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´╗┐Title: Nature's Serial Story
Author: Roe, Edward Payson, 1838-1888
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nature's Serial Story" ***

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THE WORKS OF E. P. ROE

VOLUME ONE

NATURE'S SERIAL STORY


[Illustration: UNDER THE MISTLETOE]



PREFACE

"I am getting very tired," said a hard brain-worker to me once. "Life is
beginning to drag and lose its zest." This is an experience that can
scarcely happen to one who has fallen in love with Nature, or become
deeply interested in any of her almost infinite manifestations. Mr. and
Mrs. Clifford of my story are not wholly the creations of fancy. The aged
man sketched in the following pages was as truly interested in his garden
and fruit-trees after he had passed his fourscore years as any enthusiastic
horticulturist in his prime, and the invalid, whose memory dwells in my
heart, found a solace in flowers which no words of mine have exaggerated.
If this book tends to bring others into sympathy with Nature, one of its
chief missions will be fulfilled.

A love for the soil and all the pursuits of outdoor life is one of the
most healthful signs in a people. Our broad and diversified land affords
abundant opportunity for the gratification of every rural taste, and
those who form such tastes will never complain that life is losing its
zest. Other pleasures pall with time and are satiated. We outgrow them.
But every spring is a new revelation, every summer a fresh, original
chapter of experience, and every autumn a fruition of hopes as well as of
seeds and buds. Nothing can conduce more to happiness and prosperity than
multitudes of rural homes. In such abodes you will not find Socialists,
Nihilists, and other hare-brained reformers who seek to improve the world
by ignoring nature and common-sense. Possession of the soil makes a man
conservative, while he, at the same time, is conserved.

The culture of the land is no longer plodding, ox-like drudgery, nor is
the farm a place of humdrum, brainless routine. Science offers her aid on
every hand, and beauty, in numberless forms, is ever present to those who
have eyes and hearts capable of recognizing it. The farmer has a literature
of his own, which every year is growing in proportions and value. He also
has time for the best literature of the world. It is his own fault if he
remains akin to the clod he turns. Is it not more manly to co-work with
Nature for a livelihood than to eke out a pallid, pitiful existence behind
a counter, usurping some woman's place?

Nature is a good mother, after all, in our latitude. She does not coddle
and over-indulge her children, but rewards their love abundantly,
invigorates them if they dwell in her presence, and develops mind and
muscle, heart and soul, if they obey her laws and seek to know her well.
Although infinitely rich, she has not the short-sighted folly of those
parents who seek to place everything in the hand of a child without cost.
On the contrary, she says, "See what you may win, what you may attain."
Every crop is a prize to knowledge, skill, industry. Every flower is a
beautiful mystery which may be solved in part; every tree is stored
sunshine for the hearth, shelter from the storm, a thing of beauty while
it lives, and of varied use when its life is taken. In animals, birds,
insects, and vegetation we are surrounded by diversified life, and our
life grows richer, more healthful and complete, as we enter into their
life and comprehend it. The clouds above us are not mere reservoirs of
water for prosaic use. In their light, shade, and exquisite coloring they
are ever a reproach to the blindness of coarse and earthy minds.

The love of Nature is something that may be developed in every heart, and
it is a love that rarely fails to purify and exalt. To many she is a
cold, indifferent beauty. They see, but do not know and appreciate her,
and she passes on her way as if they were nothing to her. But when wooed
patiently and lovingly, she stops to smile, caress, and entertain with
exhaustless diversion.

In this simple home story I have talked, perhaps, like a garrulous lover
who must speak of his mistress, even though his words weary others. I
console myself, however, with the thought that my text has proved the
prosaic root and stem which have given being to the exquisite flowers of
art that adorn these pages. In Mr. Gibson and Mr. Dielman I have had
ideal associates in the work. They have poured light on a landscape that
would otherwise be dull and gray.

My characters may seem shadows to others, but they have become real, or
were real, to me. I meet them still in walks and drives where in fancy I
had placed them before. I would not have to go very far to find types of
the children introduced, but the lovers, and the majority of the others,
began as shadows in the background of imagination, and took form and
substance with time. Dr. Marvin, however, is a reality and a most valued
friend, who has assisted me greatly in my work. Any one who has the
good-fortune to meet Dr. E. A. Mearns, surgeon in the regular army, can
scarcely fail to recognize in him the genial sportsman for whom the birds
were "always in season." There are others to whom I am indebted, like
John Burroughs, Thoreau, Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway, true lovers and
interpreters of Nature. Those living stand near her queenly presence;
those who have passed on are doubtless nearer still.



CONTENTS


I. A COUNTRY HOME

II. AMY WINFIELD

III. A COUNTRY FIRESIDE

IV. GUNNING BY MOONLIGHT

V. CHRISTMAS EVE AND MORNING

VI. NATURE'S HALF-KNOWN SECRETS

VII. NEIGHBORS DROP IN

VIII. EAGLES

IX. SLEIGHING IN THE HIGHLANDS

X. A WINTER THUNDER-STORM

XI. NATURE UNDER GLASS

XII. A MOUNTAINEER'S HOVEL

XIII. ALMOST A TRAGEDY

XIV. HINTS OF SPRING

XV. NATURE'S BUILDING MATERIALS

XVI. GOSSIP ABOUT BIRD NEIGHBORS

XVII. FISHING THROUGH THE ICE

XVIII. PLANNING AND OPENING THE CAMPAIGN

XIX. WINTER'S EXIT

XX. A ROYAL CAPTIVE

XXI. SPRING'S HARBINGERS

XXII. FIRST TIMES

XXIII. REGRETS AND DUCK-SHOOTING

XXIV. APRIL

XXV. EASTER

XXVI. VERY MOODY

XXVII. SHAD-FISHING BY PROXY

XXVIII. MAY AND GIRLHOOD

XXIX. NATURE'S WORKSHOP

XXX. SPRING-TIME PASSION

XXXI. JUNE AND HONEY-BEES

XXXII. BURT BECOMES RATIONAL

XXXIII. WEBB'S ROSES AND ROMANCE

XXXIV. A SHAM BATTLE AT WEST POINT

XXXV. CHASED BY A THUNDER-SHOWER

XXXVI. THE RESCUE OF A HOME

XXXVII. A MIDNIGHT TEMPEST

XXXVIII. THE TWO LOVERS

XXXIX. BURT'S ADVENTURE

XL. MISS HARGROVE

XLI. A FIRE IN THE MOUNTAINS

XLII. CAMPING OUT

XLIII. AN OLD TENEMENT

XLIV. "BUT HE RISKED HIS LIFE?"

XLV. SUMMER'S WEEPING FAREWELL

XLVI. FATHER AND DAUGHTER

XLVII. DISQUIET WITHIN AND WITHOUT

XLVIII. IDLEWILD

XLIX. ECHOES OF A PAST STORM

L. IMPULSES OF THE HEART

LI. WEBB'S FATEFUL EXPEDITION

LII. BURT'S SORE DILEMMA

LIII. BURT'S RESOLVE

LIV. A GENTLE EXORCIST

LV. BURT TELLS HIS LOVE AGAIN

LVI. WEBB'S FOUR-LEAVED CLOVER

LVII. OCTOBER HUES AND HARVESTS

LVIII. THE MOONLIGHT OMEN

LIX. THE ROSE REVEALS ITS HEART

LX. CHRISTMAS LIGHTS AND SHADOWS



NATURE'S SERIAL STORY



THIS BOOK
IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED
TO MY WIFE



NATURE'S SERIAL STORY

CHAPTER I

A COUNTRY HOME


How much it means--what possibilities it suggests! The one I shall
describe was built not far from half a century ago, and the lapsing years
have only made it more homelike. It has long ceased to be a new object--an
innovation--and has become a part of the landscape, like the trees
that have grown up around it. Originally painted brown, with the flight
of time it has taken a grayish tinge, as if in sympathy with its venerable
proprietor. It stands back from the roadway, and in summer has an air of
modest seclusion. Elms, maples, and shrubbery give to the passer-by but
chance glimpses of the wide veranda, which is indicated, rather than
revealed, beyond the thickly clustering vines.

It is now late December, and in contrast with its leafy retirement the
old homestead stands out with a sharp distinctness in the white landscape;
and yet its sober hue harmonizes with the dark boles of the trees, and
suggests that, like them, it is a natural growth of the soil, and quite
as capable of clothing itself with foliage in the coming spring. This in
a sense will be true when the greenery and blossoms of the wistaria,
honeysuckle, and grape-vines appear, for their fibres and tendrils have
clung to the old house so long that they may well be deemed an inseparable
part of it. Even now it seems that the warmth, light, and comfort within
are the sustaining influences which will carry them through, the coming
days of frost and storm. A tall pine-tree towers above the northern gable
of the dwelling, and it is ever sighing and moaning to itself, as if it
possessed some unhappy family secret which it can neither reveal nor
forget. On the hither side of its shade a carriage-drive curves toward an
ancient horse-block, with many a lichen growing on the under side of the
weather-beaten planks and supports. From this platform, where guests have
been alighting for a generation or more, the drive passes to an
old-fashioned carriage-house, in which are the great family sleigh and a
light and gayly painted cutter, revealing that the home is not devoid of
the young life to which winter's most exhilarating pastime is so dear. A
quaint corn-crib is near, its mossy posts capped with inverted tin pans
much corroded by rust. These prevent prowling rats and mice from climbing
up among the golden treasures. Still further beyond are the gray old barn
and stables, facing the south. Near their doors on the sunny side of the
ample yard stand half a dozen ruminating cows, with possibly, between
their wide-branching horns, a dim consciousness of the fields, now so
white and cold, from which were cropped, in the long-past summer, far
juicier morsels than now fall to their lot. Even into their sheltered
nook the sun, far down in the south, throws but cold and watery gleams
from a steel-colored sky, and as the northern blast eddies around the
sheltering buildings the poor creatures shiver, and when their morning
airing is over are glad to return to their warm, straw-littered stalls.
Even the gallant and champion cock of the yard is chilled. With one foot
drawn up into his fluffy feathers he stands motionless in the midst of
his disconsolate harem with his eye fixed vacantly on the forbidding
outlook. His dames appear neither to miss nor to invite his attentions,
and their eyes, usually so bright and alert, often film in weary
discontent. Nature, however, is oblivious to all the dumb protests of the
barnyard, and the cold steadily strengthens.

Away on every side stretch the angular fields, outlined by fences that
are often but white, continuous mounds, and also marked by trees and
shrubs that, in their earlier life, ran the gantlet of the bush-hook.
Here and there the stones of the higher and more abrupt walls crop out,
while the board and rail fences appear strangely dwarfed by the snow that
has fallen and drifted around them. The groves and wood-crowned hills
still further away look as drearily uninviting as roofless dwellings with
icy hearthstones and smokeless chimneys. Towering above all, on the
right, is Storm King mountain, its granite rocks and precipices showing
darkly here and there, as if its huge white mantle were old and ragged
indeed. One might well shiver at the lonely, desolate wastes lying beyond
it, grim hills and early-shadowed valleys, where the half-starved fox
prowls, and watches for unwary rabbits venturing from their coverts to
nibble the frozen twigs. The river, which above the Highlands broadens
out into Newburgh Bay, has become a snowy plain, devoid, on this bitter
day, of every sign of life. The Beacon hills, on the further side, frown
forbiddingly through the intervening northern gale, sweeping southward
into the mountain gorge.

On a day like this the most ardent lover of Nature could scarcely fail to
shrink from her cold, pallid face and colder breath. Our return to the
home, whose ruddy firelight is seen through the frosted window-panes,
will be all the more welcome because we have been shivering so long
without. The grace of hospitality has been a characteristic of the master
of the house for over half a century, and therefore the reader need not
fear to enter, especially at this Christmas-time, when the world, as if
to make amends for the churlish welcome it gave to its Divine Guest, for
whom no better place was found than a stable, now throws open the door
and heart in kindly feeling and unselfish impulses.

We propose to make a long visit at this old-fashioned homestead. We shall
become the close friends of its inmates, and share in their family life;
they will introduce us to some of their neighbors, and take us on many
breezy drives and pleasant excursions, with which it is their custom to
relieve their busy life; we shall take part in their rural labors, and
learn from them the secret of obtaining from nature that which nourishes
both soul and body; they will admit us to their confidence, and give us
glimpses of that mystery of mysteries, the human heart; and we shall
learn how the ceaseless story of life, with its hopes and fears, its joys
and sorrows, repeats itself in the quiet seclusion of a country home as
truly as in the turmoil of the city. Nor would our visit be complete did
we not witness among the ripened fruits of conjugal affection the bud and
blossom of that immortal flower which first opened in Eden, and which
ever springs unbidden from the heart when the conditions that give it
life and sustenance are present.

The hallway of this central scene of our story is wide, and extends to a
small piazza in the rear. The front half of this family thoroughfare,
partitioned off by sliding-doors, can thus be made into a roomy apartment.
Its breezy coolness causes it to be a favorite resort on sultry days, but
now it is forsaken, except that a great heater, with its ample rotundity
and glowing heart, suggests to the visitor that it stands there as a
representative of the host until he shall appear. Some portraits, a fine
old engraving, a map of the county, and some sprays of evergreen
intermingled with red berries, take away all bareness from the walls,
while in a corner near the door stands a rack, formed in part by the
branching antlers of a stag, on which hang fur caps and collars, warm
wraps and coats, all suggesting abundant means of robbing winter of its
rigor. On hooks above the sliding-doors are suspended a modern rifle and
a double-barrelled shot-gun, and above these is a firelock musket that
did good service in the Revolution.

The doors opening into the rear hall were pushed back, revealing a broad
stairway, leading with an abrupt turn and a landing to the upper chambers.
A cheerful apartment on the left of this hall was the abode of an invalid,
whose life for many years disease had vainly sought to darken. There were
lines of suffering on her thin, white face, and her hair, once black, was
silvered; but it would seem that, in the dark, lustrous eyes of the patient
woman, courage and hope had been kindled, rather than quenched, by pain.
She was now reclining on a sofa, which had been wheeled near to a wood-fire
glowing on the hearth of a large Franklin stove; and her dreamy, absent
expression often gave place to one of passing interest as her husband,
sitting opposite, read from his paper an item of news--some echo from the
busy, troubled world, that seemed so remote from their seclusion and
peaceful age. The venerable man appeared, however, as if he might still do
his share in keeping the world busy, and also in banishing its evils.
Although time had whitened his locks, it had touched kindly his stalwart
frame, while his square jaw and strong features indicated a character that
had met life's vicissitudes as a man should meet them. His native strength
and force, however, were like the beautiful region in which he dwelt--once
wild and rugged indeed, but now softened and humanized by generations of
culture. Even his spectacles could not obscure the friendly and benevolent
expression of his large blue eyes. It was evident that he looked at the
world, as mirrored before him in the daily journal, with neither cynicism
nor mere curiosity, but with a heart in sympathy with all the influences
that were making it better.

The sound of a bell caused the old man to rise and assist his wife to her
feet; then, with an affectionate manner, tinged with a fine courtesy of
the old school, he supported her to the dining-room, placed her in a
cushioned chair on his right, at the head of the table, and drew a
footstool to her feet. There was a gentleness and solicitude in his
bearing which indicated that her weakness was more potent than strength
would have been in maintaining her ascendency!

Meanwhile the rest of the family flocked in with an alacrity which proved
either that the bitter cold had sharpened their appetites, or that the
old-fashioned one-o'clock dinner was a cheerful break in the monotony of
the day. There was a middle-aged man, who was evidently the strong stay and
staff on which the old people leaned. His wife was the housekeeper of the
family, and she was emphatically the "house-mother," as the Germans phrase
it. Every line of her good, but rather care-worn, face bespoke an anxious
solicitude about everybody and everything except herself. It was apparent
that she had inherited not a little of the "Martha" spirit, and "was
careful about many things;" but her slight tendency to worry saved others a
world of worriment, for she was the household providence, and her
numberless little anxieties led to so much prevention of evil that there
was not much left to cure. Such was her untiring attention that her
thoughtless, growing children seemed cared for by the silent forces of
nature. Their clothes came to them like the leaves on the trees, and her
deft fingers added little ornaments that cost the wearers no more thought
than did the blossoms of spring to the unconscious plants of the garden.
She was as essential to her husband as the oxygen in the air, and he knew
it, although demonstrating his knowledge rather quietly, perhaps. But she
understood him, and enjoyed a little secret exultation over the strong
man's almost ludicrous helplessness and desolation when her occasional
absences suspended for a brief time their conjugal partnership. She
surrounded the old people with a perpetual Indian-summer haze of
kindliness, which banished all hard, bleak outlines from their late
autumnal life. In brief, she was what God and nature designed woman to
be--the gracious, pervading spirit, that filled the roomy house with
comfort and rest. Sitting near were her eldest son and pride, a lad about
thirteen years of age, and a girl who, when a baby, had looked so like a
boy that her father had called her "Johnnie," a sobriquet which still clung
to her. Close to the mother's side was a little embodiment of vitality,
mischief, and frolic, in the form of a four-year-old boy, the dear torment
of the whole house.

There remain but two others to be mentioned, and the Clifford family will
be complete, as constituted at present. The first was the youngest son of
the aged man at the head of the table. He had inherited his father's
features, but there was a dash of recklessness blended with the manifest
frankness of his expression, and in his blue eyes there was little trace of
shrewd calculation or forethought. Even during the quiet midday meal they
flashed with an irrepressible mirthfulness, and not one at the table
escaped his aggressive nonsense. His brother, two or three years his
senior, was of a very different type, and seemed somewhat overshadowed by
the other's brilliancy. He had his mother's dark eyes, but they were deep
and grave, and he appeared reserved and silent, even in the home circle.
His bronzed features were almost rugged in their strength, but a heavy
mustache gave a touch of something like manly beauty to his rather sombre
face. You felt instinctively that he was one who would take life
seriously--perhaps a little too seriously--and that, whether it brought him
joy or sorrow, he would admit the world but charily to his confidence.

Burtis, the youngest brother, had gone through college after a sort of
neck-or-nothing fashion, and had been destined for one of the learned
professions; but, while his natural ability had enabled him to run the
gantlet of examinations, he had evinced such an unconquerable dislike for
restraint and plodding study that he had been welcomed back to the paternal
acres, which were broad enough for them all. Mr. Clifford, by various
means, had acquired considerable property in his day, and was not at all
disappointed that his sons should prefer the primal calling to any other,
since it was within his power to establish them well when they were ready
for a separate domestic life. It must be admitted, however, that thus far
the rural tastes of Burtis were chiefly for free out-of-door life, with its
accessories of rod, gun, and horses. But Leonard, the eldest, and Webb, the
second in years, were true children of the soil, in the better sense of the
term. Their country home had been so replete with interest from earliest
memory that they had taken root there like the trees which their father had
planted. Leonard was a practical farmer, content, in a measure, to follow
the traditions of the elders. Webb, on the other hand, was disposed to look
past the outward aspects of Nature to her hidden moods and motives, and to
take all possible advantage of his discoveries. The farm was to him a
laboratory, and, with something of the spirit of the old alchemists, he
read, studied, and brooded over the problem of producing the largest
results at the least cost. He was by no means deficient in imagination, or
even in appreciation of the beautiful side of nature, when his thoughts
were directed to this phase of the outer world; but his imagination had
become materialistic, and led only to an eager quest after the obscure laws
of cause and effect, which might enable him to accomplish what to his
plodding neighbors would seem almost miraculous. He understood that the
forces with which he was dealing were wellnigh infinite; and it was his
delight to study them, to combine them, and make them his servants. It was
his theory that the energy in nature was like a vast motive power, over
which man could throw the belt of his skill and knowledge, and so produce
results commensurate with the force of which he availed himself. There was,
therefore, an unfailing zest in his work, and the majority of his labors
had the character of experiments, which, nevertheless, were so guided by
experience that they were rarely futile or unremunerative. On themes that
accorded with his tastes and pursuits he would often talk earnestly and
well, but his silence and preoccupation at other times proved that it is
not best to be dominated by one idea, even though it be a large one.



CHAPTER II

AMY WINFIELD


The reader may now consider himself introduced to the household with whom
he is invited to sojourn. In time he will grow better acquainted with the
different members of the family, as they in their several ways develop
their own individuality. A remark from old Mr. Clifford indicates that
another guest is expected, who, unlike ourselves, will be present in
reality, not fancy, and who is destined to become a permanent inmate of
the home.

"This is a bitter day," he said, "for little Amy to come to us; and yet,
unless something unforeseen prevents, she will be at the station this
evening."

"Don't worry about the child," Burtis responded, promptly; "I'll meet
her, and am glad of an excuse to go out this horrid day. I'll wrap her up
in furs like an Esquimau."

"Yes, and upset her in the drifts with your reckless driving," said
good-natured Leonard. "Thunder is wild enough at any time; but of late,
between the cold, high feeding, and idleness, he'll have to be broken
over again; lucky if he don't break your neck in the operation. The
little girl will feel strange enough, anyway, coming among people that
she has never seen, and I don't intend that she shall be frightened out
of her wits into the bargain by your harum-scarum ways. You'd give her
the impression that we were only half-civilized. So I'll drive over for
her in the family sleigh, and take Alf with me. He will be nearer her own
age, and help to break the ice. If you want a lark, go out by yourself,
and drive where you please, after your own break-neck style."

"Leonard is right," resumed Mr. Clifford, emphatically. "The ward
committed to me by my dear old friend should be brought to her home with
every mark of respect and affection by the one who has the best right to
represent me. I'd go myself, were not the cold so severe; but then
Leonard's ways are almost as fatherly as my own; and when his good wife
there gets hold of the child she'll soon be fused into the family, in
spite of the zero weather. She'll find all the cold without the door."

"I yield," said Burtis, with a careless laugh. "Len shall bring home the
little chick, and put her under his wife's wing. I should probably
misrepresent the family, and make a bad first impression; and as for
Webb, you might as well send the undertaker for her."

"I don't think she will feel strange among us very long," said Leonard's
wife. "She shall hang up her stocking to-night, like the other children,
and I have some nice little knick-knacks with which to fill it. These,
and the gifts which the rest of you have provided, will delight her, as
they do all little people, and make her feel at once that she is part of
the family."

"Maggie expresses my purpose fully," concluded Mr. Clifford. "As far as
it is within our power, we should make her one of the family. In view of
my friend's letters, this is the position that I desire her to sustain,
and it will be the simplest and most natural relation for us all. Your
mother and I will receive her as a daughter, and it is my wish that my
sons should treat her as a sister from the first."

Amy Winfield, the subject of the above remarks, was the only daughter of a
gentleman who had once been Mr. Clifford's most intimate friend, and also
his partner in many business transactions. Mr. Winfield had long resided
abroad, and there had lost the wife whom he had married rather late in
life. When feeling his own end drawing near, his thoughts turned wistfully
to the friend of his early manhood, and, as he recalled Mr. Clifford's
rural home, he felt that he could desire no better refuge for his child. He
had always written of her as his "little girl," and such she was in his
fond eyes, although in fact she had seen eighteen summers. Her slight
figure and girlish ways had never dispelled the illusion that she was still
a child, and as such he had commended her to his friend, who had responded
to the appeal as to a sacred claim, and had already decided to give her a
daughter's place in his warm heart. Mr. Winfield could not have chosen a
better guardian for the orphan and her property, and a knowledge of this
truth had soothed the last hours of the dying man.

It struck Leonard that the muffled figure he picked up at the station and
carried through the dusk and snow to the sleigh was rather tall and heavy
for the child he was expecting; but he wrapped her warmly, almost beyond
the possibility of speaking, or even breathing, and spoke the hearty and
encouraging words which are naturally addressed to a little girl. After
seeing that her trunks were safely bestowed in a large box-sledge, under
the charge of black Abram, one of the farm-hands, he drove rapidly
homeward, admonishing Alfred, on the way, "to be sociable." The boy,
however, had burrowed so deep under the robes as to be invisible and
oblivious. When Leonard was about to lift her out of the sleigh, as he
had placed her in it, the young girl protested, and said:

"I fear I shall disappoint you all by being larger and older than you
expect."

A moment later he was surprised to find that the "child" was as tall as
his wife, who, with abounding motherly kindness, had received the girl
into open arms. Scarcely less demonstrative and affectionate was the
greeting of old Mr. Clifford, and the orphan felt, almost from the first,
that she had found a second father.

"Why, Maggie," whispered Leonard, "the child is as tall as you are!"

"There's only the more to welcome, then," was the genial answer, and,
turning to the young girl, she continued, "Come with me, my dear; I'm not
going to have you frightened and bewildered with all your new relations
before you can take breath. You shall unwrap in your own room, and feel
from the start that you have a nook where no one can molest you or make
you afraid, to which you can always retreat;" and she led the way to a
snug apartment, where an air-tight stove created summer warmth. There was
a caressing touch in Mrs. Leonard's assistance which the young girl felt
in her very soul, for tears came into her eyes as with a deep sigh of
relief she sat down on a low chair.

"I feared I should be a stranger among strangers," she murmured; "but I
already feel as if I were at home."

"You are, Amy," was the prompt reply, spoken with that quiet emphasis
which banishes all trace of doubt. "You are at home as truly as I am.
There is nothing halfway in this house. Do you know we all thought that
you were a child? I now foresee that we shall be companions, and very
companionable, too, I am sure."

There was a world of grateful good-will in the dark hazel eyes which Amy
lifted to the motherly face bending over her.

"And now come," pursued Mrs. Leonard; "mother Clifford, the boys, and the
children are all eager to see you. You won't find much ice to break, and
before the evening is over you will feel that you belong to us and we to
you. Don't be afraid."

"I am not afraid any more. I was, though, on my way here. Everything looked
so cold and dismal from the car windows, and the gentleman in whose care I
was had little to say, though kind and attentive enough. I was left to my
own thoughts, and gave way to a foolish depression; but when your husband
picked me up in his strong arms, and reassured me as if I were a little
girl, my feeling of desolation began to pass away. Your greeting and dear
old Mr. Clifford's have banished it altogether. I felt as if my own father
were blessing me in the friend who is now my guardian, and of whom I have
heard so often; and, after my long winter journey among strangers, you've
no idea what a refuge this warm room has already become. Oh, I know I shall
be happy. I only wish that dear papa knew how well he has provided for me."

"He knows, my dear. But come, or that incorrigible Burt will be bursting
upon us in his impatience, and the little mother must not be kept
waiting, either. You will soon learn to love her dearly. Weak and gentle
as she is, she rules us all."

"Mother's room" was, in truth, the favorite haunt of the house, and only
her need of quiet kept it from being full much of the time. There was
nothing bleak or repelling in the age it sheltered, and children and
grandchildren gathered about the old people almost as instinctively as
around their genial open fire. This momentous Christmas-eve found them
all there, a committee of reception awaiting the new inmate of their
home. There was an eager desire to know what Amy was like, but it was a
curiosity wholly devoid of the spirit of criticism. The circumstances
under which the orphan came to them would banish any such tendency in
people less kindly than the Cliffords; but their home-life meant so much
to them all that they were naturally solicitous concerning one who must,
from the intimate relations she would sustain, take from or add much to
it. Therefore it was with a flutter of no ordinary expectancy that they
waited for her appearance. The only one indifferent was Leonard's youngest
boy, who, astride his grandpa's cane, was trotting quietly about,
unrestricted in his gambols. Alfred had thawed out since his return from
the station, and was eager to take the measure of a possible playmate; but,
with the shyness of a boy who is to meet a "strange girl," he sought a
partial cover behind his grandfather's chair. Little "Johnnie" was flitting
about impatiently, with her least mutilated doll upon her arm; while her
uncle Burtis, seated on a low stool by his mother's sofa, pretended to be
exceedingly jealous, and was deprecating the fact that he would now be no
longer petted as her baby, since the child of her adoption must assuredly
take his place. Webb, who, as usual, was somewhat apart from the family
group, kept up a poor pretence of reading; and genial Leonard stood with
his back to the fire, his hands clasped behind him, beaming upon all, and
waiting to shine on the new-comer. Only Mr. Clifford seemed uninfluenced by
the warm, bright present. He gazed fixedly into the flickering blaze, and
occasionally took off his spectacles to wipe away the moisture that
gathered in his eyes. His thoughts, evidently, were busy with years long
past, and were following that old, tried friend who had committed to his
hands so sacred a trust.

The door opened, and Mrs. Leonard led Amy forward. The latter hesitated a
moment, bewildered by the number of eyes turned toward her, and the new
relations into which she was entering. She proved that she was not a
child by her quick, blushing consciousness of the presence of two young
men, who were as yet utter strangers; and they, in turn, involuntarily
gave to the lender, brown-haired girl quite a different welcome from the
one they had expected to bestow upon a child. Old Mr. Clifford did not
permit her embarrassment to last a moment, but, stepping hastily forward,
and encircling her with his arm, he led her to his wife, who brought
tears into the eyes of the motherless girl by the gentle warmth of her
greeting. She monopolized her ward so long that impatient Burtis began to
expostulate, and ask when his turn was coming. The young girl turned a
shy, blushing face toward him, and her cheeks, mantling under the full
rays of the lamp, rendered the exquisite purity of her complexion all the
more apparent. He also began to feel that he was flushing absurdly, but
he carried it off with his usual audacity.

"I am much embarrassed and perplexed," he said. "I was led to expect a
little sister that I could romp with, and pick up and kiss; but here is a
young lady that almost paralyzes me with awe."

"I'd like to see you paralyzed from any such cause just once," Leonard
remarked, laughingly. "Go kiss your sister, like a little man."

The young fellow seemed to relish the ceremony exceedingly, and responsive
mirthfulness gleamed for a moment in Amy's eyes. Then he dragged Webb
forward, saying, "Let me introduce to you the grave and learned member of
the family, to whom we all speak with bated breath. You must not expect him
to get acquainted with you in any ordinary way. He will investigate you,
and never rest until he has discovered all the hidden laws of your being.
Now, Webb, I will support you while Amy kisses you, and then you may sit
down and analyze your sensations, and perhaps cipher out a method by which
a kiss can be rendered tenfold more effective."

Unmoved by his brother's raillery, Webb took the young girl's hand, and
looked at her so earnestly with his dark, grave eyes, that hers drooped.
"Sister Amy," he said, gently, "I was prepared to welcome you on general
principles, but I now welcome you for your own sake. Rattle-brain Burt
will make a good playmate, but you will come to me when you are in
trouble;" and he kissed her brow.

The girl looked up with a swift, grateful glance; it seemed odd to her,
even at that moment of strong and confused impressions, and with the
salutes of her guardians still warm upon her cheek, that she felt a sense
of rest and security never known before. "He will be my brother in very
truth," was the interpretation which her heart gave to his quiet words.
They all smiled, for the course of the reticent and undemonstrative young
man was rather unexpected. Burtis indulged in a ringing laugh, as he
said:

"Father, mother, you must both feel wonderfully relieved. Webb is to look
after Amy in her hours of woe, which, of course, will be frequent in this
vale of tears. He will console you, Amy, by explaining how tears are
formed, and how, by a proper regard for the sequence of cause and effect,
there might be more or less of them, according to your desire."

"I think I understand Webb," was her smiling answer.

"Don't imagine it. He is a perfect sphinx. Never before has he opened his
mouth so widely, and only an occasion like this could have moved him. You
must have unconsciously revealed a hidden law, or else he would have been
as mum as an oyster."

Leonard, meanwhile, had seated himself, and was holding little Ned on his
knee, his arm at the same time encircling shy, sensitive Johnnie, who was
fairly trembling with excited expectancy. Ned, with his thumb in his
mouth, regarded his new relative in a nonchalant manner; but to the
little girl the home-world was _the_ world, and the arrival in its midst
of the beautiful lady never seen before was as wonderful as any fairy
tale. Indeed, that such a June-like creature should come to them that
wintry day--that she had crossed the terrible ocean from a foreign realm
far more remote, in the child's consciousness, than fairy-land--seemed
quite as strange as if Cinderella had stepped out of the storybook with
the avowed purpose of remaining with them until her lost slipper was
found. Leonard, big and strong as he was, felt and interpreted the
delicate and thrilling organism of his child, and, as Amy turned toward
him, he said, with a smile:

"No matter about me. We're old friends; for I've known you ever since you
were a little girl at the station. What if you did grow to be a young
woman while riding home! Stranger things than that happen every day in
storybooks, don't they, Johnnie? Johnnie, you must know, has the advantage
of the rest of us. She likes bread-and-butter, and kindred realities of our
matter-of-fact sphere, but she also has a world of her own, which is quite
as real. I think she is inclined to believe that you are a fairy princess,
and that you may have a wand in your pocket by which you can restore to her
doll the missing nose and arm."

Amy scarcely needed Leonard's words in order to understand the child, for
the period was not remote when, in her own mind, the sharp outlines of
fact had shaded off into the manifold mysteries of wonderland. Therefore,
with an appreciation and a gentleness which won anew all hearts, she took
the little girl on her lap, and said, smilingly:

"I have a wee wand with which, I'm sure, I can do much for you, and
perhaps something for dolly. I can't claim to be a fairy princess, but I
shall try to be as good to you as if I were one."

Webb, with his book upside down, looked at the young girl in a way which
proved that he shared in Johnnie's wonder and vague anticipation. Alfred,
behind his grandfather's chair, was the only one who felt aggrieved and
disappointed. Thus far he had been overlooked, but he did not much care,
for this great girl could be no companion for him. Amy, however, had
woman's best grace--tact--and guessed his trouble. "Alf," she said,
calling him by his household name, and turning upon him her large hazel
eyes, which contained spells as yet unknown even to herself--"Alf, don't
be disappointed. You shall find that I am not too big to play with you."

The boy yielded at once to a grace which he would be years in learning to
understand, and which yet affected him subtilely, and with something of
the same influence that it had upon Webb, who felt that a new element was
entering into his life. Mercurial Burtis, however, found nothing peculiar
in his own pleasant sensations. He had a score of young lady friends, and
was merely delighted to find in Amy a very attractive young woman,
instead of a child or a dull, plain-featured girl, toward whom brotherly
attentions might often become a bore. He lived intensely in the present
hour, and was more than content that his adopted sister was quite to his
taste.

"Well, Amy," said Mr. Clifford, benignantly, "you seem to have stepped in
among us as if there had always been a niche waiting for you, and I think
that, after you have broken bread with us, and have had a quiet sleep
under the old roof, you will feel at home. Come, I'm going to take you
out to supper to-night, and, Burt, do you be as gallant to your mother."

The young fellow made them all laugh by imitating his father's old-style
courtesy; and a happy circle of faces gathered around the board in the
cheerful supper-room, to which a profuse decoration of evergreens gave a
delightfully aromatic odor. Mr. Clifford's "grace" was not a formal
mumble, but a grateful acknowledgment of the source from which, as he
truly believed, had flowed all the good that had blessed their life; and
then followed the genial, unrestrained table-talk of a household that, as
yet, possessed no closeted skeleton. The orphan sat among them, and her
mourning weeds spoke of a great and recent sorrow, which might have been
desolation, but already her kindling eyes and flushed cheeks proved that
this strong, bright current of family life would have the power to carry
her forward to a new, spring-like experience. To her foreign-bred eyes
there was an abundance of novelty in this American home, but it was like
the strangeness of heaven to the poor girl, who for months had been so
sad and almost despairing. With the strong reaction natural to youth
after long depression, her heart responded to the glad life about her,
and again she repeated the words to herself, "I'm sure--oh, I am sure I
shall be happy here."



CHAPTER III

A COUNTRY FIRESIDE


After supper they all gathered for a time in the large general
sitting-room, and careful Leonard went the rounds of the barn and
out-buildings. Mr. Clifford, with considerate kindness, had resolved to
defer all conversation with Amy relating to her bereavement and the
scenes that had ensued. At this holiday-time they would make every effort
within their power to pierce with light and warmth the cold gray clouds
that of late had gathered so heavily over the poor child's life. At the
same time their festivities would be subdued by the memory of her recent
sorrow, and restricted to their immediate family circle. But, instead of
obtrusive kindness, they enveloped her in the home atmosphere, and made
her one of them. The manner in which old Mrs. Clifford kept her near and
retained her hand was a benediction in itself.

Leonard was soon heard stamping the snow from his boots on the back
piazza, and in a few moments he entered, shivering.

"The coldest night of the year," he exclaimed. "Ten below zero, and it
will probably be twelve before morning. It's too bad, Amy, that you have
had such a cold reception."

"The thermometer makes a good foil for your smile," she replied. "Indeed,
I think the mercury rose a little while you were looking at it."

"Oh no," he said, laughing, "even you could not make it rise to-night.
Heigho, Ned! coming to kiss good-night? I say, Ned, tell us what mamma
has for Amy's stocking. What a good joke it is, to be sure I We all had
the impression you were a little girl, you know, and selected our gifts
accordingly. Burt actually bought you a doll. Ha! ha! ha! Maggie had
planned to have you hang up your stocking with the children, and such a
lot of little traps and sweets she has for you!"

The boy, to whom going to bed at the usual hour was a heavy cross on this
momentous evening, promptly availed himself of a chance for delay by
climbing on Amy's lap, and going into a voluble inventory of the contents
of a drawer into which he had obtained several surreptitious peeps. His
effort to tell an interminable story that he might sit up longer, the
droll havoc he made with his English, and the naming of the toys that
were destined for the supposed child, evoked an unforced merriment which
banished the last vestige of restraint.

"Well, I'm glad it has all happened so," said Amy, after the little
fellow had reluctantly come to the end of his facts and his invention
also. "You make me feel as if I had known you for years--almost,
indeed, as if I had come to you as a little girl, and had grown up among
you. Come, Ned, it shall all turn out just as you expected. I'll go with
you upstairs, and hang my stocking beside yours, and mamma shall put into
it all the lovely things you have told me about. Santa Claus does not
know much about my coming here, nor what kind of a girl I am, so your
kind mamma meant to act the part of Santa Claus in my behalf this year,
and give him a chance to get acquainted with me. But he knows all about
you, and there's no telling how soon he may come to fill your stocking.
You know he has to fill the stockings of all the little boys and girls in
the country, and that will take a long time. So I think we had better go
at once, for I don't believe he would like it if he came and found you up
and awake."

This put a new aspect upon going to bed early, and having seen his short,
chubby stocking dangling with a long, slender one of Amy's by the
chimney-side, Ned closed his eyes with ineffable content and faith. Amy
then returned to the sitting-room, whither she was soon followed by Maggie,
and after some further light and laughing talk the conversation naturally
drifted toward those subjects in which the family was practically
interested.

"What do you think, father?" Leonard asked. "Won't this finish the peach
and cherry buds? I've always heard that ten degrees of cold below zero
destroyed the fruit germs."

"Not always," replied the man of long experience. "It depends much upon
their condition when winter sets in, and whether, previous to the cold
snap, there have been prolonged thaws. The new growth on the trees
ripened thoroughly last fall, and the frost since has been gradual and
steady. I've known peach-buds to survive fifteen below zero; but there's
always danger in weather like this. We shall know what the prospects are
after the buds thaw out."

"How will that be possible?" Amy asked, in surprise.

"Now, Webb, is your chance to shine," cried Burtis. "Hitherto, Amy, the
oracle has usually been dumb, but you may become a priestess who will
evoke untold stores of wisdom."

Webb flushed slightly, but again proved that his brother's banter had
little influence.

"If you are willing to wait a few days," he said, with a smile, "I can
make clear to you, by the aid of a microscope, what father means, much
better than I can explain. I can then show you the fruit germs either
perfect or blackened by the frost."

"I'll wait, and remind you of your promise, too. I don't know nearly as
much about the country as a butterfly or a bird, but should be quite as
unhappy as they were I condemned to city life. So you must not laugh at
me if I ask no end of questions, and try to put my finger into some of
your horticultural pies."

His pleased look contained all the assurance she needed, and he resumed,
speaking generally: "The true places for raising peaches--indeed, all the
stone-fruits--successfully in this region are the plateaus and slopes of
the mountains beyond us. At their height the mercury never falls as low
as it does with us, and when we have not a peach or cherry I have found
such trees as existed high up among the hills well laden."

"Look here, uncle Webb," cried Alf, "you've forgotten your geography. The
higher you go up the colder it gets."

The young man patiently explained to the boy that the height of the
Highlands is not sufficient to cause any material change in climate,
while on still nights the coldest air sinks to the lowest levels, and
therefore the trees in the valleys and at the base of the mountains
suffer the most. "But what you say," he concluded, "is true as a rule.
The mercury does range lower on the hills; and if they were a thousand or
fifteen hundred feet higher peaches could not be grown at all."

Amy mentally soliloquized: "I am learning not only about the mercury, but
also--what Alf has no doubt already found out--that Webb is the one to go
to if one wishes anything explained. What's more, he wouldn't, in giving
the information, overwhelm one with a sense of deplorable ignorance."

In accordance with his practical bent, Webb continued: "I believe that a
great deal of money could be made in the Highlands by raising peaches. The
crop would be almost certain, and the large late varieties are those which
bring the extraordinary prices. What is more, the mountain land would
probably have the quality of virgin soil. You remember, father, don't you,
when peaches in this region were scarcely troubled by disease?"

"Indeed I do. There was a time when they would live on almost like
apple-trees, and give us an abundance of great luscious fruit year after
year. Even with the help of the pigs we could not dispose of the crops,
the bulk of which, in many instances, I am sorry to say, went into
brandy. What was that you were reading the other day about peaches in
Hawthorne's description of the Old Manse?"

Webb took the book and read: "Peach-trees which, in a good year, tormented
me with peaches neither to be eaten nor kept, nor, without labor and
perplexity, to be given away."

"That hits it exactly," resumed the old gentleman, laughing, "only every
year was a good year then, and we had not the New York market within
three hours of us. Even if we had, a large modern orchard would have
supplied it. One of the most remarkable of the changes I've witnessed in
my time is the enormous consumption of fruit in large cities. Why, more
is disposed of in Newburgh than used to go to New York. But to return to
peaches; our only chance for a long time has been to plant young trees
every year or two, and we scarcely secured a crop more than once in three
years. Even then the yellows often destroyed the trees before they were
old enough to bear much. They are doing far better of late along the
Hudson, and there is good prospect that this region will become the
greatest peach-growing locality in the country."

"I'm sure you are right," assented Webb, "and I think it will pay us to
plant largely in the spring. I don't suppose you ever saw a peach-orchard
in England, Amy?"

"I don't think I ever did. They were all grown in front of sunny walls,
_espalier_, as papa termed it. We had some in our garden."

"Yes," resumed Webb, "the climate there is too cool and humid for even
the wood to ripen. Here, on the contrary, we often have too vivid
sunshine. I propose that we put out all the north slope in peaches."

"Do you think a northern exposure best?" Leonard asked.

"I certainly do. In my opinion it is not the frost, unless it be very
severe, that plays the mischief with the buds, but alternate freezing and
thawing, especially after the buds have started in spring. On a northern
slope the buds usually remain dormant until the danger of late frosts is
over. I am quite sure, too, that the yellows is a disease due chiefly to
careless or dishonest propagation. Pits and buds have been taken from
infected trees, and thus the evil has been spread far and wide. There is
as much to be gained in the careful and long-continued selection of
fruits and vegetables as in the judicious breeding of stock."

"Has no remedy for the yellows been discovered?" Leonard again queried.

"Only the axe and fire. The evil should be extirpated as fast as it
appears. Prevention is far better than any attempt at cure. The thing to
do is to obtain healthier trees, and then set them out on new land.
That's why I think the north slope will be a good place, for peaches have
never been grown there in my memory."

"Come, Amy," said Burt. "Len and Webb are now fairly astride of their
horticultural hobbies. Come with me, and see the moon shining on old
Storm King."

They pushed aside the heavy crimson curtains, which added a sense of warmth
to the cheerful room, and looked at the cold white world without--a ghost
of a world, it seemed to Amy. The moon, nearly full, had risen in the gap
of the Highlands, and had now climbed well above the mountains, softening
and etherealizing them until every harsh, rugged outline was lost. The
river at their feet looked pallid and ghostly also. When not enchained by
frost, lights twinkled here and there all over its broad surface, and the
intervals were brief when the throbbing engines of some passing steamer
were not heard. Now it was like the face of the dead when a busy life is
over.

"It's all very beautiful," said Amy, shivering, "but too cold and still.
I love life, and this reminds one of death, the thoughts of which, with
all that it involves, have oppressed me so long that I must throw off the
burden. I was growing morbid, and giving way to a deeper and deeper
depression, and now your sunny home life seems just the antidote for it
all."

The warm-hearted fellow was touched, for there were tears in the young
girl's eyes. "You have come to the right place, Amy," he said, eagerly.
"You cannot love life more than I, and I promise to make it lively for
you. I'm just the physician to minister to the mind diseased with
melancholy. Trust me. I can do a hundred-fold more for you than delving,
matter-of-fact Webb. So come to me when you have the blues. Let us make
an alliance offensive and defensive against all the powers of dulness and
gloom."

"I'll do my best," she replied, smiling; "but there will be hours, and
perhaps days, when the past with its shadows will come back too vividly
for me to escape it."

"I'll banish all shadows, never fear. I'll make the present so real and
jolly that you will forget the past."

"I don't wish to forget, but only to think of it without the dreary
foreboding and sinking of heart that oppressed me till I came here. I
know you will do much for me, but I am sure I shall like Webb also."

"Oh, of course you will. He's one of the best fellows in the world. Don't
think that I misunderstand him or fail to appreciate his worth because I
love to run him so. Perhaps you'll wake him up and get him out of his
ruts. But I foresee that I'm the medicine you most need. Come to the
fire; you are shivering."

"Oh, I'm so glad that I've found such a home," she said, with a grateful
glance, as she emerged from the curtains.



CHAPTER IV

GUNNING BY MOONLIGHT


Webb saw the glance from eyes on which were still traces of tears; he
also saw his brother's look of sympathy; and with the kindly purpose of
creating a diversion to her thoughts he started up, breaking off his
discussion with Leonard, and left the room. A moment later he returned
from the hall with the double-barrelled gun.

"What now, Webb?" cried Burt, on the _qui vive_. "You will make Amy
think we are attacked by Indians."

"If you are not afraid of the cold, get your gun, and I think I can give
you some sport, and, for a wonder, make you useful also," Webb replied.
"While you were careering this afternoon I examined the young trees in
the nursery, and found that the rabbits were doing no end of mischief. It
has been so cold, and the snow is so deep, that the little rascals are
gathering near the house. They have gnawed nearly all the bark off the
stems of some of the trees, and I doubt whether I can save them. At first
I was puzzled by their performances. You know, father, that short nursery
row grafted with our seedling apple, the Highland Beauty? Well, I found
many of the lower twigs taken off with a sharp, slanting cut, as if they
had been severed with a knife, and I imagined that a thrifty neighbor had
resolved to share in our monopoly of the new variety, but I soon discovered
that the cuttings had been made too much at random to confirm the
impression that some one had been gathering scions for grafting. Tracks on
the snow, and girdled trees, soon made it evident that rabbits were the
depredators. One of the little pests must have climbed into a bushy tree at
least eighteen inches from the snow, in order to reach the twigs I found
cut."

"A rabbit up a tree!" exclaimed Leonard. "Who ever heard of such a
thing?"

"Well, you can see for yourself to-morrow," Webb resumed. "Of course we
can't afford to pasture the little fellows on our young trees, and so
must feed them until they can be shot or trapped. The latter method will
be good fun for you, Alf. This afternoon I placed sweet apples,
cabbage-leaves, and turnips around the edge of a little thicket near the
trees; and, Burt, you know there is a clump of evergreens near, from
whose cover I think we can obtain some good shots. So get your gun, and
we'll start even."

At the prospect of sport Burt forgot Amy and everything else, and dashed
off.

"Oh, papa, can't I go with them?" pleaded Alf.

"What do you think, Maggie?" Leonard asked his wife, who now entered.

"Well, boys will be boys. If you will let mamma bundle you up--"

"Oh, yes, anything, if I can only go!" cried Alf, trembling with
excitement.

"Sister Amy," Webb remarked, a little diffidently, "if you care to see
the fun, you can get a good view from the window of your room. I'll load
my gun in the hall."

"Can I see you load?" Amy asked, catching some of Alf's strong interest.
"It's all so novel to me."

"Certainly. I think you will soon find that you can do pretty much as you
please in your new home. You are now among republicans, you know, and we
are scarcely conscious of any government."

"But I have already discovered one very strong law in this household,"
she smilingly asserted, as she stood beside him near the hall-table, on
which he had placed his powder-flask and shot-pouch.

"Ah, what is that?" he asked, pouring the powder carefully into the
muzzles of the gun.

"The law of kindness, of good-will. Why," she exclaimed, "I expected to
be weeks in getting acquainted, but here you are all calling me sister
Amy as if it were the most natural thing in the world. It seems so odd,"
she laughed, "that I am not a bit afraid of you, even with your gun, and
yet we have just met, as it were. The way you and your brothers say
'sister Amy' makes the relation seem real. I can scarcely believe that I
am the same girl that stepped down at the station this evening, nor can I
get over my pleased wonder at the transformation."

"Amy," said the young man, earnestly, "your coming promises so much to us
all! You were just the one element lacking in our home. I now see that it
was so. I already have the presentiment that you will do more for us than
we can for you."

"I ought to do all that the deepest gratitude could prompt. You have
never known what it is to be desolate one hour, and to find an ideal home
the next."

"I wish it might be an ideal home to you; but don't expect too much. You
will find some of us very human."

"Therefore I shall feel the more at home. Papa always spoiled me by
letting me have my own way, and I shall often tax your patience. Do you
know, I never saw a gun loaded before. There seems to be so much going on
here, and I have lived such a quiet life of late. How will you make the
thing go off?"

"These little precussion-caps will do the business. It seems to me that
I've always been quiet, and perhaps a trifle heavy. I hope you will think
it your mission to render me less matter-of-fact. I'm ready now, and here
comes Burt with his breech-loader. If you will go to your room now, you
can see our shots."

A moment later she stood with Johnnie at her window, both almost holding
their breath in expectation as they saw the young men, with Alf following,
steal toward a clump of evergreens behind the house.

"Quiet and steady now," Webb cautioned his eager brother; "and, Alf, you
step in my tracks, so there may be no noise." Thus they made their way
among the pines, and peered cautiously out. "Hold on, Burt," Webb
whispered, as the former was bringing his gun to his shoulder; "I want a
crack at them as well as yourself. Let's reconnoitre. Yes, there are
three or four of the scamps. Let Alf see them. They look so pretty in the
moonlight that I've scarcely the heart to disturb, much less to kill
them."

"Oh, stop your sentimental nonsense!" muttered Burt, impatiently. "It's
confoundedly cold, and they may take fright and disappear."

"Black ingratitude!" Webb exclaimed. "If there isn't one in the apple
nursery in spite of all my provision for them! That ends my compunctions.
I'll take him, and you that big fellow munching a cabbage-leaf. We'll
count three--now, one, two--" The two reports rang out as one, and the
watchers at the window saw the flashes, and thrilled at the reverberating
echoes.

"It's almost as exciting as if they were shooting Indians, robbers, or
giants," cried Johnnie, clapping her hands and jumping up and down.

"Back," said Webb to Alf, who was about to rush forward to secure the
game; "we may get another shot."

They waited a few moments in vain, and then succumbed to the cold. To Alf
was given the supreme delight of picking up the game that lay on the
snow, making with their blood the one bit of color in all the white
garden.

"Poor little chaps!" Webb remarked, as he joined the family gathered
around Alf and the rabbits in the sitting-room. "It's a pity the world
wasn't wide enough for us all."

"What has come over you, Webb?" asked Burt, lifting his eyebrows. "Has
there been a hidden spring of sentiment in your nature all these years,
which has just struck the surface?"

It was evident that nearly all shared in Webb's mild regret that such a
sudden period had been put to life at once so pretty, innocent, and
harmful. Alf, however, was conscious of only pure exultation. Your boy is
usually a genuine savage, governed solely by the primal instinct of the
chase and destruction of wild animals. He stroked the fur, and with eyes
of absorbed curiosity examined the mischievous teeth, the long ears, the
queer little feet that never get cold, and the places where the lead had
entered with the sharp deadly shock that had driven out into the chill
night the nameless something which had been the little creature's life.
Amy, too, stroked the fur with a pity on her face which made it very
sweet to Webb, while tender-hearted Johnnie was exceedingly remorseful,
and wished to know whether "the bunnies, if put by the fire, would not
come to life before morning." Indeed, there was a general chorus of
commiseration, which Burt brought to a prosaic conclusion by saying:
"Crocodile tears, every one. You'll all enjoy the pot-pie to-morrow with
great gusto. By the way, I'll prop up one of these little fellows at the
foot of Ned's crib, and in the morning he'll think that the original
'Br'er Rabbit' has hopped out of Uncle Remus's stories to make him a
Christmas visit."



CHAPTER V

CHRISTMAS EVE AND MORNING


Old Mrs. Clifford now created a diversion by asking: "How about our
plants to-night, Maggie? Ought we not to take some precautions? Once
before when it was as cold as this we lost some, you know."

"Leonard," said his wife, in response to the suggestion, "it will be
safer for you to put a tub of water in the flower-room; that will draw
the frost from the plants. Mother is the queen of the flowers in this
house," continued Mrs. Leonard, turning to Amy, "and I think she will be
inclined to appoint you first lady in attendance. She finds me cumbered
with too many other cares. But it doesn't matter. Mother has only to look
at the plants to make them grow and bloom."

"There you are mistaken," replied the old lady, laughing. "Flowers are
like babies. I never made much of a fuss over my babies, but I loved
them, and saw that they had just what they needed at the right time."

"That accounts for Webb's exuberant growth and spirit, and the ethereal
beauty of Len's mature blossoming," remarked Burt.

"You are a plant that never had enough pruning," retorted his portly
eldest brother.

"I shall be glad to help you, if you will teach me how," Amy said to Mrs.
Clifford.

"In the pruning department?" asked Burt, with assumed dismay.

"Possibly," was the reply, with an arch little look which delighted the
young fellow.

"Come, Maggie," said Mrs. Clifford, "sing a Christmas carol before we
separate. It will be a pleasant way of bringing our happy evening to a
close."

Mrs. Leonard went to the piano. "Amy," she asked, "can't you help me?"

"I'll do my best, if you will choose something I know."

A selection was soon made, and Amy modestly blended a clear, sweet voice
with the air that Mrs. Leonard sang, and as the sympathetic tones of the
young girl swelled the rich volume of song the others exchanged looks of
unaffected pleasure.

"Oh, Amy, I am so glad you can sing!" cried Mrs. Clifford, "for we have
always made so much of music in our home."

"Papa," she replied, with moist eyes, "felt as you do, and he had me sing
for him ever since I can remember."

"Amy dear," said Mrs. Leonard, in a low voice, "suppose you take the
soprano and I the alto in the next stanza."

They were all delighted with the result, and another selection was made,
in which Burt's tenor and Webb's bass came in with fine effect.

"Amy, what a godsend you are to us all!" said Leonard, enthusiastically. "I
am one of the great army of poets who can't sing, but a poet nevertheless."

"Yes, indeed, Len," added Burt; "it needs but a glance to see that you
are of that ethereal mold of which poets and singers are made. But isn't
it capital! We now have all the four parts."

"Amy," said Mr. Clifford, "do you know an old Christmas hymn that your
father and I loved when we were as young as you are?" and he named it.

"I have often sung it for him, and he usually spoke of you when I did
so"; and she sang sweet, undying words to a sweet, quaint air in a voice
that trembled with feeling.

The old gentleman wiped his eyes again and again. "Ah!" he said, "how
that takes me back into the past! My friend and I knew and loved that air
and hymn over sixty years ago. I can see him now as he looked then. God
bless his child, and now my child!" he added, as he drew Amy caressingly
toward him. "A brief evening has made you one of us. I thank God that he
has sent one whom it will be so easy for us all to love; and we gratefully
accept you as a Christmas gift from Heaven."

Then, with the simplicity of an ancient patriarch, he gathered his
household around the family altar, black Abram and two maids entering at
his summons, and taking seats with an air of deference near the door. Not
long afterward the old house stood silent and dark in the pallid landscape.

Though greatly wearied, Amy was kept awake during the earlier part of the
night by the novelty of her new life and relations, and she was awakened
in the late dawn of the following day by exclamations of delight from
Mrs. Leonard's room. She soon remembered that it was Christmas morning.
The children evidently had found their stockings, for she heard Johnnie
say, "Oh, mamma, do you think Aunt Amy is awake? I would so like to take
her stocking to her!"

"Yes," cried Amy, "I'm awake"; and the little girl, draped in white, soon
pushed open the door, holding her own and Amy's stockings in hands that
trembled with delightful anticipation.

"Jump into bed with me," said Amy, "and we will empty our stockings
together."

The years rolled back, the previous months of sorrow and suffering were
forgotten; the day, the hour, with its associations, the eager child that
nestled close to her, made her a child again. She yielded wholly to her
mood; she would be a little girl once more, Johnnie's companion in
feeling and delight; and the morning of her life was still so new that
the impulses of that enchanted age before the light of experience has
defined the world into its matter-of-fact proportions came back unforced
and unaffected. Her voice vied with Johnnie's in its notes of excitement
and pleasure, and to more than one who heard her it seemed that their
first impression was correct, that a little child had come to them, and
that the tall, graceful maiden was a myth.

"Merry Christmas, Amy!" cried the voice of Webb on the stairs.

The child vanished instantly, and a blushing girl let fall the half-emptied
stocking. Something in that deep voice proved that if she were not yet a
woman, she had drawn so near that mystery of life that its embarrassing
self-consciousness was beginning to assert itself. "How silly he will think
me!" was her mental comment, as she returned his greeting in a voice that
was rather faint.

The "rising bell" now resounded through the house, and she sprang up with
the purpose of making amends by a manner of marked dignity. And yet there
remained with her a sense of home security, of a great and new-found
happiness, which the cold gray morning could not banish. The air-tight
stove glowed with heat and comfort, and she afterward learned that Mrs.
Leonard had replenished the fire so noiselessly as not to awaken her. The
hearty Christmas greetings of the family as she came into the
breakfast-room were like an echo of the angels' song of "good-will." The
abounding kindliness and genuine pleasure at her presence made the feeling
that she had indeed become one of the household seem the most natural thing
in the world, instead of a swiftly wrought miracle.

Little Ned had in his arms one of the rabbits that had been shot on the
previous evening, and to him it was more wonderful than all his toys.
"You should have seen him when he awoke," said his mother, "and saw the
poor little thing propped up at the foot of his crib. His eyes grew wider
and rounder, and at last he breathed, in an awed whisper, 'Br'er Rabbit.'
But he soon overcame his surprise, and the jargon he talked to it made
our sides ache with laughing."

The gifts that had been prepared for the supposed child were taken by Amy
in very good part, but with the tact of a well-bred girl who would not
spoil a jest, rather than with the undisguised delight of Johnnie.

"Only Johnnie and I have seen little Amy," said Leonard--"I at the depot
before she grew up; and this morning she became a little girl again as a
Christmas wonder for my little girl. Johnnie's faith and fairy lore may
make the transformation possible to her again, but I fear the rest of us
will never catch another glimpse of the child we expected"; for Amy's
grown-up air since she had appeared in the breakfast-room had been almost
a surprise to him after hearing through the partition her pretty nonsense
over her stocking.

"I fear you are right," said Amy, with a half-sigh; "and yet it was
lovely to feel just like Johnnie once more;" and she stole a shy glance
at Webb, who must have heard some of her exclamations. The expression of
his face seemed to reassure her, and without further misgiving she joined
in a laugh at one of Burt's sallies.



CHAPTER VI

NATURE'S HALF-KNOWN SECRETS


Amy's thoughts naturally reverted before very long to Mrs. Clifford's
pets--the flowers--and she asked how they had endured the intense cold of
the night.

"They have had a narrow escape," the old lady replied. "If Maggie had not
suggested the tub of water last night, I fear we should have lost the
greater part of them."

"Yes," said Mrs. Leonard, "I went to the flower-room with fear and
trembling this morning, and when I found the water frozen thick I was in
despair."

"It was the water freezing that saved the plants," Webb remarked,
quietly. "I put water in the root-cellar before I went to bed last night,
with like good effect."

"Well, for the life of me," said Maggie, "I can't understand why the
plants and roots don't freeze when water does."

"Come, Burt," added her husband, "you are a college-bred man. You explain
how the water draws the frost from the plants."

"Oh, bother!" Burt answered, flushing slightly, "I've forgotten. Some
principle of latent heat involved, I believe. Ask Webb. If he could live
long enough he'd coax from Nature all her secrets. He's the worst Paul
Pry into her affairs that I ever knew. So beware, Amy, unless you are
more secretive than Nature, which I cannot believe, since you seem so
natural."

"I'm afraid your knowledge, Burt, resembles latent heat," laughed
Leonard. "Come, see what you can do, Webb."

"Burt is right," said Webb, good-naturedly; "the principle of latent heat
explains it all, and he could refresh his memory in a few moments. The
water does not draw the frost from the plants, but before it can freeze
it must give out one hundred and forty degrees of latent heat. The
flower-room and root-cellar were therefore so much warmer during the
night than if the water had not been there. The plants that were nipped
probably suffered after the ice became so thick as to check in a great
measure the freezing process."

"How can ice stop water from freezing?" Alf asked, in much astonishment.

"By keeping it warm, on the same principle that your bed-clothes kept you
warm last night. Heat passes very slowly through ice-that is, it is a
poor conductor. With the snow it is the winter wrap of nature, which
protects all life beneath it. When our ponds and rivers are once frozen
over, the latent heat in the water beneath can escape through the ice but
very gradually, and every particle of ice that forms gives out into the
water next to it one hundred and forty degrees of heat. Were it not for
these facts our ponds would soon become solid. But to return to the tub
of water in the flower-room. The water, when placed there, was probably
warmer than the air, and so would give out or radiate its heat until a
thermometer, placed either in the room or in the water, would mark
thirty-two degrees above zero. At this point the water would begin to
freeze, but plants or vegetables would not. They would require slightly
severer cold to affect them. But as soon as the water begins to freeze it
also gradually gives out its latent heat, and before a particle of ice
can form it must give out one hundred and forty degrees of heat to the
air and water around it. Therefore the freezing process goes on slowly,
and both the air and water are kept comparatively warm. After a time,
however, the ice becomes so thick over the surface that the freezing goes
on more and more slowly, because the latent heat in the unfrozen water
cannot readily escape through the ice. It is therefore retained, just as
the latent heat in the water of an ice-covered pond is retained."

"It follows, then," said Leonard, "that after the water beneath the ice
in the tub began to freeze slowly, the flower-room, in that same degree,
began to grow cold."

"Certainly, for only as the water freezes can it give out its latent
heat. The thick wooden side of the tub is a poor conductor; the ice that
has formed over the surface is even a worse, and so the water within is
shielded from the cold. It therefore almost ceases to freeze, and so
becomes of no practical use. An intelligent understanding of these
principles is of great practical value. If I could have waked up and
placed another tub of water in the room at two or three o'clock, or else
taken all of the ice out of the first one, the process of freezing and
giving out heat would have gone on rapidly again, and none of the plants
would have suffered. I have heard people say that putting water in a
cellar was all a humbug--that the water froze and the vegetables also. Of
course the vegetables froze after the water congealed, or the cellar may
have been so defective that both froze at the same time. The latent heat
given out by a small amount of freezing water cannot counteract any great
severity of frost."

"The more water you have, then, the better?" said his father.

"Yes, for then there is more to freeze, and the effect is more gradual
and lasting."

"I feel highly honored, Webb," said his mother, smiling, "that so much
science should minister to me and my little collection of plants. I now
see that the why and wherefore comes in very usefully. But please tell me
why you put the plants that were touched with frost into cold water, and
why you will not let the sunlight fall on them?"

"For the same reason that you would put your hand in cold water if
frost-bitten. Your expression, 'touched with frost,' shows that there is
hope for them. If they were thoroughly frozen you would lose them. Your
plants, you know, are composed chiefly of water, which fills innumerable
little cells formed by the vegetable tissue. If the water in the cells is
chilled beyond a certain point, if it becomes solid ice, it expands and
breaks down the tissue of the cells, and the structure of the plant is
destroyed. If the frost can be gradually withdrawn so as to leave the
cells substantially intact, they can eventually resume their functions,
and the plant receive no very great injury."

"But why does sudden heat or sunlight destroy a frosted plant?"

"For the same reason that it breaks down the vegetable tissue. Heat
expands, and the greater the heat the more rapid the expansion. When the
rays of the sun, which contain a great deal of heat, fall on any part of
a frost-bitten plant, that part begins to expand so rapidly and violently
that the cellular tissues are ruptured, and life is destroyed. What is
more, the heat does not permeate equally and at once the parts affected
by frost. The part furthest away from the heat remains contracted, while
the parts receiving it expand rapidly and unequally, and this becomes
another cause for the breaking up of the vegetable tissue. The same
principle is illustrated when we turn up the flame of a lamp suddenly.
The glass next to the flame expands so rapidly that the other parts
cannot keep pace, and so, as the result of unequal expansion, the chimney
goes to pieces. With this principle in mind, we seek to withdraw the
frost and to reapply the vivifying heat very gradually and equally to
every part, so that the vegetable tissues may be preserved unbroken. This
is best done by immersing them in cold water, and then keeping them at a
low temperature in a shady place. As the various parts of the plant
resume their functions, the light and heat essential to its life and
growth can gradually be increased."

"It seems to me that your theory is at fault, Webb," said Leonard. "How
is it that some plants are able to endure such violent alternations of
heat and cold?"

"We don't have to go far--at least I do not--before coming to the
limitations of knowledge. What it is in the structure of a plant like the
pansy, for instance, which makes it so much more hardy than others that
seem stronger and more vigorous, even the microscope does not reveal.
Nature has plenty of secrets that she has not yet told. But of all people
in the world those who obtain their livelihood from the soil should seek
to learn the wherefore of everything, for such knowledge often doubles
the prospect of success."

"Now, Amy," said Burtis, laughing, "you see what sort of a fellow Webb
is. You cannot even sneeze without his considering the wherefore back to
the remotest cause."

"Are you afraid of me, Amy?" asked Webb.

"No," was the quiet reply.

Amy spent the greater part of the day in unpacking her trunks, and in
getting settled in her home-like room. It soon began to take on a familiar
air. Hearts, like plants, strike root rapidly when the conditions are
favorable. Johnnie was her delighted assistant much of the time, and this
Christmas-day was one long thrill of excitement to the child. Her wonder
grew and grew, for there was a foreign air about many of Amy's things, and,
having been brought from such a long distance, they seemed to belong to
another world. The severe cold continued, and only the irrepressible Burtis
ventured out to any extent. When Alf's excitement over his presents began
to flag, Webb helped him make two box-traps, and the boy concealed them in
the copse where the rabbit-tracks were thickest. Only the biting frost kept
him, in his intense eagerness, from remaining out to see the result. Webb,
however, taught him patience by assuring him that watched traps never
caught game.

Beyond the natural home festivities the day passed quietly, and this was
also true of the entire holiday season. Cheerfulness, happiness abounded,
and there was an unobtrusive effort on the part of every one to surround
the orphan girl with a genial, sunny atmosphere. And yet she was ever
made to feel that her sorrow was remembered and respected. She saw that
Mr. Clifford's mind was often busy with the memory of his friend, that
even Burt declined invitations to country merrymakings in the vicinity,
and that she was saved the ordeal of meeting gay young neighbors with
whom the Clifford home was a favorite resort. In brief, they had received
her as a daughter of the house, and in many delicate ways proved that
they regarded her as entitled to the same consideration as if she were
one. Meanwhile she was shown that her presence cast no gloom over the
family life, and she knew and they knew that it would be her father's
wish that she should share in all the healing gladness of that life. No
true friend who has passed on to the unclouded shore would wish to leave
clouds and chilling shadows as a legacy, and they all felt that in Amy's
case it had been her father's desire and effort to place her under
conditions that would develop her young life happily and therefore
healthfully. There is the widest difference in the world between
cheerfulness and mirthfulness which arise from happy home life and
peaceful hearts, and the levity that is at once unfeeling, inconsiderate,
and a sure indication of a coarse-fibred, ill-bred nature. Amy was made
to feel this, and she found little indeed which jarred with memories that
were only sad, not bitter or essentially depressing. Every day brought
new assurance that her father's wishes and hopes in her behalf had been
fulfilled to a degree that must have added to his heavenly content, could
he have known how well he had provided for her. And so the busy days
glided on; and when the evening brought the household together, there
were music, reading aloud, and genial family talk, which usually was
largely colored by their rural calling. Therefore, on New-Year's morning
Amy stood as upon a sunny eminence, and saw her path leading away amid
scenes that promised usefulness, happiness, and content.



CHAPTER VII

NEIGHBORS DROP IN


One evening early in the year three neighbors dropped in. They were
evidently as diverse in character as in appearance. The eldest was known
in the neighborhood as Squire Bartley, having long been a justice of the
peace. He was a large landholder, and carried on his farm in the
old-fashioned ways, without much regard to system, order, or improvement.
He had a big, good-natured red face, a stout, burly form, and a
corresponding voice. In marked contrast with his aspect and past
experience was Mr. Alvord, who was thin almost to emaciation, and upon
whose pallid face not only ill-health but deep mental suffering had left
their unmistakable traces. He was a new-comer into the vicinity, and
little was known of his past history beyond the fact that he had exchanged
city life for country pursuits in the hope of gaining strength and vigor.
He ought to have been in the full prime of cheerful manhood, but his sombre
face and dark, gloomy eyes indicated that something had occurred in the
past which so deeply shadowed his life as to make its long continuance
doubtful. He had not reached middle age, and yet old Mr Clifford appeared a
heartier man than he. While he had little knowledge of rural occupations,
he entered into them with eagerness, apparently finding them an antidote
for sad memories. He had little to say, but was a good listener, and
evidently found at the Cliffords' a warmth and cheer coming not from the
hearth only. Webb and Leonard had both been very kind to him in his
inexperience, and an occasional evening at their fireside was the only
social tendency that he had been known to indulge. Dr. Marvin, the third
visitor, might easily compete with Burt in flow of spirits, and in his day
had been quite as keen a sportsman. But he was unlike Burtis in this, that
all birds were game to him, and for his purpose were always in season. To
Emerson's line,

  "Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?"

he could not reply in the affirmative, and yet to kill as many as
possible had never been his object. From earliest childhood he had
developed a taste for ornithology, and the study of the fauna of the
region had been almost his sole recreation for years. He too was a
frequent visitor at the Cliffords', where he ever found ready listeners
and questioners.

"I don't know what is the matter with my poultry," Squire Bartley
remarked, after the weather, politics, and harmless phases of local
gossip had been discussed; "they are getting as poor as crows. My boys
say that they are fed as well as usual. What's more, I've had them throw
down for 'em a warm mixture of meal and potatoes before they go to roost,
but we don't get an egg. What luck are you having, Leonard?"

"Well, I don't know that I'm having much luck in the matter," Leonard
replied, with his humorous smile; "but I can't complain. Until this very
cold weather set in we had eggs in plenty, and still have a fair supply.
I'm inclined to think that if your hens are the right kind, and are
properly cared for, they can't help producing eggs. That has usually been
my experience. I don't believe much in luck, but there are a few simple
things that are essential to success with poultry in winter. By the way,
do you give them well or spring water to drink?"

"Well, no, I don't believe we do, at this time of year. I've so arranged
it that the drippings from the eaves of the barn fall into a trough, and
that saves trouble. I expect the boys are careless, too, for I've seen
the fowls eating snow and ice."

"That accounts for your poultry being like crows, for, whatever the
reason may be, snow-water will soon reduce chickens to mere feathers and
bones."

"You don't say so!" cried the squire. "Well, I never heard that before."

"I don't think your system of feeding is the correct one, either,"
pursued Leonard. "You give your hens the warm meal to-morrow evening, as
usual, and then about midnight go to the roosts and feel of their crops.
I'll warrant you'll find them empty. The meal, you see, digests speedily,
and is soon all gone. Then come the long cold hours before morning, and
the poor creatures have nothing to sustain them, and they become chilled
and enfeebled. It takes some time for the grain you give them in the
morning to digest, and so they are left too long a time without support.
Give them the grain in the evening--corn and buckwheat and barley
mixed--and there is something for their gizzards to act on all night
long. The birds are thus sustained and kept warm by their food. Then in
the morning, when they naturally feel the cold the most, give them the
warm food, mixing a little pepper with it during such weather as this."

"Well," remarked the squire, "I guess you're right. Anyway, I'll try your
plan. One is apt to do things the same way year after year without much
thought about it."

"Then, again," resumed Leonard, "I find it pays to keep poultry warm,
clean, and well sheltered. In very cold weather I let them out only for an
hour or two. The rest of the time they are shut up in the chicken-house,
which has an abundance of light, and is well ventilated. Beneath the floor
of the chicken-house is a cellar, which I can fill with stable manure, and
graduate the heat by its fermentation. This acts like a steady furnace.
There is room in the cellar to turn the manure from time to time to prevent
its becoming fire-fanged, so that there is no loss in this respect. Between
the heat from beneath, and the sun streaming in the windows on the south
side of the house, I can keep my laying hens warm even in zero weather; and
I make it a point not to have too many. Beyond a certain number, the more
you have the worse you're off, for poultry won't stand crowding."

"You farmers," put in Dr. Marvin, "are like the doctors, who kill or cure
too much by rule and precedent. You get into certain ways or ruts, and
stick to them. A little thought and observation would often greatly
modify your course. Now in regard to your poultry, you should remember
that they all existed once as nature made them--they were wild, and
domestication cannot wholly change their character. It seems to me that
the way to learn how to manage fowls successfully is to observe their
habits and modes of life when left to themselves. In summer, when they
have a range, we find them eating grass, seeds, insects, etc. In short,
they are omnivorous. In winter, when they can't get these things, they
are often fed one or two kinds of grain continuously. Now, from their
very nature, they need in winter all the kinds of food that they
instinctively select when foraging for themselves--fresh vegetables,
meat, and varieties of seeds or grain. We give to our chickens all the
refuse from the kitchen--the varied food we eat ourselves, with the
exception of that which contains a large percentage of salt--and they
thrive and lay well. Before they are two years old we decapitate them.
Old fowls, with rare exceptions, will not lay in winter."

Sad-eyed Mr. Alvord listened as if there were more consolation and cheer
in this talk on poultry than in the counsel of sages. The "chicken fever"
is more inevitable in a man's life than the chicken-pox, and sooner or
later all who are exposed succumb to it. Seeing the interest developing
in his neighbor's face, Leonard said, briskly:

"Mr. Alvord, here's an investment that will pay you to consider. The care
of poultry involves light and intelligent labor, and therefore is adapted
to those who cannot well meet the rough and heavy phases of outdoor work.
The fowls often become pets to their keepers, and the individual oddities
and peculiarities of character form an amusing study which is not wanting
in practical advantages. The majority of people keep ordinary barn-door
fowls, which are the result of many breeds or strains. The consequence is
almost as great diversity of character within gallinaceous limits as
exists in the families that care for them. For instance, one hen is a
good, persistent layer; another is a patient, brooding mother; a third is
fickle, and leaves her nest so often and for such long intervals that the
eggs become chilled, and incubation ceases. Some are tame and tractable,
others as wild as hawks, and others still are not of much account in any
direction, and are like commonplace women, who are merely good to count
when the census is taken."

"I hope you make no reference to present company," Maggie remarked.

Leonard gave his wife one of his humorous looks as he replied, "I never
could admit that in regard to you, for it would prove too much against
myself. The idea of my picking out a commonplace woman!"

"Leonard knows, as we all do, that he would be like a decapitated chicken
himself without her," said Mrs. Clifford, with her low laugh.

Maggie smiled. This was re-assuring from the mother of the eldest and
favorite son.

"Well," remarked Squire Bartley, sententiously, "there are old housewives
in the neighborhood that have more luck with poultry than any of you,
with all your science."

"Nonsense," replied Dr. Marvin. "You know a little about law, squire, and
I less about medicine, perhaps, and yet any good mother could take care
of a lot of children better than we could. There is old Mrs. Mulligan, on
the creek road. She raises ducks, geese, and chickens innumerable, and
yet I fail to see much luck in her management; but she has learned from
experience a better skill than the books could have taught her, for she
said to me one day, 'I jis thries to foind out what the crathers wants,
and I gives it to 'em,' She knows the character of every hen, duck, and
goose she has, and you don't catch her wasting a sitting of eggs under a
fickle biddy. And then she watches over her broods as Mrs. Leonard does
over hers. Don't talk about luck. There has been more of intelligent care
than luck in bringing up this boy Alf. I believe in book-farming as much
as any one, but a successful farmer could not be made by books only; nor
could I ever learn to be a skilful physician from books, although all the
horses on your place could not haul the medical literature extant. I must
adopt Mrs. Mulligan's tactics, and so must you. We must find out 'what
the crathers want,' be they plants, stock, or that most difficult subject
of all, the human crather. He succeeds best who does this _in_ season,
and not out of season."

"You are right, doctor," said Leonard, laughing. "I agree with what you
say about the varied diet of poultry in general, and also in particular,
and I conform my practice to your views. At the same time I am convinced
that failure and partial success with poultry result more from inadequate
shelter and lack of cleanliness than from lack of proper food. It does
not often happen in the country that fowls are restricted to a narrow
yard or run, and when left to themselves they pick up, even in winter,
much and varied food in and about the barn. But how rarely is proper
shelter provided! It is almost as injurious for poultry as it would be
for us to be crowded, and subjected to draughts, dampness, and cold. They
may survive, but they can't thrive and be profitable. In many instances
they are not even protected from storms, and it's a waste of grain to
feed poultry that roost under a dripping roof."

"Well," said the squire, "I guess we've been rather slack. I must send my
boys over to see how you manage."

"Amy," remarked Burtis, laughing, "you are very polite. You are trying to
look as if you were interested."

"I am interested," said the young girl, positively. "One of the things I
liked best in English people was their keen interest in all rural
pursuits. Papa did not care much for such things; but now that I am a
country girl I intend to learn all I can about country life."

Amy had not intended this as a politic speech, but it nevertheless won
her the increased good-will of all present. Burtis whispered,

"Let me be your instructor."

Something like a smile softened Webb's rugged face, but he did not raise
his eyes from the fire.

"If her words are not the result of a passing impulse," he thought,
"sooner or later she will come to me. Nature, however, tolerates no
fitful, half-hearted scholars, and should she prove one, she will be
contented with Burt's out-of-door fun."

"Miss Amy," remarked Dr. Marvin, vivaciously, "if you will form some of
my tastes you will never suffer from _ennui_. Don't be alarmed; I have
not drugs in my mind. Doctors rarely take their own medicine. You don't
look very strong, and have come back to your native land with the
characteristics of a delicate American girl, rather than the vigor of an
English one. I fear you slighted British beef and mutton. If I were so
officious as to prescribe unasked, I should put you on birds for several
months, morning, noon, and evening. Don't you be officious also, Burt.
It's on the end of your tongue to say that you will shoot them for her. I
had no such commonplace meaning. I meant that Miss Amy should enjoy the
birds in their native haunts, and learn to distinguish the different
varieties by their notes, plumage, and habits. Such recreation would take
her often out-of-doors, and fill every spring and summer day with zest."

"But, Dr. Marvin," cried Amy, "is not the study of ornithology rather a
formidable undertaking?"

"Yes," was the prompt reply. "I sometimes feel as if I could devote
several lifetimes to it. But is it such a formidable thing to begin with
a few of our commonest birds, like the robin or wren, for instance; to
note when they first arrive from their southern sojourn, the comical
scenes of courtship and rivalry in the trees about the door, the building
of their homes, and their housekeeping? I am sorry to say that I find
some of my patients consumed with a gossipy interest in their neighbors'
affairs. If that interest were transferred to the families residing in
the cherry and apple trees, to happy little homes that often can be
watched even from our windows, its exercise would have a much better
effect on health and character. When a taste for such things is once
formed, it is astonishing how one thing leads to another, and how fast
knowledge is gained. The birds will soon begin to arrive, Miss Amy, and a
goodly number stay with us all winter. Pick out a few favorite kinds, and
form their intimate acquaintance. I would suggest that you learn to
identify some of the birds that nest near the house, and follow their
fortunes through the spring and as late in the summer as their stay
permits, keeping a little diary of your observations. Alf here will be a
famous ally. You will find these little bird histories, as they develop
from day to day, more charming than a serial story."

It were hard to tell who was the more captivated by the science of
ornithology, Amy or Alf, when this simple and agreeable method for its
study was suggested. Mr. Alvord looked wistfully at the unalloyed
pleasure of the boy and the young girl as they at once got together on
the sofa and discussed the project. He quietly remarked to the doctor, "I
also shall make time to follow your suggestion, and shall look forward to
some congenial society without my home if not within it."

"See what comes from being enthusiastic about a thing!" laughed the
doctor. "I have made three converts."

Mrs. Leonard looked furtively and pityingly at the lonely Mr. Alvord. A
man without a wife to take care of him was to her one of the forlornest
of objects, and with secret satisfaction she thought, "Leonard, I
imagine, would find the birds' housekeeping a poor substitute for mine."



CHAPTER VIII

EAGLES


"Speaking of birds, doctor, there are some big fellows around this
winter," said Burtis. "While in the mountains with the wood teams some
days since I saw a gray and a bald eagle sailing around, but could not
get a shot at them. As soon as it grows milder I am going up to the
cliffs on the river to see if I can get within rifle range."

"Oh, come, Burt, I thought you were too good a sportsman to make such a
mistake," the doctor rejoined. "A gray eagle is merely a young bald
eagle. We have only two species of the genuine eagle in this country, the
bald, or American, and the golden, or ring-tailed. The latter is very
rare, for their majesties are not fond of society, even of their own
kind, and two nests are seldom found within thirty miles of each other.
The bald eagle has been common enough, and I have shot many. One morning
long ago I shot two, and had quite a funny experience with one of them."

"Pray tell us about it," said Burtis, glad of a diversion from his
ornithological shortcomings.

"Well, one February morning (I could not have been much over fourteen at
the time) I crossed the river on the ice, and took the train for
Peekskill. Having transacted my business and procured a good supply of
ammunition, I started homeward. From the car windows I saw two eagles
circling over the cliffs of the lower Highlands, and with the rashness
and inexperience of a boy I determined to leave the train while it was
under full headway. I passed through to the rear car, descended to the
lowest step, and, without realizing my danger, watched for a level place
that promised well for the mad project. Such a spot soon occurring, I
grasped the iron rail tightly with my right hand, and with my gun in my
left I stepped off into the snow, which was wet and slushy. My foot
bounded up and back as if I had been india-rubber, and maintaining my
hold I streamed away behind the car in an almost horizontal position.
About once in every thirty feet my foot struck the ground, bounded up and
back, and I streamed away again as if I were towed or carried through the
air. After taking a few steps of this character, which exceeded any
attributed to giants in fairy-lore, I saw I was in for it, and the next
time my foot struck I let go, and splashed, with a force that I even now
ache to think of, into the wet snow. It's a wonder I didn't break my
neck, but I scrambled up not very much the worse for my tumble. There
were the eagles; my gun was all right, and that was all I cared for at
the time. I soon loaded, using the heaviest shot I had, and in a few
moments the great birds sailed over my head. I devoted a barrel to each,
and down they both came, fluttering, whirling, and uttering cries that
Wilson describes as something like a maniacal laugh. One lodged in the
top of a tall hemlock, and stuck; the other came flapping and crashing
through another tree until stopped by the lower limbs, where it remained.
I now saw that their distance had been so great that I had merely
disabled them, and I began reloading, but I was so wild from excitement
and exultation that I put in the shot first. Of course my caps only
snapped, and the eagle in the hemlock top, recovering a brief renewal of
strength after the shock of his wound, flew slowly and heavily away, and
fell on the ice near the centre of the river. I afterward learned that it
was carried off by some people on an ice-boat. The other eagle, whose wing
I had broken, now reached the ground, and I ran toward it, determined that
I should not lose both of my trophies. As I approached I saw that I had an
ugly customer to deal with, for the bird, finding that he could not escape,
threw himself on his back, with his tail doubled under him, and was
prepared to strike blows with talons and beak that would make serious
wounds, I resolved to take my game home alive, and after a little thought
cut a crotched stick, with which I held his head down while I fastened his
feet together. A man who now appeared walking down the track aided me in
securing the fierce creature, which task we accomplished by tying some
coarse bagging round his wings, body, and talons. I then went on to the
nearest station in order to take the train homeward. Of course the eagle
attracted a great deal of attention in the cars--more than he seemed to
enjoy, for he soon grew very restless. I was approaching my destination,
and three or four people were about me, talking, pointing, and trying to
touch the bird, when he made a sudden dive. The bagging round his wings and
feet gave way, and so did the people on every side. Down through the aisle,
flapping and screaming, went the eagle; and the ladies, with skirts
abridged, stood on the seats and screamed quite as discordantly. Not a man
present would help me, but, mounting on their seats, they vociferated
advice. The conductor appeared on the scene, and I said that if he would
head the bird off I would catch him. This he agreed to do, but he no sooner
saw the eagle bearing down on him with his savage eye and beak than he, as
nimbly at the best of them, hopped upon a seat, and stood beside a woman,
probably for her protection. A minute or two later the train stopped at my
station, and I was almost desperate. Fortunately I was in the last car, and
I drove my eagle toward the rear door, from which, by the vigorous use of
my feet, I induced him to alight on the ground--the first passenger of the
kind, I am sure, that ever left the cars at that station. After several
minor adventures, I succeeded in getting him home. I hoped to keep him
alive, but he would not eat; so I stuffed him in the only way I could, and
he is now one of my specimens."

"Well," said Burt, laughing, "that exceeds any eagle adventure that I
have heard of in this region. In the car business you certainly brought
his majesty down to the prose of common life, and I don't wonder the
regal bird refused to eat thereafter."

"Cannot eagles be tamed--made gentle and friendly?" old Mrs. Clifford
asked. "I think I remember hearing that you had a pet eagle years ago."

"Yes, I kept one--a female--six months. She was an unusually large
specimen, and measured about eight feet with wings extended. The females of
all birds of prey, you know, are larger than the males. As in the former
case, I had broken one of her wings, and she also threw herself on her back
and made her defence in the most savage manner. Although I took every
precaution in my power, my hands were bleeding in several places before I
reached home, and, in fact, she kept them in a rather dilapidated condition
all the time I had her. I placed her in a large empty room connected with
the barn, and found her ready enough to eat. Indeed, she was voracious, and
the savage manner in which she tore and swallowed her food was not a
pleasant spectacle. I bought several hundred live carp--a cheap, bony
fish--and put them in a ditch where I could take them with a net as I
wanted them. The eagle would spring upon a fish, take one of her long hops
into a corner, and tear off its head with one stroke of her beak. While I
was curing her broken wing the creature tolerated me after a fashion, but
when she was well she grew more and more savage and dangerous. Once a
Dutchman, who worked for us, came in with me, and the way the eagle chased
that man around the room and out of the door, he swearing meanwhile in high
German and in a high key, was a sight to remember. I was laughing
immoderately, when the bird swooped down on my shoulder, and the scars
would have been there to-day had not her talons been dulled by their
constant attrition with the boards of her extemporized cage. Covering my
face with my arm--for she could take one's eye out by a stroke of her
beak--I also retreated. She then dashed against the window with such force
that she bent the wood-work and broke every pane of glass. She seemed so
wild for freedom that I gave it to her, but the foolish creature, instead
of sailing far away, lingered on a bluff near the river, and soon boys and
men were out after her with shot-guns. I determined that they should not
mangle her to no purpose, and so, with the aid of my rifle, I added her
also to my collection of specimens."

"Have you ever found one of their nests?" Webb asked.

"Yes. They are rather curious affairs, and are sometimes five feet in
diameter each way, and quite flat at the top. They use for the substratum
of the domicile quite respectable cord-wood sticks, thicker than one's
wrist. The mother-bird must be laying her eggs at this season, cold as it
is. But they don't mind the cold, for they nest above the Arctic Circle."

"I don't see how it is possible for them to protect their eggs and young
in such severe weather," Mrs. Clifford remarked.

"Nature takes care of her own in her own way," replied the doctor, with a
slight shrug. "One of the birds always remains on the nest."

"Well," said Squire Bartley, who had listened rather impatiently to so
much talk about an unprofitable bird, "I wish my hens were laying now.
Seems to me that Nature does better by eagles and crows than by any fowls
I ever had. Good-night, friends."

With a wistful glance at Amy's pure young face, and a sigh so low that
only pitiful Mrs. Leonard heard it, Mr. Alvord also bowed himself out in
his quiet way.

"Doctor," said Burtis, resolutely, "you have excited my strongest
emulation, and I shall never be content until I have brought down an
eagle or two."

"Dear me!" cried the doctor, looking at his watch, "I should think that
you would have had enough of eagles, and of me also, by this time.
Remember, Miss Amy, I prescribe birds, but don't watch a bald-eagle's
nest too closely. We are not ready to part with your bright eyes any more
than you are."



CHAPTER IX

SLEIGHING IN THE HIGHLANDS


During the night there was a slight fall of snow, and Webb explained at
the breakfast-table that its descent had done more to warm the air than
would have been accomplished by the fall of an equal amount of red-hot
sand. But more potent than the freezing particles of vapor giving off
their latent heat were the soft south wind and the bright sunshine, which
seemingly had the warmth of May.

"Come, Amy," said Burtis, exultantly, "this is no day to mope in the
house. If you will trust yourself to me and Thunder, you shall skim the
river there as swiftly as you can next summer on the fastest steamer."

Amy was too English to be afraid of a horse, and with wraps that soon
proved burdensome in the increasing warmth of the day, she and Burt
dashed down the slopes and hill that led to the river, and out upon the
wide, white plain. She was a little nervous as she thought of the fathoms
of cold, dark water beneath her; but when she saw the great loads of
lumber and coal that were passing to and fro on the track she was
convinced that the ice-bridge was safe, and she gave herself up to the
unalloyed enjoyment of the grand scenery. First they crossed Newburgh
Bay, with the city rising steeply on one side, and the Beacon Mountains
further away on the other. The snow covered the ice unbrokenly, except as
tracks crossed here and there to various points. Large flocks of crows
were feeding on these extemporized roadways, and they looked blacker than
crows in the general whiteness. As the sleigh glided here and there it
was hard for Amy to believe that they were in the track of steamers and
innumerable sail-boats, and that the distant shores did not slope down to
a level plain, on which the grass and grain would wave in the coming
June; but when Burt turned southward and drove under the great beetling
mountains, and told her that their granite feet were over a hundred yards
deep in the water, she understood the marvellous engineering of the
frost-spirit that had spanned the river, where the tides are so swift,
and had so strengthened it in a few short days and nights that it could
bear enormous burdens.

Never before had she seen such grand and impressive scenery. They could
drive within a few feet of the base of Storm King and Cro' Nest; and the
great precipices and rocky ledges, from which often hung long, glittering
icicles, seemed tenfold more vast than when seen from a distance. The
furrowed granite cliffs, surmounted by snow, looked like giant faces,
lined and wrinkled by age and passion. Even the bright sunshine could do
little to soften their frowning grandeur. Amy's face became more and more
serious as the majesty of the landscape impressed her, and she grew
silent under Burtis's light talk. At last she said:

"How transient and insignificant one feels among these mountains! They
could not have looked very different on the morning when Adam first saw
Eve."

"They are indeed superb," replied Burt, "and I am glad my home--our
home--is among them; and yet I am sure that Adam would have found Eve
more attractive than all the mountains in the world, just as I find your
face, flushed by the morning air, far more interesting than these hills
that I have known and loved so long."

"My face is a novelty, brother Burt," she answered, with deepening color,
for the young fellow's frequent glances of admiration were slightly
embarrassing.

"Strange to say, it is growing so familiar that I seem to have known you
all my life," he responded, with a touch of tenderness in his tone.

"That is because I am your sister," she said, quietly. "Both the word and
the relation suggest the idea that we have grown up together," and then
she changed the subject so decidedly that even impetuous Burt felt that
he must be more prudent in expressing the interest which daily grew
stronger. As they were skirting Constitution Island, Amy exclaimed:

"What a quaint old house! Who lives there all alone?"

"Some one that you know about, I imagine. Have you ever read 'The Wide,
Wide World'?"

"What girl has not?"

"Well, Miss Warner, the author of the book, resides there. The place has
a historical interest also. Do you see those old walls? They were built
over one hundred years ago. At the beginning of the Revolution, the
Continental authorities were stupid enough to spend considerable money,
for that period, in the building of a fort on those rocks. Any one might
have seen that the higher ground opposite, at West Point, commanded the
position."

"No matter about the fort. Tell me of Miss Warner."

"Well, she and her sister spend their summers there, and are ever busy
writing, I believe. I'll row you down in the spring after they return.
They are not there in winter, I am told. I have no doubt that she will
receive you kindly, and tell you all about herself."

"I shall not fail to remind you of your promise, and I don't believe she
will resent a very brief call from one who longs to see her and speak
with her. I am not curious about celebrities in general, but there are
some writers whose words have touched my heart, and whom I would like to
see and thank. Where are you going now?"

"I am going to show you West Point in its winter aspect. You will find it
a charming place to visit occasionally, only you must not go so often as
to catch the cadet fever."

"Pray what is that?"

"It is an acute attack of admiration for very young men of a military
cut. I use the word cut advisedly, for these incipient soldiers look for
all the world as if carved out of wood. They gradually get over their
stiffness, however, and as officers usually have a fine bearing, as you
may see if we meet any of them. I wish, though, that you could See a
squad of 'plebes' drilling. They would provoke a grin on the face of old
Melancholy himself."

"Where is the danger, then, of acute admiration?"

"Well, they improve, I suppose, and are said to be quite irresistible
during the latter part of their course. You need not laugh. If you knew
how many women--some of them old enough to be the boys' mothers--had
succumbed, you would take my warning to heart."

"What nonsense! You are a little jealous of them, Burt."

"I should be indeed if you took a fancy to any of them."

"Well, I suppose that is one of the penalties of having brothers. Are all
these houses officers' quarters?"

They had now left the ice, and were climbing the hill as he replied:

"No, indeed. This is Logtown--so named, I suppose, because in the earlier
days of the post log huts preceded these small wooden houses. They are
chiefly occupied by enlisted men and civilian employees. That large
building is the band barracks. The officers' quarters, with a few
exceptions, are just above the brow of the hill west and south of the
plain."

In a few moments Amy saw the wide parade and drill ground, now covered
with untrodden snow.

"What a strange formation of land, right in among the mountains," she
said.

"Yes," replied her companion. "Nature could not have designed a better
place for a military school. It is very accessible, yet easily guarded,
and the latter is an important point, for some of the cadets are very
wild, and disposed toward larks."

"I imagine that they are like other young fellows. Were you a saint at
college?"

"How can you think otherwise? There, just opposite to us, out on the
plain, the evening parade takes place after the spring fairly opens. I
shall bring you down to see it, and 'tis a pretty sight. The music also
is fine. Oh, I shall be magnanimous, and procure you some introductions
if you wish."

"Thank you. That will be the best policy. These substantial buildings on
our right are the officers' quarters, I suppose?"

"Yes. That is the commandant's, and the one beyond it is the
superintendent's. They are both usually officers of high rank, who have
made an honorable record for themselves. The latter has entire charge of
the post, and the position is a very responsible one; nor is it by any
means a sinecure, for when the papers have nothing else to find fault
with they pick at West Point."

"I should think the social life here would be very pleasant."

"It is, in many respects. Army ties beget a sort of comradeship which
extends to the officers' wives. Frequent removal from one part of the
country to another prevents anything like vegetating. The ladies, I am
told, do not become overmuch engrossed in housekeeping, and acquire
something of a soldier's knack of doing without many things which would
naturally occupy their time and thought if they looked forward to a
settled life. Thus they have more time for reading and society. Those
that I have met have certainly been very bright and companionable, and
many who in girlhood were accustomed to city luxury can tell some strange
stories of their frontier life. There is one army custom which often
bears pretty hard. Can you imagine yourself an officer's wife?"

"I'll try, if it will be of help to you."

"Then suppose you were nicely settled in one of those houses, your
furniture arranged, carpets down, etc. Some morning you learn that an
officer outranking your husband has been ordered here on duty. His first
step may be to take possession of your house. Quarters are assigned in
accordance with rank, and you would be compelled to gather up your
household goods and take them to some smaller dwelling. Then your
husband--how droll the word sounds!--could compel some other officer,
whom he outranked, to move. It would seem that the thing might go on
indefinitely, and the coming of a new officer produce a regular 1st of
May state of affairs."

"I perceive that you are slyly providing an antidote against the cadet
fever. What large building is this?"

"The cadet barracks. There are over two hundred young fellows in the
building. They have to study, I can tell you, nor can they slip through
here as some of us did at college. All must abide the remorseless
examinations, and many drop out. There goes a squad to the riding hall.
Would you like to see the drill and sabre practice?"

Amy assenting, they soon reached the balcony overlooking the arena, and
spent an amused half-hour. The horses were rather gay, and some were
vicious, while the young girl's eyes seemed to have an inspiriting effect
upon the riders. Altogether the scene was a lively one, and at times
exciting. Burt then drove southward almost to Fort Montgomery, and
returning skirted the West Point plain by the river road, pointing out
objects of interest at almost every turn, and especially calling the
attention of his companion to old Fort Putnam, which he assured her
should be the scene of a family picnic on some bright summer day, Amy's
wonder and delight scarcely knew bounds when from the north side of the
plain she saw for the first time the wonderful gorge through which the
river flows southward from Newburgh Bay--Mount Taurus and Breakneck on
one side, and Cro' Nest and Storm King on the other. With a deep sigh of
content, she said:

"I'm grateful that my home is in such a region as this."

"I'm grateful too," the young fellow replied, looking at her and not at
the scenery.

But she was too pre-occupied to give him much attention, and in less than
half an hour Thunder's fleet steps carried them through what seemed a
realm of enchantment, and they were at home. "Burt," she said, warmly, "I
never had such a drive before. I have enjoyed every moment."

"Ditto, ditto," he cried, merrily, as the horse dashed off with him
toward the barn.



CHAPTER X

A WINTER THUNDER-STORM


Even before the return of Burtis and Amy the sun had been obscured by a
fast-thickening haze, and while the family was at dinner the wind began
to moan and sigh around the house in a way that foretold a storm.

"I fear we shall lose our sleighing," old Mr. Clifford remarked, "for all
the indications now point to a warm rain."

His prediction was correct. Great masses of vapor soon came pouring over
Storm King, and the sky grew blacker every moment. The wind blew in
strong, fitful gusts, and yet the air was almost sultry. By four o'clock
the rain began to dash with almost the violence of a summer shower
against the windowpanes of Mr. and Mrs. Clifford's sitting-room, and it
grew so dark that Amy could scarcely see to read the paper to the old
gentleman. Suddenly she was startled by a flash, and she looked up
inquiringly for an explanation.

"You did not expect to see a thunder-storm almost in midwinter?" said Mr.
Clifford, with a smile. "This unusual sultriness is producing unseasonable
results."

"Is not a thunder-storm at this season very rare?" she asked.

"Yes; and yet some of the sharpest lightning I have ever seen has
occurred in winter."

A heavy rumble in the southwest was now heard, and the interval between
the flash and the report indicated that the storm centre was still
distant. "I would advise you to go up to Maggie's room," resumed Mr.
Clifford, "for from her south and west windows you may witness a scene
that you will not soon forget. You are not afraid, are you?"

"No, not unless there is danger," she replied, hesitatingly.

"I have never been struck by lightning," the old man remarked, with a
smile, "and I have passed through many storms. Come, I'll go with you. I
never tire of watching the effects down among the mountains."

They found Mrs. Leonard placidly sewing, with Johnnie and Ned playing
about the room. "You, evidently, are not afraid," said Amy.

"Oh no!" she replied. "I have more faith in the presence of little
children than in the protection of lightning-rods. Yes, you may come in,"
she said to Webb, who stood at the door. "I suppose you think my sense of
security has a very unscientific basis?"

"There are certain phases of credulity that I would not disturb for the
world," he answered: "and who knows but you are right? What's more, your
faith is infectious; for, whatever reason might tell me, I should still
feel safer in a wild storm with the present company around me. Don't you
think it odd, Amy, that what we may term natural feeling gets the better
of the logic of the head? If that approaching storm should pass directly
over us, with thickly flying bolts, would you not feel safer here?"

"Yes."

Webb laughed in his low, peculiar way, and murmured, "What children an
accurate scientist would call us!"

"In respect to some things I never wish to grow up," she replied.

"I believe I can echo that wish. The outlook is growing fine, isn't it?"

The whole sky, which in the morning had smiled so brightly in undimmed
sunshine, was now black with clouds. These hung so low that the house
seemed the centre of a narrow and almost opaque horizon. The room soon
darkened with the gloom of twilight, and the faces of the inmates faded
into shadowy outlines. The mountains, half wrapped in vapor, loomed vast
and indefinite in the obscurity. Every moment the storm grew nearer, and
its centre was marked by an ominous blackness which the momentary flashes
left all the more intense. The young girl grew deeply absorbed in the
scene, and to Webb the strong, pure profile of her awed face, as the
increasingly vivid flashes revealed it, was far more attractive than the
landscape without, which was passing with swift alternations from ghastly
gloom to even more ghastly pallor. He looked at her; the rest looked at
the storm, the children gathering like chickens under the mother's wing.

At last there came a flash that startled them all. The mountains leaped
out of the darkness like great sheeted spectres, and though seen but a
second, they made so strong an impression that they seemed to have left
their solid bases and to be approaching in the gloom. Then came a
magnificent peal that swept across the whole southern arch of the sky.
The reverberations among the hills were deep, long, and grand, and the
fainter echoes had not died away before there was another flash--another
thunderous report, which, though less loud than the one that preceded it,
maintained the symphony with scarcely diminished grandeur.

"This is our Highland music, Amy," Webb remarked, as soon as he could be
heard. "It has begun early this season, but you will hear much of it
before the year is out."

"It is rather too sublime for my taste," replied the young girl,
shrinking closer to Mr. Clifford's side.

"You are safe, my child," said the old man, encircling her with his arm.

"Let me also reassure you in my prosaic way," Webb continued. "There, do
you not observe that though this last flash seemed scarcely less vivid,
the report followed more tardily, indicating that the storm centre is
already well to the south and east of us? The next explosion will take
place over the mountains beyond the river. You may now watch the scene in
security, for the heavenly artillery is pointed away from you."

"Thank you. I must admit that your prose is both reassuring and inspiring.
How one appreciates shelter and home on such a night as this! Hear the rain
splash against the window! Every moment the air seems filled with
innumerable gems as the intense light pierces them. Think of being out
alone on the river, or up there among the hills, while Nature is in such an
awful mood!--the snow, the slush, everything dripping, the rain rushing
down like a cataract, and thunder-bolts playing over one's head. In
contrast, look around this home-like room. Dear old father's serene
face"--for Mr. Clifford had already taught her to call him father--"makes
the Divine Fatherhood seem more real. Innocent little Ned here does indeed
seem a better protection than a lightning-rod, while Johnnie, putting her
doll to sleep in the corner, is almost absolute assurance of safety. Your
science is all very well, Webb, but the heart demands something as well as
the head. Oh, I wish all the world had such shelter as I have to-night!"

It was not often that Amy spoke so freely and impulsively. Like many with
delicate organizations, she was excited by the electrical condition of
the air. The pallor of awe had given place to a joyous flush, and her
eyes were brilliant.

"Sister Amy," said Webb, as they went down to supper, "you must be
careful of yourself, and others must be careful of you, for you have not
much _vis inertiae_. Some outside influences might touch you, as I would
touch your piano, and make sad discord."

"Should I feel very guilty because I have not more of that substantial
quality which can only find adequate expression in Latin?" she asked,
with a humorous glance.

"Oh, no! At least not in my opinion. I much prefer a woman in whom the
spirit is pre-eminent over the clay. We are all made of dust, you know,
and we men, I fear, often smack of the soil too strongly; therefore we
are best pleased with contrasts. Moreover, our country life will brace
you without blunting your nature. I should be sorry for you, though, if
you were friendless, and had to face the world alone."

"That can scarcely happen now," she said, with a grateful glance.

During the early part of the evening they all became absorbed in a story,
which Webb read aloud. At last Mr. Clifford rose, drew aside the
curtains, and looked out. "Come here, Amy," he said. "Look where the
storm thundered a few hours since!"

The sky was cloudless, the winds were hushed, the stars shining, and the
mountains stood out gray and serene in the light of the rising moon.

"See, my child, the storm has passed utterly away, and everything speaks
of peace and rest. In my long life I have had experiences which at the
time seemed as dark and threatening as the storm that awed you in the
early evening, but they passed also, and a quiet like that which reigns
without followed. Put the lesson away in your heart, my dear; but may it
be long before you have occasion for its use! Good-night."



CHAPTER XI

NATURE UNDER GLASS


The next morning Amy asked Mrs. Clifford to initiate her more fully into
the mysteries of her flowers, promising under her direction to assume
their care in part. The old lady welcomed her assistance cordially, and
said, "You could not take your lesson on a more auspicious occasion, for
Webb has promised to aid me in giving my pets a bath to-day, and he can
explain many things better than I can."

Webb certainly did not appear averse to the arrangement, and all three were
soon busy in the flower-room. "You see," resumed Mrs. Clifford, "I use the
old-fashioned yellow pots. I long ago gave up all the glazed, ornamental
affairs with which novices are tempted, learning from experience that they
are a delusion and a snare. Webb has since made it clear to me that the
roots need a circulation of air and a free exhalation of moisture as truly
as the leaves, and that since glazed pots do not permit this, they should
never be employed. After all, there is nothing neater than these common
yellow porous pots. I always select the yellowest ones, for they are the
most porous. Those that are red are hard-baked, and are almost as bad as
the glazed abominations, which once cost me some of my choice favorites."

"I agree with you. The glazed pots are too artificial to be associated
with flowers. They suggest veneer, and I don't like veneer," Amy replied.
Then she asked Webb: "Are you ready for a fire of questions? Any one with
your ability should be able to talk and work at the same time."

"Yes; and I did not require that little diplomatic pat on the back."

"I'll be as direct and severe as an inquisitor, then. Why do you syringe
and wash the foliage of the plants? Why will not simple watering of the
earth in the pots answer?"

"We wash the foliage in order that the plants may breathe and digest
their food."

"How lucid!" said Amy, with laughing irony. "Then," she added, "please
take nothing for granted except my ignorance in these matters. I don't
know anything about plants except in the most general way."

"Give me time, and I think I can make some things clear. A plant breathes
as truly as you do, only unlike yourself it has indefinite thousands of
mouths. There is one leaf on which there are over one hundred and fifty
thousand. They are called _stomata_, or breathing-pores, and are on
both sides of the leaf in most plants, but usually are in far greater
abundance on the lower side. The plant draws its food from the air and
soil--from the latter in liquid form--and this substance must be
concentrated and assimilated. These little pores introduce the vital
atmosphere through the air-passages of the plant, which correspond in a
certain sense to the throat and lungs of an animal. You would be sadly
off if you couldn't breathe; these plants would fare no better. Therefore
we must do artificially what the rain does out-of-doors--wash away the
accumulated dust, so that respiration may be unimpeded. Moreover, these
little pores, which are shaped like the semi-elliptical springs of a
carriage, are self-acting valves. A plant exhales a great deal of
moisture in invisible vapor. A sunflower has been known to give off three
pounds of water in twenty-four hours. This does no harm, unless the
moisture escapes faster than it rises from the roots, in which case the
plant wilts, and may even die. In such emergencies these little stomata,
or mouths, shut up partly or completely, and so do much to check the
exhalation. When moisture is given to the roots, these mouths open again,
and if our eyes were fine enough we should see the vapor passing out."

"I never appreciated the fact before that plants are so thoroughly
alive."

"Indeed, they are alive, and therefore they need the intelligent care
required by all living creatures which we have removed from their natural
conditions. Nature takes care of her children when they are where she
placed them. In a case like this, wherein we are preserving plants that
need summer warmth through a winter cold, we must learn to supply her
place, and as far as possible adopt her methods. It is just because
multitudes do not understand her ways that so many house plants are in a
half-dying condition."

"Now, Amy, I will teach you how to water the pots," Mrs. Clifford began.
"The water, you see, has been standing in the flower-room all night, so
as to raise its temperature. That drawn directly from the well would be
much too cold, and even as it is I shall add some warm water to take the
chill off. The roots are very sensitive to a sudden chill from too cold
water. No, don't pour it into the pots from that pitcher. The rain does
not fall so, and, as Webb says, we must imitate nature. This watering-pot
with a fine rose will enable you to sprinkle them slowly, and the soil
can absorb the moisture naturally and equally. Most plants need water
much as we take our food, regularly, often, and not too much at a time.
Let this surface soil in the pots be your guide. It should never be
perfectly dry, and still less should it be sodden with moisture; nor
should moisture ever stand in the saucers under the pots, unless the
plants are semi-aquatic, like this calla-lily. You will gradually learn
to treat each plant or family of plants according to its nature. The
amount of water which that calla requires would kill this heath, and the
quantity needed by the heath would be the death of that cactus over
there."

"Oh dear!" cried Amy, "if I were left alone in the care of your
flower-room, I should out-Herod Herod in the slaughter of the innocents."

"You will not be left alone, and you will be surprised to find how
quickly the pretty mystery of life and growth will begin to reveal itself
to you."

       *       *       *       *       *

As the days passed, Amy became more and more absorbed in the genial family
life of the Cliffords. She especially attached herself to the old people,
and Mr. and Mrs. Clifford were fast learning that their kindness to the
orphan was destined to receive an exceeding rich reward. Her young eyes
supplemented theirs, which were fast growing dim; and even platitudes read
in her sweet girlish voice seemed to acquire point and interest. She soon
learned to glean from the papers and periodicals that which each cared for,
and to skip the rest. She discovered in the library a well-written book on
travel in the tropics, and soon had them absorbed in its pages, the
descriptions being much enhanced in interest by contrast with the winter
landscape outside. Mrs. Clifford had several volumes on the culture of
flowers, and under her guidance and that of Webb she began to prepare for
the practical out-door work of spring with great zest. In the meantime she
was assiduous in the care of the house plants, and read all she could find
in regard to the species and varieties represented in the little
flower-room. It became a source of genuine amusement to start with a
familiar house plant and trace out all its botanical relatives, with their
exceedingly varied character and yet essential consanguinity; and she drew
others, even Alf and little Johnnie, into this unhackneyed pursuit of
knowledge.

"These plant families," she said one day, "are as curiously diverse as
human families. Group them together and you can see plainly that they
belong to one another, and yet they differ so widely."

"As widely as Webb and I," put in Burt.

"Thanks for so apt an illustration."

"Burt is what you would call a rampant grower, running more to wood and
foliage than anything else," Leonard remarked.

"I didn't say that," said Amy. "Moreover, I learned from my reading that
many of the strong-growing plants become in maturity the most productive
of flowers or fruit."

"How young I must seem to you!" Burt remarked.

"Well, don't be discouraged. It's a fault that will mend every day," she
replied, with a smile that was so arch and genial that he mentally
assured himself that he never would be disheartened in his growing
purpose to make Amy more than a sister.



CHAPTER XII

A MOUNTAINEER'S HOVEL


One winter noon Leonard returned from his superintendence of the
wood-cutting in the mountains. At the dinner-table be remarked: "I have
heard to-day that the Lumley family are in great destitution, as usual.
It is useless to help them, and yet one cannot sit down to a dinner like
this in comfort while even the Lumleys are hungry."

"Hunger is their one good trait," said Webb. "Under its incentive they
contribute the smallest amount possible to the world's work."

"I shouldn't mind," resumed Leonard, "if Lumley and his wife were pinched
sharply. Indeed, it would give me solid satisfaction had I the power to
make those people work steadily for a year, although they would regard it
as the worst species of cruelty. They have a child, however, I am told,
and for its sake I must go and see after them. Come with me, Amy, and I
promise that you will be quite contented when you return home."

It was rather late in the afternoon when the busy Leonard appeared at the
door in his strong one-horse sleigh with its movable seat, and Amy found
that he had provided an ample store of vegetables, flour, etc. She
started upon the expedition with genuine zest, to which every mile of
progress added.

The clouded sky permitted only a cold gray light, in which everything
stood out with wonderful distinctness. Even the dried weeds with their
shrivelled seed-vessels were sharply defined against the snow. The beech
leaves which still clung to the trees were bleached and white, but the
foliage on the lower branches of the oaks was almost black against the
hillside. Not a breath of air rustled them. At times Leonard would stop
his horse, and when the jingle of the sleigh-bells ceased the silence was
profound. Every vestige of life had disappeared in the still woods, or
was hidden by the snow.

"How lonely and dreary it all looks!" said Amy, with a sigh.

"That is why I like to look at a scene like this," Leonard replied.
"When I get home I see it all again--all its cold desolation--and it
makes Maggie's room, with her and the children around me, seem like
heaven."

But oh, the contrast to Maggie's room that Amy looked upon after a ride
over a wood-road so rough that even the deep snow could not relieve its
rugged inequalities! A dim glow of firelight shone through the frosted
window-panes of a miserable dwelling, as they emerged in the twilight
from the narrow track in the growing timber. In response to a rap on the
door, a gruff, thick voice said, "Come in."

Leonard, with a heavy basket on his arm, entered, followed closely by
Amy, who, in her surprise, looked with undisguised wonder at the scene
before her. Never had she even imagined such a home. Indeed, it seemed
like profanation of the word to call the bare, uncleanly room by that
sweetest of English words. It contained not a home-like feature. Her eyes
were not resting on decent poverty, but upon uncouth, repulsive want; and
this awful impoverishment was not seen in the few articles of cheap,
dilapidated furniture so clearly as in the dull, sodden faces of the man
and woman who kennelled there. No trace of manhood or womanhood was
visible--and no animal is so repulsive as a man or woman imbruted.

The man rose unsteadily to his feet and said: "Evenin', Mr. Clifford.
Will yer take a cheer?"

The woman had not the grace or the power to acknowledge their presence,
but after staring stolidly for a moment or two at her visitors through
her dishevelled hair, turned and cowered over the hearth again, her
elfish locks falling forward and hiding her face.

The wretched smoky fire they maintained was the final triumph and
revelation of their utter shiftlessness. With square miles of woodland
all about them, they had prepared no billets of suitable size. The man
had merely cut down two small trees, lopped off their branches, and
dragged them into the room. Their butt-ends were placed together on the
hearth, whence the logs stretched like the legs of a compass to the two
further corners of the room. Amy, in the uncertain light, had nearly
stumbled over one of them. As the logs burned away they were shoved
together on the hearth from time to time, the woman mechanically throwing
on dry sticks from a pile near her when the greed wood ceased to blaze.
Both man and woman were partially intoxicated, and the latter was so
stupefied as to be indifferent to the presence of strangers. While
Leonard was seeking to obtain from the man some intelligible account of
their condition, and bringing in his gifts, Amy gazed around, with her
fair young face full of horror and disgust. Then her attention was
arrested by a feeble cry from a cradle in a dusky corner beyond the
woman, and to the girl's heart it was indeed a cry of distress, all the
more pathetic because of the child's helplessness, and unconsciousness of
the wretched life to which it seemed inevitably destined.

She stepped to the cradle's side, and saw a pallid little creature, puny
and feeble from neglect. Its mother paid no attention to its wailing, and
when Amy asked if she might take it up, the woman's mumbled reply was
unintelligible.

After hesitating a moment Amy lifted the child, and found it scarcely
more than a little skeleton. Sitting down on the only chair in the room,
which the man had vacated--the woman crouched on an inverted box--Amy
said, "Leonard, please bring me the milk we brought."

After it had been warmed a little the child drank it with avidity.
Leonard stood in the background and sadly shook his head as he watched
the scene, the fire-light flickering on Amy's pure profile and
tear-dimmed eye as she watched the starved babe taking from her hand the
food that the brutish mother on the opposite side of the hearth was
incapable of giving it.

He never forgot that picture--the girl's face beautiful with a divine
compassion, the mother's large sensual features half hidden by her snaky
locks as she leaned stupidly over the fire, the dusky flickering shadows
that filled the room, in which the mountaineer's head loomed like that of
a shaggy beast. Even his rude nature was impressed, and he exclaimed,

"Gad! the likes of that was never seen in these parts afore!"

"Oh, sir," cried Amy, turning to him, "can you not see that your little
child is hungry?"

"Well,--the woman, she's drunk, and s'pose I be too, somewhat."

"Come, Lumley, be more civil," said Leonard. "The young lady isn't used
to such talk."

"Oh, it all seems so dreadful!" exclaimed Amy, her tears falling faster.

The man drew a step or two nearer, and looked at her wonderingly; then,
stretching out his great grimy hand, he said: "I s'pose you think I
hain't no feelings, miss, but I have. I'll take keer on the young un, and
I won't tech another drop to-night. Thar's my hand on it."

To Leonard's surprise, Amy took the hand, as she said, "I believe you
will keep your word."

"That's right, Lumley," added Leonard, heartily. "Now you are acting like
a man. I've brought you a fair lot of things, but they are in trade. In
exchange for them I want the jug of liquor you brought up from the
village to-day."

The man hesitated, and looked at his wife.

"Come, Lumley, you've begun well. Put temptation out of the way. For your
wife and baby's sake, as well as your own, give me the jug. You mean
well, but you know your failing."

"Well, Mr. Clifford," said the man, going to a cupboard, "I guess it'll
be safer. But you don't want the darned stuff," and he opened the door
and dashed the vessel against an adjacent bowlder.

"That's better still. Now brace up, get your axe and cut some wood in a
civilized way. We're going to have a cold night. You can't keep up a fire
with this shiftless contrivance," indicating with his foot one of the
logs lying along the floor. "As soon as you get things straightened up
here a little we'll give you work. The young lady has found out that you
have the making of a man in you yet. If she'll take your word for your
conduct to-night, she also will for the future."

"Yes," added Amy, "if you will try to do better, we will all try to help
you. I shall come to see the baby again. Oh, Leonard," she added, as she
placed the child in its cradle, "can't we leave one of the blankets from
the sleigh? See, the baby has scarcely any covering."

"But you may be cold."

"No; I am dressed warmly. Oh! see! see! the little darling is smiling up
at me! Leonard, please do. I'd rather be cold."

"Bless your good heart, miss!" said the man, more touched than ever.
"Never had any sich wisitors afore."

When Amy had tucked the child in warm he followed her and Leonard to the
sleigh and said, "Good-by, miss; I'm a-going to work like a man, and
there's my hand on it agin."

Going to work was Lumley's loftiest idea of reformation, and many others
would find it a very good beginning. As they drove away they heard the
ring of his axe, and it had a hopeful sound.

For a time Leonard was closely occupied with the intricacies of the road,
and when at last he turned and looked at Amy, she was crying.

"There, don't take it so to heart," he said, soothingly.

"Oh, Leonard, I never saw anything like it before. That poor little
baby's smile went right to my heart. And to think of its awful mother!"

They paused on an eminence and looked back on the dim outline of the
hovel. Then Leonard drew her close to him as he said, "Don't cry any
more. You have acted like a true little woman--just as Maggie would have
done--and good may come of it, although they'll always be Lumleys. As
Webb says, it would require several generations to bring them up. Haven't
I given you a good lesson in contentment?"

"Yes; but I did not need one. I'm glad I went, however, but feel that I
cannot rest until there is a real change for the better."

"Well, who knows? You may bring it about"

The supper-table was waiting for them when they returned. The gleam of the
crystal and silver, the ruddy glow from the open stove, the more genial
light of every eye that turned to welcome them, formed a delightful
counter-picture to the one they had just looked upon, and Leonard beamed
with immeasurable satisfaction. To Amy the contrast was almost too sharp,
and she could not dismiss from her thoughts the miserable dwelling in the
mountains.

Leonard's buoyant, genial nature had been impressed, but not depressed,
by the scene he had witnessed. Modes of life in the mountains were
familiar to him, and with the consciousness of having done a kind deed
from which further good might result, he was in a mood to speak freely of
the Lumleys, and the story of their experience was soon drawn from him.
Impulsive, warm-hearted Burt was outspoken in his admiration of Amy's
part in the visit of charity, but Webb's intent look drew her eyes to
him, and with a strange little thrill at her heart she saw that he had
interpreted her motives and feelings.

"I will take you there again, Amy," was all he said, but for some reason
she dwelt upon the tone in which he spoke more than upon all the uttered
words of the others.

Later in the evening he joined her in the sitting-room, which, for the
moment, was deserted by the others, and she spoke of the wintry gloom of
the mountains, and how Leonard was fond of making the forbidding aspect a
foil for Maggie's room. Webb smiled as he replied:

"That is just like Len. Maggie's room is the centre of his world, and he
sees all things in their relation to it. I also was out this afternoon,
and I took my gun, although I did not see a living thing to fire at. But
the 'still, cold woods,' as you term them, were filled with a beauty and
suggestiveness of which I was never conscious before. I remembered how
different they had appeared in past summers and autumns, and I saw how
ready they were for the marvellous changes that will take place in a few
short weeks. The hillsides seemed like canvases on which an artist had
drawn his few strong outlines which foretold the beauty to come so
perfectly that the imagination supplied it."

"Why, Webb, I did not know you had so much imagination."

"Nor did I, and I am glad that I am discovering traces of it. I have always
loved the mountains, because so used to them--they were a part of my life
and surroundings--but never before this winter have I realized they were so
beautiful. When I found that you were going up among the hills, I thought I
would go also, and then we could compare our impressions."

"It was all too dreary for me," said the young girl, in a low tone. "It
reminded me of the time when my old life ceased, and this new life had
not begun. There were weeks wherein my heart was oppressed with a cold,
heavy despondency, when I just wished to be quiet, and try not to think
at all, and it seemed to me that nature looked to-day just I felt."

"I think it very sad that you have learned to interpret nature in this
way so early in life. And yet I think I can understand you and your
analogy."

"I think you can, Webb," she said, simply.



CHAPTER XIII

ALMOST A TRAGEDY


The quiet sequence of daily life was soon interrupted by circumstances
that nearly ended in a tragedy. One morning Burt saw an eagle sailing
over the mountains. The snow had been greatly wasted, and in most places
was so strongly incrusted that it would bear a man's weight. Therefore
the conditions seemed favorable for the eagle hunt which he had promised
himself; and having told his father that he would look after the wood
teams and men on his way, he took his rifle and started.

The morning was not cold, and not a breath of air disturbed the sharp,
still outlines of the leafless trees. The sky was slightly veiled with a
thin scud of clouds. As the day advanced these increased in density and
darkened in hue.

Webb remarked at dinner that the atmosphere over the Beacon Hills in the
northeast was growing singularly obscure and dense in its appearance, and
that he believed a heavy storm was coming.

"I am sorry Burt has gone to the mountains to-day," said Mrs. Clifford,
anxiously.

"Oh, don't worry about Burt," was Webb's response; "there is no more
danger of his being snowed in than of a fox's."

Before the meal was over, the wind, snow-laden, was moaning about the
house. With every hour the gale increased in intensity. Early in the
afternoon the men with the two teams drove to the barn. Amy could just
see their white, obscure figures through the blinding snow, Even old Mr.
Clifford went out to question them. "Yes, Mr. Burt come up in de mawnin'
an' stirred us all up right smart, slashed down a tree hisself to show a
new gawky hand dat's cuttin' by de cord how to 'arn his salt; den he put
out wid his rafle in a bee-line toward de riber. Dat's de last we seed ob
him;" and Abram went stolidly on to unhitch and care for his horses.

Mr. Clifford and his two elder sons returned to the house with traces of
anxiety on their faces, while Mrs. Clifford was so worried that,
supported by Amy, she made an unusual effort, and met them at the door.

"Don't be disturbed, mother," said Webb, confidently. "Burt and I have
often been caught in snowstorms, but never had any difficulty in finding
our way. Burt will soon appear, or, if he doesn't, it will be because he
has stopped to recount to Dr. Marvin the results of his eagle hunt."

Indeed, they all tried to reassure her, but, with woman's quick instinct
where her affections are concerned, she read what was passing in their
minds. Her husband led her back to her couch, where she lay with her
large dark eyes full of trouble, while her lips often moved in prayer.
The thought of her youngest and darling son far off and alone among those
cloud-capped and storm-beaten mountains was terrible to her.

Another hour passed, and still the absent youth did not return. Leonard,
his father, and Amy, often went to the hall window and looked out. The
storm so enhanced the early gloom of the winter afternoon that the
outbuildings, although so near, loomed out only as shadows. The wind was
growing almost fierce in its violence. Webb had so long kept up his
pretence of reading that Amy began in her thoughts to resent his seeming
indifference as cold-blooded. At last he laid down his book, and went
quietly away. She followed him, for it seemed to her that something ought
to be done, and that he was the one to do it. She found him in an upper
chamber, standing by an open window that faced the mountains. Joining
him, she was appalled by the roar of the wind as it swept down from the
wooded heights.

"Oh, Webb," she exclaimed--he started at her words and presence, and
quickly closed the window--"ought not something to be done? The bare
thought that Burt is lost in this awful gloom fills me with horror. The
sound of that wind was like the roar of the ocean in a storm we had. How
can he see in such blinding snow? How could he breast this gale if he
were weary?"

He was silent a moment, looking with contracted brows at the gloomy
scene. At last he began, as if reassuring himself as well as the agitated
girl at his side:

"Burt, you must remember, has been brought up in this region. He knows
the mountains well, and--"

"Oh, Webb, you take this matter too coolly," interrupted Amy, impulsively.
"Something tells me that Burt is in danger;" and in her deep solicitude she
put her hand on his arm. She noticed that it trembled, and that he still
bent the same contracted brow toward the region where his brother must be
if her fears were true. Then he seemed to come to a decision.

"Yes," he said, quietly, "I take it coolly. Perhaps it's well that I can.
You may be right, and there may be need of prompt, wise action. If so, a
man will need the full control of all his wits. I will not, however, give
up my hope--my almost belief--that he is at Dr. Marvin's. I shall
satisfy myself at once. Try not to show your fears to father and mother,
that's a brave girl."

He was speaking hurriedly now as they were descending the stairs. He
found his father in the hall, much disturbed, and querying with his
eldest son as to the advisability of taking some steps immediately.
Leonard, although evidently growing anxious, still urged that Burt, with
his knowledge and experience as a sportsman, would not permit himself to
be caught in such a storm.

"He surely must be at the house of Dr. Marvin or some other neighbor on
the mountain road."

"I also think he is at the doctor's, but shall see," Webb remarked,
quietly, as he drew on his overcoat.

"I don't think he's there; I don't think he is at any neighbor's house,"
cried Mrs. Clifford, who, to the surprise of all, had made her way to the
hall unaided. "Burt is thoughtless about little things, but he would not
leave me in suspense on such a night as this."

"Mother, I promise you Burt shall soon be here safe and sound;" and Webb
in his shaggy coat and furs went hastily out, followed by Leonard. A few
moments later the dusky outlines of a man and a galloping horse appeared
to Amy for a moment, and then vanished toward the road.

It was some time before Leonard returned, for Webb had said: "If Burt is
not at the doctor's, we must go and look for him. Had you not better have
the strongest wood-sled ready? You will know what to do."

Having admitted the possibility of danger, Leonard acted promptly. With
Abram's help a pair of stout horses were soon attached to the sled, which
was stored with blankets, shovels to clear away drifts, etc.

Webb soon came galloping back, followed a few moments later by the
doctor, but there were no tidings of Burt.

Amy expected that Mrs. Clifford would become deeply agitated, but was
mistaken. She lay on her couch with closed eyes, but her lips moved
almost continuously. She had gone to Him whose throne is beyond all
storms.

Mr. Clifford was with difficulty restrained from joining his sons in the
search. The old habit of resolute action returned upon him, but Webb
settled the question by saying, in a tone almost stern in its authority,
"Father, you _must_ remain with mother."

Amy had no further reason to complain that Webb took the matter too
coolly. He was all action, but his movements were as deft as they were
quick. In the basket which Maggie had furnished with brandy and food he
placed the conch-shell used to summon Abram to his meals. Then, taking
down a double-barrelled breech-loading gun, he filled his pocket with
cartridges.

"What is that for?" Amy asked, with white lips, for, as he seemed the
natural leader, she hovered near him.

"If we do not find him at one of the houses well up on the mountain, as I
hope we shall, I shall fire repeatedly in our search. The reports would
be heard further than any other sound, and he might answer with his
rifle."

Leonard now entered with the doctor, who said, "All ready; we have
stored the sledge with abundant material for fires, and if Burt has
met with an accident, I am prepared to do all that can be done under
the circumstances."

"All ready," responded Webb, again putting on his coat and fur cap.

Amy sprang to his side and tied the cap securely down with her scarf.

"Forgive me," she whispered, "for saying that you took Bart's danger
coolly. I understand you better now. Oh, Webb, be careful! Think of
yourself too. I now see that you are thinking of Burt only."

"Of you also, little sister, and I shall be the stronger for such
thoughts. Don't give way to fear. We shall find Burt, and all come home
hungry as wolves. Good-by."

"May the blessing of Him who came to seek and save the lost go with you!"
said the aged father, tremulously.

A moment later they dashed away, followed by Burt's hound and the
watch-dog, and the darkness and storm hid them from sight.

Oh, the heavy cross of watching and waiting! Many claim that woman is not
the equal of man because she must watch and wait in so many of the dread
emergencies of life, forgetting that it is infinitely easier to act, to
face the wildest storm that sweeps the sky or the deadliest hail crashing
from cannons' mouths, than to sit down in sickening suspense waiting for
the blow to fall. The man's duty requires chiefly the courage which he
shares with the greater part of the brute creation, and only as he adds
woman's patience, fortitude, and endurance does he become heroic. Nothing
but his faith in God and his life-long habit of submission to his will
kept Mr. Clifford from chafing like a caged lion in his enforced
inaction. Mrs. Clifford, her mother's heart yearning after her youngest
and darling boy with an infinite tenderness, alone was calm.

Amy's young heart was oppressed by an unspeakable dread. It was partly
due to the fear and foreboding of a child to whom the mountains were a
Siberia-like wilderness in their awful obscurity, and still more the
result of knowledge of the sorrow that death involves. The bare possibility
that the light-hearted, ever-active Burt, who sometimes perplexed her with
more than fraternal devotion, was lying white and still beneath the
drifting snow, or even wandering helplessly in the blinding gale, was so
terrible that it blanched her cheek, and made her lips tremble when she
tried to speak. She felt that she had been a little brusque to him at
times, and now she reproached herself in remorseful compunction, and with
the abandonment of a child to her present overwrought condition, felt that
she could never refuse him anything should his blue eyes turn pleadingly to
her again. At first she did not give way, but was sustained, like Maggie,
by the bustle of preparation for the return, and in answering the
innumerable questions of Johnnie and Alf. Webb's assurance to his mother
that he would bring Burt back safe and sound was her chief hope. From the
first moment of greeting he had inspired her with a confidence that had
steadily increased, and from the time that he had admitted the possibility
of this awful emergency he had acted so resolutely and wisely as to
convince her that all that man could do would be done. She did not think of
explaining to herself why her hope centred more in him than in all the
others engaged in the search, or why she was more solicitous about him in
the hardships and perils that the expedition involved, and yet Webb shared
her thoughts almost equally with Burt. If the latter were reached, Webb
would be the rescuer, but her sickening dread was that in the black night
and howling storm he could not be found.

As the rescuing party pushed their way up the mountain with difficulty they
became more and more exposed to the northeast gale, and felt with
increasing dread how great was the peril to which Burt must be exposed had
he not found refuge in some of the dwellings nearer to the scene of his
sport. The roar of the gale up the rugged defile was perfectly terrific,
and the snow caught up from the overhanging ledges was often driven into
their faces with blinding force. They could do little better than give the
horses their heads, and the poor brutes floundered slowly through the
drifts. The snow had deepened incredibly fast, and the fierce wind piled it
up so fantastically in every sheltered place that they were often in danger
of upsetting, and more than once had to spring out with their shovels. At
last, after an hour of toil, they reached the first summit, but no tidings
could be obtained of Burt from the people residing in the vicinity. They
therefore pushed on toward the gloomy wastes beyond, and before long left
behind them the last dwelling and the last chance that he had found shelter
before night set in. Two stalwart men had joined them in the search,
however, and formed a welcome re-inforcement. With terrible forebodings
they pressed forward, Webb firing his breech-loader rapidly, and the rest
making what noise they could, but the gale swept away these feeble sounds,
and merged them almost instantly in the roar of the tempest. It was their
natural belief that in attempting to reach home Burt would first try to
gain the West Point road that crossed the mountains, for here would be a
pathway that the snow could not obliterate, and also his best chance of
meeting a rescuing party. It was therefore their purpose to push on until
the southern slope of Cro' Nest was reached, but they became so chilled and
despondent over their seemingly impossible task that they stopped on an
eminence near a rank of wood. They knew that the outlook commanded a wide
view to the south and north, and that if Burt were cowering somewhere in
that region, it would be a good point from which to attract his attention.

"I move that we make a fire here," said Leonard. "Abram is half-frozen,
we are all chilled to the bone, and the horses need rest. I think, too,
that a fire can be seen further than any sound can be heard."

The instinct of self-preservation caused them all to accede, and,
moreover, they must keep up themselves in order to accomplish anything.
They soon had a roaring blaze under the partial shield of a rock, while
at the same time the flames rose so high as to be seen on both sides of
the ridge as far as the storm permitted. The horses were sheltered as
well as possible, and heavily blanketed. As the men thawed out their
benumbed forms, Webb exclaimed, "Great God! what chance has Burt in such
a storm? and what chance have we of finding him?"

The others shook their heads gloomily, but answered nothing.

"It will kill mother," he muttered.

"There is no use in disguising the truth," said the doctor, slowly. "If
Burt's alive, he must have a fire. Our best chance is to see that. But
how can one see anything through this swirl of snow, that is almost as
thick in the air as on the ground?"

To their great joy the storm soon began to abate, and the wind to blow in
gusts. They clambered to the highest point near them, and peered eagerly
for some glimmer of light; but only a dim, wild scene, that quickly
shaded off into utter obscurity, was around them. The snowflakes were
growing larger, however, and were no longer swept with a cutting slant
into their faces.

"Thank God!" cried Webb, "I believe the gale is nearly blown out. I shall
follow this ridge toward the river as far as I can."

"I'll go with you," said he doctor, promptly.

"No," said Webb; "it will be your turn next. It won't do for us all to
get worn out together. I'll go cautiously; and with this ridge as guide,
and the fire, I can't lose my way. I'll take one of the dogs, and fire my
gun about every ten minutes. If I fire twice in succession, follow me;
meanwhile give a blast on the conch every few moments;" and with these
words he speedily disappeared.

The doctor and Leonard returned to the fire, and watched the great flakes
fall hissing into the flames. Hearing of Webb's expedition, the two
neighbors who had recently joined them pushed on up the road, shouting
and blowing the conch-shell as often as they deemed it necessary. Their
signal also was to be two blasts should they meet with any success.
Leonard and the doctor were a _corps de reserve_. The wind soon ceased
altogether, and a stillness that was almost oppressive took the place of
the thunder of the gale. They threw themselves down to rest, and Leonard
observed with a groan how soon his form grew white. "Oh, doctor," he said
in a tone of anguish, "can it be that we shall never find Burt till the
snow melts?"

"Do not take so gloomy a view," was the reply. "Burt must have been able
to make a fire, and now that the wind has ceased we can attract his
attention."

Webb's gun was heard from time to time, the sounds growing steadily
fainter. At last, far away to the east, came two reports in quick
succession. The two men started up, and with the aid of lanterns followed
Webb's trail, Abram bringing up the rear with an axe and blankets.

Sometimes up to his waist in snow, sometimes springing from rock to rock
that the wind had swept almost bare, Webb had toiled on along the broken
ridge, his face scratched and bleeding from the shaggy, stunted trees
that it was too dark to avoid; but he thought not of such trifles, and
seemed endowed with a strength ten times his own. Every few moments he
would stop, listen, and peer about him on every side. Finally, after a
rather long upward climb, he knew he had reached a rock of some altitude.
He again fired his gun. The echoes soon died away, and there was no sound
except the low tinkle of the snowflakes through the bushes. He was just
about to push on, when, far down to the right and south of him, he
thought he saw a gleam of light. He looked long and eagerly, but in vain.
He passed over to that side of the ridge, and fired again; but there was
no response--nothing but the dim, ghostly snow on every side. Concluding
that it had been but a trick of the imagination, he was about to give up
the hope that had thrilled his heart, when feebly but unmistakably a ray
of light shot up, wavered, and disappeared. At the same moment his dog
gave a loud bark, and plunged down the ridge. A moment sufficed to give
the preconcerted signal, and almost at the risk of life and limb Webb
rushed down the precipitous slope. He had not gone very far before he
heard a long, piteous howl that chilled his very soul with dread. He
struggled forward desperately, and, turning the angle of a rock, saw a
dying fire, and beside it a human form merely outlined through the snow.
As the dog was again raising one of his ill-omened howls, Webb stopped
him savagely, and sprang to the prostrate figure, whose face was buried
in its arm.

It was Burt. Webb placed a hand that trembled like an aspen over his
brother's heart, and with a loud cry of joy felt its regular beat. Burt
had as yet only succumbed to sleep, which in such cases is fatal when no
help interposes. Webb again fired twice to guide the rescuing party, and
then with some difficulty caused Burt to swallow a little brandy. He next
began to chafe his wrists with the spirits, to shake him, and to shout in
his ear. Slowly Burt shook off his fatal lethargy, and by the time the
rest of the party reached him, was conscious.

"Good God!" he exclaimed, "did I go to sleep? I vowed I would not a
hundred times. Nor would I if I could have moved around; but I've
sprained my ankle, and can't walk."

With infinite difficulty, but with hearts light and grateful, they
carried him on an improvised stretcher to the sled. Bart explained that
he had been lured further and further away by a large eagle that had kept
just out of range, and in his excitement he had at first paid no
attention to the storm. Finally its increasing fury and the memory of his
distance from home had brought him to his senses, and he had struck out
for the West Point road. Still he had no fears or misgivings, but while
climbing the slope on which he was found, he slipped, fell, and in trying
to save himself came down with his whole weight on a loose stone, and
sprained his left ankle. He tried to crawl and hobble forward, and for a
time gave way to something like panic. He soon found that he was using up
his strength, and that he would perish with the cold before he could make
half a mile. He then crawled under the sheltering ledge where Webb
discovered him, and by the aid of his good woodcraft soon had a fire, for
it was his fortune to have some matches. A dead and partially decayed
tree, a knife strong enough to cut the saplings when bent over, supplied
him with fuel. Finally the drowsiness which long exposure to cold induces
began to oppress him. He fought against it desperately for a time, but,
as events proved, was overpowered.

"God bless you, Webb!" he said, concluding his story. "You have saved my
life."

"We have all had a hand at it," was the quiet reply. "I couldn't have
done anything alone."

Wrapped up beyond the possibility of further danger from the cold, and
roused from time to time, Burt was carried homeward as fast as the drifts
permitted, the horses' bells now chiming musically in the still air.

       *       *       *       *       *

As hour after hour passed and there was nothing left to do, Amy took
Johnnie on her lap, and they rocked back and forth and cried together.
Soon the heavy lids closed over the little girl's eyes, and shut off the
tears. Alf had already coiled up on a lounge and sobbed himself to sleep.
Maggie took up the little girl, laid her down beside him, and covered
them well from the draughts that the furious gale drove through every
crack and cranny of the old house, glad that they had found a happy
oblivion. Amy then crept to a footstool at Mrs. Clifford's side--the
place where she had so often seen the youth whom the storm she now almost
began to believe had swept from them forever--and she bowed her head on
the old lady's thin hand and sobbed bitterly.

"Don't give way so, darling," said the mother, as her other hand stroked
the brown hair. "God is greater than the storm. We have prayed, and we
now feel that he will do what is best."

"Oh, that I had your faith!"

"It will come in time--when long years have taught you his goodness."

She slowly wiped her eyes, and stole a glance at Mr. Clifford. His
earlier half-desperate restlessness had passed away, and he sat quietly
in his chair gazing into the fire, occasionally wiping a tear from his
eyes, and again looking upward with an expression of sublime submission.
Soon, as if conscious of her wondering observation, he said, "Come to me,
Amy."

She stood beside him, and he drew her close as he continued:

"My child, one of the hardest lessons we can learn in this world is to
say, 'Not my will, but Thine be done.' I have lived fourscore years, and
yet I could not say it at first; but now" (with a calm glance heavenward)
"I can say, 'My Father, thy will be done.' If he takes Burt, he has given
us you;" and he kissed her so tenderly that she bowed her head upon his
shoulder, and said, brokenly:

"You are my father in very truth."

"Yes," was his quiet response.

Then she stole back to her seat. There was a Presence in the room that
filled her with awe, and yet banished her former overwhelming dread and
grief.

They watched and waited; there was no sound in the room except the soft
crackle of the fire, and Amy thought deeply on the noble example before
her of calm, trustful waiting. At last she became conscious that the
house was growing strangely still; the faint tick of the great clock on
the landing of the stairs struck her ear; the rush and roar of the wind
had ceased. Bewildered, she rose softly and went to Maggie's room, and
found that the tired mother in watching over her children had fallen
asleep in her chair. She lifted a curtain, and could scarcely believe her
eyes when she saw that the trees that had been writhing and moaning in
the gale now stood white and spectral as the lamp-light fell upon them.
When had the wind ceased? It seemed as if the calm that had fallen upon
her spirit had extended to nature; that the storm had hushed its rude
clamor even while it continued. From the window she watched the white
flakes flutter through the light she knew not how long: the old clock
chimed out midnight, and then, faint and far away, she thought she heard
the sleigh-bells. With swift, silent tread, she rushed to a side door and
threw it open. Yes, clear and distinct she now heard them on the mountain
road. With a low cry she returned and wakened Maggie, then flew to the
old people, and, with a voice that she tried in vain to steady, said,
"They are coming."

Mr. Clifford started up, and was about to rush from the room, but paused
a moment irresolutely, then returned, sat down by his wife, and put his
arm around her. He was true to his first love. The invalid had grown
faint and white, but his touch and presence were the cordials she needed.

Amy fled back to the side door, and the sled soon appeared. There was no
light at this entrance, and she was unobserved. She saw them begin to
lift some one out, and she dashed through an intervening drift nearly to
her waist. Webb felt a hand close on his arm with a grip that he long
remembered.

"Burt?" she cried, in a tone of agonizing inquiry.

"Heigh-ho, Amy," said the much-muffled figure that they were taking from
the sled; "I'm all right."

In strong reaction, the girl would have fallen, had not Webb supported
her. He felt that she trembled and clung almost helplessly to him.

"Why, Amy," he said, gently, "you will take your death out here in the
cold and snow"; and leaving the others to care for Burt, he lifted her in
his arms and carried her in.

"Thank God, he's safe," she murmured. "Oh, we have waited so long! There,
I'm better now," she said, hastily, and with a swift color coming into
her pale cheeks, as they reached the door.

"You must not expose yourself so again, sister Amy."

"I thought--I thought when you began to lift Burt out--" But she could
not finish the sentence.

"He has only sprained his ankle. Go tell mother."

Perhaps there is no joy like that which fills loving hearts when the lost
is found. It is so pure and exalted that it is one of the ecstasies of
heaven. It would be hard to describe how the old house waked up with its
sudden accession of life--life that was so warm and vivid against the
background of the shadow of death. There were murmured thanksgivings as
feet hurried to and fro, and an opening fire of questions, which Maggie
checked by saying:

"Possess your souls in patience. Burt's safe--that's enough to know until
he is cared for, and my half-famished husband and the rest get their
supper. Pretty soon we can all sit down, for I want a chance to hear
too."

"And no one has a better right, Maggie," said her husband, chafing his
hands over the fire. "After what we've seen to-night, this place is the
very abode of comfort, and you its presiding genius;" and Leonard beamed
and thawed until the air grew tropical around him.

At Mrs. Clifford's request (for it was felt that it was not best to cross
the invalid), Burt, in the rocking-chair wherein he had been placed, was
carried to her room, and received a greeting from his parents that
brought tears to the young fellow's eyes. Dr. Marvin soon did all within
his power at that stage for the sprained ankle and frost-bitten fingers,
the mother advising, and feeling that she was still caring for her boy as
she had done a dozen years before. Then Burt was carried back to the
dining-room, where all were soon gathered. The table groaned under
Maggie's bountiful provision, and lamp-light and fire-light revealed a
group upon which fell the richer light of a great joy.

Burt was ravenously hungry, but the doctor put him on limited diet,
remarking, "You can soon make up for lost time." He and Leonard, however,
made such havoc that Amy pretended to be aghast; but she soon noted that
Webb ate sparingly, that his face was not only scratched and torn, but
almost haggard, and that he was unusually quiet. The reasons were soon
apparent. When all were helped, and Maggie had a chance to sit down, she
said:

"Now tell us about it. We just heard enough when you first arrived to
curdle our blood. How in the world, Burt, did you allow yourself to get
caught in such a storm?"

"If it had not been for this confounded sprain I should have come out all
right;" and then followed the details with which the reader is acquainted,
although little could be got out of Webb.

"The upshot of it all is," said Leonard, as he beamed upon the party with
ineffable content, "between mother's praying and Webb's looking, Burt is
here, not much the worse for his eagle hunt."

They would not hear of the doctor's departure, and very soon afterward
old Mr. Clifford gathered them around the family altar in a thanksgiving
prayer that moistened every eye.

Then all prepared for the rest so sorely needed. As Webb went to the hall
to hang up his gun, Amy saw that he staggered in his almost mortal
weariness, and she followed him.

"There are your colors, Amy," he said, laughingly, taking her scarf from
an inner pocket. "I wore it till an envious scrub-oak tore it off. It was
of very great help to me--the scarf, not the oak."

"Webb," she said, earnestly, "you can't disguise the truth from me by any
such light words. You are half-dead from exhaustion. I've been watching
you ever since your return. You are ill--you have gone beyond your
strength, and in addition to it all I let you carry me in. Oh dear! I'm
so worried about you!"

"It's wonderfully nice to have a little sister to worry about a fellow."

"But can't I do something for you? You've thought about everybody, and no
one thinks for you."

"_You_ have, and so have the rest, as far as there was occasion. Let me
tell you how wan and weary you look. Oh, Amy, our home is so much more to
us since you came!"

"What would our home be to us to-night, Webb, were it not for you! And I
said you took Burt's danger too coolly. How I have reproached myself for
those words. God bless you, Webb! you did not resent them; and you saved
Burt;" and she impulsively put her arm around his neck and kissed him,
then fled to her room.

The philosophical Webb might have had much to think about that night had
he been in an analytical mood, for by some magic his sense of utter
weariness was marvellously relieved. With a low laugh, he thought,

"I'd be tempted to cross the mountains again for such a reward."



CHAPTER XIV

HINTS OF SPRING


When Amy awoke on the following morning she was almost dazzled, so
brilliant was the light that flooded the room. Long, quiet sleep and the
elasticity of youth had banished all depression from mind and body, and
she sprang eagerly to the window that she might see the effects of the
storm, expecting to witness its ravages on every side. Imagine her wonder
and delight when, instead of widespread wreck and ruin, a scene of
indescribable beauty met her eyes! The snow had draped all things in
white. The trees that had seemed so gaunt and skeleton-like as they
writhed and moaned in the gale were now clothed with a beauty surpassing
that of their summer foliage, for every branch, even to the smallest
twig, had been incased in the downy flakes. The evergreens looked like
old-time gallants well powdered for a festival. The shrubbery of the
garden was scarcely more than mounds of snow. The fences had almost
disappeared; while away as far as the eye could reach all was sparkling
whiteness. Nature was like a bride adorned for her nuptials. Under the
earlier influences of the gale the snow had drifted here and there,
making the undulations of her robe, and under the cloudless sun every
crystal glittered, as if over all had been flung a profusion of diamond
dust. Nor did she seem a cold, pallid bride without heart or gladness.
Her breath was warm and sweet, and full of an indefinable suggestion of
spring. She seemed to stand radiant in maidenly purity and loveliness,
watching in almost breathless expectation the rising of the sun above the
eastern mountains.

A happy group gathered at the breakfast-table that morning. Best of mind
and thankfulness of heart had conduced to refreshing repose, and the
brightness of the new day was reflected in every face. Burt's ankle was
painful, but this was a slight matter in contrast with what might have
been his fate. He had insisted on being dressed and brought to the lounge
in the breakfast-room. Webb seemed wonderfully restored, and Amy thought
he looked almost handsome in his unwonted animation, in spite of the
honorable scars that marked his face. Dr. Marvin exclaimed, exultingly:

"Miss Amy, you can begin the study of ornithology at once. There are
bluebirds all about the house, and you have no idea what exquisite bits
of color they are against the snow on this bright morning. After
breakfast you must go out and greet these first arrivals from the South."

"Yes, Amy," put in Leonard, laughing, "it's a lovely morning for a
stroll. The snow is only two feet deep, and drifted in many places higher
than your head. The 'beautiful snow' brings us plenty of prose in the
form of back-aching work with our shovels."

"No matter," said Webb; "it has also brought us warmth, exquisitely pure
air, and a splendid covering for grass and grain that will be apt to last
well into the spring. Anything rather than mud and the alternate freezing
and thawing that are as provoking as a capricious friend."

"Why, Webb, what a burst of sentiment!" said Burt.

"Doctor, the bluebirds seem to come like the south wind that Leonard says
is blowing this morning," Mrs. Clifford remarked. "Where were they last
night? and how have they reached us after such a storm?"

"I imagine that those we hear this morning have been with us all winter,
or they may have arrived before the storm. I scarcely remember a winter
when I have not seen some around, and their instinct guides them where to
find shelter. When the weather is very cold they are comparatively
silent, but even a January thaw will make them tuneful. They are also
migrants, and have been coming northward for a week or two past, and this
accounts for the numbers this morning. Poor little things! they must have
had a hard time of it last night, wherever they were."

"Oh, I do wish I could make them know how glad I'd be to take them in and
keep them warm every cold night!" shy Johnnie whispered to Maggie.

"They have a better mother than even you could be," said the doctor,
nodding at the little girl.

"Have all the bluebirds a mother?" she asked, with wondering eyes.

"Indeed they have, and all the other birds also, and this mother takes
care of them the year round--Mother Nature, that's her name. Your heart
may be big enough, but your house would not begin to hold all the
bluebirds, so Mother Nature tells the greater part of them to go where
it's warm about the 1st of December, and she finds them winter homes all
the way from Virginia to Florida. Then toward spring she whispers when it
is safe to come back, and if you want to see how she can take care of
those that are here even during such a storm as that of last night,
bundle up and come out on the sunny back piazza."

There all the household soon after assembled, the men armed with shovels
to aid in the path-making in which Abram was already engaged. Burt was
placed in a rocking-chair by a window that he might enjoy the prospect
also. A charming winter outlook it was, brilliant with light and gemmed
with innumerable crystals. To Amy's delight, she heard for the first time
the soft, down-like notes of the bluebird. At first they seemed like mere
"wandering voices in the air," sweet, plaintive, and delicate as the
wind-swayed anemone. Then came a soft rustle of wings, and a bird darted
downward, probably from the eaves, but seemingly it was a bit of the sky
that had taken form and substance. He flew past her and dislodged a
miniature avalanche from the spray on which he alighted. The little
creature sat still a moment, then lifted and stretched one wing by an odd
coquettish movement while it uttered its low musical warble.

"Why," exclaimed Amy, "he is almost the counterpart of our robin-redbreast
of England!"

"Yes," replied Dr. Marvin, "he resembles your English redbreast closely
both in appearance and habits, and our New England forefathers called him
the 'blue robin.' To my taste the bluebird is the superior of the two,
for what he lacks in stronger and more varied song he makes up in softer,
sweeter notes. And then he is so beautiful! You have no blue birds of any
kind in England, Amy. It seems to require our deeper-tinted skies to
produce them. Ah, there comes his mate. You can tell her by the lighter
blue of her plumage, and the tinge of brown on her head and back. She is
a cold, coy beauty, even as a wife; but how gallant is her azure-coated
beau! Flirt away, my little chap, and make the most of your courting and
honeymoon. You will soon have family cares enough to discourage anybody
but a bluebird;" and the doctor looked at his favorites with an exulting
affection that caused a general laugh.

"I shall give our little friends something better than compliments," said
Mr. Clifford, obeying his hospitable instincts, and he waded through the
snow to the sunny side of an evergreen, and there cleared a space until
the ground was bare. Then he scattered over this little plot an abundance
of bread-crumbs and hay seed, and they all soon had the pleasure of
seeing half a dozen little bobbing heads at breakfast. Johnnie and Alf,
who on account of the deep snow did not go to school, were unwearied in
watching the lovely little pensioners on their grandfather's bounty--not
pensioners either, for, as the old man said, "They pay their way with
notes that I am always glad to accept."

The work of path-making and shovelling snow from the doors and roofs of
the out-buildings went on vigorously all the morning. Abram also attached
the farm horses to the heavy snow-plow, to which he added his weight, and
a broad, track-like furrow was made from the house to the road, and then
for a mile or more each way upon the street, for the benefit of the
neighbors. Before the day was very far advanced, the south wind, which
had been a scarcely perceptible breath, freshened, and between the busy
shovels and the swaying branches the air was full of glittering crystals.
The bride-like world was throwing off her ornaments and preparing for the
prose of every-day life; and yet she did so in a cheerful, lightsome
mood. The sunny eaves dropped a profusion of gems from the melting snow.
There was a tinkle of water in the pipes leading to the cistern. From the
cackle in the barn-yard it appeared that the hens had resolved on
unwonted industry, and were receiving applause from the oft-crowing
chanticleers. The horses, led out to drink, were in exuberant spirits,
and appeared to find a child's delight in kicking up the snow. The cows
came briskly from their stalls to the space cleared for them, and were
soon ruminating in placid content. What though the snow covered the
ground deeper than at any time during the winter, the subtile spirit of
spring was recognized and welcomed not only by man, but also by the lower
creation!

After putting Burt in a fair way of recovery, Dr. Marvin, armed with a
shovel to burrow his way through the heavier drifts, drove homeward. Alf
floundered off to his traps, and returned exultant with two rabbits. Amy
was soon busy sketching them previous to their transformation into a
pot-pie, Burt looking on with a deeper interest in the artist than in her
art, although he had already learned that she had not a little skill with
her pencil. Indeed, Burt promised to become quite reconciled to his part of
invalid, in spite of protestations to the contrary; and his inclination to
think that Amy's companionship would be an antidote for every ill of life
was increasing rapidly, in accordance with his hasty temperament, which
arrived at conclusions long before others had begun to consider the steps
leading to them.

Amy was still more a child than a woman; but a girl must be young indeed
who does not recognize an admirer, especially so transparent a one as
Burt would ever be. His ardent glances and compliments both amused and
annoyed her. From his brothers she had obtained several hints of his
previous and diversified gallantries, and was not at all assured that
those in the future might not be equally varied. She did not doubt the
sincerity of his homage, however; and since she had found it so easy to
love him as a brother, it did not seem impossible that she should learn
to regard him in another light, if all thought it best, and he "would
only be sensible and understand that she did not wish to think about such
things for years to come." Thus it may be seen that in one respect her
heart was not much more advanced than that of little Johnnie. She
expected to be married some time or other, and supposed it might as well
be to Burt as to another, if their friends so desired it; but she was for
putting off submission to woman's natural lot as long as possible.
Possessing much tact, she was able in a great measure to repress the
young fellow's demonstrativeness, and maintain their brotherly and
sisterly relations; but it cost her effort, and sometimes she left his
society flurried and wearied. With Webb she enjoyed perfect rest and a
pleasing content. He was so quiet and strong that his very presence
seemed to soothe her jarring nerves. He appeared to understand her, to
have the power to make much that interested her more interesting, while
upon her little feminine mysteries of needle and fancy work he looked
with an admiring helplessness, as if she were more unapproachable in her
sphere than he could ever be in his, with all his scientific facts and
theories. Women like this tribute to their womanly ways from the sterner
sex. Maggie's wifehood was made happy by it, for by a hundred little
things she knew that the great, stalwart Leonard would be lost without
her. Moreover, by his rescue of Burt, Webb had won a higher place in
Amy's esteem. He had shown the prompt energy and courage which satisfy
woman's ideal of manhood, and assure her of protection. Amy did not
analyze her feelings or consciously assure herself of all this. She only
felt that Webb was restful, and would give her a sense of safety, no
matter what happened.



CHAPTER XV

NATURE'S BUILDING MATERIALS


Some days after Burt's adventure, Dr. Marvin made his professional call
in the evening. Mr. Alvord, Squire Bartley, and the minister also
happened in, and all were soon chatting around Mr. Clifford's ruddy
hearth. The pastor of this country parish was a sensible man, who, if he
did not electrify his flock of a Sunday morning, honestly tried to guide
it along safe paths, and led those whom he asked to follow. His power lay
chiefly in the homes of his people, where his genial presence was ever
welcomed. He did not regard those to whom he ministered as so many souls
and subjects of theological dogma, but as flesh-and-blood men, women, and
children, with complex interests and relations; and the heartiness of his
laugh over a joke, often his own, and the havoc that he made in the
dishes of nuts and apples, proved that he had plenty of good healthful
blood himself. Although his hair was touched with frost, and he had never
received any degree except his simple A.M., although the prospect of a
metropolitan pulpit had grown remote indeed, he seemed the picture of
content as he pared his apple and joined in the neighborly talk.

Squire Bartley had a growing sense of shortcoming in his farming
operations. Notwithstanding his many acres, he felt himself growing
"land-poor," as country people phrase it. He was not a reader, and looked
with undisguised suspicion on book-farming. As for the agricultural
journals, he said "they were full of new-fangled notions, and were kept
up by people who liked to see their names in print." Nevertheless, he was
compelled to admit that the Cliffords, who kept abreast of the age,
obtained better crops, and made their business pay far better than he
did, and he was inclined to turn his neighborly calls into thrifty use by
questioning Leonard and Webb concerning their methods and management.
Therefore he remarked to Leonard: "Do you find that you can keep your
land in good condition by rotation of crops? Folks say this will do it,
but I find some of our upland is getting mighty thin, and crops uncertain."

"What is your idea of rotation, squire?"

"Why, not growin' the same crop too often on the same ground."

"That is scarcely my idea. For the majority of soils the following
rotation has been found most beneficial: corn and potatoes, which
thoroughly subdue the sod the first year; root crops, as far as we grow
them, and oats the second; then wheat or rye, seeded at the same time
with clover or grass of some kind. We always try to plow our sod land in
the fall, for in the intervening time before planting the sod partially
decays, the land is sweetened and pulverized by the action of frost, and
a good many injurious insects are killed also. But all rules need
modification, and we try to study the nature of our various soils, and
treat them accordingly".

"What! have a chemist prescribe for 'em like a doctor?" sneered the
squire. "Mr. Walters, the rich city chap who bought Roger's worn-out
farm, tried that to his heart's content, and mine too. He had a little of
the dirt of each part of his farm analyzed, you know, and then he sent to
New York for his phosphates, his potashes, his muriates, and his
compound-super-universal panacea vegetates, and with all these bad-smelling
mixtures--his barn was like a big agricultural drug-store--he was going to
put into his skinned land just the elements lacking. In short, he gave his
soil a big dose of powders, and we all know the result. If he had given his
farm a pinch of snuff better crops ought to have been sneezed. No chemicals
and land doctors for me, thank you. Beg pardon, Marvin! no reflections on
your calling, but doctorin' land don't seem profitable for those who pay
for the medicine."

They all laughed except Webb, who seemed nettled, but who quietly said,
"Squire, will you please tell us what your house is made of?"

"Good lumber, sir."

"Well, when passing one day, I saw a fine stalk of corn in one of your
fields. Will you also tell us what that was made of? It must have
weighed, with the ears upon it, several pounds, and it was all of six
feet high. How did it come into existence?"

"Why, it grew," said the squire, sententiously.

"That utterance was worthy of Solomon," remarked Dr. Marvin, laughing.

"It grew," continued Webb, "because it found the needed material at hand.
I do not see how Nature can build a well-eared stalk of corn without
proper material any more than you could have built your house without
lumber. Suppose we have a soil in which the elements that make a crop of
corn do not exist, or are present in a very deficient degree, what course
is left for us but to supply what is lacking? Because Mr. Walters did not
do this in the right way, is no reason why we should do nothing. If soil
does not contain the ingredients of a crop, we must put them there, or
our labor goes for nothing".

"Well, of course there's no gettin' around that; but yard manure is all I
want. It's like a square meal to a man, and not a bit of powder on his
tongue."

"No one wants anything better than barn-yard manure for most purposes,
for it contains nearly all the elements needed by growing plants, and its
mechanical action is most beneficial to the soil. But how many acres will
you be able to cover with this fertilizer this spring?"

"That's just the rub," the squire answered. "We use all we have, and when
I can pick it up cheap I buy some; but one can't cover a whole farm with
it, and so in spite of you some fields get all run out."

"I don't think there's any need of their running out," said Leonard,
emphatically. "I agree with Webb in one thing, if I can't follow him in
all of his scientific theories--we have both decided never to let a
field grow poor, any more than we would permit a horse or cow to so lose
in flesh as to be nearly useless; therefore we not only buy fertilizers
liberally, but use all the skill and care within our power to increase
them. Barn-yard manure can be doubled in bulk and almost doubled in value
by composting with the right materials. We make the most of our peat
swamps, fallen leaves, and rubbish in general. Enough goes to waste on
many farms every year to keep several acres in good heart. But, as you
say, we cannot begin to procure enough to go over all the land from which
we are taking crops of some kind; therefore we maintain a rotation which
is adapted to our various soils, and every now and then plow under a
heavy green crop of clover, buckwheat, or rye. A green crop plowed under
is my great stand-by."

"I plowed under a crop of buckwheat once," said the squire, discontentedly,
"and I didn't see much good from it, except that the ground was light and
mellow afterward."

"That, at least, was a gain," Leonard continued; "but I can tell you why
your ground was not much benefited, and perhaps injured. You scarcely
plowed under a green crop, for I remember that the grain in your
buckwheat straw was partly ripe. It is the forming seed or grain that
takes the substance out of land. You should have plowed the buckwheat
under just as it was coming into blossom. Up to that time the chief
growth had been derived from the air, and there had been very little
drain upon the soil."

"Well!" exclaimed the squire, incredulously, "I didn't know the air was
so nourishing."

Webb had been showing increasing signs of disquietude during the last few
moments, and now said, with some emphasis: "It seems to me, squire, that
there is not much hope of our farming successfully unless we do know
something of the materials that make our crops, and the conditions under
which they grow. When you built your house you did not employ a man who
had only a vague idea of how it was to be constructed, and what it was to
be built of. Before your house was finished you had used lumber as your
chief material, but you also employed brick, stone, lime, sand, nails,
etc. If we examine a house, we find all these materials. If we wish to
build another house, we know we must use them in their proper proportions.
Now it is just as much a matter of fact, and is just as capable of proof,
that a plant of any kind is built up on a regular plan, and from
well-defined materials, as that a house is so built. The materials in
various houses differ just as the elements in different kinds of plants
vary. A man can decide what he will build of; Nature has decided forever
what she will build of. She will construct a stalk of corn or wheat with
its grain out of essentially the same materials to the end of time. Now
suppose one or more of these necessary ingredients is limited in the soil,
or has been taken from it by a succession of crops, what rational hope can
we have for a good crop unless we place the absent material in the ground,
and also put it there in a form suitable for the use of the plant?"

"What you say sounds plausible enough," answered the squire, scratching
his head with the worried, perplexed air of a man convinced against his
will. "How was it, then, that Walters made such a mess of it? He had his
soil analyzed by a land doctor, and boasted that he was going to put into
it just what was lacking. His soil may not be lacking now, but his crops
are."

"It is possible that there are quacks among land doctors, as you call
them, as well as among doctors of medicine", remarked Dr. Marvin.

"Or doctors of theology," added the minister.

"I looked into the Walters experiment somewhat carefully," Webb resumed,
"and the causes of his failure were apparent to any one who has given a
little study to the nature of soils and plant food. Some of his land
needs draining. The ground is sour and cold from stagnant water beneath
the surface, and the plant food which Nature originally placed in it is
inert and in no condition to be used. Nearly all of his uplands have been
depleted of organic or vegetable matter. He did not put into the soil all
that the plants needed, and the fact that his crops were poor proves it.
The materials he used may have been adulterated, or not in a form which
the plants could, assimilate at the time. Give Nature a soil in the right
mechanical condition--that is, light, mellow, moist, but not wet, and
containing the essential elements of a crop--and she will produce it
unless the season is so adverse that it cannot grow. I do not see how one
can hope to be successful unless he studies Nature's methods and learns
her needs, adapting his labor to the former, and supplying the latter.
For instance, nitrogen in the form of ammonia is so essential to our
crops that without it they could never come to maturity were all the
other elements of plant food present in excess. Suppose that for several
successive years we grow wheat upon a field with an average crop of
twenty-five bushels to the acre. This amount of grain with its straw will
take from the soil about fifty-one pounds of ammonia annually, and when
the nitrogen (which is the main element of ammonia) gives out, the wheat
will fail, although other plant food may be present in abundance. This is
one reason why dairy farms from which all the milk is sold often grow
poor. Milk is exceedingly rich in nitrogen, and through the milk the farm
is depleted of this essential element faster than it is replaced by
fertilizers. A man may thus be virtually selling his farm, or that which
gives it value, without knowing it."

"But what's a man to do?" asked the squire, with a look of helpless
perplexity. "How is one to know when his land needs nitrogen or ammonia
and all the other kinds of plant food, as you call it, and how must he go
to work to get and apply it?"

"You are asking large questions, squire," Webb replied, with a quiet
smile. "In the course of a year you decide a number of legal questions,
and I suppose read books, consult authorities, and use considerable
judgment. It certainly never would do for people to settle these
questions at hap-hazard or according to their own individual notions.
Their decisions might be reversed. Whatever the courts may do, Nature is
certain to reverse our decisions and bring to naught our action unless we
comply with her laws and requirements."

The squire's experience coincided so truly with Webb's words that he
urged no further objections against accurate agricultural knowledge, even
though the information must be obtained in part at least from books and
journals.



CHAPTER XVI

GOSSIP ABOUT BIRD-NEIGHBORS


"Doctor," said Mrs. Leonard, "Amy and I have been indulging in some
surmises over a remark you made the other day about the bluebirds. You
said the female was a cold, coy beauty, and that her mate would soon be
overburdened with family cares. Indeed, I think you rather reflected on
our sex as represented by Mrs. Bluebird."

"I fear I cannot retract. The female bluebird is singularly devoid of
sentiment, and takes life in the most serious and matter-of-fact way. Her
nest and her young are all in all to her. John Burroughs, who is a very
close observer, says she shows no affection for the male and no pleasure
in his society, and if he is killed she goes in quest of another mate in
the most business-like manner, as one would go to a shop on an errand."

"The heartless little jade!" cried Maggie, with a glance at Leonard which
plainly said that such was not her style at all.

"Nevertheless," continued the doctor, "she awakens a love in her husband
which is blind to every defect. He is gallantry itself, and at the same
time the happiest and most hilarious of lovers. Since she insists on
building her nest herself, and having everything to her own mind, he does
not shrug his blue shoulders and stand indifferently or sullenly aloof.
He goes with her everywhere, flying a little in advance as if for
protection, inspects her work with flattering minuteness, applauds and
compliments continually. Indeed, he is the ideal French beau very much in
love."

"In other words, the counterpart of Leonard," said Burt, at which they
all laughed.

"But you spoke of his family cares," Webb remarked: "he contributes
something more than compliments, does he not?"

"Indeed he does. He settles down into the most devoted of husbands and
fathers. The female usually hatches three broods, and as the season
advances he has his hands, or his beak rather, very full of business. I
think Burroughs is mistaken in saying that he is in most cases the
ornamental member of the firm. He feeds his wife as she sits on the nest,
and often the first brood is not out of the way before he has another to
provide for. Therefore he is seen bringing food to his wife and two sets
of children, and occasionally taking her place on the nest. Nor does he
ever get over his delusion that his mate is delighted with his song and
little gallantries, for he kepps them up also to the last. So he has to
be up early and late, and altogether must be a very tired little bird
when he gets a chance to put his head under his wing."

"Poor little fellow! and to think that she doesn't care for him!" sighed
Amy, pityingly; and they all laughed so heartily that she bent her head
over her work to hide the rich color that stole into her face--all
laughed except Mr. Alvord, who, as usual, was an attentive and quiet
listener, sitting a little in the background, so that his face was in
partial shadow. Keen-eyed Maggie, whose sympathies were deeply enlisted
in behalf of her sad and taciturn neighbor, observed that he regarded Amy
with a close, wistful scrutiny, as if he were reading her thoughts. Then
an expression of anguish, of something like despair, flitted across his
face. "He has lavished the best treasures of his heart and life on some
one who did not care," was her mental comment.

"You won't be like our little friend in blue, eh, Amy?" said old Mr.
Clifford; but with girlish shyness she would not reply to any such
question.

"Don't take it so to heart, Miss Amy. Mr. B. is never disenchanted," the
doctor remarked.

"I don't like Mrs. B. at all," said Maggie, decidedly; "and it seems to
me that I know women of whom she is a type--women whose whole souls are
engrossed with their material life. Human husbands are not so blind as
bluebirds, and they want something more than housekeepers and nurses in
their wives."

"Excellent!" cried Rev. Mr. Barkdale; "you improve the occasion better
than I could. But, doctor, how about our callous widow bluebird finding
another mate after the mating season is over?"

"There are always some bachelors around, unsuccessful wooers whose early
blandishments were vain."

"And are there no respectable spinsters with whom they might take up as a
last resort?" Leonard queried.

"No, none at all. Think of that, ye maiden of New England, where the
males are nearly all migrants and do not return! The only chance for a
bird-bachelor is to console some widow whom accident has bereaved of her
mate. Widowers also are ready for an immediate second marriage. Birds and
beasts of prey and boys--hey, Alf--bring about a good many step-parents."

"Alf don't kill any little birds, do you, Alf?" asked his mother.

"Well, not lately. You said they felt so bad over it But if they get over
it so easy as the doctor says--"

"Now, doctor, you see the result of your scientific teaching."

"Why, Mrs. Leonard, are you in sympathy with the priestcraft that would
keep people virtuous through ignorance?" said the minister, laughing.
"Alf must learn to do right, knowing all the facts. I don't believe he
will shy a stone at a bird this coming year unless it is in mischief."

"Well," said Squire Bartley, who had relapsed into a half-doze as the
conversation lost its practical bent, "between the birds and boys I don't
see as we shall be able to raise any fruit before long. If our boys
hadn't killed about all the robins round our house last summer, I don't
think we'd 'a had a cherry or strawberry."

"I'm afraid, squire," put in Webb, quietly, "that if all followed your
boys' example, insects would soon have the better of us. They are far
worse than the birds. I've seen it stated on good authority that a
fledgling robin eats forty per cent more than its own weight every
twenty-four hours, and I suppose it would be almost impossible to compute
the number of noxious worms and moths destroyed by a family of robins in
one season. They earn their share of fruit."

"Webb is right, squire," added the doctor, emphatically. "Were it not for
the birds, the country would soon be as bare as the locusts left Egypt.
Even the crow, against which you are so vindictive, is one of your best
friends."

"Oh, now, come, I can't swallow that. Crows pull up my corn, rob hens'
nests', carry off young chickens. They even rob the nests of the other
birds you're so fond of. Why, some state legislatures give a bounty for
their destruction."

"If there had only been a bounty for killing off the legislators, the
states would have fared better," replied the doctor, with some heat. "It
can be proved beyond a doubt that the crow is unsurpassed by any other
bird in usefulness. He is one of the best friends you have."

"Deliver me from my friends, then," said the squire, rising; and he
departed, with his prejudices against modern ideas and methods somewhat
confirmed.

Like multitudes of his class, he observed in nature only that which was
forced upon his attention through the medium of immediate profit and
loss. The crows pulled up his corn, and carried off an occasional
chicken; the robins ate a little fruit; therefore death to crows and
robins. They all felt a certain sense of relief at his departure, for
while their sympathies touched his on the lower plane of mere utility and
money value, it would be bondage to them to be kept from other and higher
considerations. Moreover, in his own material sphere his narrow prejudices
were ever a jarring element that often exasperated Webb, who had been known
to mutter, "Such clods of earth bring discredit on our calling."

Burt, with a mischievous purpose illuminating his face, remarked: "I'll
try to put the squire into a dilemma. If I can catch one of his boys
shooting robins out of season, I will lodge a complaint with him, and
insist on the fine;" and his design was laughingly applauded.

"I admit," said Mr. Clifford, "that Webb has won me over to a toleration
of crows, but until late years I regarded them as unmitigated pests."

"Undeserved enmity comes about in this way," Webb replied. "We see a crow
in mischief occasionally, and the fact is laid up against him. If we
sought to know what he was about when not in mischief, our views would
soon change. It would be far better to have a little corn pulled up than
to be unable to raise corn at all. Crows can be kept from the field
during the brief periods when they do harm, but myriads of grasshoppers
cannot be managed. Moreover, the crow destroys very many field-mice and
other rodents, but chief of all he is the worst enemy of the May-beetle
and its larvae. In regions of the country where the crow has been almost
exterminated by poison and other means, this insect has left the meadows
brown and sear, while grasshoppers have partially destroyed the most
valuable crops. Why can't farmers get out of their plodding, ox-like
ways, and learn to co-work with Nature like men?"

"Hurrah for Webb!" cried Burt. "Who would have thought that the squire
and a crow could evoke such a peroration? That flower of eloquence surely
grew from a rank, dark soil."

"Squire Bartley amuses me very much," said Mrs. Clifford, from the sofa,
with a low laugh. "He seems the only one who has the power to ruffle
Webb."

"Little wonder," thought Amy, "for it would be hard to find two natures
more antagonistic."

"It seems to me that this has been a very silent winter," the minister
remarked. "In my walks and drives of late I have scarcely heard the chirp
of a bird. Are there many that stay with us through this season, doctor?"

"More than you would suppose. But you would not be apt to meet many of
them unless you sought for them. At this time they are gathered in
sheltered localities abounding in their favorite food. Shall I tell you
about some that I have observed throughout several successive winters?"

Having received eager encouragement, he resumed: "My favorites, the
bluebirds, we have considered quite at length. They are very useful, for
their food in summer consists chiefly of the smaller beetles and the
larvae of little butterflies and moths. Many robins stay all winter. It
is a question of food, not climate, with them. In certain valleys of the
White Mountains there is an abundance of berries, and flocks of robins
feed on them all winter, although the cold reaches the freezing-point of
mercury. As we have said, they are among the most useful of the insect
destroyers. The golden-crested kinglet is a little mite of a bird, not
four inches long, with a central patch of orange-red on his crown. He
breeds in the far North, and wintering here is for him like going to the
South. In summer he is a flycatcher, but here he searches the bark of
forest trees with microscopic scrutiny for the larvae of insects. We all
know the lively black-capped chickadees that fly around in flocks
throughout the winter. Sometimes their search for food leads them into
the heart of towns and cities, where they are as bold and as much at home
as the English sparrow. They also gather around the camps of log-cutters
in the forest, become very tame, and plaintively cry for their share in
the meals. They remain all the year, nesting in decayed logs, posts,
stumps, and even in sides of houses, although they prefer the edge of a
wood. If they can find a hole to suit them, very well; if they can't,
they will make one. Their devotion to their young is remarkable. A nest
in a decayed stump was uncovered, and the mother bird twice taken off by
hand, and each time she returned and covered her brood. She uttered no
cries or complaints, but devotedly interposed her little form between
what must have seemed terrific monsters and her young, and looked at the
human ogres with the resolute eyes of self-sacrifice. If she could have
known it, the monsters only wished to satisfy their curiosity, and were
admiring her beyond measure. Chickadees are exceedingly useful birds, and
make great havoc among the insects.

"Our next bird is merely a winter sojourner, for he goes north in spring
like the kinglet. The scientists, with a fine sense of the fitness of
things, have given him a name in harmony, _Troglodytes parvulus_, var.
_Hyemalis_."

"What monster bird is this?" cried Amy.

"He is about as big as your thumb, and ordinary mortals are content to
call him the winter wren. He is a saucy little atom of a bird, with his
tail pointing rakishly toward his head. I regret exceedingly to add that
he is but a winter resident with us, and we rarely hear his song. Mr.
Burroughs says that he is a 'marvellous songster,' his notes having a
'sweet rhythmical cadence that holds you entranced.' By the way, if you
wish to fall in love with birds, you should read the books of John
Burroughs. A little mite of a creature, like the hermit-thrush, he fills
the wild, remote woods of the North with melody, and has not been known
to breed further south than Lake Mohunk. The brown creeper and the
yellow-rumped warbler I will merely mention. Both migrate to the North in
the spring, and the latter is only an occasional winter resident. The
former is a queer little creature that alights at the base of a tree and
creeps spirally round and round to its very top, when it sweeps down to
the base of another tree to repeat the process. He is ever intent on
business. Purple finches are usually abundant in winter, though, not very
numerous in summer. I value them because they are handsome birds, and
both male and female sing in autumn and winter, when bird music is at a
premium. I won't speak of the Carolina wax-wing, _alias_ cedar or cherry
bird, now. Next June, when strawberries and cherries are ripe, we can
form his intimate acquaintance."

"We have already made it, to the cost of both our patience and purse,"
said Webb. "He is one of the birds for whom I have no mercy."

"That is because you are not sufficiently acquainted with him. I admit
that he is an arrant thief of fruit, and that, as his advocate, I have a
difficult case. I shall not plead for him until summer, when he is in
such imminent danger of capital punishment He's a little beauty, though,
with his jaunty crest and gold-tipped tail. I shall not say one word in
favor of the next bird that I mention, the great Northern shrike, or
butcher-bird. He is not an honest bird of prey that all the smaller
feathered tribes know at a glance, like the hawk; he is a disguised
assassin, and possessed by the very demon of cruelty. He is a handsome
fellow, little over ten inches long, with a short, powerful beak, the
upper mandible sharply curved. His body is of a bluish-gray color, with
'markings of white' on his dusky wings and tail. Three shrikes once made
such havoc among the sparrows of Boston Common that it became necessary
to take much pains to destroy them. He is not only a murderer, but an
exceedingly treacherous one, for both Mr. Audubon and Mr. Nuttall speak
of his efforts to decoy little birds within his reach by imitating their
notes, and he does this so closely that he is called a mocking-bird in
some parts of New England. When he utters his usual note and reveals
himself, his voice very properly resembles the 'discordant creaking of a
sign-board hinge.' A flock of snow-birds or finches may be sporting and
feeding in some low shrubbery, for instance. They may hear a bird
approaching, imitating their own notes. A moment later the shrike will be
seen among them, causing no alarm, for his appearance is in his favor.
Suddenly he will pounce upon an unsuspecting neighbor, and with one blow
of his beak take off the top of its head, dining on its brains. If there
is a chance to kill several more, he will, like a butcher, hang his prey
on a thorn, or in the crotch of a tree, and return for his favorite
morsel when his hunt is over. After devouring the head of a bird he will
leave the body, unless game is scarce. It is well they are not plentiful,
or else our canary pets would be in danger, for a shrike will dart
through an open window and attack birds in cages, even when members of
the family are present. In one instance Mr. Brewer, the ornithologist,
was sitting by a closed window with a canary in a cage above his head,
and a shrike, ignorant of the intervening glass, dashed against the
window, and fell stunned upon the snow. He was taken in, and found to be
tame, but sullen. He refused raw meat, but tore and devoured little birds
very readily. As I said before, it is fortunate he is rare, though why he
is so I scarcely know. He may have enemies in the North, where he breeds;
for I am glad to say that he is only a winter resident.

"It gives one a genuine sense of relief to turn from this Apache, this
treacherous scalper of birds, to those genuinely useful little songsters,
the tree and the song sparrow. The former is essentially a Northern bird,
and breeds in the high arctic regions. He has a fine song, which we hear
in early April as his parting souvenir. The song sparrow will be a great
favorite with you, Miss Amy, for he is one of our finest singers, whose
song resembles the opening notes of a canary, but has more sweetness and
expression. Those that remain with us depart for the North at the first
tokens of spring, and are replaced by myriads of other migrants that
usually arrive early in March. You will hear them some mild morning soon.
They are very useful in destroying the worst kinds of insects. A fit
associate for the song sparrow is the American goldfinch, or yellow-bird,
which is as destructive of the seeds of weeds as the former is of the
smaller insect pests. In summer it is of a bright gamboge yellow, with
black crown, wings, and tail. At this time he is a little olive-brown
bird, and mingles with his fellows in small flocks. They are sometimes
killed and sold as reed-birds. They are brilliant singers.

"The snow-bird and snow-bunting are not identical by any means; indeed,
each is of a different genus. The bunting's true home is in the far
North, and it is not apt to be abundant here except in severe weather.
Specimens have been found, however, early in November, but more often
they appear with a late December snowstorm, their wild notes suggesting
the arctic wastes from which they have recently drifted southward. The
sleigh tracks on the frozen Hudson are among their favorite haunts, and
they are not often abundant in the woods on this side of the river.
Flocks can usually be found spending the winter along the railroad on the
eastern shore. Here they become very fat, and so begrimed with the dirt
and grease on the track that you would never associate them with the
snowy North. They ever make, however, a singular and pretty spectacle
when flying up between one and the late afternoon sun, for the predominant
white in their wings and tail seems almost transparent. They breed at the
extreme North, even along the Arctic Sea, in Greenland and Iceland, and are
fond of marine localities at all times. It's hard to realize that the
little fellows with whom we are now so familiar start within a month for
regions above the Arctic Circle. I once, when a boy, fired into a flock
feeding in a sleigh track on the ice of the river. Some of those that
escaped soon returned to their dead and wounded companions, and in their
solicitude would let me come very near, nor, unless driven away, would they
leave the injured ones until life was extinct. On another occasion I
brought some wounded ones home, and they ate as if starved, and soon became
very tame, alighting upon the table at mealtimes with a freedom from
ceremony which made it necessary to shut them up. They spent most of their
time among the house plants by the window, but toward spring the migratory
instinct asserted itself, and they became very restless, pecking at the
panes in their eagerness to get away. Soon afterward our little guests may
have been sporting on an arctic beach. An effort was once made in
Massachusetts to keep a wounded snow-bunting through the summer, but at
last it died from the heat. They are usually on the wing northward early in
March.

"The ordinary snow-bird is a very unpretentious and familiar little
friend. You can find him almost any day from the 1st of October to the
1st of May, and may know him by his grayish or ashy black head, back, and
wings, white body underneath from the middle of his breast backward, and
white external tail-feathers. He is said to be abundant all over America
east of the Black Hills, and breeds as far south as the mountains of
Virginia. There are plenty of them in summer along the Shawangunk range,
just west of us, in the Catskills, and so northward above the Arctic
Circle. In the spring, before it leaves us, you will often hear its
pretty little song. They are very much afraid of hawks, which make havoc
among them at all times, but are fearless of their human--and especially
of their humane--neighbors. Severe weather will often bring them to our
very doors, and drive them into the outskirts of large cities. They are
not only harmless, but very useful, for they devour innumerable seeds,
and small insects with their larvae. Dear me! I could talk about birds
all night."

"And we could listen to you," chorused several voices.

"I never before realized that we had such interesting winter neighbors
and visitors," said Mrs. Clifford, and the lustre of her eyes and the
faint bloom on her cheeks proved how deeply these little children of
nature had enlisted her sympathies.

"They are interesting, even when in one short evening I can give but in
bald, brief outline a few of their characteristics. Your words suggest
the true way of becoming acquainted with them. Regard them as neighbors
and guests, in the main very useful friends, and then you will naturally
wish to know more about them. In most instances they are quite susceptible
to kindness, and are ready to be intimate with us. That handsome bird, the
blue jay, so wild at the East, is as tame and domestic as the robin in many
parts of the West, because treated well. He is also a winter resident, and
one of the most intelligent birds in existence. Indeed, he is a genuine
humorist, and many amusing stories are told of his pranks. His powers of
mimicry are but slightly surpassed by those of the mocking-bird, and it is
his delight to send the smaller feathered tribes to covert by imitating the
cries of the sparrow, hawk, and other birds of prey. When so tame as to
haunt the neighborhood of dwellings, he is unwearied in playing his tricks
on domestic fowls, and they--silly creatures!--never learn to detect the
practical joke, for, no matter how often it is repeated, they hasten
panic-stricken to shelter. Wilson speaks of him as the trumpeter of the
feathered chorus, but his range of notes is very great, passing from harsh,
grating sounds, like the screeching of an unlubricated axle, to a warbling
as soft and modulated as that of a bluebird, and again, prompted by his
mercurial nature, screaming like a derisive fish-wife. Fledglings will
develop contentedly in a cage, and become tame and amusing pets. They will
learn to imitate the human voice and almost every other familiar sound. A
gentleman in South Carolina had one that was as loquacious as a parrot, and
could utter distinctly several words. In this region they are hunted, and
too shy for familiar acquaintance. When a boy, I have been tantalized
almost beyond endurance by them, and they seemed to know and delight in the
fact. I was wild to get a shot at them, but they would keep just out of
range, mocking me with discordant cries, and alarming all the other game in
the vicinity. They often had more sport than I. It is a pity that the small
boy with his gun cannot be taught to let them alone. If they were as
domestic and plentiful as robins, they would render us immense service. A
colony of jays would soon destroy all the tent-caterpillars on your place,
and many other pests. In Indiana they will build in the shrubbery around
dwellings, but we usually hear their cries from mountain-sides and distant
groves. Pleasant memories of rambles and nutting excursions they always
awaken. The blue jay belongs to the crow family, and has all the brains of
his black-coated and more sedate cousins. At the North, he will, like a
squirrel, lay up for winter a hoard of acorns and beech mast. An
experienced bird-fancier asserts that he found the jay 'more ingenious,
cunning, and teachable than any other species of birds that he had ever
attempted to instruct.'

"One of our most beautiful and interesting winter visitants is the pine
grosbeak. Although very abundant in some seasons, even extending its
migrations to the latitude of Philadelphia, it is irregular, and only the
coldest weather prompts its excursions southward. The general color of
the males is a light carmine, or rose, and if only plentiful they would
make a beautiful feature in our snowy landscape. As a general thing, the
red tints are brighter in the American than in the European birds. The
females, however, are much more modest in their plumage, being ash-colored
above, with a trace of carmine behind their heads and upon their upper tail
coverts, and sometimes tinged with greenish-yellow beneath. The females are
by far our more abundant visitants, for in the winter of '75 I saw numerous
flocks, and not over two per cent were males in red plumage. Still, strange
to say, I saw a large flock of adult males the preceding November, feeding
on the seeds of a Norway spruce before our house. Oh, what a brilliant
assemblage they made among the dark branches! In their usual haunts they
live a very retired life. The deepest recesses of the pine forests at the
far North are their favorite haunts, and here the majority generally remain
throughout the year. In these remote wilds is bred the fearlessness of man
which is the result of ignorance, for they are among the tamest of all wild
birds, finding, in this respect, their counterpart in the American red
cross-bill, another occasional cold-weather visitant. For several winters
the grosbeaks were exceedingly abundant in the vicinity of Boston, and were
so tame that they could be captured in butterfly nets, and knocked down
with poles. The markets became full of them, and many were caged. While
tame they were very unhappy in confinement, and as spring advanced their
mournful cries over their captivity became incessant. They can be kept as
pets, however, and will often sing in the night. Mr. Audubon observed that
when he fired at one of their number, the others, instead of flying away,
would approach within a few feet, and gaze at him with undisguised
curiosity, unmingled with fear. I have seen some large flocks this winter,
and a few fed daily on a bare plot of ground at the end of our piazza. I
was standing above this plot one day, when a magnificent red male flew just
beneath my feet and drank at a little pool. I never saw anything more
lovely in my life than the varying sheen of his brilliant tropical-like
plumage. He was like a many-hued animated flower, and was so fearless that
I could have touched him with a cane. One very severe, stormy winter the
grosbeaks fairly crowded the streets of Pictou. A gentleman took one of
these half-starved birds into his room, where it lived at large, and soon
became the tamest and most affectionate of pets. But in the spring, when
its mates were migrating north, Nature asserted herself, and it lost its
familiarity, and filled the house with its piteous wailings, refused food,
and sought constantly to escape. When the grosbeaks are with us you would
not be apt to notice them unless you stumbled directly upon them, for they
are the most silent of birds, which is remarkable, since the great majority
of them are females".

"That is just the reason why they are so still," remarked Mrs. Leonard.
"Ladies never speak unless they have something to say."

"Far be it from me to contradict you. The lady grosbeaks certainly have
very little to say to one another, though when mating in their secluded
haunts they probably express their preferences decidedly. If they have an
ear for music, they must enjoy their wooing immensely, for there is
scarcely a lovelier song than that of the male grosbeak. I never heard it
but once, and may never again; but the thrill of delight that I experienced
that intensely cold March day can never be forgotten. I was following the
course of a stream that flowed at the bottom of a deep ravine, when, most
unexpectedly, I heard a new song, which proceeded from far up the glen. The
notes were loud, rich, and sweet, and I hastened on to identify the new
vocalist. I soon discovered a superb red pine grosbeak perched on the top
of a tall hemlock. His rose-colored plumage and mellow notes on that bleak
day caused me to regret exceedingly that he was only an uncertain and
transient visitor to our region.

"We have a large family of resident hawks in this vicinity; indeed, there
are nine varieties of this species of bird with us at this time, although
some of them are rarely seen. The marsh-hawk has a bluish or brown
plumage, and in either case is distinguished by a patch of white on its
upper tail coverts. You would not be apt to meet with it except in its
favorite haunts. I found a nest in the centre of Consook Marsh, below
West Point. It was a rude affair. The nests of this hawk are usually made
of hay, lined with pine needles, and sometimes at the North with
feathers. This bird is found nearly everywhere in North America, and
breeds as high as Hudson Bay. In the marshes on the Delaware it is often
called the mouse-hawk, for it sweeps swiftly along the low ground in
search of a species of mouse common in that locality. It is said to be
very useful in the Southern rice-fields, since, as it sails low, it
interrupts the flocks of bobolinks, or rice-birds, in their depredations.
Planters say that one marsh-hawk accomplishes more than several negroes
in alarming these greedy little gourmands. In this region they do us no
practical harm.

"Our most abundant hawk is the broad-winged, which will measure about
thirty-six inches with wings extended. The plumage of this bird is so
dusky as to impart a prevalent brownish color, and the species is
distributed generally over eastern North America. Unlike the marsh-hawk,
it builds in trees, and Mr. Audubon describes a nest as similar to that
of the crow--a resemblance easily accounted for by the frequency with
which this hawk will repair crows' nests of former years for its own use.
I once shot one upon such a nest, from which I had taken crows' eggs the
preceding summer. I had only wounded the bird, and he clawed me severely
before I was able to capture him. I once took a fledgling from a nest,
and he became very fond of me, and quite gentle, but he would not let any
one else handle him. On another occasion, when I was examining a nest,
the male bird flew to a branch just over it, uttering loud, squealing
cries, thence darted swiftly past me, and so close that I could feel the
rush of air made by his wings; then he perched near again, and threatened
me in every way he could, extending his wings, inclining his head and
body toward me, making meanwhile a queer whistling sound. Only when I
reached the nest would the female leave it, and then she withdrew but a
short distance, returning as soon as I began to descend. The devotion of
these wild creatures to their young is often marvellous. Mr. Audubon
describes this hawk as 'spiritless, inactive, and so deficient in courage
that he is often chased by the little sparrow-hawk and kingbird.' Another
naturalist dissents emphatically from this view, and regards the
broad-winged as the most courageous and spirited of his family, citing an
instance of a man in his employ who, while ascending to a nest, was
assailed with great fury. His hat was torn from his head, and he would
have been injured had not the bird been shot. He also gives another
example of courage in an attack by this hawk upon a boy seeking to rob
its nest. It fastened its talons in his arm, and could not be beaten off
until it was killed. Perhaps both naturalists are right. It is brave and
fierce when its home is disturbed, and lacks the courage to attack other
birds of its own kind. At any rate, it has no hesitancy in making
hawk-love to chickens and ducklings, but as a rule subsists on insects
and small quardrupeds. It is not a very common winter resident, but early
in March it begins to come northward in flocks.

"Next to the broad-winged, the sharp-shinned is our most abundant hawk,
and is found throughout the entire continent from Hudson Bay to Mexico. It
usually builds its nest in trees, and occasionally on ledges of rocks,
and as a general thing takes some pains in its construction. Its domicile
approaches the eagle's nest in form, is broad and shallow, and made of
sticks and twigs lined thinly with dried leaves, mosses, etc. A full-grown
female--which, as I told you once before, is always larger than the male
among birds of prey--measures about twenty-six inches with wings extended.
It is lead-colored above, and lighter beneath. You can easily recognize
this hawk by its short wings, long tail, and swift, irregular flight. One
moment it is high in the air, the next it disappears in the grass, having
seized the object of its pursuit. It is capable of surprisingly sudden
dashes, and its pursuit is so rapid that escape is wellnigh hopeless. It is
not daunted by obstacles. Mr. Audubon saw one dart into a thicket of
briers, strike and instantly kill a thrush, and emerge with it on the
opposite side. It often makes havoc among young chickens. One came every
day to a poultry-yard until it had carried off over twenty. It does not
hesitate to pounce down upon a chicken even in the farmer's presence; and
one, in a headlong pursuit, broke through the glass of a greenhouse, then
dashed through another glass partition, and was only brought up by a third.
Pigeons are also quite in its line. Indeed, it is a bold red-taloned
freebooter, and only condescends to insects and the smaller reptiles when
there are no little birds at hand. During the spring migration this hawk
is sometimes seen in large flocks.

"The American goshawk is the next bird of this family that I will
mention, and I am very glad to say that he is only a winter resident. He
is the dreaded blue hen-hawk of New England, and is about twenty-three
inches long, and forty-four from tip to tip of wings. One good authority
says that for strength, intrepidity, and fury he cannot be surpassed. He
will swoop down into a poultry-yard and carry off a chicken almost before
you can take a breath. He is swift, cunning, and adroit rather than
heedless and headlong, like the sharp-shinned hawk, and although the
bereaved farmer may be on the alert with his gun, this marauder will
watch his chance, dash into the yard, then out again with his prey, so
suddenly that only the despairing cries of the fowl reveal the murderous
onslaught. In western Maine this hawk is very common. A housewife will
hear a rush of wings and cries of terror, and can only reach the door in
time to see one of these robbers sailing off with the finest of her
pullets. Hares and wild-ducks are favorite game also. The goshawk will
take a mallard with perfect ease, neatly and deliberately strip off the
feathers, and then, like an epicure, eat the breast only. Audubon once
saw a large flock of blackbirds crossing the Ohio. Like an arrow a
goshawk darted upon them, while they, in their fright, huddled together.
The hawk seized one after another, giving each a death-squeeze, then
dropping it into the water. In this way he killed five before the flock
escaped into the woods. He then leisurely went back, picked them up one
by one, and carried them to the spot selected for his lunch. With us, I
am happy to say, he is shy and distant, preferring the river marshes to
the vicinity of our farmyards. He usually takes his prey while swooping
swiftly along on the wing.

"Have we any hawks similar to those employed in the old-time falconry of
Europe?" Webb asked.

"Yes; our duck or great-footed hawk is almost identical with the
well-known peregrine falcon of Europe. It is a permanent resident, and
breeds on the inaccessible cliffs of the Highlands, although preferring
similar localities along a rocky sea-coast. There is no reason to doubt
that our duck-hawk might be trained for the chase as readily as its
foreign congener. It has the same wonderful powers of flight, equal
docility in confinement, and can be taught to love and obey its master. I
have often wondered why falconry has not been revived, like other ancient
sports. The Germans are said to have employed trained hawks to capture
carrier-pigeons that were sent out with missives by the French during the
siege of Paris. In a few instances the duck-hawk has been known to nest
in trees. It is a solitary bird, and the sexes do not associate except at
the breeding season. While it prefers water-fowl, it does not confine
itself to them. I shot one on a Long Island beach and found in its crop
whole legs of the robin, Alice's thrush, catbird, and warblers. It
measures about forty-five inches in the stretch of its wings, and its
prevailing color is of a dark blue.

"The pigeon-hawk is not very rare at this season. Professor Baird
describes this bird as remarkable for its rapid flight, its courage, and
its enterprise in attacking birds even larger than itself. This accords
with my experience, for my only specimen was shot in the act of destroying
a hen. He is about the size of our common flicker, or high-holder, which
bird, with robins, pigeons, and others of similar size, is his favorite
game. The sparrow-hawk is rare at this time, and is only abundant
occasionally during its migrations. The red-shouldered hawk is a handsome
bird, with some very good traits, and is a common permanent resident.
Unless hunted, these birds are not shy, and they remain mated throughout
the year. Many a human pair might learn much from their affectionate and
considerate treatment of each other. They do not trouble poultry-yards, and
are fond of frogs, cray-fish, and even insects. Occasionally they will
attack birds as large as a meadow-lark. They have a high and very irregular
flight, but occasionally they so stuff themselves with frogs that they can
scarcely move. Wilson found one with the remains of ten frogs in his crop.

"Last among the winter residents I can merely mention the red-tailed
hawk, so named from the deep rufus color of its tail feathers. It is a
heavy, robust bird, and while it usually feeds on mice, moles, and shrews
that abound in meadows, its depredations on farmyards are not infrequent.
It is widely distributed throughout the continent, and abundant here. It
is a powerful bird, and can compass long distances with a strong, steady
flight, often moving with no apparent motion of the wings. It rarely
seizes its prey while flying, like the goshawk, but with its keen vision
will inspect the immediate vicinity from the branch of a tree, and thence
dart upon it. It is not particular as to its food. Insects, birds, and
reptiles are alike welcome game, and in summer it may be seen carrying a
writhing snake through the air. While flying it utters a very harsh,
peculiar, and disagreeable scream, and by some is called the squealing
hawk. The social habits of this bird are in appropriate concord with its
voice. After rearing their young the sexes separate, and are jealous of
and hostile to each other. It may easily happen that if the wife of the
spring captures any prey, her former mate will struggle fiercely for its
possession, and the screaming clamor of the fight will rival a conjugal
quarrel in the Bowery. In this respect they form an unpleasing contrast
with the red-shouldered hawks, among whom marriage is permanent, and
maintained with lover-like attentions. Thus it would appear that there
are contrasts of character even in the hawk world; and when you remember
that we have fifteen other varieties of this bird, besides the nine I
have mentioned, you may think that nature, like society, is rather
prodigal in hawks. As civilization advances, however, innocence stands a
better chance. At least this is true of the harmless song-birds.

"I have now given you free-hand sketches of the great majority of our
winter residents, and these outlines are necessarily very defective from
their brevity as well as for other reasons. I have already talked an
unconscionably long time; but what else could you expect from a man with
a hobby? As it is, I am not near through, for the queer little
white-bellied nut-hatch, and his associates in habits, the downy, the
hairy, the golden-winged, and the yellow-bellied woodpeckers, and four
species of owls, are also with us at this season. With the bluebirds the
great tide of migration has already turned northward, and all through
March, April, and May I expect to greet the successive arrivals of old
friends every time I go out to visit my patients. I can assure you that I
have no stupid, lonely drives, unless the nights are dark and stormy.
Little Johnnie, I see, has gone to sleep. I must try to meet some fairies
and banshees in the moonlight for her benefit But, Alf, I'm delighted to
see you so wide-awake. Shooting birds as game merely is very well, but
capturing them in a way to know all about them is a sport that is always
in season, and would grow more and more absorbing if you lived a thousand
years."

A bent for life was probably given to the boy's mind that night.



CHAPTER XVII

FISHING THROUGH THE ICE


Every day through the latter part of February the sun grew higher, and
its rays more potent. The snow gave rapidly in warm southern nooks and
slopes, and the icicles lengthened from the eaves and overhanging rocks,
forming in many instances beautiful crystal fringes. On northern slopes
and shaded places the snow scarcely wasted at all, and Amy often wondered
how the vast white body that covered the earth could ever disappear in
time for spring. But there soon came a raw, chilly, cloudy day, with a
high south wind, and the snow sank away, increasing the apparent height
of the fences, and revealing objects hitherto hidden, as if some magic
were at work.

"I have always observed," said Mr. Clifford, "that a day like this, raw
and cold as it seems, does more to carry off the snow than a week of
spring sunshine, although it may be warm for the season. What is more,
the snow is wasted evenly, and not merely on sunny slopes. The wind seems
to soak up the melting snow like a great sponge, for the streams are not
perceptibly raised."

"The air does take it up the form of vapor," said Webb, "and that is why
we have such a chilly snow atmosphere. Rapidly melting snow tends to
lower the temperature proportionately, just as ice around a form of
cream, when made to melt quickly the addition of salt, absorbs all heat
in its vicinity so fast that the cream is congealed. But this accumulation
of vapor in the air must come down again, perhaps in the form of snow, and
so there will be no apparent gain."

"If no apparent gain, could there be a real gain by another fall of
snow?" Amy asked; for to inexperienced eyes there certainly seemed more
than could be disposed of in time for April flowers.

"Yes," he replied, "a fall of snow might make this whole section warmer
for a time, and so hasten spring materially. Do not worry. We shall have
plenty of snowstorms yet, and still spring will be here practically on
time."

But instead of snow the vapor-burdened air relieved itself by a rain of
several hours' duration, and in the morning the river that had been so
white looked icy and glistening, and by the aid of a glass was seen to be
covered with water, which rippled under the rising breeze. The following
night was clear and cold, and the surface of the bay became a comparatively
smooth glare of ice. At dinner next day Webb remarked:

"I hear that they are catching a good many striped bass through the ice,
and I learned that the tide would be right for them to raise the nets
this afternoon. I propose, Amy, that we go down and see the process, and
get some of the fish direct from the water for supper."

Burt groaned, and was almost jealous that during his enforced confinement
so many opportunities to take Amy out fell naturally to Webb. The latter,
however, was so entirely fraternal in his manner toward the young girl
that Burt was ever able to convince himself that his misgivings were
absurd.

Webb was soon ready, and had provided himself with his skates and a small
sleigh with a back. When they arrived at the landing he tied his horse,
and said:

"The ice is too poor to drive on any longer, I am informed, but perfectly
safe still for foot-passengers. As a precaution we will follow the tracks
of the fishermen, and I will give you a swift ride on this little sledge,
in which I can wrap you up well."

Like most young men brought up in the vicinity, he was a good and powerful
skater, and Amy was soon enjoying the exhilarating sense of rapid motion
over the smooth ice, with a superb view of the grand mountains rising on
either side of the river a little to the south. They soon reached the nets,
which stretched across the river through narrow longitudinal cuts so as to
be at right angles to each tide, with which the fish usually swim. These
nets are such in shape as were formerly suspended between the old-fashioned
shad-poles, and are sunk perpendicularly in the water by weights at each
end, so that the meshes are expanded nearly to their full extent. The fish
swim into these precisely as do the shad, and in their attempts to back out
their gills catch, and there they hang.

The nests are about twelve feet square, and the meshes of different nets
are from to and a half to five and a quarter inches in size. A bass of
nine pounds' weight can be "gilled" in the ordinary manner; but in one
instance a fish weighing one hundred and two pounds was caught, and
during the present season they were informed that a lucky fisherman at
Marlborough had secured "a 52-pounder." These heavy fellows, it was
explained, "would go through a net like a cannon-ball" if they came "head
on," and with ordinary speed; but if they are playing around gently, the
swift tide carries them sidewise into the "slack of the net," from which
they seem unable to escape. There are usually about forty-five feet
between the surface of the water and the top of the nets, therefore the
fish are caught at an average depth of fifty feet. The best winter
fishing is from December to March, and as many as one hundred and seventy
pounds, or about two hundred bass, have been taken in twenty-four hours
from one line of nets; at other times the luck is very bad, for the fish
seem to run in streaks.

The luck was exceedingly moderate on the present occasion, but enough
fish were caught to satisfy Webb's needs. As they were watching the
lifting of the nets and angling for information, they saw an ice-boat
slowly and gracefully leaving the landing, and were told that since the
ice had grown thin it had taken the place of the sleigh in which the
passengers were conveyed to and from the railroad station on the further
shore. The wind, being adverse, necessitated several tacks, and on one of
them the boat passed so near Webb and Amy that they recognized Mr.
Barkdale, the clergyman, who, as he sped by, saluted them. When the boat
had passed on about an eighth of a mile, it tacked so suddenly and
sharply that the unwary minister was rolled out upon the ice. The speed
and impetus of the little craft were so great that before it could be
brought up it was about half a mile away, and the good man was left in
what might be a dangerous isolation, for ice over which the boat could
skim in security might be very unsafe under the stationary weight of a
solidly built man like Mr. Barkdale. Webb therefore seized a pole
belonging to one of the fishermen, and came speedily to the clergyman's
side. Happily the ice, although it had wasted rapidly from the action of
the tide in that part of the river, sustained them until the boat
returned, and the good man resumed his journey with laughing words, by
which he nevertheless conveyed to Webb his honest gratitude for the
promptness with which the young fellow had shared his possible danger.
When Webb returned he found Amy pale and agitated, for an indiscreet
fisherman had remarked that the ice was "mighty poor out in that
direction."

"Won't you please come off the river?" she asked, nervously. "I've seen
all I wish."

"It's perfectly safe here."

"But you were not here a moment since, and I've no confidence in your
discretion when any one is in danger."

"I did not run any risks worth speaking of."

"I think you did. The men explained, in answer to my questions, that the
ice toward spring becomes honeycombed--that's the way they expressed
it--and lets one through without much warning. They also said the tides
wore it away underneath about as fast as the rain and sun wasted the
surface."

"Supposing it had let me through, I should have caught on the pole, and
so have easily scrambled out, while poor Mr. Barkdale would have been
quite helpless."

"Oh, I know it was right for you to go, and I know you will go again
should there be the slightest occasion. Therefore I am eager to reach
solid ground. Please, Webb."

Her tone was so earnest that he complied, and they were soon in the
sleigh again. As they were driving up the hill she turned a shy glance
toward him, and said, hesitatingly: "Don't mistake me, Webb. I am proud
to think that you are so brave and uncalculating at times; but then I--I
never like to think that you are in danger. Remember how very much you
are to us all."

"Well, that is rather a new thought to me. Am I much to you?"

"Yes, you are," she said, gravely and earnestly, looking him frankly in
the face. "From the first moment you spoke to me as 'sister Amy' you made
the relation seem real. And then your manner is so strong and even that
it's restful to be with you. You may give one a terrible fright, as you
did me this afternoon, but you would never make one nervous."

His face flushed with deep pleasure, but he made good her opinion by
quietly changing the subject, and giving her a brisk, bracing drive over
one of her favorite roads.

All at the supper table agreed that the striped bass were delicious, and
Burt, as the recognized sportsman of the family, had much to say about
the habits of this fine game fish. Among his remarks he explained that
the "catch" was small at present because the recent rain and melting snow
had made the water of the river so fresh that the fish had been driven
back toward the sea. "But they reascend," he said, "as soon as the
freshet subsides. They are a sea fish, and only ascend fresh-water
streams for shelter in winter, and to breed in spring. They spawn in May,
and by August the little fish will weigh a quarter of a pound. A good
many are taken with seines after the ice breaks up, but I never had any
luck with pole and line in the river. While striped bass are found all
along the coast from Florida to Cape Cod, the largest fish are taken
between the latter place and Montauk Point. I once had some rare sport
off the east end of Long Island. I was still-fishing, with a pole and
reel, and fastened on my hook a peeled shedder crab. My line was of
linen, six hundred feet long, and no heavier than that used for trout,
but very strong. By a quick movement which an old bass-fisherman taught
me I made my bait dart like an arrow straight over the water more than
one hundred feet, my reel at the same moment whirling, in paying out, as
if it would fuse from friction. Well, I soon hooked a fifty-pound fish,
and we had a tussle that I shall never forget. It took me an hour to tire
him out, and I had to use all the skill I possessed to keep him from
breaking the line. It was rare sport, I can tell you--the finest bit of
excitement I ever had fishing;" and the young fellow's eyes sparkled at
the memory.

Strange as it may appear to some, his mother shared most largely in his
enthusiasm. The reason was that, apart from the interest which she took
in the pleasure of all her children, she lived much in her imagination,
which was unusually strong, and Burt's words called up a marine picture
with an athletic young fellow in the foreground all on the _qui
vive_, his blue eyes flashing with the sparkle and light of the sea as
he matched his skill and science against a creature stronger than
himself. "Are larger bass ever taken with rod and line?" she asked.

"Yes, one weighing seventy-five pounds has been captured. Jupiter! what
sport it must have been!"

"How big do they grow, anyhow?" Leonard queried.

"To almost your size, Len, and that's a heavy compliment to the bass.
They have been known to reach the weight of one hundred and fifty
pounds."



CHAPTER XVIII

PLANNING AND OPENING THE CAMPAIGN


The last day of February was clear, cloudless, and cold, the evening
serene and still. Winter's tempestuous course was run, its icy breath
apparently had ceased, and darkness closed on its quiet, pallid face.
"March came in like a lamb"--an ominous circumstance for the future
record of this month of most uncertain weather, according to the
traditions of the old weather-prophets. The sun rose clear and warm, the
snow sparkled and melted, the bluebirds rejoiced, and their soft notes of
mutual congratulation found many echoes among their human neighbors. By
noon the air was wonderfully soft and balmy, and Webb brought in a number
of sprays from peach-trees cut in different parts of the place, and
redeemed his promise to Amy, showing her the fruit germs, either green,
or rather of a delicate gold-color, or else blackened by frost. She was
astonished to find how perfect the embryo blossom appeared under the
microscope. It needed no glass, however, to reveal the blackened heart of
the bud, and Webb, having cut through a goodly number, remarked: "It
would now appear as if nature had performed a very important labor for
us, for I find about eight out of nine buds killed. It will save us
thinning the fruit next summer, for if one-ninth of the buds mature into
peaches they will not only bring more money, but will measure more by the
bushel."

"How can one peach measure more than eight peaches?"

"By being larger than the eight. If all these buds grew into peaches, and
were left on these slender boughs, the tree might be killed outright by
overbearing, and would assuredly be much injured and disfigured by broken
limbs and exhaustion, while the fruit itself would be so small and poor
as to be unsalable. Thousands of trees annually perish from this cause,
and millions of peaches are either not picked, or, if marketed, may bring
the grower into debt for freight and other expenses. A profitable crop of
peaches can only be grown by careful hand-thinning when they are as large
as marbles, unless the frost does the work for us by killing the greater
part of the buds. It is a dangerous ally, however, for our constant fear
is that it will destroy _all_ the buds. There are plenty left yet, and I
find that cherry, apple, plum, and pear buds are still safe. Indeed,
there is little fear for them as long as peach buds are not entirely
destroyed, for they are much hardier."

In the afternoon Burt, who had become expert in the use of crutches,
determined on an airing, and invited Amy to join him. "I now intend to
begin giving you driving lessons," he said. "You will soon acquire entire
confidence, for skill, far more than strength, is required. As long as
one keeps cool and shows no fear there is rarely danger. Horses often
catch their senseless panic from their drivers, and, even when frightened
with good cause, can usually be reassured by a few quiet words and a firm
rein."

Amy was delighted at the prospect of a lesson in driving, especially as
Bart, because of his lameness, did not venture to take his over-spirited
steed Thunder. She sincerely hoped, however, that he would confine his
thoughts and attentions to the ostensible object of the drive, for his
manner at times was embarrassingly ardent. Burt was sufficiently politic
to fulfil her hope, for he had many other drives in view, and had
discovered that attentions not fraternal were unwelcome to Amy. With a
self-restraint and prudence which he thought most praiseworthy and
sagacious, but which were ludicrous in their limitations, he resolved to
take a few weeks to make the impression which he had often succeeded in
producing in a few hours, judging from the relentings and favors received
in a rather extended career of gallantry, although it puzzled the young
fellow that he could have been so fascinated on former occasions. He
merely proposed that now she should enjoy the drive so thoroughly that
she would wish to go again, and his effort met with entire success.

During the first week of March there were many indications of the opening
campaign on the Clifford farm. There was the overhauling and furbishing
of weapons, otherwise tools, and the mending or strengthening of those in
a decrepit state. A list of such additional ones as were wanted was made
at this time, and an order sent for them at once. Amy also observed that
practical Leonard was conning several catalogues of implements. "Len is
always on the scent of some new patent hoe or cultivator," Burt remarked.
"My game pays better than yours," was the reply, "for the right kind of
tools about doubles the effectiveness of labor."

The chief topic of discussion and form of industry at this time were the
pruning and cleansing of trees, and Amy often observed Webb from her
windows in what seemed to her most perilous positions in the tops of
apple and other trees, with saw and pruning shears or nippers--a light
little instrument with such a powerful leverage that a good-sized bough
could be lopped away by one slight pressure of the hand.

"It seems to me," remarked Leonard, one evening, "that there is much
diversity of opinion in regard to the time and method of trimming trees.
While the majority of our neighbors prune in March, some say fall or
winter is the best time. Others are in favor of June, and in some paper
I've read, 'Prune when your knife is sharp.' As for cleansing the bark of
the trees, very few take the trouble."

"Well," replied his father, "I've always performed these labors in March
with good results. I have often observed that taking off large limbs from
old and feeble trees is apt to injure them. A decay begins at the point
of amputation and extends down into the body of the tree. Sap-suckers and
other wood peckers, in making their nests, soon excavate this rotten wood
back into the trunk, to which the moisture of every storm is admitted,
and the life of the tree is shortened."

At this point Webb went out, and soon returned with something like
exultation blending with his usually grave expression.

"I think father's views are correct, and I have confirmation here in
autograph letters from three of the most eminent horticulturists in the
world--"

"Good gracious, Webb! don't take away our breath in that style,"
exclaimed Burt. "Have you autograph letters from several autocrats also?"

As usual Webb ignored his brother's nonsense, and resumed: "The first is
from the Hon. Marshall P. Wilder, President of the American Pomological
Society, and is as follows: 'I prune my trees early in March, as soon as
the heavy frosts are over, when the sap is dormant. If the branch is
large I do not cut quite close in, and recut close in June, when the
wound heals more readily. I do not approve of rigorous pruning of old
trees showing signs of feebleness. Such operations would increase
decline--only the dead wood should be removed, the loss of live wood
depriving old trees of the supply of sap which they need for support.
Grafting-wax is good to cover the wounds of trees, or a thick paint of
the color of the bark answers well. Trees also may be pruned in safety in
June after the first growth is made--then the wounds heal quickly.'

"The next letter is from Mr. Charles Downing, editor of 'The Fruits and
Fruit-Trees of America.' 'When the extreme cold weather is over,' he
says, 'say the last of February or first of March, begin to trim trees,
and finish as rapidly as convenient. Do not trim a tree too much at one
time, and cut no large limbs if possible, but thin out the small
branches. If the trees are old and bark-bound, scrape off the roughest
bark and wash the bodies and large limbs with whale-oil soap, or
soft-soap such as the farmers make, putting it on quite thick. Give the
ground plenty of compost manure, bone-dust, ashes, and salt. The best and
most convenient preparation for covering wounds is gum-shellac dissolved
in alcohol to the thickness of paint, and put on with a brush.' The last
is from Mr. Patrick Barry, of the eminent Rochester firm, and author of
'The Fruit Garden.' 'In our climate pruning may be done at convenience,
from the fall of the leaf until the 1st of April. In resuscitating old
neglected apple-trees, _rigorous_ pruning may be combined with plowing
and manuring of the ground. For covering wounds made in pruning, nothing
is better than common grafting wax laid on warm with a brush.' Hon P. T.
Quinn, in his work on 'Pear Culture,' writes: 'On our own place we begin
to prune our pear-trees from the 1st to the 15th of March, and go on with
the work through April. It is not best to do much cutting, except on very
young trees, while the foliage is coming out.'"

"Well," remarked Leonard, "I can go to work to-morrow with entire
content; and very pleasant work it is, too, especially on the young
trees, where by a little forethought and a few cuts one can regulate the
form and appearance of the future tree."

"How is that possible?" Amy asked.

"Well, you see there are plenty of buds on all the young branches, and we
can cut a branch just above the bud we wish to grow which will continue
to grow in the direction in which it points. Thus we can shape each
summer's growth in any direction we choose."

"How can you be sure to find a bud just where you want it?"

"I know we always do."

"Of course we do," said Webb, "for buds are arranged spirally on trees
in mathematical order. On most trees it is termed-the 'five-ranked
arrangement,' and every bud is just two-fifths of the circumference of the
stem from the next. This will bring every sixth bud or leaf over the first,
or the one we start with. Thus in the length of stem occupied by five buds
you have buds facing in five different directions--plenty of choice for
all pruning purposes."

"Oh, nonsense, Webb; you are too everlastingly scientific. Buds and
leaves are scattered at haphazard all over the branches."

"That shows you observe at haphazard. Wait, and I'll prove I'm right;"
and he seized his hat and went out. Returning after a few minutes with
long, slender shoots of peach, apple, and pear trees, he said: "Now put
your finger on any bud, and count. See if the sixth bud does not stand
invariably over the one you start from, and if the intervening buds do
not wind spirally twice around the stem, each facing in a different
direction."

The result proved Webb to be right. He laughed, and said: "There, Len,
you've seen buds and branches for over forty years, and never noticed
this. Here, Alf, you begin right, and learn to see things just as they
are. There's no telling how often accurate knowledge may be useful."

"But, Webb, all plants have not the five-ranked arrangement, as you term
it," his mother protested.

"Oh, no. There is the two-ranked, in which the third leaf stands over the
first; the three-ranked, in which the fourth leaf stands over the first.
Then we also find the eighth and thirteenth ranked arrangements,
according to the construction of various species of plants or trees. But
having once observed an arrangement of buds or leaves in a species, you
will find it maintained with absolute symmetry and accuracy, although the
spaces between the buds lengthwise upon the stem may vary very much.
Nature, with all her seeming carelessness and _abandon_, works on strict
mathematical principles."

"Well," said Alf, "I'm going to see if you are right tomorrow. I don't
half believe you are." And on the following day he tried his best to
prove Webb wrong, but failed.

Before the week was over there was a decided return of winter. The sky
lost its spring-like blue. Cold, ragged clouds were driven wildly by a
northeast gale, which, penetrating the heaviest wraps, caused a shivering
sense of discomfort. Only by the most vigorous exercise could one cope
with the raw, icy wind, and yet the effort to do so brought a rich return
in warm, purified blood. All outdoor labor, except such as required
strong, rapid action, came to an end, for it was the very season and
opportunity for pneumonia to seize upon its chilled victim. To a family
constituted like the Cliffords such weather brought no _ennui_. They
had time for more music and reading aloud than usual. The pets in the
flower-room needed extra care and watching, for the bitter wind searched
out every crevice and cranny. Entering the dining-room on one occasion,
Amy found the brothers poring over a map spread out on the table.

"What! studying geography?" she said. "It certainly is a severe stress of
weather that has brought you all to that. What countries are you
exploring?"

"These are our Western Territories," Burt promptly responded. "This
prominent point here is Fort Totem, and these indications of adjacent
buildings are for the storage of furs, bear-meat, and the accommodation
of Indian hunters." Burt tried to look serious, but Webb's and Leonard's
laughter betrayed him. Amy turned inquiringly to Webb, as she ever did
when perplexed.

"Don't mind Burt's chaff," he said. "This is merely a map of the farm,
and we are doing a little planning for our spring work--deciding what
crop we shall put on that field and how treat this one, etc. You can see,
Amy, that each field is numbered, and here in this book are corresponding
numbers, with a record of the crops grown upon each field for a good many
years back, to what extent and how often they have been enriched, and the
kind of fertilizers used. Of course such a book of manuscript would be
the dreariest prose in the world to you, but it is exceedingly interesting
to us; and what's more, these past records are the best possible guides for
future action."

"Oh, I know all about your book now," she said, with an air of entire
confidence, "for I've heard papa say that land and crop records have been
kept in England for generations. I don't think I will sit up nights to
read your manuscript, however. If Burt's version had been true, it might
have been quite exciting."

She did enjoy aiding Mr. and Mrs. Clifford in overhauling the seed-chest,
however. This was a wooden box, all tinned over to keep out the mice, and
was divided into many little compartments, in which were paper bags of
seeds, with the date on which they were gathered or purchased. Some of
the seeds were condemned because too old; others, like those of melons
and cucumbers, improved with a moderate degree of age, she was told. Mrs.
Clifford brought out from her part of the chest a rich store of flower
seeds, and the young girl looked with much curiosity on the odd-appearing
little grains and scale-like objects in which, in miniature, was wrapped
some beautiful and fragrant plant. "Queer little promises, ain't they?"
said the old lady; "for every seed is a promise to me."

"I tell you what it is, Amy," the old gentleman remarked, "this chest
contains the assurance of many a good dinner and many a beautiful
bouquet. Now, like a good girl, help us make an inventory. We will first
have a list of what we may consider trustworthy seeds on hand, and then,
with the aid of these catalogues, we can make out another list of what we
shall buy. Seed catalogues, with their long list of novelties, never lose
their fascination for me. I know that most of the new things are not half
so good as the old tried sorts, but still I like to try some every year.
It's a harmless sort of gambling, you see, and now and then I draw a
genuine prize. Mother has the gambling mania far worse than I, as is
evident from the way she goes into the flower novelties."

"I own up to it," said Mrs. Clifford, "and I do love to see the almost
endless diversity in beauty which one species of plants will exhibit.
Why, do you know, Amy, I grew from seeds one summer fifty distinct
varieties of the dianthus. Suppose we take asters this year, and see how
many distinct kinds we can grow. Here, in this catalogue, is a long list
of named varieties, and, in addition, there are packages of mixed seeds
from which we may get something distinct from all the others."

"How full of zest life becomes in the country," cried Amy, "if one only
goes to work in the right way!" Life was growing fuller and richer to her
every day in the varied and abounding interests of the family with which
she was now entirely identified.

"Webb," his mother asked at dinner, "how do you explain the varying
vitality of seeds? Some we can keep six or eight years, and others only
two."

"That's a question I am unable to answer. It cannot be the amount of
material stored up in the cotyledons, or embryo seed leaves, for small
seeds like the beet and cucumber will retain their vitality ten years,
and lettuce, turnip, and tomato seed five or more years, while I do not
care to plant large, fleshy seeds like pease and beans that are over
three years old, and much prefer those gathered the previous season. The
whole question of the germinating of seeds is a curious one. Wheat taken
from the wrappings of an Egyptian mummy has grown. Many seeds appear to
have a certain instinct when to grow, and will lie dormant in the ground
for indefinite periods waiting for favorable conditions. For instance,
sow wood-ashes copiously and you speedily have a crop of white clover.
Again, when one kind of timber is cut from land, another and diverse kind
will spring up, as if the soil were full of seeds that had been biding
their time. For all practical purposes the duration of vitality is known,
and is usually given in seed catalogues, I think, or ought to be."

"Some say that certain fertilizers or conditions will produce certain
kinds of vegetation without the aid of seeds--just develop them, you
know," Leonard remarked.

"Develop them from what?"

"That's the question."

"Well, I think the sensible answer is that all vegetation is developed
from seeds, spores, or whatever was designed to continue the chain of
being from one plant to another. For the life of me I can't see how mere
organic or inorganic matter can produce life. It can only sustain and
nourish the life which exists in it or is placed in it, and which by a
law of nature develops when the conditions are favorable. I am quite sure
that there is not an instance on record of the spontaneous production of
life, even down to the smallest animalcule in liquids, or the minutest
plant life that is propagated by invisible spores. That the microscope
does not reveal these spores or germs proves nothing, for the strongest
microscope in the world has not begun to reach the final atom of which
matter is composed. Indeed, it would seem to be as limited in its power
to explore the infinitely little and near as the telescope to reveal the
infinitely distant and great. Up to this time science has discovered
nothing to contravene the assurance that God, or some one, 'created every
living creature that moveth, and every herb yielding seed after his
kind.' After a series of most careful and accurate experiments, Professor
Tyndall could find no proof of the spontaneous production of even
microscopic life, and found much proof to the contrary. How far original
creations are changed or modified by evolution, natural selection, is a
question that is to be settled neither by dogmatism on the one hand, nor
by baseless theories on the other, but by facts, and plenty of them."

"Do you think there is anything atheistical in evolution?" his mother
asked, and with some solicitude in her large eyes, for, like all trained
in the old beliefs, she felt that the new philosophies led away into a
realm of vague negations. Webb understood her anxiety lest the faith she
had taught him should become unsettled, and he reassured her in a
characteristic way.

"No, mother," he said. "If evolution is the true explanation of the world,
as it now appears to us, it is no more atheistical than some theologies I
have heard preached, which contained plenty of doctrines and attributes,
but no God. If God with his infinite leisure chooses to evolve his
universe, why shouldn't he? In any case a creative, intelligent power is
equally essential. It would be just as easy for me to believe that all
the watches and jewelry at Tiffany's were the result of fortuitous causes
as to believe that the world as we find it has no mind back of it."

Mother smiled with satisfaction, for she saw that he still stood just
where she did, only his horizon had widened.

"Well," said his father, contentedly, "I read much in the papers and
magazines of theories and isms of which I never heard when I was young,
but eighty years of experience have convinced me that the Lord reigns."

They all laughed at this customary settlement of knotty problems, on the
part of the old gentleman, and Burt, rising from the table, looked out,
with the remark that the prospects were that "the Lord would rain heavily
that afternoon." The oldest and most infallible weather-prophet in the
region--Storm King--was certainly giving portentous indications of a
storm of no ordinary dimensions. The vapor was pouring over its summit in
Niagara-like volume, and the wind, no longer rushing with its recent
boisterous roar, was moaning and sighing as if nature was in pain and
trouble. The barometer, which had been low for two days, sank lower; the
temperature rose as the gale veered to the eastward. This fact, and the
moisture laden atmosphere, indicated that it came from the Gulf Stream
region of the Atlantic. The rain, which began with a fine drizzle,
increased fast, and soon fell in blinding sheets. The day grew dusky
early, and the twilight was brief and obscure; then followed a long night
of Egyptian darkness, through which the storm rushed, warred, and
splashed with increasing vehemence. Before the evening was over, the
sound of tumultuously flowing water became an appreciable element in the
uproar without, and Webb, opening a window on the sheltered side of the
house, called Amy to hear the torrents pouring down the sides of Storm
King.

"What tremendous alternations of mood Nature indulges in!" she said, as
she came shivering back to the fire. "Contrast such a night with a sunny
June day."

"It would seem as if 'mild, ethereal spring' had got her back up," Burt
remarked, "and regarding the return of winter as a trespass, had taken
him by the throat, determined to have it out once for all. Something will
give way before morning, probably half our bridges."

"Well, that _is_ a way of explaining the jar among the elements that I
had not thought of," she said, laughing.

"You needn't think Webb can do all the explaining. I have my theories
also--sounder than his, too, most of 'em."

"There is surely no lack of sound accompanying your theory to-night.
Indeed, it is not all 'sound and fury!'"

"It's all the more impressive, then. What's the use of your delicate,
weak-backed theories that require a score of centuries to substantiate
them?"

"Your theory about the bridges will soon be settled," remarked Leonard,
ominously, "and I fear it will prove correct. At this rate the town will
have to pay for half a dozen new ones--bridges, I mean."

"Well amended," added Webb.

"Just hear the rain!" said Leonard, ruefully. There was a heavy body of
snow still in the mountains and on northern slopes, and much ice on the
streams and ponds. "There certainly will be no little trouble if this
continues."

"Don't worry, children," said Mr. Clifford, quietly. "I have generally
found everything standing after the storms were over."



CHAPTER XIX

WINTER'S EXIT


The old house seemed so full of strange sounds that Amy found it
impossible to sleep. Seasoned as were its timbers, they creaked and
groaned, and the casements rattled as if giant hands were seeking to open
them. The wind at times would sigh and sob so mournfully, like a human
voice, that her imagination peopled the darkness with strange creatures
in distress, and then she would shudder as a more violent gust raised the
prolonged wail into a loud shriek. Thoughts of her dead father--not the
resigned, peaceful thoughts which the knowledge of his rest had brought
of late--came surging into her mind. Her organization was peculiarly fine
and especially sensitive to excited atmospherical conditions, and the
tumult of the night raised in her mind an irrepressible, although
unreasoning, panic. At last she felt that she would scream if she
remained alone any longer. She put on her wrapper, purposing to ask Mrs.
Leonard to come and stay with her for a time, feeling assured that if she
could only speak to some one, the horrid spell of nervous fear would be
broken. As she stepped into the hall she saw a light gleaming from the
open door of the sitting-room, and in the hope that some one was still
up, she stole noiselessly down the stairway to a point that commanded a
view of the apartment. Only Webb was there, and he sat quietly reading by
the shaded lamp and flickering fire. The scene and his very attitude
suggested calmness and safety. There was nothing to be afraid of, and he
was not afraid. With every moment that she watched him the nervous
agitation passed from mind and body. His strong, intent profile proved
that he was occupied wholly with the thought of his author. The quiet
deliberation with which he turned the leaves was more potent than
soothing words. "I wouldn't for the world have him know I'm so weak and
foolish," she said to herself, as she crept noiselessly back to her room.
"He little dreamed who was watching him," she whispered, smilingly, as
she dropped asleep.

When she waked next morning the rain had ceased, the wind blew in fitful
gusts, and the sky was still covered with wildly hurrying clouds that
seemed like the straggling rearguard which the storm had left behind. So
far as she could see from her window, everything was still standing, as
Mr. Clifford had said. Familiar objects greeted her reassuringly, and
never before had the light even of a lowering morning seemed more blessed
in contrast with the black, black night. As she recalled the incidents of
that night--her nervous panic, and the scene which had brought quiet and
peace--she smiled again, and, it must be admitted, blushed slightly. "I
wonder if he affects others as he does me," she thought. "Papa used to
say, when I was a little thing, that I was just a bundle of nerves, but
when Webb is near I am not conscious I ever had a nerve."

Every little brook had become a torrent; Moodna Creek was reported to be
in angry mood, and the family hastened through breakfast that they might
drive out to see the floods and the possible devastation. Several bridges
over the smaller streams had barely escaped, and the Idlewild brook,
whose spring and summer music the poet Willis had caused to be heard even
in other lands, now gave forth a hoarse roar from the deep glen through
which it raved. An iron bridge over the Moodna, on the depot road, had
evidently been in danger in the night. The ice had been piled up in the
road at each end of the bridge, and a cottage a little above it was
surrounded by huge cakes. The inmates had realized their danger, for part
of their furniture had been carried to higher ground. Although the volume
of water passing was still immense, all danger was now over. As they were
looking at the evidences of the violent breaking up of winter, the first
phoebe-bird of the season alighted in a tree overhanging the torrent, and
in her plaintive notes seemed to say, as interpreted by John Burroughs,
"If you please, spring has come." They gave the brown little harbinger
such an enthusiastic welcome that she speedily took flight to the further
shore.

"Where was that wee bit of life last night?" said Webb; "and how could it
keep up heart?"

"Possibly it looked in at a window and saw some one reading," thought
Amy; and she smiled so sweetly at the conceit that Webb asked, "How many
pennies will you take for your thoughts?"

"They are not in the market;" and she laughed outright as she turned
away.

"The true place to witness the flood will be at the old red bridge
further down the stream," said Leonard; and they drove as rapidly as the
bad wheeling permitted to that point, and found that Leonard was right.
Just above the bridge was a stone dam, by which the water was backed up a
long distance, and a precipitous wooded bank rose on the south side. This
had shielded the ice from the sun, and it was still very thick when the
pressure of the flood came upon it. Up to this time it had not given way,
and had become the cause of an ice-gorge that every moment grew more
threatening. The impeded torrent chafed and ground the cakes together,
surging them up at one point and permitting them to sink at another, as
the imprisoned waters struggled for an outlet. The solid ice still held
near the edge of the dam, although it was beginning to lift and crack
with the tawny flood pouring over, under, and around it.

"Suppose we cross to the other side, nearest home," said Burt, who was
driving; and with the word he whipped up the horses and dashed through
the old covered structure.

"You ought not to have done that, Burt," said Webb, almost sternly. "The
gorge may give way at any moment, and the bridge will probably go with
it. We shall now have to drive several hundred yards to a safe place to
leave the horses, for the low ground on this side will probably be
flooded."

"It certainly will be," added Leonard.

"Oh, make haste!" cried Amy; and they all noticed that she was trembling.

But a few minutes sufficed to tie the horses and return to a point of
safety near the bridge. "I did not mean to expose you to the slightest
danger," Burt whispered, tenderly, to Amy. "See, the bridge is safe
enough, and we might drive over it again."

Even as he spoke there was a long grinding, crunching sound. A great
volume of black water had forced its way under the gorge, and now lifted
it bodily over the dam. It sank in a chaotic mass, surged onward and
upward again, struck the bridge, and in a moment lifted it from its
foundations and swept it away, a shattered wreck, the red covering
showing in the distance like ensanguined stains among the tossing cakes
of ice.

They all drew a long breath, and Amy was as pale as if she had witnessed
the destruction of some living creature. No doubt she realized what would
have been their fate had the break occurred while they were crossing.

"Good-by, old bridge," said Leonard, pensively. "I played and fished
under you when a boy, and in the friendly dusk of its cover I kissed
Maggie one summer afternoon of our courting days--"

"Well, well," exclaimed Burt, "the old bridge's exit has been a moving
object in every sense, since it has evoked such a flood of sentiment from
Len. Let us take him home to Maggie at once."

As they were about to depart they saw Dr. Marvin driving down to the
opposite side, and they mockingly beckoned him to cross the raging
torrent. He shook his head ruefully, and returned up the hill again. A
rapid drive through the Moodna Valley brought them to the second bridge,
which would evidently escape, for the flats above it were covered with
_debris_ and ice, and the main channel was sufficiently clear to permit
the flood to pass harmlessly on. They then took the river road homeward.

The bridge over the Idlewild brook, near its entrance into the Moodna,
was safe, although it had a narrow graze. They also found that the ice in
the river at the mouth of the creek had been broken up in a wide
semicircle, and as they ascended a hill that commanded an extensive view
of Newburgh Bay they saw that the ice remaining had a black, sodden
appearance.

"It will all break up in a few hours," said Burt, "and then hurrah for
duck-shooting!"

Although spring had made such a desperate onset the previous night, it
seemed to have gained but a partial advantage over winter. The weather
continued raw and blustering for several days, and the overcast sky
permitted but chance and watery gleams of sunshine. Slush and mud
completed the ideal of the worst phase of March. The surface of the earth
had apparently returned to that period before the dry land was made to
appear. As the frost came out of the open spaces of the garden, plowed
fields, and even the country roads, they became quagmires in which one
sank indefinitely. Seeing the vast advantage afforded to the men-folk by
rubber boots, Amy provided herself with a pair, and with something of the
exultation of the ancient Hebrews passed dry-shod through the general
moisture.



CHAPTER XX

A ROYAL CAPTIVE


In the midst of this dreary transition period Nature gave proof that she
has unlimited materials of beauty at her command at any time. Early one
afternoon the brothers were driven in from their outdoor labors by a cold,
sleety rain, and Leonard predicted an ice-storm. The next morning the world
appeared as if heavily plated with silver. The sun at last was unclouded,
and as he looked over the top of Storm King his long-missed beams
transformed the landscape into a scene of wonder and beauty beyond anything
described in Johnnie's fairy tales. Trees, shrubs, the roofs and sidings of
the buildings, the wooden and even the stone fences, the spires of dead
grass, and the unsightly skeletons of weeds, were all incased in ice and
touched by the magic wand of beauty. The mountain-tops, however, surpassed
all other objects in the transfigured world, for upon them a heavy mist had
rested and frozen, clothing every branch and spray with a feathery
frost-work of crystals, which, in the sun-lighted distance, was like a
great shock of silver hair. There were drawbacks, however, to this
marvellous scene. There were not a few branches already broken from the
trees, and Mr. Clifford said that if the wind rose the weight of the ice
would cause great destruction. They all hastened through breakfast, Leonard
and Webb that they might relieve the more valuable fruit and evergreen
trees of the weight of ice, and Burt and Amy for a drive up the mountain.

As they slowly ascended, the scene under the increasing sunlight took on
every moment more strange and magical effects. The ice-incased twigs and
boughs acted as prisms, and reflected every hue of the rainbow, and as
they approached the summit the feathery frost-work grew more and more
exquisitely delicate and beautiful, and yet it was proving to be as
evanescent as a dream, for in all sunny place it was already vanishing.
They had scarcely passed beyond the second summit when Burt uttered an
exclamation of regretful disgust. "By all that's unlucky," he cried, "if
there isn't an eagle sitting on yonder ledge! I could kill him with
bird-shot, and I haven't even a popgun with me."

"It's too bad," sympathized Amy. "Let us drive as near as we can, and get
a good view before he flies."

To their great surprise, he did not move as they approached, but only
glared at them with his savage eye.

"Well," said Burt, "after trying for hours to get within rifle range,
this exceeds anything I ever saw. I wonder if he is wounded and cannot
fly." Suddenly he sprang out, and took a strap from the harness. "Hold
the horse, Amy. I think I know what is the trouble with his majesty, and
we may be able to return with a royal captive."

He drew near the eagle slowly and warily, and soon perceived that he was
incased in ice from head to foot, and only retained the power of slightly
moving his head. The creature was completely helpless, and must remain so
until his icy fetters thawed out. His wings were frozen to his sides, his
legs covered with ice, as were also his talons, and the dead branch of a
low pine on which he had perched hours before. Icicles hung around him,
making a most fantastic fringe. Only his defiant eye and open beak could
give expression to his untamed, undaunted spirit. It was evident that the
bird made a fierce internal struggle to escape, but was held as in a
vise.

Burt was so elated that his hand trembled with eagerness; but he resolved
to act prudently, and grasping the bird firmly but gently by the neck, he
succeeded in severing the branch upon which the eagle was perched, for it
was his purpose to exhibit the bird just as he had found him. Having
carefully carried his prize to the buggy, he induced Amy, who viewed the
creature with mingled wonder and alarm, to receive this strange addition
to their number for the homeward journey. He wrapped her so completely
with the carriage robe that the eagle could not injure her with his beak,
and she saw he could no more move in other respects than a block of ice.
As an additional precaution, Burt passed the strap around the bird's neck
and tied him to the dash-board. Even with his heavy gloves he had to act
cautiously, for the eagle in his disabled state could still strike a
powerful blow. Then, with an exultation beyond all words, he drove to Dr.
Marvin's, in order to have one of the "loudest crows" over him that he
had ever enjoyed. The doctor did not mind the "crow" in the least, but
was delighted with the adventure and capture, for the whole affair had
just the flavor to please him. As he was a skilful taxidermist, he
good-naturedly promised to "set the eagle up" on the selfsame branch on
which he had been found, for it was agreed that he would prove too
dangerous a pet to keep in the vicinity of the irrepressible little Ned.
Indeed, from the look of this fellow's eye, it was evident that he would
be dangerous to any one. "I will follow you home, and after you have
exhibited him we will kill him scientifically. He is a splendid specimen,
and not a feather need be ruffled."

Burt drove around to the Rev. Mr. Barkdale's and some others of his
nearest neighbors and friends in a sort of triumphal progress; but Amy
grew uneasy at her close proximity to so formidable a companion, fearing
that he would thaw out. Many were the exclamations of wonder and
curiosity when they reached home. Alf went nearly wild, and little
Johnnie's eyes overflowed with tears when she learned that the regal bird
must die. As for Ned, had he not been restrained he would have given the
eagle a chance to devour him.

"So, Burt, you have your eagle after all," said his mother, looking with
more pleasure and interest on the flushed, eager face of her handsome boy
than upon his captive. "Well, you and Amy have had an adventure."

"I always have good fortune and good times when you are with me," Burt
whispered in an aside to Amy.

"Always is a long time," she replied, turning away; but he was too
excited to note that she did not reciprocate his manner, and he was
speedily engaged in a discussion as to the best method of preserving the
eagle in the most life-like attitude. After a general family council it
was decided that his future perch should be in a corner of the parlor,
and within a few days he occupied it, looking so natural that callers
were often startled by his lifelike appearance.

"Think how his mate must miss him!" Maggie would often say, remorsefully.

As the day grew old the ice on the trees melted and fell away in myriads
of gemlike drops. Although the sun shone brightly, there was a sound
without as of rain. By four in the afternoon the pageant was over, the
sky clouded again, and the typical March outlook was re-established.



CHAPTER XXI

SPRING'S HARBINGERS


Amy was awakened on the following morning by innumerable bird-notes, not
songs, but loud calls. Hastening to the window, she witnessed a scene
very strange to her eyes. All over the grass of the lawn and on the
ground of the orchard beyond was a countless flock of what seemed to her
quarter-grown chickens. A moment later the voice of Alf resounded through
the house, crying, "The robins have come!" Very soon nearly all the
household were on the piazza to greet these latest arrivals from the
South; and a pretty scene of life and animation they made, with their
yellow bills, jaunty black heads, and brownish red breasts.

"_Turdus migratorius_, as the doctor would say," remarked Burt; "and
migrants they are with a vengeance. Last night there was not one to be
seen, and now here are thousands. They are on their way north, and have
merely alighted to feed."

"Isn't it odd how they keep their distance from each other?" said Webb.
"You can scarcely see two near together, but every few feet there is a
robin, as far as the eye can reach. Yes, and there are some high-holders
in the orchard also. They are shyer than the robins, and don't come so
near the house. You can tell them, Amy, by their yellow bodies and brown
wings. I have read that they usually migrate with the robins. I wonder
how far this flock flew last--ah, listen!"

Clear and sweet came an exquisite bird-song from an adjacent maple. Webb
took off his hat in respectful greeting to the minstrel.

"Why," cried Amy, "that little brown bird cannot be a robin."

"No," he answered, "that is my favorite of all the earliest birds--the
song-sparrow. You remember what Dr. Marvin said about him the other
evening? I have been looking for my little friend for a week past, and
here he is. The great tide of migration has turned northward."

"He is my favorite too," said his father. "Every spring for over seventy
years I remember hearing his song, and it is just as sweet and fresh to
me as ever. Indeed, it is enriched by a thousand memories."

For two or three days the robins continued plentiful around the house,
and their loud "military calls," as Burroughs describes them, were heard
at all hours from before the dawn into the dusk of night, but they seemed
to be too excited over their northward journey or their arrival at their
old haunts to indulge in the leisure of song. They reminded one of the
advent of an opera company. There was incessant chattering, a flitting to
and fro, bustle and excitement, each one having much to say, and no one
apparently stopping to listen. The majority undoubtedly continued their
migration, for the great flocks disappeared. It is said that the birds
that survive the vicissitudes of the year return to their former haunts,
and it would seem that they drop out of the general advance as they reach
the locality of the previous summer's nest, to which they are guided by
an unerring instinct.

The evening of the third day after their arrival was comparatively mild,
and the early twilight serene and quiet. The family were just sitting
down to supper when they heard a clear, mellow whistle, so resonant and
penetrating as to arrest their attention, although doors and windows were
closed. Hastening to the door they saw on the top of one of the tallest
elms a robin, with his crimson breast lighted up by the setting sun, and
his little head lifted heavenward in the utterance of what seemed the
perfection of an evening hymn. Indeed, in that bleak, dim March evening,
with the long, chill night fast falling and the stormy weeks yet to come,
it would be hard to find a finer expression of hope and faith.

The robin is a bird of contrasts. Peculiarly domestic in his haunts and
habits, he resembles his human neighbors in more respects than one. He is
much taken up with his material life, and is very fond of indulging his
large appetite. He is far from being aesthetic in his house or
housekeeping, and builds a strong, coarse nest of the handiest materials
and in the handiest place, selecting the latter with a confidence in
boy-nature and cat-nature that is often misplaced. He is noisy, bustling,
and important, and as ready to make a raid on a cherry-tree or a
strawberry-bed as is the average youth to visit a melon-patch by
moonlight. He has a careless, happy-go-lucky air, unless irritated, and
then is as eager for a "square set-to" in robin fashion as the most
approved scion of chivalry. Like man, he also seems to have a spiritual
element in his nature; and, as if inspired and lifted out of his grosser
self by the dewy freshness of the morning and the shadowy beauty of the
evening, he sings like a saint, and his pure, sweet notes would never
lead one to suspect that he was guilty of habitual gormandizing. He
settles down into a good husband and father, and, in brief, reminds one
of the sturdy English squire who is sincerely devout over his prayer-book
on proper occasions, and between times takes all the goods the gods send.

In the morning little Johnnie came to the breakfast-table in a state of
great excitement. It soon appeared that she had a secret that she would
tell no one but Amy--indeed, she would not tell it, but show it; and
after breakfast she told Amy to put on her rubber boots and come with
her, warning curious Alf meanwhile to keep his distance. Leading the way
to a sunny angle in the garden fence, she showed Amy the first flower of
the year. Although it was a warm, sunny spot, the snow had drifted there
to such an extent that the icy base of the drift still partially covered
the ground, and through a weak place in the melting ice a snow-drop had
pushed its green, succulent leaves and hung out its modest little
blossom. The child, brought up from infancy to feel the closest sympathy
with nature, fairly trembled with delight over this _avant-coureur_ of
the innumerable flowers which it was her chief happiness to gather. As if
in sympathy with the exultation of the child, and in appreciation of all
that the pale little blossom foreshadowed, a song-sparrow near trilled
out its sweetest lay, a robin took up the song, and a pair of bluebirds
passed overhead with their undulating flight and soft warble. Truly
spring had come in that nook of the old garden, even though the mountains
were still covered with snow, the river was full of floating ice, and the
wind chill with the breath of winter. Could there have been a fairer or
more fitting committee of reception than little Johnnie, believing in all
things, hoping all things, and brown-haired, hazel-eyed Amy, with the
first awakenings of womanhood in her heart?



CHAPTER XXII

"FIRST TIMES"


At last Nature was truly awakening, and color was coming into her pallid
face. On every side were increasing movement and evidences of life. Sunny
hillsides were free from snow, and the oozing frost loosed the hold of
stones upon the soil or the clay of precipitous banks, leaving them to
the play of gravitation. Will the world become level if there are no more
upheavals? The ice of the upper Hudson was journeying toward the sea that
it would never reach. The sun smote it, the high winds ground the
honey-combed cakes together, and the ebb and flow of the tide permitted
no pause in the work of disintegration. By the middle of March the blue
water predominated, and adventurous steamers had already picked and
pounded their way to and from the city.

Only those deeply enamored of Nature feel much enthusiasm for the first
month of spring; but for them this season possesses a peculiar fascination.
The beauty that has been so cold and repellent in relenting--yielding,
seemingly against her will, to a wooing that cannot be repulsed by even her
harshest moods. To the vigilance of love, sudden, unexpected smiles are
granted; and though, as if these were regretted, the frown quickly returns,
it is often less forbidding. It is a period full of delicious,
soul-thrilling "first times," the coy, exquisite beginnings of that final
abandonment to her suitor in the sky. Although she veils her face for days
with clouds, and again and again greets him in the dawn, wrapped in her old
icy reserve, he smiles back his answer, and she cannot resist. Indeed,
there soon come warm, still, bright days whereon she feels herself going,
but does not even protest. Then, as if suddenly conscious of lost ground,
she makes a passionate effort to regain her wintry aspect. It is so
passionate as to betray her, so stormy as to insure a profounder relenting,
a warmer, more tearful, and penitent smile after her wild mood is over. She
finds that she cannot return to her former sustained coldness, and so at
last surrenders, and the frost passes wholly from her heart.

To Alf's and Johnnie's delight it so happened that one of these gentlest
moods of early spring occurred on Saturday--that weekly millennium of
school-children. With plans and preparations matured, they had risen with
the sun, and, scampering back and forth over the frozen ground and the
remaining patches of ice and snow, had carried every pail and pan that
they could coax from their mother to a rocky hillside whereon clustered a
few sugar-maples. Webb, the evening before, had inserted into the sunny
sides of the trees little wooden troughs, and from these the tinkling
drip of the sap made a music sweeter than that of the robins to the eager
boy and girl.

At the breakfast-table each one was expatiating on the rare promise of
the day. Even Mrs. Clifford, awakened by the half subdued clatter of the
children, had seen the brilliant, rose tinted dawn.

"The day cannot be more beautiful than was the night," Webb remarked. "A
little after midnight I was awakened by a clamor from the poultry, and
suspecting either two or four footed thieves, I was soon covering the
hennery with my gun. As a result, Sir Mephitis, as Burroughs calls him,
lies stark and stiff near the door. After watching awhile, and finding no
other marauders abroad, I became aware that it was one of the most
perfect nights I had ever seen. It was hard to imagine that, a few hours
before, a gale had been blowing under a cloudy sky. The moonlight was so
clear that I could see to read distinctly. So attractive and still was
the night that I started for an hour's walk up the boulevard, and when
near Idlewild brook had the fortune to empty the other barrel of my gun
into a great horned owl. How the echoes resounded in the quiet night! The
changes in April are more rapid, but they are on a grander scale this
month."

"It seems to me," laughed Burt, "that your range of topics is even more
sublime. From Sir Mephitis to romantic moonlight and lofty musings, no
doubt, which ended with a screech-owl."

"The great horned is not a screech-owl, as you ought to know. Well,
Nature is to blame for my alternations. I only took the goods the gods
sent."

"I hope you did not take cold," said Maggie. "The idea of prowling around
at that time of night!"

"Webb was in hopes that Nature might bestow upon him some confidences by
moonlight that he could not coax from her in broad day. I shall seek
better game than you found. Ducks are becoming plenty in the river, and
all the conditions are favorable for a crack at them this morning. So I
shall paddle out with a white coat over my clothes, and pretend to be a
cake of ice. If I bring you a canvas-back, Amy, will you put the wishbone
over the door?"

"Not till I have locked it and hidden the key."

Without any pre-arranged purpose the day promised to be given up largely
to country sport. Burt had taken a lunch, and would not return until
night, while the increasing warmth and brilliancy of the sunshine, and
the children's voices from the maple grove, soon lured Amy to the piazza.

"Come," cried Webb, who emerged from the wood-house with an axe on his
shoulder, "don rubber boots and wraps, and we'll improvise a male-sugar
camp of the New England style a hundred years ago. We should make the
most of a day like this."

They soon joined the children on the hillside, whither Abram had already
carried a capacious iron pot as black as himself. On a little terrace
that was warm and bare of snow, Webb set up cross-sticks in gypsy
fashion, and then with a chain supended the pot, the children dancing
like witches around it. Mr. Clifford and little Ned now appeared, the
latter joining in the eager quest for dry sticks. Not far away was a
large tree that for several years had been slowly dying, its few living
branches having flushed early in September, in their last glow, which had
been premature and hectic. Dry sticks would make little impression on the
sap that now in the warmer light dropped faster from the wounded maples,
and therefore to supply the intense heat that should give them at least a
rich syrup before night, Webb threw off his coat and attacked the defunct
veteran of the grove. Amy watched his vigorous strokes with growing zest;
and he, conscious of her eyes, struck strong and true. Leonard, not far
away, was removing impediments from the courses, thus securing a more
rapid flow of the water and promoting the drainage of the land. He had
sent up his cheery voice from time to time, but now joined the group, to
witness the fall of a tree that had been old when he had played near it
like his own children to-day. The echoes of the ringing axe came back to
them from an adjacent hillside; a squirrel barked and "snickered," as if
he too were a party to the fun; crows overhead cawed a protest at the
destruction of their ancient perch; but with steady and remorseless
stroke the axe was driven through the concentric rings on either side
into the tree's dead heart. At last, as fibre after fibre was cut away,
it began to tremble. The children stood breathless and almost pitying as
they saw the shiver, apparently conscious, which followed each blow.
Something of the same callousness of custom with which the fall of a man
is witnessed must blunt one's nature before he can look unmoved upon the
destruction of a familiar tree.

As the dead maple trembled more and more violently, and at last swayed to
and fro in the breathless air, Amy cried, "Webb! Webb! come away!"

She had hardly spoken when, with a slow and stately motion, the lofty
head bowed; there was a rush through the air, an echoing crash upon the
rocks. She sprang forward with a slight cry, but Webb, leaning his axe on
the prostrate bole, looked smilingly at her, and said, "Why, Amy, there
is no more danger in this work than in cutting a stalk of corn, if one
knows how."

"There appears to be more," she replied. "I never saw a large tree cut
down before, but have certainly read of people being crushed. Does it
often happen?"

"No, indeed."

"By the way, Amy," said Leonard, "the wood-chopper that you visited with
me is doing so well that we shall give him work on the farm this summer.
There was a little wheat in all that chaff of a man, and it's beginning
to grow. But the wife is a case. He says he would like to work where he
can see you occasionally."

"I have been there twice with Webb since, and shall go oftener when the
roads are better," she replied, simply.

"That's right, Amy; follow up a thing," said Mr. Clifford. "It's better
to _help_ one family than to try to help a dozen. That was a good
clean cut, Webb," he added, examining the stump. "I dislike to see a tree
haggled down."

"How strong you are, Webb!" said Amy. "I suppose that if you had lived a
few hundred years ago you would have been hacking at people in the same
way."

"And so might have been a hero, and won your admiration if you had lived
then in some gray castle, with the floor of your bower strewn with
rushes. Now there is no career for me but that of a plain farmer."

"What manly task was given long before knighthood, eh, Webb? Right royal
was the commission, too. Was it not to subdue the earth? It seems to me
that you are striving after the higher mastery, one into which you can
put all your mind as well as muscle. Knocking people on the head wasn't a
very high art."

"What! not in behalf of a distressed damsel?"

"I imagine there will always be distressed damsels in the world. Indeed,
in fiction it would seem that many would be nothing if not distressed.
You can surely find one, Webb, and so be a knight in spite of our prosaic
times."

"I shall not try," he replied, laughing. "I am content to be a farmer,
and am glad you do not think our work is coarse and common. You obtained
some good ideas in England, Amy. The tastes of the average American girl
incline too much toward the manhood of the shop and office. There, Len, I
am rested now;" and he took the axe from his brother, who had been
lopping the branches from the prostrate tree.

Amy again watched his athletic figure with pleasure as he rapidly
prepared billets for the seething caldron of sap.

The day was indeed forming an illuminated page. The blue of the sky
seemed intense after so many gray and steel-hued days, and there was not
a trace of cloud. The flowing sap was not sweeter than the air, to which
the brilliant sunlight imparted an exhilarating warmth far removed from
sultriness. From the hillside came the woody odor of decaying leaves, and
from the adjacent meadow the delicate perfume of grasses whose roots
began to tingle with life the moment the iron grip of the frost relaxed.
Sitting on a rock near the crackling fire, Amy made as fair a gypsy as
one would wish to see. On every side were evidences that spring was
taking possession of the land. In the hollows of the meadow at her feet
were glassy pools, kept from sinking away by a substratum of frost, and
among these migratory robins and high-holders were feeding. The brook
beyond was running full from the melting of the snow in the mountains,
and its hoarse murmur was the bass in the musical babble and tinkle of
smaller rills hastening toward it on either side. Thus in all directions
the scene was lighted up with the glint and sparkle of water. The rays of
the sun idealized even the muddy road, of which a glimpse was caught, for
the pasty clay glistened like the surface of a stream. The returning
birds appeared as jubilant over the day as the children whose voices
blended with their songs--as do all the sounds that are absolutely
natural. The migratory tide of robins, song-sparrows, phoebes, and other
early birds was still moving northward; but multitudes had dropped out of
line, having reached their haunts of the previous year. The sunny
hillsides and its immediate vicinity seemed a favorite lounging-place
both for the birds of passage and for those already at home. The
excitement of travel to some, and the delight at having regained the
scene of last year's love and nesting to others, added to the universal
joy of spring, so exhilarated their hearts that they could scarcely be
still a moment. Although the sun was approaching the zenith, there was
not the comparative silence that pervades a summer noon. Bird calls
resounded everywhere; there was a constant flutter of wings, as if all
were bent upon making or renewing acquaintance--an occupation frequently
interrupted by transports of song.

"Do you suppose they really recognize each other?" Amy asked Webb, as he
threw down an armful of wood near her.

"Dr. Marvin would insist that they do," he replied, laughing. "When with
him, one must be wary in denying to the birds any of the virtues and
powers. He would probably say that they understood each other as well as
we do. They certainly seem to be comparing notes, in one sense of the
word at least. Listen, and you will hear at this moment the song of
bluebird, robin, both song and fox sparrow, phoebe, blue jay, high-holder,
and crow--that is, if you can call the notes of the last two birds a song."

"What a lovely chorus!" she cried, after a few moments' pause.

"Wait till two months have passed, and you will hear a grand symphony
every morning and evening. All the members of our summer opera troupe do
not arrive till June, and several weeks must still pass before the great
star of the season appears."

"Indeed! and who is he, or she?"

"Both he and she--the woodthrush and his mate. They are very aristocratic
kin of these robins. A little before them will come two other
blood-relations, Mr. and Mrs. Brownthrasher, who, notwithstanding their
family connection with the high toned woodthrush and jolly, honest robin,
are stealthy in their manner, and will skulk away before you as if ashamed
of something. When the musical fit is on them, however, they will sing
openly from the loftiest tree-top, and with a sweetness, too, that few
birds can equal."

"Why, Webb, you almost equal Dr. Marvin."

"Oh no; I only become acquainted with my favorites. If a bird is rare,
though commonplace in itself, he will pursue it as if it laid golden
eggs."

A howl from Ned proved that even the brightest days and scenes have their
drawbacks. The little fellow had been prowling around among the pails and
pans, intent on obtaining a drink of the sap, and thus had put his hand on
a honey-bee seeking the first sweet of the year. In an instant Webb reached
his side, and saw what the trouble was. Carrying him to the fire, he drew a
key from his pocket, and pressed its hollow ward over the spot stung. This
caused the poison to work out. Nature's remedy--mud--abounded, and soon a
little moist clay covered the wound, and Amy took him in her arms and tried
to pacify him, while his father, who had strolled away with Mr. Clifford,
speedily returned. The grandfather looked down commiseratingly on the
sobbing little companion of his earlier morning walk, and soon brought, not
merely serenity, but joy unbounded, by a quiet proposition.

"I will go back to the house," he said, "and have mamma put up a nice
lunch, and you and the other children can eat your dinner here by the fire.
So can you, Webb and Amy, and then you can look after the youngsters. It's
warm and dry here. Suppose you have a little picnic, which, in March, will
be a thing to remember. Alf, you can come with me, and while mamma is
preparing the lunch you can run to the market and get some oysters and
clams, and these, with potatoes, you can roast in the ashes of a smaller
fire, which Ned and Johnnie can look after under Webb's superintendence.
Wouldn't you like my little plan, Amy?"

"Yes, indeed," she replied, putting her hands caressingly within his arm.
"It's hard to think you are old when you know so well what we young
people like. I didn't believe that this day could be brighter or jollier,
and yet your plan has made the children half-wild."

Indeed, Alf had already given his approval by tearing off toward the
house for the materials of this unprecedented March feast in the woods,
and the old gentleman, as if made buoyant by the good promise of his
little project in the children's behalf, followed with a step wonderfully
elastic for a man of fourscore.

"Well, Heaven grant I may attain an age like that!" said Webb, looking
wistfully after him. "There is more of spring than autumn in father yet,
and I don't believe there will be any winter in his life. Well, Amy, like
the birds and squirrels around us, we shall dine out-of-doors today. You
must be mistress of the banquet; Ned, Johnnie, and I place ourselves
under your orders; don't we, Johnnie?"

"To be sure, uncle Webb; only I'm so crazy over all this fun that I'm
sure I can never do anything straight."

"Well, then, 'bustle! bustle!'" cried Amy. "I believe with Maggie that
housekeeping and dining well are high arts, and not humdrum necessities.
Webb, I need a broad, flat rock. Please provide one at once, while
Johnnie gathers clean dry leaves for plates. You, Ned, can put lots of
dry sticks between the stones there, and uncle Webb will kindle the right
kind of a fire to leave plenty of hot coals and ashes. Now is the time
for him to make his science useful."

Webb was becoming a mystery unto himself. Was it the exquisitely pure air
and the exhilarating spring sunshine that sent the blood tingling through
his veins? Or was it the presence, tones, and gestures of a girl with
brow and neck like the snow that glistened on the mountain slopes above
them, and large true eyes that sometimes seemed gray and again blue?
Amy's developing beauty was far removed from a fixed type of prettiness,
and he felt this in a vague way. The majority of the girls of his
acquaintance had a manner rather than an individuality, and looked and
acted much the same whenever he saw them. They were conventionalized
after some received country type, and although farmers' daughters, they
seemed unnatural to this lover of nature. Allowing for the difference in
years, Amy was as devoid of self-consciousness as Alf or Johnnie. Not the
slightest trace of mannerism perverted her girlish ways. She moved,
talked, and acted with no more effort or thought of effort than had the
bluebirds that were passing to and fro with their simple notes and
graceful flight, She was nature in its phase of girlhood. To one of his
temperament and training the perfect day itself would have been full of
unalloyed enjoyment, although occupied with his ordinary labors; but for
some reason this unpremeditated holiday, with Amy's companionship, gave
him a pleasure before unknown--a pleasure deep and satisfying, unmarred
by jarring discords or uneasy protests of conscience or reason. Truly, on
this spring day a "first time" came to him, a new element was entering
into his life. He did not think of defining it; he did not even recognize
it, except in the old and general way that Amy's presence had enriched them
all, and in his own case had arrested a tendency to become materialistic
and narrow. On a like day the year before he would have been absorbed in
the occupations of the farm, and merely conscious to a certain extent of
the sky above him and the bird song and beauty around him. To-day they were
like revelations. Even a March world was transfigured. His zest in living
and working was enhanced a thousand-fold, because life and work were
illumined by happiness, as the scene was brightened by sunshine. He felt
that he had only half seen the world before; now he had the joy of one
gradually gaining vision after partial blindness.

Amy saw that he was enjoying the day immensely in his quiet way; she also
saw that she had not a little to do with the result, and the reflection
that she could please and interest the grave and thoughtful man, who was
six years her senior, conveyed a delicious sense of power. And yet she
was pleased much as a child would be. "He knows so much more than I do,"
she thought, "and is usually so wrapped up in some deep subject, or so
busy, that it's awfully jolly to find that one can beguile him into
having such a good time. Burt is so exuberant in everything that I am
afraid of being carried away, as by a swift stream, I know not where. I
feel like checking and restraining him all the time. For me to add my
small stock of mirth to his immense spirits would be like lighting a
candle on a day like this; but when I smile on Webb the effect is
wonderful, and I can never get over my pleased surprise at the fact."

Thus, like the awakening forces in the soil around them, a vital force
was developing in two human hearts equally unconscious.

Alf and his grandfather at last returned, each well laden, and preparations
went on apace. Mr. Clifford made as if he would return and dine at home,
but they all clamored for his company. With a twinkle in his eye, he said:

"Well, I told mother that I might lunch with you, and I was only waiting
to be pressed a little. I've lived a good many years, but never was on a
picnic in March before."

"Grandpa, you shall be squeezed as well as pressed," cried Johnnie,
putting her arms about his neck. "You shall stay and see what a lovely
time you have given us. Oh, if Cinderella were only here!" and she gave
one little sigh, the first of the day.

"Possibly Cinderella may appear in time for lunch;" and with a significant
look he directed Amy to the basket he had brought, from the bottom of which
was drawn a doll with absurdly diminutive feet, and for once in her life
Johnnie's heart craved nothing more.

"Maggie knew that this little mother could not be content long without
her doll, and so she put it in. You children have a thoughtful mother,
and you must be thoughtful of her," added the old man, who felt that the
incident admitted of a little homily.

What appetites they all had! If some of the potatoes were slightly burned
and others a little raw, the occasion added a flavor better than Attic
salt. A flock of chickadees approached near enough to gather the crumbs
that were thrown to them.

"It's strange," said Webb, "how tame the birds are when they return in
the spring. In the fall the robins are among the wildest of the birds,
and now they are all around us. I believe that if I place some crumbs on
yonder rock, they'll come and dine with us, in a sense;" and the event
proved that he was right.

"Hey, Johnnie," said her grandfather, "you never took dinner with the
birds before, did you? This is almost as wonderful as if Cinderella sat
up and asked for an oyster."

But Johnnie was only pleased with the fact, not surprised. Wonderland was
her land, and she said, "I don't see why the birds can't understand that
I'd like to have dinner with them every day."

"By the way, Webb," continued his father, "I brought out the field-glass
with me, for I thought that with your good eyes you might see Burt;" and
he drew it from his pocket.

The idea of seeing Burt shooting ducks nearly broke up the feast, and
Webb swept the distant river, full of floating ice that in the sunlight
looked like snow. "I can see several out in boats," he said, "and Burt,
no doubt, is among them."

Then Amy, Alf, and Johnnie must have a look, but Ned devoted himself
strictly to business, and Amy remarked that he was becoming like a little
sausage.

"Can the glass make us hear the noise of the gun better?" Johnnie asked,
at which they all laughed, Ned louder than any, because of the laughter
of the others. It required but a little thing to make these banqueters
hilarious.

But there was one who heard them and did not laugh. From the brow of the
hill a dark, sad face looked down upon them. Lured by the beauty of the
day, Mr. Alvord had wandered aimlessly into the woods, and, attracted by
merry voices, had drawn sufficiently near to witness a scene that
awakened within him indescribable pain and longing. He did not think of
joining them. It was not a fear that he would be unwelcomed that kept him
away; he knew the family too well to imagine that. A stronger restraint
was upon him. Something in the past darkened even that bright day, and
built in the crystal air a barrier that he could not pass. They would
give him a place at their rustic board, but he could not take it. He knew
that he would be a discord in their harmony, and their innocent merriment
smote his morbid nature with almost intolerable pain. With a gesture
indicating immeasurable regret, he turned and hastened away to his lonely
home. As he mounted the little piazza his steps were arrested. The
exposed end of a post that supported the inner side of its roof formed a
little sheltered nook in which a pair of bluebirds had begun to build
their nest. They looked at him with curious and distrustful eyes as they
flitted to and fro in a neighboring tree, and he sat down and looked at
them. The birds were evidently in doubt and in perturbed consultation.
They would fly to the post, then away and all around the house, but
scarcely a moment passed that Mr. Alvord did not see that he was observed
and discussed. With singular interest and deep suspense he awaited their
decision. At last it came, and was favorable. The female bird came flying
to the post with a beakful of fine dry grass, and her mate, on a spray
near, broke out into his soft, rapturous song. The master of the house
gave a great sigh of relief. A glimmer of a smile passed over his wan
face as he muttered, "I expected to be alone this summer, but I am to
have a family with me, after all."

Soon after the lunch had been discussed leisurely and hilariously the
maple-sugar camp was left in the care of Alf and Johnnie, with Abram to
assist them. Amy longed for a stroll, but even with the protection of
rubber boots she found that the departing frost had left the sodded
meadow too wet and spongy for safety. Under Webb's direction she picked
her way to the margin of the swollen stream, and gathered some pussy
willows that were bursting their sheaths.



CHAPTER XXIII

REGRETS AND DUCK-SHOOTING


Saturday afternoon, as is usual in the country, brought an increased number
of duties to the inhabitants of the farmhouse, but at the supper hour they
all, except Burt, looked back upon the day with unwonted satisfaction. He
had returned weary, hungry, and discontented, notwithstanding the fact that
several brace of ducks hung on the piazza as trophies of his skill. He was
in that uncomfortable frame of mind which results from charging one's self
with a blunder. In the morning he had entered on the sport with his usual
zest, but it had soon declined, and he wished he had remained at home. He
remembered the children's intention of spending the day among the maples,
and as the sun grew warm, and the air balmy, the thought occurred with
increasing frequency that he might have induced Amy to join them, and so
have enjoyed long hours of companionship under circumstances most favorable
to his suit. He now admitted that were the river alive with ducks, the
imagined opportunities of the maple grove were tenfold more attractive. At
one time he half decided to return, but pride prevented until he should
have secured a fair amount of game. He would not go home to be laughed at.
Moreover, Amy had not been so approachable of late as he could wish, and he
proposed to punish her a little, hoping that she would miss his presence
and attentions. The many reminiscences at the supper-table were not
consoling. It was evident that he had not been missed in the way that he
desired to be, and that the day had been one of rich enjoyment to her.
Neither was Webb's quiet satisfaction agreeable, and Burt mildly
anathematized himself at the thought that he might have had his share in
giving Amy so much pleasure. He took counsel of experience, however, and
having learned that even duck-shooting under the most favorable auspices
palled when contrasted with Amy's smiles and society, he resolved to be
present in the future when she, like Nature, was in a propitious mood.
Impetuous as he was, he had not yet reached the point of love's blindness
which would lead him to press his suit in season and out of season. He soon
found a chance to inform Amy of his regret, but she laughed merrily back at
him as she went up to her room, saying that the air of a martyr sat upon
him with very poor grace in view of his success and persistence in the
sport, and that he had better put a white mark against the day, as she had
done.

Early in the evening Dr. Marvin appeared, with Mr. Marks, one of the most
noted duck-shooters and fishermen on the river, and they brought in three
superb specimens of a rare bird in this region, the American swan, that
queen of water-fowls and embodiment of grace.

"Shot 'em an hour or two ago, near Polopel's Island," said Mr. Marks,
"and we don't often have the luck to get within range of such game. Dr.
Marvin was down visiting one of my children, and he said how he would
like to prepare the skin of one, and he thought some of you folks here
might like to have another mounted, and he'd do it if you wished."

Exclamations of pleasure followed this proposition. Alf examined them
with deep interest, while Burt whispered to Amy that he would rather have
brought her home a swan like one of those than all the ducks that ever
quacked.

In accordance with their hospitable ways, the Cliffords soon had the
doctor and Mr. Marks seated by their fireside, and the veteran sportsman
was readily induced to enlarge upon some of his experiences.

He had killed two of the swans, he told them, as they were swimming, and
the other as it rose. He did not propose to let any such uncommon
visitors get away. He had never seen more than ten since he had lived in
this region. With the proverbial experience of meeting game when without
a gun, he had seen five fly over, one Sunday, while taking a ramble on
Plum Point.

"Have you ever obtained any snow-geese in our waters?" Dr. Marvin asked.

"No. That's the scarcest water-fowl we have. Once in a wild snowstorm I
saw a flock of about two hundred far out upon the river, and would have
had a shot into them, but some fellows from the other side started out
and began firing at long range, and that has been my only chance. I
occasionally get some brant-geese, and they are rare enough. I once saw a
flock of eight, and got them all-took five out of the flock in the first
two shots--but I've never killed more than twenty-five in all."

"I don't think I have ever seen one," remarked Mrs. Clifford, who, in her
feebleness and in her home-nook, loved to hear about these bold,
adventurous travellers. They brought to her vivid fancy remote wild
scenes, desolate waters, and storm-beaten rocks. The tremendous endurance
and power of wing in these shy children of nature never ceased to be
marvels to her. "Burt has occasionally shot wild-geese--we have one
mounted there--but I do not know what a brant is, nor much about its
habits," she added.

"Its markings are like the ordinary Canada wild-goose," Dr. Marvin
explained, "and it is about midway in size between a goose and a duck."

"I've shot a good many of the common wild-geese in my time," Mr. Marks
resumed; "killed nineteen four years ago. I once knocked down ten out of
a flock of thirteen by giving them both barrels. I have a flock of eight
now in a pond not far away--broke their wings, you know, and so they
can't fly. They soon become tame, and might be domesticated easily, only
you must always keep one wing cut, or they will leave in the spring or
fall."

"How is that?"

"Well, they never lose their instinct to migrate, and if they heard other
wild-geese flying over, they'd rise quick enough if they could and go
with them."

"Do you think there would be any profit in domesticating them?" asked
practical Leonard.

"There might be. I know a man up the river who used to cross them with
our common geese, and so produced a hybrid, a sort of a mule-goose, that
grew very large. I've known 'em to weigh eighteen pounds or more, and
they were fine eating, I can tell you. I don't suppose there is much in
it, though, or some cute Yankee would have made a business of it before
this."

"How many ducks do you suppose you have shot all together?" Mr. Clifford
asked.

"Oh, I don't know--a great many. Killed five hundred last fall."

"What's the greatest number you ever got out of a flock, Marks?" put in
Burt.

"Well, there is the old squaw, or long-tailed duck. They go in big
flocks, you now--have seen four or five hundred together. In the spring,
just after they have come from feeding on mussels in the southern
oyster-beds, they are fishy, but in the fall they are much better, and
the young ducks are scarcely fishy at all. I've taken twenty-three out of
a flock by firing at them in the water and again when they rose; and in
the same way I once knocked over eighteen black or dusky ducks; and they
are always fine, you know."

"Are the fancy kinds, like the mallards and canvas-backs that are in such
demand by the epicures, still plentiful in their season?" Webb asked.

"No. I get a few now and then, but don't calculate on them any longer. It
was my luck with canvas-backs that got me into my duck-shooting ways. I
was cuffed and patted on the back the same day on their account."

In response to their laughing expressions of curiosity he resumed: "I was
but a little chap at the time; still I believed I could shoot ducks, but
my father wouldn't trust me with either a gun or boat, and my only chance
was to circumvent the old man. So one night I hid the gun outside the
house, climbed out of a window as soon as it was light, and paddled round
a point where I would not be seen, and I tell you I had a grand time. I
did not come in till the middle of the afternoon, but I reached a point
when I must have my dinner, no matter what came before it. The old man
was waiting for me, and he cuffed me well. I didn't say a word, but went
to my mother, and she, mother-like, comforted me with a big dinner which
she had kept for me. I was content to throw the cuffing in, and still
feel that I had the best of the bargain. An elder brother began to chaff
me and ask, 'Where are your ducks?' 'Better go and look under the seat in
the stern-sheets before you make any more faces,' I answered, huffily. I
suppose he thought at first I wanted to get rid of him, but he had just
enough curiosity to go and see, and he pulled out sixteen canvas-backs.
The old man was reconciled at once, for I had made better wages than he
that day; and from that time on I've had all the duck-shooting I've
wanted."

"That's a form of argument to which the world always yields," said
Leonard, laughing.

"How many kinds of wild-ducks do we have here in the bay, that you can
shoot so many?" Maggie asked.

"I've never counted 'em up. The doctor can tell you, perhaps."

"I've prepared the skins of twenty-four different kinds that were shot in
this vicinity," replied Dr. Marvin.

"Don't you and Mrs. Marvin dissect the birds also?" queried Leonard.

"Mr. Marks," said Mr. Clifford, "I think you once had a rather severe
experience while out upon the river. Won't you tell us about it?"

"Yes. My favorite sport came nigh being the death of me, and it always
makes me shiver to think of it. I started out one spring morning at five
o'clock, and did not get home till two o'clock the next morning, and not
a mouthful did I have to eat. I had fair success during the day, but was
bothered by the quantities of ice running, and a high wind. About four
o'clock in the afternoon I concluded to return home, for I was tired and
hungry. I was then out in the river off Plum Point. I saw an opening
leading south, and paddled into it, but had not gone far before the wind
drove the ice in upon me, and blocked the passage. There I was, helpless,
and it began to blow a gale. The wind held the ice immovable on the west
shore, even though the tide was running out. For a time I thought the
boat would be crushed by the grinding cakes in spite of all I could do.
If it had, I'd 'a been drowned at once, but I worked like a Trojan,
shouting, meanwhile, loud enough to raise the dead. No one seemed to hear
or notice me. At last I made my way to a cake that was heavy enough to
bear my weight, and on this I pulled up the boat, and lay down exhausted.
It was now almost night, and I was too tired to shout any more. There on
that mass of ice I stayed till two o'clock the next morning. I thought
I'd freeze to death, if I did not drown. I shouted from time to time,
till I found it was of no use, and then gave my thoughts to keeping awake
and warm enough to live. I knew that my chance would be with the next
turn of the tide, when the ice would move with it, and also the wind, up
the river. So it turned out. I was at last able to break my way through
the loosened ice to Plain Point, and then had a two-mile walk home; and I
can tell you that it never seemed so like home before."

"Oh, Burt, please don't go out again when the ice is running," was his
mother's comment on the story.

"Thoreau speaks of seeing black ducks asleep on a pond whereon thin ice
had formed, inclosing them, daring the March night," said Webb. "Have you
ever caught them napping in this way?"

"No," replied Mr. Marks; "though it might easily happen on a still pond.
The tides and wind usually break up the very thin ice on the river, and
if there is any open water near, the ducks will stay in it."

"Dr. Marvin, have you caught any glimpses of spring to-day that we have
not?" Amy asked.

The doctor laughed--having heard of Webb's exploit in the night near the
hennery--and said: "I might mention that I have seen 'Sir Mephitis'
cabbage, as I suppose I should all it, growing vigorously. It is about
the first green thing we have. Around certain springs, however, the grass
keeps green all winter, and I passed one to-day surrounded by an emerald
hue that was distinct in the distance. It has been very cold and backward
thus far."

"Possess your souls in patience," said Mr. Clifford. "Springtime and
harvest are sure. After over half a century's observation I have noted
that, no matter what the weather may have been, Nature always catches up
with the season about the middle or last of June."



CHAPTER XXIV

APRIL


The remainder of March passed quickly away, with more alternations of
mood than there were days; but in spite of snow, sleet, wind, and rain,
the most forbidding frowns and tempestuous tears, all knew that Nature
had yielded, and more often she half-smilingly acknowledged the truth
herself.

All sights and sounds about the farmhouse betokened increasing activity.
During the morning hours the cackling in the barn and out-buildings
developed into a perfect clamor, for the more commonplace the event of a
new-born egg became, the greater attention the hens inclined to call to
it. Possibly they also felt the spring-time impulse of all the feathered
tribes to use their voice to the extent of its compass. The clatter was
music to Alf and Johnnie, however, for gathering the eggs was one of
their chief sources of revenue, and the hunting of nests--stolen so
cunningly and cackled over so sillily--with their accumulated treasures
was like prospecting for mines. The great basketful they brought in daily
after their return from school proved that if the egg manufactory ran
noisily, it did not run in vain. Occasionally their father gave them a
peep into the dusky brooding-room. Under his thrifty management the
majority of the nests were simply loose boxes, each inscribed with a
number. When a biddy wished to sit, she was removed at night upon the
nest, and the box was placed on a low shelf in the brooding-room. If she
remained quiet and contented in the new location, eggs were placed under
her, a note of the number of the box was taken, with the date, and the
character of the eggs, if they represented any special breed. By these
simple precautions little was left to what Squire Bartley termed "luck."
Some of the hens had been on the nest nearly three weeks, and eagerly did
the children listen for the first faint peep that should announce the
senior chick of the year.

Webb and Burt had already opened the campaign in the garden. On the black
soil in the hot-bed, which had been made in a sheltered nook, were even
now lines of cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. These nursling
vegetables were cared for as Maggie had watched her babies. On mild sunny
days the sash was shoved down and air given. High winds and frosty nights
prompted to careful covering and tucking away. The Cliffords were not of
those who believe that pork, cabbage, and potatoes are a farmer's
birthright, when by a small outlay of time and skill every delicacy can
be enjoyed, even in advance of the season. On a warm slope from which the
frost ever took its earliest departure, peas, potatoes, and other hardy
products of the garden were planted, and as the ground grew firm enough,
the fertilizers of the barn-yard were carted to the designated places,
whereon, by Nature's alchemy, they would be transmuted into forms of use
and beauty.

It so happened that the 1st of April was an ideal spring day. During the
morning the brow of Storm King, still clothed with snow, was shrouded in
mist, through which the light broke uncertainly in gleams of watery
sunshine. A succession of showers took place, but so slight and mild that
they were scarcely heeded by the busy workers; there was almost a profusion
of half-formed rainbows; and atmosphere and cloud so blended that it was
hard to say where one began and the other ceased. On every twig, dead weed,
and spire of withered grass hung innumerable drops that now were water and
again diamonds when touched by the inconstant sun. Sweet-fern grass
abounded in the lawn, and from it exuded an indescribably delicious odor.
The birds were so ecstatic in their songs, so constant in their calls, that
one might think that they, like the children, were making the most of
All-fools' Day, and playing endless pranks on each other. The robins acted
as if nothing were left to be desired. They were all this time in all
stages of relationship. Some had already paired, and were at work upon
their domiciles, but more were in the blissful and excited state of
courtship, and their conversational notes, wooings, and pleadings, as they
warbled the _pros_ and _cons_, were quite different from their
matin and vesper songs. Not unfrequently there were two aspirants for the
same claw or bill, and the rivals usually fought it out like their human
neighbors in the olden time, the red-breasted object of their affections
standing demurely aloof on the sward, quietly watching the contest with a
sidelong look, undoubtedly conscious, however, of a little feminine
exultation that she should be sought thus fiercely by more than one. After
all, the chief joy of the robin world that day resulted from the fact that
the mild, humid air lured the earth-worms from their burrowing, and Amy
laughed more than once as, from her window, she saw a little gourmand
pulling at a worm, which clung so desperately to its hole that the bird at
last almost fell over backward with its prize. Courtship, nest-building,
family cares--nothing disturbs a robin's appetite, and it was, indeed, a
sorry fools'-day for myriads of angle-worms that ventured out.

Managing a country place is like sailing a ship: one's labors are, or
should be, much modified by the weather. This still day, when the leaves
were heavy with moisture, afforded Webb the chance he had desired to rake
the lawn and other grass-plots about the house, and store the material
for future use. He was not one to attempt this task when the wind would
half undo his labor.

In the afternoon the showery phase passed, and the sun shone with a misty
brightness. Although so early in a backward spring, the day was full of
the suggestion of wild flowers, and Amy and the children started on their
first search into Nature's calendar of the seasons. All knew where to
look for the earliest blossoms, and in the twilight the explorers
returned with handfuls of hepatica and arbutus buds, which, from
experience, they knew would bloom in a vase of water. Who has ever
forgotten his childish exultation over the first wild flowers of the
year! Pale, delicate little blossoms though they be, and most of them
odorless, their memory grows sweet with our age.

Burt, who had been away to purchase a horse--he gave considerable of his
time to the buying and selling of these animals--drove up as Amy
approached the house, and pleaded for a spray of arbutus.

"But the buds are not open yet," she said.

"No matter; I should value the spray just as much, since you gathered
it."

"Why, Burt," she cried, laughing, "on that principle I might as well give
you a chip." But she gave him the buds and escaped.

"Amy," Webb asked at the supper-table, "didn't you hear the peepers this
afternoon while out walking?"

"Yes; and I asked Alf what they were. He said they were peepers, and that
they always made a noise in the spring."

"Why, Alf," Webb resumed, in mock gravity, "you should have told Amy that
the sounds came from the _Hylodes pickeringii_."

"If that is all that you can tell me," said Amy, laughing, "I prefer
Alf's explanation. I have known people to cover up their ignorance by
big words before. Indeed, I think it is a way you scientists have."

"I must admit it; and yet that close observer, John Burroughs, gives a
charming account of these little frogs that we call 'hylas' for short.
Shy as they are, and quick to disappear when approached, he has seen
them, as they climb out of the mud upon a sedge or stick in the marshes,
inflate their throats until they 'suggest a little drummer-boy with his
drum hung high.' In this bubble-like swelling at its throat the noise is
made; and to me it is a welcome note of spring, although I have heard
people speak of it as one of the most lonesome and melancholy of sounds.
It is a common saying among old farmers that the peepers must be shut up
three times by frost before we can expect steady spring weather. I
believe that naturalists think these little mites of frogs leave the mud
and marshes later on, and become tree-toads. Let me give you a hint, Alf.
Try to find out what you can at once about the things you see or hear:
that's the way to get an education."

"May I not take the hint also?" Amy asked.

"Please don't think me a born pedagogue," he answered, smiling; "but you
have no idea how fast we obtain knowledge of certain kinds if we follow
up the object-lessons presented every day."



CHAPTER XXV

EASTER


Easter-Sunday came early in the month, and there had been great
preparations for it, for with the Cliffords it was one of the chief
festivals of the year. To the children was given a week's vacation, and
they scoured the woods for all the arbutus that gave any promise of
opening in time. Clumps of bloodroot, hepaticas, dicentras, dog-tooth
violets, and lilies-of-the-valley had been taken up at the first
relaxation of frost, and forced in the flower-room. Hyacinth and tulip
bulbs, kept back the earlier part of the winter, were timed to bloom
artificially at this season so sacred to flowers, and, under Mrs.
Clifford's fostering care, all the exotics of the little conservatory had
been stimulated to do their best to grace the day. On Saturday afternoon
Mr. Barkdale's pulpit was embowered with plants and vines growing in
pots, tubs, and rustic boxes, and the good man beamed upon the work,
gaining meanwhile an inspiration that would put a soul into his words on
the morrow.

No such brilliant morning dawned on the worship of the Saxon goddess
Eostre, in cloudy, forest-clad England in the centuries long past, as
broke over the eastern mountains on that sacred day. At half-past five
the sun appeared above the shaggy summit of the Beacon, and the steel
hues of the placid Hudson were changed into sparkling silver. A white
mist rested on the water between Storm King, Break Neck, and Mount
Taurus. In the distance it appeared as if snow had drifted in and half
filled the gorge of the Highlands. The orange and rose-tinted sky
gradually deepened into an intense blue, and although the land was as
bare and the forests were as gaunt as in December, a soft glamour over
all proclaimed spring.

Spring was also in Amy's eyes, in the oval delicacy of her girlish face
with its exquisite flush, in her quick, deft hands and elastic step as she
arranged baskets and vases of flowers. Webb watched her with his deep eyes,
and his Easter worship began early in the day. True homage it was, because
so involuntary, so unquestioning and devoid of analysis, so utterly free
from the self-conscious spirit that expects a large and definite return for
adoration. His sense of beauty, the poetic capabilities of his nature, were
kindled. Like the flowers that seemed to know their place in a harmony of
color when she touched them, Amy herself was emblematic of Easter, of its
brightness and hopefulness, of the new, richer spiritual life that was
coming to him. He loved his homely work and calling as never before,
because he saw how on every side it touched and blended with the beautiful
and sacred. Its highest outcome was like the blossoms before him which had
developed from a rank soil, dark roots, and prosaic woody stems. The grain
he raised fed and matured the delicate human perfection shown in every
graceful and unconscious pose of the young girl. She was Nature's priestess
interpreting to him a higher, gentler world which before he had seen but
dimly--interpreting it all the more clearly because she made no effort to
reveal it. She led the way, he followed, and the earth ceased to be an
aggregate of forms and material forces. With his larger capabilities he
might yet become her master, but now, with an utter absence of vanity, he
recognized how much she was doing for him, how she was widening his horizon
and uplifting his thoughts and motives, and he reverenced her as such men
ever do a woman that leads them to a higher plane of life.

No such deep thoughts and vague homage perplexed Burt as he assisted Amy
with attentions that were assiduous and almost garrulous. The brightness
of the morning was in his handsome face, and the gladness of his buoyant
temperament in his heart. Amy was just to his taste--pretty, piquant,
rose-hued, and a trifle thorny too, at times, he thought. He believed
that he loved her with a boundless devotion--at least it seemed so that
morning. It was delightful to be near her, to touch her fingers
occasionally as he handed her flowers, and to win smiles, arch looks, and
even words that contained a minute prick like spines on the rose stems. He
felt sure that his suit would prosper in time, and she was all the more
fascinating because showing no sentimental tendencies to respond with a
promptness that in other objects of his attention in the past had even
proved embarrassing. She was a little conscious of Webb's silent
observation, and, looking up suddenly, caught an expression that deepened
her color slightly.

"That for your thoughts," she said, tossing him a flower with sisterly
freedom.

"Webb is pondering deeply," explained the observant Burt, "on the
reflection of light as shown not only by the color in these flowers, but
also in your cheeks under his fixed stare."

There was an access of rose-hued reflection at these words, but Webb rose
quietly and said: "If you will let me keep the flower I will tell you my
thoughts another time. They were quite suitable for Easter morning. That
basket is now ready, and I will take it to the church."

Burt was soon despatched with another, while she and Johnnie, who had
been flitting about, eager and interested, followed with light and
delicate vases. To their surprise, Mr. Alvord intercepted them near the
church vestibule. He had never been seen at any place of worship, and the
reserve and dignity of his manner had prevented the most zealous from
interfering with his habits. From the porch of his cottage he had seen
Amy and the little girl approaching with their floral offerings. Nature's
smile that morning had softened his bitter mood, and, obeying an impulse
to look nearer upon two beings that belonged to another world than his,
he joined them, and asked:

"Won't you let me see your flowers before you take them into the church?"

"Certainly," said Amy, cordially; "but there are lovelier ones on the
pulpit; won't you come in and see them?"

He shook his head.

"What!" cried Johnnie, "not going to church to-day?" She had lost much of
her fear of him, for in his rambles he frequently met her and Alf, and
usually spoke to them. Moreover, she had repeatedly seen him at their
fireside, and he ever had a smile for her. The morbid are often fearless
with children, believing that, like the lower orders of life, they have
little power to observe that anything is amiss, and therefore are neither
apt to be repelled nor curious and suspicious. This in a sense is true,
and yet their instincts are keen. But Mr. Alvord was not selfish or
coarse; above all he was not harsh. To Johnnie he only seemed strange,
quiet, and unhappy, and she had often heard her mother say, "Poor Mr.
Alvord!" Therefore, when he said, "I don't go to church; if I had a
little girl like you to sit by me, I might feel differently," her heart
was touched, and she replied, impulsively: "I'll sit by you, Mr. Alvord.
I'll sit with you all by ourselves, if you will only go to church to-day.
Why, it's Easter."

"Mr. Alvord," said Amy, gently, "that's an unusual offer for shy Johnnie
to make. You don't know what a compliment you have received, and I think
you will make the child very happy if you comply."

"Could I make you happier by sitting with you in church to-day?" he
asked, in a low voice, offering the child his hand.

"Yes," she replied, simply.

"Come, then. You lead the way, for you know best where to go." She gave
her vase to Amy, and led him into a side seat near her father's pew--one
that she had noted as unoccupied of late. "It's early yet Do you mind
sitting here until service begins?" he asked.

"Oh, no. I like to sit here and look at the flowers;" and the first
comers glanced wonderingly at the little girl and her companion, who was
a stranger to them and to the sanctuary. Amy explained matters to Leonard
and Maggie at the door when they arrived, and Easter-Sunday had new and
sweeter meanings to them.

The spring had surely found its way into Mr. Barkdale's sermon also, and
its leaves, as he turned them, were not autumn leaves, which, even though
brilliant, suggest death and sad changes. One of his thoughts was much
commented upon by the Cliffords, when, in good old country style, the
sermon was spoken of at dinner. "The God we worship," he said, "is the
God of life, of nature. In his own time and way he puts forth his power.
We can employ this power and make it ours. Many of you will do this
practically during the coming weeks. You sow seed, plant trees, and seek
to shape others into symmetrical form by pruning-knife and saw. What is
your expectation? Why, that the great power that is revivifying nature
will take up the work here you leave off, and carry it forward. All the
skill and science in the world could not create a field of waving grain,
nor all the art of one of these flowers. How immensely the power of God
supplements the labor of man in those things which minister chiefly to
his lower nature! Can you believe that he will put forth so much energy
that the grain may mature and the flower bloom, and yet not exert far
greater power than man himself may develop according to the capabilities
of his being? The forces now exist in the earth and in the air to make
the year fruitful, but you must intelligently avail yourselves of them.
You must sow, plant, and cultivate. The power ever exists that can redeem
us from evil, heal the wounds that sin has made, and develop the manhood
and womanhood that Heaven receives and rewards. With the same resolute
intelligence you must lay hold upon this ever-present spiritual force if
you would be lifted up."

After the service there were those who would ostentatiously recognize and
encourage Mr. Alvord; but the Cliffords, with better breeding, quietly
and cordially greeted him, and that was all. At the door he placed
Johnnie's hand in her mother's, and gently said, "Good-by;" but the
pleased smile of the child and Mrs. Leonard followed him. As he entered
his porch, other maternal eyes rested upon him, and the brooding bluebird
on her nest seemed to say, with Johnnie, "I am not afraid of you."
Possibly to the lonely man this may prove Easter-Sunday in very truth,
and hope, that he had thought buried forever, come from its grave.

In the afternoon all the young people started for the hills, gleaning the
earliest flowers, and feasting their eyes on the sunlit landscapes veiled
with soft haze from the abundant moisture with which the air was charged.
As the sun sank low in the many-hued west, and the eastern mountains
clothed themselves in royal purple, Webb chanced to be alone, near Amy,
and she said:

"You have had that flower all day, and I have not had your thoughts."

"Oh, yes, you have--a great many of them."

"You know that isn't what I mean. You promised to tell me what you were
thinking about so deeply this morning."

He looked at her smilingly a moment, and then his face grew gentle and
grave as he replied: "I can scarcely explain, Amy. I am learning that
thoughts which are not clear-cut and definite may make upon us the
strongest impressions. They cause us to feel that there is much that we
only half know and half understand as yet. You and your flowers seemed to
interpret to me the meaning of this day as I never understood it before.
Surely its deepest significance is life, happy, hopeful life, with escape
from its grosser elements, and as you stood there you embodied that
idea."

"Oh, Webb," she cried, in comic perplexity, "you are getting too deep for
me. I was only arranging flowers, and not thinking about embodying
anything. But go on."

"If you had been, you would have spoiled everything," he resumed,
laughing. "I can't explain; I can only suggest the rest in a sentence or
two. Look at the shadow creeping up yonder mountain--very dark blue on
the lower side of the moving line and deep purple above. Listen to these
birds around us. Well, every day I see and hear and appreciate these
things better, and I thought that you were to blame."

"Am I very much to blame?" she inquired, archly.

"Yes, very much," was his laughing answer. "It seems to me that a few
months since I was like the old man with the muck-rake in 'Pilgrim's
Progress,' seeking to gather only money, facts, and knowledge--things of
use. I now am finding so much that is useful which I scarcely looked at
before that I am revising my philosophy, and like it much better. The
simple truth is, I needed just such a sister as you are to keep me from
plodding."

Burt now appeared with a handful of rue-anemones, obtained by a rapid
climb to a very sunny nook. They were the first of the season, and he
justly believed that Amy would be delighted with them. But the words of
Webb were more treasured, for they filled her with a pleased wonder. She
had seen the changes herself to which he referred; but how could a simple
girl wield such an influence over the grave, studious man? That was the
puzzle of puzzles. It was an enigma that she would be long in solving,
and yet the explanation was her own simplicity, her truthfulness to all
the conditions of unaffected girlhood.

On the way to the house Webb delighted Johnnie and Alf by gathering
sprays of the cherry, peach, pear, and plum, saying, "Put them in water
by a sunny window, and see which will bloom first, these sprays or the
trees out-of-doors." The supper-table was graced by many woodland
trophies--the "tawny pendants" of the alder that Thoreau said dusted his
coat with sulphur-like pollen as he pressed through them to "look for
mud-turtles," pussy willows now well developed, the hardy ferns, arbutus,
and other harbingers of spring, while the flowers that had been brought
back from the church filled the room with fragrance. To gentle Mrs.
Clifford, dwelling as she ever must among the shadows of pain and
disease, this was the happiest day of the year, for it pointed forward to
immortal youth and strength, and she loved to see it decked and garlanded
like a bride. And so Easter passed, and became a happy memory.



CHAPTER XXVI

VERY MOODY


The next morning Amy, on looking from her window, could scarcely believe
she was awake. She had retired with her mind full of spring and
spring-time beauty, but the world without had now the aspect of January.
The air was one swirl of snow, and trees, buildings--everything was
white. In dismay she hastened to join the family, but was speedily
reassured.

"There is nothing monotonous in American weather, and you must get used
to our sharp alternations," said Mr. Clifford. "This snow will do good
rather than harm, and the lawn will actually look green after it has
melted, as it will speedily. The thing we dread is a severe frost at a
far later date than this. The buds are still too dormant to be injured,
but I have known the apples to be frozen on the trees when as large as
walnuts."

"Such snows are called the poor man's manure," Webb remarked, "and
fertilizing gases, to a certain amount, do become entangled in the large
wet flakes, and so are carried into the soil. But the poor man will
assuredly remain poor if he has no other means of enriching his land. What
a contrast to yesterday! The house on the northeast side looks as if built
of snow, so evenly is it plastered over. I pity the birds. They have
scarcely sung this morning, and they look as if thoroughly disgusted."

Amy and Johnnie shared in the birds' disapproval, but Alf had a boy's
affinity for snow, and resolved to construct an immense fort as soon as
the storm permitted. Before the day had far declined the heavy flakes
ceased, and the gusty wind died away. Johnnie forgot the budding flowers
in their winding-sheet, and joyously aided in the construction of the
fort. Down the sloping lawn they rolled the snowballs, that so increased
with every revolution that they soon rose above the children's heads, and
Webb and Burt's good-natured help was required to pile them into
ramparts. At the entrance of the stronghold an immense snow sentinel was
fashioned, with a cord-wood stick for a musket. The children fairly
sighed for another month of winter.

All night long Nature, in a heavy fall of rain, appeared to weep that she
had been so capricious, and the morning found her in as uncomfortable a
mood as could be imagined. The slush was ankle-deep, with indefinite
degrees of mud beneath, the air chilly and raw, and the sky filled with
great ragged masses of cloud, so opaque and low that they appeared as if
disrupted by some dynamic force, and threatened to fall upon the shadowed
land. But between them the sun darted many a smile at his tear-stained
mistress. At last they took themselves off like ill-affected meddlers in
a love match, and the day grew bright and warm. By evening, spring,
literally and figuratively, had more than regained lost ground, for, as
Mr. Clifford had predicted, the lawn had a distinct emerald hue.
Thenceforth the season moved forward as if there were to be no more regrets
and nonsense. An efficient ally in the form of a southwest wind came to the
aid of the sun, and every day Nature responded with increasing favor. Amy
no more complained that an American April was like early March in England;
and as the surface of the land grew warm and dry it was hard for her to
remain in-doors, there was so much of life, bustle, and movement without.
Buds were swelling on every side. Those of the lilac were nearly an inch
long, and emitted a perfume of the rarest delicacy, far superior to that of
the blossoms to come. The nests of the earlier birds were in all stages of
construction, and could be seen readily in the leafless trees. Snakes were
crawling from their holes, and lay sunning themselves in the roads, to her
and Johnnie's dismay. Alf captured turtles that, deep in the mud, had
learned the advent of spring as readily as the creatures of the air. The
fish were ascending the swollen streams. "Each rill," as Thoreau wrote, "is
peopled with new life rushing up it." Abram and Alf were planning a
momentous expedition to a tumbling dam on the Moodna, the favorite resort
of the sluggish suckers. New chicks were daily breaking their shells, and
their soft, downy, ball-like little bodies were more to Amy's taste than
the peepers of the marsh.

One Saturday morning Alf rushed in, announcing with breathless haste that
"Kitten had a calf." Kitten was a fawn-colored Alderney, the favorite of
the barnyard, and so gentle that even Johnnie did not fear to rub her
rough nose, scratch her between her horns, or bring her wisps of grass
when she was tied near the house. Her calf was unlike all other calves.
There was no rest until Amy had seen it, and she admitted that she had
never looked upon a more innocent and droll little visage. At the
children's pleading the infant cow was given to them, but they were
warned to leave it for the present to Abram and Kitten's care, for the
latter was inclined to act like a veritable old cat when any one made too
free with her bovine baby.

This bright Saturday occurring about the middle of the month completely
enthroned spring in the children's hearts. The air was sweet with
fragrance from the springing grass and swelling buds, and so still and
humid that sounds from other farms and gardens, and songs from distant
fields and groves, blended softly yet distinctly with those of the
immediate vicinage. The sunshine was warm, but veiled by fleecy clouds;
and as the day advanced every member of the family was out-of-doors, even
to Mrs. Clifford, for whom had been constructed, under her husband's
direction, a low garden-chair which was so light that even Alf or Amy
could draw it easily along the walks. From it she stepped down on her
first visit of the year to her beloved flower-beds, which Alf and Burt
were patting in order for her, the latter blending with, his filial
attentions the hope of seeing more of Amy. Nor was he unrewarded, for his
manner toward his mother, whom he alternately petted and chaffed, while
at the same time doing her bidding with manly tenderness, won the young
girl's hearty good-will. The only drawback was his inclination to pet her
furtively even more. She wished that Webb was preparing the flower-beds,
for then there would be nothing to perplex or worry her. But he, with his
father and Leonard, was more prosaically employed, for they were at work
in the main or vegetable garden. It was with a sense of immense relief
that she heard Mrs. Clifford, after she had given her final directions,
and gloated over the blooming crocuses and daffodils, and the budding
hyacinths and tulips, express a wish to join her husband.

"Come back soon," pleaded Burt.

"I'm your mother's pony to-day," she replied, and hastened away. A wide
path bordered on either side by old-fashioned perennials and shrubbery
led down through the garden. Amy breathed more freely as soon as she
gained it, and at once gave herself up to the enjoyment of the pleasing
sights and sounds on every side. Mr. Clifford was the picture of placid
content as he sat on a box in the sun, cutting potatoes into the proper
size for planting. Johnnie was perched on another box near, chattering
incessantly as she handed him the tubers, and asking no other response
than the old gentleman's amused smile. Leonard with a pair of stout
horses was turning up the rich black mould, sinking his plow to the beam,
and going twice in a furrow. It would require a very severe drought to
affect land pulverized thus deeply, for under Leonard's thorough work the
root pasturage was extended downward eighteen inches. On the side of the
plot nearest to the house Webb was breaking the lumps and levelling the
ground with a heavy iron-toothed rake, and also forking deeply the ends
of the furrows that had been trampled by the turning horses. Leaving Mrs.
Clifford chatting and laughing with her husband and Johnnie, Amy stood in
the walk opposite to him, and he said presently:

"Come, Amy, you can help me. You said you wanted a finger in our
horticultural pies, and no doubt had in your mind nothing less plebeian
than flower seeds and roses. Will your nose become _retrousse_ if I ask
you to aid me in planting parsnips, oyster-plant, carrots, and--think of
it!--onions?"

"The idea of my helping you, when the best I can do is to amuse you with
my ignorance! But I'll put on no airs. I do not look forward to an
exclusive diet of roses, and am quite curious to know what part I can
have in earning my daily vegetables."

"A useful and typical part--that of keeping straight men and things in
general. Wait a little;" and taking up a coiled garden line, he attached
one end of it to a stout stake pressed firmly into the ground. He then
walked rapidly over the levelled soil to the further side of the plot,
drew the line "taut," as the sailors say, and tied it to another stake.
He next returned toward Amy, making a shallow drill by drawing a
sharp-pointed hoe along under the line. From a basket near, containing
labelled packages of seeds, he made a selection, and poured into a bowl
something that looked like gunpowder grains, and sowed it rapidly in the
little furrow. "Now, Amy," he cried, from the further side of the plot,
"do you see that measuring-stick at your feet? Place one end of it
against the stake to which the line is fastened, and move the stake with
the line forward to the other end of the measuring-stick, just as I am
doing here. That's it. You now see how many steps you save me, and how
much faster I can get on."

"Are those black-looking grains you are sowing seed?"

"Indeed they are, as a few weeks may prove to you by more senses than
one. These are the seeds of a vegetable inseparable in its associations
from classic Italy and renowned in sacred story. You may not share in the
longings of the ancient Hebrews, but with its aid I could easily bring
tears of deep feeling to your eyes."

"The vegetable is more pungent than your wit, Webb," she laughed; but she
stood near the path at the end of the line, which she moved forward from
time to time as requested, meanwhile enjoying an April day that lacked
few elements of perfection.

The garden is one of the favorite haunts of the song-sparrow. In the
flower-border near, Amy would hear such a vigorous scratching among the
leaves that she might well believe that a motherly hen was at work, but
presently one of these little sober-coated creatures that Thoreau well
calls a "ground-bird" would fly to the top of a plum-tree and trill out a
song as sweet as the perfume that came from the blossoming willows not
far away. The busy plows made it a high festival for the robins, for with
a confidence not misplaced they followed near in the furrows that Leonard
was making in the garden, and that Abram was turning on an adjacent
hillside, and not only the comparatively harmless earth-worms suffered,
but also the pestiferous larvae of the May-beetle, the arch-enemy of the
strawberry plant. Even on that day of such varied and etherealized
fragrance, the fresh, wholesome odor of the upturned earth was grateful.
Suddenly Webb straightened himself from the sowing of the scale-like
parsnip-seed in which he was then engaged, and said, "Listen." Remote yet
distinct, like a dream of a bird-song, came a simple melody from a
distant field. "Welcome," he said. "That's our meadow-lark, Amy; not
equal to your skylark, I admit. Indeed, it is not a lark at all, for Dr.
Marvin says it belongs to the oriole family. Brief and simple as is its
song, I think you will agree with me that spring brings few more lovely
sounds. That is the first one that I have heard this year."

She scarcely more than caught the ethereal song before Burt and Alf came
down the path, trundling immense wheelbarrow-loads of the prunings of the
shrubbery around the house. These were added to a great pile of brush and
refuse that had accumulated on the other side of the walk, and to Alf was
given the wild excitement of igniting the inflammable mass, and soon
there was a fierce crackling as the flames devoured their way into the
loose dry centre of the rejected debris of the previous year. Then to Alf
and Johnnie's unmeasured delight they were permitted to improvise a
miniature prairie fire. A part of the garden had been left to grow very
weedy in the preceding summer, and they were shown how that by lighting
the dry, dead material on the windward side, the flames, driven by a
gentle western breeze, would sweep across the entire plot, leaving it
bare and blackened, ready for the fertilizers and the plow. With merry
cries they followed the sweeping line of fire, aiding it forward by
catching up on iron rakes burning wisps and transferring them to spots in
the weedy plot that did not kindle readily. Little Ned, clinging to the
hand of Maggie, who had joined the family in the garden, looked on with
awe-struck eyes. From the bonfire and the consuming weeds great volumes
of smoke poured up and floated away, the air was full of pungent odors,
and the robins called vociferously back and forth through the garden,
their alarmed and excited cries vying with the children's shouts. In half
an hour only a faint haze of smoke to the eastward indicated the brief
conflagration; the family had gone to the house for their one-o'clock
dinner, and the birds were content with the normal aspect of the old
garden in April.

The promise of the bright spring day was not fulfilled. Cold rains
followed by frosty mornings and high cool winds prevailed with depressing
persistency. It required almost as much vigor, courage, and activity as
had been essential in March to enjoy out-door life. In many of her
aspects Nature appeared almost to stand still and wait for more genial
skies, and yet for those who watched to greet and to welcome, the mighty
impulse of spring manifested itself in many ways. The currant and
gooseberry bushes, as if remembering their original haunts in dim, cold,
boggy forests, put forth their foliage without hesitation. From the
elm-trees swung the little pendent blossoms that precede the leaves. The
lilacs and some other hardy shrubs grew green and fragrant daily. Nothing
daunted, the crocuses, hyacinths, and tulips pushed upward their
succulent leaves with steady resolution. In the woods the flowers had all
kinds of experiences. On the north side of Storm King it was still
winter, with great areas of December's ice unmelted. On the south side of
the mountain, spring almost kept pace with the calendar. The only result
was that the hardy little children of April, on which had hung more
snow-flakes than dew, obtained a longer lease of blooming life, and could
have their share in garlanding the May Queen. They bravely faced the
frosty nights and drenching rains, becoming types of those lives whose
beauty is only enhanced by adversity--of those who make better use of a
little sunny prosperity to bless the world than others on whom good-fortune
ever seems to wait.

The last Saturday of the month was looked forward to with hopeful
expectations, as a genial earnest of May, and a chance for out-door
pleasures; but with it came a dismal rain-storm, which left the ground as
cold, wet, and sodden as it had been a month before. The backward season,
of which the whole country was now complaining, culminated on the
following morning, which ushered in a day of remarkable vicissitude. By
rapid transition the rain passed into sleet, then snow, which flurried
down so rapidly that the land grew white and wintry, making it almost
impossible to imagine that two months of spring had passed. By 10 A.M.
the whirling flakes ceased, but a more sullen, leaden, March-like sky
never lowered over a cold, dripping earth. On the north side of the house
a white hyacinth was seen hanging its pendent blossoms half in and half
out of the snow, and Alf, who in response to Dr. Marvin's suggestion was
following some of the family fortunes among the homes in the trees, came
in and said that he had found nests well hidden by a covering all too
cold, with the resolute mother bird protecting her eggs, although
chilled, wet, and shivering herself. By 1 P.M. the clouds grew thin,
rolled away, and disappeared. The sun broke out with a determined warmth
and power, and the snow vanished like a spectre of the long-past winter.
The birds took heart, and their songs of exultation resounded from far
and near. A warm south breeze sprang up and fanned Amy's cheek, as she,
with the children and Burt, went out for their usual Sunday-afternoon
walk. They found the flowers looking up hopefully, but with melted snow
hanging like tears on their pale little faces. The sun at last sank into
the unclouded west, illumining the sky with a warm, golden promise for
the future. Amy gazed at its departing glory, but Burt looked at
her--looked so earnestly, so wistfully, that she was full of compunction
even while she welcomed the return of the children, which delayed the
words that were trembling on his lips. He was ready, she was not; and he
walked homeward at her side silent and depressed, feeling that the
receptive, responsive spring was later in her heart than in Nature.



CHAPTER XXVII

SHAD-FISHING BY PROXY


According to the almanac, May was on time to a second, but Nature seemed
unaware of the fact. Great bodies of snow covered the Adirondack region,
and not a little still remained all the way southward through the
Catskills and the Highlands, about the headwaters of the Delaware, and
its cold breath benumbed the land. Johnnie's chosen intimates had given
her their suffrages as May Queen; but prudent Maggie had decided that the
crowning ceremonies should not take place until May truly appeared, with
its warmth and floral wealth. Therefore, on the first Saturday of the
month, Leonard planned a half-holiday, which should not only compensate
the disappointed children, but also give his busy wife a little outing.
He had learned that the tide was right for crossing the shallows of the
Moodna Creek, and they would all go fishing. Johnnie's friends and Dr.
and Mrs. Marvin were invited, and great were the preparations. Reed and
all kinds of poles were taken down from their hooks, or cut in a
neighboring thicket, the country store was depleted of its stock of rusty
hooks, and stray corks were fastened on the brown linen lines for floats.
Burt disdained to take his scientific tackle, and indeed there was little
use for it in Moodna Creek, but he joined readily in the frolic. He would
be willing to fish indefinitely for even minnows, if at the same time
there was a chance to angle for Amy. Some preferred to walk to the river,
and with the aid of the family rockaway the entire party were at the
boat-house before the sun had passed much beyond the meridian. Burt, from
his intimate knowledge of the channel, acted as pilot, and was jubilant
over the fact that Amy consented to take an oar with him and receive a
lesson in rowing. Mrs. Marvin held the tiller-ropes, and the doctor was
to use a pair of oars when requested to do so. Webb and Leonard took
charge of the larger boat, of which Johnnie, as hostess, was captain, and
a jolly group of little boys and girls made the echoes ring, while Ned,
with his thumb in his mouth, clung close to his mother, and regarded the
nautical expedition rather dubiously. They swept across the flats to the
deeper water near Plum Point, and so up the Moodna, whose shores were
becoming green with the rank growth of the bordering marsh. Passing under
an old covered bridge they were soon skirting an island from which rose a
noble grove of trees, whose swollen buds were only waiting for a warmer
caress of the sun to unfold. Returning, they beached their boats below
the bridge, under whose shadow the fish were fond of lying. The little
people were disembarked, and placed at safe distances; for, if near, they
would surely hook each other, if never a fin. Silence was enjoined, and
there was a breathless hush for the space of two minutes; then began
whispers more resonant than those of the stage, followed by acclamations
as Johnnie pulled up a wriggling eel, of which she was in mortal terror.
They all had good sport, however, for the smaller fry of the finny tribes
that haunted the vicinity of the old bridge suffered from the well-known
tendency of extreme youth to take everything into its mouth. Indeed, at
that season, an immature sun-fish will take a hook if there is but a
remnant of a worm upon it. The day was good for fishing, since thin
clouds darkened the water. Amy was the heroine of the party, for Burt had
furnished her with a long, light pole, and taught her to throw her line
well away from the others. As a result she soon took, amidst excited
plaudits, several fine yellow perch. At last Leonard shouted:

"You shall not have all the honors, Amy. I have a hook in my pocket that
will catch bigger fish than you have seen to-day. Come, the tide is going
out, and we must go out of the creek with it unless we wish to spend the
night on a sand-bar. I shall now try my luck at shad-fishing over by
Polopel's Island."

The prospect of crossing the river and following the drift-nets down into
the Highlands was a glad surprise to all, and they were soon in Newburgh
Bay, whose broad lake-like surface was unruffled by a breath. The sun,
declining toward the west, scattered rose-hues among the clouds. Sloops
and schooners had lost steerage-way, and their sails flapped idly against
the masts. The grind of oars between the thole-pins came distinctly
across the water from far-distant boats, while songs and calls of birds,
faint and etherealized, reached them from the shores. Rowing toward a man
rapidly paying out a net from the stern of his boat they were soon hailed
by Mr. Marks, who with genial good-nature invited them to see the sport.
He had begun throwing his net over in the middle of the river, his
oarsman rowing eastward with a slight inclination toward the south, for
the reason that the tide is swifter on the western side. The aim is to
keep the net as straight as possible and at right angles with the tide.
The two boats were soon following Mr. Marks on either side, the smooth
water and the absence of wind enabling them to keep near and converse
without effort. Away in their wake bobbed the cork floats in an irregular
line, and from these floats, about twenty feet below the surface, was
suspended the net, which extended down thirty or forty feet further,
being kept in a vertical position by iron rings strung along its lower
edge at regular intervals. Thus the lower side of the net was from fifty
to sixty feet below the surface. In shallow water narrower nets are
rigged to float vertically much nearer the surface. Mr. Marks explained
that his net was about half a mile long, adding,

"It's fun fishing on a day like this, but it's rather tough in a gale of
wind, with your eyes half blinded by rain, and the waves breaking into
your boat. Yes, we catch just as many then, perhaps more, for there are
fewer men out, and I suppose the weather is always about the same, except
as to temperature, down where the shad are. The fish don't mind wet
weather; neither must we if we make a business of catching them."

"Do you always throw out your net from the west shore toward the east?"
Webb asked.

"No, we usually pay out against the wind. With the wind the boat is apt
to go too fast. The great point is to keep the net straight and not all
tangled and wobbled up. Passing boats bother us, too. Sometimes a float
will catch on a paddle-wheel, and like enough half of the net will be
torn away. A pilot with any human feeling will usually steer one side,
and give a fellow a chance, and we can often bribe the skipper of
sailing-craft by holding up a shad and throwing it aboard as he tacks
around us. As a rule, however, boats of all kinds pass over a net without
doing any harm. Occasionally a net breaks from the floats and drags on
the bottom. This is covered with cinders thrown out by steamers, and they
play the mischief."

"Do the fish swim against the tide?"

"Usually, but they come in on both sides."

"Mr. Marks, how can you catch fish in a net that is straight up and
down?" Amy asked.

"You'll soon see, but I'll explain. The meshes of the net will stretch
five inches. A shad swims into one of these and then, like many others
that go into things, finds he can't back out, for his gills catch on the
sides of the mesh and there he hangs. Occasionally a shad will just
tangle himself up and so be caught, and sometimes we take a large striped
bass in this way."

In answer to a question of Burt's he continued: "I just let my net float
with the tide as you see, giving it a pull from one end or the other now
and then to keep it as straight and as near at right angles with the
river as possible. When the tide stops running out and turns a little we
begin at one end of the net and pull it up, taking out the fish, at the
same time laying it carefully in folds on a platform in the stern-sheets,
so as to prevent any tangles. If the net comes up clear and free, I may
throw it in again and float back with the tide. So far from being able to
depend on this, we often have to go ashore where there is a smooth beach
before our drift is over and disentangle our net. There, now, I'm
through, with paying out. Haven't you noticed the floats bobbing here and
there?"

"We've been too busy listening and watching you," said Leonard.

"Well, now, watch the floats. If you see one bob under and wobble, a shad
has struck the net near it, and I can go and take him out. In smooth
water it's like fishing with one of your little cork bobblers there on
your lines. I'll give the shad to the first one that sees a float bob
under."

Alf nearly sprang out of the boat as he pointed and shouted, "There,
there."

Laughing good-naturedly, Mr. Marks lifted the net beneath the float, and,
sure enough, there was a great roe-shad hanging by his gills, and Alf
gloated over his supper, already secured.

The fish were running well, and there were excited calls and frantic
pointings, in which at first even the older members of the party joined,
and every few moments a writhing shad flashed in the slanting rays as it
was tossed into the boat. Up and down the long, irregular line of floats
the boats passed and repassed until excitement verged toward satiety, and
the sun, near the horizon, with a cloud canopy of crimson and gold,
warned the merry fishers by proxy that their boats should be turned
homeward. Leonard pulled out what he termed his silver hook, and supplied
not only the Clifford family, but all of Johnnie's guests, with fish so
fresh that they had as yet scarcely realized that they were out of water.

"Now, Amy," said Burt, "keep stroke with me," adding, in a whisper, "no
fear but that we can pull well together."

Her response was, "One always associates a song with rowing. Come, strike
up, and let us keep the boats abreast that all may join."

He, well content, started a familiar boating song, to which the splash of
their oars made musical accompaniment. A passing steamer saluted them,
and a moment later the boats rose gracefully over the swells. The glassy
river flashed back the crimson of the clouds, the eastern slopes of the
mountains donned their royal purple, the intervening shadows of valleys
making the folds of their robes. As they approached the shore the
resonant song of the robins blended with the human voices. Burt, however,
heard only Amy's girlish soprano, and saw but the pearl of her teeth
through her parted lips, the rose in her cheeks, and the snow of her
neck.

Final words were spoken and all were soon at home. Maggie took the
household helm with a fresh and vigorous grasp. What a supper she
improvised! The maids never dawdled when she directed, and by the time
the hungry fishermen were ready, the shad that two hours before had been
swimming deep in the Hudson lay browned to a turn on the ample platter.
"It is this quick transition that gives to game fish their most exquisite
flavor," Burt remarked.

"Are shad put down among the game fish?" his father asked.

"Yes; they were included not very long ago, and most justly, too, as I
can testify to-night. I never tasted anything more delicious, except
trout. If a shad were not so bony it would be almost perfection when
eaten under the right conditions. Not many on the Hudson are aware of the
fact, perhaps, but angling for them is fine sport in some rivers. They
will take a fly in the Connecticut and Housatonic; but angle-worms and
other bait are employed in the Delaware and Southern rivers. The best
time to catch them is early in the morning, and from six to eight in the
evening. At dusk one may cast for them in still water, as for trout. The
Hudson is too big, I suppose, and the water too deep, although I see no
reason why the young fry should not be caught in our river as well as in
the Delaware. I have read of their biting voraciously in September at a
short distance above Philadelphia."

"Do you mean to say that our rivers are full of shad in August and
September?" Leonard asked.

"Yes; that is, of young shad on the way to the sea. The females that are
running up now will spawn in the upper and shallow waters of the river,
and return to the ocean by the end of June, and in the autumn the small
fry will also go to the sea, the females to remain there two years. The
males will come back next spring, and these young males are called
'chicken shad' on the Connecticut. Multitudes of these half-grown fish
are taken in seines, and sold as herrings or 'alewives'; for the true
herring does not run up into fresh water. Young shad are said to have
teeth, and they live largely on insects, while the full-grown fish have
no teeth, and feed chiefly on animalcules that form the greater part of
the slimy growths that cover nearly everything that is long under water."

"Well, I never had so much shad before in my life," said his father,
laughing, and pushing lack his chair; "and, Burt, I have enjoyed those
you have served up in the water almost as much as those dished under
Maggie's superintendence."

"I should suppose that the present mode of fishing with drift-nets was
cheaper and more profitable than the old method of suspending the nets
between poles," Leonard remarked.

"It is indeed," Burt continued, vivaciously, for he observed that Amy was
listening with interest. "Poles, too, form a serious obstruction. Once,
years ago, I was standing near the guards of a steamboat, when I heard
the most awful grating, rasping sound, and a moment later a shad-pole
gyrated past me with force enough to brain an elephant had it struck him.
It was good fun, though, in old times to go out and see them raise the
nets, for they often came up heavy with fish. Strange to say, a loon was
once pulled up with the shad. Driven by fear, it must have dived so
vigorously as to entangle itself, for there it hung with its head and one
leg fast. I suppose that the last moment of consciousness that the poor
bird had was one of strong surprise."



CHAPTER XXVIII

MAY AND GIRLHOOD


May came in reality the following morning. Perhaps she thought that the
leisure of Sunday would secure her a more appreciative welcome. The wind
no longer blew from the chill and still snowy North, but from lands that
had long since responded to the sun's genial power. Therefore, the breeze
that came and went fitfully was like a warm, fragrant breath, and truly
it seemed to breathe life and beauty into all things. During the morning
hours the cluster buds of the cherry burst their varnished-looking
sheath, revealing one-third of the little green stems on which the
blossoms would soon appear. The currant-bushes were hanging out their
lengthening racemes, and the hum of many bees proved that honey may be
gathered even from gooseberry-bushes, thus suggesting a genial philosophy.
The sugar-maples were beginning to unfold their leaves and to dangle their
emerald gold flowers from long, drooping pedicles. Few objects have more
exquisite and delicate beauty than this inflorescence when lighted up by
the low afternoon sun. The meadows and oat fields were passing into a vivid
green, and the hardy rye had pushed on so resolutely in all weathers, that
it was becoming billowy under the wind. All through the week the hues of
life and beauty became more and more apparent upon the face of Nature, and
by the following Saturday May had provided everything in perfection for
Johnnie's coronation ceremonies.

For weeks past there had been distinguished arrivals from the South
almost daily. Some of these songsters, like the fox-sparrow, sojourned a
few weeks, favoring all listeners with their sweet and simple melodies;
but the chief musician of the American forests, the hermit thrush, passed
silently, and would not deign to utter a note of his unrivalled minstrelsy
until he had reached his remote haunts at the North. Dr. Marvin evidently
had a grudge against this shy, distant bird, and often complained, "Why
can't he give us a song or two as he lingers here in his journey? I often
see him flitting about in the mountains, and have watched him by the hour
with the curiosity that prompts one to look at a great soprano or tenor,
hoping that he might indulge me with a brief song as a sample of what he
could do, but he was always royally indifferent and reserved. I am going to
the Adirondacks on purpose to hear him some day. There's the winter wren,
too-saucy, inquisitive little imp!--he was here all winter, and has left us
without vouchsafing a note. But, then, great singers are a law unto
themselves the world over."

But the doctor had small cause for complaint, for there are few regions
more richly endowed with birds than the valley of the Hudson. As has been
seen, it is the winter resort of not a few, and is, moreover, a great
highway of migration, for birds are ever prone to follow the watercourses
that run north and south. The region also affords so wide a choice of
locality and condition that the tastes of very many birds are suited.
There are numerous gardens and a profusion of fruit for those that are
half domesticated; orchards abounding in old trees with knotholes,
admirably fitted for summer homes; elms on which to hang the graceful
pensile nests--"castles in air," as Burroughs calls them; meadows in
which the lark, vesper sparrow, and bobolink can disport; and forests
stretching up into the mountains, wherein the shyest birds can enjoy all
the seclusion they desire, content to sing unheard, as the flowers around
them bloom unseen, except by those who love them well enough to seek them
in their remotest haunts.

The week which preceded the May party was a memorable one to Amy, for
during its sunny days she saw an American spring in its perfection. Each
morning brought rich surprises to her, Johnnie, and Alf, and to Webb an
increasing wonder that he had never before truly seen the world in which
he lived. The pent-up forces of Nature, long restrained, seemed finding
new expression every hour. Tulips opened their gaudy chalices to catch
the morning dew. Massive spikes of hyacinths distilled a rich perfume
that was none too sweet in the open air. Whenever Amy stepped from the
door it seemed that some new flower had opened and some new development
of greenery and beauty had been revealed. But the crowning glory in the
near landscape were the fruit trees. The cherry boughs grew white every
day, and were closely followed by the plum and pear and the pink-hued
peach blossoms. Even Squire Bartley's unattractive place was transformed
for a time into fairyland; but he, poor man, saw not the blossoms, and
the birds and boys stole his fruit. Amy wondered at the wealth of flowers
that made many of the trees as white as they had been on the snowiest day
of winter, and Johnnie revelled in them, often climbing up into some
low-branched tree, that she might bury herself in their beauty, and
inhale their fragrance in long breaths of delight. The bees that filled
the air about her with their busy hum never molested her, believing, no
doubt, that she had as good a right as themselves to enjoy the sweets in
her way. After all, it was Mrs. Clifford, perhaps, who obtained the
profoundest enjoyment from the season. Seated by her window or in a sunny
corner of the piazza, she would watch the unfolding buds as if she were
listening to some sweet old story that had grown dearer with every
repetition. Indeed, this was true, for with the blossoms of every year
were interwoven the memories of a long life, and their associations had
scarcely ever been more to her heart than the new ones now forming. She
often saw, with her children and grandchildren, the form of a tall girl
passing to and fro, and to her loving eyes Amy seemed to be the fairest
and sweetest flower of this gala period. She, and indeed they all, had
observed Burt's strongly manifested preference, but, with innate
refinement and good sense, there had been a tacit agreement to appear
blind. The orphan girl should not be annoyed by even the most delicate
raillery, but the old lady and her husband could not but feel the deepest
satisfaction that Bart was making so wise a choice. They liked Amy all
the better because she was so little disposed to sentiment, and proved
that she was not to be won easily.

But they all failed to understand her, and gave her credit for a maturity
that she did not possess. In her happy, healthful country life the
girlish form that had seemed so fragile when she first came to them was
taking on the rounded lines of womanhood. Why should she not be wooed
like other girls at her age? Burt was further astray than any one else,
and was even inclined to complain mentally that her nature was cold and
unresponsive. And yet her very reserve and elusiveness increased his
passion, which daily acquired a stronger mastery. Webb alone half guessed
the truth in regard to her. As time passed, and he saw the increasing
evidences of Burt's feeling, he was careful that his manner should be
strictly fraternal toward Amy, for his impetuous brother was not always
disposed to be reasonable even in his normal condition, and now he was
afflicted with a malady that has often brought to shame the wisdom of the
wisest. The elder brother saw how easily Burt's jealousy could be
aroused, and therefore denied himself many an hour of the young girl's
society, although it caused him a strange little heartache to do so. But
he was very observant, for Amy was becoming a deeply interesting study.
He saw and appreciated her delicate fence with Burt, in which tact,
kindness, and a little girlish brusqueness were almost equally blended.
Was it the natural coyness of a high-spirited girl, who could be won only
by long and patient effort? or was it an instinctive self-defence from a
suit that she could not repulse decisively without giving pain to those
she loved? Why was she so averse? Their home-life, even at that busy
season, gave him opportunities to see her often, and glimmerings of the
truth began to dawn upon him. He saw that she enjoyed the society of Alf
and Johnnie almost as much as that of the other members of the family,
that her delight at every new manifestation of spring was as unforced as
that of the children, while at the same time it was an intelligent and
questioning interest. The beauty of the world without impressed her
deeply, as it did Johnnie, but to the latter it was a matter of course,
while to Amy it was becoming an inviting mystery. The little girl would
bring some new flower from the woods or garden, the first of the season,
in contented triumph, but to Amy the flower had a stronger interest. It
represented something unknown, a phase of life which it was the impulse
of her developing mind to explore. Her botany was not altogether
satisfactory, for analysis and classification do not reveal to us a
flower or plant any more than the mention of a name and family connection
makes known individual character. Her love for natural objects was too
real to be satisfied with a few scientific facts about them. If a plant,
tree, or bird, interested her she would look at it with a loving,
lingering glance until she felt that she was learning to know it somewhat
as she would recognize a friend. The rapid changes which each day brought
were like new chapters in a story, or new verses in a poem. She watched
with admiring wonder the transition of buds into blossoms; and their
changes of form and color. She shared in Alf's excitement over the
arrival of every new bird from the South, and, having a good ear for
music, found absorbing pleasure in learning and estimating the quality
and characteristics of their various songs. Their little oddities
appealed to her sense of humor. A pair of cat-birds that had begun their
nest near the house received from her more ridicule than admiration.
"They seem to be regular society birds and gossips," she said, "and I can
never step out-of-doors but I feel that they are watching me, and trying
to attract my attention. They have a pretty song, but they seem to have
learned it by heart, and as soon as they are through they make that
horrid noise, as if in their own natural tone they were saying something
disagreeable about you."

But on the morning of Johnnie's coronation she was wakened by songs as
entrancing as they were unfamiliar. Running to the window, she saw
darting through the trees birds of such a brilliant flame color that they
seemed direct from the tropics, and their notes were almost as varied as
their colors. She speedily ceased to heed them, however, for from the
edge of the nearest grove came a melody so ethereal and sustained that it
thrilled her with the delight that one experiences when some great singer
lifts up her voice with a power and sweetness that we feel to be divine.
At the same moment she saw Alf running toward the house. Seeing her at
the window, he shouted, "Amy, the orioles and the wood-thrushes--the
finest birds of the year--have come. Hurry up and go with me to the grove
yonder."

Soon after Webb, returning from a distant field to breakfast, met her
near the grove. She was almost as breathless and excited as the boy, and
passed him with a bright hurried smile, while she pressed on after her
guide with noiseless steps lest the shy songster should be frightened. He
looked after her and listened, feeling that eye and ear could ask for no
fuller enchantment. At last she came back to him with the fresh loveliness
of the morning in her face, and exclaimed, "I have seen an ideal bird, and
he wears his plumage like a quiet-toned elegant costume that simply
suggests a perfect form. He was superbly indifferent, and scarcely looked
at us until we came too near, and then, with a reserved dignity, flew away.
He is the true poet of the woods, and would sing just as sweetly if there
was never a listener."

"I knew he would not disappoint you. Yes, he is a poet, and your true
aristocrat, who commands admiration without seeking it," Webb replied.

"I am sure he justifies all your praises, past and present. Oh, isn't the
morning lovely--so fresh, dewy, and fragrant? and the world looks so
young and glad!"

"You also look young and glad this morning, Amy."

"How can one help it? This May beauty makes me feel as young as Alf," she
replied, placing her hand on the boy's shoulder.

Her face was flushed with exercise; her step buoyant; her eyes were
roaming over the landscape tinted with fruit blossoms and the expanding
foliage. Webb saw in what deep accord her spirit was with the season, and
he thought, "She _is_ young--in the very May of her life. She is scarcely
more ready for the words that Burt would speak than little Johnnie. I
wish he would wait till the girl becomes a woman;" and then for some
reason he sighed deeply. Amy gave him an arch look, and said:

"Then came from the depths, Webb. What secret sorrow can you have on a
day like this?"

He laughed, but made no reply.

"Ah, listen!" she cried, "what bird is that? Oh, isn't it
beautiful?--almost equal to the thrush's song. He seems to sing as if
his notes were written for him in couplets." She spoke at intervals,
looking toward the grove they had just left, and when the bird paused
Webb replied:

"That is the wood-thrush's own cousin, and a distinguished member of the
thrush family, the brown-thrasher. Well, Johnnie," he added, to the
little girl who had come to meet them, "you are honored to-day. Three of
our most noted minstrels have arrived just in time to furnish music for
the May Queen."

But Johnnie was not surprised, only pleased, as Webb and others
congratulated her. She would be queen that day with scarcely more
self-consciousness than one of the flowers that decked her. It was the
occasion, the carnival of spring, that occupied her thoughts, and, since
the fairest blossoms of the season were to be gathered, why should not
the finest birds be present also?

Feeling that he had lost an opportunity in the improvised festival of the
maple-sugar grove, Burt resolved to make the most of this occasion, and
he had the wisdom to decide upon a course that relieved Amy of not a
little foreboding. He determined to show his devotion by thoughtful
considerateness, by making the day so charming and satisfactory as to
prove that he could be a companion after her own heart. And he succeeded
fairly well for a time, only the girl's intuition divined his motive and
guessed his sentiments. She was ever in fear that his restraint would
give way. And yet she felt that she ought to reward him for what she
mentally termed his "sensible behavior" and indicate that such should be
his course in the future. But this was a delicate and difficult task. In
spite of all the accumulated beauty of the season the day was less
bright, less full of the restful, happy _abandon_ of the previous one in
March, when Webb had been her undemonstrative attendant. He, with
Leonard, at that busy period found time to look in upon the revellers in
the woods but once. Mr. Clifford spent more time with them, but the old
gentleman was governed by his habit of promptness, and the time called
for despatch.

For the children, however, it was a revel that left nothing to be
desired. They had decided that it should be a congress of flowers, from
the earliest that had bloomed to those now opening in the sunniest
haunts. Alf, with one or two other adventurous boys, had climbed the
northern face of old Storm King, and brought away the last hepaticas,
fragrant clusters of arbutus, and dicentras, for "pattykers, arbuties,
and Dutcher's breeches," as Ned called them, were favorites that could
not be spared. On a sunny slope dogwood, well advanced, was found. There
were banks white with the rue-anemone, and they were marked, that some of
the little tuber-like roots might be taken up in the fall for forcing in
the house. Myriads of violets gave a purple tinge to parts of a low
meadow near, and chubby hands were stained with the last of the star-like
bloodroot blossoms, many of which dropped white petals on their way to
Johnnie's throne. Some brought handfuls of columbine from rocky nooks,
and others the purple trillium, that is near of kin to Burroughs's white
"wake-robin." There were so many Jacks-in-the-pulpit that one might fear
a controversy, but the innumerable dandelions and dogtooth violets which
carpeted the ground around the throne diffused so mellow a light that all
the blossoms felt that they looked well and were amiable. But it would
require pages even to mention all the flowers that were brought from
gardens, orchards, meadows, groves, and rugged mountain slopes. Each
delegation of blossoms and young tinted foliage was received by Amy, as
mistress of ceremonies, and arranged in harmonious positions; while
Johnnie, quite forgetful of her royalty, was as ready to help at anything
as the humblest maid of honor. All the flowers were treated tenderly
except the poor purple violets, and these were slaughtered by hundreds,
for the projecting spur under the curved stem at the base of the flower
enabled the boys to hook them together, and "fight roosters," as they
termed it. Now and then some tough-stemmed violet would "hook-off" a
dozen blue heads before losing its own, and it became the temporary hero.
At last the little queen asserted her power by saying, with a sudden
flash in her dark blue eyes, that she "wouldn't have any more fighting
roosters. She didn't think it was nice."

By one o'clock the queen had been crowned, the lunch had met the capacity
of even the boys, and the children, circling round the throne, were
singing: "Oats, peas, beans, and barley grows," and kindred rhymes, their
voices rising and falling with the breeze, the birds warbling an
accompaniment. Webb and Leonard, at work in a field not far away, often
paused to listen, the former never failing to catch Amy's clear notes as
she sat on a rock, the gentle power behind the throne, that had maintained
peace and good-will among all the little fractious subjects.

The day had grown almost sultry, and early in the afternoon there was a
distant jar of thunder. Burt, who from a bed of dry leaves had been
watching Amy, started up and saw that there was an ominous cloud in the
west. She agreed with him that it would be prudent to return at once, for
she was growing weary and depressed. Burt, with all his effort to be
quietly and unobtrusively devoted, had never permitted her to become
unconscious of his presence and feeling. Therefore her experience had
been a divided one. She could not abandon herself to her hearty sympathy
with the children and their pleasure, for he, by manner at least, ever
insisted that she was a young lady, and the object of thoughts all too
warm. Her nature was so fine that it was wounded and annoyed by an
unwelcome admiration. She did not wish to think about it, but was not
permitted to forget it. She had been genial, merry, yet guarded toward
him all day, and now had begun to long for the rest and refuge of her own
room. He felt that he had not made progress, and was also depressed, and
he showed this so plainly on their way home that she was still more
perplexed and troubled. "If he would only be sensible, and treat me as
Webb does!" she exclaimed, as she threw herself on the lounge in her
room, exhausted rather than exhilarated by the experience of the day.



CHAPTER XXIX NATURE'S WORKSHOP


During the hour she slept an ideal shower crossed the sky. In the lower
strata of air there was scarcely any wind, and the rain came down
vertically, copiously, and without beating violence. The sun-warmed earth
took in every drop like a great sponge.

Beyond the first muttered warning to the little May party in the grove
there was no thunder. The patter of the rain was a gentle lullaby to Amy,
and at last she was wakened by a ray of sunlight playing upon her face,
yet she still heard the soft fall of rain. With the elasticity of youth,
she sprang up, feeling that the other cloud that had shadowed her
thoughts might soon pass also. As she went singing down the stairway,
Webb called from the front door: "Amy, look here! I was hoping you would
come. See that rainbow." The cloud still hung heavily over the eastern
mountains, while against it was a magnificent arch, and so distinctly
defined that its feet appeared to rest on the two banks of the river.
They watched it in silence until it faded away, and the whole scene,
crowned with flowers and opening foliage tinted like blossoms of varied
hues, was gemmed with crystals by the now unclouded sun, for the soft
rain had clung to everything, from the loftiest tree-top to the tiniest
spire of grass. Flame-like orioles were flashing through the perfumed
air. Robins, with their heads lifted heavenward, were singing as
rapturously as if they were saints rather than rollicking gormandizers.
Every bird that had a voice was lifting it up in thanksgiving, but clear,
sweet, and distinct above them all came the notes of the wood-thrush,
with his Beethoven-like melody.

"Have you no words for a scene like this, Webb?" she asked, at last.

"It is beyond all words, Amy. It is one of nature's miracles. My wonder
exceeds even my admiration, for the greater part of this infinite variety
of beauty is created out of so few materials and by so simple yet
mysterious a method that I can scarcely believe it, although I see it and
know it. Men have always agreed to worship the genius which could achieve
the most with the least. And yet the basis of nearly all we see is a
microscopic cell endowed with essential powers. That large apple-tree
yonder, whose buds are becoming so pink, started from one of these minute
cells, and all the growth, beauty, and fruitfulness since attained were
the result of the power of this one cell to add to itself myriads of like
cells, which form the whole structure. It is cell adding cells that is
transforming the world around us." He spoke earnestly, and almost as if
he were thinking aloud, and he looked like one in the presence of a
mystery that awed him. The hue of Amy's eyes deepened, and her face
flushed in her quickened interest. Her own mind had been turning to
kindred thoughts and questionings. She had passed beyond the period when
a mind like hers could be satisfied with the mere surface of things, and
Webb's direct approach to the very foundation principles of what she saw
sent a thrill through all her nerves as an heroic deed would have done.

"Can you not show me one of those cells with your microscope?" she asked,
eagerly.

 "Yes, easily, and some of its contents through the cell's transparent
walls, as, for instance, the minute grains of _chlorophyll_, that is, the
green of leaves. All the hues of foliage and flowers are caused by what
the cells contain, and these, to a certain extent, can be seen and
analyzed. But there is one thing within the cell which I cannot show you,
and which has never been seen, and yet it accounts for everything, and is
the architect of all--life. When we reach the cell we are at the
threshold of this mysterious presence. We know that it is within. We can
see its work, for its workshop is under our eye, and in this minute shop
it is building all the vegetation of the world, but the artisan itself
ever remains invisible."

"Ah, Webb, do not say artisan, but rather artist. Does not the beauty all
around us prove it? Surely there is but one explanation, the one papa
taught me: it is the power of God. He is in the little as well as in the
great. Do you not believe so, Webb?"

"Well, Amy," he replied, smilingly, "the faith taught you by your father
is, to my mind, more rational than any of the explanations that I have
read, and I have studied several. But then I know little, indeed,
compared with multitudes of others. I am sure, however, that the life of
God is in some way the source of all the life we see. But perplexing
questions arise on every side. Much of life is so repulsive and noxious--
But there! what a fog-bank I am leading you into this crystal May
evening! Most young girls would vote me an insufferable bore should I
talk to them in this style."

"So much the worse for the young girls then. I should think they would
feel that no compliment could exceed that of being talked to as if they
had brains. But I do not wish to put on learned airs. You know how
ignorant I am of even the beginnings of this knowledge. All that I can
say is that I am not content to be ignorant. The curiosity of Mother Eve
is growing stronger every day; and is it strange that it should turn
toward the objects, so beautiful and yet so mysterious, that meet my eyes
on every side?"

"No," said he, musingly, "the strange thing is that people have so little
curiosity in regard to their surroundings. Why, multitudes of intelligent
persons are almost as indifferent as the cattle that browse around among
the trees and flowers. But I am a sorry one to preach. I once used to
investigate things, but did not see them. I have thought about it very
much this spring. It is said that great painters and sculptors study
anatomy as well as outward form. Perhaps here is a good hint for those
who are trying to appreciate nature. I am not so shallow as to imagine
that I can ever understand nature any more than I can you with your
direct, honest gaze. So to the thoughtful mystery is ever close at hand,
but it seems no little thing to trace back what one sees as far as one
can, and you have made me feel that it is a great thing to see the Divine
Artist's finished work."

They were now joined by others, and the perfect beauty of the evening as
it slowly faded into night attracted much attention from all the family.
The new moon hung in the afterglow of the western sky, and as the dusk
deepened the weird notes of the whip-poor-will were heard for the first
time from the mountain-sides.

At the supper-table Leonard beamed on every one. "A rain like this, after
a week of sunshine has warmed the earth" he exclaimed, "is worth millions
to the country. We can plant our corn next week."

"Yes," added his father, "the old Indian sign, the unfolding of the oak
leaves, indicates that it is now safe to plant. Next week will be a busy
one. After long years of observation I am satisfied that the true secret
of success in farming is the doing of everything at just the right time.
Crops put in too early or too late often partially fail; but if the right
conditions are complied with from the beginning, they start with a vigor
which is not lost until maturity."

Burt indulged in a gayety that was phenomenal even for him, but after
supper he disappeared. Amy retired to her room early, but she sat a long
time at her window and looked out into the warm, fragrant night. She had
forgotten poor Burt, who was thinking of her, as in his unrest he rode
mile after mile, holding his spirited horse down to a walk. She had
almost forgotten Webb, but she thought deeply of his words, of the life
that was working all around her so silently and yet so powerfully. Unseen
it had created the beauty she had enjoyed that day. From the very
contrast of ideas it made her think of death, of her father, who once had
been so strong and full of life. The mystery of one seemed as great as
that of the other, and a loneliness such as she had not felt before for
months depressed her.

"I wish I could talk to Webb again," she thought. "He says he does not
understand me. Little wonder; I do not understand myself. It would seem
that when one began to think nothing that appeared simple before is
understood; but his words are strong and assured. He leads one to the
boundaries of the known, and then says, quietly, we can go no further;
but he makes you feel that what is beyond is all right. Oh, I wish Burt
was like him!"



CHAPTER XXX

SPRING-TIME PASSION


But little chance had Amy to talk with Webb for the next few days. He had
seen the cloud on Burt's brow, and had observed that he was suspicious,
unhappy, and irritable; that reason and good sense were not in the
ascendant; and he understood his brother sufficiently well to believe
that his attack must run its natural course, as like fevers had done
before. From what he had seen he also thought that Amy could deal with
Burt better than any one else, for although high-strung, he was also
manly and generous when once he got his bearings. In his present mood he
would bitterly resent interference from any one, but would be bound to
obey Amy and to respect her wishes. Therefore he took especial pains to
be most kindly, but also to appear busy and pre-occupied.

It must not be thought that Burt was offensive or even openly obtrusive
in his attentions. He was far too well-bred for that. There was nothing
for which even his mother could reprove him, or of which Amy herself
could complain. It was the suit itself from which she shrank, or rather
which she would put off indefinitely. But Burt was not disposed to put
anything that he craved into the distance. Spring-tide impulses were in
his veins, and his heart was so overcharged that it must find expression.
His opportunity came unexpectedly. A long, exquisite day had merged into
a moonlight evening. The apple-blossoms were in all their white-and-pink
glory, and filled the summer-like air with a fragrance as delicate as
that of the arbutus. The petals of the cherry were floating down like
snow in every passing breeze, glimmering momentarily in the pale
radiance. The night was growing so beautiful that Amy was tempted to
stroll out in the grounds, and soon she yielded to a fancy to see the
effect of moonlight through an apple-tree that towered like a mound of
snow at some little distance from the house. She would not have been
human had the witchery of the May evening been without its influence. If
Burt could have understood her, this was his opportunity. If he had come
with step and tone that accorded with the quiet evening, and simply said,
"Amy, you know--you have seen that I love you; what hope can you give
me?" she in her present mood would have answered him as gently and
frankly as a child. She might have laughingly pointed him to the tree,
and said: "See, it is in blossom now. It will be a long time before you
pick the apples. You must wait. If you will be sensible, and treat me as
you would Johnnie, were she older, I will ride and walk with you, and be
as nice to you as I can."

But this Burt could not do and still remain Burt. He was like an
overcharged cloud, and when he spoke at last his words seemed to the
sensitive girl to have the vividness and abruptness of the lightning. It
was her custom to make a special toilet for the evening, and when she had
come down to supper with a rose in her hair, and dressed in some light
clinging fabric, she had proved so attractive to the young fellow that he
felt that the limit of his restraint was reached. He would appeal to her
so earnestly, so passionately, as to kindle her cold nature. In his lack
of appreciation of Amy he had come to deem this his true course, and she
unconsciously enabled him to carry out the rash plan. He had seen her
stroll away, and had followed her until she should be so far from the
house that she must listen. As she emerged from under the apple-tree,
through which as a white cloud she had been looking at the moon, he
appeared so suddenly as to startle her, and without any gentle reassurance
he seized her hand, and poured out his feelings in a way that at first
wounded and frightened her.

"Burt," she cried, "why do you speak to me so? Can't you see that I do
not feel as you do? I've given you no reason to say such words to me."

"Have you no heart, Amy? Are you as cold and elusive as this moonlight? I
have waited patiently, and now I must and will speak. Every man has a
right to speak and a right to an answer."

"Well then," she replied, her spirit rising; "if you will insist on my
being a woman instead of a young girl just coming from the shadow of a
great sorrow, I also have my rights. I've tried to show you gently and
with all the tact I possessed that I did not want to think about such
things. I'm just at the beginning of my girlhood and I want to be a young
girl as long as I can and not an engaged young woman. No matter who spoke
the words you have said, they would pain me. Why couldn't you see this
from my manner and save both yourself and me from this scene? I'll gladly
be your loving sister, but you must not speak to me in this way again."

"You refuse me then," he said, throwing back his head haughtily.

"Refuse you? No. I simply tell you that I won't listen to such words from
any one. Why can't you be sensible and understand me? I no more wish to
talk about such things than do Alf and Johnnie."

"I do understand you," he exclaimed, passionately, "and better perhaps
than you understand yourself. You are not a child. You are a woman, but
you seem to lack a woman's heart, as far as I am concerned;" and with a
gesture that was very tragic and despairing he strode away.

She was deeply troubled and incensed also, and she returned to the house
with drooping head and fast-falling tears.

"Why, Amy, what is the matter?" Looking up, she saw Webb coming down the
piazza steps. Yielding to her impulse, she sprang forward and took his
arm, as she said:

"Webb, you have always acted toward me like a brother. Tell me true: am I
cold? am I heartless? is it unnatural in me that I do not wish to hear
such words as Burt would speak to-night? All I ask is that he will let me
stay a happy young girl till I am ready for something else. This is no
way for a flower to bloom"--she snatched the rose from her hair, and
pushed open the red petals--"and yet Burt expects me to respond at once
to feelings that I do not even understand. If it's best in the future--but
surely I've a right to my freedom for a long time yet. Tell me, do you
think I'm unnatural?"

"No, Amy," he answered, gently. "It is because you are so perfectly
natural, so true to your girlhood, that you feel as you do. In that
little parable of the rose you explain yourself fully. You have no cause
for self-reproach, nor has Burt for complaint. Will you do what I ask?"

"Yes, Webb. You say you do not understand me, and yet always prove that
you do. If Burt would only treat me as you do, I should be perfectly
happy."

"Well, Burt's good-hearted, but sometimes he mislays his judgment," said
Webb, laughing. "Come, cheer up. There is no occasion for any high
tragedy on his part or for grieving on yours. You go and tell mother all
about it, and just how you feel. She is the right one to manage this
affair, and her influence over Burt is almost unbounded. Do this, and,
take my word for it, all will soon be serene."

And so it proved. Amy felt that night what it is to have a mother's
boundless love and sympathy, and she went to her rest comforted, soothed,
and more assured as to the future than she had been for a long time. "How
quiet and sensible Webb was about it all!" was her last smiling thought
before she slept. His thought as he strolled away in the moonlight after
she left him was, "It is just as if I half believed. She has the mind of
a woman, but the heart of a child. How apt was her use of that rose! It
told all."

Burt did not stroll; he strode mile after mile, and the uncomfortable
feeling that he had been very unwise, to say the least, and perhaps very
unjust, was growing upon him. When at last he returned, his mother called
to him through the open door. Sooner or later, Mrs. Clifford always
obtained the confidence of her children, and they ever found that it was
sacred. All that can be said, therefore, was, that he came from her
presence penitent, ashamed, and hopeful. His mood may best be explained,
perhaps, by a note written before he retired. "My dear sister Amy," it
ran, "I wish to ask your pardon. I have been unjust and ungenerous. I was
so blinded and engrossed by my own feelings that I did not understand
you. I have proved myself unworthy of even a sister's love; but I will
try to make amends. Do not judge me harshly because I was so headlong.
There is no use in trying to disguise the truth. What I have said so
unwisely and prematurely I cannot unsay, and I shall always be true to my
words. But I will wait patiently as long as you please; and if you find,
in future years, that you cannot feel as I do, I will not complain or
blame you, however sad the truth may be to me. In the meantime, let there
be no constraint between us. Let me become once more your trusted brother
Burt." This note he pushed under her door, and then slept too soundly for
the blighted youth he had a few hours before deemed himself.

He felt a little embarrassed at the prospect of meeting her the next
morning, but she broke the ice at once by coming to him on the piazza and
extending her hand in smiling frankness as she said: "You are neither
unjust nor ungenerous, Burt, or you would not have written me such a
note. I take you at your word. As you said the first evening I came, we
shall have jolly times together."

The young fellow was immensely relieved and grateful, and he showed it.
Soon afterward he went about the affairs of the day happier than he had
been for a long time. Indeed, it soon became evident that his explosion
on the previous evening had cleared the air generally. Amy felt that the
one threatening cloud had sunk below the horizon. As the days passed, and
Burt proved that he could keep his promise, her thoughts grew as serene
as those of Johnnie. Her household duties were not very many, and yet she
did certain things regularly. The old people found that she rarely forgot
them, and she had the grace to see when she could help and cheer.
Attentions that must be constantly asked for have little charm. A day
rarely passed that did she not give one or more of its best hours to her
music and drawing; for, while she never expected to excel in these arts,
she had already learned that they would enable her to give much pleasure
to others. Her pencil, also, was of great assistance in her study of
out-door life, for the fixed attention which it required to draw a plant,
tree, or bit of scenery revealed its characteristics. She had been even
more interested in the unfolding of the leaf-buds than in the flowering
of the trees, and the gradual advance of the foliage, like a tinted
cloud, up the mountain-slopes, was something she never tired of watching.
When she spoke of this one day to Webb, he replied:

"I have often wondered that more is not said and written about our spring
foliage, before it passes into its general hue of green. To me it has a
more delicate beauty and charm than anything seen in October. Different
trees have their distinct coloring now as then, but it is evanescent, and
the shades usually are less clearly marked. This very fact, however,
teaches the eye to have a nicety of distinction that is pleasing."

The busy days passed quickly on. The blossoms faded from the trees, and
the miniature fruit was soon apparent. The strawberry rows, that had been
like lines of snow, were now full of little promising cones. The grass
grew so lusty and strong that the dandelions were hidden except as the
breeze caught up the winged seeds that the tuneful yellow-birds often
seized in the air. The rye had almost reached its height, and Johnnie
said it was "as good as going to the ocean to see it wave." At last the
swelling buds on the rose-bushes proclaimed the advent of June.



CHAPTER XXXI

JUNE AND HONEY-BEES


It is said that there is no heaven anywhere for those incapable of
recognizing and enjoying it. Be this as it may, the month of June is a
segment of heaven annually bestowed on those whose eyes and ears have been
opened to beauty in sight and sound. Indeed, what sense in man is not
gratified to the point of imaginary perfection during this early fruition
of the varied promise of spring? Even to the sense of touch, how exquisite
is the "feel" of the fragrant rose-petals, the soft young foliage that has
transformed the world, and the queer downy fledglings in innumerable nests!
To the eye informed by a heart in love with nature the longest days of the
year are all too short to note half that exists and takes place. Who sees
and distinguishes the varied blossoming of the many kinds of grain and
grasses that are waving in every field? And yet here is a beauty as
distinct and delicate as can be found in some of Mendelssohn's "Songs
without Words"--blossomings so odd, delicate, and evanescent as to suggest
a child's dream of a flower. Place them under a strong glass, and who can
fail to wonder at the miracles of form and color that are revealed? From
these tiny flowerets the scale runs upward until it touches the hybrid
rose. During this period, also, many of the forest trees emulate the wild
flowers at their feet until their inflorescence culminates in the white
cord-like fringe that foretells the spiny chestnut burrs.

So much has been written comparing this exquisite season when spring
passes insensibly into summer with the fulfilled prophecy of girlhood,
that no attempt shall be made to repeat the simile. Amy's birthday should
have been in May, but it came early in June. May was still in her heart,
and might linger there indefinitely; but her mind, her thoughts, kept
pace with nature as unconsciously as the flowers that bloomed in their
season. There were little remembrances from all the family, but Webb's
gift promised the most pleasure. It was a powerful opera-glass; and as he
handed it to her on the piazza in the early morning he said:

"Our troupe are all here now, Amy, and I thought that you would like to
see the singers, and observe their costumes and expressions. Some birds
have a good deal of expression and a very charming manner while singing--a
manner much more to my taste than that of many a _prima donna_ whom I
have heard, although my taste may be uncultivated. Focus your glass on that
indigo-bird in yonder tree-top. Don't you see him?--the one that is
favoring us with such a lively strain, beginning with a repetition of
short, sprightly notes. The glass may enable you to see his markings
accurately."

"Oh, what an exquisite glossy blue! and it grows so deep and rich about
the head, throat, and breast! How plain I can see him, even to the black
velvet under his eyes! There is brown on his wings, too. Why, I can look
right into his little throat, and almost imagine I see the notes he is
flinging abroad so vivaciously. I can even make out his claws closed on a
twig, and the dew on the leaves around him is like gems. Truly, Webb, you
were inspired when you thought of this gift."

"Yes," he replied, quietly, looking much pleased, however, "with a very
honest wish to add to your enjoyment of the summer. I must confess, too,
that I had one thought at least for myself. You have described the
indigo-bird far more accurately than I could have done, although I have
seen it every summer as long as I can remember. You have taught me to
see; why should I not help you to see more when I can do it so easily? My
thought was that you would lend me the glass occasionally, so that I
might try to keep pace with you. I've been using the microscope too
much--prying into nature, as Burt would say, with the spirit of an
anatomist."

"I shall value the glass a great deal more if you share it with me," she
said, simply, with a sincere, direct gaze into his eyes; "and be assured,
Webb," she added, earnestly, "you are helping me more than I can help
you. I'm not an artist, and never can be, but if I were I should want
something more than mere surface, however beautiful it might be. Think of
it, Webb, I'm eighteen to-day, and I know so little! You always make me
feel that there is so much to learn, and, what is more, that it is worth
knowing. You should have been a teacher, for you would make the children
feel, when learning their lessons, as Alf does when after game. How well
nature bears close scrutiny!" she added, sweeping the scene with her
glass. "I can go every day now on an exploring expedition. But there is
the breakfast-bell."

Mr. Clifford came in a little late, rubbing his hands felicitously, as he
said:

"I have just come from the apiary, and think we shall have another swarm
to-day. Did you ever hear the old saying, Amy,

  'A swarm of bees in June
   Is worth a silver spoon'?

If one comes out to-day, and we hive it safely, we shall call it yours, and
you shall have the honey."

"How much you are all doing to sweeten my life!" she said, laughing; "but I
never expected the present of a swarm of bees. I assure you it is a gift
that you will have to keep for me, and yet I should like to see how the
bees swarm, and how you hive them. Would it be safe? I've heard that bees
are so wise, and know when people are afraid of them."

"You can fix yourself up with a thick veil and a pair of gloves so that
there will be no danger, and your swarm of bees, when once in hive, will
take care of themselves, and help take care of you. That's the beauty of
bee-culture."

"Our bees are literally in clover this year," Leonard remarked. "That heavy
coating of wood-ashes that I gave to a half-acre near the apiary proved
most effective, and the plot now looks as if a flurry of snow had passed
over it, the white clover blossoms are so thick. That is something I could
never understand, Webb. Wood-ashes will always bring white clover. It's
hard to believe that it all comes from seed dormant in the ground."

"Well, it does," was the reply.

"A great many think that the ashes simply produce conditions in the soil
which generate the clover."

"Out of nothing? That would not be simple at all, and if any one could
prove it he would make a sensation in the scientific world."

"Now, Len, here's your chance," laughed Burt. "Just imagine what a halo of
glory you would get by setting the scientific world agape with wonder!"

"I could make the scientific world gape in a much easier way," Leonard
replied, dryly. "Well, Amy, if you are as fond of honey as I am, you will
think a swarm of bees a very nice present. Fancy buckwheat cakes eaten with
honey made from buckwheat blossoms! There's a conjunction that gives to
winter an unflagging charm. If the old Hebrews felt as I do, a land flowing
with milk and honey must have been very alluring. Such a land the valley of
the Hudson certainly is. It's one of the finest grass regions of the world,
and grass means milk; and the extensive raspberry fields along its banks
mean honey. White clover is all very well, but I've noticed that when the
raspberry-bushes are in bloom they are alive with bees. I believe even the
locust-trees would be deserted for these insignificant little blossoms
that, like many plain people, are well worth close acquaintance."

"The linden-tree, which also blooms this month," added Webb, "furnishes the
richest harvest for the honeybees, and I don't believe they would leave its
blossoms for any others. I wish there were more lindens in this region, for
they are as ornamental as they are useful. I've read that they are largely
cultivated in Russia for the sake of the bees. The honey made from the
linden or bass-wood blossoms is said to be crystal in its transparency, and
unsurpassed in delicacy of flavor."

"Well," said Mr. Clifford, "I shall look after the apiary to-day. That's
good lazy work for an old man. You can help me watch at a safe distance,
Amy, and protected, as I said, if they swarm. It wouldn't be well for you
to go too near the hives at first, you know," he added, in laughing
gallantry, "for they might mistake you for a flower. They are so well
acquainted with me that I raise neither expectations nor fears. You needn't
come out before ten o'clock, for they don't swarm until toward midday."

With shy steps, and well protected, Amy approached the apiary, near which
the old gentleman was sitting in placid fearlessness under the shade of a
maple, the honey of whose spring blossoms was already in the hive. For a
time she kept at a most respectful distance, but, as the bees did not
notice her, she at last drew nearer, and removed her veil, and with the aid
of her glass saw the indefatigable workers coming in and going out with
such celerity that they seemed to be assuring each other that there were
tons of honey now to be had for the gathering. The bees grew into large
insects under her powerful lenses, and their forms and movements were very
distinct. Suddenly from the entrance of one hive near Mr. Clifford, which
she happened to be covering with her glass, she saw pouring out a perfect
torrent of bees. She started back in affright, but Mr. Clifford told her to
stand still, and she noted that he quietly kept his seat, while following
through his gold-rimmed spectacles the swirling, swaying stream that rushed
into the upper air. The combined hum smote the ear with its intensity. Each
bee was describing circles with almost the swiftness of light, and there
were such numbers that they formed a nebulous living mass. Involuntarily
she crouched down in the grass. In a few moments, however, she saw the
swarm draw together and cluster like a great black ball on a bough of a
small pear-tree. The queen had alighted, and all her subjects gathered
around her.

"Ah," chuckled the old gentleman, rising quietly, "they couldn't have been
more sensible if they had been human--not half so sensible in that case,
perhaps. I think you will have your swarm now without doubt. That's the
beauty of these Italian bees when they are kept pure: they are so quiet and
sensible. Come away now, until I return prepared to hive them."

The young girl obeyed with alacrity, and was almost trembling with
excitement, to which fear as well as the novelty of the scene contributed
not a little. Mr. Clifford soon returned, well protected and prepared for
his work. Taking an empty hive, he placed it on the ground in a secluded
spot, and laid before its entrances a broad, smooth board. Then he mounted
a step-ladder, holding in his left hand a large tin pan, and gently brushed
the bees into it as if they had been inanimate things. A sheet had first
been spread beneath the pear-tree to catch those that did not fall into the
pan. Touched thus gently and carefully, the immense vitality of the swarm
remained dormant; but a rough, sudden movement would have transformed it
instantly into a vengeful cloud of insects, each animated by the one
impulse to use its stiletto. Corning down from the ladder he turned the pan
toward Amy, and with her glass she saw that it was nearly half full of a
crawling, seething mass that fairly made her shudder. But much experience
rendered the old gentleman confident, and he only smiled as he carried the
pan of bees to the empty hive, and poured them out on the board before it.
The sheet was next gathered up and placed near the hive also, and then the
old gentleman backed slowly and quietly away until he had joined Amy, to
whom he said, "My part of the work is now done, and I think we shall soon
see them enter the hive." He was right, for within twenty minutes every bee
had disappeared within the new domicile. "To-night I will place the hive on
the platform with the others, and to-morrow your bees will be at work for
you, Amy. I don't wonder you are so interested, for of all insects I think
bees take the palm. It is possible that the swarm will not fancy their new
quarters, and will come out again, but it is not probable. Screened by this
bush, you can watch in perfect safety;" and he left her well content, with
her glass fixed on the apiary.

Having satisfied herself for the time with observing the workers coming and
going, she went around to the white clover-field to see the process of
gathering the honey. She had long since learned that bees while at work are
harmless, unless so cornered that they sting in self-defence. Sitting on a
rock at the edge of the clover-field, she listened to the drowsy monotone
of innumerable wings. Then she bent her glass on a clover head, and it grew
at once into a collection of little white tubes or jars in which from
earth, air, and dew nature distilled the nectar that the bees were
gathering. The intent workers stood on their heads and emptied these
fragrant honey-jars with marvellous quickness. They knew when they were
loaded, and in straight lines as geometrically true as the hexagon cells in
which the honey would be stored they darted to their hives. When the day
grew warm she returned to the house and read, with a wonder and delight
which no fairy tale had ever produced, John Burroughs's paper, "The
Pastoral Bees," which Webb had found for her before going to his work. To
her childish credulity fairy lore had been more interesting than wonderful,
but the instincts and habits of these children of nature touched on
mysteries that can never be solved.

At dinner the experiences of the apiary were discussed, and Leonard asked,
"Do you think the old-fashioned custom of beating tin pans and blowing
horns influences a swarm to alight? The custom is still maintained by some
people in the vicinity."

"I doubt it," said Webb. "It is no longer practiced by scientific
bee-keepers, and yet it is founded on the principle that anything which
disconcerts the bees may change their plans. It is said that water or dry
earth thrown into a whirling swarm will sometimes cause it to alight or
return to the hive."

"Your speaking of blowing horns," said Mr. Clifford, laughing, "recalls a
hiving experience that occurred seventy years ago. I was a boy then, but
was so punctured with stings on a June day like this that a vivid
impression was made on my memory. We were expecting swarms every day. A
neighbor, a quaint old man who lived very near, had gained the reputation
of an expert at this business. I can see him now, with his high stove-pipe
hat, and his gnarled, wrinkled visage, which he shrouded in a green veil
when hiving a swarm. He was a good-hearted old fellow, but very rough in
his talk. He had been to sea in early life, and profanity had become the
characteristic of his vernacular. Well, word came one morning that the bees
were swarming, and a minute later I aroused the old man, who was smoking
and dozing on his porch. I don't believe you ever ran faster, Alf, than I
did then. Hiving bees was the old fellow's hobby and pride, and he dived
into his cottage, smashing his clay pipe on the way, with the haste of an
attacked soldier seizing his weapons. In a moment he was out with all his
paraphernalia. To me was given a fish-horn of portentous size and sound.
The 'skips,' which were the old fashioned straw hives that the bears so
often emptied for our forefathers, stood in a large door-yard, over which
the swarm was circling. As we arrived on the scene the women were coming
from the house with tin pans, and nearly all the family were out-of-doors.
It so happened that an old white horse was grazing in the yard, and at this
critical moment was near the end of the bench on which stood the hives.
Coming up behind him, I thoughtlessly let off a terrific blast from my
horn, at which he, terrified, kicked viciously. Over went a straw skip, and
in a moment we had another swarm of bees on hand that we had not bargained
for. Dropping my horn, I covered my face with my arm, and ran for life to
the house, but I must have been stung twenty times before I escaped. The
bees seemed everywhere, and as mad as hornets. Although half wild with
pain, I had to laugh as I saw the old man frantically trying to adjust his
veil, meanwhile almost dancing in his anguish. In half a minute he
succumbed, and tore into a wood-shed. Everybody went to cover instantly
except the white horse, and he had nowhere to go, but galloped around the
yard as if possessed. This only made matters worse, for innocent as he was,
the bees justly regarded him as the cause of all the trouble. At last, in
his uncontrollable agony, he floundered over a stone wall, and disappeared.
For an hour or two it was almost as much as one's life was worth to venture
out. The old man, shrouded and mittened, at last crept off homeward to
nurse his wounds and his wrath, and he made the air fairly sulphurous
around him with his oaths. But that kind of sulphuric treatment did not
affect the bees, for I observed from a window that at one point nearest the
skips he began to run, and he kept up a lively pace until within his door.
What became of the swarm we expected to hive I do not know. Probably it
went to the woods. That night we destroyed the irate swarm whose skip had
been kicked over, and peace was restored."

"If you had told that story at the breakfast-table," said Amy, as soon as
the laugh caused by the old gentleman's account had subsided, "you could
never have induced me to be present this morning, even at such a respectful
distance."

"An old man who lives not far from us has wonderful success with bees,"
Leonard remarked. "He has over fifty hives in a space not more than twenty
feet square, and I do not think there is a tenth of an acre in his whole
lot, which is in the centre of a village. To this bare little plot his bees
bring honey from every side, so that for his purpose he practically owns
this entire region. He potters around them so much that, as far as he is
concerned, they are as docile as barn-door fowls, and he says he minds a
sting no more than a mosquito bite. There are half a dozen small trees and
bushes in his little yard, and his bees are so accommodating that they
rarely swarm elsewhere than on these low trees within a lew feet of the
skips. He also places mullein stalks on a pole, and the swarms often
cluster on them. He told me that on one day last summer he had ten swarms
to look after, and that he hived them all; and he says that his wife is as
good at the work as he is. On a pole which forms the corner of a little
poultry-coop he keeps the record of the swarms of each season, and for last
summer there are sixty-one notches. A year ago this month four swarms went
into a barrel that stood in a corner of his yard, and he left them there.
By fall they had filled the barrel with honey, and then, in his vernacular,
he 'tuck it up'; that is, he killed the bees, and removed all the honey."

"That is the regular bee-phrase in this region. If a hive is to be emptied
and the bees destroyed, or a bee tree to be cut down, the act is described
as 'taking up' the hive or tree," Burt explained. "By the way, Amy," he
added, "we must give you a little bee-hunting experience in the mountains
next October. It would make a jolly excursion. We can leave you with a
guard at some high point, when we strike a bee-line, and we might not be
long in finding the tree."

"We'll put the expedition right down on the fall programme," she said,
smilingly. Then turning to Mr. Clifford, she continued: "You spoke in
praise of Italian bees. What kind are they? and how many kinds are there?"

"Really only two distinct kinds--our native brownish-black bees, and the
Italians imported by Mr. S. B. Parsons and others about fifteen years ago.
There is a cross or hybrid between these two kinds that are said to be so
ill-natured that it is unsafe to go anywhere near their hives."

"Burt," said Webb, "you must remember reading in Virgil of the 'golden
bees.'"

"Yes, indistinctly; but none of them ever got in my bonnet or made much
impression. I don't like bees, nor do they like me. They respect only the
deliberation of profound gravity and wisdom. Father has these qualities by
the right of years, and Webb by nature, and their very presence soothes the
irascible insects; but when I go among them they fairly bristle with
stings. Give me a horse, and the more spirited the better."

"Oh, no, Burt; can't give you any," said Leonard, with his humorous
twinkle. "I'll sell you one, though, cheap."

"Yes, that vicious, uncouth brute that you bought because so cheap. I told
you that you were 'sold' at the same time with the horse."

"I admit it," was the rueful reply. "If he ever balks again as he did
to-day, I shall be tempted to shoot him."

"Oh, dear!" said Amy, a little petulantly, "I'd rather hear about Italian
bees than balky horses. Has my swarm of bees any connection with those that
Virgil wrote about, Webb?"

"They may be direct descendants," he replied.

"Then call them May-bees," laughed Burt.

"The kind of bees that Virgil wrote about were undoubtedly their
ancestors," resumed Webb, smiling at Burt's sally, "for bees seem to change
but little, if any, in their traits and habits. Centuries of domestication
do not make them domestic, and your swarm, if not hived, would have gone to
the mountains and lived in a hollow tree. I have a book that will give you
the history and characteristics of the Italians, if you would like to read
about them."

"I certainly should. My mind is on bees now, and I intend to follow them up
until I get stung probably. Well, I've enjoyed more honey this morning,
although I've not tasted any, than in all my life. You see how useful I
make the opera-glass, Webb. With it I can even gather honey that does not
cloy."



CHAPTER XXXII

BURT BECOMES RATIONAL


Burt had expended more on his present for Amy than had any of the family,
and, while it had been acknowledged most cordially, he was a little
disappointed that his choice had not been so happy as Webb's. Therefore
after dinner he said: "I feel almost envious. I wish I could give you a
great deal of pleasure also to-day. How would you like to go in a row-boat
to Constitution Island, and make that visit to Miss Warner of which we
spoke last winter? It's warm, but not sultry, and we would keep in the
shadow of the mountains most of the way down."

She hesitated a moment.

"Don't be afraid, Amy," he said, in a low tone.

"I'll go with you," she assented, cordially, "and I cannot think of
anything that would make my birthday more complete."

"I'll be ready in an hour," he said, flushing with pleasure, and he went up
to his room two steps at a time.

Burt's mental processes during the past few weeks had been characteristic,
and would have amused Amy had she been fully aware of them. As Webb
surmised, his fever had to run its course, but after its crisis had passed
he rapidly grew rational. Moreover, in his mother, and indeed in Amy
herself, he had the best of physicians. At first he was very penitent, and
not a little chagrined at his course. As days went by, however, and it was
not referred to by word or sign on the part of the family, his nervous
apprehension passed away. He thought he detected a peculiar twinkle in
Leonard's eyes occasionally, but it might have resulted from other causes.
Still Amy did the most to reassure him both consciously and unconsciously.
As she said, she took him at his word, and being unembarrassed by any
feeling of her own, found it easy to act like a sister toward him. This
naturally put him at his ease. In her floral expeditions with Johnnie,
however, and her bird-nestings with Alf, wherein no birds were robbed, she
unconsciously did more to reconcile him to the necessity of waiting than
could hours of argument from even his mother. She thus proved to him that
he had spoken much too soon--that she was not ready for his ill-chosen,
passionate words, which had wounded instead of firing her heart as he
intended they should. He now berated his stupidity, but consoled himself
with the thought that love is always a little blind. He saw that she liked
Webb exceedingly, and enjoyed talking with him, but he now was no longer
disposed to be jealous. She ever seemed to be asking questions like an
intelligent child. "Why shouldn't she like Webb?" he thought. "He is one of
the best fellows in the world, and she has found out that he's a walking
encyclopedia of out-door lore."

Burt was not one to be depressed or to remain in the valley of humiliation
very long. After a week or two a slight feeling of superiority began to
assert itself. Amy was not only too young to understand him, but also,
perhaps, to appreciate him. He believed that he knew more than one pretty
girl to whom he would not have spoken in vain. Some day the scales would
fall from Amy's eyes. He could well afford to wait until they did, and he
threw back his handsome head at the thought, and an exultant flash came
into his blue eyes. Oh, he would be faithful, he would be magnanimous, and
he also admitted to himself that he would be very glad and grateful; but he
would be very patient, perhaps a little too much so to suit her. Since he
had been told to "wait," he would wait until her awakening heart
constrained her to give unequivocal signs of readiness to surrender.

Thus his thoughts ran on while he was busy about the farm, or galloping
over the country on business or pleasure. After the corn-planting and the
rush of work in May was over, he had given himself a week's outing among
the trout streams of Ulster County, and had returned with his equanimity
quite restored. To assure Amy of this, and that she had nothing more to
fear, but everything to gain, was one of his motives in asking her to take
the long sail that afternoon. He succeeded so well that a smile of very
genuine satisfaction hovered about her lips more than once. She enjoyed the
expedition exceedingly. She was grateful for the kind reception given her
by the authors who had done much to sweeten and purify the world's thought.
She was charmed with the superb scenery as on their return they glided
along in the shadows of Cro' Nest, whose sides seemed lined with a choir of
wood and veery thrushes and other wild songsters. At last they evoked the
spirit of music in her. She took an oar with Burt, and they pulled, sang,
and laughed together like careless, happy children. Yet more than once she
shyly glanced at him, and queried, Could his flushed and mirthful face be
that of the passionate lover and blighted youth of scarce a month since?
Burt said something droll, and her laugh raised a musical echo against the
steep rocks near. His wit was not its cause, but her own thought: "My plea
was that I was too young; he's very young, too."

As they neared the point of Storm King the evening boat, the "Mary Powell,"
swept toward them with scarcely more apparent effort than that of a swan. A
few moments later their skiff was dancing over the swells, Amy waving her
handkerchief, and the good-natured pilot awakening a hundred echoes by his
steam-whistle of responsive courtesy.

They were at home in time for supper, and here another delicious surprise
awaited Amy. Johnnie and Alf felt that they should do something in honor of
the day. From a sunny hillside they had gleaned a gill of wild
strawberries, and Webb had found that the heat of the day had so far
developed half a dozen Jacqueminot rosebuds that they were ready for
gathering. These with their fragrance and beauty were beside her plate in
dainty arrangement. They seemed to give the complete and final touch to the
day already replete with joy and kindness, and happy, grateful tears rushed
into the young girl's eyes. Dashing them brusquely away, she said: "I can't
tell you all what I feel, and I won't try. I want you to know, however,"
she added, smilingly, while her lips quivered, "that I am very much at
home."

Burt was in exuberant spirits, for Amy had told him that she had enjoyed
every moment of the afternoon. This had been most evident, and the young
fellow congratulated himself. He could keep his word, he could be so jolly
a companion as to leave nothing to be desired, and waiting, after all,
would not be a martyrdom. His mood unloosed his tongue and made him
eloquent as he described his experiences in trout-fishing. His words were
so simple and vivid that he made his listeners hear the cool splash and see
the foam of the mountain brooks. They saw the shimmer of the speckled
beauties as they leaped for the fly, and felt the tingle of the rod as the
line suddenly tightened, and hear the hum of the reel as the fish darted
away in imagined safety. Burt saw his vantage--was not Amy listening with
intent eyes and glowing cheeks?--and he kept the little group in suspense
almost as long as it had taken him to play, land, and kill a three-pound
trout, the chief trophy of his excursion.

Webb was unusually silent, and was conscious of a depression for which he
could not account. All was turning out better than he had predicted. The
relations between Burt and Amy were not only "serene," but were apparently
becoming decidedly blissful. The young girl was enthusiastic over her
enjoyment of the afternoon; there were no more delicately veiled defensive
tactics against Burt, and now her face was full of frank admiration of his
skill as an angler and of interest in the wild scenes described. Burt had
spent more time in society than over his books while at college, and was a
fluent, easy talker. Webb felt that he suffered in contrast, that he was
grave, heavy, dull, and old--no fit companion for the girl whose laughing
eyes so often rested on his brother's face and responded to his mirth.
Perhaps Burt would not have long to wait; perhaps his rash, passionate
words had already given to Amy's girlish unconsciousness the shock that had
destroyed it, and she was learning that she was a woman who could return
love for love. Well, granting this, was it not just what they were all
expecting? "But the change is coming too soon," he complained to himself.
"I wish she could keep her gentle, lovable, yet unapproachable May-day
grace a little longer. Then she was like the wind-flower, which the eyes
can linger upon, but which fades almost the moment it is grasped. It made
her so different from other girls of her age. It identified her with the
elusive spirit of nature, whose beauty entrances one, but search and wander
where we will, nothing can be found that is distinctly and tangibly ours or
any one's. Amy, belonging definitely to any one, would lose half her
charm."

Webb saw and heard all that passed, but in a minor key thoughts like these
were forming themselves with little volition on his part, and were symptoms
which as yet he did not understand. In an interval of mirth, Johnnie heard
footsteps on the piazza, and darting out, caught a glimpse of Mr. Alvord's
retreating form. He had come on some errand, and, seeing the group at the
supper-table, had yielded to the impulse to depart unrecognized. This the
little girl would by no means permit. Since Easter an odd friendship had
sprung up between her and the lonely man, and she had become almost his
sole visitor. She now called after him, and in a moment was at his side.
"Why are you going away?" she said. "You must not go till I show you my
garden."

Maggie joined them, for he deeply enlisted her sympathy, and she wished to
make it clear by her manner that the tie between him and the child had her
approval. "Yes, indeed, Mr. Alvord," she said, "you must let Johnnie show
you her garden, and especially her pansies."

"Heart's-ease is another name for the flower, I believe," he replied, with
the glimmer of a smile. "In that case Johnnie should be called Pansy. I
thank you, Mrs. Clifford, that you are willing to trust your child to a
stranger. We had a lovely ramble the other day, and she said that you told
her she might go with me."

"I'm only too glad that you find Johnnie an agreeable little neighbor,"
Maggie began. "Indeed, we all feel so neighborly that we hope you will soon
cease to think of yourself as a stranger." But here impatient Johnnie
dragged him off to see her garden, and his close and appreciative attention
to all she said and showed to him won the child's heart anew. Amy soon
joined them, and said:

"Mr. Alvord, I wish your congratulations, also. I'm eighteen to-day."

He turned, and looked at her so wistfully for a moment that her eyes fell.
"I do congratulate you," he said, in a low, deep voice. "If I had my choice
between all the world and your age, I'd rather be eighteen again. May your
brow always be as serene as it is to-night, Miss Amy." His eyes passed
swiftly from the elder to the younger girl, the one almost as young at
heart and fully as innocent as the other, and then he spoke abruptly:
"Good-by, Johnnie. I wish to see your father a moment on some business;"
and he walked rapidly away. By the time they reached the house he had gone.
Amy felt that with the night a darker shadow had fallen upon her happy day.
The deep sadness of a wounded spirit touched her own, she scarcely knew
why. It was but the law of her unwarped, unselfish nature. Even as a happy
girl she could not pass by uncaring, on the other side. She felt that she
would like to talk with Webb, as she always did when anything troubled her;
but he, touched with something of Burt's old restlessness, had rambled away
in the moonlight, notwithstanding the fatigues of the day. Therefore she
went to the piano and sang for the old people some of the quaint songs of
which she knew they were fond. Burt sat smoking and listening on the piazza
in immeasurable content.



CHAPTER XXXIII

WEBB'S ROSES AND ROMANCE


To Mrs. Clifford the month of June brought the halcyon days of the year.
The warm sunshine revived her, the sub-acid of the strawberry seemed to
furnish the very tonic she needed, and the beauty that abounded on every
side, and that was daily brought to her couch, conferred a happiness that
few could understand. Long years of weakness, in which only her mind could
be active, had developed in the invalid a refinement scarcely possible to
those who must daily meet the practical questions of life, and whose more
robust natures could enjoy the material side of existence. It was not
strange, therefore, that country life had matured her native love of
flowers into almost a passion, which culminated in her intense enjoyment of
the rose in all its varieties. The family, aware of this marked preference,
rarely left her without these flowers at any season; but in June her eyes
feasted on their varied forms and colors, and she distinguished between her
favorites with all the zest and accuracy which a connoisseur of wines ever
brought to bear upon their delicate bouquet. With eyes shut she could name
from its perfume almost any rose with which she was familiar. Therefore, in
all the flower-beds and borders roses abounded, especially the
old-fashioned kinds, which are again finding a place in florists'
catalogues. Originally led by love for his mother, Webb, years since, had
begun to give attention to the queen of flowers. He soon found, however,
that the words of an English writer are true, "He who would have beautiful
roses in his garden must have them first in his heart," and there, with
queenly power, they soon enthroned themselves. In one corner of the garden,
which was protected on the north and west by a high stone wall, where the
soil was warm, loamy, and well drained, he made a little rose garden. He
bought treatises on the flower, and when he heard of or saw a variety that
was particularly fine he added it to his collection. "Webb is marked with
my love of roses," his mother often said, with her low, pleased laugh. Amy
had observed that even in busiest times he often visited his rose garden as
if it contained pets that were never forgotten. He once laughingly remarked
that he "gave receptions there only by special invitation," and so she had
never seen the spot except from a distance.

On the third morning after her birthday Amy came down very early. The bird
symphony had penetrated her open windows with such a jubilant resonance
that she had been awakened almost with the dawn. The air was so cool and
exhilarating, and there was such a wealth of dewy beauty on every side,
that she yielded to the impulse to go out and enjoy the most delightful
hour of the day. To her surprise, she saw Webb going down the path leading
to the garden. "What's on your conscience," she cried, "that you can't
sleep?"

"What's on yours?" he retorted.

"The shame of leaving so many mornings like this unseen and not enjoyed. I
mean to repent and mend my ways from this time forth; that is, if I wake
up. May I go with you?"

"What a droll question!" he replied, in laughing invitation.

"Well, I did not know," she said, joining him, "but that you were going to
visit that _sanctum sanctorum_ of yours."

"I am. Your virtue of early rising is about to be rewarded. You know when
some great personage is to be specially honored, he is given the freedom of
a city or library, etc. I shall now give you the freedom of my rose garden
for the rest of the summer, and from this time till frost you can always
find roses for your belt. I meant to do this on your birthday, but the buds
were not sufficiently forward this backward season."

"I'm not a great personage."

"No, thanks, you're not. You are only our Amy."

"I'm content. Oh, Webb, what miracles have you been working here?" she
exclaimed, as she passed through some screening shrubbery, and looked upon
a plot given up wholly to roses, many of which were open, more in the phase
of exquisite buds, while the majority were still closely wrapped in their
green calyxes.

"No miracle at all. I've only assisted nature a little. At the same time,
let me assure you that this small place is like a picture-gallery, and that
there is a chance here for as nice discrimination as there would be in a
cabinet full of works of art. There are few duplicate roses in this place,
and I have been years in selecting and winnowing this collection. They are
all named varieties, labelled in my mind. I love them too well, and am too
familiar with them, to hang disfiguring bits of wood upon them. One might
as well label his friends. Each one has been chosen and kept because of
some individual point of excellence, and you can gradually learn to
recognize these characteristics just as mother does. This plot here is
filled with hardy hybrid perpetuals, and that with tender tea-roses,
requiring very different treatment. Here is a moss that will bloom again in
the autumn. It has a sounding name--_Soupert-et-notting_--but it is
worthy of any name. Though not so mossy as some others, look at its fine
form and beautiful rose-color. Only one or two are out yet, but in a week
this bush will be a thing of beauty that one would certainly wish might
last forever. Try its fragrance. Nothing surpasses it unless it is _La
France_, over there."

She inhaled the exquisite perfume in long breaths, and then looked around
at the budding beauty on every side, even to the stone walls that were
covered with climbing varieties. At last she turned to him with eyes that
were dilated as much with wonder as with pleasure, and said: "Well, this
_is_ a surprise. How in the world have you found time to bring all this
about? I never saw anything to equal it even in England. Of course I saw
rose gardens there on a larger scale in the parks and greenhouses, but I
have reference to the bushes and flowers. To me it is just a miracle."

"You are wholly mistaken. Why, Amy, an old gentleman who lives but a few
miles away has had seventy distinct kinds of hybrid perpetuals in bloom at
one time, and many of them the finest in existence; and yet he has but a
little mite of a garden, and has been a poor, hard-working man all his
life. Speaking of England, when I read of what the poor working people of
Nottingham accomplished in their little bits of glass-houses and their
Liliputian gardens, I know that all this is very ordinary, and within the
reach of almost any one who loves the flower. After one learns how to grow
roses, they do not cost much more care and trouble than a crop of onions or
cabbages. The soil and location here just suit the rose. You see that the
place is sheltered, and yet there are no trees near to shade them and drain
the ground of its richness."

"Oh, you are sure to make it all seem simple and natural. It's a way you
have," she said, "But to me it's a miracle. I don't believe there are many
who have your feeling for this flower or your skill."

"You are mistaken again. The love for roses is very common, as it should
be, for millions of plants are sold annually, and the trade in them is
steadily increasing. Come, let me give you a lesson in the distinguishing
marks of the different kinds. A rose will smell as sweet by its own name as
by another, and you will find no scentless flowers here. There are some
fine odorless ones, like the Beauty of Stapleford, but I give them no
place."

The moments flew by unheeded until an hour had passed, and then Webb,
looking at the sun, exclaimed: "I must go. This will answer for the first
lesson. You can bring mother here now in her garden chair whenever she
wishes to come, and I will give you other lessons, until you are a true
connoisseur in roses;" and he looked at those in her cheeks as if they were
more lovely than any to which he had been devoted for years.

"Well, Webb," she said, laughing, "I cannot think of anything lacking in my
morning's experience. I was wakened by the song of birds. You have revealed
to me the mystery of your sanctum, and that alone, you know, would be
happiness to the feminine soul. You have also introduced me to dozens of
your sweethearts, for you look at each rose as Burt does at the pretty
girls he meets. You have shown me your budding rose garden in the dewy
morning, and that was appropriate, too. Every one of your pets was gemmed
and jewelled for the occasion, and unrivalled musicians, cleverly concealed
in the trees near, have filled every moment with melody. What more could I
ask? But where are you going with that basket?"

"To gather strawberries for breakfast. There are enough ripe this morning.
You gather roses in the other basket. Why should we not have them for
breakfast, also?"

"Why not, indeed, since it would seem that there are to be thousands here
and elsewhere in the garden? Fresh roses and strawberries for
breakfast--that's country life to perfection. Good-by."

He went away as if in a dream, and his heart almost ached with a tension of
feeling that he could not define. It seemed to him the culmination of all
that he had loved and enjoyed. His rose garden had been complete at this
season the year before, but now that Amy had entered it, the roses that she
had touched, admired, and kissed with lips that vied with their petals grew
tenfold more beautiful, and the spot seemed sacred to her alone. He could
never enter it again without thinking of her and seeing her lithe form
bending to favorites which hitherto he had only associated with his mother.
His life seemed so full and his happiness so deep that he did not want to
think, and would not analyze according to his habit.

He brought the strawberries to Amy in the breakfast-room, and stood near
while she and Johnnie hulled them. He saw the roses arranged by his
mother's plate in such nice harmony that one color did not destroy another.
He replied to her mirthful words and rallyings, scarcely knowing what he
said, so deep was the feeling that oppressed him, so strong was his love
for that sweet sister who had come into his life and made it ideally
perfect. She appreciated what he had loved so fully, her very presence had
ever kindled his spirit, and while eager to learn and easily taught, how
truly she was teaching him a philosophy of life that seemed divine! What
more could he desire? The day passed in a confused maze of thought and
happiness, so strange and absorbing that he dared not speak lest he should
waken as from a dream. The girl had grown so beautiful to him that he
scarcely wished to look at her, and hastened through his meals that he
might be alone with his thoughts. The sun had sunk, and the moon was well
over the eastern mountains, before he visited the rose garden. Amy was
there, and she greeted him with a pretty petulance because he had not come
before. Then, in sudden compunction, she asked:

"Don't you feel well, Webb? You have been so quiet since we were here this
morning! Perhaps you are sorry you let me into this charmed seclusion."

"No, Amy, I am not," he said, with an impetuosity very unusual in him. "You
should know me better than even to imagine such a thing."

Before he could say anything more, Burt's mellow voice rang out, "Amy!"

"Oh, I half forgot; I promised to take a drive with Burt this evening.
Forgive me, Webb," she added, gently, "I only spoke in sport. I do know you
too well to imagine I am unwelcome here. No one ever had a kinder or more
patient brother than you have been to me;" and she clasped her hands upon
his arm, and looked up into his face with frank affection.

His arm trembled under her touch, and he felt that he must be alone. In his
usual quiet tones, however, he was able to say: "You, rather, must forgive
me that I spoke so hastily. No; I'm not ill, but very tired. A good night's
rest will bring me around. Go and enjoy your drive to the utmost."

"Webb, you work too hard," she said, earnestly. "But Burt is calling--"

"Yes; do not keep him waiting; and think of me," he added, laughing, "as
too weary for moonlight, roses, or anything but prosaic sleep. June is all
very well, but it brings a pile of work to a fellow like me."

"Oh, Webb, what a clodhopper you're trying to make yourself out to be!
Well, 'Sleep, sleep'--I can't think of the rest of the quotation. Good-by.
Yes, I'm coming!" rang out her clear voice; and, with a smiling glance
backward, she hastened away.

From the shrubbery he watched her pass up the wide garden path, the
moonlight giving an ethereal beauty to her slight form with its white,
close drapery. Then, deeply troubled, he threw himself on a rustic seat
near the wall, and buried his face in his hands. It was all growing too
clear to him now, and he found himself face to face with the conviction
that Amy was no longer his sister, but the woman he loved. The deep-hidden
current of feeling that had been gathering volume for months at last
flashed out into the light, and there could be no more disguise. The
explanation of her power over him was now given to his deepest
consciousness. By some law of his nature, when she spoke he had ever
listened; whatever she said and did had been invested with a nameless
charm. Day after day they had been together, and their lives had harmonized
like two chords that blend in one sweet sound. He had never had a sister,
and his growing interest in Amy had seemed the most natural thing in the
world; that Burt should love her, equally natural--to fall in love was
almost a habit with the mercurial young fellow when thrown into the society
of a pretty girl--and he had felt that he should be only too glad that his
brother had at last fixed his thoughts on one who would not be a stranger
to them. He now remembered that, while all this had been satisfactory to
reason, his heart for a long time had been uttering its low, half-conscious
protest. Now he knew why. The events of this long day had revealed him unto
himself, because he was ripe for the knowledge.

His nature had its hard, practical business side, but he had never been
content with questions of mere profit and loss. He not only had wanted the
corn, but the secret of the corn's growth and existence. To search into
Nature's hidden life, so that he could see through her outward forms the
mechanism back of all, and trace endless diversity to simple inexorable
laws, had been his pride and the promised solace of his life. His love of
the rose had been to him what it is to many another hard-working man and
woman--recreation, a habit, something for which he had developed the taste
and feeling of a connoisseur. It had had no appreciable influence on the
current of his thoughts. Amy's coming, however, had awakened the poetic
side of his temperament, and, while this had taken nothing from the old, it
had changed everything. Before, his life had been like nature in winter,
when all things are in hard, definite outline. The feeling which she had
inspired brought the transforming flowers and foliage. It was an immense
addition to that which already existed, and which formed the foundation for
it. For a long time he had exulted in this inflorescence of his life, as it
were, and was more than content. He did not know that the spirit gifted
even unconsciously with the power thus to develop his own nature must soon
become to him more than a cause of an effect, more than a sister upon whom
he could look with as tranquil eyes and even pulse in youth as in frosty
age. But now he knew it with the absolute certainty that was characteristic
of his mind when once it grasped a truth. The voice of Burt calling
"Amy," after the experiences of the day, had been like a shaft of light,
instantly revealing everything. For her sake more than his own he had
exerted himself to the utmost to conceal the truth of that moment of bitter
consciousness. He trembled as he thought of his blind, impetuous words and
her look of surprise; he grew cold with dread as he remembered how easily
he might have betrayed himself.

And now what should he do? what could he do but hide the truth with
sleepless vigilance? He could not become his brother's rival. In the eyes
of Amy and all the family Burt was her acknowledged suitor, who, having
been brought to reason, was acting most rationally and honorably. Whether
Amy was learning to love him or not made no difference. If she, growing
conscious of her womanhood, was turning her thoughts to Burt as the one who
had first sought her, and who was now cheerfully waiting until the look of
shy choice and appeal came into her eyes, he could not seek to thrust his
younger brother aside. If the illustration of the rose which she had forced
into unnatural bloom was still true of her heart, he would be false to her
and himself, as well as to Burt, should he seek her in the guise of a
lover. He had felt that it was almost sacrilege to disturb her May-like
girlhood; that this child of nature should be left wholly to nature's
impulses and to nature's hour for awakening.

"If it only could have been, how rich and full life would be!" he thought.
"We were in sympathy at almost every point When shall I forget the hour
we spent here this morning! The exquisite purity and beauty of the dawn,
the roses with the dew upon them, seemed emblems of herself. Hereafter
they will ever speak to me of her. That perfume that comes on the breeze
to me now from the wild grapevine--the most delicate and delightful of
all the odors of June--is instantly associated with her in my mind, as
all things lovely in nature ever will be hereafter. How can I hide all
this from her, and seem merely her quiet elder brother? How can I meet
her here to-morrow morning, and in the witchery of summer evenings, and
still speak in measured tones, and look at her as I would at Johnnie? The
thing is impossible until I have gained a stronger self-control. I must
go away for a day or two, and I will. When I return neither Burt nor Amy
shall have cause to complain;" and he strode away.

The evening mail brought an excuse. A firm to whom the Cliffords had been
sending part of their produce had not given full satisfaction, and Webb
announced his intention of going to the city in the morning to investigate
matters. His father and Leonard approved of his purpose, and when he added
that he might stay in town for two or three days, that he felt the need of
a little change and rest before haying and harvest began, they all
expressed their approval still more heartily.

The night was so beautiful that Burt prolonged his drive. The witchery of
the romantic scenery through which he and Amy passed, and the loveliness of
her profile in the pale light, almost broke down his resolution, and once,
in accents much too tender, he said, "Oh, Amy, I am so happy when with
you!"

"I'm happy with you also," she replied, in brusque tones, "now that you
have become so sensible."

He took the hint, and said, emphatically: "Don't you ever be apprehensive
or nervous when with me. I'll wait, and be 'sensible,' as you express it,
till I'm gray."

Her laugh rang out merrily, but she made no other reply. He was a little
nettled, and mentally vowed a constancy that would one day make her regret
that laugh.

Webb had retired when Amy returned, and she learned of his plans from
Maggie. "It's just the best thing he can do," she said, earnestly. "Webb's
been overworking, and he needs and deserves a little rest."

In the morning he seemed so busy with his preparations that he had scarcely
time to give her more than a genial off-hand greeting.

"Oh, Webb, I shall miss you so much!" she said, in parting, and her look
was very kind and wistful. He did not trust himself to speak, but gave her
a humorous and what seemed to her a half-incredulous smile. He puzzled her,
and she thought about him and his manner of the previous day and evening
not a little. With her sensitive nature, she could not approach so near the
mystery that he was striving to conceal without being vaguely impressed
that there was something unusual about him. The following day, however,
brought a cheerful, business-like letter to his father, which was read at
the dinner-table. He had straightened out matters in town and seemed to be
enjoying himself. She more than once admitted that she did miss him as she
would not any other member of the household. But her out-door life was very
full. By the aid of her glass she made the intimate acquaintance of her
favorite songsters. Every day she took Mrs. Clifford in her garden chair to
the rosary, and proposed through her instruction to give Webb a surprise
when he returned. She would prove to him that she could name his pets from
their fragrance, form, and color as well as he himself.



CHAPTER XXXIV

A SHAM BATTLE AT WEST POINT


Burt did his best to keep things lively, and a few days after Webb's
departure said: "I've heard that there is to be a sham battle at West Point
this afternoon. Suppose we go and see it."

The heavy guns from the river batteries had been awakening deep echoes
among the mountains every afternoon for some time past, reminding the
Cliffords that the June examinations were taking place at the Military
Academy, and that there was much of interest occurring near them. Not only
did Amy assent to Burt's proposition, but Leonard also resolved to go and
take Maggie and the children. In the afternoon a steam-yacht bore them and
many other excursionists to their destination, and they were soon skirting
the grassy plain on which the military evolutions were to take place.

The scene was full of novelty and interest for Amy. Thousands of people
were there, representing every walk and condition of life. Plain farmers
with their wives and children, awkward country fellows with their
sweethearts, dapper clerks with bleached hands and faces, were passing to
and fro among ladies in Parisian toilets and with the unmistakable air of
the metropolis. There were officers with stars upon their shoulders, and
others, quite as important in their bearing, decorated with the insignia of
a second lieutenant. Plain-looking men were pointed out as senators, and
elegantly dressed men were, at a glance, seen to be nobodies. Scarcely a
type was wanting among those who came to see how the nation's wards were
drilled and prepared to defend the nation's honor and maintain peace at the
point of the bayonet. On the piazzas of the officers' quarters were groups
of favored people whose relations or distinguished claims were such as to
give them this advantage over those who must stand where they could to see
the pageant. The cadets in their gray uniforms were conspicuously absent,
but the band was upon the plain discoursing lively music. From the
inclosure within the barracks came the long roll of a drum, and all eyes
turned thitherward expectantly. Soon from under the arched sally-port two
companies of cadets were seen issuing on the double-quick. They crossed the
plain with the perfect time and precision of a single mechanism, and passed
down into a depression of the ground toward the river. After an interval
the other two companies came out in like manner, and halted on the plain
within a few hundred yards of this depression, their bayonets scintillating
in the unclouded afternoon sun. Both parties were accompanied by mounted
cadet officers. The body on the plain threw out pickets, stacked arms, and
lounged at their ease. Suddenly a shot was fired to the eastward, then
another, and in that direction the pickets were seen running in. With
marvellous celerity the loungers on the plain seized their muskets, formed
ranks, and faced toward the point from which the attack was threatened. A
skirmish line was thrown out, and this soon met a similar line advancing
from the depression, sloping eastward. Behind the skirmishers came a
compact line of battle, and it advanced steadily until within fair musket
range, when the firing became general. While the attacking party appeared
to fight resolutely, it was soon observed that they made no further effort
to advance, but sought only to occupy the attention of the party to which
they were opposed.

The Cliffords stood on the northwestern edge of the plain near the statue
of General Sedgwick, and from this point they could also see what was
occurring in the depression toward the river. "Turn, Amy, quick, and see
what's coming," cried Burt. Stealing up the hillside in solid column was
another body of cadets. A moment later they passed near on the
double-quick, went into battle formation on the run, and with loud shouts
charged the flank and rear of the cadets on the plain, who from the first
had sustained the attack. These seemed thrown into confusion, for they were
now between two fires. After a moment of apparent indecision they gave way
rapidly in seeming defeat and rout, and the two attacking parties drew
together in pursuit. When they had united, the pursued, who a moment before
had seemed a crowd of fugitives, became almost instantly a steady line of
battle. The order, "Charge!" rang out, and, with fixed bayonets, they
rushed upon their assailants, and steadily drove them back over the plain,
and down into their original position. It was all carried out with a far
degree of life-like reality. The "sing" of minie bullets was wanting, but
abundance of noise and sulphurous smoke can be made with blank cartridges;
and as the party attacked plucked victory from seeming defeat, the people's
acclamations were loud and long.

At this point the horse of one of the cadet officers became unmanageable.
They had all observed this rider during the battle, admiring the manner in
which he restrained the vicious brute, but at last the animal's excitement
or fear became so great that he rushed toward the crowded sidewalk and road
in front of the officers' quarters. The people gave way to right and left.
Burt had scarcely time to do more than encircle Amy with his arm and sweep
her out of the path of the terrified beast. The cadet made heroic efforts,
until it was evident that the horse would dash into the iron fence beyond
the road, and then the young fellow was off and on his feet with the
agility of a cat, but he still maintained his hold upon the bridle. A
second later there was a heavy thud heard above the screams of women and
children and the shouts of those vociferating advice. The horse fell
heavily in his recoil from the fence, and in a moment or two was led
limping and crestfallen away, while the cadet quietly returned to his
comrades on the plain. Johnnie and little Ned were crying from fright, and
both Amy and Maggie were pale and nervous; therefore Leonard led the way
out of the crowd. From a more distant point they saw the party beneath the
hill rally for a final and united charge, which this time proved
successful, and the companies on the plain, after a stubborn resistance,
were driven back to the barracks, and through the sally-port, followed by
their opponents. The clouds of smoke rolled away, the band struck up a
lively air, and the lines of people broke up into groups and streamed in
all directions. Leonard decided that it would be best for them to return by
the evening boat, and not wait for parade, since the little yacht would
certainly be overcrowded at a later hour.



CHAPTER XXXV

CHASED BY A THUNDER-SHOWER


The first one on the "Powell" to greet them was Webb, returning from the
city. Amy thought he looked so thin as to appear almost haggard, but he
seemed in the best of spirits, and professed to feel well and rested. She
half imagined that she missed a certain gentleness in his words and manner
toward her, but when he heard how nearly she had been trampled upon, she
was abundantly satisfied by his look of deep affection and solicitude as he
said: "Heaven bless your strong, ready arm, Burt!" "Oh, that it had been
mine!" was his inward thought. He masked his feelings so well, however,
that all perplexity passed from her mind. She was eager to visit the rose
garden with him, and when there he praised her quickly acquired skill so
sincerely that her face flushed with pleasure. No one seemed to enjoy the
late but ample supper more than he, or to make greater havoc in the
well-heaped dish of strawberries. "I tasted none like these in New York,"
he said. "After all, give me the old-fashioned kind. We've tried many
varieties, but the Triomphe de Gand proves the most satisfactory, if one
will give it the attention it deserves. The fruit ripens early and lasts
till late. It is firm and good even in cool, wet weather, and positively
delicious after a sunny day like this."

"I agree with you, Webb," said his mother, smiling. "It's the best of all
the kinds we've had, except, perhaps, the President Wilder, but that
doesn't bear well in our garden."

"Well, mother," he replied, with a laugh, "the best is not too good for
you. I have a row of Wilders, however, for your especial benefit, but
they're late, you know."

The next morning he went into the haying with as much apparent zest as
Leonard. They began with red-top clover. The growth had been so heavy that
in many places it had "lodged," or fallen, and it had to be cut with
scythes. Later on, the mowing-machine would be used in the timothy fields
and meadows. Amy, from her open window, watched him as he steadily bent to
the work, and she inhaled with pleasure the odors from the bleeding clover,
for it was the custom of the Cliffords to cut their grasses early, while
full of the native juices. Rakes followed the scythes speedily, and the
clover was piled up into compact little heaps, or "cocks," to sweat out its
moisture rather than yield it to the direct rays of the sun.

"Oh, dear!" said Amy, at the dinner-table, "my bees won't fare so well, now
that you are cutting down so much of their pasture."

"Red clover affords no pasturage for honey-bees," said Webb, laughing. "How
easily he seems to laugh of late!" Amy thought. "They can't reach the honey
in the long, tube-like blossoms. Here the bumble-bees have everything their
way, and get it all except what is sipped by the humming-birds, with their
long beaks, as they feed on the minute insects within the flowers. I've
heard the question, Of what use are bumble-bees?--I like to say _bumble_
best, as I did when a boy. Well, I've been told that red clover cannot be
raised without this insect, which, passing from flower to flower, carries
the fertilizing pollen. In Australia the rats and the field mice were so
abundant that they destroyed these bees, which, as you know, make their
nests on the ground, and so cats had to be imported in order to give the
bumble-bees and red clover a chance for life. There is always trouble in
nature unless an equilibrium is kept up. Much as I dislike cats, I must
admit that they have contributed largely toward the prosperity of an
incipient empire."

"When I was a boy," remarked Leonard, "I was cruel enough to catch
bumble-bees and pull them apart for the sake of the sac of honey they
carry."

Alf hung his head, and looked very conscious. "Own up, Alf," laughed Webb.

"Well, I ain't any worse than papa," said the boy.

All through the afternoon the musical sound of whetting the scythes with
the rifle rang out from time to time, and in the evening Leonard said, "If
this warm, dry weather holds till to-morrow night, we shall get in our
clover in perfect condition."

On the afternoon of the following day the two-horse wagon, surmounted by
the hay-rack, went into the barn again and again with its fragrant burden;
but at last Amy was aroused from her book by a heavy vibration of thunder.
Going to a window facing the west, she saw a threatening cloud that every
moment loomed vaster and darker. The great vapory heads, tipped with light,
towered rapidly, until at last the sun passed into a sudden eclipse that
was so deep as to create almost a twilight. As the cloud approached, there
was a low, distant, continuous sound, quite distinct from nearer and
heavier peals, which after brief and briefer intervals followed the
lightning gleams athwart the gloom. She saw that the hay-makers were
gathering the last of the clover, and raking, pitching, and loading with
eager haste, their forms looking almost shadowy in the distance and the dim
light. Their task was nearly completed, and the horses' heads were turned
barnward, when a flash of blinding intensity came, with an instantaneous
crash, that roared away to the eastward with deep reverberations. Amy
shuddered, and covered her face with her hands. When she looked again, the
clover-field and all that it contained seemed annihilated. The air was
thick with dust, straws, twigs, and foliage torn away, and the gust passed
over the house with a howl of fury scarcely less appalling than the
thunder-peal had been. Trembling, and almost faint with fear, sho strained
her eyes toward the point where she had last seen Webb loading the
hay-rack. The murky obscurity lightened up a little, and in a moment or two
she saw him whipping the horses into a gallop. The doors of the barn stood
open, and the rest of the workers had taken a cross-cut toward it, while
Mr. Clifford was on the piazza, shouting for them to hurry. Great drops
splashed against the window-panes, and the heavy, monotonous sound of the
coming torrent seemed to approach like the rush of a locomotive. Webb, with
the last load, is wheeling to the entrance of the barn. A second later, and
the horses' feet resound on the planks of the floor. Then all is hidden,
and the rain pours against the window like a cataract. In swift alternation
of feeling she clapped her hands in applause, and ran down to meet Mr.
Clifford, who, with much effort, was shutting the door against the gale.
When he turned he rubbed his hands and laughed as he said, "Well, I never
saw Webb chased so sharply by a thunder-shower before; but he won the race,
and the clover's safe."

The storm soon thundered away to parts unknown, the setting sun spanning
its retreating murkiness with a magnificent bow; long before the rain
ceased the birds were exulting in jubilant chorus, and the air grew still
and deliciously cool and fragrant. When at last the full moon rose over the
Beacon Mountains there was not a cloud above the horizon, and Nature, in
all her shower-gemmed and June-clad loveliness, was like a radiant beauty
lost in revery.



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE RESCUE OF A HOME


Who remembers when his childhood ceased? Who can name the hour when
buoyant, thoughtless, half-reckless youth felt the first sobering touch of
manhood, or recall the day when he passed over the summit of his life, and
faced the long decline of age? As imperceptibly do the seasons blend when
one passes and merges into another. There were traces of summer in May,
lingering evidences of spring far into June, and even in sultry July came
days in which the wind in the groves and the chirp of insects at night
foretold the autumn.

The morning that followed the thunder-shower was one of warm, serene
beauty. The artillery of heaven had done no apparent injury. A rock may
have been riven in the mountains, a lonely tree splintered, but homes were
safe, the warm earth was watered, and the air purified. With the dawn Amy's
bees were out at work, gleaning the last sweets from the white clover, that
was on the wane, from the flowers of the garden, field, and forest. The
rose garden yielded no honey: the queen of flowers is visited by no bees.
The sweetbrier, or eglantine, belonging to this family is an exception,
however, and if the sweets of these wild roses could be harvested, an Ariel
would not ask for daintier sustenance.

White and delicate pink hues characterize the flowers of early spring. In
June the wild blossoms emulate the skies, and blue predominates. In July
and August many of the more sensitive in Flora's train blush crimson under
the direct gaze of the sun. Yellow hues hold their own throughout the year,
from the dandelions that first star the fields to the golden-rod that
flames until quenched by frost and late autumn storms.

During the latter part of June the annual roses of the garden were in all
stages and conditions. Beautiful buds could be gleaned among the developing
seed receptacles and matured flowers that were casting their petals on
every breeze. The thrips and the disgusting rose-bug were also making havoc
here and there. But an untiring vigilance watched over the rose garden.
Morning, noon, and evening Webb cut away the fading roses, and Amy soon
learned to aid him, for she saw that his mind was bent on maintaining the
roses in this little nook at the highest attainable point of perfection. It
is astonishing how greatly nature can be assisted and directed by a little
skilled labor at the right time. Left to themselves, the superb varieties
in the rose garden would have spent the remainder of the summer and autumn
chiefly in the development of seed-vessels, and in resting after their
first bloom. But the pruning-knife had been too busy among them, and the
thoroughly fertilized soil sent up supplies that must be disposed of. As
soon as the bushes had given what may be termed their first annual bloom
they were cut back halfway to the ground, and dormant buds were thus forced
into immediate growth. Meanwhile the new shoots that in spring had started
from the roots were already loaded with buds, and so, by a little
management and attention, the bloom would be maintained until frosty nights
should bring the sleep of winter. No rose-bug escaped Webb's vigilant
search, and the foliage was so often sprayed by a garden syringe with an
infusion of white hellebore that thrips and slugs met their deserved fate
before they had done any injury. Thus for Mrs. Clifford and Amy was
maintained a supply of these exquisite flowers, which in a measure became a
part of their daily food.

Nature was culminating. On every side was the fulfilment of its innumerable
promises. The bluebird, with the softness of June in his notes, had told
his love amid the snows and gales of March, and now, with unabated
constancy, and with all a father's solicitude, he was caring for his third
nestful of fledglings. Young orioles were essaying flight from their
wind-rocked cradles on the outer boughs of the elms. Phoebe-birds, with
nests beneath bridges over running streams, had, nevertheless, the skill to
land their young on the banks. Nature was like a vast nursery, and from
gardens, lawns, fields, and forest the cries and calls of feathered infancy
were heard all day, and sometimes in the darkness, as owls, hawks, and
other night prowlers added to the fearful sum of the world's tragedies. The
cat-birds, that had built in some shrubbery near the house, had by the last
of June done much to gain Amy's good-will and respect. As their domestic
character and operations could easily be observed, she had visited them
almost daily from the time they had laid the dry-twig and leafy foundation
of their nest until its lining of fine dry grasses was completed. She bad
found that, although inclined to mock and gibe at outsiders, they were
loyal and affectionate to each other. In their home-building, in the
incubation of the deep bluish-green eggs, and in the care of the young, now
almost ready to fly, they had been mutually helpful and considerate,
fearless and even fierce in attacking all who approached too near their
domicile. To Amy and her daily visits they had become quite reconciled,
even as she had grown interested in them, in spite of a certain lack of the
high breeding which characterized the thrushes and other favorites.

"My better acquaintance with them," she said one evening to Dr. Marvin,
who, with his wife, had stopped at the Cliffords' in passing, "has taught
me a lesson. I think I'm too much inclined to sweeping censure on the
exhibition of a few disagreeable traits. I've learned that the gossips in
yonder bushes have some excellent qualities, and I suppose you find that
this is true of the gossips among your patients."

"Yes," replied the doctor, "but the human gossips draw the more largely on
one's charity; and if you knew how many pestiferous slugs and insects your
neighbors in the shrubbery have already destroyed, the human genus of
gossip would suffer still more in comparison."

That Amy had become so interested in these out-door neighbors turned out to
their infinite advantage, for one morning their excited cries of alarm
secured her attention. Hastening to the locality of their nest, she looked
upon a scene that chilled the blood in her own veins. A huge black-snake
suspended his weight along the branches of the shrubbery with entire
confidence and ease, and was in the act of swallowing a fledgling that,
even as Amy looked, sent out its last despairing peep. The parent birds
were frantic with terror, and their anguish and fearless efforts to save
their young redeemed them forever in Amy's eyes.

"Webb!" she cried, since, for some reason, he ever came first to her mind
in an emergency. It so happened that he had just come from the hay field to
rest awhile and prepare for dinner. In a moment he was at her side, and
followed with hasty glance her pointing finger.

"Come away, Amy," he said, as he looked at her pale face and dilated eyes.
"I do not wish you to witness a scene like that;" and almost by force he
drew her to the piazza. In a moment he was out with a breech-loading gun,
and as the smoke of the discharge lifted, she saw a writhing, sinuous form
fall heavily to the earth. After a brief inspection Webb came toward her in
smiling assurance, saying: "The wretch got only one of the little family.
Four birds are left. There now, don't feel so badly. You have saved a home
from utter desolation. That, surely, will be a pleasant thing to remember."

"What could I have done if you had not come?"

"I don't like to think of what you might have done--emulated the
mother-bird, perhaps, and flown at the enemy."

"I did not know you were near when I called your name," she said. "It was
entirely instinctive on my part; and I believe," she added, musingly,
looking with a child's directness into his eyes, "that one's instincts are
usually right; don't you?"

He turned away to hide the feeling of intense pleasure caused by her words,
but only said, in a low voice, "I hope I may never fail you, Amy, when you
turn to me for help." Then he added, quickly, as if hastening away from
delicate ground: "While those large black-snakes are not poisonous, they
are ugly customers sometimes. I have read of an instance in which a boy put
his hand into the hole of a tree where there had been a bluebird's nest,
and touched the cold scales of one of these snakes. The boy took to his
heels, with the snake after him, and it is hard to say what would have
happened had not a man plowing near come to the rescue with a heavy
ox-whip. What I should fear most in your case would be a nervous shock had
the snake even approached you, for you looked as if you had inherited from
Mother Eve an unusual degree of hate for the reptile."

The report of the gun had attracted Alf and others to the scene. Amy, with
a look of smiling confidence, said: "Perhaps you have rescued me as well as
the birds. I can't believe, though, that such a looking creature could have
tempted Eve to either good or evil;" and she entered the house, leaving him
in almost a friendly mood toward the cause of the cat-bird's woe.

Alf exulted over the slain destroyer, and even Johnnie felt no compunction
at the violent termination of its life. The former, with much sportsmanlike
importance, measured it, and at the dinner-table announced its length to be
a little over four feet.

"By the way," said Webb, "your adventure, Amy, reminds me of one of the
finest descriptions I ever read;" and jumping up, he obtained from the
library Burroughs's account of a like scene and rescue. "I will just give
you some glimpses of the picture," he said, reading the following
sentences: "'Three or four yards from me was the nest, beneath which, in
long festoons, rested a huge black-snake. I can conceive of nothing more
overpoweringly terrible to an unsuspecting family of birds than the sudden
appearance above their domicile of the head and neck of this arch enemy.
One thinks of the great myth of the tempter and the cause of all our woe,
and wonders if the Arch-One is not playing off some of his pranks before
him. Whether we call it snake or devil matters little. I could but admire
his terrible beauty, however; his black, shining folds; his easy, gliding
movement--head erect, eyes glistening, tongue playing like subtile flame,
and the invisible means of his almost winged locomotion. Presently, as he
came gliding down the slender body of a leaning alder, his attention was
attracted by a slight movement of my arm; eying me an instant with that
crouching, utter, motionless gaze which I believe only snakes and devils
can assume, he turned quickly,'" etc.

Amy shuddered, and Mrs. Clifford looked a little troubled that the scene in
Eden should be spoken of as merely a "myth." When she was a child "Paradise
Lost" had been her story-book, and the stories had become real to her.
Burt, however, not to be outdone, recalled his classics.

"By the way," he said, "I can almost parallel your description from the
'Iliad' of Homer. I won't pretend that I can give you the Greek, and no
doubt it would be Greek to you. I'll get even with you, Webb, however, and
read an extract from Pope's translation," and he also made an excursion to
the library. Returning, he said, "Don't ask me for the connection," and
read:

  "'Straight to the tree his sanguine spires he rolled,
    And curled around in many a winding fold.
    The topmost branch a mother-bird possessed;
    Eight callow infants filled the mossy nest;
    Herself the ninth: the serpent as he hung
    Stretched his black jaws, and crashed the crying young:
    While hovering near, with miserable moan,
    The drooping mother wailed her children gone.
    The mother last, as round the nest she flew,
    Seized by the beating wing, the monster slew.'"

"Bravo!" cried Leonard. "I am now quite reconciled to your four years at
college. Heretofore I had thought you had passed through it as Shadrach,
Meshach, and Abednego passed through the fiery furnace, without even the
smell of fire upon their garments, but I now at last detect a genuine
Greek aroma."

"I think Burt's quotation very pat," said Amy, "and I could not have
believed that anything written so long ago would apply so marvellously to
what I have seen to-day."

"Marvellously pat, indeed," said Leonard. "And since your quotation has
led to such a nice little pat on your classical back, Burt, you must feel
repaid for your long burning of the midnight oil."

Burt flushed slightly, but he turned Leonard's shafts with smiling
assurance, and said: "Amply repaid. I have ever had an abiding confidence
that my education would be of use to me at some time."

The long days grew hot, and often sultry, but the season brought
unremitting toil. The click of the mowing-machine, softened by distance,
came from field after field. As the grain in the rye grew plump and
heavy, the heads drooped more and more, and changed from a pale yellow to
the golden hue that announced the hour of harvest. In smooth and level
fields the reaping-machine also lightened and expedited labor, but there
was one upland slope that was too rough for anything except the
old-fashioned cradle. On a breezy afternoon Amy went out to sketch the
harvesters, and from the shade of an adjacent tree to listen to the
rhythmical rush and rustle as the blade passed through the hollow stocks,
and the cradle dropped the gathered wealth in uniform lines. Almost
immediately the prostrate grain was transformed into tightly girthed
sheaves. How black Abram's great paw looked as he twisted a wisp of
straw, bound together the yellow stalks, and tucked under the end of his
improvised rope!

Webb was leading the reapers, and they had to step quickly to keep pace
with him. As Amy appeared upon the scene he had done no more than take
off his hat and wave it to her, but as the men circled round the field
near her again, she saw that her acquaintance of the mountain cabin was
manfully bringing up the rear. Every time, before Lumley stooped to the
sweep of his cradle, she saw that he stole a glance toward her, and she
recognized him with cordial good-will. He, too, doffed his hat in
grateful homage, and as he paused a moment in his honest toil, and stood
erect, he unconsciously asserted the manhood that she had restored to
him. She caught his attitude, and he became the subject of her sketch.
Rude and simple though it was, it would ever recall to her a pleasant
picture--the diminishing area of standing rye, golden in the afternoon
sunshine, with light billows running over it before the breeze, Webb
leading, with the strong, assured progress that would ever characterize
his steps through life, and poor Lumley, who had been wronged by
generations that had passed away, as well as by his own evil, following
in an honest emulation which she had evoked.



CHAPTER XXXVII

A MIDNIGHT TEMPEST


As far as possible, the prudent Leonard, who was commander-in-chief of
the harvest campaign, had made everything snug before the Fourth of July,
which Alf ushered in with untimely patriotic fervor. Almost before the
first bird had taken its head from under its wing to look for the dawn,
he had fired a salute from a little brass cannon. Not very long afterward
the mountains up and down the river were echoing with the thunder of the
guns at West Point and Newburgh. The day bade fair to justify its
proverbial character for sultriness. Even in the early morning the air
was languid and the heat oppressive. The sun was but a few hours high
before the song of the birds almost ceased, with the exception of the
somewhat sleepy whistling of the orioles. They are half tropical in
nature as well as plumage, and their manner during the heat of the day is
like that of languid Southern beauties. They kept flitting here and there
through their leafy retirement in a mild form of restlessness, exchanging
soft notes--pretty nonsense, no doubt--which often terminated abruptly,
as if they had not energy enough to complete the brief strain attempted.

Alf, with his Chinese crackers and his cannon, and Johnnie and Ned, with
their torpedoes, kept things lively during the forenoon, but their elders
were disposed to lounge and rest. The cherry-trees, laden with black and
white ox-hearts, were visited. One of the former variety was fairly
sombre with the abundance of its dark-hued fruit, and Amy's red lips grew
purple as Burt threw her down the largest and ripest from the topmost
boughs. Webb, carrying a little basket lined with grapevine leaves,
gleaned the long row of Antwerp raspberries. The first that ripen of this
kind are the finest and most delicious, and their strong aroma announced
his approach long before he reached the house. His favorite Triomphe de
Grand strawberries, that had supplied the table three weeks before, were
still yielding a fair amount of fruit, and his mother was never without
her dainty dish of pale red berries, to which the sun had been adding
sweetness with the advancing season until nature's combination left
nothing to be desired.

By noon the heat was oppressive, and Alf and Ned were rolling on the
grass under a tree, quite satiated for a time with two elements of a
boy's elysium, fire-crackers and cherries. The family gathered in the
wide hall, through the open doors of which was a slight draught of air.
All had donned their coolest costumes, and their talk was quite as
languid as the occasional notes and chirpings of the birds without. Amy
was reading a magazine in a very desultory way, her eyelids drooping over
every page before it was finished, Webb and Burt furtively admiring the
exquisite hues that the heat brought into her face, and the soft lustre
of her eyes. Old Mr. Clifford nodded over his newspaper until his
spectacles clattered to the floor, at which they all laughed, and asked
for the news. His invalid wife lay upon the sofa in dreamy, painless
repose. To her the time was like a long, quiet nooning by the wayside of
life, with all her loved band around her, and her large, dark eyes rested
on one and another in loving, lingering glances--each so different, yet
each so dear! Sensible Leonard was losing no time, but was audibly
resting in a great wooden rocking-chair at the further end of the hall.
Maggie only, the presiding genius of the household, was not wilted by the
heat. She flitted in and out occasionally, looking almost girlish in her
white wrapper. She had the art of keeping house, of banishing dust and
disorder without becoming an embodiment of dishevelled disorder herself.
No matter what she was doing, she always appeared trim and neat, and in
the lover-like expression of her husband's eyes, as they often followed
her, she had her reward. She was not deceived by the semi-torpid
condition of the household, and knew well what would be expected in a
Fourth-of-July dinner. Nor was she disappointed. The tinkle of the bell
at two o'clock awakened unusual animation, and then she had her triumph.
Leonard beamed upon a hind-quarter of lamb roasted to the nicest turn of
brownness. A great dish of Champion-of-England pease, that supreme
product of the kitchen-garden, was one of the time-honored adjuncts,
while new potatoes, the first of which had been dug that day, had half
thrown off their mottled jackets in readiness for the feast. Nature had
been Maggie's handmaid in spreading that table, and art, with its
culinary mysteries and combinations, was conspicuously absent. If Eve had
had a kitchen range and the Garden of Eden to draw upon, Adam could
scarcely have fared better than did the Clifford household that day. The
dishes heaped with strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and white
grape-currants that had been gathered with the dew upon them might well
tempt the most _blase_ resident of a town to man's primal calling.

Before they reached their iced tea, which on this hot day took the place
of coffee, there was a distant peal of thunder.

"I knew it would come," said old Mr. Clifford. "We shall have a cool
night, after all."

"A Fourth rarely passes without showers," Leonard remarked. "That's why I
was so strenuous about getting all our grass and grain that was down
under cover yesterday."

"You are not the only prudent one," Maggie added, complacently. "I've
made my currant jelly, and it jellied beautifully: it always does if I
make it before the Fourth and the showers that come about this time. It's
queer, but a rain on the currants after they are fairly ripe almost
spoils them for jelly."

The anticipations raised by the extreme sultriness were fulfilled at
first only in part. Instead of a heavy shower accompanied by violent
gusts, there was a succession of tropical and vertical down-pourings,
with now and then a sharp flash and a rattling peal, but usually a heavy
monotone of thunder from bolts flying in the distance. One great cloud
did not sweep across the sky like a concentrated charge, leaving all
clear behind it, as is so often the case, but, as if from an immense
reserve, Nature appeared to send out her vapory forces by battalions.
Instead of enjoying the long siesta which she had promised herself, Amy
spent the afternoon in watching the cloud scenery. A few miles southwest
of the house was a prominent highland that happened to be in the direct
line of the successive showers. This formed a sort of gauge of their
advance. A cloud would loom up behind it, darken it, obscure it until it
faded out even as a shadow; then the nearer spurs of the mountains would
be blotted out, and in eight or ten minutes even the barn and the
adjacent groves would be but dim outlines through the myriad rain-drops.
The cloud would soon be well to the eastward, the dim landscape take form
and distinctness, and the distant highland appear again, only to be
obscured in like manner within the next half-hour. It was as if invisible
and Titanic gardeners were stepping across the country with their
watering-pots.

Burt and Webb sat near Amy at the open window, the former chatting
easily, and often gayly. Webb, with his deep-set eyes fixed on the
clouds, was comparatively silent. At last he rose somewhat abruptly, and
was not seen again until evening, when he seemed to be in unusually good
spirits. As the dusk deepened he aided Alf and Johnnie in making the
finest possible display of their fireworks, and for half an hour the
excitement was intense. The family applauded from the piazza. Leonard and
his father, remembering the hay and grain already stored in the barn,
congratulated each other that the recent showers had prevented all danger
from sparks.

After the last rocket had run its brief, fiery course, Alf and Johnnie
were well content to go with Webb, Burt, and Amy to an upper room whose
windows looked out on Newburgh Bay and to the westward. Near and far,
from their own and the opposite side of the river, rockets were flaming
into the sky, and Roman candles sending up their globes of fire. But
Nature was having a celebration of her own, which so far surpassed
anything terrestrial that it soon won their entire attention. A great
black cloud that hung darkly in the west was the background for the
electric pyrotechnics. Against this obscurity the lightning played almost
every freak imaginable. At one moment there would be an immense
illumination, and the opaque cloud would become vivid gold. Again, across
its blackness a dozen fiery rills of light would burn their way in zigzag
channels, and not infrequently a forked bolt would blaze earthward.
Accompanying these vivid and central effects were constant illuminations
of sheet lightning all round the horizon, and the night promised to be a
carnival of thunder-showers throughout the land. The extreme heat
continued, and was rendered far more oppressive by the humidity of the
atmosphere.

The awful grandeur of the cloud scenery at last so oppressed Amy that she
sought relief in Maggie's lighted room. As we have already seen, her
sensitive organization was peculiarly affected by an atmosphere highly
charged with electricity. She was not re-assured, for Leonard inadvertently
remarked that it would take "a rousing old-fashioned storm to cool and
clear the air."

"Why, Amy," exclaimed Maggie, "how pale you are! and your eyes shine as
if some of the lightning had got into them."

"I wish it was morning," said the girl. "Such a sight oppresses me like a
great foreboding of evil;" and, with a restlessness she could not
control, she went down to Mrs. Clifford's room. She found Mr. Clifford
fanning the invalid, who was almost faint from the heat. Amy took his
place, and soon had the pleasure of seeing her charge drop off into quiet
slumber. As Mr. Clifford was very weary also, Amy left them to their
rest, and went to the sitting-room, where Webb was reading. Burt had
fallen asleep on the lounge in the hall. Leonard's prediction promised to
come true. The thunder muttered nearer and nearer, but it was a sullen,
slow, remorseless approach through the absolute silence and darkness
without, and therefore was tenfold more trying to one nervously
apprehensive than a swift, gusty storm would have been in broad day.

Webb looked up and greeted her with a smile. His lamp was shaded, and the
room shadowy, so that he did not note that Amy was troubled and
depressed. "Shall I read to you?" he asked. "I am running over
Hawthorne's 'English Note-Books' again."

"Yes," she said, in a low voice; and she sat down with her back to the
windows, through which shone momentarily the glare of the coming tempest.
He had not read a page before a long, sullen peal rolled across the
entire arc of the sky. "Webb," faltered Amy, and she rose and took an
irresolute step toward him.

His pre-occupation was instantly gone. Never had he heard sweeter music
than that low appeal, to which the deep echoes in the mountains formed a
strange accompaniment. He stepped to her side, took her hand, and found
it cold and trembling. Drawing her within the radiance of the lamp, he
saw how pale she was, and that her eyes were dilated with nervous dread.

"Webb," she began again, "do you--do you think there is danger?"

"No, Amy," he said, gently; "there is no danger for you in God's
universe."

"Oh, that frightful glare!" and she buried her face on his shoulder.
"Webb," she whispered, "won't you stay up till the storm is over? And you
won't think me weak or silly either, will you? Indeed, I can't help it. I
wish I had a little of your courage and strength."

"I like you best as you are," he said; "and all my strength is yours when
you need it. I understand you, Amy, and well know you cannot help this
nervous dread. I saw how these electrical storms affected you last
February, and such experiences are not rare with finely organized
natures. See, I can explain it all with my matter-of-fact philosophy.
But, believe me, there is no danger. Certainly I will stay with you. What
would I not do for you?" he could not help adding.

She looked at him affectionately as she said, with a child's unconscious
frankness: "I don't know why it is, but I always feel safe when with you.
I often used to wish that I had a brother, and imagine what he would be
to me; but I never dreamed that a brother could be so much to me as you
are.--Oh, Webb!" and she almost clung to him, as the heavy thunder pealed
nearer than before.

Involuntarily he encircled her with his arm, and drew her closer to him
in the impulse of protection. She felt his arm tremble, and wholly
misinterpreted the cause. Springing aloof, she clasped her hands, and
looked around almost wildly.

"Oh, Webb," she cried, "there is danger. Even you tremble."

Webb was human, and had nerves also, but all the thunder that ever roared
could not affect them so powerfully as Amy's head bowed upon his
shoulder, and the appealing words of her absolute trust. He mastered
himself instantly, however, for he saw that he must be strong and calm in
order to sustain the trembling girl through one of Nature's most awful
moods. She was equally sensitive to the smiling beauty and the wrath of
the great mother. The latter phase was much the same to her as if a loved
face had suddenly become black with reckless passion. He took both her
hands in a firm grasp, and said: "Amy, I am not afraid, and you must not
be. You can do much toward self-control. Come," he added, in tones almost
authoritative, "sit here by me, and give me your hand. I shall read to
you in a voice as quiet and steady as you ever heard me use."

She obeyed, and he kept his word. His strong, even grasp reassured her in
a way that excited her wonder, and the nervous paroxysm of fear began to
pass away. While she did not comprehend what he read, his tones and
expression had their influence. His voice, however, was soon drowned by
the howling of the tempest as it rushed upon them. He felt her hand
tremble again, and saw her look apprehensively toward the windows.

"Amy," he said, and in smiling confidence he fixed his eyes on hers and
held them.

The crisis of the storm was indeed terrific. The house rocked in the
furious blasts. The uproar without was frightful, suggesting that the
Evil One was in very truth the "prince of the power of the air," and that
he was abroad with all his legions. Amy trembled violently, but Webb's
hand and eyes held hers. "Courage!" he said, cheerily; "the storm is
passing."

A wan, grateful smile glimmered for a moment on her pale face, and then
her expression passed into one of horror. With a cry that was lost in a
deafening crash, she sprang into his arms. Even Webb was almost stunned
and blinded for a moment. Then he heard rapid steps. Burt at last had
been aroused from the slumber of youth, and, fortunately for his peace,
rushed first into his mother's room. Webb thought Amy had fainted, and he
laid her gently on the lounge. "Don't leave me," she gasped, faintly.

"Amy," he said, earnestly, "I assure you that all danger is now over. As
I told you once before, the centre of the storm has passed. You know I
never deceived you."

Maggie and Burt now came running in, and Webb said, "Amy has had a faint
turn. I will get her a glass of water."

This revived her speedily, but the truth of Webb's words proved more
efficacious. The gale was sweeping the storm from the sky. The swish of
the torrents mattered little, for the thunder-peals died away steadily to
the eastward. Amy made a great effort to rally, for she felt ashamed of
her weakness, and feared that the others would not interpret her as
charitably as Webb had done. In a few minutes he smilingly withdrew, and
went out on the rear porch with Leonard, whence they anxiously scanned
the barn and out-buildings. These were evidently safe, wherever the bolt
had fallen, and it must have struck near. In half an hour there was a
line of stars along the western horizon, and soon the repose within the
old house was as deep as that of nature without.

Webb only was sleepless. He sat at his open window, and saw the clouds
roll away. But he felt that a cloud deeper and murkier than any that had
ever blackened the sky hung over his life. He knew too well why his arm
had trembled when for a moment it encircled Amy. The deepest and
strongest impulse of his soul was to protect her, and her instinctive
appeal to him had raised a tempest in his heart as wild as that which had
raged without. He felt that he could not yield her to another, not even
to his brother. Nature itself pointed her to him. It was to him she
turned and clung in her fears. And yet she had not even dreamed of his
untold wealth of love, and probably never would suspect it. He could not
reveal it--indeed, it must be the struggle of his life to hide it--and
she, while loving him as a brother, might easily drift into an engagement
and marriage with Burt. Could he be patient, and wear a smiling mask
through it all? That tropical night and its experiences taught him anew
that he had a human heart, with all its passionate cravings. When he came
down from his long vigil on the following morning his brow was as serene
as the scene without. Amy gave him a grateful and significant smile, and
he smiled back so naturally that observant Burt, who had been a little
uneasy over the events of the previous night, was wholly relieved of
anxiety. They had scarcely seated themselves at the breakfast-table
before Alf came running in, and said that an elm not a hundred yards from
the house had been splintered from the topmost branch to the roots. All
except Mrs. Clifford went out to look at the smitten tree, and they gazed
with awe at the deep furrow plowed in the blackened wood.

"It will live," said Webb, quietly, as he turned away; "it will probably
live out its natural life."

Amy, in her deep sympathy, looked after him curiously. There was
something in his tone and manner which suggested a meaning beyond his
words. Not infrequently he had puzzled her of late, and this added to her
interest in him. She understood Burt thoroughly.

Good old Mr. Clifford saw in the shattered tree only reasons for profound
thankfulness, and words of Christian gratitude rose to his lips.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE TWO LOVERS


The July sun speedily drank up the superabundant moisture, and the farm
operations went on with expedition. The corn grew green and strong, and
its leaves stretched up to Abram's shoulder as he ran the cultivator
through it for the last time. The moist sultriness of the Fourth finished
the ox-heart cherries. They decayed at once, to Alf's great regret. "That
is the trouble with certain varieties of cherries," Webb remarked. "One
shower will often spoil the entire crop even before it is ripe." But it
so happened that there were several trees of native or ungrafted fruit on
the place, and these supplied the children and the birds for many days
thereafter. The robins never ceased gorging themselves. Indeed, they were
degenerating into shameless _gourmands_, and losing the grace of
song, as were also the bobolinks in the meadows.

Already there was a perceptible decline in the morning and evening
minstrelsy of all the birds, and, with the exception of calls and
twitterings, they grew more and more silent through the midday heat. With
the white bloom of the chestnut-trees the last trace of spring passed
away. Summer reached its supreme culmination, and days that would not be
amiss at the equator were often followed by nights of breathless
sultriness. Early in the month haying and harvest were over, and the last
load that came down the lane to the barn was ornamented with green
boughs, and hailed with acclamations by the farm hands, to whom a
generous supper was given, and something substantial also to take home to
their families.

As the necessity for prompt action and severe labor passed, the Cliffords
proved that their rural life was not one of plodding, unredeemed toil.
For the next few weeks Nature would give them a partial respite. She
would finish much of the work which they had begun. The corn would
mature, the oats ripen, without further intervention on their part. By
slow but sure alchemy the fierce suns would change the acid and bitter
juices in the apples, peaches, plums, and pears into nectar. Already Alf
was revelling in the harvest apples, which, under Maggie's culinary
magic, might tempt an ascetic to surfeit.

While Burt had manfully done his part in the harvest-field, he had not
made as long hours as the others, and now was quite inclined to enjoy to
the utmost a season of comparative leisure. He was much with Amy, and she
took pleasure in his society, for, as she characterized his manner in her
thoughts, he had grown very sensible. He had accepted the situation, and
he gave himself not a little credit for his philosophical patience. He
regarded himself as committed to a deep and politic plan, in which,
however, there was no unworthy guile. He would make himself essential to
Amy's happiness. He would be so quietly and naturally devoted to her that
she would gradually come to look forward to a closer union as a matter of
course. He also made it clear to her that she had no rivals in his
thoughts, or even admiration, and, as far as courtesy permitted, withdrew
from the society of a few favorites who once had welcomed him gladly and
often. He had even pretended indifference to the advent of a dark-eyed
beauty to the neighborhood, and had made no efforts to form her
acquaintance. This stranger from the city was so charming, however, that
he had felt more than once that he was giving no slight proof of
constancy. His fleet horse Thunder was his great ally, and in the long
twilight evenings, he, with Amy, explored the country roads far and near.
When the early mornings were not too warm they rowed upon the river, or
went up the Moodna Creek for water-lilies, which at that hour floated
upon the surface with their white petals all expanded--beautiful emblems
of natures essentially good. From mud and slime they developed purity and
fragrance. He was also teaching Amy to be an expert horsewoman, and they
promised themselves many a long ride when autumn coolness should make
such exercise more agreeable.

Burt was a little surprised at his tranquil enjoyment of all this
companionship, but nevertheless prided himself upon it. He was not so
mercurial and impetuous as the others had believed him to be, but was
capable of a steady and undemonstrative devotion. Amy was worth winning
at any cost, and he proposed to lay such a patient siege that she could
not fail to become his. Indeed, with a disposition toward a little
retaliation, he designed to carry his patience so far as to wait until he
had seen more than once an expression in her eyes that invited warmer
words and manner. But he had to admit that time was passing, and that no
such expression appeared. This piqued him a little, and he felt that he
was not appreciated. The impression grew upon him that she was very
young--unaccountably young for one of her years. She enjoyed his bright
talk and merry ways with much the same spirit that Alf's boyish
exuberance called forth. She had the natural love of all young, healthful
natures for pleasure and change, and she unconsciously acted toward him
as if he were a kind, jolly brother who was doing much to give the spice
of variety to her life. At the same time her unawakened heart was
disposed to take his view of the future. Why should she not marry him,
after her girlhood had passed? All the family wished and expected it, and
surely she liked him exceedingly. But it would be time enough for such
thoughts years hence. He had the leisure and self-control for
good-comradeship, and without questioning she enjoyed it. Her life was
almost as free from care as that of the young birds that had begun their
existence in June.

Only Webb perplexed and troubled her a little. At this season, when even
Leonard indulged in not a little leisure and rest, he was busy and
preoccupied. She could not say that he avoided her, and yet it seemed to
happen that they were not much together. "I fear I'm too young and
girlish to be a companion for him," she sighed. "His manner is just as
kind and gentle, but he treats me as if I were his very little sister. I
don't seem to have the power to interest him that I once had. I wish I
knew enough to talk to him as he would like;" and she stealthily tried to
read some of the scientific books that she saw him poring over.

He, poor fellow, was engaged in the most difficult task ever given to
man--the ruling of his own spirit. He saw her sisterly solicitude and
goodwill, but could not respond in a manner as natural as her own. This
was beyond human capability. His best resource was the comparative
solitude of constant occupation. He was growing doubtful, however, as to
the result of his struggle, while Amy was daily becoming more lovely in
his eyes. Her English life had not destroyed the native talent of an
American girl to make herself attractive. She knew instinctively how to
dress, how to enhance the charms of which nature had not been chary, and
Webb's philosophy and science were no defence against her winsomeness. In
her changeful eyes lurked spells too mighty for him. Men of his caste
rarely succumb to a learned and aggressive woman. They require
intelligence, but it is a feminine intelligence, which supplements their
own, and is not akin to it. Webb saw in Amy all that his heart craved,
and he believed that he also saw her fulfilling Burt's hopes. She seemed
to be gradually learning that the light-hearted brother might bring into
her life all the sunshine and happiness she could desire. Webb
depreciated himself, and believed that he was too grave and dull to win
in any event more than the affection which she would naturally feel for
an elder brother, and this she already bestowed upon him frankly and
unstintedly. Burt took the same view, and was usually complacency itself,
although a week seemed a long time to him, and he sometimes felt that he
ought to be making more progress. But he had no misgivings. He would be
faithful for years, and Amy could not fail to reward such constancy.



CHAPTER XXXIX

BURT'S ADVENTURE


Not only had the little rustic cottages which had been placed on poles
here and there about the Clifford dwelling, and the empty tomato-cans
which Alf, at Dr. Marvin's suggestion, had fastened in the trees, been
occupied by wrens and bluebirds, but larger homes had been taken for the
summer by migrants from the city. Among these was a Mr. Hargrove, a
wealthy gentleman, who had rented a pretty villa on the banks of the
Hudson, a mile or two away. Burt, with all his proposed lifelong
constancy, had speedily discovered that Mr. Hargrove had a very pretty
daughter. Of course, he was quite indifferent to the fact, but he could
no more meet a girl like Gertrude Hargrove and be unobservant than could
Amy pass a new and rare wildflower with unregarding eyes. Miss Hargrove
was not a wildflower, however. She was a product of city life, and was
perfectly aware of her unusual and exotic beauty. Admiring eyes had
followed her even from childhood, and no one better than she knew her
power. Her head had been quite turned by flattery, but there was a saving
clause in her nature--her heart. She was a belle, but not a cold-blooded
coquette. Admiration was like sunshine--a matter of course. She had
always been accustomed to it, as she had been to wealth, and neither had
spoiled her. Beneath all that was artificial, all that fashion prescribed
and society had taught, was the essential womanhood which alone can win
and retain a true man's homage. For reasons just the reverse of those
which explained Amy's indisposition to sentiment, she also had been kept
fancy-free. Seclusion and the companionship of her father, who had been
an invalid in his later years, had kept the former a child in many
respects, at a time when Miss Hargrove had her train of admirers. Miss
Gertrude enjoyed the train very much, but showed no disposition to permit
any one of its constituents to monopolize her. Indeed, their very numbers
had been her safety. Her attention had been divided and distracted by a
score of aspirants, and while in her girlish eyes some found more favor
than others, she was inclined to laughing criticism of them all. They
amused her immensely, and she puzzled them. Her almost velvety black
eyes, and the rich, varying tints of her clear brunette complexion,
suggested a nature that was not cold and unresponsive, yet many who would
gladly have won the heiress for her own sake found her as elusive as only
a woman of perfect tact and self-possession can be. She had no vulgar
ambition to count her victims who had committed themselves in words. With
her keen intuition and abundant experience she recognized the first
glance that was warmer than mere friendliness, and this was all the
committal she wished for. She loved the admiration of men, but was too
good-hearted a girl to wish to make them cynics in regard to women. She
also had the sense to know that it is a miserable triumph to lure a man
to the declaration of a supreme regard, and then in one moment change it
into contempt. While, therefore, she had refused many an offer, no one
had been humiliated, no one had been made to feel that he had been
unworthily trifled with. Thus she retained the respect and goodwill of
those to whom she might easily have become the embodiment of all that was
false and heartless. She had welcomed the comparative seclusion of the
villa on the Hudson, for, although not yet twenty, she was growing rather
weary of society and its exactions. Its pleasures had been tasted too
often, its burdens were beginning to be felt. She was a good horsewoman,
and was learning, under the instruction of a younger brother, to row as
easily and gracefully on the river as she danced in the ballroom, and she
found the former recreation more satisfactory, from its very novelty.

Burt was well aware of these outdoor accomplishments. Any one inclined to
rural pleasures won his attention at once; and Miss Hargrove, as she
occasionally trotted smartly by him, or skimmed near on the waters of the
Hudson, was a figure sure to win from his eyes more than a careless
glance. Thus far, as has been intimated, he had kept aloof, but he had
observed her critically, and he found little to disapprove. She also was
observing him, and was quite as well endowed as he with the power of
forming a correct judgment. Men of almost every description had sought
her smiles, but he did not suffer by comparison. His tall, lithe figure
was instinct with manly grace. There was a fascinating trace of reckless
boldness in his blue eyes. He rode like a centaur, and at will made his
light boat, in which Amy was usually seated, cut through the water with
spray flying from its prow. In Miss Hargrove's present mood for rural
life she wished for his acquaintance, and was a little piqued that he had
not sought hers, since her father had opened the way.

Mr. Hargrove, soon after his arrival in the neighborhood, had had
business transactions with the Cliffords, and had learned enough about
them to awaken a desire for social relations, and he had courteously
expressed his wishes. Maggie and Amy had fully intended compliance, but
the harvest had come, time had passed, and the initial call had not been
made. Leonard was averse to such formalities, and, for reasons already
explained, Burt and Webb were in no mood for them. They would not have
failed in neighborliness much longer, however, and a call was proposed
for the first comparatively cool day. A little incident now occurred
which quite broke the ice, and also somewhat disturbed Burt's serenity.
Amy was not feeling very well, and he had gone out alone for a ride on
his superb black horse Thunder. In a shady road some miles away, where
the willows interlaced their branches overhead in a long, Gothic-like
arch, he saw Miss Hargrove, mounted also, coming slowly toward him. He
never forgot the picture she made under the rustic archway. Her fine
horse was pacing along with a stately tread, his neck curved under the
restraining bit, while she was evidently amusing herself by talking, for
the want of a better companion, to an immense Newfoundland dog that was
trotting at her side, and looking up to her in intelligent appreciation.
Thus, in her preoccupation, Burt was permitted to draw comparatively
near, but as soon as she observed him it was evidently her intention to
pass rapidly. As she gave her horse the rein and he leaped forward, she
clutched his mane, and by a word brought him to a standstill. Burt saw
the trouble at once, for the girth of her saddle had broken, and hung
loosely down. Only by prompt action and good horsemanship had she kept
her seat. Now she was quite helpless, for an attempt to dismount would
cause the heavy saddle to turn, with unknown and awkward results. She had
recognized Burt, and knew that he was a gentleman; therefore she patted
her horse and quieted him, while the young man came promptly to her
assistance. He, secretly exulting over the promise of an adventure, said,
suavely, as he lifted his hat:

"Miss Hargrove, will you permit me to aid you?"

"Certainly," she replied, smiling so pleasantly that the words did not
seem ungracious; "I have no other resource."

He bowed, leaped lightly to the ground, and fastened his horse by the
roadside; then came forward without the least embarrassment. "Your
saddle-girth has broken," he said. "I fear you must dismount. Shall I
lift you off? You maintained your seat admirably, but a very slight
movement on your part will cause the saddle to turn."

"I know that," she replied, laughing. "Helplessness is always awkward. I
am only anxious to reach ground in safety;" and she dropped the reins,
and held out her hands.

"Your horse is too high for you to dismount in that way," he said,
quietly, "and the saddle might fall after you and hurt you. Pardon me;"
and he encircled her with his right arm, and lifted her gently off.

She blushed like the western sky, but he was so grave and apparently
solicitous, and his words had made his course seem so essential, that she
could not take offence. Indeed, he was now giving his whole attention to
the broken girth, and she could only await the result of his examination.

"I think I can mend it with a strap from my bridle so that it will hold
until you reach home," he said; "but I am sorry to say that I cannot make
it very secure. Will you hold your horse a moment?"

"I am indebted to Mr. Clifford, I think," she began, hesitatingly.

"I am Mr. Clifford, and, believe me, I am wholly at your service. If you
had not been so good a horsewoman you might have met with a very serious
accident."

"More thanks are due to you, I imagine," she replied; "though I suppose I
could have got off in some way."

"There would have been no trouble in your getting off," he said, with one
of his frank, contagious smiles; "but then your horse might have run
away, or you would have had to lead him some distance, at least. Perhaps
it was well that the girth gave way when it did, for it would have broken
in a few moments more, in any event. Therefore I hope you will tolerate
one not wholly unknown to you, and permit me to be of service."

"Indeed, I have only cause for thanks. I have interfered with your ride,
and am putting you to trouble."

"I was only riding for pleasure, and as yet you have had all the
trouble."

She did not look excessively annoyed, and in truth was enjoying the
adventure quite as much as he was, but she only said: "You have the
finest horse there I ever saw. How I should like to ride him!"

"I fear he would be ungallant. He has never been ridden by a lady."

"I should not be afraid so long as the saddle remained firm. What do you
call him?"

"Thunder." At the sound of his name the beautiful animal arched his neck
and whinnied. "There, be quiet, old fellow, and speak when you are spoken
to," Burt said. "He is comparatively gentle with me, but uncontrollable
by others. I have now done my best, Miss Hargrove, and I think you may
mount in safety, if you are willing to walk your horse quietly home. But
I truly think I ought to accompany you, and I will do so gladly, with
your permission."

"But it seems asking a great deal of-"

"Of a stranger? I wish I knew how to bring about a formal introduction. I
have met your father. Will you not in the emergency defer the introduction
until we arrive at your home?"

"I think we may as well dispense with it altogether," she said, laughing.
"It would be too hollow a formality after the hour we must spend
together, since you think so slow a pace is essential to safety. Events,
not we, are to blame for all failures in etiquette."

"I was coming to call upon you this very week with the ladies of our
house," he began.

"Indeed!" she said, lifting her eyebrows.

"I assure you of the truth of what I say," he continued, earnestly,
turning his handsome eyes to hers. Then throwing his head back a little
proudly, he added, "Miss Hargrove, you must know that we are farmers, and
midsummer brings the harvest and unwonted labors."

With a slight, piquant imitation of his manner, she said: "My father, you
must know, Mr. Clifford, is a merchant Is not that an equally respectable
calling?"

"Some people regard it as far more so."

"Some people are very silly. There is no higher rank than that of a
gentleman, Mr. Clifford."

He took off his hat, and said, laughingly: "I hope it is not presumption
to imagine a slight personal bearing in your remark. At least, let me
prove that I have some claim to the title by seeing you safely home. Will
you mount? Put your foot in my hand, and bear your whole weight upon it,
and none upon the saddle."

"You don't know how heavy I am."

"No, but I know I can lift you. Try."

Without the least effort she found herself in the saddle. "How strong you
are!" she said.

"Yes," he replied, laughing; "I developed my muscle, if not my brains, at
college."

In a moment he vaulted lightly upon his horse, that reared proudly, but,
at a word from his master, arched his neck and paced as quietly as Miss
Hargrove's better-trained animal. Burt's laugh would have thawed Mrs.
Grundy's very self. He was so vital with youth and vigor, and his flow of
spirits so irresistible, that Miss Hargrove found her own nerves tingling
with pleasure. The episode was novel, unexpected, and promised so much
for the future, that in her delightful excitement she cast conventionality
to the winds, and yielded to his sportive mood. They had not gone a mile
together before one would have thought they had been acquainted for years.
Burt's frank face was like the open page of a book, and the experienced
society girl saw nothing in it but abounding good-nature, and an enjoyment
as genuine as her own. She was on the alert for traces of provincialism and
rusticity, but was agreeably disappointed at their absence. He certainly
was unmarked, and, to her taste, unmarred, by the artificial mode of the
day, but there was nothing under-bred in his manner or language. He rather
fulfilled her ideal of the light-hearted student who had brought away the
air of the university without being oppressed by its learning. She saw,
with a curious little blending of pique and pleasure, that he was not in
the least afraid of her, and that, while claiming to be simply a farmer, he
unconsciously asserted by every word and glance that he was her equal. She
had the penetration to recognize from the start that she could not
patronize him in the slightest degree, that he was as high-spirited as he
was frank and easy in manner, and she could well imagine that his mirthful
eyes would flash with anger on slight provocation. She had never met just
such a type before, and every moment found her more and more interested and
amused.

It must be admitted that his sensations kept pace with hers. Many had
found Miss Hargrove's eyes singularly effective under ordinary
circumstances, but now her mood gave them an unwonted lustre and power.
Her color was high, her talk animated and piquant. Even an enemy, had she
had one, would have been forced to admit that she was dazzlingly
beautiful, and inflammable Burt could not be indifferent to her charms.
He knew that he was not, but complacently assured himself that he was a
good judge in such matters.

Mr. Hargrove met them at the door, and his daughter laughingly told him
of her mishap. She evidently reposed in him the utmost confidence. He
justified it by meeting her in like spirit with her own, and he
interpreted her unspoken wishes by so cordially pressing Burt to remain
to dinner that he was almost constrained to yield. "You will be too late
for your own evening meal," he said, "and your kindness to my daughter
would be ill-requited, and our reputation for hospitality would suffer,
should we let you depart without taking salt with us. After all, Mr.
Clifford, we are neighbors. Why should there be any formality?"

Burt was the last one to have any scruples on such grounds, and he
resolved to have his "lark" out, as he mentally characterized it. Mr.
Hargrove had been something of a sportsman in his earlier days, and the
young fellow's talk was as interesting to him as it had been to Miss
Gertrude. Fred, her younger brother, was quite captivated, and elegant
Mrs. Hargrove, like her daughter, watched in vain for mannerisms to
criticise in the breezy youth. The evening was half gone before Burt
galloped homeward, smiling broadly to himself at the adventure.

His absence had caused little remark in the family. It had been taken for
granted that he was at Dr. Marvin's or the parsonage, for the young
fellow was a great favorite with their pastor. When he entered the
sitting-room, however, there was a suppressed excitement in his manner
which suggested an unusual experience. He was not slow in relating all
that had happened, for the thought had occurred to him that it might be
good policy to awaken a little jealousy in Amy. In this effort he was
obliged to admit to himself that he failed signally. Even Webb's
searching eyes could not detect a trace of chagrin. She only seemed very
much amused, and was laughingly profuse in her congratulations to Burt.
Moreover, she was genuinely interested in Miss Hargrove, and eager to
make her acquaintance. "If she is as nice as you say, Burt," she
concluded, "she would make a pleasant addition to our little excursions
and pleasure parties. Perhaps she's old and bright enough to talk to
Webb, and draw him out of his learned preoccupation," she added, with a
shy glance toward the one who was growing too remote from her daily life.

Even his bronzed face flushed, but he said, with a laugh: "She is evidently
much too bright for me, and would soon regard me as insufferably stupid. I
have never found much favor with city dames, or with dames of any
description, for that matter."

"So much the worse for the dames, then," she replied, with a piquant nod
at him.

"Little sisters are apt to be partial judges--at least, one is," he said,
smilingly, as he left the room. He walked out in the moonlight, thinking:
"There was not a trace of jealousy in her face. Well, why should there
be? Burt's perfect frankness was enough to prevent anything of the kind.
If there had been cause for jealousy, he would have been reticent.
Besides, Amy is too high-toned to yield readily to this vice, and Burt
can never be such an idiot as to endanger his prospects."

A scheme, however, was maturing in Burt's busy brain that night, which he
thought would be a master-stroke of policy. He was quite aware of the
good impression that he had made on Miss Hargrove, and he determined that
Amy's wishes should be carried out in a sufficient degree at least to
prove to her that a city belle would not be wholly indifferent to his
attentions. "I'll teach the coy little beauty that others are not so
blind as she is, and I imagine that, with Miss Hargrove's aid, I can
disturb her serenity a little before many weeks pass."



CHAPTER XL

MISS HARGROVE


But a few days elapsed before Mr. Clifford, with Burt, Maggie, and Amy,
made the call which would naturally inaugurate an exchange of social
visits. Mr. Hargrove was especially interested in the old gentleman, and
they were at once deep in rural affairs. Maggie was a little reserved at
first with Mrs. Hargrove, but the latter, with all her stateliness, was a
zealous housekeeper, and so the two ladies were soon _en rapport._

The young people adjourned to the piazza, and their merry laughter and
animated talk proved that if there had been any constraint it was
vanishing rapidly. Amy was naturally a little shy at first, but Miss
Hargrove had the tact to put her guests immediately at ease. She proposed
to have a good time during the remainder of the summer, and saw in Burt a
means to that end, while she instinctively felt that she must propitiate
Amy in order to accomplish her purpose. Therefore she was disposed to pay
a little court to her on general principles. She had learned that the
young girl was a ward of Mr. Clifford's. What Burt was to Amy she did not
know, but was sure she could soon find out, and his manner had led to the
belief that he was not a committed and acknowledged lover. She made no
discoveries, however, for he was not one to display a real preference in
public, and indeed, in accordance with his scheme, she received his most
marked attentions. Amy also both baffled and interested her. She could
not immediately accept of this genuine child of nature, whose very
simplicity was puzzling. It might be the perfection of well-bred reserve,
such complete art as to appear artless. Miss Hargrove had been in society
too long to take anything impulsively on trust. Still, she was charmed
with the young girl, and Amy was also genuinely pleased with her new
acquaintance. Before they parted a horseback ride was arranged, at Burt's
suggestion, for the next afternoon. This was followed by visits that soon
lost all formality, boating on the river, other rides, drives, and
excursions to points of interest throughout the region. Webb was
occasionally led to participate in these, but he usually had some excuse
for remaining at home. He, also, was a new type to Miss Hargrove,
"indigenous to the soil," she smilingly said to herself, "and a fine
growth too. With his grave face and ways he makes a splendid contrast to
his brother." She found him too reticent for good-fellowship, and he gave
her the impression also that he knew too much about that which was remote
from her life and interests. At the same time, with her riper experience,
she speedily divined his secret, to which Amy was blind. "He could almost
say his prayers to Amy," she thought, as she returned after an evening
spent at the Cliffords', "and she doesn't know it."

With all his frankness, Burt's relations to Amy still baffled her. She
sometimes thought she saw his eyes following the young girl with
lover-like fondness, and she also thought that he was a little more
pronounced in his attentions to her in Amy's absence. Acquaintanceship
ripened into intimacy as plans matured under the waning suns of July, and
the girls often spent the night together. Amy was soon beguiled into
giving her brief, simple history, omitting, of course, all reference to
Bart's passionate declaration and his subsequent expectations. As far as
she herself was concerned, she had no experiences of this character to
relate, and her nature was much too fine to gossip about Burt. Miss
Hargrove soon accepted Amy's perfect simplicity as a charming fact, and
while the young girl had all the refinement and intelligence of her city
friend, the absence of certain phases of experience made her companionship
all the more fascinating and refreshing. It was seen that she had grown
thus far in secluded and sheltered nooks, and the ignorance that resulted
was like morning dew upon a flower. Of one thing her friend thought herself
assured--Burt had never touched Amy's heart, and she was as unconscious of
herself as of Webb's well-hidden devotion. The Clifford family interested
Miss Gertrude exceedingly, and her innate goodness of heart was proved by
the fact that she soon became a favorite with Mr. and Mrs. Clifford. She
never came to the house without bringing flowers to the latter--not only
beautiful exotics from the florists, but wreaths of clematis, bunches of
meadow-rue from her rambles, and water-lilies and cardinal-flowers from
boating excursions up the Moodna Creek--and the secluded invalid enjoyed
her brilliant beauty and piquant ways as if she had been a rare flower
herself.

Burt had entered on his scheme with the deepest interest and with
confident expectations. As time passed, however, he found that he could
not pique Amy in the slightest degree; that she rather regarded his
interest in Miss Hargrove as the most natural thing in the world, because
she was so interesting. Therefore he at last just let himself drift, and
was content with the fact that the summer was passing delightfully. That
Miss Hargrove's dark eyes sometimes quickened his pulse strangely did not
trouble him; it had often been quickened before. When they were alone,
and she sang to him in her rich contralto, and he, at her request, added
his musical tenor, it seemed perfectly natural that he should bend over
her toward the notes in a way that was not the result of near-sightedness.
Burt was amenable to other attractions than that of gravitation.

Webb was the only one not blind to the drift of events. While he forbore
by word or sign to interfere, he felt that new elements were entering
into the problem of the future. He drove the farm and garden work along
with a tireless energy against which even Leonard remonstrated. But Webb
knew that his most wholesome antidote for suspense and trouble was work,
and good for all would come of his remedy. He toiled long hours in the
oat harvest. He sowed seed which promised a thousand bushels of turnips.
Land foul with weeds, or only half subdued, he sowed with that best of
scavenger crops, buckwheat, which was to be plowed under as soon as in
blossom. The vegetable and fruit gardens gave him much occupation, also,
and the table fairly groaned under the over-abundant supply, while Abram
was almost daily despatched to the landing or to neighboring markets with
loads of various produce. The rose garden, however, seemed to afford Webb
his chief recreation and a place of rest, and the roses in Amy's belt
were the wonder and envy of all who saw them. His mother sometimes looked
at him curiously, as he still brought to her the finest specimens, and
one day she said: "Webb, I never knew even you to be so tireless before.
You are growing very thin, and you are certainly going beyond your
strength, and--forgive me--you seem restlessly active. Have you any
trouble in which mother can help you?"

"You always help me, mother," he said, gently; "but I have no trouble
that requires your or any one's attention. I like to be busy, and there
is much to do. I am getting the work well along, so that I can take a
trip in August, and not leave too much for Leonard to look after."

August came, and with it the promise of drought, but he and his elder
brother had provided against it. The young trees had been well mulched
while the ground was moist, and deep, thorough cultivation rendered the
crops safe unless the rainless period should be of long duration.

Already in the rustling foliage there were whisperings of autumn. The
nights grew longer, and were filled with the sounds of insect life. The
robins disappeared from about the house, and were haunting distant
groves, becoming as wild as they had formerly been domestic. The season
of bird song was over for the year. The orioles whistled in a languid and
desultory way occasionally, and the smaller warblers sometimes gave
utterance to defective strains, but the leaders of the feathered chorus,
the thrushes, were silent. The flower-beds flamed with geraniums and
salvias, and were gay with gladioli, while Amy and Mrs. Clifford exulted
in the extent and variety of their finely quilled and rose-like asters
and dahlias. The foliage of the trees had gained its darkest hues, and
the days passed, one so like another that nature seemed to be taking a
summer siesta.



CHAPTER XLI

A FIRE IN THE MOUNTAINS


A day in August can be as depressing as a typical one in May is
inspiring, or in June entrancing. As the season advanced Nature appeared
to be growing languid and faint. There was neither cloud by day nor dew
at night. The sun burned rather than vivified the earth, and the grass
and herbage withered and shrivelled before its unobstructed rays. The
foliage along the roadsides grew dun-colored from the dust, and those who
rode or drove on thoroughfares were stifled by the irritating clouds that
rose on the slightest provocation. Pleasure could be found only on the
unfrequented lanes that led to the mountains or ran along their bases.
Even there trees that drew their sustenance from soil spread thinly on
the rocks were seen to be dying, their leaves not flushing with autumnal
tints, but hanging limp and bleached as if they had exhaled their vital
juices. The moss beneath them, that had been softer to the tread than a
Persian rug, crumbled into powder under the foot. Alf went to gather
huckleberries, but, except in moist and swampy places, found them
shrivelled on the bushes. Even the corn leaves began to roll on the
uplands, and Leonard shook his head despondingly. Webb's anxieties,
however, were of a far deeper character, and he was philosophical enough
to average the year's income. If the cows did come home hungry from their
pasture, there was abundance of hay and green-corn fodder to carry them
through until the skies should become more propitious. Besides, there was
an unfailing spring upon the place, and from this a large cask on wheels
was often filled, and was then drawn by one of the quiet farm-horses to
the best of the flower beds, the young trees, and to such products of the
garden as would repay for the expenditure of time and labor. The ground
was never sprinkled so that the morning sun of the following day would
drink up the moisture, but so deluged that the watering would answer for
several days. It was well known that partial watering does only harm.
Nature can be greatly assisted at such times, but it must be in
accordance with her laws. The grapevine is a plant that can endure an
unusual degree of drought, and the fruit will be all the earlier and
sweeter for it. An excellent fertilizer for the grape is suds from the
laundry, and by filling a wide, shallow basin, hollowed out from the
earth around the stems, with this alkaline infusion, the vines were kept
in the best condition. The clusters of the earlier varieties were already
beginning to color, and the season insured the perfect ripening of those
fine old kinds, the Isabella and Catawba, that too often are frost-bitten
before they become fit for the table.

Thus it would appear that Nature has compensations for her worst
moods--greater compensations than are thought of by many. Drought causes
the roots of plants and trees to strike deep, and so extends the range of
their feeding-ground, and anchors vegetation of all kinds more firmly in
the soil.

Nevertheless, a long dry period is always depressing. The bright green
fades out of the landscape, the lawns and grass-plots become brown and
sear, the air loses its sweet, refreshing vitality, and is often so
charged with smoke from forest-fires, and impalpable dust, that
respiration is not agreeable. Apart from considerations of profit and
loss, the sympathy of the Clifford household was too deep with Nature to
permit the indifference of those whose garden is the market stall and the
florist's greenhouse, and to whom vistas in hotel parlors and piazzas are
the most attractive.

"It seems to me," Leonard remarked at the dinner-table one day, "that
droughts are steadily growing more serious and frequent."

"They are," replied his father. "While I remember a few in early life
that were more prolonged than any we have had of late years, they must
have resulted from exceptional causes, for we usually had an abundance of
rain, and did not suffer as we do now from violent alternations of
weather. There was one year when there was scarcely a drop of rain
throughout the summer. Potatoes planted in the late spring were found in
the autumn dry and unsprouted. But such seasons were exceedingly rare,
and now droughts are the rule."

"And the people are chiefly to blame for them," said Webb. "We are
suffering from the law of heredity. Our forefathers were compelled to
fell the trees to make room for the plow, and now one of the strongest
impulses of the average American is to cut down a tree. Our forests, on
which a moist climate so largely depends, are treated as if they
encumbered the ground. The smoke that we are breathing proves that fires
are ravaging to the north and west of us. They should be permitted no
more than a fire in the heart of a city. The future of the country
depends upon the people becoming sane on this subject. If we will send to
the Legislature pot-house politicans who are chiefly interested in
keeping up a supply of liquor instead of water, they should be provided
with a little primer giving the condition of lands denuded of their
forests. There is scarcely anything in their shifty ways, their blind
zeal for what the 'deestrict' wants to-day, regardless of coming days,
that so irritates me as their stupidity on this subject. A man who votes
against the protection of our forests is not fit for the office of
road-master. After all, the people are to blame, and their children will
pay dear for their ignorance and the spirit which finds expression in the
saying, 'After me the deluge'; and there will be flood and drought until
every foot of land not adapted to cultivation and pasturage is again
covered with trees. Indeed, a great deal of good land should be given up
to forests, for then what was cultivated would produce far more than
could be obtained from a treeless and therefore rainless country."

"Bravo, Webb!" cried Burt; "we must send you to the Legislature."

"How is the evil to be prevented?" Leonard asked.

"Primarily by instruction and the formation of public opinion. The
influence of trees on the climate should be taught in all our schools as
thoroughly as the multiplication-table. The national and state
governments would then be compelled to look beyond the next election, and
to appoint foresters who would have the same power to call out the people
to extinguish a forest fire that the sheriff has to collect his posse to
put down mob violence. In the long-run fire departments in our forest
tracts would be more useful than the same in cities, for, after all,
cities depend upon the country and its productiveness. The owners of
woodland should be taught the folly of cutting everything before them,
and of leaving the refuse brush to become like tinder. The smaller growth
should be left to mature, and the brush piled and burned in a way that
would not involve the destruction of every sprout and sapling over wide
areas. As it is, we are at the mercy of every careless boy, and such
vagrants as Lumley used to be before Amy woke him up. It is said--and
with truth at times, I fear--that the shiftless mountaineers occasionally
start the fires, for a fire means brief high-priced labor for them, and
afterward an abundance of whiskey."

Events furnished a practical commentary on Webb's words. Miss Hargrove
had come over to spend the night with Amy, and to try some fine old
English glees that she had obtained from her city home. They had just
adjourned from the supper-table to the piazza when Lumley appeared, hat
in hand. He spoke to Leonard, but looked at Amy with a kind of wondering
admiration, as if he could not believe that the girl, who looked so fair
and delicate in her evening dress, so remote from him and his
surroundings, could ever have given him her hand, and spoken as if their
humanity had anything in common.

The Cliffords were informed that a fire had broken out on a tract
adjoining their own. "City chaps was up there gunning out o' season,"
Lumley explained, "and wads from their guns must 'a started it."

As there was much wood ranked on the Clifford tract, the matter was
serious. Abram and other farm-hands were summoned, and the brothers acted
as did the minute-men in the Revolution when the enemy appeared in their
vicinity. The young men excused themselves, and bustle and confusion
followed. Burt, with a flannel blouse belted tightly around his waist,
soon dashed up to the front piazza on his horse, and, flourishing a rake,
said, laughingly, "I don't look much like a knight sallying forth to
battle-do I?"

"You look as if you could be one if the occasion arose," Miss Hargrove
replied.

During the half-jesting badinage that followed Amy stole away. Behind the
house Webb was preparing to mount, when a light hand fell on his
shoulder. "You will be careful?" said Amy, appealingly. "You don't seem
to spare yourself in anything. I dread to have you go up into those
darkening mountains."

"Why, Amy," he replied, laughing, "one would think I was going to fight
Indians, and you feared for my scalp."

"I am not so young and blind but that I can see that you are quietly half
reckless with yourself," she replied; and her tone indicated that she was
a little hurt.

"I pledge you my word that I will not be reckless tonight; and, after
all, this is but disagreeable, humdrum work that we often have to do.
Don't worry, little sister. Burt will be there to watch over me, you
know," he added. "By the way, where is he? It's time we were off."

"Oh, he's talking romantic nonsense to Miss Hargrove. He won't hurt
himself. I wish I was as sure of you, and I wish I had more influence
over you. I'm not such a very little sister, even if I don't know enough
to talk to you as you would like;" and she left him abruptly.

He mastered a powerful impulse to spring from his horse and call her
back. A moment's thought taught him, however, that he could not trust
himself then to say a word, and he rode rapidly away.

"I must be misunderstood," he muttered. "That is the best chance for us
both, unless--" But he hesitated to put into words the half-formed hope
that Miss Hargrove's appearance in the little drama of their lives might
change its final scenes. "She's jealous of her friend, at last," he
concluded, and this conviction gave him little comfort. Burt soon
overtook him, and their ride was comparatively silent, for each was busy
with his own thoughts. Lumley was directed to join them at the fire, and
then was forgotten by all except Amy, who, by a gentle urgency, induced
him to go to the kitchen and get a good supper. Before he departed she
slipped a banknote into his hand with which to buy a dress for the baby.
Lumley had to pass more than one groggery on his way to the mountains,
but the money was as safe in his pocket as it would have been in Amy's.

"I swow! I could say my prayers to her!" he soliloquized, as he hastened
through the gathering darkness with his long, swinging stride. "I didn't
know there was sich gells. She's never lectured me once, but she jest
smiles and looks a feller into bein' a man."

Miss Hargrove had noted Amy's influence over the mountaineer, and she
asked for an explanation. Amy, in a very brief, modest way, told of her
visits to the wretched cabin, and said, in conclusion: "I feel sorry for
poor Lumley. The fact that he is trying to do better, with so much
against him, proves what he might have been. That's one of the things
that trouble me most, as I begin to think and see a little of life; so
many people have no chance worth speaking of."

"The thing that ought to trouble me most is, I suppose, that those who
have a chance do so little for such people. Amy," she added, sadly, after
a moment's thought, "I've had many triumphs over men, but none like
yours; and I feel to-night as if I could give them all to see a man look
at me as that poor fellow looked at you. It was the grateful homage of a
human soul to whom you had given something that in a dim way was felt to
be priceless. The best that I can remember in my pleasure-loving life is
that I have not permitted myself selfishly and recklessly to destroy
manhood, but I fear no one is the better for having known me."

"You do yourself injustice," said Amy, warmly. "I'm the better and
happier for having known you. Papa had a morbid horror of fashionable
society, and this accounts for my being so unsophisticated. With all your
experience of such society, I have perfect faith in you, and could trust
you implicitly."

"Have you truly faith in me?" (and Amy thought she had never seen such
depth and power in human eyes as in those of Miss Hargrove, who encircled
the young girl with her arm, and looked as if seeking to detect the
faintest doubt).

"Yes," said Amy, with quiet emphasis.

Miss Hargrove drew a long breath, and then said: "That little word may do
me more good than all the sermons I ever heard. Many would try to be
different if others had more faith in them. I think that is the secret of
your power over the rough man that has just gone. You recognized the good
that was in him, and made him conscious of it. Well, I must try to
deserve your trust." Then she stepped out on the dusky piazza, and
sighed, as she thought: "It may cost me dear. She seemed troubled at my
words to Burt, and stole away as if she were the awkward third person. I
may have misjudged her, and she cares for him after all."

Amy went to the piano, and played softly until summoned without by an
excited exclamation from her friend. A line of fire was creeping toward
them around a lofty highland, and it grew each moment more and more
distinct. "Oh, I know from its position that it's drawing near our
tract," cried Amy. "If it is so bright to us at this distance, it must be
almost terrible to those near by. I suppose they are all up there just in
front of it, and Burt is so reckless." She was about to say Webb, but,
because of some unrecognized impulse, she did not. The utterance of
Burt's name, however, was not lost on Miss Hargrove.

For a long time the girls watched the scene with awe, and each, in
imagination, saw an athletic figure begrimed with smoke, and sending out
grotesque shadows into the obscurity, as the destroying element was met
and fought in ways unknown to them, which, they felt sure, involved
danger. Miss Hargrove feared that they both had the same form in mind.
She was not a girl to remain long unconscious of her heart's inclinations,
and she knew that Burt Clifford had quickened her pulses as no man had ever
done before. This very fact made her less judicial, less keen, in her
insight. If he was so attractive to her, could Amy be indifferent to him
after months of companionship? She had thought that she understood Amy
thoroughly, but was beginning to lose faith in her impression. While in
some respects Amy was still a child, there were quiet depths in her nature
of which the young girl herself was but half conscious. She often lapsed
into long reveries. Webb's course troubled her. Never had he been more
fraternal in his manner, but apparently she was losing her power to
interest him, to lure him away from the material side of life. "I can't
keep pace with him," she sighed; "and now that he has learned all about my
little range of thoughts and knowledge, he finds that I can be scarcely
more to him than Johnnie, whom he pets in much the same spirit that he does
me, and then goes to his work or books and forgets us both. He could help
me so much, if he only thought it worth his while! I'm sure I'm not
contented to be ignorant, and many of the things that he knows so much
about interest me most."

Thus each girl was busy with her thoughts, as they sat in the warm summer
night and watched the vivid line draw nearer. Mr. Clifford and Maggie
came out from time to time, and were evidently disturbed by the unchecked
progress of the fire. Alf had gone with his father, and anything like a
conflagration so terrified Johnnie that she dared not leave her mother's
lighted room.

Suddenly the approaching line grew dim, was broken, and before very long
even the last red glow disappeared utterly. "Ah," said Mr. Clifford,
rubbing his hands, "they have got the fire under, and I don't believe it
reached oar tract."

"How did they put it out so suddenly?" Miss Hargrove asked. "Were they
not fighting it all the time?"

"The boys will soon be here, and they can give you a more graphic account
than I. Mother is a little excited and troubled, as she always is when
her great babies are away on such affairs, so I must ask you to excuse
me."

In little more than half an hour a swift gallop was heard, and Burt soon
appeared, in the light of the late-rising moon. "It's all out," he
exclaimed. "Leonard and Webb propose remaining an hour or two longer, to
see that it does not break out again. There's no need of their doing so,
for Lumley promised to watch till morning. I'm not fit to be seen. If
you'll wait till I put on a little of the aspect of a white man, I'll
join you." He had been conscious of a feverish impatience to get back to
the ladies, having carefully, even in his thoughts, employed the plural,
and he had feared that they might have retired.

Miss Hargrove exclaimed: "How absurd! You wish to go and divest yourself
of all picturesqueness! I've seen well-dressed men before, and would much
prefer that you should join us as you are. We can then imagine that you
are a bandit or a frontiersman, and that your rake was a rifle, which you
had used against the Indians. We are impatient to have you tell us how
you fought the fire."

He gave but scant attention to Thunder that night, and soon stepped out
on the moonlit piazza, his tall, fine figure outlined to perfection in
his close-fitting costume.

"You will, indeed, need all your imagination to make anything of our task
to-night," he said. "Fighting a mountain fire is the most prosaic of hard
work. Suppose the line of fire coming down toward me from where you are
sitting." As yet unknown to him, a certain subtile flame was originating
in that direction. "We simply begin well in advance of it, so that we may
have time to rake a space, extending along the whole front of the fire,
clear of leaves and rubbish, and as far as possible to hollow out with
hoes a trench through this space. Thus, when the fire comes to this
cleared area, there is nothing to burn, and it goes out for want of fuel.
Of course, it's rough work, and it must be done rapidly, but you can see
that all the heroic elements which you may have associated with our
expedition are utterly lacking."

"Well, no matter. Amy and I have had our little romance, and have
imagined you charging the line of fire in imminent danger of being
strangled with smoke, if nothing worse."

Amy soon heard Maggie bustling about, preparing a midnight lunch for
those who would come home hungry as well as weary, and she said that she
would go and try to help. To Burt this seemed sufficient reason for her
absence, but Miss Hargrove thought, "Perhaps she saw that his eyes were
fixed chiefly on me as he gave his description. I wish I knew just how
she feels toward him!"

But the temptation to remain in the witching moonlight was too strong to
be resisted. His mellow tones were a music that she had never heard
before, and her eyes grew lustrous with suppressed feeling, and a
happiness to which she was not sure she was entitled. The spell of her
beauty was on him also, and the moments flew by unheeded, until Amy was
heard playing and singing softly to herself. "She does not join us
again!" was Miss Hargrove's mental comment, and with not a little
compunction she rose and went into the parlor. Burt lighted a cigar, in
the hope that the girls would again join him, but Leonard, Webb, and Alf
returned sooner than they were expected, and all speedily sat down to
their unseasonable repast. To Amy's surprise, Webb was the liveliest of
the party, but he looked gaunt from fatigue--so worn, indeed, that he
reminded her of the time when he had returned from Burt's rescue. But
there was no such episode as had then occurred before they parted for the
night, and to this she now looked back wistfully. He rose before the
others, pleaded fatigue, and went to his room.



CHAPTER XLII

CAMPING OUT


They all gathered at a late breakfast, and the surface current of family
and social life sparkled as if there were no hidden depths and secret
thoughts. Amy's manner was not cold toward Webb, but her pride was
touched, and her feelings were a little hurt. While disposed to blame
herself only that she had not the power to interest him and secure his
companionship, as in the past, it was not in human nature to receive with
indifference such an apparent hint that he was far beyond her. "It would
be more generous in Webb to help than to ignore me because I know so
little," she thought. "Very well: I can have a good time with Burt and
Gertrude until Webb gets over his hurry and preoccupation;" and with a
slight spirit of retaliation she acted as if she thoroughly enjoyed
Burt's lively talk.

The young fellow soon made a proposition that caused a general and breezy
excitement. "There never was a better time than this for camping out," he
said. "The ground is dry, and there is scarcely any dew. I can get two
large wall tents. Suppose we go up and spend a few days on our mountain
tract? Maggie could chaperon the party, and I've no doubt that Dr. and
Mrs. Marvin would join us."

The discussion of the project grew lively. Maggie was inclined to demur.
How could she leave the old people and her housekeeping? Mr. and Mrs.
Clifford, however, became the strongest advocates of the scheme. They
could get along with the servants, they said, and a little outing would
do Maggie good. Leonard, who had listened in comparative silence, brought
his wife to a decision by saying: "You had better go, Maggie. You will
have all the housekeeping you want on the mountain, and I will go back
and forth every day and see that all's right. It's not as if you were
beyond the reach of home, for you could be here in an hour were there
need. Come now, make up your mind for a regular lark. It will do you
good."

The children were wild with delight at the prospect, and Miss Hargrove
and Amy scarcely less pleased. The latter had furtively watched Webb, who
at first could not disguise a little perplexity and trouble at the
prospect. But he had thought rapidly, and felt that a refusal to be one
of the party might cause embarrassing surmises. Therefore he also soon
became zealous in his advocacy of the plan. He felt that circumstances
were changing and controlling his action. He had fully resolved on an
absence of some weeks, but the prolonged drought and the danger it
involved--the Cliffords would lose at least a thousand dollars should a
fire sweep over their mountain tract--made it seem wrong for him to leave
home until rain insured safety. Moreover, he believed that he detected
symptoms in Burt which, with his knowledge of his brother, led to hopes
that he could not banish. An occasional expression in Miss Hargrove's
dark eyes, also, did not tend to lessen these hopes. "The lack of
conventionality incident to a mountain camp," he thought, "may develop
matters so rapidly as to remove my suspense. With all Amy's gentleness,
she is very sensitive and proud, and Burt cannot go much further with
Miss Hargrove without so awakening her pride as to render futile all
efforts to retrieve himself. After all, Miss Hargrove, perhaps, would
suit him far better than Amy. They are both fond of excitement and
society. Why can't we all be happy? At least, if the way were clear, I
would try as no man ever tried to win Amy, and I should be no worse off
than I am if I failed in the attempt."

These musings were rather remote from his practical words, for he had
taken pains to give the impression that their woodland would be far safer
for the proposed expedition, and Amy had said, a little satirically, "We
are now sure of Webb, since he can combine so much business with
pleasure."

He only smiled back in an inscrutable way.

Musk-melons formed one of their breakfast dishes, and Miss Hargrove
remarked, "Papa has been exceedingly annoyed by having some of his finest
ones stolen."

Burt began laughing, and said: "He should imitate my tactics. Ours were
stolen last year, and as they approached maturity, some time since, I put
up a notice in large black letters, 'Thieves, take warning: be careful
not to steal the poisoned melons.' Hearing a dog bark one night about a
week ago, I took a revolver and went out. The moonlight was clear, and
there, reading the notice, was a group of ragamuffin boys. Stealing up
near them, behind some shrubbery, I fired my pistol in the air, and they
fairly tumbled over each other in their haste to escape. We've had no
trouble since, I can assure you. I'll drive you home this morning, and,
with your father's permission, will put up a similar notice in your
garden. We also must make our arrangements for camping promptly. This
weather can't last much longer. It surely will not if our mountain
experience makes us wish it would;" and, full of his projects, he
hastened to harness Thunder to his light top-wagon.

He might have taken the two-seated carriage, and asked Amy to accompany
them, but it had not occurred to him to do so, especially as he intended
to drive on rapidly to Newburgh to make arrangements for the tents. She
felt a little slighted and neglected, and Miss Hargrove saw that she did,
but thought that any suggestion of a different arrangement might lead to
embarrassment. She began to think, with Webb, that the camping experience
would make everything clearer. At any rate, it promised so much
unhackneyed pleasure that she resolved to make the most of it, and then
decide upon her course. She was politic, and cautioned Burt to say
nothing until she had first seen her father, for she was not certain how
her stately and conventional mother would regard the affair. She pounced
upon Mr. Hargrove in his library, and he knew from her preliminary
caresses that some unusual favor was to be asked.

"Come," he said, "you wily little strategist, what do you want now? Half
of my kingdom?"

She explained rather incoherently.

His answer was unexpected, for he asked, "Is Mr. Burt Clifford in the
parlor?"

"No," she replied, faintly; "he's on the piazza." Then, with unusual
animation, she began about the melons. Her father's face softened, and he
looked at her a little humorously, for her flushed, handsome face would
disarm a Puritan.

"You are seeing a great deal of this young Mr. Clifford," he said.

Her color deepened, and she began, hastily, "Oh, well, papa, I've seen a
good deal of a great many gentlemen."

"Come, come, Trurie, no disguises with me. Your old father is not so
blind as you think, and I've not lived to my time of life in ignorance of
the truth that prevention is better than cure. Whether you are aware of
it or not, your eyes have revealed to me a growing interest in Mr.
Clifford."

She hid her face upon his shoulder.

"He is a comparatively poor man, I suppose, and while I think him a fine
fellow, I've seen in him no great aptness for business. If I saw that he
was no more to you than others who have sought your favor, I would not
say a word, Trurie, for when you are indifferent you are abundantly able
to take care of yourself. I've been expecting this. I knew you would in
time meet some one who would have the power to do more than amuse you,
and my love, darling, is too deep and vigilant to be blind until it is
too late to see. You are merely interested in Mr. Clifford now. You might
become more than interested during an experience like the one proposed."

"If I should, papa, am I so poor that I have not even the privilege of a
village girl, who can follow her heart?"

"My advice would be," he replied, gently, "that you guide yourself by
both reason and your heart. This is our secret council-chamber, and one
is speaking to you who has no thought but for your lasting happiness."

She took a chair near him, and looked into his eyes, as she said,
thoughtfully and gravely: "I should be both silly and unnatural, did I
not recognize your motive and love. I know I am not a child any longer,
and should have no excuse for any school-girl or romantic folly. You have
always had my confidence; you would have had it in this case as soon as
there was anything to tell. I scarcely understand myself as yet, but must
admit that I am more interested in Mr. Clifford than in any man I ever
met, and, as you said, I also have not reached my time of life without
knowing what this may lead to. You married mamma when she was younger
than I, and you, too, papa, were 'a comparatively poor man' at the time.
I have thought a great deal about it. I know all that wealth and
fashionable society can give me, and I tell you honestly, papa, I would
rather be the happy wife that Maggie Clifford is than marry any
millionaire in New York. There is no need, however, for such serious
talk, for there is nothing yet beyond congenial companionship, and--Well,"
she added, hastily, in memory of Amy, "I don't believe anything will come
of it. But I want to go on this expedition. There will probably be two
married ladies in the party, and so I don't see that even mamma can
object. Best assured I shall never become engaged to any one without your
consent; that is," she added, with another of her irresistible caresses,
"unless you are very unreasonable, and I become very old."

"Very well, Trurie, you shall go, with your mother's consent, and I think
I can insure that. As you say, you are no longer a child." And his
thought was, "I have seen enough of life to know that it is best not to
be too arbitrary in such matters." After a moment he added, gravely, "You
say you have thought. Think a great deal more before you take any steps
which may involve all your future."

Burt was growing uneasy on the piazza, and feared that Miss Hargrove
might not obtain the consent that she had counted on so confidently. He
was a little surprised, also, to find how the glamour faded out of his
anticipations at the thought of her absence, but explained his feeling by
saying to himself, "She is so bright and full of life, and has so fine a
voice, that we should miss her sadly." He was greatly relieved,
therefore, when Mr. Hargrove came out and greeted him courteously.
Gertrude had been rendered too conscious, by her recent interview, to
accompany her father, but she soon appeared, and no one could have
imagined that Burt was more to her than an agreeable acquaintance. Mrs.
Hargrove gave a reluctant consent, and it was soon settled that they
should try to get off on the afternoon of the following day. Burt also
included in the invitation young Fred Hargrove, and then drove away
elated.

At the dinner-table he announced his success in procuring the tents, and
his intention of going for them in the afternoon. At the same time he
exhorted Leonard and Maggie to prepare provisions adequate to mountain
appetites, adding, "Webb, I suppose, will be too busy to do more than
join us at the last moment."

Webb said nothing, but disappeared after dinner. As he was at supper as
usual, no questions were asked. Before it was light the next morning Amy
thought she heard steps on the stairs, and the rear hall-door shut
softly. When finally awaking, she was not sure but that her impression
was a dream. As she came down to breakfast Burt greeted her with dismay.

"The tents, that I put on the back piazza, are gone," he said.

"Where is Webb?" was her quick response.

No one had seen him, and it was soon learned that a horse and a strong
wagon were also missing.

"Ah, Burt," cried Amy, laughing, "rest assured Webb has stolen a march on
you, and taken his own way of retaliation for what you said at the
dinner-table yesterday. He was away all the afternoon, too. I believe he
has chosen a camping-ground, and the tents are standing on it."

"He should have remembered that others might have some choice in the
matter," was the discontented reply.

"If Webb has chosen the camping-ground, you will all be pleased with it,"
said his mother, quietly. "I think he is merely trying to give a pleasant
surprise."

He soon appeared, and explained that, with Lumley's help, he had made
some preparations, since any suitable place, with water near, from which
there was a fine outlook, would have seemed very rough and uninviting to
the ladies unless more work was done than could be accomplished in the
afternoon of their arrival.

"Now I think that is very thoughtful of you, Webb," said Amy. "The steps
I heard last night were not a dream. At what unearthly hour did you
start?"

"Was I so heavy-footed as to disturb you?"

"Oh, no, Webb," she said, with a look of comic distress, in which there
was also a little reproach; "it's not your feet that disturb me, but your
head. You have stuffed it so full of learning that I am depressed by the
emptiness of mine."

He laughed, as he replied, "I hope all your troubles may be quite as
imaginary." Then he told Leonard to spend the morning in helping Maggie,
who would know best what was needed for even mountain housekeeping, and
said that he would see to farm matters, and join them early in the
evening. The peaches were ripening, and Amy, from her window, saw that he
was taking from the trees all fit to market; also that Abram, under his
direction, was busy with the watering-cart. "Words cannot impose upon
me," she thought, a little bitterly. "He knows how I long for his
companionship, and it's not a little thing to be made to feel that I am
scarcely better qualified for it than Johnnie."

Burt galloped over to Dr. Marvin's, who promised to join them, with his
wife, on the following day. He had a tent which he had occasionally used
in his ornithological pursuits.

At two in the afternoon a merry party started for the hills. All the
vehicles on the farm had been impressed into the service to bring up the
party, with chairs, cooking-utensils, provisions, bedding, etc. When they
reached the ground that Webb had selected, even Burt admitted his pleased
surprise. The outlook over the distant river, and a wide area of country
dotted with villages, was superb, while to the camp a home-like look had
already been given, and the ladies, with many mental encomiums, saw how
secluded and inviting an aspect had been imparted to their especial
abode. As they came on the scene, Lumley was finishing the construction
of a dense screen of evergreen boughs, which surrounded the canvas to the
doorway. Not far away an iron pot was slung on a cross-stick in gypsy
style, and it was flanked by rock-work fireplaces which Maggie declared
were almost equal to a kitchen range. The men's tent was pitched at easy
calling distance, and, like that of the ladies, was surrounded by a thick
growth of trees, whose shade would be grateful. A little space had been
cleared between the two tents for a leaf-canopied dining-hall, and a
table of boards improvised. The ground, as far as possible, had been
cleared of loose stones and rubbish. Around the fireplace mossy rocks
abounded, and were well adapted for picturesque groupings. What touched
Amy most was a little flowerbed made of the rich black mould of decayed
leaves, in which were some of her favorite flowers, well watered. This
did not suggest indifference on the part of Webb. About fifty feet from
the tents the mountain shelf sloped off abruptly, and gave the
magnificent view that has been mentioned. Even Burt saw how much had been
gained by Webb's forethought, and frankly acknowledged it. As it was,
they had no more than time to complete the arrangements for the night
before the sun's level rays lighted up a scene that was full of joyous
activity and bustle. The children's happy voices made the echoes ring,
and Fred Hargrove, notwithstanding his city antecedents, yielded with
delight to the love of primitive life that exists in every boy's heart.
Although he was a few years older than Alf, they had become friendly
rivals as incipient sportsmen and naturalists. Amy felt that she was
coming close to nature's heart, and the novelty of it all was scarcely
less exciting to her than to Johnnie. To little Ned it was a place of
wonder and enchantment, and he kept them all in a mild state of terror by
his exploring expeditions. At last his father threatened to take him
home, and, with this awful punishment before his eyes, he put his thumb
in his mouth, perched upon a rock, and philosophically watched the
preparations for supper. Maggie was the presiding genius of the occasion,
and looked like the light-hearted girl that Leonard had wooed more than a
dozen years before. She ordered him around, jested with him, and laughed
at him in such a piquant way that Burt declared she was proving herself
unfit for the duties of chaperon by getting up a flirtation with her
husband. Meanwhile, under her supervision, order was evoked from chaos,
and appetizing odors arose from the fireplace.

Miss Hargrove admitted to herself that in all the past she had never
known such hours of keen enjoyment, and she was bent on proving that,
although a city-bred girl, she could take her part in the work as well as
in the fun. Nor were her spirits dampened by the fact that Burt was often
at her side, and that Amy did not appear to care. The latter, however,
was becoming aware of his deepening interesting in her brilliant friend.
As yet she was not sure whether it was more than a good-natured and
hospitable effort to make one so recently a stranger at home with them,
or a new lapse on his part into a condition of ever-enduring love and
constancy--and the smile that followed the thought was not flattering to
Burt.

A little before supper was ready Maggie asked him to get a pail of water.

"Come, Miss Gertrude," he said, "and I'll show you the Continental spring
at which the Revolutionary soldiers drank more than a hundred years ago;"
and she tripped away with him, nothing loth. As they reappeared, flushed
and laughing, carrying the pail between them, Amy trilled out,

"Jack and Jill came up the hill."

A moment later, Webb followed them, on horseback, and was greeted with
acclamations and overwhelmed with compliments. Miss Hargrove was only too
glad of the diversion from herself, for Amy's words had made her absurdly
conscious for a society girl.

They feasted through the long twilight. Never had green corn, roasted in
its husks on the coals, tasted so delicious, and never before were
peaches and cream so ambrosial. Amy made it her care that poor Lumley
should feast also, but the smile with which she served him was the
sustenance he most craved. Then, as the evening breeze grew chilly, and
the night darkened, lanterns were hung in the trees, the fire was
replenished, and they sat down, the merriest of merry parties. Even Webb
had vowed that he would ignore the past and the future, and make the most
of that camp-fire by the wayside of life. It must be admitted, however,
that his discovery of Burt and Miss Hargrove alone at the spring had much
to do with his resolution. Stories and songs succeeded each other, until
Ned was asleep in Maggie's arms, and Johnnie nodding at her side. In
reaction from the excitements and fatigues of the day, they all early
sought the rest which is never found in such perfection as in a mountain
camp. Hemlock boughs formed the mattresses on which their blankets were
spread, and soon there were no sounds except the strident chirpings of
insects and the calls of night-birds.

There was one perturbed spirit, however, and at last Burt stole out and
sat by the dying fire. When the mind is ready for impressions, a very
little thing will produce them vividly, and Amy's snatch of song about
"Jack and Jill" had awakened Burt at last to a consciousness that he
might be carrying his attention to Miss Hargrove too far, in view of his
vows and inexorable purpose of constancy. He assured himself that his
only object was to have a good time, and enjoy the charming society of
his new acquaintance. Of course, he was in love with Amy, and she was all
that he could desire. Perhaps he had pursued the wrong tactics. Girls
even like Amy were not so unsophisticated as they appeared to be, and he
felt that he was profoundly experienced in such questions, if in nothing
else. Had not her pride been touched? and would she not be led, by his
evident admiration for Miss Hargrove, to believe that he was mercurial
and not to be depended upon? He had to admit to himself that some
experiences in the past had tended to give him this reputation. "I was
only a boy then," he muttered, with a stern compression of the lips.
"I'll prove that I am a man now;" and having made this sublime
resolution, he slept the sleep of the just.

All who have known the freshness, the elasticity, the mental and physical
vigor, with which one springs from a bed of boughs, will envy the camping
party's awakening on the following morning. Webb resolved to remain and
watch the drift of events, for he was growing almost feverish in his
impatience for more definite proof that his hopes were not groundless.
But he was doomed to disappointment and increasing doubt. Burt began to
show himself a skilful diplomatist. He felt that, perhaps, he had checked
himself barely in time to retrieve his fortunes and character with Amy,
but he was too adroit to permit any marked change to appear in his manner
and action. He said to himself that he cordially liked and admired Miss
Hargrove, but he believed that she had enjoyed not a few flirtations, and
was not averse to the addition of another to the list. Even his
self-complacency had not led him to think that she regarded him in any
other light than that of a very agreeable and useful summer friend. He
had seen enough of society to be aware that such temporary friendships
often border closely on the sentimental, and yet with no apparent trace
remaining in after-years. To Amy, however, such affairs would not appear
in the same light as they might to Miss Hargrove, and he felt that he had
gone far enough. But not for the world would he be guilty of _gaucherie,_
of neglecting Miss Hargrove for ostentatious devotion to Amy. Indeed, he
was more pronounced in his admiration than ever, but in many little
unobtrusive ways he tried to prove to Amy that she had his deeper thoughts.
She, however, was not at this time disposed to dwell upon the subject. His
manner merely tended to confirm the view that he, like herself, regarded
Miss Hargrove as a charming addition to their circle, and proposed that she
should enjoy herself thoroughly while with them. Amy also reproached
herself a little that she had doubted him so easily, and felt that he was
giving renewed proof of his good sense. He could be true to her, and yet be
most agreeable to her friend, and her former acquiescence in the future of
his planning remained undisturbed. Webb was more like the brother she
wished him to be than he had been for a long time. The little flowerbed was
an abiding reassurance, and so the present contained all that she desired.

This was not true of either Webb or Miss Hargrove. The former, however,
did not lose heart. He thought he knew Burt too well to give up hope yet.
The latter, with all her experience, was puzzled. She speedily became
conscious of the absence of a certain warmth and genuineness in Bart's
manner and words. The thermometer is not so sensitive to heat and cold as
the intuition of a girl like Miss Hargrove to the mental attitude of an
admirer, but no one could better hide her thoughts and feelings than she
when once upon her guard.



CHAPTER XLIII

AN OLD TENEMENT


The few remaining days of August passed, and September came, bringing
little suggestion of autumn rains or coolness. Dr. and Mrs. Marvin had
joined them, and the former's interest in every wild creature of the
woods became infectious. Alf and Fred were his ardent disciples, and he
rarely found an indifferent listener in Amy. The heat of the day was
given up to reading and the fashioning of alpenstocks, and the mornings
and late afternoons to excursions. In one of these they had sat down to
rest near an immense decaying tree that was hollow in parts, and full of
holes from the topmost shattered branches to the ground.

"That," said the doctor, "might fitly be called an old tenement-house.
You have no idea how many and various creatures may have found a home in
it."

He was immediately urged to enumerate its possible inhabitants in the
past, present, and future.

The doctor, pleased with the conceit of regarding the decaying tree in
this light, began with animation: "All three of the squirrels of this
region have undoubtedly dwelt in it. I scarcely need do more than mention
the well-known saucy red or fox squirrel, whose delight is mischief. By
the way, we have at home two tame robins that before they could fly were
tumbled out of their nest by one of these ruthless practical jokers. The
birds come in and out of the house like members of the family. The
graceful gray squirrel is scarcely less familiar than the red one. He
makes a lively pet, and we have all seen him turning the wheel attached
to his cage. The curious little flying-squirrel, however, is a stranger
even to those to whom he may be a near neighbor, for the reason that his
habits are chiefly nocturnal. He ventures out occasionally on a cloudy
day, but is shy and retiring. Thoreau relates an interesting experience
with one. He captured it in a decayed hemlock stump, wherein it had a
little nest of leaves, bits of bark, and pine needles. It bit viciously
at first, and uttered a few 'dry shrieks,' but he carried it home. After
it had been in his room a few hours it reluctantly allowed its soft fur
to be stroked. He says it had 'very large, prominent black eyes, which
gave it an innocent look. In color it was a chestnut ash, inclining to
fawn, slightly browned, and white beneath. The under edge of his wings
(?) tinged yellow, the upper dark, perhaps black.' He put it into a
barrel, and fed it with an apple and shag-bark hickory-nuts. The next
morning he carried it back and placed it on the stump from which it had
been taken, and it ran up a sapling, from which it skimmed away to a
large maple nine feet distant, whose trunk it struck about four feet from
the ground. This tree it ascended thirty feet on the opposite side from
Thoreau, then, coming into view, it eyed its quondam captor for a moment
or two, as much as to say 'good-by.' Then away it went, first raising its
head as if choosing its objective point. Thoreau says its progress is
more like that of a bird than he had been led to believe from naturalists'
accounts, or than he could have imagined possible in a quadruped. Its
flight was not a regular descent on a given line. It veered to right and
left, avoiding obstructions, passed between branches of trees, and flew
horizontally part of the way, landing on the ground at last, over fifty-one
feet from the foot of the tree from which it sprang. After its leap,
however, it cannot renew its impetus in the air, but must alight and start
again. It appears to sail and steer much like a hawk when the latter does
not flap its wings. The little striped chipmunk, no doubt, has heaped up
its store of nuts in the hole there that opens from the ground into the
tree, and the pretty white-footed mouse, with its large eyes and ears, has
had its apartment in the decayed recesses that exist in the worm-eaten
roots.

"Opossums and raccoons are well-known denizens of trees, and both furnish
famous country sports, especially in the South. ''Possum up de gum-tree,
cooney in de hollow,' is a line from a negro ditty that touches a deep
chord in the African heart. The former is found not infrequently in this
region, but the Hudson seems to be the eastern boundary of its habitat."

"I took two from a tree in one night," Burt remarked.

"The raccoon's haunts, however, extend far to the northward, and it is
abundant in the regions bordering on the Adirondacks, though not common
in the dense pine woods of the interior. They are omnivorous creatures,
and often rob nests of eggs and young birds, for they are expert
climbers. They are fond of nuts and fruits, and especially of corn when
in the condition of a milky pulp. Nor does poultry come amiss. They are
also eager fishermen, although they are unable to pursue their prey under
water like the otter and mink. They like to play in shallows, and leave
no stone unturned in the hope of finding a crawfish under it. If fish have
been left in land-locked pools, they are soon devoured. 'Coon-hunting by
the light of the harvest-moon has long been one of the most noted of rural
sports. During this month the corn kernels are in the most toothsome state
for the 'coon bill of fare, and there are few fields near forests where
they will not be marauding to-night, for they are essentially night
prowlers. A 'coon hunt usually takes place near midnight. Men, with dogs
trained to the sport, will repair to a cornfield known to be infested. The
feasters are soon tracked and treed, then shot, or else the tree is felled,
when such a snarling fight ensues as creates no little excitement. No
matter how plucky a cur may be, he finds his match in an old 'coon, and
often carries the scars of combat to his dying day.

"If taken when young, raccoons make amusing pets, and become attached to
their masters, but they cannot be allowed at large, for they are as
mischievous as monkeys. Their curiosity is boundless, and they will pry
into everything within reach. Anything, to be beyond their reach, must be
under lock and key. They use their forepaws as hands, and will unlatch a
door with ease, and soon learn to turn a knob. Alf there could not begin
to ravage a pantry like a tame 'coon. They will devour honey, molasses,
sugar, pies, cake, bread, butter, milk--anything edible. They will
uncover preserve-jars as if Mrs. Leonard had given them lessons, and with
the certainty of a toper uncork a bottle and get drunk on its contents."

"No pet 'coons, Alf, if you please," said his mother.

"Raccoons share with Reynard his reputation for cunning," the doctor
resumed, "and deserve it, but they do not use this trait for
self-preservation. They are not suspicious of unusual objects, and,
unlike a fox, are easily trapped. They hibernate during the coldest part
of the winter, reappearing in the latter part of February or March. They
are fond of little excursions, and usually travel in small family
parties, taking refuge in hollow trees about daylight. They make their
home high up, and prefer a hollow limb to the trunk of a tree. Some of
those half-decayed limbs yonder would just suit them. They have their
young in April--from four to six--and these little 'coons remain with the
mother a year. While young they are fair eating, but grow tough and rank
with age.

"Two other interesting animals may have lived in that tree, the least
weasel and his sanguinary cousin the ermine, or large weasel. Both are
brown, after the snow finally disappears, and both turn white with the
first snowstorm."

"Now you are romancing, doctor," cried Miss Hargrove.

"Yes," added Leonard, "tell us that you have caught a weasel asleep, and
we will, at least, look credulous; but this turning white with the first
snow, and brown as soon as the snow is gone, is a little off color."

"It's true, nevertheless," maintained the doctor, "although I have seen
no satisfactory explanation of the changes. They not only make their
nests in hollow trees, but in the sides of banks. Were it not for its
habit of destroying the eggs and young of birds, the least weasel might
be regarded as a wholly useful creature, for it devours innumerable mice,
moles, shrews, and insects, and does not attack larger animals or
poultry. It is so exceedingly lithe and slender that its prey has no
chance to escape. Where a mouse or a mole can go it can go also, and if
outrun in the field, it follows the scent of its game like a hound, and
is as relentless as fate in its pursuit. They are not very shy, and
curiosity speedily overcomes their timidity. Sit down quietly, and they
will investigate you with intense interest, and will even approach rather
near in order to see better. Dr. Merriam describes one as standing
bolt-upright, and eying him, with its head bent at right angles to its
slender body. After a brief retreat it made many partial advances toward
him, meanwhile constantly sniffing the air in his direction. I've no
doubt Dr. Merriam would have liked to know the weasel's opinion. They
have two or three litters a year, and the nest is made of dry leaves and
herbage. The mother weasel will defend her young at any cost, and never
hesitates to sacrifice her life in their behalf. She will fasten herself
by her sharp teeth to the nose of a dog, and teach him that weasel-hunting
has some drawbacks.

"In its next of kin, the ermine, or large weasel, we have perhaps the
most cruel and bloodthirsty animal in existence. It is among mammals what
the butcher-bird is among the feathered tribes--an assassin, a beautiful
fiend. It would seem that nature reproduces among animals and plants
every phase of human character. Was it Nero or Caligula who said, 'Oh,
that Rome had but one neck, that I might sever it?' Such is the spirit
that animates the ermine. Its instinct to kill is so strong that, were it
possible, it would destroy the means of its subsistence. It would leave
none of its varied prey alive. The lion and even the man-eating tiger,
when gorged, are inert and quiet. They kill no more than they want for a
meal; but the ermine will attack a poultry-yard, satiate itself with the
brains of the fowls or by sucking their blood, and then, out of 'pure
cussedness,' will kill all the rest within reach. Fifty chickens have
been destroyed in a night by one of these remorseless little beasts. It
makes fearful ravages among grouse, rabbits, and hares. It is the
mythical vampire embodied. It is not very much larger than the least
weasel, and has the same long, lithe, slender body and neck. A gray
squirrel would look bulky beside one, but in indomitable courage and
pitiless ferocity I do not think it has an equal. Only a lack of material
or bodily fatigue suspends its bloody work, and its life is one long
career of carnage. It has a terrific set of teeth, which are worked by
most powerful muscles. Dr. Coues, an eminent naturalist, has given a
graphic account of him. His words, as I remember them, are a true
portrait of a murderer. 'His forehead is low, and nose sharp; his eyes
are small, penetrating, cunning, and glitter with an angry green light.
His fierce face surmounts a body extraordinarily wiry, lithe, and
muscular, which ends in a singularly long, slender neck that can be
lifted at right angles with the body. When he is looking around, his neck
stretched up, his flat triangular head bent forward, swaying to and fro,
we have the image of a serpent.'

"This is a true picture of the ermine when excited or angry; when at
rest, and in certain conditions of his fur, there are few more beautiful,
harmless, innocent-looking creatures. Let one of the animals on which he
preys approach, however, and instantly he becomes a demon. In the economy
of nature he often serves a very useful purpose. In many regions field
mice are destructive. The ermine is their deadliest foe. A rat will fight
a man, if cornered, but it gives up at once in abject terror when
confronted by the large weasel. This arch-enemy has a pride in his
hunting, and when taking up his quarters in a barn will collect in one
place all the rats and mice he kills. Sometimes a hundred or more have
been found together as the result of two or three nights' work. The
ermine hunts, however, both by day and night, and climbs trees with great
facility. He is by no means shy, and one has been known to try to kill
chickens in a coop when a man was standing near him. Hunger was not his
motive, for he had destroyed dozens of fowls the night before. The ermine
has been used successfully as a ferret. Having first filed the creature's
teeth down, so that it could not kill the game, a gentleman secured
twelve live rabbits in one forenoon.

"But it's getting late, and time we started tentward, and yet I'm not
through even the list of quadrupeds that may have dwelt in our old
tenement. There are four species of bats to be mentioned, besides moles
and shrews, that would burrow in its roots if they are as hollow as the
branches. There are thirteen species of birds, including several very
interesting families of woodpeckers, that would live in a tree like that,
not to speak of tree-toads, salamanders, brown tree-lizards, insects and
slugs innumerable, and black-snakes--"

"Snakes?" interrupted Burt, incredulously.

"Yes, snakes. I once put my hand in a hole for high-holders' eggs, and a
big black-snake ran down my back, but not inside of my coat, however."

"Please say nothing more about snakes," cried Amy; and she rose
decisively, adding, in a low tone: "Come, Gertrude, let us go. The
tenants of the old tree that we've heard about may be very interesting to
naturalists, but some of them are no more to my taste than the people in
the slums of London."

"You have made our blood run cold with horrors--an agreeable sensation,
however, to-day," said Burt, also rising. "Your ermine out-Herods Herod.
By the way, is not the fur of this pitiless beast worn by the highest
dignitaries of the legal profession?" and he hastened after the girls.



CHAPTER XLIV

"BUT HE RISKED HIS LIFE?"


The days passed, and the novelty of their mountain life began to wane a
little. There were agreeable episodes, as, for instance, visits from Mr.
Clifford, Mr. Hargrove, and the Rev. Mr. Barkdale, who were entertained
in royal style; but, after all, the camping experience was not,
apparently, fulfilling the hopes of two of the party. Webb's doubt and
suspense had only been increased, and Miss Hargrove was compelled to
admit to herself that her father's fears were not groundless. She was the
life of the party, and yet she was not at rest. Even in her dreams there
was a minor key of trouble and dread. The past few weeks were bringing a
revelation. She had read novels innumerable; she had received tender
confidences from friends. Love had been declared to her, and she had seen
its eloquent pleading in more than one face; but she acknowledged that
she had never known the meaning of the word until, without her volition,
her own heart revealed to her the mystery. Reason and will might control
her action, but she could no more divert her thoughts from Burt Clifford
than a flower can turn from the sun. She wondered at herself, and was
troubled. She had supposed that the training of society had brought her
perfect self-possession, and she had looked forward to a match, when she
was ready for one, in which the pros and cons should be weighed with
diplomatic nicety; but now that her heart was touched she learned that
nature is supreme, and her whole being revolted at such a union as she
had contemplated. She saw the basis of true marriage--the glad consent of
body and soul, and not a calculation. She watched Maggie closely, and saw
that her life was happy and rounded out in spite of her many cares. It
was not such a life as she would choose in its detail, and yet it was
infinitely better than that of many of her acquaintances. Burt was no
hero in her eyes, but he was immensely companionable, and it was a
companion, not a hero, or a man remote from her life and interests, that
she desired. He was refined and intelligent, if not learned; low, mean
traits were conspicuously absent; but, above and beyond all, his mirthful
blue eyes, and spirited ways and words, set all her nerves tingling with
a delicious exhilaration which she could neither analyze nor control. In
brief, the time that her father foresaw had come; the man had appeared
who could do more than amuse; her whole nature had made its choice. She
could go back to the city, and still in semblance be the beautiful and
brilliant girl that she had been; but she knew that in all the future few
waking hours would pass without her thoughts reverting to that little
mountain terrace, its gleaming canvas, its gypsy-like fire, with a tall,
lithe form often reclining at her feet beside it.

Would the future bring more than regretful memories? As time passed, she
feared not.

As Burt grew conscious of himself, his pride was deeply touched. He knew
that he had been greatly fascinated by Miss Hargrove, and, what was
worse, her power had not declined after he had awakened to his danger;
but he felt that Amy and all the family would despise him--indeed, that
he would despise himself--should he so speedily transfer his allegiance;
and under the spur of this dread he made especial, though very
unobtrusive, efforts to prove his loyalty to Amy. Therefore Webb had
grown despondent, and his absences from the camp were longer and more
frequent He pleaded the work of the farm, and the necessity of coping
with the fearful drought, so plausibly that Amy felt that she could not
complain, but, after all, there was a low voice of protest in her heart.
"It's the old trouble," she thought. "The farm interests him far more
than I ever can, and even when here his mind is absent."

Thus it may be seen that Nature, to whom they had gone, was not only busy
with the mountain and its life, but that her silent forces were also at
work in those whose unperverted hearts were not beyond her power.

But there are dark mysteries in Nature, and some of her creations appear
to be visible and concentrated evil. The camping party came very near
breaking up in a horrible tragedy. The day was growing warm, and they
were returning from a rather extended excursion, straggling along a steep
wood road that was partially overgrown with bushes. Burt had been a
little more attentive to Miss Hargrove than usual, but was now at Amy's
side with his ready laugh and jest. Dr. Marvin was in the rear, peering
about, as usual, for some object of interest to a naturalist. Miss
Hargrove, so far from succumbing to the increasing heat, was reluctant to
return, and seemed possessed with what might be almost termed a nervous
activity. She had been the most indefatigable climber of the party, and
on their return had often diverged from the path to gather a fern or some
other sylvan trifle. At one point the ascending path formed an angle with
a ledge of rock that made a little platform. At the further end of this
she saw a flower, and she went to get it. A moment or two later Burt and
Amy heard her scream, and the sound of her voice seemed almost beneath
them. Grasping his alpenstock firmly, Burt sprang through the intervening
copsewood, and witnessed a scene that he never forgot, though he paused
not a second in his horror. Even as he rushed toward her a huge
rattlesnake was sending forth the "long, loud, stinging whir" which, as
Dr. Holmes says, is "the dreadful sound that nothing which breathes can
hear unmoved." Miss Hargrove was looking down upon it, stupefied,
paralyzed with terror. Already the reptile was coiling its thick body for
the deadly stroke, when Burt's stock fell upon its neck and laid it
writhing at the girl's feet. With a flying leap from the rock above he
landed on the venomous head, and crushed it with his heel. He had
scarcely time to catch Miss Hargrove, when she became apparently a
lifeless burden in his arms.

Dr. Marvin now reached him, and after a glance at the scene exclaimed,
"Great God! Burt, she was not bitten?"

"No; but let us get away from here. Where there's one of these devils
there is usually another not far off;" and they carried the unconscious
girl swiftly toward the camp, which fortunately was not far away, all the
others following with dread and anxiety in their faces.

Dr. Marvin's and Maggie's efforts soon revived Miss Hargrove, but she had
evidently received a very severe nervous shock. When at last Burt was
permitted to see her, she gave him her hand with such a look of gratitude,
and something more, which she could not then disguise, that his heart began
to beat strangely fast. He was so confused that he could only stammer some
incoherent words of congratulation; but he half-consciously gave her hand a
pressure that left the most delicious pain the young girl had ever known.
He was deeply excited, for he had taken a tremendous risk in springing upon
a creature that can strike its crooked fangs through the thick leather of a
boot, as a New York physician once learned at the cost of his life, when he
carelessly sought to rouse with his foot a caged reptile of this kind.

Miss Hargrove had ceased to be a charming summer acquaintance to Burt.
She was the woman at whose side he had stood in the presence of death.

Before their midday repast was ready a rumble of wagons was heard coming
up the mountain, and Webb soon appeared. "The barometer is falling
rapidly," he said, "and father agrees with me that it will be safer for
you all to return at once."

He found ready acquiescence, for after the event of the morning the
ladies were in haste to depart. Lumley, who had come up with Webb, was
sent to take the rattles from the snake, and the men drew apart, with Alf
and Fred, to discuss the adventure, for it was tacitly agreed that it
would be unwise to talk about snakes to those whose nerves were already
unstrung at the thought of such fearful neighbors. Dr. Marvin would have
gone with Lumley had not his wife interposed. As it was, he had much to
say concerning the habits and character of the reptiles, to which the
boys listened with awe. "By the way," he concluded, "I remember a passage
from that remarkable story, 'Elsie Venner,' by Oliver Wendell Holmes, in
which he gives the most vivid description of the rattlesnake I have ever
seen. One of his characters has two of them in a cage. 'The expression of
the creatures,' he writes, 'was watchful, still, grave, passionless,
fate-like, suggesting a cold malignity which seemed to be waiting for its
opportunity. Their awful, deep-cut mouths were sternly closed over long,
hollow fangs, which rested their roots against the swollen poison-gland
where the venom had been hoarded up ever since the last stroke had
emptied it. They never winked, for ophidians have no movable eyelids, but
kept up an awful fixed stare. Their eyes did not flash, but shone with a
cold, still light. They were of a pale golden color, horrible to look
into, with their stony calmness, their pitiless indifference, hardly
enlivened by the almost imperceptible vertical slit of the pupil, through
which Death seemed to be looking out, like the archer behind the long,
narrow loophole in a blank turret wall.' The description is superb, and
impressed itself so deeply on my mind that I can always recall it."

The ladies now joined them at dinner--the last at their rustic board.
Miss Hargrove was very pale, but she was a spirited girl, and was bent on
proving that there was nothing weak or hysterical in her nature. Neither
was there the flippancy that a shallow woman might have manifested. She
acted like a brave, well-bred lady, whose innate refinement and good
sense enabled her speedily to regain her poise, and take her natural
place among her friends. They all tried to be considerate, and Amy's
solicitude did not indicate the jealousy that her friend almost expected
to see.

Before they had finished their repast an east wind was moaning and
sighing in the trees, and a thin scud of clouds overcasting the sky. They
were soon in the haste and bustle of departure. Miss Hargrove found an
opportunity, however, to draw Dr. Marvin aside, and asked, hesitatingly,

"If Burt--if Mr. Clifford had missed his aim when he sprang upon the
snake, what would have happened?"

"You had better not dwell on that scene for the present, Miss Hargrove."

"But I wish to know," she said, decisively. "I am not a child, and I
think I have a right to know."

"Well," said the doctor, gravely, "you are brave about it, and may as
well know the truth. Indeed, a little thought would soon make it clear to
you that if he had struck the body of the snake and left its head free,
it would have bitten him."

She drew a long breath, and said, "I thought as much"; then added, in a
low tone, "Would it have been death?"

"Not necessarily; but only the most vigorous treatment could have saved
him."

"But he risked his life?" she persisted.

"Certainly; but a brave man could scarcely have acted otherwise. The
snake was at your very feet."

"Thank you," she said, simply, and there was a very gentle expression in
her eyes.

Much of the work of breaking up was left to Lumley, and an abundant
reward for his labor. He had returned with an exultant grin, but at a
sign from Dr. Marvin concealed his trophies. As soon as he had a chance,
however, he gave Burt two rattles, one having twelve and the other
fourteen joints, thus proving the fear, that the mate of the snake first
killed was not far off, to be well grounded. At the foot of the mountain
they met Mr. Hargrove, driving rapidly. He explained that his barometer
and the indications of a storm had alarmed him also, and that he had come
for his daughter and Fred. Nothing was said of Miss Hargrove's recent
peril in the brief, cordial parting. Her eyes and Burt's met almost
involuntarily as she was driven away, and he was deeply perturbed.

The face of Nature was also clouding fast, and she was sighing and
moaning as if she, too, dreaded the immediate future.



CHAPTER XLV

SUMMER'S WEEPING FAREWELL


Nature was at last awakening from her long, deathlike repose with an
energy that was startling. The thin skirmish-line of vapor was followed
by cloudy squadrons, and before sunset great masses of mist were pouring
over Storm King, suggesting that the Atlantic had taken the drought in
hand, and meant to see what it could do. The wind mourned and shrieked
about the house, as if trouble, and not relief, were coming. In spite of
the young moon, the night grew intensely dark. The dash of rain was
expected every moment, but it did not come.

Amy thought with a shudder of their desolate camping-ground. Time must
pass before pleasant associations could be connected with it. The intense
darkness, the rush and roar of the coming storm, the agony, the death
that might have occurred there, were now uppermost in her mind. She had
found an opportunity to ask Webb questions similar to those of Miss
Hargrove, and he had given Burt full credit for taking a fearful risk. A
woman loves courage in the abstract, and when it is shown in behalf of
herself or those whom she loves, he who has manifested it became heroic.
But her homage troubled Burt, who was all at sea, uncertain of himself,
of the future, of almost everything, but not quite uncertain as to Miss
Hargrove. There was something in her look when they first met after their
common peril that went straight to his deepest consciousness. He had
before received, with not a little complacency, glances of preference,
but none like that, in which a glimpse of feeling, deep and strong, had
been revealed in a moment of weakness. The thought of it moved him far
more profoundly than the remembrance of his danger. Indeed, he scarcely
thought of that, except as it was associated with a girl who now might
have been dead or dying, and who, by a glance, had seemed to say, "What
you saved is yours."

If this were true it was indeed a priceless, overwhelming gift, and he
was terrified at himself as he found how his whole nature was responding.
He also knew that it was not in his frank, impetuous spirit to disguise
deep feeling. Should Miss Hargrove control his heart, he feared that all
would eventually know it, as they had speedily discovered his other
little affairs. And little, indeed, they now seemed to him, relating to
girls as immature as himself. Some had since married, others were
engaged, "and none ever lost their appetites," he concluded, with a grim
smile.

But he could not thus dismiss the past so far as Amy was concerned, the
orphan girl in his own home to whom he had promised fealty. What would be
his feeling toward another man who had promised so much and had proved
fickle? What would the inmates of his own home say? What would even his
gentle mother, of whom he had made a confidante, think of him? Would not
a look of pain, or, even worse, of scorn, come into Amy's eyes? He did
love her dearly; he respected her still more as the embodiment of truth
and delicacy. From Miss Hargrove's manner he knew that Amy had never
gossiped about him, as he felt sure nine-tenths of his acquaintances
would have done. He also believed that she was taking him at his word,
like the rest of the family, and that she was looking forward to the
future that he had once so ardently desired. The past had taught him that
she was not one to fall tumultuously in love, but rather that she would
let a quiet and steady flame kindle in her heart, to last through life.
She had proved herself above hasty and resentful jealousy, but she had,
nevertheless, warned him on the mountain, and had received the renewed
manifestations of his loyalty as a matter of course. Since his rescue of
her friend in the morning her eyes had often sought his with a lustre so
gentle and approving that he felt guilty, and cursed himself for a fickle
wretch. Cost him what it might, he must be true to her.

She, little divining his tragic mood, which, with the whole force of his
will, he sought to disguise, gave him an affectionate good-night kiss as
she said, "Dear Burt, how happily the day has ended, after all!--and we
know the reason why."

"Yes, Burt," added Webb; "no man ever did a braver thing."

His father's hearty praise, and even his mother's grateful and almost
passionate embrace, only added to his deep unrest. As he went to his room
he groaned, "If they only knew!"

After very little and troubled sleep he awoke on the following morning
depressed and exhausted. Mental distress was a new experience, and he
showed its effects; but he made light of it, as the result of
over-excitement and fatigue. He felt that Nature harmonized with his
mood, for he had scarcely ever looked upon a gloomier sky. Yet, strange
to say, no rain had fallen. It seemed as if the malign spell could not be
broken. The wind that had been whirling the dust in clouds all night long
grew fitful, and died utterly away, while the parched earth and withered
herbage appeared to look at the mocking clouds in mute, despairing
appeal. How could they be so near, so heavy, and yet no rain? The air was
sultry and lifeless. Fall had come, but no autumn days as yet.
Experienced Mr. Clifford looked often at the black, lowering sky, and
predicted that a decided change was at hand.

"My fear is," he added, "that the drought may be followed by a deluge. I
don't like the looks of the clouds in the southeast."

Even as he spoke a gleam of lightning shot athwart them, and was soon
followed by a heavy rumble of thunder. It seemed that the electricity,
or, rather, the concussion of the air, precipitated the dense vapor into
water, for within a few moments down came the rain in torrents. As the
first great drops struck the roads the dust flew up as if smitten by a
blow, and then, with scarcely any interval, the gutters and every incline
were full of tawny rills, that swelled and grew with hoarser and deeper
murmurs, until they combined in one continuous roar with the downfall
from clouds that seemed scarcely able to lift themselves above the
tree-tops. The lightning was not vivid, but often illumined the obscurity
with a momentary dull red glow, and thunder muttered and growled in the
distance almost without cessation.

The drought had been depressing. To Amy its gloomy, portentous ending was
even more so. The arid noonday heat and glare of preceding days had given
place to a twilight so unnatural that it had almost the awe-inspiring
effect of an eclipse. The hitherto brazen sky seemed to have become an
overhanging reservoir from which poured a vertical cataract. The clouds
drooped so heavily, and were so black, that they gave an impression of
impending solid masses that might fall at any moment with crushing
weight. Within an hour the beds of streams long dry were full and
overflowing.

In spite of remonstrances Webb put on a rubber suit, and went to look
after some little bridges on the place. He soon returned, and said, "If
this keeps up until morning, there will be a dozen bridges lacking in our
region. I've tried to anchor some of our little affairs by putting heavy
stones on them, so that the water will pass over instead of sweeping them
away. It makes one think that the flood was no myth."

To the general relief, the rain slackened in the late afternoon, and soon
ceased. The threatening pall of clouds lifted a little, and in rocky
channels on the mountains the dull gleam of rushing water could be seen.
From every side its voice was heard, the scale running up, from the
gurgle in the pipes connected with the roof, to the roar of the nearest
large stream. The drought was truly broken.

As the day advanced Burt had grown very restless. Amy watched him
curiously. The long day of imprisonment had given time for thought, and a
review of the past novel and exciting experiences. She had not seen the
glances from Miss Hargrove which had suggested so much to Burt, but she
had long since perceived that her friend greatly enjoyed his society. Had
she loved him she would have seen far more. If this interest had been
shown in Webb, she would have understood herself and Miss Hargrove also
much better. Preoccupied as she was by her sense of loss and shortcoming
produced by Webb's apparent absorption in pursuits which she did not
share, the thought had repeatedly occurred to her that Miss Hargrove's
interest in Burt might be more than passing and friendly. If this were
true, she was sure the event of the preceding day must develop and deepen
it greatly. And now Burt's manner, his fits of absent-mindedness, during
which he stared at vacancy, awakened surmises also. "Where are his
thoughts?" she queried, and she resolved to find out.

"Burt," she said, arousing him from one of the lapses into deep thought
which alternated with his restless pacings and rather forced gayety, "it
has stopped raining. I think you ought to ride over and see how Gertrude
is. I feel real anxious about her."

His face lighted up with eagerness. "Do you truly think I ought to go?"
he asked.

"Certainly, and it would be a favor to me also," she added.

He looked at her searchingly for a moment, but there was nothing in her
friendly expression to excite his fears.

"Very well," he tried to say quietly. "I'll go. A swift gallop would do
me good, I believe."

"Of course it will, and so will a walk brighten me up. I'm going out to
see the brook."

"Let me go with you," he exclaimed, with an eagerness too pronounced.

"No, please. I'd rather hear how Gertrude is;" and she went to her room
to prepare for her walk, smiling a little bitterly as she mused: "I now
know where his thoughts were. I must be lacking indeed. Not only brother
Webb, but also lover Burt, has grown weary of me. I can't entertain
either of them through one rainy day." From her window she saw Burt
riding away with a promptness that brought again the smile rarely seen on
her fair features. In her light rubber suit, she started on her ramble,
her face almost as clouded as the sky. Another had been on the watch
also, and Webb soon joined her, with the question, "May I not go too?"

"Oh, I fear it will take too much of your time," she said, in tones that
were a little constrained.

He saw that she was depressed. He, too, had been interpreting Burt, and
guessed his destination as he galloped away. His love for Amy was so deep
that in a generous impulse of self-forgetfulness he was sorry for her,
and sought to cheer her, and make what poor amends he could for Burt's
absence, and all that it foreboded. "Since you don't say outright that I
can't go," he said, "I think I'll venture;" and then, in a quiet, genial
way, he began to talk about the storm and its effects. She would not have
believed that even remarkable weather could be made so interesting a
topic as it soon proved. Before long they stood upon the bank, and saw a
dark flood rushing by where but yesterday had trickled a little rill. Now
it would carry away horse and rider, should they attempt to ford it, and
the fields beyond were covered with water.

"I don't like these violent changes," said Amy. "Tennyson's brook, that
'goes on forever,' is more to my taste than one like this, that almost
stops, and then breaks out into a passionate, reckless torrent."

"It's the nature of this brook; you should not blame it," he answered.
"But see, it's falling rapidly already."

"Oh, certainly; nothing lasts," and she turned away abruptly.

"You are mistaken, sister Amy," he replied, with strong, quiet emphasis.

The early twilight deepened around them, and gloomy night came on apace,
but before Amy re-entered the house his unselfish efforts were rewarded.
Burt's threatened disloyalty apparently had lost its depressing
influence. Some subtile reassuring power had been at work, and the clouds
passed from her face, if not from the sky.



CHAPTER XLVI

FATHER AND DAUGHTER


That sombre day would ever be a memorable one to Miss Hargrove. Nature
seemed weeping passionately over the summer that had gone, with all its
wealth of beauty and life. She knew that her girlhood had gone with it.
She had cautioned her brother to say nothing of her escape on the
previous day, for she was too unnerved to go over the scene again that
night, and meet her father's questioning eyes. She wanted to be alone
first and face the truth; and this she had done in no spirit of weak
self-deception. The shadow of the unknown had fallen upon her, and in its
cold gray light the glitter and tinsel of the world had faded, but
unselfish human love had grown more luminous. The imminence of death had
kindled rather than quenched it. It was seen to be something intrinsically
precious, something that might survive even the deadliest poison.

Her father was disposed to regard Burt as one who looked upon life in the
light of a pleasure excursion, and who might never take it seriously. His
laugh hereafter could never be so light and careless to her but that,
like a minor key, would run the thought, "He risked his life for me; he
might have died for me."

Her dark, full eyes, the warm blood that her thoughts brought into her
face even in the solitude of her chamber, did not belie her nature, which
was intense, and capable of a strong and an abiding passion when once
kindled.

Mr. Hargrove had watched her with the deepest solicitude on her return,
and he felt rather than saw the change that had taken place in his idol.
She had pleaded fatigue, and retired early. In the morning she was again
conscious of his half-questioning scrutiny, and when he went to his study
she followed, and told him what had occurred. He grew very pale, and drew
a long, deep breath. Then, as if mastered by a strong impulse, he clasped
her to his heart, and said, in trembling tones, "Oh, Trurie, if I had
lost you!"

"I fear you would have lost me, papa, had it not been for Mr. Clifford."

He paced the room for a few moments in agitation, and at last stopped
before her and said: "Perhaps in a sense I am to lose you after all. Has
Mr. Clifford spoken?"

"No, papa; he has only risked his life to save mine."

"You are very grateful?"

"Yes."

"Do not think I underestimate his act, Trurie; but, believe me, if he
should speak now or soon, you are in no condition to answer him."

She smiled incredulously.

"He did what any man would do for a woman in peril. He has no right to
claim such an immense reward."

"Before I went to the mountains I said I was no longer a child; but I
was, compared with what I am now. It seems to me that feeling,
experience, more than years, measures our age. I am a woman to-day, one
who has been brought so near the future world that I have been taught how
to value what may be ours now. I have learned how to value you and your
unselfish love as I never did before. Mr. Clifford will not speak very
soon, if he ever does, and I have not yet decided upon my answer. Should
it be favorable, rest assured more than gratitude will prompt me; and
also be assured you would not lose me. Could I not be more to you were I
happy than if I went through life with the feeling that I had missed my
chance?"

"I fear your mother would never give her consent to so unworldly a
choice," he said, with a troubled brow.

"I've yet to be convinced that it would be such a choice. It's scarcely
unworldly to make the most and the best of the world one is in, and mamma
must permit me to judge for myself, as she chose for herself. I shall
never marry any one but a gentleman, and one who can give me a home. Have
I not a right to prefer a home to an establishment, papa?"

He looked at her long and searchingly, and she met his scrutiny with a
grave and gentle dignity. "I suppose we must submit to the inevitable,"
he said at last.

"Yes, papa."

"It seems but the other day that you were a baby on my knee," he began,
sadly; "and now you are drifting far away."

"No, papa, there shall be no drifting whatever. I shall marry, if ever,
one whom I have learned to love according to Nature's simple laws--one to
whom I can go without effort or calculation. I could give my heart, and
be made rich indeed by the gift. I couldn't invest it; and if I did, no
one would be more sorry than you in the end."

"I should indeed be more than sorry if I ever saw you unhappy," he said,
after another thoughtful pause; then added, shaking his head, "I've seen
those who gave their hearts even more disappointed with life than those
who took counsel of prudence."

"I shall take counsel of prudence, and of you too, papa."

"I think it is as I feared--you have already given your heart."

She did not deny it. Before leaving him she pleaded: "Do not make much of
my danger to mamma. She is nervous, and not over-fond of the country at
best. You know that a good many people survive in the country," she
concluded, with a smile that was so winning and disarming that he shook
his head at her as he replied:

"Well, Trurie, I foresee what a lovingly obstinate little girl you are
likely to prove. I think I may as well tell you first as last that you
may count on me in all that is fairly rational. If, with my years and
experience, I can be so considerate, may I hope that you will be also?"

Her answer was reassuring, and she went to tell her mother. She had been
forestalled. Fred was quite as confidential with his mother as she with
her father, and the boy had been wild to horrify Mrs. Hargrove by an
account of his sister's adventure. The injunction laid upon him had been
only for the previous evening, and Gertrude found her mother almost
hysterical over the affair, and less inclined to commend Burt than to
blame him as the one who had led her daughter into such "wild,
harum-scarum experiences."

"It's always the way," she exclaimed, "when one goes out of one's own
natural associations in life."

"I've not been out of my natural associations," Gertrude answered, hotly.
"The Cliffords are as well-bred and respectable as we are;" and she went
to her room.

It was a long, dismal day for her, but, as she had said to her father,
she would not permit herself to drift. Her nature was too positive for
idle, sentimental dreaming. Feeling that she was approaching one of the
crises of her life, she faced it resolutely and intelligently. She went
over the past weeks from the time she had first met Burt under the Gothic
willow arch, and tried to analyze not only the power he had over her, but
also the man himself. "I have claimed to papa that I am a woman, and I
should act like one," she thought. A few things grew plain. Her interest
in Burt had been a purely natural growth, the unsought result of
association with one who had proved congenial. He was so handsome, so
companionable, so vital with spirit and mirthfulness, that his simple
presence was exhilarating, and he had won his influence like the sun in
spring-time. Had he the higher qualities of manhood, those that could
sustain her in the inevitable periods when life would be no laughing
matter? Could he meet the winter of life as well as the summer? She felt
that she scarcely knew him well enough to be sure of this, but she was
still sufficiently young and romantic to think, "If he should ever love
me as I can love him, I could bring out the qualities that papa fears are
lacking." His courage seemed an earnest of all that she could desire.

Amy's feeling toward him, and the question whether he had ever regarded
her in another light than that of a sister, troubled her the most. Amy's
assurance of implicit trust, and her promise to deserve it, appeared to
stand directly in her path, and before that stormy day closed she had
reached the calmness of a fixed resolution. "If Amy loves him, and he has
given her reason to do so, I shall not come between them, cost me what it
may. I'll do without happiness rather than snatch it from a friend who
has not only spoken her trust, but proved it."

Therefore, although her heart gave a great bound as she saw Burt riding
toward the house in the late afternoon, she went to her father and said:
"Mr. Clifford is coming. I wish you would be present during his call."

The young fellow was received cordially, and Mr. Hargrove acknowledged
his indebtedness so feelingly that Burt flushed like a girl, and was
greatly embarrassed. He soon recovered himself, however, and chatted in
his usual easy and spirited way. Before he left he asked, hesitatingly,
"Would you like a souvenir of our little episode yesterday?" and took
from his pocket the rattles of the snake he had killed.

"It was not a little episode," Gertrude replied, gravely. "I shall indeed
value the gift, for it will remind me that I have a friend who did not
count the cost in trying to help me."

Impetuous words rose to Burt's lips, but he checked them in time.
Trembling for his resolutions, he soon took his departure, and rode
homeward in deeper disquiet than he had ever known. He gave Amy her
friend's messages, and he also, in spite of himself, afforded her a
clearer glimpse of what was passing in his mind than she had received
before. "I might have learned to love him in time, I suppose," she
thought, bitterly, "but it's impossible now. I shall build my future on
no such uncertain foundation, and I shall punish him a little, too, for
it's time he had a lesson."



CHAPTER XLVII

DISQUIET WITHIN AND WITHOUT


Amy would scarcely have been human had she felt otherwise, for it
appeared that Burt was in a fair way to inflict a slight that would touch
the pride of the gentlest nature. During her long residence abroad Amy
had in a general and unthinking way adopted some English ideas on the
subject of marriage. Burt had at first required what was unnatural and
repugnant, and she had resented the demand that she should pass from an
age and a state of feeling slightly removed from childhood to relations
for which she was not ready. When he had sensibly recognized his error,
and had appeared content to wait patiently and considerately, she had
tacitly assented to his hopes and those of his parents. Her love and
gratitude toward the latter influenced her powerfully, and she saw no
reason why she should disappoint them. But she was much too high-spirited
a girl to look with patience on any wavering in Burt. She had not set her
heart on him or sought to be more to him than to a brother, and if he
wished for more he must win and hold the right by undoubted loyalty. The
fact that Amy had been brought into the Clifford family as a daughter and
sister had not cheated Nature a moment, as both Burt and Webb had proved.
She was not their sister, and had unconsciously evoked from each of the
young men a characteristic regard. Burt must not be judged too harshly.
He had to contend with a temperament not uncommon--one that renders its
possessor highly susceptible to the beauty and fascination of women. He
was as far removed from the male flirt genus as sincerity is from
falsehood; but his passion for Amy had been more like a manifestation of
a trait than a strong individual preference based on mutual fitness and
helpfulness. Miss Hargrove was more truly his counterpart. She could
supplement the weaknesses and defects of his character more successfully
than Amy, and in a vague way he felt this. With all the former's vivacity
there was much reserve strength and magnetism. She was unusually gifted
with will power, and having once gained an influence over a person, she
would have, as agents to maintain it, not only her beauty, but tact, keen
insight and a very quick intelligence. Although true herself, she was by
no means unsophisticated, and having once comprehended Burt's character,
she would have the power, possessed by few others, to make the most of
him.

Amy was nearer to nature. She would first attract unconsciously, like a
rare and beautiful flower, and the loveliness and fragrance of her life
would be undying. Burt had felt her charm, and responded most decisively;
but the tranquil regard of her unawakened heart had little power to
retain and deepen his feeling. She bloomed on at his side, sweet to him,
sweet to all. In Miss Hargrove's dark eyes lurked a stronger spell, and
he almost dared to believe that they had revealed to him a love of which
he began to think Amy was not capable. On the generous young fellow,
whose intentions were good, this fact would have very great influence,
and in preserving her supremacy Miss Hargrove would also be able to
employ not a little art and worldly wisdom.

The events that are most desired do not always happen, however, and poor
Burt felt that he had involved himself in complications of which he saw
no solution; while Amy's purpose to give him "a lesson" promised anything
but relief. Her plan involved scarcely any change in her manner toward
him. She would simply act as if she believed all that he had said, and
take it for granted that his hopes for the future were unchanged. She
proposed, however, to maintain this attitude only long enough to teach
him that it is not wise, to say the least, to declare undying devotion
too often to different ladies.

The weather during the night and early on the following morning was
puzzling. It might be that the storm was passing, and that the ragged
clouds which still darkened the sky were the rear-guard or the stragglers
that were following the sluggish advance of its main body; or it might be
that there was a partial break in Nature's forces, and that heavier
cloud-masses were still to come. Mr. Clifford inclined to the latter
view. "Old Storm King is still shrouded," he said at the breakfast-table,
"and this heavy, sultry air does not indicate clearing weather."

Events soon confirmed his opinion. Nature seemed bent on repeating the
programme of the preceding day, with the purpose of showing how much more
she could do on the same line of action. There was no steady wind from
any quarter. Converging or conflicting currents in the upper air may have
brought heavy clouds together in the highlands to the southwest, for
although the rain began to fall heavily, it could not account for the
unprecedented rise of the streams. In little over an hour there was a
continuous roar of rushing water. Burt, restless and almost reckless,
went out to watch the floods. He soon returned to say that every bridge
on the place had gone, and that what had been dry and stony channels
twenty-four hours before were now filled with resistless torrents.

Webb also put on his rubber suit, and they went down the main street
toward the landing. This road, as it descended through a deep valley to
the river, was bordered by a stream that drained for some miles the
northwestern slope of the mountains. For weeks its rocky bed had been
dry; now it was filled with a river yellow as the Tiber. One of the main
bridges across it was gone, and half of the road in one place had been
scooped out and carried away by the furious waters. People were removing
their household goods out into the vertical deluge lest they and all they
had should be swept into the river by the torrent that was above their
doorsteps. The main steamboat wharf, at which the "Powell" had touched
but a few hours before, was scarcely passable with boats, so violent was
the current that poured over it. The rise had been so sudden that people
could scarcely realize it, and strange incidents had occurred. A horse
attached to a wagon had been standing in front of a store. A vivid flash
of lightning startled the animal, and he broke away, galloped up a side
street to the spot where the bridge had been, plunged in, was swept down,
and scarcely more than a minute had elapsed before he was back within a
rod or two of his starting-point, crushed and dead.

Webb soon returned. He had noticed that Amy's eyes had followed him
wistfully, and almost reproachfully, as he went out. Nature's mood was
one to inspire awe, and something akin to dread, in even his own mind.
She appeared to have lost or to have relaxed her hold upon her forces. It
seemed that the gathered stores of moisture from the dry, hot weeks of
evaporation were being thrown recklessly away, regardless of consequences.
There was no apparent storm-centre, passing steadily to one quarter of the
heavens, but on all sides the lightning would leap from the clouds, while
mingling with the nearer and louder peals was the heavy and continuous
monotone from flashes below the horizon.

He was glad he had returned, for he found Amy pale and nervous indeed.
Johnnie had been almost crying with terror, and had tremblingly asked her
mother if Noah's flood could come again.

"No," said Maggie, confidently. "If there was to be another flood,
grandpa would have been told to build an ark;" and this assurance had
appeared so obviously true that the child's fears were quieted. Even
Leonard's face was full of gloom and foreboding, when the children were
not present, as he looked out on flooded fields, and from much experience
estimated the possible injury to the farm and the town. Mr. and Mrs.
Clifford were quiet and serene. They had attained a peace which was not
easily disturbed, and the old gentleman remarked: "I have seen a worse
storm even in this vicinity. You must remember it, Leonard."

"But this deluge isn't over," was the reply. "It seems a tremendous
reaction from the drought, and where it will end it is hard to tell,
unless this steady downpouring slackens soon."

Leonard's fears were not realized, however. The unusual and tropical
manifestations of the storm at last ceased, and by night the rain fell
softly and gently, as if Nature were penitent over her wild passion. The
results of it, however, were left in all directions. Many roads were
impassable; scores of bridges were gone. The passengers from the evening
boats were landed on a wharf partially submerged, and some were taken in
boats to a point whence they could reach their carriages.

In the elements' disquiet Burt had found an excuse for his own, and he
had remained out much of the day. He had not called on Miss Hargrove
again, but had ridden far enough to learn that the bridges in that
direction were safe. All the family had remonstrated with him for his
exposure, and Amy asked him, laughingly, if he had been "sitting on
bridges to keep them from floating away."

"You are growing ironical," he answered for he was not in an amiable
mood, and he retired early.



CHAPTER XLVIII

IDLEWILD


In the morning Nature appeared to have forgotten both her passion and her
penitence, and smiled serenely over the havoc she had made, as if it were
of no consequence.

Amy said, "Let us take the strong rockaway, call for Miss Hargrove, and
visit some of the streams"; and she noted that Burt's assent was too
undemonstrative to be natural. Maggie decided to go also, and take the
children, while Leonard proposed to devote the day to repairing the
damage to the farm, his brothers promising to aid him in the afternoon.

When at last the party left their carriage at one of the entrances of
Idlewild, the romantic glen made so famous by the poet Willis, a stranger
might have thought that he had never seen a group more in accord with the
open, genial sunshine. This would be true of Maggie and the children.
They thought of that they saw, and uttered all their thoughts. The
solution of one of life's deep problems had come to Maggie, but not to
the others, and such is the nature of this problem that its solution can
usually be reached only by long and hidden processes. Not one of the four
young people was capable of a deliberately unfair policy; all, with the
exception of Amy, were conscious whither Nature was leading them, and she
had thoughts also of which she would not speak. There was no lack of
truth in the party, and yet circumstances had brought about a larger
degree of reticence than of frankness. To borrow an illustration from
Nature, who, after all, was to blame for what was developing in each
heart, a rapid growth of root was taking place, and the flower and fruit
would inevitably manifest themselves in time. Miss Hargrove naturally had
the best command over herself. She had taken her course, and would abide
by it, no matter what she might suffer. Burt had mentally set his teeth,
and resolved that he would be not only true to Amy, but also his old gay
self. His pride was now in the ascendant. Amy, however, was not to be
deceived, and her intuition made it clear that he was no longer her old
happy, contented comrade. But she was too proud to show that her pride
was wounded, and appeared to be her former self. Webb, as usual, was
quiet, observant, and not altogether hopeless. And so this merry party,
innocent, notwithstanding all their hidden thoughts about each other,
went down into the glen, and saw the torrent flashing where the sunlight
struck it through the overhanging foliage. Half-way down the ravine there
was a rocky, wooded plateau from which they had a view of the flood for
some distance, as it came plunging toward them with a force and volume
that appeared to threaten the solid foundations of the place on which
they stood. With a roar of baffled fury it sheered off to the left,
rushed down another deep descent, and disappeared from view. The scene
formed a strange blending of peace and beauty with wild, fierce movement
and uproar. From the foliage above and around them came a soft,
slumberous sound, evoked by the balmy wind that fanned their cheeks. The
ground and the surface of the torrent were flecked with waving, dancing
light and shade, as the sunlight filtered through innumerable leaves, on
some of which a faint tinge of red and gold was beginning to appear.
Beneath and through all thundered a dark, resistless tide, fit emblem of
lawless passion that, unchanged, unrestrained by gentle influences,
pursues its downward course reckless of consequences. Although the volume
of water passing beneath their feet was still immense, it was evident
that it had been very much greater. "I stood here yesterday afternoon,"
said Burt, "and then the sight was truly grand."

"Why, it was raining hard in the afternoon!" exclaimed Miss Hargrove.

"Burt seemed even more perturbed than the weather yesterday," Amy
remarked, laughing. "He was out nearly all the time. We were alarmed
about him, fearing lest he should be washed away, dissolved, or
something."

"Do I seem utterly quenched this morning?" he asked, in a light vein, but
flushing deeply.

"Oh, no, not in the least, and yet it's strange, after so much cold water
has fallen on you."

"One is not quenched by such trifles," he replied, a little coldly.

They were about to turn away, when a figure sprang out upon a rock, far
up the stream, in the least accessible part of the glen. They all
recognized Mr. Alvord, as he stood with folded arms and looked down on
the flood that rushed by on either side of him. He had not seen them, and
no greeting was possible above the sound of the waters. Webb thought as
he carried little Ned up the steep path, "Perhaps, in the mad current, he
sees the counterpart of some period in his past."

The bridge across the mouth of Idlewild Brook was gone, and they next
went to the landing. The main wharf was covered with large stones and
gravel, the debris of the flood that had poured over it from the adjacent
stream, whose natural outlet had been wholly inadequate. Then they drove
to the wild and beautiful Mountainville road, that follows the Moodna
Creek for a long distance. They could not proceed very far, however, for
they soon came to a place where a tiny brook had passed under a wooden
bridge. Now there was a great yawning chasm. Not only the bridge, but
tons of earth were gone. The Moodna Creek, that had almost ceased to flow
in the drought, had become a tawny river, and rushed by them with a
sullen roar, flanging over the tide was an old dead tree, on which was
perched a fish-hawk. Even while they were looking at him, and Burt was
wishing for his rifle, the bird swooped downward, plunged into the stream
with a splash, and rose with a fish in his talons. It was an admirable
exhibition of fearlessness and power, and Burt admitted that such a
sportsman deserved to live.



CHAPTER XLIX

ECHOES OF A PAST STORM


Miss Hargrove returned to dine with them, and as they were lingering over
the dessert and coffee Webb remarked, "By the way, I think the poet
Willis has given an account of a similar, or even greater, deluge in this
region." He soon returned from the library, and read the following
extracts: "'I do not see in the Tribune or other daily papers any mention
of an event which occupies a whole column on the outside page of the
highest mountain above West Point. An avalanche of earth and stone, which
has seamed from summit to base the tall bluff that abuts upon the Hudson,
forming a column of news visible for twenty miles, has reported a deluge
we have had--a report a mile long, and much broader than Broadway.'"

"Certainly," said Mr. Clifford, "that's the flood of which I spoke
yesterday. It was very local, but was much worse than the one we have
just had. It occurred in August of '53. I remember now that Mr. Willis
wrote a good deal about the affair in his letters from Idlewild. What
else does he say?"

Webb, selecting here and there, continued to read: "'We have had a deluge
in the valley immediately around us--a deluge which is shown by the
overthrown farm buildings, the mills, dams, and bridges swept away, the
well-built roads cut into chasms, the destruction of horses and cattle,
and the imminent peril to life. It occurred on the evening of August 1,
and a walk to-day down the valley which forms the thoroughfare to
Cornwall Landing (or, rather, a scramble over its gulfs in the road, its
upset barns and sheds, its broken vehicles, drift lumber, rocks, and
rubbish) would impress a stranger like a walk after the deluge of Noah.

"'The flood came upon us with scarce half an hour's notice. My venerable
neighbor, of eighty years of age, who had passed his life here, and knows
well the workings of the clouds among the mountains, had dined with us,
but hastened his departure to get home before what looked like a shower,
crossing with his feeble steps the stream whose strongest bridge, an hour
after, was swept away. Another of our elderly neighbors had a much
narrower escape. The sudden rush of water alarmed him for the safety of
an old building he used for his stable, which stood upon the bank of the
small stream usually scarce noticeable as it crosses the street at the
landing. He had removed his horse, and returned to unloose a favorite
dog, but before he could accomplish it the building fell. The single jump
with which he endeavored to clear himself of the toppling rafters threw
him into the torrent, and he was swept headlong toward the gulf which it
had already torn in the wharf on the Hudson. His son and two others
plunged in, and succeeded in snatching him from destruction. Another
citizen was riding homeward, when the solid and strongly embanked road
was swept away before and behind him, and he had barely time to unhitch
his horse and escape, leaving his carriage islanded between the chasms. A
man who was driving with his wife and child along our own wall on the
river-shore had a yet more fearful escape: his horse suddenly forced to
swim, and his wagon set afloat, and carried so violently against a tree
by the swollen current of Idlewild Brook that he and his precious load
were thrown into the water, and with difficulty reached the bank beyond.
A party of children who were out huckleberrying on the mountain were
separated from home by the swollen brook, and one of them was nearly
drowned in vainly attempting to cross it. Their parents and friends were
out all night in search of them. An aged farmer and his wife, who had
been to Newburgh, and were returning with their two-horse wagon well
laden with goods, attempted to drive over a bridge as it unsettled with
the current, and were precipitated headlong. The old man caught a sapling
as he went down with the flood, the old woman holding on to his
coat-skirts, and so they struggled until their cries brought assistance.'
Other and similar incidents are given. One large building was completely
disembowelled, and the stream coursed violently between the two halves of
its ruins. 'I was stopped,' he writes in another place, 'as I scrambled
along the gorge, by a curious picture for the common highway. The brick
front of the basement of a dwelling-house had been torn off, and the
mistress of the house was on her hands and knees, with her head thrust in
from a rear window, apparently getting her first look down into the
desolated kitchen from which she had fled in the night. A man stood in
the middle of the floor, up to his knees in water, looking round in
dismay, though he had begun to pick up some of the overset chairs and
utensils. The fireplace, with its interrupted supper arrangements, the
dresser, with its plates and pans, its cups and saucers, the closets and
cupboards, with their various stores and provisions, were all laid open
to the road like a sliced watermelon.'"

"Well," ejaculated Leonard, "we haven't so much cause to complain, after
hearing of an affair like that. I do remember many of my impressions at
the time, now that the event is recalled so vividly, but have forgotten
how so sudden a flood was accounted for."

"Willis speaks of it on another page," continued Webb, "as 'the
aggregation of extensive masses of clouds into what is sometimes called a
"waterspout," by the meeting of winds upon the converging edge of our
bowl of highlands. The storm for a whole country was thus concentrated.'
I think there must have been yesterday a far heavier fall of water on the
mountains a little to the southeast than we had here. Perhaps the truer
explanation in both instances would be that the winds brought heavy
clouds together or against the mountains in such a way as to induce an
enormous precipitation of vapor into rain. Mr. Willis indicates by the
following passage the suddenness of the flood he describes: 'My first
intimation that there was anything uncommon in the brook was the sight of
a gentleman in a boat towing a cow across the meadow under our library
window--a green glade seldom or never flooded. The roar from the foaming
precipices in the glen had been heard by us all, but was thought to be
thunder.' Then he tells how he and his daughter put on their rubber suits
and hastened into the glen. 'The chasm,' he writes, 'in which the brook,
in any freshet I had heretofore seen, was still only a deep-down stream,
now seemed too small for the torrent. Those giddy precipices on which the
sky seems to lean as you stand below were the foam-lashed sides of a full
and mighty river. The spray broke through the tops of the full-grown
willows and lindens. As the waves plunged against the cliffs they parted,
and disclosed the trunks and torn branches of the large trees they had
overwhelmed and were bearing away, and the earth-colored flood, in the
wider places, was a struggling mass of planks, timber, rocks, and
roots--tokens of a tumultuous ruin above, to which the thunder-shower
pouring around us gave but a feeble clew. A heavy-limbed willow, which
overhung a rock on which I had often sat to watch the freshets of spring,
rose up while we looked at it, and with a surging heave, as if lifted by
an earthquake, toppled back, and was swept rushingly away.'"

"How I would have liked to see it!" exclaimed Miss Hargrove.

"I can see it," said Amy, leaning back, and closing her eyes. "I can see
it all too vividly. I don't like nature in such moods." Then she took up
the volume, and began turning the leaves, and said: "I've never seen this
book before. Why, it's all about this region, and written before I was
born. Oh dear, here is another chapter of horrors!" and she read: "Close
to our gate, at the door of one of our nearest and most valued
neighbors--a lovely girl was yesterday struck dead by lightning. A friend
who stood with her at the moment was a greater sufferer, in being
prostrated by the same flash, and paralyzed from the waist downward--her
life spared at the cost of tortures inexpressible.'"

Webb reached out his hand to take the book from her, but she sprang
aloof, and with dilating eyes read further: "'Misa Gilmour had been
chatting with a handsome boy admirer, but left him to take aside a
confidential friend that she might read her a letter. It was from her
mother, a widow with this only daughter. They passed out of the gate,
crossed the road to be out of hearing, and stood under the telegraph
wire, when the letter was opened. Her lips were scarce parted to read
when the flash came--an arrow of intense light-' Oh, horrible! horrible!
How can you blame me for fear in a thunderstorm?"

"Amy," said Webb, now quietly taking the book, "your dread at such times
is constitutional. If there were need, you could face danger as well as
any of us. You would have all a woman's fortitude, and that surpasses
ours. Take the world over, the danger from lightning is exceedingly
slight, and it's not the danger that makes you tremble, but your nervous
organization."

"You interpret me kindly," she said, "but I don't see why nature is so
full of horrible things. If Gertrude had been bitten by the snake, she
might have fared even worse than the poor girl of whom I have read."

Miss Hargrove could not forbear a swift, grateful glance at Burt.

"I do not think nature is _full_ of horrible things," Webb resumed.
"Remember how many showers have cooled the air and made the earth
beautiful and fruitful in this region. In no other instance that I know
anything about has life been destroyed in our vicinity. There is indeed a
side to nature that is full of mystery--the old dark mystery of evil; but
I should rather say it is full of all that is beautiful and helpful. At
least this seems true of our region. I have never seen so much beauty in
all my life as during the past year, simply because I am forming the
habit of looking for it."

"Why, Webb," exclaimed Amy, laughing, "I thought your mind was
concentrating on crops and subjects as deep as the ocean."

"It would take all the salt of the ocean to save that remark," he
replied; but he beat a rather hasty retreat.

"Well, Amy," said Mr. Clifford, "you may now dismiss your fears. I
imagine that in our tropical storm summer has passed; and with it
thunder-showers and sudden floods. We may now look forward to two months
of almost ideal weather, with now and then a day that will make a book
and a wood fire all the more alluring."

The old gentleman's words proved true. The days passed like bright
smiles, in which, however, lurked the pensiveness of autumn. Slowly
failing maples glowed first with the hectic flush of disease, but
gradually warmer hues stole into the face of Nature, for it is the dying
of the leaves that causes the changes of color in the foliage.



CHAPTER L

IMPULSES OF THE HEART


The fall season brought increased and varied labors on the farm and in the
garden. As soon as the ground was dry after the tremendous storm, and its
ravages had been repaired as far as possible, the plows were busy preparing
for winter grain, turnips were thinned out, winter cabbages and
cauliflowers cultivated, and the succulent and now rapidly growing celery
earthed up. The fields of corn were watched, and as fast as the kernels
within the husks--now becoming golden-hued--were glazed, the stalks were
cut and tied in compact shocks. The sooner maize is cut, after it has
sufficiently matured, the better, for the leaves make more nutritious
fodder if cured or dried while still full of sap. From some fields the
shocks were wholly removed, that the land might be plowed and seeded with
grain and grass. Buckwheat, used merely as a green and scavenger crop, was
plowed under as it came into blossom, and that which was sown to mature was
cut in the early morning, while the dew was still upon it, for in the heat
of the day the grain shells easily, and is lost. After drying for a few
days in compact little heaps it was ready for the threshing-machine. Then
the black, angular kernels--promises of many winter breakfasts--were spread
to dry on the barn floor, for if thrown into heaps or bins at this early
stage, they heat badly.

The Cliffords had long since learned that the large late peaches, that
mature after the Southern crop is out of the market, are the most
profitable, and almost every day Abram took to the landing a load of
baskets full of downy beauties. An orange grove, with Its deep green
foliage and golden fruit, is beautiful indeed, but an orchard laden with
Crawford's Late, in their best development, can well sustain comparison.
Sharing the honors and attention given to the peaches were the Bartlett
and other early pears. These latter fruits were treated in much the same
way as the former. The trees were picked over every few days, and the
largest and ripest specimens taken, their maturity being indicated by the
readiness of the stem to part from the spray when the pear is lifted. The
greener and imperfect fruit was left to develop, and the trees, relieved
of much of their burden, were able to concentrate their forces on what
was left. The earlier red grapes, including the Delaware, Brighton, and
Agawam, not only furnished the table abundantly, but also a large surplus
for market. Indeed, there was high and dainty feasting at the Cliffords'
every day--fruit everywhere, hanging temptingly within reach, with its
delicate bloom untouched, untarnished.

The storm and the seasonable rains that followed soon restored its
fulness and beauty to Nature's withered face. The drought had brought to
vegetation partial rest and extension of root growth, and now, with the
abundance of moisture, there was almost a spring-like revival. The grass
sprang up afresh, meadows and fields grew green, and annual weeds, from
seeds that had matured in August, appeared by the million.

"I am glad to see them," Webb remarked. "Before they can mature any seed
the frost will put an end to their career of mischief, and there will be
so many seeds less to grow next spring."

"There'll be plenty left," Leonard replied.

The Cliffords, by their provident system of culture, had prepared for
droughts as mariners do for storms, and hence they had not suffered so
greatly as others; but busy as they were kept by the autumnal bounty of
Nature, and the rewards of their own industry, they found time for
recreation, and thoughts far removed from the material questions of
profit and loss. The drama of life went on, and feeling, conviction, and
love matured like the ripening fruits, although not so openly. As soon as
his duties permitted, Burt took a rather abrupt departure for a hunting
expedition in the northern woods, and a day or two later Amy received a
note from Miss Hargrove, saying that she had accepted an invitation to
join a yachting party.

"Oh, Webb!" she exclaimed, "I wish you were not so awfully busy all the
time. Here I am, thrown wholly on your tender mercies, and I am neither a
crop nor a scientific subject."

He gave her little reason for complaint. The increasing coolness and
exhilarating vitality of the air made not only labor agreeable, but
out-door sports delightful, and he found time for an occasional gallop,
drive, or ramble along roads and lanes lined with golden-rod and purple
asters; and these recreations had no other drawback than the uncertainty
and anxiety within his heart. The season left nothing to be desired, but
the outer world, even in its perfection, is only an accompaniment of
human life, which is often in sad discord with it.

Nature, however, is a harmony of many and varied strains, and the unhappy
are always conscious of a deep minor key even on the brightest days. To
Alf and Johnnie the fall brought unalloyed joy and promise; to those who
were older, something akin to melancholy, which deepened with the autumn
of their life; while to Mr. Alvord every breeze was a sigh, every rising
wind a mournful requiem, and every trace of change a reminder that his
spring and summer had passed forever, leaving only a harvest of bitter
memories. Far different was the dreamy pensiveness with which Mr. and
Mrs. Clifford looked back upon their vanished youth and maturity. At the
same time they felt within themselves the beginnings of an immortal
youth. Although it was late autumn with them, not memory, but hope, was
in the ascendant.

During damp or chilly days, and on the evenings of late September, the
fire burned cheerily on the hearth of their Franklin stove. The old
gentleman had a curious fancy in regard to his fire-wood. He did not want
the straight, shapely sticks from their mountain land, but gnarled and
crooked billets, cut from trees about the place that had required pruning
and removal.

"I have associations with such fuel" he said, "and can usually recall the
trees--many of which I planted--from which it came; and as I watch it
burn and turn into coals, I see pictures of what happened many years
ago."

One evening he threw on the fire a worm-eaten billet, the sound part of
which was as red as mahogany; then drew Amy to him and said, "I once sat
with your father under the apple-tree of which that piece of wood was a
part, and I can see him now as he then looked."

She sat down beside him, and said, softly, "Please tell me how he
looked."

In simple words the old man portrayed the autumn day, the fruit as golden
as the sunshine, a strong, hopeful man, who had passed away in a
far-distant land, but who was still a living presence to both. Amy looked
at the picture in the flickering blaze until her eyes were blinded with
tears. But such drops fall on the heart like rain and dew, producing
richer and more beautiful life.

The pomp and glory of October were ushered in by days of such surpassing
balminess and brightness that it was felt to be a sin to remain indoors.
The grapes had attained their deepest purple, and the apples in the
orchard vied with the brilliant and varied hues of the fast-turning
foliage. The nights were soft, warm, and resonant with the unchecked
piping of insects. From every tree and shrub the katydids contradicted
one another with increasing emphasis, as if conscious that the time was
at hand when the last word must be spoken. The stars glimmered near
through a delicate haze, and in the western sky the pale crescent of the
moon was so inclined that the old Indian might have hung upon it his
powder-horn.

On such an evening the young people from the Cliffords' had gathered on
Mr. Hargrove's piazza, and Amy and Gertrude were looking at the new moon
with silver in their pockets, each making her silent wish. What were
those wishes? Amy had to think before deciding what she wanted most, but
not Miss Hargrove. Her face has grown thinner and paler during the last
few weeks; there is unwonted brilliancy in her eyes to-night, but her
expression is resolute. Her wish and her hope were at variance. Times of
weakness, if such they could be called, would come, but they should not
appear in Burt's or Amy's presence.

The former had just returned, apparently gayer than ever. His face was
bronzed from his out-door life in the Adirondacks. Its expression was
also resolute, and his eyes turned oftenest toward Amy, with a determined
loyalty. As has been said, not long after the experiences following the
storm, he had yielded to his impulse to go away and recover his poise. He
felt that if he continued to see Miss Hargrove frequently he might reveal
a weakness which would lead not only Amy to despise him, but also Miss
Hargrove, should she become aware of the past. As he often took such
outings, the family, with the exception of Webb and Amy, thought nothing
of it. His brother and the girl he had wooed so passionately now
understood him well enough to surmise his motive, and Amy had thought,
"It will do him good to go away and think awhile, but it will make no
difference; this new affair must run its course also." And yet her heart
began to relent toward him after a sisterly fashion. She wondered if Miss
Hargrove did regard him as other than a friend to whom she owed very
much. If so, she smiled at the idea of standing in the way of their
mutual happiness. She had endured his absence with exceeding tranquillity,
for Webb had given her far more of his society, and she, Alf, and Johnnie
often went out and aided him in gathering the fruit. For some reason these
light tasks had been more replete with quiet enjoyment than deliberate
pleasure-seeking.

Burt had been at pains to take, in Amy's presence, a most genial and
friendly leave of Miss Hargrove, but there was no trace of the lover in
his manner. His smiles and cordial words had chilled her heart, and had
strengthened the fear that in some way he was bound to Amy. She knew that
she had fascinated and perhaps touched him deeply, but imagined she saw
indications of an allegiance that gave little hope for the future. If he
felt as she did, and were free, he would not have gone away; and when he
had gone, time grew leaden-footed. Absence is the touchstone, and by its
test she knew that her father was right, and that she, to whom so much
love had been given unrequited, had bestowed hers apparently in like
manner. Then had come an invitation to join a yachting party to Fortress
Monroe, and she had eagerly accepted. With the half-reckless impulse of
pride, she had resolved to throw away the dream that had promised so
much, and yet had ended in such bitter and barren reality. She would
forget it all in one brief whirl of gayety; and she had been the
brilliant life of the party. But how often her laugh had ended in a
stifled sigh! How often her heart told her, "This is not happiness, and
never can be again!" Her brief experience of what is deep and genuine in
life taught her that she had outgrown certain pleasures of the past, as a
child outgrows its toys, and she had returned thoroughly convinced that
her remedy was not in the dissipations of society.

The evening after her return Burt, with Webb and Amy, had come to call,
and as she looked upon him again she asked herself, in sadness, "Is there
any remedy?" She was not one to give her heart in a half-way manner.

It seemed to her that he had been absent for years, and had grown
indefinitely remote. Never before had she gained the impression so
strongly that he was in some way bound to Amy, and would abide by his
choice. If this were true, she felt that the sooner she left the vicinity
the better, and even while she chatted lightly and genially she was
planning to induce her father to return to the city at an early date.
Before parting, Amy spoke of her pleasure at the return of her friend,
who, she said, had been greatly missed, adding: "Now we shall make up for
lost time. The roads are in fine condition for horseback exercise,
nutting expeditions will soon be in order, and we have a bee-hunt on the
programme."

"I congratulate you on your prospects," said Miss Hargrove. "I wish I
could share in all your fun, but fear I shall soon return to the city."

Burt felt a sudden chill at these words, and a shadow from them fell
across his face. Webb saw their effect, and he at once entered on a
rather new role for him. "Then we must make the most of the time before
you go," he began. "I propose we take advantage of this weather and drive
over to West Point, and lunch at Fort Putnam."

"Why, Webb, what a burst of genius!" Amy exclaimed. "Nothing could be
more delightful. Let us go to-morrow for we can't count on such weather
long."

Miss Hargrove hesitated. The temptation was indeed strong, but she felt
it would not be wise to yield, and began, hesitatingly, "I fear my
engagements--" At this moment she caught a glimpse of Burt's face in a
mirror, and saw the look of disappointment which he could not disguise.
"If I return to the city soon," she resumed, "I ought to be at my
preparations."

"Why, Gertrude," said Amy, "I almost feel as if you did not wish to go.
Can't you spare one day? I thought you were to remain in the country till
November. I have been planning so much that we could do together!"

"Surely, Miss Hargrove," added Burt, with a slight tremor in his voice,
"you cannot nip Webb's genius in the very bud. Such an expedition as he
proposes is an inspiration."

"But you can do without me," she replied, smiling on him bewilderingly.

It was a light arrow, but its aim was true. Never before had he so felt
the power of her beauty, the almost irresistible spell of her fascination.
While her lips were smiling, there was an expression in her dark eyes that
made her words, so simple and natural in themselves, a searching question,
and he could not forbear saying, earnestly, "We should all enjoy the
excursion far more if you went with us."

"Truly, Miss Hargrove," said Webb, "I shall be quenched if you decline,
and feel that I have none of the talent for which I was beginning to gain
a little credit."

"I cannot resist such an appeal as that, Mr. Clifford," she said,
laughingly.

"This is perfectly splendid!" cried Amy. "I anticipate a marvellous day
to-morrow. Bring Fred also, and let us all vie with each other in
encouraging Webb."

"Has that quiet Webb any scheme in his mind?" Miss Hargrove thought,
after they had gone. "I wish that tomorrow might indeed be 'a marvellous
day' for us all."

"_Can_ I do without her?" was poor Burt's query. An affirmative
answer was slow in coming, though he thought long and late.



CHAPTER LI

WEBB'S FATEFUL EXPEDITION


Mr. Hargrove had welcomed the invitation that took his daughter among
some of her former companions, hoping that a return to brilliant
fashionable life would prove to her that she could not give it up. It was
his wish that she should marry a wealthy man of the city. His wife did
not dream of any other future for her handsome child, and she looked
forward with no little complacency to the ordering of a new and elegant
establishment.

At the dinner-table Gertrude had given a vivacious account of her
yachting experience, and all had appeared to promise well; but when she
went to the library to kiss her father good-night, he looked at her
inquiringly, and said, "You enjoyed every moment, I suppose?"

She shook her head sadly, and, after a moment, said: "I fear I've grown
rather tired of that kind of thing. We made much effort to enjoy
ourselves. Is there not a happiness which comes without so much effort?"

"I'm sorry," he said, simply.

"Perhaps you need not be. Suppose I find more pleasure in staying with
you than in rushing around?"

"That would not last. That is contrary to nature."

"I think it would be less contrary to _my_ nature than forced gayety
among people I care nothing about."

He smiled at her fondly, but admitted to himself that absence had
confirmed the impressions of the summer, instead of dissipating them, and
that if Burt became her suitor he would be accepted.

When she looked out on the morning of the excursion to Fort Putnam it was
so radiant with light and beauty that hope sprang up within her heart.
Disappointment that might last through life could not come on a day like
this. Silvery mists ascended from the river down among the Highlands. The
lawn and many of the fields were as green as they had been in June, and
on every side were trees like immense bouquets, so rich and varied was
their coloring. There was a dewy freshness in the air, a genial warmth in
the sunshine, a spring-like blue in the sky; and in these was no
suggestion that the November of her life was near. "And yet it may be,"
she thought. "I must soon face my fate, and I must be true to Amy."

Mrs. Hargrove regarded with discontent the prospect of another long
mountain expedition; but Fred, her idol, was wild for it, and in a day or
two he must return to school in the city, from which, at his earnest
plea, he had been absent too long already; so she smiled her farewell at
last upon the fateful excursion.

He, with his sister, was soon at the Cliffords', and found the
rockaway--the strong old carryall with which Gertrude already had tender
associations--in readiness. Maggie had agreed to chaperon the party,
little Ned having been easily bribed to remain with his father.

Miss Hargrove had looked wistfully at the Clifford mansion as she drew
near to it. Never had it appeared to her more home-like, with its
embowering trees and laden orchards. The bright hues of the foliage
suggested the hopes that centred there: the ocean, as she had seen
it--cold and gray under a clouded sky--was emblematic of life with no
fulfilment of those hopes. And when Mr. Clifford met her at the door, and
took her in to see the invalid, who greeted her almost as affectionately
as she would have welcomed Amy after absence, Miss Hargrove knew in the
depths of her heart how easily she could be at home there.

Never did a pleasure-party start under brighter auspices. Even Mrs.
Clifford came out, on her husband's arm, to wave them a farewell.

The young men had their alpenstocks, for it was their intention to walk
up the steep places. Webb was about to take Alf and Johnnie on the front
seat with him, when Amy exclaimed: "I'm going to drive, Mr. Webb. Johnnie
can sit between us, and keep me company when you are walking. You needn't
think that because you are the brilliant author of this expedition you
are going to have everything your own way."

Indeed, not a little guile lurked behind her laughing eyes, which ever
kept Webb in perplexity--though he looked into them so often--as to
whether they were blue or gray. Miss Hargrove demurely took her seat with
Maggie, and Burt had the two boys with him. Fred had brought his gun, and
was vigilant for game now that the "law was up."

They soon reached the foot of the mountain, and there was a general
unloading, for at first every one wished to walk. Maggie good-naturedly
climbed around to the front seat and took the reins, remarking that she
would soon have plenty of company again.

Burt had not recognized Amy's tactics, nor did he at once second them,
even unconsciously. His long ruminations had led to the only possible
conclusion--the words he had spoken must be made good. Pride and honor
permitted no other course. Therefore he proposed to-day to be ubiquitous,
and as gallant to Maggie as to the younger ladies. When Miss Hargrove
returned to the city he would quietly prove his loyalty. Never before had
he appeared in such spirits; never so inexorably resolute. He recalled
Amy's incredulous laugh at his protestation of constancy, and felt that
he could never look her in the face if he faltered. It was known that
Miss Hargrove had received much attention, and her interest in him would
be likely to disappear at once should she learn of his declaration of
undying devotion to another but a few months before. He anathematized
himself, but determined that his weakness should remain unknown. It was
evident that Amy had been a little jealous, but probably that she did not
yet care enough for him to be very sensitive on the subject. This made no
difference, however. He had pledged himself to wait until she did care.
Therefore he sedulously maintained his mask. Miss Hargrove should be made
to believe that she had added much to the pleasure of the excursion, and
there he would stop. And Burt on his mettle was no bungler. The test
would come in his staying powers.

Webb, however, was quietly serene. He had not watched and thought so long
in vain. He had seen Burt's expression the evening before, and knew that
a wakeful night had followed. His own feeling had taught him a
clairvoyance which enabled him to divine not a little of what was passing
in his brother's mind and that of Miss Hargrove. Amy troubled him more
than they. Her frank, sisterly affection was not love, and might never
become love.

One of the objects of the expedition was to obtain an abundant supply of
autumn leaves and ferns for pressing. "I intend to make the old house
look like a bower this winter," Amy remarked.

"That would be impossible with our city home," Miss Hargrove said, "and
mamma would not hear of such an attempt. But I can do as I please in my
own room, and shall gather my country _souvenirs_ to-day."

The idea of decorating her apartment with feathery ferns and bright-hued
leaves took a strong hold upon her fancy, for she hoped that Burt would
aid her in making the collection. Nor was she disappointed, for Amy said:

"Burt, I have gathered and pressed nearly all the ferns I need already.
You know the shady nooks where the most delicate ones grow, and you can
help Gertrude make as good a collection as mine. You'll help too, won't
you, Webb?" added the innocent little schemer, who saw that Burt was
looking at her rather keenly.

So they wound up the mountain, making long stops here and there to gather
sylvan trophies and to note the fine views. Amy's manner was so cordial
and natural that Burt's suspicions had been allayed, and the young
fellow, who could do nothing by halves, was soon deeply absorbed in
making a superb collection for Miss Hargrove, and she felt that, whatever
happened, she was being enriched by everything he obtained for her. Amy
had brought a great many newspapers folded together so that leaves could
be placed between the pages, and Webb soon noted that his offerings were
kept separate from those of Burt. The latter tried to be impartial in his
labors in behalf of the two girls, bringing Amy bright-hued leaves
instead of ferns, but did not wholly succeed, and sometimes he found
himself alone with Miss Hargrove as they pursued their search a short
distance on some diverging and shaded path. On one of these occasions he
said, "I like to think how beautiful you will make your room this
winter."

"I like to think of it too," she replied. "I shall feel that I have a
part of my pleasant summer always present."

"Has it been a pleasant summer?"

"Yes, the pleasantest I ever enjoyed."

"I should think you would find it exceedingly dull after such brilliant
experiences as that of your yachting excursion."

"Do you find to-day exceedingly dull?"

"But I am used to the quiet country, and a day like this is the
exception."

"I do not imagine you have ever lived a tame life."

"Isn't that about the same as calling me wild?"

"There's no harm in beginning a little in that way. Time sobers one fast
enough."

"You are so favored that I can scarcely imagine life bringing sobering
experiences to you very soon."

"Indeed? Have you forgotten what occurred on these very mountains, at no
great distance? I assure you I never forget it;" and her eyes were
eloquent as she turned them upon him.

"One does not forget the most fortunate event of one's life. Since you
were to meet that danger, I would not have missed being near for the
world. I had even a narrower escape, as you know, on this mountain. The
spot where Webb found me is scarcely more than a mile away."

She looked at him very wistfully, and her face grew pale, but she only
said, "I don't think either of us can forget the Highlands."

"I shall never forget that little path," he said, in a low tone, and he
looked back at it lingeringly as they came out into the road and
approached the rest of the party.

"Have you lost anything, Burt?" cried Amy, laughing.

"No, but I've found something. See this superb bunch of maiden hair. That
spot should be marked for future supplies. Miss Hargrove will share with
you, for you can't have anything so fine as this."

"Yes, indeed I have, and I shall call you and Webb to account if you do
not to-day make Gertrude fare as well."

Both Miss Hargrove and Burt were bewildered. There was lurking mischief
in Amy's eyes when she first spoke, and yet she used her influence to
keep Burt in her friend's society. Her spirits seemed too exuberant to be
natural, and Miss Hargrove, who was an adept at hiding her feelings under
a mask of gayety, surmised that Amy's feminine instincts had taught her
to employ the same tactics. Conscious of their secret, Miss Hargrove and
Burt both thought, "Perhaps it is her purpose to throw us together as far
as possible, and learn the truth."

Amy had a kinder purpose than they imagined. She wanted no more of Burt's
forced allegiance, and was much too good-natured to permit mere pique to
cause unhappiness to others. "Let Gertrude win him if she cares for him,"
was her thought, "and if _she_ can't hold him his case is
_hopeless_." She could not resist the temptation, however, to tease
Burt a little.

But he gave her slight chance for the next few hours. Her mirthful
question and the glance accompanying it had put him on his guard again,
and he at once became the gay cavalier-general he had resolved on being
throughout the day.

They made a long pause to enjoy the view looking out upon Constitution
Island, West Point, the southern mountains, and the winding river, dotted
here and there with sails, and with steamers, seemingly held motionless
by their widely separated train of canal boats.

"What mountain is this that we are now to descend?" Miss Hargrove asked.

"Cro' Nest," Burt replied. "It's the first high mountain that abuts on
the river above West Point, you will remember."

"Oh, yes, I remember. I have a song relating to it, and will give you a
verse;" and she sang:

  "'Where Hudson's waves o'er silvery sands
      Wind through the hills afar,
    And Cro' Nest like a monarch stands,
      Crowned with a single star.'"

After a round of applause had subsided, Burt, whose eyes had been more
demonstrative than his hands, said, "That's by Morris. We can see from
Fort Putnam his old home under Mount Taurus."

"I know. He is the poet who entreated the woodman to 'spare that tree.'"

"Which the woodman will never do," Webb remarked, "unless compelled by
law; nor even then, I fear."

"Oh, Webb!" cried Amy, "with what a thump you drop into prose!"

"I also advise an immediate descent of the mountain if we are to have any
time at Fort Putnam," he added. "I'll walk on."

They were soon winding down the S's by which the road overcame the steep
declivity. On reaching a plateau, before the final descent, they came
across a wretched hovel, gray and storm-beaten, with scarcely strength to
stand. Rags took the place of broken glass in the windows. A pig was
rooting near the doorstep, on which stood a slatternly woman, regarding
the party with dull curiosity.

"Talk about the elevating influence of mountain scenery," said Miss
Hargrove; "there's a commentary on the theory."

"The theory's correct," persisted Burt. "Their height above tide-water
and the amount of bad whiskey they consume keep our mountaineers elevated
most of the time."

"Does Lumley live in a place like that?" Miss Hargrove asked.

"He did--in a worse one, if possible," Webb replied for Amy, who
hesitated. "But you should see how it is changed. He now has a good
vegetable garden fenced in, a rustic porch covered with American ivy,
and--would you believe it?--an actual flower-bed. Within the hut there
are two pictures on the wall, and the baby creeps on a carpeted floor.
Lumley says Amy is making a man of him."

"You forget to mention how much you have helped me," Amy added.

"Come, let us break up this mutual admiration society," said Burt. "I'm
ready for lunch already, and Fort Putnam is miles away."

The road from the foot of the mountain descends gradually through wild,
beautiful scenery to West Point. Cro' Nest rises abruptly on the left,
and there is a wooded valley on the right, with mountains beyond. The
trees overhung the road with a canopy of gold, emerald, and crimson
foliage, and the sunlight came to the excursionists as through
stained-glass windows. Taking a side street at the back of the military
post, they soon reached a point over which frowned the ruins of the fort,
and here they left their horses. After a brief climb to the northward
they entered on an old road, grass-grown and leaf-carpeted, and soon
passed through the gaping sally-port, on either side of which cone-like
cedars stood as sentinels. Within the fort Nature had been busy for a
century softening and obliterating the work of man. Cedar trees--some of
which were dying from age--grew everywhere, even on the crumbling
ramparts. Except where ledges of the native rock cropped out, the ground
was covered with a thick sward. Near the centre of the inclosure is the
rocky basin. In it bubbles the spring at which the more temperate of the
ancient garrison may have softened the asperities of their New England
rum.

The most extensive ruins are seen by turning sharply to the left from the
sally-port. Here, yawning like caverns, their entrances partially choked
by the debris, are six casemates, or vaults. They were built of brick,
covered with stone, and are eighteen feet deep and twelve wide, with an
arched roof twelve feet high. On the level rampart above them were long,
withered grass, the wild dwarf-rose, and waving golden-rod. The outer
walls, massy and crumbling, or half torn away by vandal hands, were built
in angles, according to the engineering science of the Revolution, except
on the west, where the high ramparts surmount a mural perpendicular
precipice fifty feet in height. Inland, across the valley, the mountains
were seen, rising like rounded billows in every direction, while from the
north, east, and south the windings of the Hudson were visible for
fifteen miles.

All but Amy had visited the spot before, and Burt explored the place with
her while the rest prepared for lunch. She had asked Gertrude to
accompany them, but the latter had sought refuge with Maggie, and at her
side she proposed to remain. She scarcely dared trust herself with Burt,
and as the day advanced he certainly permitted his eyes to express an
interest that promised ill for his inexorable purpose of constancy.

It had become clear to Miss Hargrove that he was restrained by something
that had occurred between him and Amy, and both her pride and her sense
of truth to her friend decided her to withdraw as far as possible from
his society, and to return to the city.

She and Burt vied with each other in gayety at lunch. When it was over
they all grouped themselves in the shade of a clump of cedars, and looked
away upon the wide prospect, Webb pointing out objects of past and
present interest. Alf and Fred speedily grew restless and started off
with the gun, Johnnie's head sank into her mother's lap, Miss Hargrove
and Burt grew quiet and preoccupied, their eyes looking off into vacancy.
Webb was saying, "By one who had imagination how much more could be seen
from this point than meets the eye! There, on the plain below us, would
rise the magnificent rustic colonnade two hundred and twenty feet long
and eighty feet wide, beneath which Washington gave the great banquet in
honor of the birth of the Dauphin of France, and on the evening of the
same day these hills blazed with musketry and rolled back the thunder of
cannon with which the festivities of the evening were begun. Think of the
'Father of his Country' being there in flesh and blood, just as we are
here! In the language of an old military journal, 'He carried down a
dance of twenty couple on the green grass, with a graceful and dignified
air, having Mrs. Knox for his partner.' In almost a direct line across
the river you can see the Beverly Robinson house, from which Arnold
carried on his correspondence with Andre. You can look into the window of
the room to which, after hearing of the capture of Andre, he hastened
from the breakfast-table. To this upper room he immediately summoned his
wife, who had been the beautiful Margaret Shippen, you remember, and told
her of his awful peril, then rushed away, leaving the poor, terror-stricken
woman unconscious on the floor. Would you not like to look through the
glass at the house where the tragedy occurred, Miss Hargrove?"

At the sound of her name the young girl started visibly, and Webb saw
that there were tears in her eyes; but she complied without a word, and
he so directed the glass that it covered the historic mansion.

"How full of sensibility she is!" thought innocent Webb, taking her
quickly suppressed emotion as a tribute to his moving reminiscences.

"Oh, Webb, have done with your lugubrious ancient history!" cried Burt,
springing up.

"It's time we were getting ready for a homeward move," said Maggie. "I'll
go and pack the things."

"And I'll help you," added Miss Hargrove, hastily following her.

"Let me look at the house, too," said Amy, taking the glass; then added,
after a moment: "Poor Margaret Arnold! It was indeed a tragedy, as you
said, Webb--a sadder one than these old military preparations can
suggest. In all his career of war and treachery Arnold never inflicted a
more cruel wound."

"How much feeling Miss Hargrove showed!" Webb remarked, musingly.

"Yes," said Amy, quietly, "she was evidently feeling deeply." Her thought
was, "I don't believe she heard a word that Webb said." Then, seeing that
Burt was helping Maggie and Miss Hargrove, she added, "Please point out
to me some other interesting places."

Webb, well pleased, talked on to a listener who did not give him her
whole attention. She could not forget Gertrude's paleness, and her
alternations from extreme gayety to a look of such deep sadness as to
awaken not a little sympathetic curiosity. Amy loved her friend truly,
and it did not seem strange to her that Miss Hargrove was deeply
interested in Burt, since they had been much thrown together, and since
she probably owed her life to him. Amy's resentment toward Burt had
passed away. She had found that her pride, merely, and not her heart, was
wounded by his new passion, and she already began to feel that she never
could have any such regard for him as her friend was possibly cherishing.
Therefore it was, perhaps, not unnatural that her tranquil regard should
prove unsatisfying to Burt in contrast with the passion of which Miss
Hargrove was capable. She had seen his vain efforts to remain loyal, and
had smiled at them, proposing to let matters take their course, and to
give little aid in extricating him from his dilemma. But, if she had
interpreted her friend's face aright, she could no longer stand aloof, an
amused and slightly satirical spectator. If Burt deserved some
punishment, Gertrude did not, and she was inclined to guess the cause of
the latter's haste to return to the city.

It may thus be seen that Amy was fast losing her unsophisticated
girlhood. While Burt's passionate words had awakened no corresponding
feeling, they had taught her that she was no longer a child, since she
could inspire such words. Her intimacy with Miss Hargrove, and the
latter's early confidences, had enlarged her ideas on some subjects. As
the bud of a flower passes slowly through long and apparently slow stages
of immaturity and at last suddenly opens to the light, so she had reached
that age when a little experience suggests a great deal, and the
influences around her tended to develop certain thoughts very rapidly.
She saw that her friend had not been brought up in English seclusion.
Admirers by the score had flocked around her, and, as she had often said,
she proposed to marry for love. "I have the name of being cold," she once
told Amy, "but I know I can love as can few others, and I shall know it
well when I do love, too." The truth was daily growing clearer to Amy
that under our vivid American skies the grand passion is not a fiction of
romance or a quiet arrangement between the parties concerned.

Miss Hargrove had not misjudged herself. Her tropical nature, when once
kindled, burned with no feeble, wavering flame. She had passed the point
of criticism of Burt. She loved him, and to her fond eyes he seemed more
worthy of her love than any man she had ever before known. But she had
not passed beyond her sense of truth and duty, and the feeling came to
her that she must go away at once and engage in that most pathetic of all
struggles that fall to woman's lot. As the conviction grew clear on this
bright October day, she felt that her heart was bleeding internally.
Tears would come into her eyes at the dreary prospect. Her former
brilliant society life now looked as does an opera-house in the morning,
when the gilding and tinsel that flashed and sparkled the evening before
are seen to be dull and tarnished. Burt had appeared to especial
advantage in his mountain home. He excelled in all manly sports. His
tall, fine figure and unconscious, easy manner were as full of grace as
deficient in conventionality, and she thought with disgust of many of her
former admirers, who were nothing if not stylish after the arbitrary mode
of the hour. At the same time he had proved that he could be at home in a
drawing-room on the simple ground of good-breeding, and not because he
had been run through fashion's latest mold. The grand scenery around her
suggested the manhood that kindled her imagination--a manhood strong,
fearless, and not degenerated from that sturdy age which had made these
scenes historic.

By the time they were ready to start homeward the southern side of Cro'
Nest was in deep blue shadow. They bowled along rapidly till they came to
the steep ascent, and then the boys and the young men sprang out. "Would
you like to walk, Gertrude?" Amy asked, for she was bent on throwing her
friend and Burt together during the witching twilight that was coming on
apace.

"I fear I am too tired, unless the load is heavy," she replied.

"Oh, no, indeed," said Webb. "It does not take long to reach the top of
the mountain on this side, and then it's chiefly down hill the rest of
the way."

Amy, who had been sitting with Webb and Johnnie as before, said to Miss
Hargrove, "Won't you step across the seats and keep me company?"

She complied, but not willingly. She was so utterly unhappy that she
wished to be left to herself as far as possible. In her realization of a
loss that seemed immeasurable, she was a little resentful toward Amy,
feeling that she had been more frank and confidential than her friend. If
Amy had claims on Burt, why had she not spoken of them? why had she
permitted her for whom she professed such strong friendship to drift
almost wholly unwarned upon so sad a fate? and why was she now clearly
trying to bring together Burt and the one to whom even he felt that he
had no right to speak in more than a friendly manner? While she was
making such immense sacrifices to be true, she felt that Amy was
maintaining an unfair reticence, if not actually beguiling herself and
Burt into a display of weakness for which they would be condemned--or, at
least, he would be, and love identifies itself with its object. These
thoughts, having once been admitted, grew upon her mind rapidly, for it
is hard to suffer through another and maintain a gentle charity.
Therefore she was silent when she took her seat by Amy, and when the
latter gave her a look that was like a caress, she did not return it.

"You are tired, Gertrude," Amy began gently. "Indeed, you look ill. You
must stay with me to-night, and I'll watch over you like Sairy Gamp."

So far from responding to Amy's playful and friendly words, Miss Hargrove
said, hastily,

"Oh, no, I had better go right on home. I don't feel very well, and shall
be better at home; and I must begin to get ready to-morrow for my return
to the city."

Amy would not be repulsed, but, putting her arm around her friend, she
looked into her eyes, and asked:

"Why are you so eager to return to New York? Are you tiring of your
country friends? You certainly told me that you expected to stay till
November."

"Fred must go back to school to-morrow," said Gertrude, in a constrained
voice, "and I do not think it is well to leave him alone in the city
house."

"You are withdrawing your confidence from me," said Amy, sadly.

"Have you ever truly given me yours?" was the low, impetuous response.
"No. If you had, I should not be the unhappy girl I am-to-night. Well,
since you wish to know the whole truth you shall. You said you could
trust me implicitly, and I promised to deserve your trust. If you had
said to me that Burt was bound to you when I told you that I was
heart-whole and fancy-free, I should have been on my guard. Is it natural
that I should be indifferent to the man who risked his life to save mine?
Why have you left me so long in his society without a hint of warning?
But I shall keep my word. I shall not try to snatch happiness from
another."

Johnnie's tuneful little voice was piping a song, and the rumble of the
wheels over a stony road prevented Maggie, on the last seat, from hearing
anything.

The clasp of Amy's arm tightened. "Now you _shall_ stay with me
to-night," she said. "I cannot explain here and now. See, Burt has
turned, and is coming toward us. I pledge you my word he can never be to
me more than a brother. I do not love him except as a brother, and never
have, and you can snatch no happiness from me, except by treating me with
distrust and going away."

"Oh, Amy," began Miss Hargrove, in tones and with a look that gave
evidence of the chaotic bewilderment of her mind.

"Hush! We are not very lonely, thank you, Mr. Burt. You look, as far as I
can see you through the dusk, as if you were commiserating us as poor
forlorn creatures, but we have some resources within ourselves."

"The dusk is, indeed, misleading. We are the forlorn creatures who have
no resources. Won't you please take us in?"

"Take you in! What do you take us for? I assure you we are very simple,
honest people."

"In that case I shall have no fears, but clamber in at once. I feel as if
I had been on a twenty-mile tramp."

"What an implied compliment to our exhilarating society!"

"Indeed there is--a very strong one. I've been so immensely exhilarated
that, in the re-action, I'm almost faint."

"Maggie," cried Amy, "do take care of Burt; he's going to faint."

"He must wait till we come to the next brook, and then we'll put him in
it."

"Webb," said Amy, looking over her shoulder at the young man, who was now
following the carriage, "is there anything the matter with you, also?"

"Nothing more than usual."

"Oh, your trouble, whatever it may be, is chronic. Well, well, to think
that we poor women may be the only survivors of this tremendous
expedition."

"That would be most natural--the survival of the fittest, you know."

"I don't think your case serious. Science is uppermost in your mind, as
ever. You ought to live a thousand years, Webb, to see the end of all
your theories."

"I fear it wouldn't be the millennium for me, and that I should have more
perplexing theories at its end than now."

"That's the way with men--they are never satisfied," remarked Miss
Hargrove. "Mr. Clifford, this is your expedition, and it's getting so
dark that I shall feel safer if you are driving."

"Oh, Gertrude, you have no confidence in me whatever. As if I would break
your neck--or heart either!" Amy whispered in her friend's ear.

"You are a very mysterious little woman," was the reply, given in like
manner, "and need hours of explanation." Then, to Webb: "Mr. Clifford,
I've much more confidence in you than in Amy. Her talk is so giddy that I
want a sober hand on the reins."

"To which Mr. Clifford do you refer?" asked Burt.

"Oh, are you reviving? I thought you had become unconscious."

"I'm not wholly past feeling."

"I want one to drive who can see his way, not feel it," was the laughing
response.

Amy, too, was laughing silently, as she reined in the horses. "What are you
two girls giggling about?" said Burt, becoming a little uncomfortable. "The
idea of two such refined creatures giggling!"

"Well," exclaimed Webb, "what am I to do? I can't stand up between you
and drive."

"Gertrude, you must clamber around and sustain Burt's drooping spirits."

"Indeed, Amy, you must know best how to do that," was the reply. "As
guest, I claim a little of the society of the commander-in-chief. You had
it coming over."

"I'll solve the vexed question," said Burt, much nettled, and leaping
out.

"Now, Burt, the question isn't vexed, and don't you be," cried Amy,
springing lightly over to the next seat. "There are Fred and Alf, too,
with the gun. Let us all get home as soon as possible, for it's nearly
time for supper already. Come, I shall feel much hurt if you don't keep
me company."

Burt at once realized the absurdity of showing pique, although he felt
that there was something in the air which he did not understand. He came
back laughing, with much apparent good-nature, and saying, "I thought I'd
soon bring one or the other of you to terms."

"Oh, what a diplomat you are!" said Amy, with difficulty restraining a
new burst of merriment.

They soon reached the summit, and paused to give the horses a breathing.
The young moon hung in the west, and its silver crescent symbolized to
Miss Hargrove the hope that was growing in her heart. "Amy," she said,
"don't you remember the song we arranged from 'The Culprit Fay'? We
certainly should sing it here on this mountain. You take the solo."

Amy sang, in clear soprano:

  "'The moon looks down on old Cro' Nest,
  She mellows the shades on his shaggy breast,
  And seems his huge gray form to throw
  In a silver cone on the wave below.'"

"Imagine the cone and wave, please," said Miss Hargrove; and then, in an
alto rich with her heart's deep feeling, she sang with Amy:

  "'Ouphe and goblin! imp and sprite!
    Elf of eve! and starry fay!
    Ye that love the moon's soft light,
    Hither--hither wend your way;
    Twine ye in a jocund ring;
    Sing and trip it merrily,
    Hand to hand and wing to wing,
    Round the wild witch-hazel tree.'"

"If I were a goblin, I'd come, for music like that," cried Burt, as they
started rapidly homeward.

"You are much too big to suggest a culprit fay," said Amy.

"But the description of the fay's charmer is your portrait," he replied,
in a low tone:

  "'But well I know her sinless mind
    Is pure as the angel forms above,
    Gentle and meek, and chaste and kind,
    Such as a spirit well might love.'"

"Oh, no; you are mistaken, I'm not meek in the least. Think of the
punishment:

  "'Tied to the hornet's shardy wings,
    Toss'd on the pricks of nettles' stings;'

you know the rest."

"What witchery has got into you to-night, Amy?"

"Do you think I'm a witch? Beware, then. Witches can read men's thoughts."

"That last song was so good that I, for one, would be glad of more," cried
Webb.

"You men must help us, then," said Miss Hargrove, and in a moment the wild,
dim forest was full of melody, the rocks and highlands sending back soft
and unheeded echoes.

Burt, meantime, was occupied with disagreeable reflections. Perhaps both
the girls at last understood him, and had been comparing notes, to his
infinite disadvantage. His fickleness and the dilemma he was in may have
become a jest between them. What could he do? Resentment, except against
himself, was impossible. If Amy understood him, in what other way could
she meet any approach to sentiment on his part than by a laughing scorn?
If Miss Hargrove had divined the past, or had received a hint concerning
it, why should she not shun his society? He was half-desperate, and yet
felt that any show of embarrassment or anger would only make him appear
more ridiculous. The longer he thought the more sure he was that the
girls were beginning to guess his position, and that his only course was
a polite indifference to both. But this policy promised to lead through a
thorny path, and to what? In impotent rage at himself he ground his teeth
during the pauses between the stanzas that he was compelled to sing. Such
was the discord in his heart that he felt like uttering notes that would
make "night hideous."

He was still more distraught when, on their return, they found Mr.
Hargrove's carriage in waiting, and Amy, after a brief conference with
her friend in her room, came down prepared to accompany Miss Hargrove
home after supper. In spite of all his efforts at ease and gayety, his
embarrassment and trouble were evident. He had observed Miss Hargrove's
pallor and her effort to keep up at Fort Putnam, and could not banish the
hope that she sympathized with him; but now the young girl was demurely
radiant. Her color had come again, and the lustre of her beautiful eyes
was dazzling. Yet they avoided his, and she had far more to say to Webb
and the others than to him. Webb, too, was perplexed, for during the day
Amy had been as bewildering to him as to Burt. But he was in no
uncertainty as to his course, which was simply to wait. He, with Burt,
saw the girls to the carriage, and the latter said good-night rather
coldly and stiffly. Alf and Fred parted regretfully, with the promise of
a correspondence which would be as remarkable for its orthography as for
its natural history.



CHAPTER LII

BURT'S SORE DILEMMA


Mr. Hargrove greeted Amy cordially, but his questioning eyes rested
oftenest on his daughter. Her expression and manner caused him to pace
his study long and late that night. Mrs. Hargrove was very polite and a
little stately. She felt that she existed on a plane above Amy.

The young girls soon pleaded fatigue, and retired. Once in the seclusion
of their room they forgot all about their innocent fib, and there was not
a trace of weariness in their manner. While Burt was staring at his
dismal, tangled fortune, seeing no solution of his difficulties, a
fateful conference relating to him was taking place. Amy did not look
like a scorner, as with a sister's love and a woman's tact she pleaded
his cause and palliated his course to one incapable of harsh judgment.
But she felt that she must be honest with her friend, and that the whole
truth would be best and safest. Her conclusion was: "No man who loved
_you_, and whom you encouraged, would ever change. I know now that I
never had a particle of such feeling as you have for Burt, and can see
that I naturally chilled and quenched his regard for me."

Miss Hargrove's dark eyes flashed ominously as she spoke of Burt or of
any man proving faithless after she had given encouragement.

"But it wasn't possible for me to give him any real encouragement," Amy
persisted. "I've never felt as you do, and am not sure that I want to for
a long time."

"How about Webb?" Miss Hargrove almost said, but she suppressed the
words, feeling that since he had not revealed his secret she had no right
to do so. Indeed, as she recalled how sedulously he had guarded it she
was sure he would not thank her for suggesting it to Amy before she was
ready for the knowledge. Impetuous as Miss Hargrove was at times, she had
too fine a nature to be careless of the rights and feelings of others.
Moreover, she felt that Webb had been her ally, whether consciously or
not, and he should have his chance with all the help she could give him,
but she was wise enough to know that obtrusion and premature aid are
often disastrous.

The decision, after this portentous conference, was: "Mr. Bart must seek
me, and seek very zealously. I know you well enough Amy, to be sure that
you will give him no hints. It's bad enough to love a man before I've
been asked to do so. What an utterly perverse and unmanageable thing
one's heart is! I shall do no angling, however, nor shall I permit any."

"You may stand up straight, Gertrude," said Amy, laughing, "but don't
lean over backward."

Burt entertained half a dozen wild and half-tragic projects before he
fell asleep late that night, but finally, in utter self-disgust, settled
down on the prosaic and not irrational one of helping through with the
fall work on the farm, and then of seeking some business or profession to
which he could give his whole mind. "As to ladies' society," he
concluded, savagely, "I'll shun it hereafter till I'm grown up."

Burt always attained a certain kind of peace and the power to sleep after
he had reached an irrevocable decision.

During the night the wind veered to the east, and a cold, dismal
rain-storm set in. Dull and dreary indeed the day proved to Burt. He
could not go out and put his resolution into force. He fumed about the
house, restless, yet reticent. He would rather have fought dragons than
keep company with his own thoughts in inaction. All the family supposed
he missed Amy, except Webb, who hoped he missed some one else.

"Why don't you go over and bring Amy home, Burt?" his mother asked, at
the dinner-table. "The house seems empty without her, and everybody is
moping. Even father has fretted over his newspaper, and wished Amy was
here."

"Why can't they print an edition of the paper for old men and dark days?"
said the old gentleman, discontentedly.

"Well," remarked Leonard, leaning back in his chair, and looking
humorously at Maggie, "I'm sorry for you young fellows, but I'm finding
the day serene."

"Of course you are," snapped Burt. "With an armchair to doze in and a
dinner to look forward to, what more do you wish? As for Webb, he can
always get astride of some scientific hobby, no matter how bad the
weather is."

"As for Burt, he can bring Amy home, and then every one will be
satisfied," added his mother, smiling.

Thus a new phase of his trial presented itself to poor Burt. He must
either face those two girls after their night's conclave, with all its
possible revelations, or else awaken at once very embarrassing surmises.
Why shouldn't he go for Amy? all would ask. "Well, why shouldn't I?" he
thought. "I may as well face it out." And in a mood of mingled
recklessness and fear he drove through the storm. When his name was
announced the girls smiled significantly, but went down looking as
unconscious as if they had not spoken of him in six months, and Burt
could not have been more suave, non-committal, and impartially polite if
these ladies had been as remote from his thoughts as one of Webb's
theories. At the same time he intimated that he would be ready to return
when Amy was.

At parting the friends gave each other a little look of dismay, and he
caught it from the same telltale mirror that persisted in taking a part
in this drama.

"Aha!" though the young fellow, "so they have been exchanging confidences,
and my manner is disconcerting--not what was expected. If I have become a
jest between them it shall be a short-lived one. Miss Hargrove, with all
her city experience, shall find that I'm not so young and verdant but that
I can take a hand in this game also. As for Amy, I now know she never cared
for me, and I don't believe she ever would;" and so he went away with
laughing repartee, and did not see the look of deep disappointment with
which he was followed.

Amy was perplexed and troubled. Her innocent schemes might not be so
easily accomplished if Burt would be wrong-headed. She was aware of the
dash of recklessness in his character, and feared that under the impulse
of pride he might spoil everything, or, at least, cause much needless
delay.

With the fatality of blundering which usually attends upon such
occasions, he did threaten to fulfil her fears, and so successfully that
Amy was in anxiety, and Miss Hargrove grew as pale as she was resolute
not to make the least advance, while poor Webb felt that his suspense
never would end. Burt treated Amy in an easy, fraternal manner. He
engaged actively in the task of gathering and preparing for market the
large crop of apples, and he openly broached the subject of going into a
business of some kind away from home, where, he declared, with a special
meaning for Amy, he was not needed, adding: "It's time I was earning my
salt and settling down to something for life. Webb and Len can take care
of all the land, and I don't believe I was cut out for a farmer."

He not only troubled Amy exceedingly, but he perplexed all the family,
for it seemed that he was decidedly taking a new departure. One evening,
a day or two after he had introduced the project of going elsewhere, his
father, to Amy's dismay, suggested that he should go to the far West and
look after a large tract of land which the old gentleman had bought some
years before. It was said that a railroad was to be built through it,
and, if so, the value of the property would be greatly enhanced, and
steps should be taken to get part of it into the market. Burt took hold
of the scheme with eagerness, and was for going as soon as possible.
Looking to note the effect of his words upon Amy, he saw that her
expression was not only reproachful, but almost severe. Leonard heartily
approved of the plan. Webb was silent, and in deep despondency, feeling
that if Bart went now nothing would be settled. He saw Amy's aversion to
the project also, and misinterpreted it.

She was compelled to admit that the prospects were growing very dark.
Burt might soon depart for an indefinite absence, and Miss Hargrove
return to the city. Amy, who had looked upon the mutations in her own
prospects so quietly, was almost feverishly eager to aid her friend. She
feared she had blundered on the mountain ride. Burt's pride had been
wounded, and he had received the impression that his April-like moods had
been discussed satirically. It was certain that he had been very deeply
interested in Gertrude, and that he was throwing away not only his
happiness, but also hers; and Amy felt herself in some degree to blame.
Therefore she was bent upon ending the senseless misunderstanding, but
found insurmountable embarrassments on every side. Miss Hargrove was
prouder than Burt. Wild horses could not draw her to the Cliffords', With
a pale, resolute face, she declined even to put herself in the way of
receiving the least advance. Amy would gladly have taken counsel of Webb,
but could not do so without revealing her friend's secret, and also
disclosing mere surmises about Burt, which, although amounting to
conviction in her mind, could not be mentioned. Therefore, from the very
delicacy of the situation, she felt herself helpless. Nature was her
ally, however, and if all that was passing in Burt's mind had been
manifest, the ardent little schemer would not have been so despondent.

The best hope of Burt had been that he had checkmated the girls in their
disposition to make jesting comparisons, He would retire with so much
nonchalance as to leave nothing to be said. They would find complete
inaction and silence hard to combat. But the more he thought of it the
less it seemed like an honorable retreat. He had openly wooed one girl,
he had since lost his heart to another, and she had given him a glimpse
of strong regard, if not more. His thoughts were busy with her every word
and glance. How much had his tones and eyes revealed to her? Might she
not think him a heartless flirt if he continued to avoid her and went
away without a word? Would it not be better to be laughed at as one who
did not know his own mind than be despised for deliberate trifling? Amy
had asked him to go and spend an evening with her friend, and he had
pleaded weariness as an excuse. Her incredulous look and rather cool
manner since had not been reassuring. She had that very morning broached
the subject of a chestnutting party for the following day, and he had
promptly said that he was going to the city to make inquiries about
routes to the West.

"Why, Burt, you can put off your trip to town for a day," said his
mother. "If you are to leave us so soon you should make the most of the
days that are left."

"That is just what he is doing," Amy remarked, satirically. "He has
become absorbed in large business considerations. Those of us who have
not such resources are of no consequence."

The old people and Leonard believed that Amy was not pleased with the
idea of Burt's going away, but they felt that she was a little
unreasonable, since the young fellow was rather to be commended for
wishing to take life more seriously. But her words rankled in Burt's
mind. He felt that she understood him better than the others, and that he
was not winning respect from her. In the afternoon he saw her, with Alf
and Johnnie, starting for the chestnut-trees, and although she passed not
far away she gave him only a slight greeting, and did not stop for a
little merry banter, as usual. The young fellow was becoming very
unhappy, and he felt that his position was growing intolerable. That Amy
should be cold toward him, or, indeed, toward any one, was an unheard-of
thing, and he knew that she must feel that there was good reason for her
manner. "And is there not?" he asked himself, bitterly. "What are she and
Miss Hargrove thinking about me?"

The more he thought upon the past the more awkward and serious appeared
his dilemma, and his long Western journey, which at first he had welcomed
as promising a diversion of excitement and change, now began to appear
like exile. He dreaded to think of the memories he must take with him;
still more he deprecated the thoughts he would leave behind him. His
plight made him so desperate that he suddenly left the orchard where he
was gathering apples, went to the house, put on his riding-suit, and in a
few moments was galloping furiously away on his black horse. With a
renewal of hope Webb watched his proceedings, and with many surmises,
Amy, from a distant hillside, saw him passing at a break-neck pace.



CHAPTER LIII

BURT'S RESOLVE


For the first two or three miles Burt rode as if he were trying to leave
care behind him, scarcely heeding what direction he took. When at last he
reined his reeking horse he found himself near the entrance of the lane
over which willows met in a Gothic arch. He yielded to the impulse to visit
the spot which had seen the beginning of so fateful an acquaintance, and
had not gone far when a turn in the road revealed a group whose presence
almost made his heart stand still for a moment. Miss Hargrove had stopped
her horse on the very spot where he had aided her in her awkward
predicament. Her back was toward him, and her great dog was at her side,
looking up into her face, as if in mute sympathy with his fair mistress.

Hope sprang up in Burt's heart. She could not be there with bowed head if
she despised him. Her presence seemed in harmony with that glance by
which, when weak and unnerved after escaping from deadly peril, she had
revealed possibly more than gratitude to the one who had rescued her. His
love rose like an irresistible tide, and he resolved that before he left
his home Amy and Miss Hargrove should know the whole truth, whatever
might be the result. Meanwhile he was rapidly approaching the young girl,
and the dog's short bark of recognition was her first intimation of
Hurt's presence. Her impulse was to fly, but in a second she saw the
absurdity of this course, and yet she was greatly embarrassed, and would
rather have been discovered by him at almost any other point of the
globe. She was going to the city on the morrow, and as she had drawn rein
on this spot and realized the bitterness of her disappointment, tears
would come. She wiped them hastily away, but dreaded lest their traces
should be seen.

Turning her horse, she met Burt with a smile that her moist eyes belied,
and said: "I'm glad you do not find me in such an awkward plight as when
we first met here. I've been giving my horse a rest. Do you not want a
gallop?" and away like the wind she started homeward.

Burt easily kept at her side, but conversation was impossible. At last he
said: "My horse is very tired, Miss Hargrove. At this pace you will soon
be home, and I shall feel that you are seeking to escape from me. Have I
fallen so very low in your estimation?"

"Why," she exclaimed, in well-feigned surprise, as she checked her horse,
"what have you done that you should fall in my estimation?"

"I shall tell you before very long," he said, with an expression that
seemed almost tragic.

"Mr. Clifford, you surprise me. Your horse is all of a foam too. Surely
this brief gallop cannot have so tried your superb beast. What has
happened? Amy is not ill, or any one?"

"Oh, no," he replied, with a grim laugh. "Everyone is well and
complacent. I had been riding rapidly before I met you. My horse has been
idle for some days, and I had to run the spirit out of him. Amy wishes to
have a chestnutting party to-morrow. Won't you join us?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Clifford, but I return to the city tomorrow afternoon,
and was coming over in the morning to say good-by to Amy and your father
and mother."

"I am very sorry too," he said, in tones that gave emphasis to his words.

She turned upon him a swift, questioning glance, but her eyes instantly
fell before his intense gaze.

"Oh, well," she said, lightly, "we've had a very pleasant summer, and all
things must come to an end, you know." Then she went on speaking, in a
matter-of-fact way, of the need of looking after Fred, who was alone in
town, and of getting the city house in order, and of her plans for the
winter, adding: "As there is a great deal of fruit on the place, papa
does not feel that he can leave just yet. You know he goes back and forth
often, and so his business does not suffer. But I can just as well go
down now, and nearly all my friends have returned to town."

"All your friends, Miss Hargrove?"

"Amy has promised to visit me soon," she said, hastily.

"It would seem that I am not down on your list of friends," he began,
gloomily.

"Why, Mr. Clifford, I'm sure papa and I would be glad to have you call
whenever you are in town."

"I fear I shall have to disappoint Mr. Hargrove," he said, a little
satirically. "I'm going West the last of this month, and may be absent
much of the winter. I expect to look about in that section for some
opening in business."

"Indeed," she replied, in tones which were meant to convey but little
interest, yet which had a slight tremor in spite of her efforts. "It will
be a very great change for you."

"Perhaps you think that constitutes its chief charm."

"Mr. Clifford," she said, "what chance have I had to think about it at
all? You have never mentioned the matter." (Amy had, however, and
Gertrude had not only thought about it, but dreamed of it, as if she had
been informed that on a certain date the world would end.) "Is it not a
rather sudden plan?" she asked, a little hesitatingly.

"Yes, it is. My father has a large tract of land in the West, and it's
time it was looked after. Isn't it natural that I should think of doing
something in life? I fear there is an impression in your mind that I
entertain few thoughts beyond having a good time."

"To have a good time in life," she said, smiling at him, "is a very
serious matter, worthy of any one's attention. It would seem that few
accomplish it."

"And I greatly fear that I shall share in the ill-success of the
majority."

"You are much mistaken. A man has no end of resources. You will soon be
enjoying the excitement of travel and enterprise in the West."

"And you the excitement of society and conquest in the city. Conquests,
however, must be almost wearisome to you, Miss Hargrove, you make them so
easily."

"You overrate my power. I certainly should soon weary of conquests were I
making them. Women are different from men in this respect. Where in
history do we read of a man who was satiated with conquest? Well, here we
are at home. Won't you come in? Papa will be glad to see you."

"Are you going to the city to-morrow?"

"Yes."

"May I call on you this evening?"

"Certainly. Bring Amy with you, won't you?"

"Will you forgive me if I come alone?"

"I'll try to. I suppose Amy will be tired from nutting."

He did not reply, but lifted his hat gravely, mounted his horse, and
galloped away as if he were an aid bearing a message that might avert a
battle.

Miss Hargrove hastened to her room, and took off her hat with trembling
hands. Burt's pale, resolute face told her that the crisis in her life
had come. And yet she did not fully understand him. If he meant to speak,
why had he not done so? why had he not asked permission to consult her
father?

Mr. Hargrove, from his library window, saw Burt's formal parting, and
concluded that his fears or hopes--he scarcely knew which were uppermost,
so deep was his love for his daughter, and so painful would it be to see
her unhappy--were not to be fulfilled. By a great effort Gertrude
appeared not very _distraite_ at dinner, nor did she mention Burt,
except in a casual manner, in reply to a question from her mother, but
her father thought he detected a strong and suppressed excitement.

She excused herself early from the table, and said she must finish
packing for her departure.



CHAPTER LIV

A GENTLE EXORCIST


Burt's black horse was again white before he approached his home. In the
distance he saw Amy returning, the children running on before, Alf
whooping like a small Indian to some playmate who was answering further
away. The gorgeous sunset lighted up the still more brilliant foliage,
and made the scene a fairyland. But Burt had then no more eye for nature
than a man would have who had staked his all on the next throw of the
dice. Amy was alone, and now was his chance to intercept her before she
reached the house. Imagine her surprise as she saw him make his horse
leap the intervening fences, and come galloping toward her.

"Burt," she cried, as he, in a moment or two, reined up near her, "you
will break your neck!"

"It wouldn't matter much," he said, grimly. "I fear a worse fate than
that."

"What do you mean?" she asked, in alarm. "What has happened?"

He threw the bridle over a stake in the fence, and the horse was glad to
rest, with drooping head. Then he came and stood beside her, his face
flushed, and his mouth twitching with excitement and strong feeling. For
a moment he could not speak.

"Burt," she said, "what is the matter? What do you fear?"

"I fear your scorn, Amy," he began, impetuously; "I fear I shall lose
your respect forever. But I can't go on any longer detesting myself and
feeling that you and Miss Hargrove despise me. I may seem to you and her
a fickle fool, a man of straw, but you shall both know the truth. I
shan't go away a coward. I can at least be honest, and then you may think
what you please of my weakness and vacillation. You cannot think worse
things than I think myself, but you must not imagine that I am a
cold-blooded, deliberate trifler, for that has never been true. I know
you don't care for me, and never did."

"Indeed, Burt, you are mistaken. I do care for you immensely," said Amy,
eagerly clasping his arm with both her hands.

"Amy, Amy," said Burt, in a low, desperate tone, "think how few short
months have passed since I told you I loved you, and protested I would
wait till I was gray. You have seen me giving my thoughts to another, and
in your mind you expect to see me carried away by a half-dozen more. You
are mistaken, but it will take a long time to prove it."

"No, Burt, I understand you better than you think. Gertrude has inspired
in you a very different feeling from the one you had for me. I think you
are loving now with a man's love, and won't get over it very soon, if you
ever do. You have seen, you must have felt, that my love for you was only
that of a sister, and of course you soon began to feel toward me in the
same way. I don't believe I would have married you had you waited an age.
Don't fret, I'm not going to break my heart about you."

"I should think not, nor will any one else. Oh, Amy, I so despised myself
that I have been half-desperate."

"Despised yourself because you love a girl like Gertrude Hargrove! I
never knew a man to do a more natural and sensible thing, whether she
gave you encouragement or not. If I were a man I would make love to her,
rest assured, and she would have to refuse me more than once to be rid of
me."

Burt took a long breath of immense relief. "You are heavenly kind," he
said. "Are you sure you won't despise me? I could not bear that. It seems
to me that I have done such an awfully mean thing in making love to you
in my own home, and then in changing."

Her laugh rang out merrily. "Fate has been too strong for you, and I
think--I mean--I hope, it has been kind. Bless you, Burt, I could never
get up any such feeling as sways you. I should always be disappointing,
and you would have found out, sooner or later, that your best chance
would be to discover some one more responsive. Since you have been so
frank, I'll be so too. I was scarcely more ready for your words last
spring than Johnnie, but I was simple enough to think that in half a
dozen years or so we might be married if all thought it was best, and my
pride was a little hurt when I saw what--what--well, Gertrude's influence
over you. But I've grown much older the last few months, and know now
that my thoughts were those of a child. My feeling for you is simply that
of a sister, and I don't believe it would ever have changed. Who knows? I
might eventually have an acute attack also, and then I should be in a
worse predicament than yours."

"But you will be my loving sister as long as you live, Amy? You will
believe that I have a little manhood if given a chance to show it?"

"I believe it now, Burt, and I can make you a hundredfold better sister
than wife. The idea! It seems but the other day I was playing with dolls.
Here, now, cheer up. You have judged yourself too harshly;" and she
looked at him so smilingly and affectionately that he took her in his
arms and kissed her again and again, exclaiming, "You can count on one
brother to the last drop of his blood. Oh, Amy, whatever happens now, I
won't lose courage. Miss Hargrove will have to say no a dozen times
before she is through with me."

At this moment Webb, from the top of a tall ladder in the orchard,
happened to glance that way, and saw the embrace. He instantly descended,
threw down his basket of apples, and with it all hope. Burt had won Amy
at last. The coolness between them had been but a misunderstanding, which
apparently had been banished most decidedly. He mechanically took down
his ladder and placed it on the ground, then went to his room to prepare
for supper.

"Burt," cried Amy, when they were half-way home, "you have forgotten your
horse."

"If he were Pegasus, I should have forgotten him to-day. Won't you wait
for me?"

"Oh, yes, I'll do anything for you."

"Will you?" he said, eagerly. "Will you tell me if you think Miss
Hargrove--"

"No, I won't tell you anything. The idea! After she has refused you half
a dozen times, I may, out of pity, intercede a little. Go get your horse,
smooth your brow, and be sensible, or you'll have Webb and Leonard poking
fun at you. Suppose they have seen you galloping over fences and ditches
like one possessed."

"Well, I was possessed, and never was there such a kind, gentle exorcist.
I have seen Miss Hargrove to-day; I had just parted from her."

"Did you say anything?"

"No, Amy. How could I, until I had told you? I felt I was bound to you by
all that can bind a man."

"Oh, Burt, suppose I had not released you, but played Shylock, what would
you have done?" and her laugh rang out again in intense merriment.

"I had no fears of that," he replied, ruefully. "You are the last one to
practice Mrs. MacStinger's tactics. My fear was that you and Miss
Hargrove both would send me West as a precious good riddance."

"Well, it was square of you, as Alf says, to come to me first, and I
appreciate it, but I should not have resented the omission. Will you
forgive my curiosity if I ask what is the next move in the campaign? I've
been reading about the war, you know, and I am quite military in my
ideas."

"I have Miss Hargrove's permission to call to-night. It wasn't given very
cordially, and she asked me to bring you."

"No, I thank yon."

"Oh, I told her she would have to forgive me if I came alone. I meant to
have it out to-day, if old Chaos came again." When Amy's renewed laughter
so subsided that he could speak, he resumed: "I'm going over there after
supper, to ask her father for permission to pay my addresses, and if he
won't give it, I shall tell him I will pay them all the same--that I
shall use every effort in my power to win his daughter. I don't want a
dollar of his money, but I'm bound to have the girl if she'll ever listen
to me after knowing all you know."

Amy's laugh ceased, and she again clasped her hands on his arm. "Dear
Burt," she said, "your course now seems to me manly and straightforward.
I saw the strait you were in, but did not think you felt it so keenly. In
going West I feared you were about to run away from it. However Gertrude
may treat you, you have won my respect by your downright truth. She may
do as she pleases, but she can't despise you now. There goes your horse
to the stable. He has learned this afternoon that you are in no state of
mind to take care of him."



CHAPTER LV

BURT TELLS HIS LOVE AGAIN


Webb appeared at the supper-table the personification of quiet geniality,
but Amy thought she had never seen him look so hollow-eyed. The long
strain was beginning to tell on him, decidedly, and to-night he felt as
if he had received a mortal blow. But with indomitable courage he hid his
wound, and seemed absorbed in a conversation with Leonard and his father
about the different varieties of apples, and their relative value. Amy
saw that his mother was looking at him anxiously, and she did not wonder.
He was growing thin even to gauntness.

Burt also was an arrant dissembler, and on rising from the table remarked
casually that he was going over to bid Miss Hargrove good-by, as she
would return to town on the morrow.

"She'll surely come and see us before she goes," Mrs. Clifford remarked.
"It seems to me she hasn't been very sociable of late."

"Certainly," said Amy. "She'll be over in the morning. She told me she
was coming to say good-by to us all, and she has asked me to visit her.
Come, Webb, you look all tired out to-night. Let me read to you. I'll
stumble through the dryest scientific treatise you have if I can see you
resting on the sofa."

"That's ever so kind of you, Amy, and I appreciate it more than you
imagine, but I'm going out this evening."

"Oh, of course, sisters are of no account. What girl are _you_ going
to see?"

"No girl whatever. I am too old and dull to entertain the pretty
creatures."

"Don't be fishing. You know one you could entertain if she isn't a pretty
creature, but then she's only a sister who doesn't know much."

"I'm sorry--I must go," he said, a little abruptly, for her lovely,
half-laughing, half-reproachful face, turned to his, contained such
mocking promise of happiness that he could not look upon it. What was his
urgent business? His rapid steps as he walked mile after mile indicated
that the matter was pressing indeed; but, although it was late before he
returned, he had spoken to no one. The house was dark and silent except
that a light was burning in Burt's room. And his momentous fortunes the
reader must now follow.

Miss Hargrove, with a fluttering heart, heard the rapid feet of his horse
as he rode up the avenue. Truly, he was coming at a lover's pace. The
door-bell rang, she heard him admitted, and expected the maid's tap at
her door to follow. Why did it not come? Were the tumultuous throbs of
her heart so loud that she could not hear it? What had become of him? She
waited and listened in vain. She opened her door slightly; there was no
sound. She went to her window. There below, like a shadow, stood a
saddled horse. Where was the knight? Had the stupid girl shown him into
the drawing-room and left him there? Surely the well-trained servant had
never been guilty of such a blunder before. Could it have been some one
else who had come to see her father on business? She stole down the
stairway in a tremor of apprehension, and strolled into the parlor in the
most nonchalant manner imaginable. It was lighted, but empty, and her
expression suddenly became one of troubled perplexity. She returned to
the hall, and started as if she had seen an apparition. There on the rack
hung Burt's hat, as natural as life. Voices reached her ear from her
father's study. She took a few swift steps toward it, then fled to her
room, and stood panting before her mirror, which reflected a young lady
in a costume charmingly ill adapted to "packing."

How flow swiftly the minutes passed! how eternally long they were! Would
she be sent for? _When_ would she be sent for? "It was honorable in
him to speak to papa first, and papa would not, could not, answer him
without consulting me. I cannot be treated as a child any longer," she
muttered, with flashing eyes. "Papa loves me," she murmured, in swift
alternation of gentle feeling. "He could not make my happiness secondary
to a paltry sum of money."

Meanwhile Burt was pleading his cause. Mr. Hargrove had greeted him with
no little surprise. The parting of the young people had not promised any
such interview.

"Have you spoken to my daughter on this subject?" Mr. Hargrove asked,
gravely, after the young fellow had rather incoherently made known his
errand.

"No, sir," replied Burt, "I have not secured your permission. At the same
time," he added, with an ominous flash in his blue eyes, "sincerity
compels me to say that I could not take a final refusal from any lips
except those of your daughter, and not readily from hers. I would not
give up effort to win her until convinced that any amount of patient
endeavor was useless. I should not persecute her, but I would ask her to
reconsider an adverse answer as often as she would permit, and I will try
with all my soul to render myself more worthy of her."

"In other words," began Mr. Hargrove, severely, "if I should decline this
honor, I should count for nothing."

"No, sir, I do not mean that, and I hope I haven't said it, even by
implication. Your consent that I should have a fair field in which to do
my best would receive from me boundless gratitude. What I mean to say is,
that I could not give her up; I should not think it right to do so. This
question is vital to me, and I know of no reason," he added, a little
haughtily, "why I should be refused a privilege which is considered the
right of every gentleman."

"I have not in the slightest degree raised the question of your being a
gentleman, Mr. Clifford. Your course in coming to me before revealing
your regard to my daughter proves that you are one. But you should
realize that you are asking a great deal of me. My child's happiness is
my first and only consideration. You know the condition of life to which
my daughter has been accustomed. It is right and natural that I should
also know something of your prospects, your ability to meet the
obligations into which you wish to enter."

Poor Burt flushed painfully, and hesitated. After a moment he answered,
with a dignity and an evident sincerity which won golden opinions from
Mr. Hargrove: "I shall not try to mislead you in the least on this point.
For my own sake I wish that your daughter were far poorer than I am. I
can say little more than that I could give her a home now and every
comfort of life. I could not now provide for her the luxury to which she
has been accustomed. But I am willing to wait and eager to work. In youth
and health and a fair degree of education I have some capital in addition
to the start in life which my father has promised to his sons. What could
not Miss Hargrove inspire a man to do?"

The man of experience smiled in spite of himself at Burt's frank
enthusiasm and naivete. The whole affair was so different from anything
that he had ever looked forward to! Instead of a few formalities between
himself and a wealthy suitor whom his wife, and therefore all the world,
would approve of, here he was listening to a farmer's son, with the
consciousness that he must yield, and not wholly unwilling to do so.
Moreover, this preposterous young man, so far from showing any awe of
him, had almost defied him from the start, and had plainly stated that
the father's wealth was the only objection to the daughter. Having seen
the drift of events, Mr. Hargrove had long since informed himself
thoroughly about the Clifford family, and had been made to feel that the
one fact of his wealth, which Burt regretted, was almost his only claim
to superiority. Burt was as transparent as a mountain brook, and quite as
impetuous. The gray-haired man sighed, and felt that he would give all
his wealth in exchange for such youth. He knew his daughter's heart, and
felt that further parleying was vain, although he foresaw no easy task in
reconciling his wife to the match. He was far from being heartbroken
himself, however, for there was such a touch of nature in Burt, and in
the full, strong love waiting to reward the youth, that his own heart was
stirred, and in the depths of his soul he knew that this was better than
giving his child to a jaded millionaire. "I have money enough for both,"
he thought. "As she said, she is rich enough to follow her heart. It's a
pity if we can't afford an old-fashioned love-match."

Burt was respectfully impatient under Mr. Hargrove's deep thought and
silence.

At last the father arose and gave him his hand, saying: "You have been
honest with me, and that, with an old merchant, counts for a great deal.
I also perceive you love my daughter for herself. If she should ever
inform me that you are essential to her happiness I shall not withhold my
consent."

Burt seized his hand with a grasp that made it ache, as he said, "Every
power I have, sir, shall be exerted that you may never regret this
kindness."

"If you make good that promise, Mr. Clifford, I shall become your friend
should your wooing prove successful. If you will come to the parlor I
will tell Miss Hargrove that you are here."

He went up the stairs slowly, feeling that he was crossing the threshold
of a great change. How many thoughts passed through his mind as he took
those few steps! He saw his child a little black-eyed baby in his arms;
she was running before him trundling her hoop; she came to him with
contracted brow and half-tearful eyes, bringing a knotty sum in
fractions, and insisting petulantly that they were very "vulgar" indeed;
she hung on his arm, a shy girl of fifteen, blushingly conscious of the
admiring eyes that followed her; she stood before him again in her first
radiant beauty as a _debutante_, and he had dreamed of the proudest
alliance that the city could offer; she looked into his eyes, a pale,
earnest woman, and said, "Papa, he saved my life at the risk of his own."
True, true, Mr. Clifford had not spoken of that, and Mr. Hargrove had not
thought of it in the interview so crowded with considerations. His heart
relented toward the youth as it had not done before. Well, well, since it
was inevitable, he was glad to be the one who should first bring the
tidings of this bold wooer's purpose. "Trurie will never forget this
moment," he mattered, as he knocked at her door, "nor my part in her
little drama." O love, how it craves even the crumbs that fall from the
table of its idol!

"Trurie," he began, as he entered, "you had better dress. Bless me, I
thought you were packing!"

"I--I was."

"You were expecting some one?"

"Mr. Clifford said he would call--to bid me good-by, I suppose."

"Was that all you supposed, Trurie?"

"Indeed, papa, I told him I was going to town to-morrow, and he asked if
he might call."

"Did he speak of his object?"

"No, papa. I'm sure it's quite natural he should call, and I have been
packing."

"Well, I can assure you that he has a very definite object. He has asked
me if he might pay his addresses to you, and in the same breath assured
me that he would in any event."

"Oh, papa," she said, hiding her face on his shoulder, "he was not so
unmannerly as that!"

"Indeed, he went much further, declaring that he would take no refusal
from you, either; or, rather, that he would take it so often as to wear
out your patience, and secure you by proving that resistance was useless.
He had one decided fault to find with you, also. He much regrets that you
have wealth."

"Oh, papa, tell me what he did say;" and he felt her heart fluttering
against his side like that of a frightened bird.

"Why, Trurie, men have offered you love before."

"But I never loved before, nor knew what it meant," she whispered.
"Please don't keep me in suspense. This is all so strange, so sacred to
me."

"Well, Trurie, I hope your match may be one of those that are made in
heaven. Your mother will think it anything but worldly wise. However, I
will reconcile her to it, and I'm glad to be the one with whom you will
associate this day. Long after I am gone it may remind you how dear your
happiness was to me, and that I was willing to give up my way for yours.
Mr. Clifford has been straightforward and manly, if not conventional, and
I've told him that if he could win you and would keep his promise to do
his best for you and by you, I would be his friend, and that, you know,
means much. Of course, it all depends upon whether you accept him. You
are not committed in the least."

"Am I not, papa? Here is an organ"--with her hand upon her heart--"that
knows better. But I shall not throw myself at him. Must I go down now?"

"Oh, no, I can excuse you," he said, with smiling lips but moist eyes.

"Dear papa, I will, indeed, associate you with this hour and every
pleasant thing in life. You will find that you have won me anew instead
of losing me;" and looking back at him with her old filial love shining
in her eyes, she went slowly away to meet the future under the sweet
constraint of Nature's highest law.

If Burt had been impatient in the library, he grew almost desperate in
the parlor. Horrible doubts and fears crossed his mind. Might not Miss
Hargrove's pride rise in arms against him? Might she not even now be
telling her father of his fickleness, and declaring that she would not
listen to a "twice-told tale"? Every moment of delay seemed ominous, and
many moments passed. The house grew sepulchral in its silence, and the
wind without sighed and moaned as if Nature foreboded and pitied him in
view of the overwhelming misfortune impending. At last he sprang up and
paced the room in his deep perturbation. As he turned toward the entrance
he saw framed in the doorway a picture that appeared like a radiant
vision. Miss Hargrove stood there, looking at him so intently that, for a
second or two, he stood spell-bound. She was dressed in some white,
clinging material, and, with her brilliant eyes, appeared in the
uncertain light too beautiful and wraith-like to be human. She saw her
advantage, and took the initiative instantly. "Mr. Clifford," she
exclaimed, "do I seem an apparition?"

"Yes, you do," he replied, coming impetuously toward her. She held out
her hand, proposing that their interview should at least begin at arm's
length. Nevertheless, the soft fire in his eyes and the flush on his
handsome face made her tremble with a delicious apprehension. Even while
at a loss to know just how to manage the preliminaries for a decorous
yielding, she exulted over the flame-like spirit of her lover.

"Ah, Mr. Clifford," she cried, "you ought to know that you are not
crushing a ghost's hand."

"Pardon me. What I meant was that I thought I had seen you before, but
you are a new revelation every time I see you."

"I can't interpret visions."

"Please don't say that, for I must ask you to interpret one to-night.
What does Shakespeare say about those who have power? I hope you will use
yours mercifully. Oh, Miss Hargrove, you are so beautiful that I believe
I should lose my reason if you sent me away without hope."

"Mr. Clifford, you are talking wildly," was her faint response.

"I fear I am. I am almost desperate from fear, for I have a terribly hard
duty to perform."

"Indeed!" she said, withdrawing her hand, which he relinquished most
reluctantly, dreading that he might never receive it again.

"Do not assume that attitude, Miss Hargrove, or I shall lose courage
utterly."

"Truly, Mr. Clifford," she said, a little satirically, seating herself on
a sofa, "I never imagined you deficient in courage. Is it a terrible duty
to entertain me for a half-hour, and say good-by?"

"Yes. Nothing could be worse than that, if that were all;" and he looked
at her appealingly and in such perplexed distress that she laughed
outright.

"I am very much in earnest, Miss Hargrove."

"You are very enigmatical, Mr. Clifford. Must I be present while you
perform this terrible duty?"

"I think you know what I must confess already, and have a world of scorn
in store for me. Do not judge me harshly. Whatever the end may be, and my
sense of ill-desert is heavy indeed, I shall begin on the basis of
absolute truth. You shall know the worst. I've asked your father for the
privilege of winning your love;" and then he hesitated, not knowing how
to go on.

"Is that the worst?" she asked, demurely.

"No, I fear it will be the best, for he kindly gave his consent, and I
know it would be hard for him to do as much for any man, much more so for
one not wholly to his mind. Miss Hargrove, I must appear awkwardness and
incoherency personified. I hardly know how to go on. I shall appear to
you fickle and unmanly. How can I excuse myself to you when I have no
excuse except the downright truth that I love you better than my life,
better than my own soul, better than all the world and everything in it.
I never knew what love was until you became unconscious in my arms on the
mountain. Forgive me for referring to it. I'm only trying to explain
myself; and yet I had thought that I knew, and had spoken words of love
to your friend, Amy Winfield, who is worthy of the love of the best and
noblest man that ever breathed. She did not welcome my words--they only
wounded her--and she has never eared for me except as a true and gentle
sister cares. But I promised to wait till she did care. I can't keep that
promise. You fascinated me from the first hour of our meeting. I feel now
that I cherished an unworthy purpose toward you. I thought that, by
attentions to you, I could make Amy care; I thought that you were but a
brilliant society girl; but every hour I spent with you increased my
admiration, my respect; I saw that you were better and stronger than I
was. On the first day we went into camp on the mountain I saw whither my
heart was leading me, and from that hour until to-day I have tried to
conquer my love, feeling that I had no right to give it, that you would
despise it if I did. You can't have any confidence in me now. All my hope
is that you will give me a chance to prove that I am not a fickle wretch.
I will accept of any probation, I will submit to any terms. I can't take
an absolute refusal now, for I feel you are seeing me at my worst, and I
know that you could do with me anything you pleased."

Her head bowed lower and lower as he poured out these words like a
torrent. "Does Amy--have you told her that you cannot keep your promise
to her?" she faltered, in a low tone.

"Oh, yes, I told her so a few hours ago--since I met you this afternoon.
I was going away to the West, like a coward, to escape from my dilemma,
for I felt you would never listen to me after you knew that I had broken
my word to Amy. I feared that I had already become a by-word between you
for all that was weak and fickle. But after I saw you I could not go till
I spoke. I determined to reveal the whole truth, and if you ever gave me
a chance to retrieve myself, gratitude would be no name for my deep
feeling.

"Did--did Amy release you?"

"Yes, she was kindness itself. She told me in good plain English that she
wanted neither me nor my promise; that she didn't think that she ever
could have loved me, no matter how long I might have waited. But I could
not look into your clear eyes and say, 'I love you,' and know that you
might learn from her or any one that I had said this before. If you won't
trust me, having had the whole truth, then I must bear my hard fate as
best I can."

"How long would you be willing to wait for me?" she asked, in tones so
low that he could scarcely catch the words.

He bounded to her side, and took her unresisting hand. "Oh, Gertrude," he
pleaded, "prove me, give me a chance, let me show that I am not without
manhood and constancy. Believe me, I know the priceless gift I'm asking,
but what else can I do? I have tried for weeks to conquer the feeling you
have inspired, tried with all the help that pride and sense of duty and
honor could give, but it has been utterly useless. I now am free; I have
the right to speak. I have concealed nothing from you. I'm wholly at your
mercy."

At last she raised her downcast eyes and averted face to his, and for a
moment he was dazed at their expression. In tones sweet, low, and deep
with her strong emotion, she said, "Burt, how glad I am that you men are
blind! I found out that I loved you before we went to our mountain camp."
She sprang up and gave him her other hand as she continued: "Can love
impose such hard conditions as you suggest--months of doubtful waiting
for one who risked his life for me without a second's hesitation? That is
not my nature, Burt. If I have power over you, I shall show it in another
way."

She would never forget his look as he listened to these words, nor his
humility as he lowered his head upon her shoulder, and murmured, "I am
not worthy of this." It touched the deepest and tenderest chord in her
heart. His feeling was not the exultation of success, but a gratitude too
deep for words, and a half-conscious appeal that she would use her
woman's power to evoke a better manhood. It was not mere acknowledgment
of her beauty, or the impulse of his passion; it was homage to the best
and noblest part of her nature, the expression of his absolute trust.
Never had she received such a tribute, and she valued it more than if
Burt had laid untold wealth at her feet.

A great joy is often as sobering as a great sorrow, and they talked long
and earnestly together. Gertrude would not become engaged until she had
told her mother, and shown her the respect that was her due. "You must
not be resentful," the young girl said, "if mamma's consent is not easily
won. She has set her heart on an establishment in town, I've set my heart
on you; so there we differ, and you must give me time to reconcile her to
a different programme."

The clock on the mantel chimed eleven, and Burt started up, aghast at the
flight of time. Gertrude stole to her father's library, and found that he
was pacing the floor. "I should not have left him alone so long
to-night," she thought, with compunction. "Papa," she said, "Mr. Clifford
is going. Will you not come and speak to him?"

He looked into his daughter's flushed, happy face, and needed no further
explanation, and with her hands on his arm he went to the drawing-room.
Burt said but few and very simple words, and the keen judge of men liked
him beter than if he had been more exuberant. There was evidence of
downright earnestness now that seemed a revelation of a new trait.

"You spoke of going to the West soon," Mr. Hargrove remarked, as they
lingered in parting. "Have you any objection to telling me of your
purpose?"

Burt explained. Mr. Hargrove's face soon expressed unusual interest. "I
must talk with you further about this," he said. "I have land in the same
locality, and also an interest in the railroad to which you refer.
Perhaps I can make your journey of mutual service."

"Oh, papa," cried his daughter, "you are my good genius!" for she well
understood what that mutual service meant.

After Burt had gone, Mr. Hargrove said, "Well, well, this Western-land
business puts a new aspect on the affair, and mamma may have little
ground for complaint. It's my impression that the Cliffords will realize
a very respectable fortune out of that land."

"Papa," said the young girl, "Burt gave me something better than wealth
to-night--better even than love, in the usual sense of the word. He gave
me his faith. He acted as if he saw in me the power to help him to be a
true man, and what higher compliment can a woman receive? He did not
express it so much by word as by an unconscious manner, that was so
sincere and unpremeditated that it thrilled my very soul. Oh, papa, you
have helped me to be so very happy!"



CHAPTER LVI

WEBB'S FOUR-LEAVED CLOVER


Webb's silent entrance had not been so quiet but that Burt heard him.
Scarcely had he gained his room before the younger brother knocked, and
followed him in without waiting. "Where have you been at this time of
night?" he exclaimed. "You are infringing on ghostly hours, and are
beginning to look like a ghost;" for Webb had thrown himself into a
chair, and was haggard from the exhaustion of his long conflict. The
light and kindly way in which he answered his brother proved that he was
victor.

"Webb," said Burt, putting his hand on the elder brother's shoulder, "you
saved my life last winter, and life has become of immense value to me. If
you had not found me, I should have missed a happiness that falls to the
lot of few--a happiness of which all your science can never give you, you
old delver, even an idea. I meant to tell mother and father first, but I
feel to-night how much I owe to your brave, patient search, and I want
your congratulations."

"I think you might have told father and mother last night, for I suppose
it's morning now."

"I did not get home in time, and did not wish to excite mother, and spoil
her rest."

"Well, then, you might have come earlier or gone later. Oh, I know all
about it. I'm not blind."

"By Jove! I think not, if you know all about what I didn't know, and
could scarcely believe possible myself, till an hour or two since."

"What on earth are you driving at? I think you might have stayed at home
with Amy to-night, of all times. An accident, Burt, revealed to me your
success, and I do congratulate you most sincerely. You have now the
truest and loveliest girl in the world."

"That's true, but what possible accident could have revealed the fact to
you?"

"Don't think I was spying upon you. From the top of a ladder in the
orchard I saw, as the result of a casual glance, your reward to Amy for
words that must have been very satisfactory."

Burt began to laugh as if he could not control himself. "What a surprise
I have for you all!" he said. "I went where I did last night with Amy's
full knowledge and consent. She never cared a rap for me, but the only
other girl in the world who is her equal does, and her name is Gertrude
Hargrove."

Webb gave a great start, and sank into a chair.

"Don't be so taken aback, old fellow. I suppose you and the rest had set
your hearts on my marrying Amy. You have only to follow Amy's example,
and give me your blessing. Yes, you saw me give Amy a very grateful and
affectionate greeting last evening. She's the dearest little sister that
ever a man had, and that's all she ever wanted to be to me. I felt
infernally mean when I came to her yesterday, for I was in an awkward
strait. I had promised to wait for her till she did care, but she told me
that there was no use in waiting, and I don't believe there would have
been. She would have seen some one in the future who would awaken a very
different feeling from any that I could inspire, and then, if she had
promised herself to me, she would have been in the same predicament that
I was. She is the best and most sensible little girl that ever breathed,
and feels toward me just as she does toward you, only she very justly
thinks you have forgotten more than lever knew. As for Gertrude--Hang it
all! what's the use of trying to explain? You'll say I'm at my old
tricks, but I'm not. You've seen how circumstances have brought us
together, and I tell you my eye and heart are filled now for all time.
She will be over to-morrow, and I want her to receive the greeting she
deserves."

The affair seemed of such tremendous importance to Burt that he was not
in the least surprised that Webb was deeply moved, and fortunately he
talked long enough to give his brother time to regain his self-control.
Webb did congratulate him in a way that was entirely satisfactory, and
then bundled him out of the room in the most summary manner, saying,
"Because you are a hare-brained lover, you shouldn't keep sane people
awake any longer." It were hard to say, however, who was the less sane
that night, Webb or Burt. The former threw open his window, and gazed at
the moonlit mountains in long, deep ecstasy. Unlike Burt's, his more
intense feeling would find quiet expression. All he knew was that there
was a chance for him--that he had the right to put forth the best effort
of which he was capable--and he thanked God for that. At the same time he
remembered Amy's parable of the rose. He would woo as warily as
earnestly. With Burt's experience before his eyes, he would never stun
her with sudden and violent declarations. His love, like sunshine, would
seek to develop the flower of her love.

He was up and out in the October dawn, too happy and excited for sleep.
His weariness was gone; his sinews seemed braced with steel as he strode
to a lofty eminence. No hue on the richly tinted leaves nor on the rival
chrysanthemums was brighter than his hope, and the cool, pure air, in
which there was as yet no frostiness, was like exhilarating wine. From
the height he looked down on his home, the loved casket of the more
dearly prized jewel. He viewed the broad acres on which he had toiled,
remembering with a dull wonder that once he had been satisfied with their
material products. Now there was a glamour upon them, and upon all the
landscape. The river gleamed and sparkled; the mountains flamed like the
plumage of some tropical bird. The world was transfigured. The earth and
his old materiality became the foundation-stones on which his awakened
mind, kindled and made poetic, should rear an airy, yet enduring,
structure of beauty, consecrated to Amy. He had loved nature before, but
it had been to him like a palace in which, as a dull serving-man, he had
employed himself in caring for its furniture and the frames of its
paintings. But he had been touched by a magic wand, and within the frames
glowed ever-changing pictures, and the furniture was seen to be the work
of divine art. The palace was no longer empty, but enshrined a living
presence, a lovely embodiment of Nature's purest and best manifestation.
The development of no flower in all the past summer was so clear to him
as that of the girl he loved. He felt as if he had known her thoughts
from childhood. Her young womanhood was like that of the roses he had
shown to her in the dewy June dawn that seemed so long ago. Burt had
never touched her heart. It was still like a bud of his favorite
mossrose, wrapped in its green calyx. Oh, what a wealth of fragrant
beauty would be revealed! Now it might be revealed to him. But she should
waken in her own time; and if he had not the power to impart the deep,
subtile impulse, then that nearest to her, Nature, should be his bride.

They were all at the breakfast-table when he returned, and this plotter
against Amy's peace entered and greeted her with a very quiet
"Good-morning," but he laid beside her plate a four-leaved clover which
he had espied on his way back.

"Thanks, Webb," she said, with eyes full of merriment; "I foresee an
amazing amount of good luck in this little emblem. Indeed, I feel sure
that startling proofs of it will occur to-day;" and she looked
significantly at Burt, who laughed very consciously.

"What mischief has Burt been up to, Amy?" Mrs. Clifford asked. "He was
ready to explode with suppressed something last evening at supper, and
now he is effervescing in somewhat different style, but quite as
remarkably. You boys needn't think you can hide anything from mother very
long; she knows you too well."

Both Webb and Burt, with Amy, began to laugh, and they looked at each
other as if there were a good deal that mother did not know.

"Webb and Amy have evidently some joke on Burt," remarked Leonard. "Webb
was out last night, and I bet a pippin he caught Burt flirting with Miss
Hargrove."

"Oh, Burt!" cried Amy, in mock indignation.

"Nonsense!" said his mother. "Burt is going to settle down now and be
steady. We'll make him sign a pledge before he goes West, won't we, Amy?"

"Yes, indeed," gasped Amy, almost beside herself with merriment; "he'll
have to sign one in big capitals."

"Burt," said his father, looking at him over his spectacles, "you've been
getting yourself into some scrape as sure as the world. That's right,
Amy; you laugh at him well, and--"

"A truce!" exclaimed Burt. "If I'm in a scrape, I don't propose to get
out of it, but rather to make you all share in it. As Amy says, her
four-leaved clover will prove a true prophet, green as it looks. I now
beg off, and shall prove that my scrape has not spoiled my appetite."

"Well," said Leonard, "I never could find any four-leaved clovers, but
I've had good luck, haven't I, Maggie?"

"You had indeed, when you came courting me."

"How about Maggie's luck?" asked Burt.

"I am satisfied," began Webb, "that I could develop acres of four-leaved
clover. Some plants have this peculiarity. I have counted twenty-odd on
one root. If seed from such a plant were sown, and then seed selected
again from the new plants most characterized by this 'sport,' I believe
the trait would become fixed, and we could have a field of four-leaved
clover. New varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers are often thus
developed from chance 'sports' or abnormal specimens."

"Just hear Webb," said Amy. "He would turn this ancient symbol of fortune
into a marketable commodity."

"Pardon me; I was saying what might be done, not what I proposed to do. I
found this emblem of good chance by chance, and I picked it with the
'wish' attacked to the stem. Thus to the utmost I have honored the
superstition, and you have only to make your wish to carry it out fully."

"My wishes are in vain, and all the four-leaved clovers in the world
wouldn't help them. I wish I was a scientific problem, a crop that
required great skill to develop, a rare rose that all the rose-maniacs
were after, a new theory that required a great deal of consideration and
investigation, and accompanied with experiments that needed much
observation, and any number of other t-i-o-n-shuns. Then I shouldn't be
left alone evenings by the great inquiring mind of the family. Burt's
going away, and, as his father says, has got into a scrape; so what's to
become of me?"

They all arose from the table amid general laughter, of which Webb and
Burt were equally the objects, and on the faces of those not in the
secret there was much perplexed curiosity.

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Maggie, "if Webb should concentrate his mind
on you as you suggest, it would end by his falling in love with you."

This speech was received with shouts of merriment, and Amy felt the color
rushing into her face, but she scouted the possibility. "The idea of
Webb's falling in love with any one!" she cried. "I should as soon expect
to see old Storm King toppling over."

"Still waters run--" began Maggie, but a sudden flash from Webb's eyes
checked her.

"Deep, do they?" retorted Amy. "Some still waters don't run at all. Not
for the world would I have Webb incur the dreadful risk that you suggest."

"I think I'm almost old enough to take care of myself, sister Amy, and I
promise you to try to be as entertaining as such an old fellow can be. As
to falling in love with you, that happened long ago--the first evening
you came, when you stood in the doorway blushing and frightened at the
crowd of your new relations."

"Haven't I got over being afraid of them remarkably? I never was a bit
afraid of you even at first. It took me a long time, however, to find out
how learned you were, and what deep subjects are required to interest
you. Alas, I shall never be a deep subject."

"Well, my dear," said Mr. Clifford, putting his arm around her, "you have
come like sunshine into the old home, and we old people can't help
wishing you may never go out of it while we are alive."

"I'm not a bit jealous, Amy," said Maggie.

"I think it's time this mutual admiration society broke up," the young
girl said, with tears trembling in her eyes. "When I think of it all, and
what a home I've found, I'm just silly enough to cry. I think it's time,
Burt, that you obtained your father's and mother's forgiveness or
blessing, or whatever it is to be."

"You are right, Amy, as you always are. Mother, will you take my arm? and
if you will accompany us, sir (to his father), you shall learn the
meaning of Amy's four-leaved clover."

"You needn't think you are going to get Amy without my consent," Leonard
called after him. "I've known her longer than any of you--ever since she
was a little girl at the depot."

Amy and Webb began laughing so heartily at the speaker that he went away
remarking that he could pick apples if he couldn't solve riddles.

"Come up to my room, Amy," said Maggie, excitedly.

"No, no, Mother Eve, I shall go to my own room, and dress for company."

"Oh, I guess your secret!" cried Maggie. "Burt said something more than
good-by to Miss Hargrove last evening."

Amy would not answer, and the sound of a mirthful snatch of song died
musically away in the distance.

"Now, Mr. Webb," Maggie resumed, "what did _you_ mean by that ominous
flash from your cavern-like eyes?"

"It meant that Amy has probably been satisfied with one lover in the
family and its unexpected result. I don't wish our relations embarrassed
by the feeling that she must be on her guard against another."

"Oh, I see, you don't wish her to be on her guard."

"Dear Maggie, whatever you may see, appear blind. Heaven only knows what
you women don't see."

"That's good policy, Webb. I'll be your ally now. I've suspected you for
some time, but thought Burt and Amy were committed to each other."

"Amy does not suspect anything, and she must not. She is not ready for
the knowledge, and may never be. All the help I ask is to keep her
unconscious. I've been expecting you would find me out, for you married
ladies have had an experience which doubles your insight, and I'm glad of
the chance to caution you. Amy is happy in loving me as a brother. She
shall never be unhappy in this home if I can prevent it."

Maggie entered heart and soul into Webb's cause, for he was a great
favorite with her. He was kind to her children, and in a quiet way taught
them almost as much as they learned at school. He went to his work with
mind much relieved, for she and his mother were the only ones that he
feared might surmise his feeling, and by manner or remark reveal it to
Amy, thus destroying their unembarrassed relations, and perhaps his
chance to win the girl's heart.



CHAPTER LVII

OCTOBER HUES AND HARVESTS


Burt's interview with his parents, their mingled surprise, pleasure, and
disappointment, and their deep sympathy, need not be dwelt upon. Mr.
Clifford was desirous of first seeing Amy, and satisfying himself that
she did not in the slightest degree feel herself slighted or treated in
bad faith, but his wife, with her low laugh, said: "Rest assured, father,
Burt is right. He has won nothing more from Amy than sisterly love,
though I had hoped that he might in time. After all, perhaps, it is best.
We shall keep Amy, and gain a new daughter that we have already learned
to admire and love."

Burt's mind was too full of the one great theme to remember what Mr.
Hargrove had said about the Western land, and when at last Miss Hargrove
came to say good-by, with a blushing consciousness quite unlike her usual
self-possession, he was enchanted anew, and so were all the household.
The old people's reception seemed like a benediction; Amy banished the
faintest trace of doubt by her mirthful ecstasies; and after their
mountain experience there was no ice to break between Gertrude and
Maggie.

The former was persuaded to defer her trip to New York until the morrow,
and so Amy would have her nutting expedition after all. When Leonard came
down to dinner, Burt took Gertrude's hand, and said, "Now, Len, this is
your only chance to give your consent. You can't have any dinner till you
do."

His swift, deprecating look at Amy's laughing face reassured him. "Well,"
he said, slowly, as if trying to comprehend it all, "I do believe I'm
growing old. My eyesight must be failing sadly. When _did_ all this take
place?"

"Your eyesight is not to blame, Leonard," said his wife, with much
superiority. "It's because you are only a man."

"That's all I ever pretended to be." Then, with a dignity that almost
surprised Gertrude, he, as eldest brother, welcomed her in simple,
heartfelt words.

At the dinner-table Miss Hargrove referred to the Western land. Burt laid
down his knife and fork, and exclaimed, "I declare, I forgot all about
it!"

Miss Hargrove laughed heartily as she said, "A high tribute to me!" and
then made known her father's statement that the Clifford tract in the
West adjoined his own, that it would soon be very valuable, and that he
was interested in the railroad approaching it. "I left him," she
concluded, "poring over his maps, and he told me to say to you, sir" (to
Mr. Clifford), "that he wished to see you soon."

"How about the four-leaved clover now?" cried Amy.

In the afternoon they started for the chestnut-trees. Webb carried a light
ladder, and both he and Burt had dressed themselves in close-fitting
flannel suits for climbing. The orchard, as they passed through it,
presented a beautiful autumn picture. Great heaps of yellow and red cheeked
apples were upon the ground; other varieties were in barrels, some headed
up and ready for market, while Mr. Clifford was giving the final cooperage
to other barrels as fast as they were filled.

"Father can still head up a barrel better than any of us," Leonard
remarked to Miss Hargrove.

"Well, my dear," said the old gentleman, "I've had over half a century's
experience."

"It's time I obtained some idea of rural affairs," said Gertrude to Webb.
"There seem to be many different kinds of apples here. Can you easily
tell them apart?"

"Yes, as easily as you know different dress fabrics at Arnold's. Those
umbrella-shaped trees are Rhode Island greenings; those that are rather
long and slender branching are yellow bell-flowers; and those with short
and stubby branches and twigs are the old-fashioned dominies. Over there
are Newtown pippins. Don't you see how green the fruit is? It will not be
in perfection till next March. Not only a summer, but an autumn and a
winter are required to perfect that superb apple, but then it becomes one
of Nature's triumphs. Some of those heaps on the ground will furnish
cider and vinegar. Nuts, cider, and a wood fire are among the privations
of a farmer's life."

"Farming, as you carry it on, appears to me a fine art. How very full
some of the trees are! and others look as if they had been half picked
over."

"That is just what has been done. The largest and ripest apples are taken
off first, and the rest of the fruit improves wonderfully in two or three
weeks. By this course we greatly increase both the quality and the bulk
of the crop."

"You are very happy in your calling, Webb. How strange it seems for me to
be addressing you as Webb!"

"It does not seem so strange to me; nor does it seem strange that I am
talking to you in this way. I soon recognized that you were one of those
fortunate beings in whom city life had not quenched nature."

They had fallen a little behind the others, and were out of ear-shot.

"I think," she said, hesitatingly and shyly, "that I had an ally in you
all along."

He laughed and replied, "At one time I was very dubious over my
expedition to Fort Putnam."

"I imagine that in suggesting that expedition you put in two words for
yourself."

"Call it even," he said.

"I wish you might be as happy as I am. I'm not blind either, and I wonder
that Amy is so unconscious."

"I hope she will remain so until she awakens as naturally as from sleep.
She has never had a brother, and as such I try to act toward her. My one
thought is her happiness, and, perhaps, I can secure it in no other way.
I feared long since that you had guessed my secret, and am grateful that
you have not suggested it to Amy. Few would have shown so much delicacy
and consideration."

"I'm not sure that you are right, Webb. If Amy knew of your feeling, it
would influence her powerfully. She misjudges you now."

"Yes, it was necessary that she should misunderstand me, and think of me
as absorbed in things remote from her life. The knowledge you suggest
might make her very sad, for there never was a gentler-hearted girl. You
have remarkable tact. Please use it to prevent the constraint which might
arise between us."

Burt now joined them with much pretended jealousy, and they soon reached
the trees, which, under the young men's vigorous blows, rained down the
prickly burrs, downy chestnuts, and golden leaves. Blue jays screamed
indignantly from the mountain-side, and squirrels barked their protest at
the inroads made upon their winter stores. As the night approached the
air grew chilly, and Webb remarked that frost was coming at last. He
hastened home before the others to cover up certain plants that might be
sheltered through the first cold snap. The tenderer ones had long since
been taken up and prepared for winter blooming.

To Amy's inquiry where Johnnie was, Maggie had replied that she had gone
nutting by previous engagement with Mr. Alvord, and as the party returned
in the glowing evening they met the oddly assorted friends with their
baskets well filled. In the eyes of the recluse there was a gentler
expression, proving that Johnnie's and Nature's ministry had not been
wholly in vain. He glanced swiftly from Burt to Miss Hargrove, then at
Amy, and a faint suggestion of a smile hovered about his mouth. He was
about to leave them abruptly when Johnnie interposed, pleading: "Mr.
Alvord, don't go home till I pick you some of your favorite heart's-ease,
as you call my pansies. They have grown to be as large and beautiful as
they were last spring. Do you know, in the hot weather they were almost
as small as johnny-jumpers? but I wouldn't let 'em be called by that
name."

"They will ever be heart's-ease to me, Johnnie-doubly so when you give
them," and he followed her to the garden.

In the evening a great pitcher of cider fresh from the press, flanked by
dishes of golden fall pippins and grapes, was placed on the table. The
young people roasted chestnuts on hickory coals, and every one, even to
the invalid, seemed to glow with a kindred warmth and happiness. The city
belle contrasted the true home-atmosphere with the grand air of a city
house, and thanked God for her choice. At an early hour she said good-by
for a brief time and departed with Burt. He was greeted with stately
courtesy by Mrs. Hargrove herself, whom her husband and the prospective
value of the Western land had reconciled to the momentous event. Burt and
Gertrude were formally engaged, and he declared his intention of
accompanying her to the city to procure the significant diamond.

After the culminating scenes of Burt's little drama, life went on very
serenely and quietly at the Clifford home. Out of school hours Alf,
Johnnie, and Ned vied with the squirrels in gathering their hoard of
various nuts. The boughs in the orchard grew lighter daily. Frost came as
Webb had predicted, and dahlias, salvias, and other flowers, that had
flamed and glowed till almost the middle of October, turned black in one
morning's sun. The butternut-trees had lost their foliage, and countless
leaves were fluttering down in every breeze like many-hued gems. The
richer bronzed colors of the oak were predominating in the landscape, and
only the apple, cherry, and willow trees about the house kept up the
green suggestion of summer.



CHAPTER LVIII

THE MOONLIGHT OMEN


Webb permitted no marked change in his manner. He toiled steadily with
Leonard in gathering the fall produce and in preparing for winter, but
Amy noticed that his old preoccupied look was passing away. Daily he
appeared to grow more genial and to have more time and thought for her.
With increasing wonder she learned the richness and fulness of his mind.
In the evenings he read aloud to them all with his strong, musical
intonation, in which the author's thought was emphasized so clearly that
it seemed to have double the force that it possessed when she read the
same words herself. He found time for occasional rambles and horseback
excursions, and was so companionable during long rainy days that they
seemed to her the brightest of the week. Maggie smiled to herself and saw
that Webb's spell was working. He was making himself so quietly and
unobtrusively essential to Amy that she would find half of her life gone
if she were separated from him.

Gertrude returned for a short time, and then went to the city for the
winter. Burt's orbit was hard to calculate. He was much in New York, and
often with Mr. Hargrove, from whom he was receiving instructions in
regard to his Western expedition. That gentleman's opinion of Burt's
business capacity grew more favorable daily, for the young fellow now
proposed to show that he meant to take life in earnest. "If this lasts he
will make a trusty young lieutenant," the merchant thought, "and I can
make his fortune while furthering mine." Burt had plenty of brains and
good executive ability to carry out the wiser counsels of others, while
his easy, vivacious manner won him friends and acceptance everywhere.

It was arranged, after his departure, that Amy should visit her friend in
the city, and Webb looked forward to her absence with dread and
self-depreciation, fearing that he should suffer by contrast with the
brilliant men of society, and that the quiet country life would seem
dull, indeed, thereafter.

Before Amy went on this visit there came an Indian summer morning in
November, that by its soft, dreamy beauty wooed every one out of doors.
"Amy," said Webb, after dinner, "suppose we drive over to West Point and
return by moonlight." She was delighted with the idea, and they were soon
slowly ascending the mountain. He felt that this was his special
opportunity, not to break her trustful unconsciousness, but to reveal his
power to interest her and make impressions that should be enduring. He
exerted every faculty to please, recalling poetic and legendary allusions
connected with the trees, plants, and scenes by which they were passing.

"Oh, Webb, how you idealize nature!" she said. "You make every object
suggest something fanciful, beautiful, or entertaining. How have you
learned to do it?"

"As I told you last Easter Sunday--how long ago it seems--if I have any
power for such idealization it is largely through your influence. My
knowledge was much like the trees as they then appeared. I was prepared
for better things, but the time for them had not yet come. I had studied
the material world in a material sort of way, employing my mind with
facts that were like the bare branches and twigs. You awakened in me a
sense of the beautiful side of nature. How can I explain it? Who can
explain the rapid development of foliage and flowers when all is ready?"

"But, Webb, you appeared, during the summer, to go back to your old
materiality worse than ever. You made me feel that I had no power to do
anything for you. You treated me as if I were your very little sister who
would have to go to school a few years before I could be your companion."

"Those were busy days," he replied, laughing. "Besides," he added,
hesitatingly, "Burt was at one time inclined to be jealous. Of course, it
was very absurd in him, but I suppose lovers are always a little absurd."

"I should think it was absurd. I saw whither Burt was drifting long
ago--at the time of the great flood which swept away things of more value
than my silly expectations. What an unsophisticated little goose I was! I
suppose Johnnie expects to be married some day, and in much the same way
I looked forward to woman's fate; and since you all seemed to wish that
it should be Burt, I thought, 'Why not?' Wasn't it lucky for Burt, and,
indeed, for all of you, that I was not a grown-up and sentimental young
woman? Mr. Hargrove, by uniting his interests with yours in the West,
will make your fortunes, and Burt will bring you a lovely sister. It
pleases me to see how Gertrude is learning to like you. I used to be
provoked with her at first, because she didn't appreciate you. Do you
know, I think you ought to write? You could make people fall in love with
nature. Americans don't care half as much for out-door life and pursuits
as the English. It seems to me that city life cannot compare with that of
the country."

"You may think differently after you have been a few weeks in Gertrude's
elegant home."

They had paused again on the brow of Cro' Nest, and were looking out on
the wide landscape. "No, Webb," she said; "her home, no doubt, is
elegant, but it is artificial. This is simple and grand, and to-day, seen
through the soft haze, is lovely to me beyond all words. I honestly half
regret that I am going to town. Of course, I shall enjoy myself--I always
do with Gertrude--but the last few quiet weeks have been so happy and
satisfying that I dread any change."

"Think of the awful vacuum that your absence will make in the old home!"

"Well, I'm a little glad; I want to be missed. But I shall write to you
and tell you of all the frivolous things we are doing. Besides, you must
come to see me as often as you can."

"I certainly shall."

They saw evening parade, the moon rising meanwhile over Sugarloaf
Mountain, and filling the early twilight with a soft radiance. The music
seemed enchanting, for their hearts were attuned to it. As the long line
of cadets shifted their guns from "carry arms" to "shoulder arms" with
instantaneous action, Webb said that the muskets sent out a shivering
sound like that of a tree almost ready to fall under the last blows of an
axe.

Webb felt that should he exist millions of ages he should never forget the
ride homeward. The moon looked through the haze like a veiled beauty, and
in its softened light Amy's pure, sweet profile was endowed with ethereal
beauty. The beech trees, with their bleached leaves still clinging to them,
were almost spectral, and the oaks in their bronzed foliage stood like
black giants by the roadside. There were suggestive vistas of light and
shadow that were full of mystery, making it easy to believe that on a night
like this the mountain was haunted by creatures as strange as the fancy
could shape. The girl at his side was a mystery. Viewless walls incased her
spirit. What were her hidden and innermost thoughts? The supreme gift of a
boundless love overflowed his heart to his very lips. She was so near, and
the spell of her loveliness so strong, that at times he felt that he must
give it expression, but he ever restrained himself. His words might bring
pain and consternation to the peaceful face. She was alone with him, and
there would be no escape should he speak now. No; he had resolved to wait
till her heart awoke by its own impulses, and he would keep his purpose
even through the witchery of that moonlight drive. "How strangely isolated
we are," he thought, "that such feeling as mine can fill my very soul with
its immense desire, and she not be aware of anything but my quiet,
fraternal manner!"

As they were descending the home slope of the mountain they witnessed a
rare and beautiful sight. A few light clouds had gathered around the
moon, and these at last opened in a rift. The rays of light through the
misty atmosphere created the perfect colors of a rainbow, and this
phenomenon took the remarkable form of a shield, its base resting upon
one cloud, and its point extending into a little opening in the cloud
above.

"Oh, what a perfect shield!" cried Amy. "Was there ever anything so
strange and lovely?"

Webb checked his horse, and they looked at the vision with wonder. "I
never saw anything to equal that," said Webb.

"Is it an omen, Webb?" she asked, turning a little from him that she
might look upward, and leaning on his shoulder with the unconsciousness
of a child.

"Let us make it one, dear sister Amy," he said, drawing her nearer to
him. "Let it remind you, as you recall it, that as far as I can I will
ever shield you from every evil of life." As he spoke the rainbow colors
became wonderfully distinct, and then faded slowly away. Her head drooped
lower on his shoulder, and she said, dreamily:

"It seems to me that I never was so happy before in my life as I am now.
You are so different, and can be so much to me, now that your old absurd
constraint is gone. Oh, Webb, you used to make me so unhappy! You made me
feel that you had found me out--how little I knew, and that it was a bore
to have to talk with me and explain. I know I'm not highly educated. How
could I be? I went everywhere with papa, and he always appeared to think
of me as a little girl. And then during the last year or two of his life
he was so ill that I did not do much else than watch over him with fear
and trembling, and try to nurse him and beguile the hours that were so
full of pain and weakness. But I'm not contented to be ignorant, and you
can teach me so much. I fairly thrill with excitement and feeling
sometimes when you are reading a fine or beautiful thing. If I can feel
that way I can't be stupid, can I?"

"No, Amy."

"Think how much faster I could learn this winter if you would direct my
reading, and explain what is obscure!"

"I will very gladly do anything you wish. You underrate yourself, Amy.
You have woman's highest charm. There is a stupidity of heart which is
far worse than that of the mind, a selfish callousness in regard to
others and their rights and feelings, which mars the beauty of some women
worse than physical deformity. From the day you entered our home as a
stranger, graceful tact, sincerity, and the impulse of ministry have
characterized your life. Can you imagine that mere cleverness, trained
mental acuteness, and a knowledge of facts can take the place of these
traits? No man can love unless he imagines that a woman has these
qualities, and bitter will be his disappointment if he finds them
wanting."

Her laugh rang out musically on the still air. "Hear the old bachelor
talk!" she cried. "I believe you have constructed an ideally perfect
creature out of nature, and that you hold trysts with her on moonlight
nights, you go out to walk so often alone. Well, well, I won't be jealous
of such a sister-in-law, but I want to keep you a little while longer
before you follow Burt's example."

"I shall never give you a sister-in-law, Amy."

"You don't know what you'll do. How sure Burt was of himself!"

"Burt and I are different."

"Yes, Webb, you are. If you ever love, it will be for always; and I don't
like to think of it. I'd like to keep you just as you are. Now that you
see how selfish I am, where is woman's highest charm?"

Webb laughed, and urged his horse into a sharp trot. "I am unchangeable
in my opinions too, as far as you are concerned," he remarked. "She is
not ready yet," was his silent thought.

When she came down to the late supper her eyes were shining with
happiness, and Maggie thought the decisive hour had come; but in answer
to a question about the drive, Amy said, "I couldn't have believed that
so much enjoyment was to be had in one afternoon. Webb is a brother worth
having, and I'm sorry I'm going to New York."

"Am I not a brother worth having?" Leonard asked.

"Oh, you are excellent, as far as you go, but you are so wrapped up in
Maggie that you are not of much account; and as for Burt, he is more over
head and ears than you are. Even if a woman was in love, I should think
she would like a man to be sensible."

"Pshaw, Amy! you don't know what you are talking About," said Maggie.

"Probably not. I suppose it is a kind of disease, and that all are more
or less out of their heads."

"We've been out of our heads a good many years, mother, haven't we?" said
Mr. Clifford, laughing.

"Well," said Leonard, "I just hope Amy will catch the disease, and have
it very bad some day."

"Thank you. When I do, I'll send for Dr. Marvin."

A few days later Webb took her to New York, and left her with her friend.
"Don't be persuaded into staying very long," he found opportunity to say,
in a low tone.

"Indeed I won't; I'm homesick already;" and she looked after him very
wistfully. But she was mistaken. Gertrude looked so hurt and disappointed
when she spoke of returning, and had planned so much, that days
lengthened into weeks.



CHAPTER LIX

THE HOSE REVEALS ITS HEART


Webb returned to a region that was haunted. Wherever he went, a presence
was there before him. In every room, on the lawn, in the garden, in lanes
no longer shaded, but carpeted with brown, rustling leaves, on mountain
roads, he saw Amy with almost the vividness of actual vision, as he had
seen her in these places from the time of her first coming. At church he
created her form in her accustomed seat, and his worship was a little
confused. She had asked him to write, and he made home life and the
varying aspects of nature real to her. His letters, however, were so
impersonal that she could read the greater part of them to Gertrude, who
had resolved to be pleased out of good-will to Webb, and with the
intention of aiding his cause. But she soon found herself expressing
genuine wonder and delight at their simple, vigorous diction, their
subtile humor, and the fine poetic images they often suggested. "Oh,
Amy," she said, "I couldn't have believed it. I don't think he himself is
aware of his power of expression."

"He has read and observed so much," Amy replied, "that he has much to
express."

"It's more than that," said Gertrude; "there are touches here and there
which mere knowledge can't account for. They have a delicacy and beauty
which seem the result of woman's influence, and I believe it is yours. I
should think you would be proud of him."

"I am," she answered, with exultation and heightened color, "but it seems
absurd to suppose that such a little ignoramus as I am can help him
much."

Meanwhile, to all appearance, Webb maintained the even tenor of his way.
He had been so long schooled in patience that he waited and hoped on in
silence as before, and busied himself incessantly. The last of the corn
was husked, and the golden treasure stored. The stalks were stacked near
the barn for winter use, and all the labors of the year were rounded out
and completed. Twice he went to the city to see Amy, and on one of these
occasions he was a guest at a large party given in her honor. During much
of the evening he was dazzled by her beauty, and dazed by her
surroundings. Her father had had her instructed carefully in dancing, and
she and Burt had often waltzed together, but he could scarcely believe
his eyes as she appeared on the floor unsurpassed in beauty and grace,
her favor sought by all. Was that the simple girl who on the shaggy sides
of Storm King had leaned against his shoulder?

Miss Hargrove gave him little time for such musings. She, as hostess,
often took his arm and made him useful. The ladies found him reserved
rather than shy, but he was not long among the more mature and thoughtful
men present before a knot gathered around him, and some of Mr. Hargrove's
more intimate friends ventured to say, "There seems to be plenty of
brains in the family into which your daughter is to enter."

After an hour or two had passed, and Amy had not had a chance to speak to
him, he began to look so disconsolate that she came and whispered,
"What's the matter, old fellow?"

"Oh, Amy," he replied, discontentedly, "I wish we were back on Storm
King. I'm out of place here."

"So do I," she said, "and so we will be many a time again. But you are
not out of place here. I heard one lady remarking how 'reserved and
_distingue_ you were, and another," she added, with a flash of her
ever-ready mirthfulness, "said you were 'deliciously homely.' I was just
delighted with that compliment," and she flitted away to join her partner
in the dance. Webb brightened up amazingly after this, and before he
departed in the "wee sma' hours," when the rooms were empty, Gertrude
gave him a chance for a brief, quiet talk, which proved that Amy's heart
was still in the Highlands, even if he did not yet possess it.

Burt would not return till late in December; but Amy came home about the
middle of the month, and received an ovation that was enough "to turn any
one's head," she declared. Their old quiet life was resumed, and Webb
watched keenly for any discontent with it. Her tranquil satisfaction was
undoubted. "I've had my little fling," she said, "and I suppose it was
time I saw more of the world and society, but oh, what a refuge and haven
of rest the old place is! Gertrude is lovely, her father very gallant and
polite, but Mrs. Hargrove's stateliness oppresses me, and in society I
felt that I had to take a grain of salt with everything said to me.
Gertrude showed her sense in preferring a home. I was in some superb
houses in the city that did not seem like homes."

Webb, in his solicitude that the country-house should not appear dull,
found time to go out with her on pleasant days, and to interest her
deeply in a course of reading. It was a season of leisure; but his mother
began to smile to herself as she saw how absorbed he was in his pupil.

The nights grew colder, the stars gained a frosty glitter, the ground was
rock-like, and the ponds were covered with a glare of black ice. Amy was
eager to learn to skate, and Webb found his duty of instructor
delightful. Little danger of her falling, although, with a beginner's
awkwardness, she essayed to do so often; strong arms were ever near and
ready, and any one would have been glad to catch Amy in such peril.

They were now looking forward to Burt's return and the holiday season,
which Gertrude would spend with them. Mystery lurked behind every door.
Not merely the shops, but busy and stealthy fingers, would furnish the
gifts. Webb had bought his present for Amy, but had also burned the
midnight oil in the preparation of another--a paper for a magazine, and
it had been accepted. He had planned and composed it while at work
stripping the husks from the yellow corn, superintending the wood teams
and the choppers in the mountain, and aiding in cutting from an adjacent
pond the crystal blocks of ice--the stored coolness for the coming
summer. Then while others thought him sleeping he wrote and rewrote the
thoughts he had harvested during the day.

One of his most delightful tasks, however, was in aiding Amy to embower
the old house in wreaths and festoons of evergreens. The rooms grew into
aromatic bowers. Autumn leaves and ferns gave to the heavier decorations
a light, airy beauty which he had never seen before. Grace itself Amy
appeared as she mounted the step-ladder and reached here and there,
twining and coaxing everything into harmony.

What was the effect of all this companionship on her mind? She least of
all could have answered: she did not analyze. Each day was full and
joyous. She was being carried forward on a shining tide of happiness, and
yet its motion was so even, quiet, and strong that there was nothing to
disturb her maidenly serenity. If Webb had been any one but Webb, and if
she had been in the habit of regarding all men as possible admirers, she
would have understood herself long before this. If she had been brought
up with brothers in her own home she would have known that she welcomed
this quiet brother with a gladness that had a deeper root than sisterly
affection. But the fact that he was Webb, the quiet, self-controlled man
who had called her sister Amy for a year, made his presence, his deep
sympathy with her and for her, seem natural. His approaches had been so
gradual that he was stealing into her heart as spring enters a flower.
You can never name the first hour of its presence; you take no note of
the imperceptible yet steady development. The process is quiet, yet vital
and sure, and at last there comes an hour when the bud is ready to open.
That time was near, and Webb hoped that it was. His tones were now and
then so tender and gentle that she looked at him a little wonderingly,
but his manner was quiet and far removed from that of the impetuous Burt.
There was a warmth in it, however, like the increasing power of the sun,
and in human hearts bleak December can be the spring-time as truly as
May.

It was the twenty-third--one of the stormiest days of a stormy month. The
snowflakes were whirling without, and making many a circle in the gale
before joining their innumerable comrades that whitened the ground. The
wind sighed and soughed about the old house as it had done a year before,
but Webb and Amy were armed against its mournfulness. They were in the
parlor, on whose wide hearth glowed an ample fire. Burt and Gertrude were
expected on the evening train.

"Gertie is coming home through the snow just as I did," said Amy,
fastening a spray of mistletoe that a friend had sent her from England to
the chandelier; "and the same old warm welcome awaits her."

"What a marvellous year it has been!" Webb remarked.

"It has, indeed. Just think of it! Burt is engaged to one of whose
existence he did not know a year ago. He has been out West, and found
that you have land that will make you all rich."

"Are these the greatest marvels of the year, Amy?"

"No, there is a greater one. I didn't know you a year ago to-day, and now
I seem to have known you always, you great patient, homely old
fellow--'deliciously homely.' I shall never get over that."

"The eyes of scores of young fellows looked at you that evening as if you
were deliciously handsome."

"And you looked at me one time as if you hadn't a friend in the world,
and you wanted to be back in your native wilds."

"Not without you, Amy; and you said you wished you were looking at the
rainbow shield with me again."

"Oh, I didn't say all that; and then I saw you needed heartening up a
little."

"I did indeed. You were dancing with a terrible swell, worth, it was
said, half a million, who was devouring you with his eyes."

"I'm all here, thank you, and you look as if you were doing some
devouring yourself. What makes you look at me so? Is there anything on my
face?"

"Yes, some color, but it's just as Nature arranged it, and you know
Nature's best work always fascinates me."

"What a gallant you are becoming! There, don't you think that is arranged
well?" and she stood beneath the mistletoe looking up critically at it.

"Let me see if it is," and he advanced to her side. "This is the only
test," he said, and quick as a flash he encircled her with his arm and
pressed a kiss upon her lips.

She sprang aloof and looked at him with dilating eyes. He had often
kissed her before, and she had thought nothing more of it than of a
brother's salute. Was it a subtile, mysterious power in the mistletoe
itself with which it had been endowed by ages of superstition? Was that
kiss like the final ray of the Jane sun that opens the heart of the rose
when at last it is ready to expand? She looked at him wonderingly,
tremblingly, the color of the rose mounting higher and higher, and
deepening as if the blood were coming from the depths of her heart. He
did not speak. In answer to her wondering, questioning look, he only bent
full upon her his dark eyes that had held hers once before in a moment of
terror. She saw his secret in their depths at last, the devotion, the
love, which she herself had unsuspectingly said would "last always." She
took a faltering step toward him, then covered her burning face with her
hands.

"Amy," he said, taking her gently in his arms, "do you understand me now?
Dear, blind little girl, I have been worshipping all these months, and
you have not known it."

"I--I thought you were in love with nature," she whispered.

"So I am, and you are nature in its sweetest and highest embodiment.
Every beautiful thing in nature has long suggested you to me. Amy, I
_can_ wait. You shall have your girlhood. It seems to me now that I
have loved you almost from the first hour I saw you. I have known that I
loved you ever since that June evening when you left me in the rose
garden. Have I not proved that I can be patient and wait?"

She only pressed her burning face closer upon his shoulder. "It's all
growing clear now," she again whispered. "How blind I've been! I thought
you were only my brother."

"I can be 'only your brother,' if you so wish," he said, gravely. "Your
happiness is my first thought."

She looked up at him shyly, tears in her eyes, and a smile hovering about
her tremulous lips. "I don't think I understood myself any better than I
did you. I never had a brother, and--and--I don't believe I loved you
just right for a brother;" and her face was hidden again.

His eyes went up to heaven, as if he meant that his mating should be
recognized there. Then gently stroking her brown hair, he asked, "Then I
shan't have to wait, Amy?"

"Am I keeping you waiting, Webb?" she faltered from her deep seclusion.

"Oh, that blessed mistletoe!" cried Webb, lifting the dewy, flower-like
face and kissing it again and again. "You are my Christmas gift, Amy."

"Oh, I beg your pardon; I didn't know," began Mr. Clifford from the
doorway, and was about to make a hasty and excited retreat.

"Stay, father!" cried Webb. "A year ago you received this dear girl as
your daughter. She has consented to make the tie closer still if
possible."

The old gentleman took Amy in his arms for a moment, and then said, "This
is too good to keep to myself for a moment," and he hastened the
blushing, laughing girl to his wife, and exclaimed, "See what I've
brought you for a Christmas present. See what that sly, silent Webb has
been up to. He has been making love to our Amy right under our noses, and
we didn't know it."

"_You_ didn't know it, father; mother's eyes are not so blind. Amy,
darling, I've been hoping and praying for this. You have made a good
choice, my dear, if it is his mother that says it. Webb will never
change, and he will always be as gentle and good to you as he has been to
me."

"Well, well, well," said Mr. Clifford, "our cup is running over, sure
enough. Maggie, come here," he called, as he heard her step in the hall.
"Here is a new relative. I once felt a little like grumbling because we
hadn't a daughter, and now I have three, and the best and prettiest in
the land. You didn't know what Webb was about."

"Didn't I, Webb--as long ago as last October, too?"

"Oh, Webb, you ought to have told me first," said Amy, reproachfully,
when they were alone.

"I did not tell Maggie; she saw," Webb answered. Then, taking a rosebud
which she had been wearing, he pushed open the petals with his finger,
and asked, "Who told me that 'this is no way for a flower to bloom'? I've
watched and waited till your heart was ready, Amy." And so the time flew
in mutual confidences, and the past grew clear when illumined by love.

"Poor old Webb!" said Amy, with a mingled sigh and laugh. "There you were
growing as gaunt as a scarecrow, and I loving you all the time. What a
little goose I was! If you had looked at Gertrude as Burt did I should
have found myself out long ago. Why hadn't you the sense to employ Burt's
tactics?"

"Because I had resolved that nature should be my sole ally. Was not my
kiss under the mistletoe a better way of awakening my sleeping beauty
than a stab of jealousy?"

"Yes, Webb, dear, patient Webb. The rainbow shield was a true omen, and I
am sheltered indeed."



CHAPTER LX

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS AND SHADOWS


Leonard had long since gone to the depot, and now the chimes of his
returning bells announced that Burt and Gertrude were near. To them both
it was in truth a coming home. Gertrude rushed in, followed by the
exultant Burt, her brilliant eyes and tropical beauty rendered tenfold
more effective by the wintry twilight without; and she received a welcome
that accorded with her nature. She was hardly in Amy's room, which she
was to share, before she looked in eager scrutiny at her friend. "What's
in the air?" she asked. "What has transfigured Webb? Oh, you little
wild-flower, you've found out that he is saying his prayers to you at
last, have you? Evidently he hasn't said them in vain. You are very
happy, dear?"

"Yes, happier than you are."

"I deny that point-blank. Oh, Amy darling, I was true to you and didn't
lose Burt either."

Maggie had provided a feast, and Leonard beamed on the table and on every
one, when something in Webb and Amy's manner caught his attention. "This
occasion," he began, "reminds me of a somewhat similar one a year ago
to-morrow night. It is my good fortune to bring lovely women into this
household. My first and best effort was made when I brought Maggie. Then
I picked up a little girl at the depot, and she grew into a tall, lovely
creature on the way home, didn't she, Johnnie? And now to-night I've
brought in a princess from the snow, and one of these days poor Webb will
be captured by a female of the MacStinger type, for he will never muster
up courage enough--What on earth are you all laughing about?"

"Thank you," said Amy, looking like a peony.

"You had better put your head under Maggie's wing and subside," Webb
added. Then, putting his arm about Amy, he asked, "Is this a female of
the MacStinger type?"

Leonard stared in blank amazement. "Well," said he, at last, "when
_did_ this happen? I give up now. The times have changed. When I was
courting, the whole neighborhood was talking about it, and knew I was
accepted long before I did. Did you see all this going on, Maggie?"

"Certainly," she answered.

"Now, I don't believe Amy saw it herself," cried Leonard, half
desperately, and laughter broke out anew.

"Oh, Amy, I'm so glad!" said Burt, and he gave her the counterpart of the
embrace that had turned the bright October evening black to Webb.

"To think that Webb should have got such a prize!" ejaculated Leonard.
"Well, well, the boys in this family are in luck."

"It will be my turn next," cried Johnnie.

"No, sir; I'm the oldest," Alf protested.

"Let's have supper," Ned remarked, removing his thumb from his mouth.

"Score one for Ned," said Burt. "There is at least one member of the
family whose head is not turned by all these marvellous events."

Can the sunshine and fragrance of a June day be photographed? No more can
the light and gladness of that long, happy evening be portrayed. Mrs.
Clifford held Gertrude's hand as she had Amy's when receiving her as a
daughter. The beautiful girl, whose unmistakable metropolitan air was
blended with gentle womanly grace, had a strong fascination for the
invalid. She kindled the imagination of the recluse, and gave her a
glimpse into a world she had never known.

"Webb," said Amy, as they were parting for the night, "I can see a sad,
pale orphan girl clad in mourning. I can see you kissing her for the
first time. Don't you remember? I had a strange little thrill at heart
then, and you said, 'Come to me, Amy, when you are in trouble.' There is
one thing that troubles me to-night. All whom I so dearly love know of my
happiness but papa. I wish he knew."

"Tell it to him, Amy," he answered, gently, "and tell it to God."

There were bustle and renewed mystery on the following day.
Astonishing-looking packages were smuggled from one room to another.
Ned created a succession of panics, and at last the ubiquitous and
garrulous little urchin had to be tied into a chair. Johnnie and Alf
were in the seventh heaven of anticipation, and when Webb brought Amy
a check for fifty dollars, and told her that it was the proceeds of
his first crop from his brains, and that she must spend the money, she
went into Mr. Clifford's room waving it as if it were a trophy such as
no knight had ever brought to his lady-love.

"Of course, I'll spend it," she cried. "I know just how to spend it. It
shall go into books that we can read together. What's that agricultural
jargon of yours, Webb, about returning as much as possible to the soil?
We'll return this to the soil," she said, kissing his forehead, "although
I think it is too rich for me already."

In the afternoon she and Webb, with a sleigh well laden, drove into the
mountains on a visit to Lumley. He had repaired the rough, rocky lane
leading through the wood to what was no longer a wretched hovel. The
inmates had been expecting this visit, and Lumley rushed bareheaded
out-of-doors the moment he heard the bells. Although he had swept a path
from his door again and again, the high wind would almost instantly drift
in the snow. Poor Lumley had never heard of Sir Walter Raleigh or Queen
Elizabeth, but he had given his homage to a better queen, and with loyal
impulse he instantly threw off his coat, and laid it on the snow, that
Amy might walk dry-shod into the single room that formed his home. She
and Webb smiled significantly at each other, and then the young girl put
her hand into that of the mountaineer as he helped her from the sleigh,
and said "Merry Christmas!" with a smile that brought tears into the eyes
of the grateful man.

"Yer making no empty wish, Miss Amy. I never thought sich a Christmas 'ud
ever come to me or mine. But come in, come in out of the cold wind, an'
see how you've changed everything. Go in with her, Mr. Webb, and I'll tie
an' blanket your hoss. Lord, to think that sich a May blossom 'ud go into
my hut!"

They entered, and Mrs. Lumley, neatly clad in some dark woollen material,
made a queer, old-fashioned courtesy that her husband had had her
practice for the occasion. But the baby, now grown into a plump, healthy
child, greeted her benefactress with nature's own grace, crowing,
laughing, and calling, "Pitty lady; nice lady," with exuberant welcome.
The inmates did not now depend for precarious warmth upon two logs,
reaching across a dirty floor and pushed together, but a neat box,
painted green, was filled with billets of wood. The carpeted floor was
scrupulously clean, and so was the bright new furniture. A few evergreen
wreaths hung on the walls with the pictures that Amy had given, and on
the mantel was her photograph--poor Lumley's patron saint.

Webb brought in his armful of gifts, and Amy took the child on her lap
and opened a volume of dear old "Mother Goose," profusely illustrated in
colored prints--that classic that appeals alike to the hearts of
children, whether in mountain hovels or city palaces. The man looked on
as if dazed. "Mr. Webb," he said, in his loud whisper, "I once saw a
picter of the Virgin and Child. Oh, golly, how she favors it!"

"Mrs. Lumley," Amy began, "I think your housekeeping does you much
credit. I've not seen a neater room anywhere."

"Well, mum, my ole man's turned over a new leaf sure nuff. There's no
livin' with him unless everythink is jesso, an, I guess it's better so,
too. Ef I let things git slack, he gits mighty savage."

"You must try to be patient, Mr. Lumley. You've made great changes for
the better, but you must remember that old ways can't be broken up in a
moment."

"Lor' bless yer, Miss Amy, there's no think like breakin' off short,
there's nothink like turnin' the corner sharp, and fightin' the devil
tooth and nail. It's an awful tussle at first, an' I thought I was goin'
to knuckle under more'n once. So I would ef it hadn't 'a ben fer you, but
you give me this little ban', Miss Amy, an' looked at me as if I wa'n't a
beast, an' it's ben a liftin' me up ever sence. Oh, I've had good folks
talk at me an' lecter, an' I ben in jail, but it all on'y made me mad.
The best on 'em wouldn't 'a teched me no more than they would a rattler,
sich as we killed on the mountain. But you guv me yer han', Miss Amy, an'
thar's mine on it agin; I'm goin' to be a _man_."

She took the great horny palm in both her hands. "You make me very
happy," she said, simply, looking at him above the head of his child,
"and I'm sure your wife is going to help you. I shall enjoy the holidays
far more for this visit. You've told us good news, and we've got good
news for you and your wife. Tell him, Webb."

"Yes, Lumley," said Webb, clapping the man on the shoulder, "famous news.
This little girl has been helping me just as much as she has you, and she
has promised to help me through life. One of these days we shall have a
home of our own, and you shall have a cottage near it, and the little
girl here that you've named Amy shall go to school and have a better
chance than you and your wife have had."

"Oh, goshwalader!" exclaimed the man, almost breaking out into a
hornpipe. "The Lord on'y knows what will happen ef things once git a
goin' right! Mr. Webb, thar's my han' agin'. Ef yer'd gone ter heaven fer
her, yer couldn't 'a got sich a gell. Well, well, give me a chance on yer
place, an' I'll work fer yer all the time, even nights an' Sundays."

It was hard for them to get away. The child dropped her books and toys,
and clung to Amy. "She knows yer; she knows all about yer," said the
delighted father. "Well, ef yer must go, yer'll take suthin' with us;"
and from a great pitcher of milk he filled several goblets, and they all
drank to the health of little Amy. "Yer'll fin' half-dozen pa'triges
under the seat, Miss Amy," he said, as they drove away. "I was bound I'd
have some kind of a present fer yer."

She waved her hand back to him, and saw him standing bareheaded in the
cutting wind, looking after her.

"Poor old Lumley was right," said Webb, drawing her to him; "I do feel as
if I had received my little girl from heaven. We will give those people a
chance, and try to turn the law of heredity in the right direction."

In the twilight of that evening, Mr. Alvord sat over his lonely hearth,
his face buried in his hands. The day had been terribly long and
torturing; memory had presented, like mocking spectres, his past and what
it might have been. A sense of loneliness, a horror of great darkness,
overwhelmed him. Nature had grown cold and forbidding, and was losing its
power to solace. Johnnie, absorbed in her Christmas preparations, had not
been to see him for a long time. He had gone to inquire after her on the
previous evening, and through the lighted window of the Clifford home had
seen a picture that had made his own abode appear desolate indeed. In
despairing bitterness he had turned away, feeling that that happy home
was no more a place for him than was heaven. He had wandered out into the
storm for hours, like a lost spirit, and at last had returned and slept
in utter exhaustion. On the morning preceding Christmas memory awoke with
him, and as night approached he was sinking into sullen, dreary apathy.

There was a light tap at the door, but he did not hear it. A child's face
peered in at his window, and Johnnie saw him cowering over his dying
fire. She had grown accustomed to his moods, and had learned to be
fearless, for she had banished his evil spells before. Therefore she
entered softly, laid down her bundles and stood beside him.

"Mr. Alvord!" she said, laying her hand on his shoulder. He started up,
and at the same moment a flickering blaze rose on the hearth, and
revealed the sunny-haired child standing beside him. If an angel had
come, the effect could not have been greater. Like all who are morbid, he
was largely under the dominion of imagination; and Johnnie, with her
fearless, gentle, commiserating eyes, had for him the potency of a
supernatural visitor. But the healthful, unconscious child had a better
power. Her words and touch brought saneness as well as hope.

"Why, Mr. Alvord," she cried, "were you asleep? See! your fire is going
out, and your lamp is not lighted, and there is nothing ready for your
supper. What a queer man you are, for one who is so kind! Mamma said I
might come and spend a little of Christmas-eve with you, and bring my
gifts, and then that you would bring me home. I know how to fix up your
fire and light your lamp. Then we'll get supper together. Won't that be
fun?" and she bustled around, the embodiment of beautiful life.

"Oh, Johnnie!" he said, taking her sweet face in his hands, and looking
into her clear eyes, "Heaven must have sent you. I was so lonely and sad
that I wished I had never lived."

"Why, Mr. Alvord! and on Christmas-eve, too? See what I've brought you,"
and she opened a book with the angels' song of "peace and good-will"
illustrated. "Mamma says that whoever believes that ought to be happy,"
said the child. "Don't you believe it?"

"Yes, it's true for those who are like you and your mother."

She leaned against him, and looked over his shoulder at the pictures.
"Mr. Alvord, mamma said the song was for you, too. Of course, mamma's
right. What else did He come for but to help people who are in trouble? I
read stories about Him every Sunday to mamma, and He was always helping
people who were in trouble, and who had done wrong. That's why we are
always glad on Christmas. You look at the book while I set your table."

He did look at it till his eyes were blinded with tears, and like a sweet
refrain came the words. "A little child shall lead them."

Half an hour later Leonard, with a kindly impulse, thought he would go to
take by the hand Johnnie's strange friend, and see how the little girl
was getting on. The scene within, as he passed the window, checked his
steps. Johnnie sat at the foot of Mr. Alvord's table, pouring tea for
him, chattering meanwhile with a child's freedom, and the hermit was
looking at her with such a smile on his haggard face as Leonard had never
seen there. He walked quietly home, deferring his call till the morrow,
feeling that Johnnie's spell must not be broken.

An hour later Mr. Alvord put Johnnie down at her home, for he had
insisted on carrying her through the snow, and for the first time kissed
her, as he said:

"Good-by. You, to-night, have been like one of the angels that brought
the tidings of 'peace and good-will.'"

"I'm sorry for him, mamma!" said the little girl, after telling her
story, "for he's very lonely, and he's such a queer, nice man. Isn't it
funny that he should be so old, and yet not know why we keep Christmas?"

Amy sang again the Christmas hymn that her own father and the father who
had adopted her had loved so many years before. "My daughter," said Mr.
Clifford, as he was fondly bidding her good-night, "how sweetly you have
fulfilled the hopes you raised one year ago!"

Mrs. Clifford had gone to her room, leaning on the arm of Gertrude. As
the invalid kissed her in parting, she said:

"You have beautiful eyes, my dear, and they have seen far more of the
world than mine, but, thank God, they are clear and true. Keep them so,
my child, that I may welcome you again to a better home than this."

Once more "the old house stood silent and dark in the pallid landscape."
The winds were hushed, as if the peace within had been breathed into the
very heart of Nature, and she, too, could rest in her wintry sleep. The
moon was obscured by a veil of clouds, and the outlines of the trees were
faint upon the snow. A shadowy form drew near; a man paused, and looked
upon the dwelling. "If the angels' song could be heard anywhere to-night,
it should be over that home," Mr. Alvord murmured; but, even to his
morbid fancy, the deep silence of the night remained unbroken. He
returned to his home, and sat down in the firelight. A golden-haired
child again leaned upon his shoulder, and asked, "What else did He come
for but to help people who are in trouble, and who have done wrong?" He
started up. Was it a voice deep in his own soul that was longing to
escape from evil? or was it a harmony far away in the sky, that whispered
of peace at last? That message from heaven is clearest where the need is
greatest.

Mr. Hargrove's home was almost a palace, but its stately rooms were
desolate on Christmas-eve. He wandered restlessly through their
magnificence. He paid no heed to the costly furniture and costlier works
of art. "Trurie was right," he muttered. "What power have these things to
satisfy when the supreme need of the heart is unsatisfied? It seems as if
I could not sleep to-night without seeing her. There is no use in
disguising the truth that I'm losing her. Even on Christmas-eve she is
absent. It's late, and since I cannot see her, I'll see her gift;" and he
went to her room, where she had told him to look for her remembrance.

To his surprise, he found that, according to her secret instructions, it
was lighted. He entered the dainty apartment, and saw the glow of autumn
leaves and the airy grace of ferns around the pictures and windows. He
started, for he almost saw herself, so true was the life-size and
lifelike portrait that smiled upon him. Beneath it were the words, "Merry
Christmas, papa! You have not lost me; you have only made me happy."

The moon is again rising over old Storm King; the crystals that cover the
white fields and meadows are beginning to flash in its rays; the great
pine by the Clifford home is sighing and moaning. What heavy secret has
the old tree that it can sigh with such a group near as is now gathered
beneath it? Burt's black horse rears high as he reins him in, that
Gertrude may spring into the cutter, then speeds away like a shadow
through the moonlight Webb's steed is strong and quiet, like himself, and
as tireless. Amy steps to Webb's side, feeling it to be her place in very
truth. Sable Abram draws up next, with the great family sleigh, and in a
moment Alf is perched beside him. Then Leonard half smothers Johnnie and
Ned under the robes, and Maggie, about to pick her way through the snow,
finds herself taken up in strong arms, like one of the children, and is
with them. The chime of bells dies away in the distance. Wedding-bells
will be their echo.

       *       *       *       *       *

The merry Christmas-day has passed. Dr. and Mrs. Marvin, the Kev. Mr. and
Mrs. Barkdale, and other friends have come and gone with their greetings;
the old people are left alone beside their cheery fire.

"Here we are, mother, all by ourselves, just as we were once before on
Christmas night, when you were as fair and blooming as Amy or Gertrude.
Well, my dear, the long journey seems short to-night. I suppose the
reason is that you have been such good company."

"Dear old father, the journey would have been long and weary indeed, had
I not had your strong arm to lean upon, and a love that didn't fade with
my roses. There is only one short journey before us now, father, and then
we shall know fully the meaning of the 'good tidings of great joy'
forever."



THE END





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