James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

June 9

Dickens in Camp

By Francis Bret Harte (1836–1902)

(Died June 9, 1870)

ABOVE the pines the moon was slowly drifting,

The river sang below;

The dim Sierras, far beyond, uplifting

Their minarets of snow.

The roaring camp-fire, with rude humor, painted

The ruddy 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 firelight 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!