James Whitcomb Riley (7 October 1849 - 22 July 1916 / Greenfield, Indiana)
Another hero of those youthful years
Returns, as Noey Bixler's name appears.
And Noey--if in any special way--
Was notably good-natured.--Work or play
He entered into with selfsame delight--
A wholesome interest that made him quite
As many friends among the old as young,--
So everywhere were Noey's praises sung.
And he was awkward, fat and overgrown,
With a round full-moon face, that fairly shone
As though to meet the simile's demand.
And, cumbrous though he seemed, both eye and hand
Were dowered with the discernment and deft skill
Of the true artisan: He shaped at will,
In his old father's shop, on rainy days,
Little toy-wagons, and curved-runner sleighs;
The trimmest bows and arrows--fashioned, too.
Of 'seasoned timber,' such as Noey knew
How to select, prepare, and then complete,
And call his little friends in from the street.
'The very _best_ bow,' Noey used to say,
'Haint made o' ash ner hick'ry thataway!--
But you git _mulberry_--the _bearin_'-tree,
Now mind ye! and you fetch the piece to me,
And lem me git it _seasoned_; then, i gum!
I'll make a bow 'at you kin brag on some!
Er--ef you can't git _mulberry_,--you bring
Me a' old _locus_' hitch-post, and i jing!
I'll make a bow o' _that_ 'at _common_ bows
Won't dast to pick on ner turn up their nose!'
And Noey knew the woods, and all the trees,
And thickets, plants and myriad mysteries
Of swamp and bottom-land. And he knew where
The ground-hog hid, and why located there.--
He knew all animals that burrowed, swam,
Or lived in tree-tops: And, by race and dam,
He knew the choicest, safest deeps wherein
Fish-traps might flourish nor provoke the sin
Of theft in some chance peeking, prying sneak,
Or town-boy, prowling up and down the creek.
All four-pawed creatures tamable--he knew
Their outer and their inner natures too;
While they, in turn, were drawn to him as by
Some subtle recognition of a tie
Of love, as true as truth from end to end,
Between themselves and this strange human friend.
The same with birds--he knew them every one,
And he could 'name them, too, without a gun.'
No wonder _Johnty_ loved him, even to
The verge of worship.--Noey led him through
The art of trapping redbirds--yes, and taught
Him how to keep them when he had them caught--
What food they needed, and just where to swing
The cage, if he expected them to _sing_.
And _Bud_ loved Noey, for the little pair
Of stilts he made him; or the stout old hair
Trunk Noey put on wheels, and laid a track
Of scantling-railroad for it in the back
Part of the barn-lot; or the cross-bow, made
Just like a gun, which deadly weapon laid
Against his shoulder as he aimed, and--'_Sping!_'
He'd hear the rusty old nail zoon and sing--
And _zip!_ your Mr. Bluejay's wing would drop
A farewell-feather from the old tree-top!
And _Maymie_ loved him, for the very small
But perfect carriage for her favorite doll--
A _lady's_ carriage--not a _baby_-cab,--
But oilcloth top, and two seats, lined with drab
And trimmed with white lace-paper from a case
Of shaving-soap his uncle bought some place
At auction once.
And _Alex_ loved him yet
The best, when Noey brought him, for a pet,
A little flying-squirrel, with great eyes--
Big as a child's: And, childlike otherwise,
It was at first a timid, tremulous, coy,
Retiring little thing that dodged the boy
And tried to keep in Noey's pocket;--till,
In time, responsive to his patient will,
It became wholly docile, and content
With its new master, as he came and went,--
The squirrel clinging flatly to his breast,
Or sometimes scampering its craziest
Around his body spirally, and then
Down to his very heels and up again.
And _Little Lizzie_ loved him, as a bee
Loves a great ripe red apple--utterly.
For Noey's ruddy morning-face she drew
The window-blind, and tapped the window, too;
Afar she hailed his coming, as she heard
His tuneless whistling--sweet as any bird
It seemed to her, the one lame bar or so
Of old 'Wait for the Wagon'--hoarse and low
The sound was,--so that, all about the place,
Folks joked and said that Noey 'whistled bass'--
The light remark originally made
By Cousin Rufus, who knew notes, and played
The flute with nimble skill, and taste as wall,
And, critical as he was musical,
Regarded Noey's constant whistling thus
Likewise when Uncle Mart, who shared the love
Of jest with Cousin Rufus hand-in-glove,
Said 'Noey couldn't whistle '_Bonny Doon_'
Even! and, _he'd_ bet, couldn't carry a tune
If it had handles to it!'
The deviations here so fugitive,
And turn again to Little Lizzie, whose
High estimate of Noey we shall choose
Above all others.--And to her he was
Particularly lovable because
He laid the woodland's harvest at her feet.--
He brought her wild strawberries, honey-sweet
And dewy-cool, in mats of greenest moss
And leaves, all woven over and across
With tender, biting 'tongue-grass,' and 'sheep-sour,'
And twin-leaved beach-mast, prankt with bud and flower
Of every gypsy-blossom of the wild,
Dark, tangled forest, dear to any child.--
All these in season. Nor could barren, drear,
White and stark-featured Winter interfere
With Noey's rare resources: Still the same
He blithely whistled through the snow and came
Beneath the window with a Fairy sled;
And Little Lizzie, bundled heels-and-head,
He took on such excursions of delight
As even 'Old Santy' with his reindeer might
Have envied her! And, later, when the snow
Was softening toward Springtime and the glow
Of steady sunshine smote upon it,--then
Came the magician Noey yet again--
While all the children were away a day
Or two at Grandma's!--and behold when they
Got home once more;--there, towering taller than
The doorway--stood a mighty, old Snow-Man!
A thing of peerless art--a masterpiece
Doubtless unmatched by even classic Greece
In heyday of Praxiteles.--Alone
It loomed in lordly grandeur all its own.
And steadfast, too, for weeks and weeks it stood,
The admiration of the neighborhood
As well as of the children Noey sought
Only to honor in the work he wrought.
The traveler paid it tribute, as he passed
Along the highway--paused and, turning, cast
A lingering, last look--as though to take
A vivid print of it, for memory's sake,
To lighten all the empty, aching miles
Beyond with brighter fancies, hopes and smiles.
The cynic put aside his biting wit
And tacitly declared in praise of it;
And even the apprentice-poet of the town
Rose to impassioned heights, and then sat down
And penned a panegyric scroll of rhyme
That made the Snow-Man famous for all time.
And though, as now, the ever warmer sun
Of summer had so melted and undone
The perishable figure that--alas!--
Not even in dwindled white against the grass--
Was left its latest and minutest ghost,
The children yet--_materially_, almost--
Beheld it--circled 'round it hand-in-hand--
(Or rather 'round the place it used to stand)--
With 'Ring-a-round-a-rosy! Bottle full
O' posey!' and, with shriek and laugh, would pull
From seeming contact with it--just as when
It was the _real-est_ of old Snow-Men.
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