"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."
"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."
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.
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?"
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."
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.
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.
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. la 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."
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."