Dickens in Camp.
Bret Harte. Overland Monthly, July 1870.
The river sang below;
The dim Sierras, far beyond, uplifting
Their minarets of snow.
The roaring camp-fire, with rude humor, painted
The rudy tints of health
On haggard face and form that drooped and fainted
In the fierce race for wealth;
Till one arose, and from his pack’s scant treasure
A hoarded volume drew,
And cards were dropped from hands of listless leisure
To hear the tale anew;
And then, while round them shadows gathered faster,
And as the fire-light fell,
He read aloud the book wherein the Master
Had writ of “Little Nell.”
Perhaps ‘twas boyish fancy—for the reader
Was youngest of them all—
But, as he read, from clustering pine and cedar
A silence seemed to fall;
The fir-trees, gathering closer in the shadows,
Listened in every spray,
While the whole camp, with “Nell” on English meadows
Wandered and lost their way.
And so in mountain solitudes—o’ertaken
As by some spell divine—
Their cares dropped from them like the needles shaken
From out the gusty pine.
Lost is that camp, and wasted all its fire:
And he who wrought that spell?—
Ah, towering pine and stately Kentish spire,
Ye have one tale to tell!
Lost is that camp! but let its fragrant story
Blend with the breath that thrills
With hop-vines’ incense all the pensive glory
That fills the Kentish hills.
And on that grave where English oak, and holly,
And laurel wreaths entwine,
Deem it not all a too presumptuous folly—
This spray of Western pine!