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AFTER HOEING, or perhaps reading and writing, in the forenoon, I
usually bathed again in the pond, swimming across one of its coves
for a stint, and washed the dust of labor from my person, or
smoothed out the last wrinkle which study had made, and for the
afternoon was absolutely free. Every day or two I strolled to the
village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on
there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to
newspaper, and which, taken in homeopathic doses, was really as
refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs.
As I walked in the woods to see the birds and squirrels, so I walked
in the village to see the men and boys; instead of the wind among the
pines I heard the carts rattle. In one direction from my house there
was a colony of muskrats in the river meadows; under the grove of
elms and buttonwoods in the other horizon was a village of busy
men, as curious to me as if they had been prairie-dogs, each sitting at
the mouth of its burrow, or running over to a neighbor’s to gossip. I
went there frequently to observe their habits. The village appeared to
me a great news room; and on one side, to support it, as once at
Redding & Company’s on State Street, they kept nuts and raisins, or
salt and meal and other groceries. Some have such a vast appetite for
the former commodity, that is, the news, and such sound digestive
organs, that they can sit forever in public avenues without stirring,
and let it simmer and whisper through them like the Etesian winds,
or as if inhaling ether, it only producing numbness and insensibility
to pain-otherwise it would often be painful to bear-without affecting
the consciousness. I hardly ever failed, when I rambled through the
village, to see a row of such worthies, either sitting on a ladder
sunning themselves, with their bodies inclined forward and their
eyes glancing along the line this way and that, from time to time,
with a voluptuous expression, or else leaning against a barn with
their hands in their pockets, like caryatides, as if to prop it up. They,
being commonly out of doors, heard whatever was in the wind.
These are the coarsest mills, in which all gossip is first rudely
digested or cracked up before it is emptied into finer and more
delicate hoppers within doors. I observed that the vitals of the village
were the grocery, the bar-room, the post-office, and the bank; and, as
a necessary part of the machinery, they kept a bell, a big gun, and a
fire-engine, at convenient places; and the houses were so arranged as
to make the most of mankind, in lanes and fronting one another, so
that every traveller had to run the gauntlet, and every man, woman,
and child might get a lick at him. Of course, those who were
stationed nearest to the head of the line, where they could most see
and be seen, and have the first blow at him, paid the highest prices
for their places; and the few straggling inhabitants in the outskirts,
where long gaps in the line began to occur, and the traveller could
get over walls or turn aside into cow-paths, and so escape, paid a
very slight ground or window tax. Signs were hung out on all sides
to allure him; some to catch him by the appetite, as the tavern and
victualling cellar; some by the fancy, as the dry goods store and the
jewel-ler’s; and others by the hair or the feet or the skirts, as the
barber, the shoe-maker, or the tailor. Besides, there was a still more
terrible standing invitation to call at every one of these houses, and
company expected about these times. For the most part I escaped
wonderfully from these dangers, either by proceeding at once boldly
and without deliberation to the goal, as is recommended to those
who run the gauntlet, or by keeping my thoughts on high things, like
Orpheus, who, "loudly singing the praises of the gods to his lyre,
drowned the voices of the Sirens, and kept out of danger."
Sometimes I bolted suddenly, and nobody could tell my
whereabouts, for I did not stand much about gracefulness, and never
hesitated at a gap in a fence. I was even accustomed to make an
irruption into some houses, where I was well entertained, and after
learning the kernels and very last sieveful of news-what had
subsided, the prospects of war and peace, and whether the world was
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