O blessed shades! O gentle cool retreat,
From all the immoderate heat, In which the frantic world does burn and sweat!
Neath cloistered boughs, each floral bell that swingeth, And tolls its perfume on the passing air, Makes sabbath in the fields, and ever ringeth A call to prayer.
THE whole farm at Overlea might well be called an orchard, for it abounds in Apple and Pear trees, which are scattered about it, from the point at the north to the foot of the hill on the south.
Tall, fuzzy old settlers they are, with mossy trunks and gaunt branches; but, like the ancient New England human stock, they die game, and are useful to the end. The weather-beaten old Seckels, which look perfectly hopeless, still produce stout, brown, rosy little pears, as sweet as honey, if not much bigger than an overgrown bumble-bee, and the venerable Bartletts, which we threaten every year to cut down, because they look so shabby and disreputable in their torn and mossy old jackets, put off the evil day by mollifying us every September with a crop, which, though not large, still serves to purchase them a reprieve.
One of the conspicuous ornaments of the level space below the northern terrace of the house is an old Pear-tree we call Methuselah, which was transplanted in 1779, and, in spite of its great age, still bears a profusion of hard, sweet pears, which the housewives consider excellent for coddling, or preserving with barberries. This ancient and honorable old continental, which stands some fifty feet in its stockings, girths ten feet and three inches a foot from the ground, and has a coat so beautifully wrinkled and seamed with age, that our artist friend tells us a Japanese would beg a bit of the bark for a curio, and exhibit it as a precious and artistic possession. In the spring its venerable poll is snowy with blossoms, and though its great trunk is quite hollow within, the six huge branches into which it separates near the base spread wide and strong, and send out from their broken tops vigorous young shoots, on which the fruit grows profusely.
We suppose this to be the original well known Gushing Pear-tree, as this farm was a part of the colonial grant to Matthew Cushing in 1634, and was the Stamm-haus of that widespread race, which held the property in the Cushing name for two hundred and forty years, the land having descended by will from one to another, so that we hold the first deed, and paid the first money that was ever given for it.
The Apple orchard proper, which is in the shape of a flat-iron, lies in the point of the place, which is quite filled by three or four enormous old trees, which have grown to a great height, and had, when we came, immense branches that arched over and almost swept the ground, their huge mounds of rosy bloom in spring making a wondrous sight.
Since then, with a vague idea of improving them, though some of the wise ones tell us it is a mistake to meddle with such old trees, we have had them pruned, that the sun might shine more directly upon the apples, which failed to color properly in the dense shade. Also, the ground beneath them has been plowed, to the great detriment of their small roots, which, owing to the marshy ground below, lie very near the surface.
Last year was not their bearing year, and not until this autumn could we tell the effect of this surgery, which seems to have had fairly good results, for the yield was satisfactory though not large. The plowing was not done so much for the trees as for the grass, which had been fairly driven out by the encroachments of the Moneywort, which has escaped from the garden and runs riot over the place; and the pruning was as necessary for the hay-crop as for the fruity for the great Elm hard by helps to shade all that part of the grounds, and even now the grass, when cut, has to be transported into the open to be cured.