Now That Spring Is Here by Charles S Brooks

Story type: Essay

When the sun set last night it was still winter. The persons who passed northward in the dusk from the city’s tumult thrust their hands deep into their pockets and walked to a sharp measure. But a change came in the night. The north wind fell off and a breeze blew up from the south. Such stars as were abroad at dawn left off their shrill winter piping–if it be true that stars really sing in their courses–and pitched their voices to April tunes. One star in particular that hung low in the west until the day was up, knew surely that the Spring had come and sang in concert with the earliest birds. There is a dull belief that these early birds shake off their sleep to get the worm. Rather, they come forth at this hour to cock their ears upon the general heavens for such new tunes as the unfaded stars still sing. If an ear is turned down to the rummage of worms in the earth–for to the superficial, so does the attitude attest–it is only that the other ear may be turned upward to catch the celestial harmonies; for birds know that if there is an untried melody in heaven it will sound first across the clear pastures of the dawn. All the chirping and whistling from the fields and trees are then but the practice of the hour. When the meadowlark sings on a fence-rail she but cons her lesson from the stars.

It is on such a bright Spring morning that the housewife, duster in hand, throws open her parlor window and looks upon the street. A pleasant park is below, of the size of a city square, and already it stirs with the day’s activity. The housewife beats her cloth upon the sill and as the dust flies off, she hears the cries and noises of the place. In a clear tenor she is admonished that there is an expert hereabouts to grind her knives. A swarthy baritone on a wagon lifts up his voice in praise of radishes and carrots. His eye roves along the windows. The crook of a hungry finger will bring him to a stand. Or a junkman is below upon his business. Yesterday the bells upon his cart would have sounded sour, but this morning they rattle agreeably, as though a brisker cow than common, springtime in her hoofs, were jangling to her pasture. At the sound–if you are of country training–you see yourself, somewhat misty through the years, barefoot in a grassy lane, with stick in hand, urging the gentle beast. There is a subtle persuasion in the junkman’s call. In these tones did the magician, bawling for old lamps, beguile Aladdin. If there were this morning in my lodging an unrubbed lamp, I would toss it from the window for such magic as he might extract from it. And if a fair Princess should be missing at the noon and her palace be skipped from sight, it will follow on the rubbing of it.

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The call of red cherries in the park–as you might guess from its Italian source–is set to an amorous tune. What lady, smocked in morning cambric, would not be wooed by such a voice? The gay fellow tempts her to a purchase. It is but a decent caution–now that Spring is here–that the rascal does not call his wares by moonlight. As for early peas this morning, it is Pan himself who peddles them–disguised and smirched lest he be caught in the deception–Pan who stamps his foot and shakes the thicket–whose habit is to sing with reedy voice of the green willows that dip in sunny waters. Although he now clatters his tins and baskets and cries out like a merchant, his thoughts run to the black earth and the shady hollows and the sound of little streams.

I have wondered as I have observed the housewives lingering at their windows–for my window also looks upon the park–I have wondered that these melodious street cries are not used generally for calling the wares of wider sale. If a radish can be so proclaimed, there might be a lilt devised in praise of other pleasing merceries–a tripping pizzicato for laces and frippery–a brave trumpeting for some newest cereal. And should not the latest book–if it be a tale of love, for these I am told are best offered to the public in the Spring (sad tales are best for winter)–should not a tale of love be heralded through the city by the singing of a ballad, with a melting tenor in the part? In old days a gaudy rogue cried out upon the broader streets that jugglers had stretched their rope in the market-place, but when the bears came to town, the news was piped even to the narrowest lanes that house-folk might bring their pennies.

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With my thoughts set on the Spring I chanced to walk recently where the theatres are thickest. It was on a Saturday afternoon and the walk was crowded with amusement seekers. Presently in the press I observed a queer old fellow carrying on his back a monstrous pack of umbrellas. He rang a bell monotonously and professed himself a mender of umbrellas. He can hardly have expected to find a customer in the crowd. Even a blinking eye–and these street merchants are shrewd in these matters–must have told him that in all this hurrying mass of people, the thoughts of no one ran toward umbrellas. Rather, I think that he was taking an hour from the routine of the day. He had trod the profitable side streets until truantry had taken him. But he still made a pretext of working at his job and called his wares to ease his conscience from idleness. Once when an unusually bright beam of sunlight fell from between the clouds, he tilted up his hat to get the warmth and I thought him guilty of a skip and syncopation in the ringing of his bell, as if he too twitched pleasantly with the Spring and his old sap was stirred.

I like these persons who ply their trades upon the sidewalk. My hatter–the fellow who cleans my straw hat each Spring–is a partner of a bootblack. Over his head as he putters with his soap and brushes, there hangs a rusty sign proclaiming that he is famous for his cleaning all round the world. He is so modest in his looks that I have wondered whether he really can read the sign. Or perhaps like a true merchant, he is not squeamish at the praise. As I have not previously been aware that any of his profession ever came to general fame except the Mad Hatter of Wonderland, I have squinted sharply at him to see if by chance it might be he, but there are no marks even of a distant kinship. He does, however, bring my hat to a marvellous whiteness and it may be true that he has really tended heads that are now gone beyond Constantinople.

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Bootblacks have a sense of rhythm unparalleled. Of this the long rag is their instrument. They draw it once or twice across the shoe to set the key and then they go into a swift and pattering melody. If there is an unusual genius in the bootblack–some remnant of ancient Greece–he plays such a lively tune that one’s shoulders jig to it. If there were a dryad or other such nimble creature on the street, she would come leaping as though Orpheus strummed a tune, but the dance is too fast for our languid northern feet.

Nowhere are apples redder than on a cart. Our hearts go out to Adam in the hour of his temptation. I know one lady of otherwise careful appetite who even leans toward dates if she may buy them from a cart. “Those dear dirty dates,” she calls them, but I cannot share her liking for them. Although the cart is a beguiling market, dates so bought are too dusty to be eaten. They rank with the apple-john. The apple-john is that mysterious leathery fruit, sold more often from a stand than from a cart, which leans at the rear of the shelf against the peppermint jars. For myself, although I do not eat apple-johns, I like to look at them. They are so shrivelled and so flat, as though a banana had caught a consumption. Or rather, in the older world was there not a custom at a death of sending fruits to support the lonesome journey? If so, the apple-john came untasted to the end. Indeed, there is a look of old Egypt about the fruit. Whether my fondness for gazing at apple-johns springs from a distant occasion when as a child I once bought and ate one, or whether it arises from the fact that Falstaff called Prince Hal a dried apple-john, is an unsolved question, but I like to linger before a particularly shrivelled one and wonder what its youth was like. Perhaps like many of its betters, it remained unheralded and unknown all through its fresher years and not until the coming of its wrinkled age was it at last put up to the common view. The apple-john sets up kinship with an author.

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The day of all fools is wisely put in April. The jest of the day resides in the success with which credulity is imposed upon, and April is the month of easiest credulity. Let bragging travellers come in April and hold us with tales of the Anthropopagi! If their heads are said to grow beneath their shoulders, still we will turn a credent ear. Indeed, it is all but sure that Baron Munchausen came back from his travels in the Spring. When else could he have got an ear? What man can look upon the wonders of the returning year–the first blue skies, the soft rains, the tender sproutings of green stalks without feeling that there is nothing beyond belief? If such miracles can happen before his eyes, shall not the extreme range even of travel or metaphysics be allowed? What man who has smelled the first fragrance of the earth, has heard the birds on their northern flight and has seen an April brook upon its course, will withhold his credence even though the jest be plain?

I beg, therefore, that when you walk upon the street on the next day of April fool, that you yield to the occasion. If an urchin points his finger at your hat, humor him by removing it! Look sharply at it for a supposed defect! His glad shout will be your reward. Or if you are begged piteously to lift a stand-pipe wrapped to the likeness of a bundle, even though you sniff the imposture, seize upon it with a will! It is thus, beneath these April skies, that you play your part in the pageantry that marks the day.

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