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LATE on a warm cloudy night in April, 1919, upon a hill in Connecticut a few miles inland from the Sound, a large capacious spreading old house of brick and frame loomed like a great squat shadow there. Upstairs were many people asleep. Below there was not a light nor a sound-except in one room, where in the darkness the click of a typewriter was heard.
So this narrative was begun :
I am blind-but no blinder than is the mind of the world, these days. The long thin splinter of German steel which struck in behind my eyes did no more to me than the war has done to the vision of humanity. In this year of deep confusion-clutching, grabbing, spending, wasting, and in Europe plague and famine, desperation and revolt-mankind is reeling in the dark. And in these long queer crowded nights, half waking and half sleeping, it has seemed to me at times as though the bedlam of it all were pounding, seething into me. I was once a playwright-and vividly there comes to me a memory of the Broadway crowds on a big rush Saturday night. A sightless beggar stood by the curb, and in a harsh shrill piercing voice he kept repeating, "Help the blind!" The Soul of Man is like him now.
But this is against doctor's orders. The medical chap who lifted me out of my recent darkness is taking no
chances of a return to that black melancholia. He still hopes that I may regain my sight. In the meantime, he has given orders, and I have agreed, that in this writing I shall leave the present and take a long trip for my health back into the distant past, and that only after working through the memories of some forty years shall I come again to this baffling age-please God, with a new pair of eyes, and a deeper vision of it all.
My doctor's name is Steve McCrea, and I have known him all my life, for we were boys together here. In the months that have just gone by, he knew how I dreaded the nights alone. From my newspaper days, I had been an owl. In the army I had learned to sleep, but again I had lost the trick of it. And knowing this, from his home nearby almost every evening Steve motored over for long talks. At first we talked about the war; but already we were beginning to see that the roar of guns had been only a part of a deeper mightier process which had ploughed up the whole world, and strange new harvests had appeared. We wondered what still lay ahead. In seeking the answer we groped in the past. Backward along the devious paths of our two lives we journeyed far; and the memories rose haphazard—the big movements and events all mingled with personal hopes and schemes, ambitions, family quarrels, small comedies and tragedies. As we talked we would often chuckle or laugh. Again there would be silent spells . . . At last I would see him to the door, listen to his motor start, and with these queer new sensitive ears I would follow it by the diminishing sound down the long winding country road. Then I would come back to this room, put out the lamp I did not need, re-light my pipe and for a time I would sit here remembering and thinking of this book of mine-while the house I once knew so well by sight grew familiar again by sound, by its tiny creaks and stirrings, the numberless whispers of its life.
It drew close like an old friend from the past, evoking the scenes and the faces.
So now, if you will, escape with me out of the glare and the din of these days far back into the years gone by.
In that world of long ago which existed before the war, on a peaceful Sabbath morning in 1875, Steve's father, who was the clergyman in our Presbyterian church, sprinkled some cold water on my innocent bald baby head, stopped while I sneezed violently, and then declared in solemn tones, "Lawrence Carrington Hart, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." So much for my age and name. My friends call me Larry Hart.
With a sister and two small cousins, I was brought up by my Aunt Amelia. From ever since I could recall, she had been the head of the family. Her husband, my father's elder brother, had been the country doctor here. My father, John Hart-or J. Carrington Hart, as he was known later in New York—had developed a small foundry in a town on the Sound five miles away. Meanwhile, he had married, and my sister Lucy and I were born in a house on the edge of the town. But our mother died when we were small, and we came to Aunt Amelia's. A few years later, our uncle died; and then Dad sold the house in town and came out to live with us. And until I went away to school, my memories are all wrapped up in this family home of ours, which was known as Seven Pines.
It is an old Connecticut house set firmly on a low green hill, with seven pines around it, a wide meadow extending down to the road. Below in the distance on sunny days gleam the blue waters of the Sound. The house is of brick painted white, with four slender white wooden columns in front and a frame wing on either
side; and there are stables and a barn and various other buildings. Inside the house are many rooms and narrow halls, steps up and down. It has been here for a hundred years, sending the quiet smoke of its hearths to the sun by day and the stars by night, the heavy stones of its foundations grown to be like part of the soil of rocky New England. "How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord." As a boy I used to connect that hymn with the huge gray and yellow boulders by our cellar door.
But if founded on the rocks of New England, the house, when we were children, was filled with the spirit of the West-brought in by my Aunt Amelia.
Here is a brief sketch of her life. In 1854, her family left the Mohawk Valley to join the vast migration west. They settled in Wisconsin. A little girl of nine years old, the trip by rail, canal boat, wagon, was her first immense adventure-with thrilling incidents, day and night. Wolves, Indians, flocks of pigeons that darkened the entire sky, woods full of game, rivers teeming with fish. Age of myth and endless stories—which she told to us as children. One of my "best favorites" was the story of Indian John. A tall shaggy half-witted old man, they had known him back in the East, where he was one of the last of his tribe. He would came stalking up to the farm-house, put his fingers to his mouth and say hoarsely, "Hungry! Haw!" After he had been given his supper he would lie down by the hearth for the night, and my aunt and her two little brothers would shiver at his mutterings and his big dull smouldering eyes. Then the family moved west. It was like a trip around the world. But six months later, at sunset, a tall gray familiar figure stalked up to their home, put his hand to his mouth and said, "Hungry! Haw!" He had trailed them for a thousand miles!
She told us of the slow hard growth of that lonely