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MAY 5, 1949

Romantic Notes On The Gay Nineties

By Leora Webster Cross

Having achieved my objective in the school at Sheffields Mills, I accepted a "call" to teach the school at Morristown, hoping a way would open up for me to go back to Normal School for a few months in order to complete the requirements for my "B" license. The way opened easier than I had dared to expect. When I learned that the teacher of the previous year, a Miss Chesley, was "off duty" from teaching, I approached her and got her consent to take over my school for the last four months of the year. Knowing the excellence of Miss Chesley’s teaching ability, the trustees readily agreed to the change.

I do not ascribe this good fortune to a mere "coincidence", for I believe that verse of scripture found in the Eighth Chapter of Romans which says: "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God", applies to our daily lives. Throughout my life, this knowledge has contributed much to my peace of mind.

Thus, five years after my first term at the Normal (now having the dignified name of "College"), I was back again in the old familiar Hall of Learning. There were not many familiar faces, however, Principal Calkin, who had been rather short of stature and bald-headed, had been succeeded by a tall, stately gentleman, named David Soloan.

My memory of Dr. Soloan is associated with the time he called upon me to read my story on the poem Barbara Frietchie (A previous assignment), before a class of two hundred pupils. You will remember the story in the Reader about the old lady who poked her head out the window when the rebel army "with Stonewall Jackson riding ahead" was marching by and yelled: "Shoot if you must this old grey head but spare your country’s flag". I had devoted very little time in my young life to the art of composition; therefore, it was with a feeling of inferiority that I arose to expose my feeble attempt to portray the character of this famous, though fictitious, patriot. Much to my relief, Dr. Soloan was very lenient in his criticism and won my undying gratitude by his tactful way of trying to find something worthy of praise.

Many other incidents stand out in my memory of these four months at Normal, but I shall mention just one of them.

One day, one of the professors, having a very sentimental sense of humor, suggested we go to the Park and write an essay on the "Babbling Brook". I have visited many lovely parks, even in remote parts of this continent, but found none more "enchanting" than Victoria Park of Truro. It was the regular rendezvous for the Normal students. The majestic waterfalls, the winding paths along the side of the hills, and through the wood, with here and there a rustic seat, the wishing well and the Babbling Brook, all conspired to make this a perfect retreat for the lovers of romance. And it was the ideal setting for a poet or a weaver of fairy tales. But after reading Tennyson’s immortal poem on the Babbling Brook, it seemed like arrogance to try to say anything more on the subject.

Many times since then, having answered Nature’s call in the glorious springtime, "to go a –fishing", those melodious verses have sung themselves through my mind, as with my ear attuned to the music of the babbling brook, I have waited for that auspicious nibble on the end of my hook. (The rhyme was purely accidental).

Perhaps a few verses from this haunting poem may refresh your memory for the time when you, too, go angling for that "lusty trout":

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally,
And sparkle out among the fern
To bicker down a valley.

I chatter over stony ways
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling.

And here and there a foamy flake
Upon me as I travel
With many a silvery water-break
Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming’ river;
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

And this concludes my reminiscences of the Period of the Gay Nineties. They have come and gone, but History, like Tennyson’s Brook, goes on through the corridors of Time – forever, drawing along in its course the "blossoms" of our visions and dreams of the future years.