Augustin S. Macdonald, comp. A Collection of Verse by California Poets. 1914.

By F. Bret Harte


WOT’S that you’re readin’?—a novel? A novel,—well, dern my skin!

You a man grown and bearded and histin’ such stuff ez that in,—

Stuff about gals and their sweethearts! No wonder you’re thin ez a knife.

Look at me!—clar two hundred,—and never read one in my life!

That’s my opinion o’ novels. And ez to their lyin’ round here,

They belonged to the Jedge’s daughter,—the Jedge who came up last year

On account of his lungs and the mountains and the balsam o’ pine and fir;

And his daughter,—well, she read novels, and that’s what’s the matter with her.

Yet she allers was sweet on the Jedge, and she stuck by him day and night,

Alone in the cabin up yer,—till she grew like a ghost, all white.

She wus only a slip of a thing, ez light and ez up and away

Ez rifle-smoke blown through the woods, but she wasn’t my kind,—no way!

Speaking o’ gals, d’ye mind that house ez you rise the hill,

A mile and a half from White’s, and jist above Mattingly’s mill?

You do? Well now thar’s a gal! What, you saw her? Oh, come now, thar, quit!

She was only bedevilin’ you boys, for to me she don’t cotton one bit.

Now she’s what I call a gal,—ez pretty and plump ez a quail;

Teeth ez white ez a hound’s and they’d go through a tenpenny nail;

Eyes that kin snap like a cap. So she asked to know “whar I was hid.”

She did! Oh, it’s jist like her sass, for she’s peart ez a Katy-did.

But what was I talking of?—Oh, the Jedge and his daughter,—she read

Novels the whole day long, and I reckon she read them abed,

And sometimes she read them out loud to the Jedge on the porch where he sat,

And ’t was how “Lord Augustus” said this, and how “Lady Blanche” she said that.

But the sickest of all that I heerd, was a yarn thet they read ’bout a chap,

“Leather-stocking” by name, and a hunter chock full o’ the greenest o’ sap;

And they asked me to hear, but I says, “Miss Mabel, not any for me;

When I likes I kin sling my own lies, and thet chap and I shouldn’t agree.”

Yet somehow or other she was always sayin’ I brought her to mind

Of folks about whom she had read, or suthin belike of thet kind,

And thar warn’t no end o’ the names that she give me thet summer up there,

“Robin Hood,” “Leather-stocking,” “Rob Roy,”—Oh, I tell you, the critter was queer.

And yet ef she hadn’t been spiled, she was harmless enough in her way.

She could jabber in French to her dad, and they said that she knew how to play,

And she worked me that shot-pouch up thar,—which the man doesn’t live ez kin use,

And slippers—you see ’em down yer—ez would cradle an Injin’s pappoose.

Yet along o’ them novels, you see she was wastin’ and mopin’ away,

And then she got shy with her tongue, and at last she had nothin’ to say;

And whenever I happened around, her face it was hid by a book,

And it was n’t until she left that she give me ez much ez a look.

And this was the way it was. It was night when I kem up here

To say to ’em all “good by,” for I reckoned to go for deer

At “sun up” the day they left. So I shook ’em all round by the hand,

’Cept Mabel, and she was sick, ez they give me to understand.

But jist ez I passed the house next morning at dawn, some one,

Like a little waver o’ mist, got up on the hill with the sun;

Miss Mabel it was, all alone,—wrapped up in a mantle o’ lace,—

And she stood there straight in the road, with a touch o’ the sun in her face.

And she looked me right in the eye,—I’d seen suthin like it before

When I hunted a wounded doe to the edge o’ the Clear Lake shore,

And I had my knee on its neck, and jist was a raisin’ my knife

When it give me a look like that, and—well, it got off with its life.

“We are going to-day,” she said, “and I thought I would say good-by

To you in your own house, Luke,—these woods, and the bright blue sky!

You ’ve always been kind to us, Luke, and papa has found you still

As good as the air he breathes, and wholesome as Laurel Tree Hill.

“And we’ll always think of you, Luke, as the thing we could not take away;

The balsam that dwells in the woods, the rainbow that lives in the spray.

And you’ll sometimes think of me, Luke, as you know you once used to say,

A rifle-smoke blown through the woods, a moment, but never to stay.”

And then we shook hands. She turned, but a-suddent she tottered and fell,

And I caught her sharp by the waist, and held her a minit,—well,

It was only a minit, you know, that ez cold and ez white she lay

Ez a snow-flake here on my breast, and then—well, she melted away—

And was gone … And thar are her books; but I says not any for me,

Good enough may be for some, but them and I might n ’t agree.

They spiled a decent gal ez might hev made some chap a wife,

And look at me!—clar two hundred,—and never read one in my life!