this boy has got!" and he was feeling all the while that he loved him the more for having it.
"Hurrah, Bob, my boy; you're come just in time." Mr. Garnet tried very hard to look as if he expected approval. Well enough all the time he knew that he had no chance of getting it. For Bob loved nature in any form, especially as expressed in the noble eloquence of a tree. And now he saw why he had been sent to the village on a trifling errand that morning.
"Just in time for what, sir?" Bob's indignation waxed yet more. That his father should dare to chaff him!
"Just in time to tell us all about these wonderful red-combed fungi. What do you call them—some long name, as wonderful as themselves?"
Bob kicked them aside contemptuously. He could have told a long story about them, and things which men of thrice his age, who have neglected their mother, would be glad to listen to. Nature, desiring not revenge, has it in the credulous itch of the sons who have turned their backs on her.
"Oh, father," said Bob, with the tears in his eyes; "father, you can't have known that three purple emperors came to this oak, and sat upon the top of it, every morning for nearly a week, in the middle of July. And it was the most handsomest fifty-year oak till you come right to Brockenhurst bridge."
"Most handsomest, Bob!" cried Mr. Garnet, glad to lay hold of any thing; "come along with me, my son; I must see to your education."
Near them stood a young spruce fir, not more than five feet high. It had thrown up a straight and tapering spire, scaled with tender green. Below were tassels, tufts, and pointlets, all in triple order, pluming over one another in a pile of beauty. The tips of all were touched with softer and more glaucous tone. But all this gentle tint and form was only as a framework now, a loom to bear the web of heaven. For there had been a white mist that morning—autumn's breath made visible; and the tree with its net of spider's webs had caught the lucid moisture. Now, as the early sunlight opened through the layered vapours, that little spruce came boldly forth a dark bay of the forest, and met all the spears of the orient. Looped and traced with threads of gauze, the lacework of a fairy's thought, scarcely daring to breathe upon its veil of tremulous chastity, it kept the wings of light on the hover, afraid to weigh down the whiteness. A maiden with the love-dream nestling under the bridal faldetta, a child of genius breathing softly at his own fair visions, even an infant's angel whispering to the weeping mother—what image of humanity can be so bright and exquisite as a common tree's apparel ?
"Father, can you make that?" Mr. Garnet checked his rapid stride; and for once he admired a tree.
"No, my son; only God can do such glorious work as that."
"But it don't take God to undo it. Smash!"
Bob dashed his fists through the whole of it, and all the draped embroidery, all the pearly filagree, all the festoons of silver, were but as a dream when a yawning man stretches his scraggy arms forth. The little tree looked woe-begone, stale, and draggled with drunken tears.
"Why, Bob, I am ashamed of you."
"Father, so am I of you."