BY THE RIVER.
IT did not take us younger ones long to get acquainted with our new home, and to love it.
To live beside a river had been to me a child's dream of romance. Rivers, as I pictured them, came down from the mountains, and were born in the clouds. They were bordered by green meadows, and graceful trees leaned over to gaze into their bright mirrors. Our shallow tidal creek was the only river I had known, except as visioned on the pages of the "Pilgrim's Progress," and in the Book of Revelation. And the Merrimack was like a continuation of that dream.
I soon made myself familiar with the rocky nooks along Pawtucket Falls, shaded with hemlocks and white birches. Strange new wild flowers grew beside the rushing waters,—among them Sir Walter Scott's own harebells, which I had never thought of except as blossoms of poetry; here they were, as real to me as to his Lady of the Lake! I loved the harebell, the first new flower the river gave me, as I had never loved a flower before.
There was but one summers holiday for us who worked in the mills—the Fourth of July. We made a point of spending it out of doors, making excursions down the river to watch the meeting of the slow Concord and the swift Merrimack; or around by the old canal-path, to explore the mysteries of the Guard Locks; or across the bridge, clambering up Dracut Heights, to look away to the dim blue mountains.
On that morning it was our custom to wake one another at four o'clock, and start off on a tramp together over some retired road whose chief charm was its unfamiliarity, returning to a very late breakfast, with draggled gowns and aprons full of dewy wild roses. No matter if we must get up at five the next morning and go back to our hum-drum toil, we should have the roses to take with us for company, and the sweet air of the woodland which lingered about them would scent our thoughts all day, and make us forget the oily smell of the machinery.
We were children still, whether at school or at work, and Nature still held us close to her motherly heart. Nature came very close to the mill-gates, too, in those days. There was green grass all around them; violets and wild geraniums grew by the canals; and long stretches of open land between the corporation buildings and the street made the town seem country-like.
The slope behind our mills (the "Lawrence" Mills) was a green lawn; and in front of some of them the overseers had gay flower-gardens; we passed in to our work through a splendor of dahlias and hollyhocks.
The gray stone walls of St. Anne's church and rectory made a picturesque spot in the middle of the town, remaining still as a lasting monument to the religious purpose which animated the first manufacturers. The church arose close to the oldest corporation (the "Merrimack"), and seemed a part of it, and a part, also, of the original idea of the place itself, which was always a city of worshipers, although it came to be filled with a population which preferred meeting-houses to churches....