The Little House by Christopher Morley

Story type: Essay

After many days of damp, dull, and dolorous weather, we found ourself unexpectedly moving in a fresh, cool, pure air; an air which, although there was no sunlight, had the spirit and feeling of sunlight in it; an air which was purged and lively. And, so strangely do things happen, after days of various complexion and stratagem, we found ourself looking across that green field, still unchanged, at the little house.

Wasn’t there–we faintly recall a saccharine tune sung by someone who strode stiffly to and fro in a glare of amber footlights–wasn’t there a song about: “And I lo-ong to settle down, in that old Long Island town!” Wasn’t there such a ditty? It came softly back, unbidden, to the sentimental attic of our memory as we passed along that fine avenue of trees and revisited, for the first time since we moved away, the wide space of those Long Island fields and the row of frame cottages. There was the little house, rather more spick and span than when we had known it, freshly painted in its brown and white, the privet hedge very handsomely shaven, and its present occupant busily engaged in trimming some tufts of grass along the pavement. We did not linger, and that cheerful-looking man little knew how many ghosts he was living among. All of us, we suppose, dwell amid ghosts we are not aware of, and this gentleman would be startled if he knew the tenacity and assurance of certain shades who moved across his small lawn that afternoon.

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It was strange, we aver, to see how little the place had changed, for it seemed that we had passed round the curves and contours of a good many centuries in those four or five years. In the open meadow the cow was still grazing; perhaps the same cow that was once pestered by a volatile Irish terrier who used to swing merrily at the end of that cow’s tail; a merry and irresponsible little creature, she was, and her phantom still scampers the road where the sharp scream of the Freeport trolley brings back her last fatal venture to our mind. It was strange to look at those windows, with their neat white sills, and to remember how we felt when for the first time we slept in a house of our own, with all those Long Island stars crowding up to the open window, and, waking in drowsy unbelief, put out a hand to touch the strong wall and see if it was still there. Perhaps one may be pardoned for being a little sentimental in thinking back about one’s first house.

The air, on that surprising afternoon, carried us again into the very sensation and reality of those days, for there is an openness and breezy stir on those plains that is characteristic. In the tree-lined streets of the village, where old white clapboarded houses with green or pale blue shutters stand in a warm breath of box hedges, the feeling is quite different. Out on the Long Island prairie–which Walt Whitman, by the way, was one of the first to love and praise–you stand uncovered to all the skirmish of heaven, and the feathery grasses are rarely still. There was the chimney of the fireplace we had built for us, and we remembered how the wood-smoke used to pour gallantly from it like a blue pennon of defiance. The present owner, we fear, does not know how much impalpable and unforgotten gold leaped up the wide red throat of that chimney, or he would not dream of selling. Yes, the neighbours tell us that he wants to sell. In our day, the house was said to be worth $3,000. Nowadays, the price is $7,000. Even at that it is cheap, if you set any value on amiable and faithful ghosts.

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Oh, little house on the plains, when our typewriter forgets thee, may this shift key lose its function!

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