Paine, Albert Bigelow: Dwellers in Arcady (illus). v1. 22 June 2016
Dwellers in Arcady: The Story of an Abandoned Farm By Albert Bigelow Paine (1861–1935)
Illustrated by Thomas Fogarty (1873–1938)
Dwellers in Arcady was first published in 1919. This book is in the public domain in countries where copyright is “Life+70” or less, and in the USA.
Text and illustrations were obtained from archive.org. OCR errors were corrected; punctuation, italics and diacritics formatted; some punctuation modernized; illustrations manually cleaned and enhanced.
Albert Bigelow Paine was an American author and biographer best known for his work with Mark Twain. He wrote in several genres, including fiction, humor, and verse, for children and adults. His most notable work was a three-volume biography of Mark Twain.
In 1905, Paine, with his wife Dora and their three young daughters, acquired a farm near Redding, Connecticut, and lived there for the next twelve years. This book could be considered as a sequel to From Van-Dweller to Commuter, and is written in the same style. The collection of gently humorous semi-autobiographical vignettes describes their experiences as they rescued and restored the house and land from years of neglect, reveled in the treasures found in odd corners, and fell under the spell of country life
EXCERPT (it's a long one)
We had acquired Mis’ Cow a few weeks before William’s arrival. It was partly on account of the milk that we wanted her, partly because there was an empty stall next to Old Beek’s [Lord Beaconsfield, their horse] and we thought she would be company for him, partly because we wanted a cow in the landscape – a moving picture of her in the green pasture across the road – finally (and I believe principally) because we have a mania for restoring things and Mis’ Cow looked as if she needed to be restored.
She was owned by a man who was moving away – moving because he had not made a success of chicken-farming by book, and still less of Mis’ Cow. He was not her first owner, nor her second, nor her third. I don’t know what his number was on her list of owners, but I know if he had kept her much longer he would have been her last one. More than once we had bought the mere frame of a haircloth couch, and taken an esthetic pleasure in having it polished and upholstered, and made into a thing of beauty and service. It was with this view that we acquired Mis’ Cow, who at the moment was a mere frame with a patchy Holstein covering and a feebly hanging tail. We gave thirty-five dollars for her, and the man who was moving because he had not made a success of chickens threw in a single buggy that broke down the week after he left.
We consulted Westbury on the matter of Mis’ Cow’s past history, and it was the only time I ever knew W. C. Westbury to be inexact as to the age and habits of any animal in Brook Ridge. He said he had always known her as a good milker, but that she had been unfortunate of late years in her owners. He couldn’t remember her age, but he didn’t think it was enough to hurt her. My opinion is that he could have given her exact birthday and record had he really tried, but that kindness of heart prompted him to encourage a trade that might improve her fortunes. I suspect that they had played together in childhood.
We managed to get Mis’ Cow up the hill and into her stall, where we could provide her with upholstery material. The little pasture across the road was getting green and she presently had the full run of it. The restoring progress began, as it were, overnight. If ever an article of furniture paid a quick return in the matter of looks, she did. She could never be a very fat Mis’ Cow – she was not of that build. But a few days of good food and plenty of it certainly worked wonders. She filled out several of the most alarming hollows around her hips and along her ridge-pole, she seemingly took on height and length. She grew smooth, even glossy; her tail no longer hung on her like a bell-cord, but became a lithe weapon of defense that could swat a fly with fatal precision on any given spot of her black-and-white area. It was only a little while until we were really proud to have her in the landscape, and the picture she made grazing against the green or standing in the apple shade was really gratifying. When the trees were pink and white with bloom and Mis’ Cow rested under them, chewing in time to her long reflections, we often called one another out to admire the pastoral scene. A visiting friend of Scotch ancestry was moved to exclaim, “Ah, the bonny cow!”
Then there was the matter of milk – she certainly justified Westbury’s reputation in that respect. From a quart or two of thin, pale unusable fluid her daily dividend grew into gallons of foaming richness that became pitchers of cream and pounds of butter; for Elizabeth, like myself, had known farming in an earlier day, and rows of milk-pans and a churn went with her idea of the simple life. All day Mis’ Cow munched the new grass, and night and morning yielded a brimming pail. She was a noble worker, I will say that.
But there was another side to Mis’ Cow – a side which Westbury forgot to mention. Mis’ Cow was an acrobat. When she had been on bran mash and clover for a few weeks she showed a decided tendency to be gay – to caper and kick up her heels – to break away into the woods or down the road, if one was not watching. But this was not all – this was mere ordinary cow nature, which is more foolish and contrary than any other kind of nature except that which goes with a human being or a hen. I was not surprised at these things – they were only a sign that she was getting tolerably restored, according to specifications. But when one day I saw her going down the road, soon after I had turned her into the pasture and carefully put up the bars, I realized that she had special gifts. Stone walls did not a prison make – not for her. Elizabeth and I rounded her up and got her back into the pasture, and from concealment I watched her. She fed peacefully enough, for some time, then, doubtless believing herself unobserved, she took a brief promenade along the wall until she came to what looked like a promising place, and simply walked over it, like a goat.
We herded her into the barn, and I engaged a man to put a string of wire above the wall. That was effective as long as it was in repair. But it was Mis’ Cow’s business to see that it did not remain in repair permanently. She would examine it during idle moments, pick out a weak spot in the entanglement, and pull it flat with her horns. Or where the wall was broad enough at the top, she would climb up and walk it, just for exercise, stepping over when she got ready. If she could have been persuaded to do those things to order I could have sold her to a circus.
I found this amusing; hope you do too.
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