One Saturday morning Alf rushed in, announcing with breathless haste that "Kitten had a calf." Kitten was a fawn-colored Alderney, the favorite of the barnyard, and so gentle that even Johnnie did not fear to rub her rough nose, scratch her between her horns, or bring her wisps of grass when she was tied near the house. Her calf was unlike all other calves. There was no rest until Amy had seen it, and she admitted that she had never looked upon a more innocent and droll little visage. At the children's pleading the infant cow was given to them, but they were warned to leave it for the present to Abram and Kitten's care, for the latter was inclined to act like a veritable old cat when any one made too free with her bovine baby.
This bright Saturday occurring about the middle of the month completely enthroned spring in the children's hearts. The air was sweet with fragrance from the springing grass and swelling buds, and so still and humid that sounds from other farms and gardens, and songs from distant fields and groves, blended softly yet distinctly with those of the immediate vicinage. The sunshine was warm, but veiled by fleecy clouds; and as the day advanced every member of the family was out-of-doors, even to Mrs. Clifford, for whom had been constructed, under her husband's direction, a low garden-chair which was so light that even Alf or Amy could draw it easily along the walks. From it she stepped down on her first visit of the year to her beloved flower-beds, which Alf and Burt were patting in order for her, the latter blending with, his filial attentions the hope of seeing more of Amy. Nor was he unrewarded, for his manner toward his mother, whom he alternately petted and chaffed, while at the same time doing her bidding with manly tenderness, won the young girl's hearty good-will. The only drawback was his inclination to pet her furtively even more. She wished that Webb was preparing the flower-beds, for then there would be nothing to perplex or worry her. But he, with his father and Leonard, was more prosaically employed, for they were at work in the main or vegetable garden. It was with a sense of immense relief that she heard Mrs. Clifford, after she had given her final directions, and gloated over the blooming crocuses and daffodils, and the budding hyacinths and tulips, express a wish to join her husband.
"Come back soon," pleaded Burt.
"I'm your mother's pony to-day," she replied, and hastened away. A wide path bordered on either side by old-fashioned perennials and shrubbery led down through the garden. Amy breathed more freely as soon as she gained it, and at once gave herself up to the enjoyment of the pleasing sights and sounds on every side. Mr. Clifford was the picture of placid content as he sat on a box in the sun, cutting potatoes into the proper size for planting. Johnnie was perched on another box near, chattering incessantly as she handed him the tubers, and asking no other response than the old gentleman's amused smile. Leonard with a pair of stout horses was turning up the rich black mould, sinking his plow to the beam, and going twice in a furrow. It would require a very severe drought to affect land pulverized thus deeply, for under Leonard's thorough work the root pasturage was extended downward eighteen inches. On the side of the plot nearest to the house Webb was breaking the lumps and levelling the ground with a heavy iron-toothed rake, and also forking deeply the ends of the furrows that had been trampled by the turning horses. Leaving Mrs. Clifford chatting and laughing with her husband and Johnnie, Amy stood in the walk opposite to him, and he said presently:
"Come, Amy, you can help me. You said you wanted a finger in our horticultural pies, and no doubt had in your mind nothing less plebeian than flower seeds and roses. Will your nose become retrousse if I ask you to aid me in planting parsnips, oyster-plant, carrots, and—think of it!—onions?"
"The idea of my helping you, when the best I can do is to amuse you with my ignorance! But I'll put on no airs. I do not look forward to an exclusive diet of roses, and am quite curious to know what part I can have in earning my daily vegetables."
"A useful and typical part—that of keeping straight men and things in general. Wait a little;" and taking up a coiled garden line, he attached one end of it to a stout stake pressed firmly into the ground. He then walked rapidly over the levelled soil to the further side of the plot, drew the line "taut," as the sailors say, and tied it to another stake. He next returned toward Amy, making a shallow drill by drawing a sharp-pointed hoe along under the line. From a basket near, containing labelled packages of seeds, he made a selection, and poured into a bowl something that looked like gunpowder grains, and sowed it rapidly in the little furrow. "Now, Amy," he cried, from the further side of the plot, "do you see that measuring-stick at your feet? Place one end of it against the stake to which the line is fastened, and move the stake with the line forward to the other end of the measuring-stick, just as I am doing here. That's it. You now see how many steps you save me, and how much faster I can get on."
"Are those black-looking grains you are sowing seed?"
"Indeed they are, as a few weeks may prove to you by more senses than one. These are the seeds of a vegetable inseparable in its associations from classic Italy and renowned in sacred story. You may not share in the longings of the ancient Hebrews, but with its aid I could easily bring tears of deep feeling to your eyes."
"The vegetable is more pungent than your wit, Webb," she laughed; but she stood near the path at the end of the line, which she moved forward from time to time as requested, meanwhile enjoying an April day that lacked few elements of perfection.
The garden is one of the favorite haunts of the song-sparrow. In the flower-border near, Amy would hear such a vigorous scratching among the leaves that she might well believe that a motherly hen was at work, but presently one of these little sober-coated creatures that Thoreau well calls a "ground-bird" would fly to the top of a plum-tree and trill out a song as sweet as the perfume that came from the blossoming willows not far away. The busy plows made it a high festival for the robins, for with a confidence not misplaced they followed near in the furrows that Leonard was making in the garden, and that Abram was turning on an adjacent hillside, and not only the comparatively harmless earth-worms suffered, but also the pestiferous larvae of the May-beetle, the arch-enemy of the strawberry plant. Even on that day of such varied and etherealized fragrance, the fresh, wholesome odor of the upturned earth was grateful. Suddenly Webb straightened himself from the sowing of the scale-like parsnip-seed in which he was then engaged, and said, "Listen." Remote yet distinct, like a dream of a bird-song, came a simple melody from a distant field. "Welcome," he said. "That's our meadow-lark, Amy; not equal to your skylark, I admit. Indeed, it is not a lark at all, for Dr. Marvin says it belongs to the oriole family. Brief and simple as is its song, I think you will agree with me that spring brings few more lovely sounds. That is the first one that I have heard this year."
She scarcely more than caught the ethereal song before Burt and Alf came down the path, trundling immense wheelbarrow-loads of the prunings of the shrubbery around the house. These were added to a great pile of brush and refuse that had accumulated on the other side of the walk, and to Alf was given the wild excitement of igniting the inflammable mass, and soon there was a fierce crackling as the flames devoured their way into the loose dry centre of the rejected debris of the previous year. Then to Alf and Johnnie's unmeasured delight they were permitted to improvise a miniature prairie fire. A part of the garden had been left to grow very weedy in the preceding summer, and they were shown how that by lighting the dry, dead material on the windward side, the flames, driven by a gentle western breeze, would sweep across the entire plot, leaving it bare and blackened, ready for the fertilizers and the plow. With merry cries they followed the sweeping line of fire, aiding it forward by catching up on iron rakes burning wisps and transferring them to spots in the weedy plot that did not kindle readily. Little Ned, clinging to the hand of Maggie, who had joined the family in the garden, looked on with awe-struck eyes. From the bonfire and the consuming weeds great volumes of smoke poured up and floated away, the air was full of pungent odors, and the robins called vociferously back and forth through the garden, their alarmed and excited cries vying with the children's shouts. In half an hour only a faint haze of smoke to the eastward indicated the brief conflagration; the family had gone to the house for their one-o'clock dinner, and the birds were content with the normal aspect of the old garden in April.
The promise of the bright spring day was not fulfilled. Cold rains followed by frosty mornings and high cool winds prevailed with depressing persistency. It required almost as much vigor, courage, and activity as had been essential in March to enjoy out-door life. In many of her aspects Nature appeared almost to stand still and wait for more genial skies, and yet for those who watched to greet and to welcome, the mighty impulse of spring manifested itself in many ways. The currant and gooseberry bushes, as if remembering their original haunts in dim, cold, boggy forests, put forth their foliage without hesitation. From the elm-trees swung the little pendent blossoms that precede the leaves. The lilacs and some other hardy shrubs grew green and fragrant daily. Nothing daunted, the crocuses, hyacinths, and tulips pushed upward their succulent leaves with steady resolution. In the woods the flowers had all kinds of experiences. On the north side of Storm King it was still winter, with great areas of December's ice unmelted. On the south side of the mountain, spring almost kept pace with the calendar. The only result was that the hardy little children of April, on which had hung more snow-flakes than dew, obtained a longer lease of blooming life, and could have their share in garlanding the May Queen. They bravely faced the frosty nights and drenching rains, becoming types of those lives whose beauty is only enhanced by adversity—of those who make better use of a little sunny prosperity to bless the world than others on whom good-fortune ever seems to wait.
The last Saturday of the month was looked forward to with hopeful expectations, as a genial earnest of May, and a chance for out-door pleasures; but with it came a dismal rain-storm, which left the ground as cold, wet, and sodden as it had been a month before. The backward season, of which the whole country was now complaining, culminated on the following morning, which ushered in a day of remarkable vicissitude. By rapid transition the rain passed into sleet, then snow, which flurried down so rapidly that the land grew white and wintry, making it almost impossible to imagine that two months of spring had passed. By 10 A.M. the whirling flakes ceased, but a more sullen, leaden, March-like sky never lowered over a cold, dripping earth. On the north side of the house a white hyacinth was seen hanging its pendent blossoms half in and half out of the snow, and Alf, who in response to Dr. Marvin's suggestion was following some of the family fortunes among the homes in the trees, came in and said that he had found nests well hidden by a covering all too cold, with the resolute mother bird protecting her eggs, although chilled, wet, and shivering herself. By 1 P.M. the clouds grew thin, rolled away, and disappeared. The sun broke out with a determined warmth and power, and the snow vanished like a spectre of the long-past winter. The birds took heart, and their songs of exultation resounded from far and near. A warm south breeze sprang up and fanned Amy's cheek, as she, with the children and Burt, went out for their usual Sunday-afternoon walk. They found the flowers looking up hopefully, but with melted snow hanging like tears on their pale little faces. The sun at last sank into the unclouded west, illumining the sky with a warm, golden promise for the future. Amy gazed at its departing glory, but Burt looked at her—looked so earnestly, so wistfully, that she was full of compunction even while she welcomed the return of the children, which delayed the words that were trembling on his lips. He was ready, she was not; and he walked homeward at her side silent and depressed, feeling that the receptive, responsive spring was later in her heart than in Nature.
SHAD-FISHING BY PROXY
According to the almanac, May was on time to a second, but Nature seemed unaware of the fact. Great bodies of snow covered the Adirondack region, and not a little still remained all the way southward through the Catskills and the Highlands, about the headwaters of the Delaware, and its cold breath benumbed the land. Johnnie's chosen intimates had given her their suffrages as May Queen; but prudent Maggie had decided that the crowning ceremonies should not take place until May truly appeared, with its warmth and floral wealth. Therefore, on the first Saturday of the month, Leonard planned a half-holiday, which should not only compensate the disappointed children, but also give his busy wife a little outing. He had learned that the tide was right for crossing the shallows of the Moodna Creek, and they would all go fishing. Johnnie's friends and Dr. and Mrs. Marvin were invited, and great were the preparations. Reed and all kinds of poles were taken down from their hooks, or cut in a neighboring thicket, the country store was depleted of its stock of rusty hooks, and stray corks were fastened on the brown linen lines for floats. Burt disdained to take his scientific tackle, and indeed there was little use for it in Moodna Creek, but he joined readily in the frolic. He would be willing to fish indefinitely for even minnows, if at the same time there was a chance to angle for Amy. Some preferred to walk to the river, and with the aid of the family rockaway the entire party were at the boat-house before the sun had passed much beyond the meridian. Burt, from his intimate knowledge of the channel, acted as pilot, and was jubilant over the fact that Amy consented to take an oar with him and receive a lesson in rowing. Mrs. Marvin held the tiller-ropes, and the doctor was to use a pair of oars when requested to do so. Webb and Leonard took charge of the larger boat, of which Johnnie, as hostess, was captain, and a jolly group of little boys and girls made the echoes ring, while Ned, with his thumb in his mouth, clung close to his mother, and regarded the nautical expedition rather dubiously. They swept across the flats to the deeper water near Plum Point, and so up the Moodna, whose shores were becoming green with the rank growth of the bordering marsh. Passing under an old covered bridge they were soon skirting an island from which rose a noble grove of trees, whose swollen buds were only waiting for a warmer caress of the sun to unfold. Returning, they beached their boats below the bridge, under whose shadow the fish were fond of lying. The little people were disembarked, and placed at safe distances; for, if near, they would surely hook each other, if never a fin. Silence was enjoined, and there was a breathless hush for the space of two minutes; then began whispers more resonant than those of the stage, followed by acclamations as Johnnie pulled up a wriggling eel, of which she was in mortal terror. They all had good sport, however, for the smaller fry of the finny tribes that haunted the vicinity of the old bridge suffered from the well-known tendency of extreme youth to take everything into its mouth. Indeed, at that season, an immature sun-fish will take a hook if there is but a remnant of a worm upon it. The day was good for fishing, since thin clouds darkened the water. Amy was the heroine of the party, for Burt had furnished her with a long, light pole, and taught her to throw her line well away from the others. As a result she soon took, amidst excited plaudits, several fine yellow perch. At last Leonard shouted:
"You shall not have all the honors, Amy. I have a hook in my pocket that will catch bigger fish than you have seen to-day. Come, the tide is going out, and we must go out of the creek with it unless we wish to spend the night on a sand-bar. I shall now try my luck at shad-fishing over by Polopel's Island."
The prospect of crossing the river and following the drift-nets down into the Highlands was a glad surprise to all, and they were soon in Newburgh Bay, whose broad lake-like surface was unruffled by a breath. The sun, declining toward the west, scattered rose-hues among the clouds. Sloops and schooners had lost steerage-way, and their sails flapped idly against the masts. The grind of oars between the thole-pins came distinctly across the water from far-distant boats, while songs and calls of birds, faint and etherealized, reached them from the shores. Rowing toward a man rapidly paying out a net from the stern of his boat they were soon hailed by Mr. Marks, who with genial good-nature invited them to see the sport. He had begun throwing his net over in the middle of the river, his oarsman rowing eastward with a slight inclination toward the south, for the reason that the tide is swifter on the western side. The aim is to keep the net as straight as possible and at right angles with the tide. The two boats were soon following Mr. Marks on either side, the smooth water and the absence of wind enabling them to keep near and converse without effort. Away in their wake bobbed the cork floats in an irregular line, and from these floats, about twenty feet below the surface, was suspended the net, which extended down thirty or forty feet further, being kept in a vertical position by iron rings strung along its lower edge at regular intervals. Thus the lower side of the net was from fifty to sixty feet below the surface. In shallow water narrower nets are rigged to float vertically much nearer the surface. Mr. Marks explained that his net was about half a mile long, adding,
"It's fun fishing on a day like this, but it's rather tough in a gale of wind, with your eyes half blinded by rain, and the waves breaking into your boat. Yes, we catch just as many then, perhaps more, for there are fewer men out, and I suppose the weather is always about the same, except as to temperature, down where the shad are. The fish don't mind wet weather; neither must we if we make a business of catching them."
"Do you always throw out your net from the west shore toward the east?" Webb asked.
"No, we usually pay out against the wind. With the wind the boat is apt to go too fast. The great point is to keep the net straight and not all tangled and wobbled up. Passing boats bother us, too. Sometimes a float will catch on a paddle-wheel, and like enough half of the net will be torn away. A pilot with any human feeling will usually steer one side, and give a fellow a chance, and we can often bribe the skipper of sailing-craft by holding up a shad and throwing it aboard as he tacks around us. As a rule, however, boats of all kinds pass over a net without doing any harm. Occasionally a net breaks from the floats and drags on the bottom. This is covered with cinders thrown out by steamers, and they play the mischief."
"Do the fish swim against the tide?"
"Usually, but they come in on both sides."
"Mr. Marks, how can you catch fish in a net that is straight up and down?" Amy asked.
"You'll soon see, but I'll explain. The meshes of the net will stretch five inches. A shad swims into one of these and then, like many others that go into things, finds he can't back out, for his gills catch on the sides of the mesh and there he hangs. Occasionally a shad will just tangle himself up and so be caught, and sometimes we take a large striped bass in this way."
In answer to a question of Burt's he continued: "I just let my net float with the tide as you see, giving it a pull from one end or the other now and then to keep it as straight and as near at right angles with the river as possible. When the tide stops running out and turns a little we begin at one end of the net and pull it up, taking out the fish, at the same time laying it carefully in folds on a platform in the stern-sheets, so as to prevent any tangles. If the net comes up clear and free, I may throw it in again and float back with the tide. So far from being able to depend on this, we often have to go ashore where there is a smooth beach before our drift is over and disentangle our net. There, now, I'm through, with paying out. Haven't you noticed the floats bobbing here and there?"
"We've been too busy listening and watching you," said Leonard.
"Well, now, watch the floats. If you see one bob under and wobble, a shad has struck the net near it, and I can go and take him out. In smooth water it's like fishing with one of your little cork bobblers there on your lines. I'll give the shad to the first one that sees a float bob under."
Alf nearly sprang out of the boat as he pointed and shouted, "There, there."
Laughing good-naturedly, Mr. Marks lifted the net beneath the float, and, sure enough, there was a great roe-shad hanging by his gills, and Alf gloated over his supper, already secured.
The fish were running well, and there were excited calls and frantic pointings, in which at first even the older members of the party joined, and every few moments a writhing shad flashed in the slanting rays as it was tossed into the boat. Up and down the long, irregular line of floats the boats passed and repassed until excitement verged toward satiety, and the sun, near the horizon, with a cloud canopy of crimson and gold, warned the merry fishers by proxy that their boats should be turned homeward. Leonard pulled out what he termed his silver hook, and supplied not only the Clifford family, but all of Johnnie's guests, with fish so fresh that they had as yet scarcely realized that they were out of water.
"Now, Amy," said Burt, "keep stroke with me," adding, in a whisper, "no fear but that we can pull well together."
Her response was, "One always associates a song with rowing. Come, strike up, and let us keep the boats abreast that all may join."
He, well content, started a familiar boating song, to which the splash of their oars made musical accompaniment. A passing steamer saluted them, and a moment later the boats rose gracefully over the swells. The glassy river flashed back the crimson of the clouds, the eastern slopes of the mountains donned their royal purple, the intervening shadows of valleys making the folds of their robes. As they approached the shore the resonant song of the robins blended with the human voices. Burt, however, heard only Amy's girlish soprano, and saw but the pearl of her teeth through her parted lips, the rose in her cheeks, and the snow of her neck.
Final words were spoken and all were soon at home. Maggie took the household helm with a fresh and vigorous grasp. What a supper she improvised! The maids never dawdled when she directed, and by the time the hungry fishermen were ready, the shad that two hours before had been swimming deep in the Hudson lay browned to a turn on the ample platter. "It is this quick transition that gives to game fish their most exquisite flavor," Burt remarked.
"Are shad put down among the game fish?" his father asked.
"Yes; they were included not very long ago, and most justly, too, as I can testify to-night. I never tasted anything more delicious, except trout. If a shad were not so bony it would be almost perfection when eaten under the right conditions. Not many on the Hudson are aware of the fact, perhaps, but angling for them is fine sport in some rivers. They will take a fly in the Connecticut and Housatonic; but angle-worms and other bait are employed in the Delaware and Southern rivers. The best time to catch them is early in the morning, and from six to eight in the evening. At dusk one may cast for them in still water, as for trout. The Hudson is too big, I suppose, and the water too deep, although I see no reason why the young fry should not be caught in our river as well as in the Delaware. I have read of their biting voraciously in September at a short distance above Philadelphia."
"Do you mean to say that our rivers are full of shad in August and September?" Leonard asked.
"Yes; that is, of young shad on the way to the sea. The females that are running up now will spawn in the upper and shallow waters of the river, and return to the ocean by the end of June, and in the autumn the small fry will also go to the sea, the females to remain there two years. The males will come back next spring, and these young males are called 'chicken shad' on the Connecticut. Multitudes of these half-grown fish are taken in seines, and sold as herrings or 'alewives'; for the true herring does not run up into fresh water. Young shad are said to have teeth, and they live largely on insects, while the full-grown fish have no teeth, and feed chiefly on animalcules that form the greater part of the slimy growths that cover nearly everything that is long under water."
"Well, I never had so much shad before in my life," said his father, laughing, and pushing lack his chair; "and, Burt, I have enjoyed those you have served up in the water almost as much as those dished under Maggie's superintendence."
"I should suppose that the present mode of fishing with drift-nets was cheaper and more profitable than the old method of suspending the nets between poles," Leonard remarked.
"It is indeed," Burt continued, vivaciously, for he observed that Amy was listening with interest. "Poles, too, form a serious obstruction. Once, years ago, I was standing near the guards of a steamboat, when I heard the most awful grating, rasping sound, and a moment later a shad-pole gyrated past me with force enough to brain an elephant had it struck him. It was good fun, though, in old times to go out and see them raise the nets, for they often came up heavy with fish. Strange to say, a loon was once pulled up with the shad. Driven by fear, it must have dived so vigorously as to entangle itself, for there it hung with its head and one leg fast. I suppose that the last moment of consciousness that the poor bird had was one of strong surprise."
MAY AND GIRLHOOD
May came in reality the following morning. Perhaps she thought that the leisure of Sunday would secure her a more appreciative welcome. The wind no longer blew from the chill and still snowy North, but from lands that had long since responded to the sun's genial power. Therefore, the breeze that came and went fitfully was like a warm, fragrant breath, and truly it seemed to breathe life and beauty into all things. During the morning hours the cluster buds of the cherry burst their varnished-looking sheath, revealing one-third of the little green stems on which the blossoms would soon appear. The currant-bushes were hanging out their lengthening racemes, and the hum of many bees proved that honey may be gathered even from gooseberry-bushes, thus suggesting a genial philosophy. The sugar-maples were beginning to unfold their leaves and to dangle their emerald gold flowers from long, drooping pedicles. Few objects have more exquisite and delicate beauty than this inflorescence when lighted up by the low afternoon sun. The meadows and oat fields were passing into a vivid green, and the hardy rye had pushed on so resolutely in all weathers, that it was becoming billowy under the wind. All through the week the hues of life and beauty became more and more apparent upon the face of Nature, and by the following Saturday May had provided everything in perfection for Johnnie's coronation ceremonies.
For weeks past there had been distinguished arrivals from the South almost daily. Some of these songsters, like the fox-sparrow, sojourned a few weeks, favoring all listeners with their sweet and simple melodies; but the chief musician of the American forests, the hermit thrush, passed silently, and would not deign to utter a note of his unrivalled minstrelsy until he had reached his remote haunts at the North. Dr. Marvin evidently had a grudge against this shy, distant bird, and often complained, "Why can't he give us a song or two as he lingers here in his journey? I often see him flitting about in the mountains, and have watched him by the hour with the curiosity that prompts one to look at a great soprano or tenor, hoping that he might indulge me with a brief song as a sample of what he could do, but he was always royally indifferent and reserved. I am going to the Adirondacks on purpose to hear him some day. There's the winter wren, too-saucy, inquisitive little imp!—he was here all winter, and has left us without vouchsafing a note. But, then, great singers are a law unto themselves the world over."
But the doctor had small cause for complaint, for there are few regions more richly endowed with birds than the valley of the Hudson. As has been seen, it is the winter resort of not a few, and is, moreover, a great highway of migration, for birds are ever prone to follow the watercourses that run north and south. The region also affords so wide a choice of locality and condition that the tastes of very many birds are suited. There are numerous gardens and a profusion of fruit for those that are half domesticated; orchards abounding in old trees with knotholes, admirably fitted for summer homes; elms on which to hang the graceful pensile nests—"castles in air," as Burroughs calls them; meadows in which the lark, vesper sparrow, and bobolink can disport; and forests stretching up into the mountains, wherein the shyest birds can enjoy all the seclusion they desire, content to sing unheard, as the flowers around them bloom unseen, except by those who love them well enough to seek them in their remotest haunts.
The week which preceded the May party was a memorable one to Amy, for during its sunny days she saw an American spring in its perfection. Each morning brought rich surprises to her, Johnnie, and Alf, and to Webb an increasing wonder that he had never before truly seen the world in which he lived. The pent-up forces of Nature, long restrained, seemed finding new expression every hour. Tulips opened their gaudy chalices to catch the morning dew. Massive spikes of hyacinths distilled a rich perfume that was none too sweet in the open air. Whenever Amy stepped from the door it seemed that some new flower had opened and some new development of greenery and beauty had been revealed. But the crowning glory in the near landscape were the fruit trees. The cherry boughs grew white every day, and were closely followed by the plum and pear and the pink-hued peach blossoms. Even Squire Bartley's unattractive place was transformed for a time into fairyland; but he, poor man, saw not the blossoms, and the birds and boys stole his fruit. Amy wondered at the wealth of flowers that made many of the trees as white as they had been on the snowiest day of winter, and Johnnie revelled in them, often climbing up into some low-branched tree, that she might bury herself in their beauty, and inhale their fragrance in long breaths of delight. The bees that filled the air about her with their busy hum never molested her, believing, no doubt, that she had as good a right as themselves to enjoy the sweets in her way. After all, it was Mrs. Clifford, perhaps, who obtained the profoundest enjoyment from the season. Seated by her window or in a sunny corner of the piazza, she would watch the unfolding buds as if she were listening to some sweet old story that had grown dearer with every repetition. Indeed, this was true, for with the blossoms of every year were interwoven the memories of a long life, and their associations had scarcely ever been more to her heart than the new ones now forming. She often saw, with her children and grandchildren, the form of a tall girl passing to and fro, and to her loving eyes Amy seemed to be the fairest and sweetest flower of this gala period. She, and indeed they all, had observed Burt's strongly manifested preference, but, with innate refinement and good sense, there had been a tacit agreement to appear blind. The orphan girl should not be annoyed by even the most delicate raillery, but the old lady and her husband could not but feel the deepest satisfaction that Bart was making so wise a choice. They liked Amy all the better because she was so little disposed to sentiment, and proved that she was not to be won easily.
But they all failed to understand her, and gave her credit for a maturity that she did not possess. In her happy, healthful country life the girlish form that had seemed so fragile when she first came to them was taking on the rounded lines of womanhood. Why should she not be wooed like other girls at her age? Burt was further astray than any one else, and was even inclined to complain mentally that her nature was cold and unresponsive. And yet her very reserve and elusiveness increased his passion, which daily acquired a stronger mastery. Webb alone half guessed the truth in regard to her. As time passed, and he saw the increasing evidences of Burt's feeling, he was careful that his manner should be strictly fraternal toward Amy, for his impetuous brother was not always disposed to be reasonable even in his normal condition, and now he was afflicted with a malady that has often brought to shame the wisdom of the wisest. The elder brother saw how easily Burt's jealousy could be aroused, and therefore denied himself many an hour of the young girl's society, although it caused him a strange little heartache to do so. But he was very observant, for Amy was becoming a deeply interesting study. He saw and appreciated her delicate fence with Burt, in which tact, kindness, and a little girlish brusqueness were almost equally blended. Was it the natural coyness of a high-spirited girl, who could be won only by long and patient effort? or was it an instinctive self-defence from a suit that she could not repulse decisively without giving pain to those she loved? Why was she so averse? Their home-life, even at that busy season, gave him opportunities to see her often, and glimmerings of the truth began to dawn upon him. He saw that she enjoyed the society of Alf and Johnnie almost as much as that of the other members of the family, that her delight at every new manifestation of spring was as unforced as that of the children, while at the same time it was an intelligent and questioning interest. The beauty of the world without impressed her deeply, as it did Johnnie, but to the latter it was a matter of course, while to Amy it was becoming an inviting mystery. The little girl would bring some new flower from the woods or garden, the first of the season, in contented triumph, but to Amy the flower had a stronger interest. It represented something unknown, a phase of life which it was the impulse of her developing mind to explore. Her botany was not altogether satisfactory, for analysis and classification do not reveal to us a flower or plant any more than the mention of a name and family connection makes known individual character. Her love for natural objects was too real to be satisfied with a few scientific facts about them. If a plant, tree, or bird, interested her she would look at it with a loving, lingering glance until she felt that she was learning to know it somewhat as she would recognize a friend. The rapid changes which each day brought were like new chapters in a story, or new verses in a poem. She watched with admiring wonder the transition of buds into blossoms; and their changes of form and color. She shared in Alf's excitement over the arrival of every new bird from the South, and, having a good ear for music, found absorbing pleasure in learning and estimating the quality and characteristics of their various songs. Their little oddities appealed to her sense of humor. A pair of cat-birds that had begun their nest near the house received from her more ridicule than admiration. "They seem to be regular society birds and gossips," she said, "and I can never step out-of-doors but I feel that they are watching me, and trying to attract my attention. They have a pretty song, but they seem to have learned it by heart, and as soon as they are through they make that horrid noise, as if in their own natural tone they were saying something disagreeable about you."
But on the morning of Johnnie's coronation she was wakened by songs as entrancing as they were unfamiliar. Running to the window, she saw darting through the trees birds of such a brilliant flame color that they seemed direct from the tropics, and their notes were almost as varied as their colors. She speedily ceased to heed them, however, for from the edge of the nearest grove came a melody so ethereal and sustained that it thrilled her with the delight that one experiences when some great singer lifts up her voice with a power and sweetness that we feel to be divine. At the same moment she saw Alf running toward the house. Seeing her at the window, he shouted, "Amy, the orioles and the wood-thrushes—the finest birds of the year—have come. Hurry up and go with me to the grove yonder."
Soon after Webb, returning from a distant field to breakfast, met her near the grove. She was almost as breathless and excited as the boy, and passed him with a bright hurried smile, while she pressed on after her guide with noiseless steps lest the shy songster should be frightened. He looked after her and listened, feeling that eye and ear could ask for no fuller enchantment. At last she came back to him with the fresh loveliness of the morning in her face, and exclaimed, "I have seen an ideal bird, and he wears his plumage like a quiet-toned elegant costume that simply suggests a perfect form. He was superbly indifferent, and scarcely looked at us until we came too near, and then, with a reserved dignity, flew away. He is the true poet of the woods, and would sing just as sweetly if there was never a listener."
"I knew he would not disappoint you. Yes, he is a poet, and your true aristocrat, who commands admiration without seeking it," Webb replied.
"I am sure he justifies all your praises, past and present. Oh, isn't the morning lovely—so fresh, dewy, and fragrant? and the world looks so young and glad!"
"You also look young and glad this morning, Amy."
"How can one help it? This May beauty makes me feel as young as Alf," she replied, placing her hand on the boy's shoulder.
Her face was flushed with exercise; her step buoyant; her eyes were roaming over the landscape tinted with fruit blossoms and the expanding foliage. Webb saw in what deep accord her spirit was with the season, and he thought, "She is young—in the very May of her life. She is scarcely more ready for the words that Burt would speak than little Johnnie. I wish he would wait till the girl becomes a woman;" and then for some reason he sighed deeply. Amy gave him an arch look, and said:
"Then came from the depths, Webb. What secret sorrow can you have on a day like this?"
He laughed, but made no reply.
"Ah, listen!" she cried, "what bird is that? Oh, isn't it beautiful?— almost equal to the thrush's song. He seems to sing as if his notes were written for him in couplets." She spoke at intervals, looking toward the grove they had just left, and when the bird paused Webb replied:
"That is the wood-thrush's own cousin, and a distinguished member of the thrush family, the brown-thrasher. Well, Johnnie," he added, to the little girl who had come to meet them, "you are honored to-day. Three of our most noted minstrels have arrived just in time to furnish music for the May Queen."
But Johnnie was not surprised, only pleased, as Webb and others congratulated her. She would be queen that day with scarcely more self-consciousness than one of the flowers that decked her. It was the occasion, the carnival of spring, that occupied her thoughts, and, since the fairest blossoms of the season were to be gathered, why should not the finest birds be present also?
Feeling that he had lost an opportunity in the improvised festival of the maple-sugar grove, Burt resolved to make the most of this occasion, and he had the wisdom to decide upon a course that relieved Amy of not a little foreboding. He determined to show his devotion by thoughtful considerateness, by making the day so charming and satisfactory as to prove that he could be a companion after her own heart. And he succeeded fairly well for a time, only the girl's intuition divined his motive and guessed his sentiments. She was ever in fear that his restraint would give way. And yet she felt that she ought to reward him for what she mentally termed his "sensible behavior" and indicate that such should be his course in the future. But this was a delicate and difficult task. In spite of all the accumulated beauty of the season the day was less bright, less full of the restful, happy abandon of the previous one in March, when Webb had been her undemonstrative attendant. He, with Leonard, at that busy period found time to look in upon the revellers in the woods but once. Mr. Clifford spent more time with them, but the old gentleman was governed by his habit of promptness, and the time called for despatch.
For the children, however, it was a revel that left nothing to be desired. They had decided that it should be a congress of flowers, from the earliest that had bloomed to those now opening in the sunniest haunts. Alf, with one or two other adventurous boys, had climbed the northern face of old Storm King, and brought away the last hepaticas, fragrant clusters of arbutus, and dicentras, for "pattykers, arbuties, and Dutcher's breeches," as Ned called them, were favorites that could not be spared. On a sunny slope dogwood, well advanced, was found. There were banks white with the rue-anemone, and they were marked, that some of the little tuber-like roots might be taken up in the fall for forcing in the house. Myriads of violets gave a purple tinge to parts of a low meadow near, and chubby hands were stained with the last of the star-like bloodroot blossoms, many of which dropped white petals on their way to Johnnie's throne. Some brought handfuls of columbine from rocky nooks, and others the purple trillium, that is near of kin to Burroughs's white "wake-robin." There were so many Jacks-in-the-pulpit that one might fear a controversy, but the innumerable dandelions and dogtooth violets which carpeted the ground around the throne diffused so mellow a light that all the blossoms felt that they looked well and were amiable. But it would require pages even to mention all the flowers that were brought from gardens, orchards, meadows, groves, and rugged mountain slopes. Each delegation of blossoms and young tinted foliage was received by Amy, as mistress of ceremonies, and arranged in harmonious positions; while Johnnie, quite forgetful of her royalty, was as ready to help at anything as the humblest maid of honor. All the flowers were treated tenderly except the poor purple violets, and these were slaughtered by hundreds, for the projecting spur under the curved stem at the base of the flower enabled the boys to hook them together, and "fight roosters," as they termed it. Now and then some tough-stemmed violet would "hook-off" a dozen blue heads before losing its own, and it became the temporary hero. At last the little queen asserted her power by saying, with a sudden flash in her dark blue eyes, that she "wouldn't have any more fighting roosters. She didn't think it was nice."
By one o'clock the queen had been crowned, the lunch had met the capacity of even the boys, and the children, circling round the throne, were singing: "Oats, peas, beans, and barley grows," and kindred rhymes, their voices rising and falling with the breeze, the birds warbling an accompaniment. Webb and Leonard, at work in a field not far away, often paused to listen, the former never failing to catch Amy's clear notes as she sat on a rock, the gentle power behind the throne, that had maintained peace and good-will among all the little fractious subjects.
The day had grown almost sultry, and early in the afternoon there was a distant jar of thunder. Burt, who from a bed of dry leaves had been watching Amy, started up and saw that there was an ominous cloud in the west. She agreed with him that it would be prudent to return at once, for she was growing weary and depressed. Burt, with all his effort to be quietly and unobtrusively devoted, had never permitted her to become unconscious of his presence and feeling. Therefore her experience had been a divided one. She could not abandon herself to her hearty sympathy with the children and their pleasure, for he, by manner at least, ever insisted that she was a young lady, and the object of thoughts all too warm. Her nature was so fine that it was wounded and annoyed by an unwelcome admiration. She did not wish to think about it, but was not permitted to forget it. She had been genial, merry, yet guarded toward him all day, and now had begun to long for the rest and refuge of her own room. He felt that he had not made progress, and was also depressed, and he showed this so plainly on their way home that she was still more perplexed and troubled. "If he would only be sensible, and treat me as Webb does!" she exclaimed, as she threw herself on the lounge in her room, exhausted rather than exhilarated by the experience of the day.
CHAPTER XXIX NATURE'S WORKSHOP
During the hour she slept an ideal shower crossed the sky. In the lower strata of air there was scarcely any wind, and the rain came down vertically, copiously, and without beating violence. The sun-warmed earth took in every drop like a great sponge.
Beyond the first muttered warning to the little May party in the grove there was no thunder. The patter of the rain was a gentle lullaby to Amy, and at last she was wakened by a ray of sunlight playing upon her face, yet she still heard the soft fall of rain. With the elasticity of youth, she sprang up, feeling that the other cloud that had shadowed her thoughts might soon pass also. As she went singing down the stairway, Webb called from the front door: "Amy, look here! I was hoping you would come. See that rainbow." The cloud still hung heavily over the eastern mountains, while against it was a magnificent arch, and so distinctly defined that its feet appeared to rest on the two banks of the river. They watched it in silence until it faded away, and the whole scene, crowned with flowers and opening foliage tinted like blossoms of varied hues, was gemmed with crystals by the now unclouded sun, for the soft rain had clung to everything, from the loftiest tree-top to the tiniest spire of grass. Flame-like orioles were flashing through the perfumed air. Robins, with their heads lifted heavenward, were singing as rapturously as if they were saints rather than rollicking gormandizers. Every bird that had a voice was lifting it up in thanksgiving, but clear, sweet, and distinct above them all came the notes of the wood-thrush, with his Beethoven-like melody.
"Have you no words for a scene like this, Webb?" she asked, at last.
"It is beyond all words, Amy. It is one of nature's miracles. My wonder exceeds even my admiration, for the greater part of this infinite variety of beauty is created out of so few materials and by so simple yet mysterious a method that I can scarcely believe it, although I see it and know it. Men have always agreed to worship the genius which could achieve the most with the least. And yet the basis of nearly all we see is a microscopic cell endowed with essential powers. That large apple-tree yonder, whose buds are becoming so pink, started from one of these minute cells, and all the growth, beauty, and fruitfulness since attained were the result of the power of this one cell to add to itself myriads of like cells, which form the whole structure. It is cell adding cells that is transforming the world around us." He spoke earnestly, and almost as if he were thinking aloud, and he looked like one in the presence of a mystery that awed him. The hue of Amy's eyes deepened, and her face flushed in her quickened interest. Her own mind had been turning to kindred thoughts and questionings. She had passed beyond the period when a mind like hers could be satisfied with the mere surface of things, and Webb's direct approach to the very foundation principles of what she saw sent a thrill through all her nerves as an heroic deed would have done.
"Can you not show me one of those cells with your microscope?" she asked, eagerly.
"Yes, easily, and some of its contents through the cell's transparent walls, as, for instance, the minute grains of chlorophyll, that is, the green of leaves. All the hues of foliage and flowers are caused by what the cells contain, and these, to a certain extent, can be seen and analyzed. But there is one thing within the cell which I cannot show you, and which has never been seen, and yet it accounts for everything, and is the architect of all—life. When we reach the cell we are at the threshold of this mysterious presence. We know that it is within. We can see its work, for its workshop is under our eye, and in this minute shop it is building all the vegetation of the world, but the artisan itself ever remains invisible."
"Ah, Webb, do not say artisan, but rather artist. Does not the beauty all around us prove it? Surely there is but one explanation, the one papa taught me: it is the power of God. He is in the little as well as in the great. Do you not believe so, Webb?"
"Well, Amy," he replied, smilingly, "the faith taught you by your father is, to my mind, more rational than any of the explanations that I have read, and I have studied several. But then I know little, indeed, compared with multitudes of others. I am sure, however, that the life of God is in some way the source of all the life we see. But perplexing questions arise on every side. Much of life is so repulsive and noxious— But there! what a fog-bank I am leading you into this crystal May evening! Most young girls would vote me an insufferable bore should I talk to them in this style."
"So much the worse for the young girls then. I should think they would feel that no compliment could exceed that of being talked to as if they had brains. But I do not wish to put on learned airs. You know how ignorant I am of even the beginnings of this knowledge. All that I can say is that I am not content to be ignorant. The curiosity of Mother Eve is growing stronger every day; and is it strange that it should turn toward the objects, so beautiful and yet so mysterious, that meet my eyes on every side?"
"No," said he, musingly, "the strange thing is that people have so little curiosity in regard to their surroundings. Why, multitudes of intelligent persons are almost as indifferent as the cattle that browse around among the trees and flowers. But I am a sorry one to preach. I once used to investigate things, but did not see them. I have thought about it very much this spring. It is said that great painters and sculptors study anatomy as well as outward form. Perhaps here is a good hint for those who are trying to appreciate nature. I am not so shallow as to imagine that I can ever understand nature any more than I can you with your direct, honest gaze. So to the thoughtful mystery is ever close at hand, but it seems no little thing to trace back what one sees as far as one can, and you have made me feel that it is a great thing to see the Divine Artist's finished work."
They were now joined by others, and the perfect beauty of the evening as it slowly faded into night attracted much attention from all the family. The new moon hung in the afterglow of the western sky, and as the dusk deepened the weird notes of the whip-poor-will were heard for the first time from the mountain-sides.
At the supper-table Leonard beamed on every one. "A rain like this, after a week of sunshine has warmed the earth" he exclaimed, "is worth millions to the country. We can plant our corn next week."
"Yes," added his father, "the old Indian sign, the unfolding of the oak leaves, indicates that it is now safe to plant. Next week will be a busy one. After long years of observation I am satisfied that the true secret of success in farming is the doing of everything at just the right time. Crops put in too early or too late often partially fail; but if the right conditions are complied with from the beginning, they start with a vigor which is not lost until maturity."
Burt indulged in a gayety that was phenomenal even for him, but after supper he disappeared. Amy retired to her room early, but she sat a long time at her window and looked out into the warm, fragrant night. She had forgotten poor Burt, who was thinking of her, as in his unrest he rode mile after mile, holding his spirited horse down to a walk. She had almost forgotten Webb, but she thought deeply of his words, of the life that was working all around her so silently and yet so powerfully. Unseen it had created the beauty she had enjoyed that day. From the very contrast of ideas it made her think of death, of her father, who once had been so strong and full of life. The mystery of one seemed as great as that of the other, and a loneliness such as she had not felt before for months depressed her.
"I wish I could talk to Webb again," she thought. "He says he does not understand me. Little wonder; I do not understand myself. It would seem that when one began to think nothing that appeared simple before is understood; but his words are strong and assured. He leads one to the boundaries of the known, and then says, quietly, we can go no further; but he makes you feel that what is beyond is all right. Oh, I wish Burt was like him!"
But little chance had Amy to talk with Webb for the next few days. He had seen the cloud on Burt's brow, and had observed that he was suspicious, unhappy, and irritable; that reason and good sense were not in the ascendant; and he understood his brother sufficiently well to believe that his attack must run its natural course, as like fevers had done before. From what he had seen he also thought that Amy could deal with Burt better than any one else, for although high-strung, he was also manly and generous when once he got his bearings. In his present mood he would bitterly resent interference from any one, but would be bound to obey Amy and to respect her wishes. Therefore he took especial pains to be most kindly, but also to appear busy and pre-occupied.
It must not be thought that Burt was offensive or even openly obtrusive in his attentions. He was far too well-bred for that. There was nothing for which even his mother could reprove him, or of which Amy herself could complain. It was the suit itself from which she shrank, or rather which she would put off indefinitely. But Burt was not disposed to put anything that he craved into the distance. Spring-tide impulses were in his veins, and his heart was so overcharged that it must find expression. His opportunity came unexpectedly. A long, exquisite day had merged into a moonlight evening. The apple-blossoms were in all their white-and-pink glory, and filled the summer-like air with a fragrance as delicate as that of the arbutus. The petals of the cherry were floating down like snow in every passing breeze, glimmering momentarily in the pale radiance. The night was growing so beautiful that Amy was tempted to stroll out in the grounds, and soon she yielded to a fancy to see the effect of moonlight through an apple-tree that towered like a mound of snow at some little distance from the house. She would not have been human had the witchery of the May evening been without its influence. If Burt could have understood her, this was his opportunity. If he had come with step and tone that accorded with the quiet evening, and simply said, "Amy, you know—you have seen that I love you; what hope can you give me?" she in her present mood would have answered him as gently and frankly as a child. She might have laughingly pointed him to the tree, and said: "See, it is in blossom now. It will be a long time before you pick the apples. You must wait. If you will be sensible, and treat me as you would Johnnie, were she older, I will ride and walk with you, and be as nice to you as I can."
But this Burt could not do and still remain Burt. He was like an overcharged cloud, and when he spoke at last his words seemed to the sensitive girl to have the vividness and abruptness of the lightning. It was her custom to make a special toilet for the evening, and when she had come down to supper with a rose in her hair, and dressed in some light clinging fabric, she had proved so attractive to the young fellow that he felt that the limit of his restraint was reached. He would appeal to her so earnestly, so passionately, as to kindle her cold nature. In his lack of appreciation of Amy he had come to deem this his true course, and she unconsciously enabled him to carry out the rash plan. He had seen her stroll away, and had followed her until she should be so far from the house that she must listen. As she emerged from under the apple-tree, through which as a white cloud she had been looking at the moon, he appeared so suddenly as to startle her, and without any gentle reassurance he seized her hand, and poured out his feelings in a way that at first wounded and frightened her.
"Burt," she cried, "why do you speak to me so? Can't you see that I do not feel as you do? I've given you no reason to say such words to me."
"Have you no heart, Amy? Are you as cold and elusive as this moonlight? I have waited patiently, and now I must and will speak. Every man has a right to speak and a right to an answer."
"Well then," she replied, her spirit rising; "if you will insist on my being a woman instead of a young girl just coming from the shadow of a great sorrow, I also have my rights. I've tried to show you gently and with all the tact I possessed that I did not want to think about such things. I'm just at the beginning of my girlhood and I want to be a young girl as long as I can and not an engaged young woman. No matter who spoke the words you have said, they would pain me. Why couldn't you see this from my manner and save both yourself and me from this scene? I'll gladly be your loving sister, but you must not speak to me in this way again."
"You refuse me then," he said, throwing back his head haughtily.
"Refuse you? No. I simply tell you that I won't listen to such words from any one. Why can't you be sensible and understand me? I no more wish to talk about such things than do Alf and Johnnie."
"I do understand you," he exclaimed, passionately, "and better perhaps than you understand yourself. You are not a child. You are a woman, but you seem to lack a woman's heart, as far as I am concerned;" and with a gesture that was very tragic and despairing he strode away.
She was deeply troubled and incensed also, and she returned to the house with drooping head and fast-falling tears.
"Why, Amy, what is the matter?" Looking up, she saw Webb coming down the piazza steps. Yielding to her impulse, she sprang forward and took his arm, as she said:
"Webb, you have always acted toward me like a brother. Tell me true: am I cold? am I heartless? is it unnatural in me that I do not wish to hear such words as Burt would speak to-night? All I ask is that he will let me stay a happy young girl till I am ready for something else. This is no way for a flower to bloom"—she snatched the rose from her hair, and pushed open the red petals—"and yet Burt expects me to respond at once to feelings that I do not even understand. If it's best in the future—but surely I've a right to my freedom for a long time yet. Tell me, do you think I'm unnatural?"
"No, Amy," he answered, gently. "It is because you are so perfectly natural, so true to your girlhood, that you feel as you do. In that little parable of the rose you explain yourself fully. You have no cause for self-reproach, nor has Burt for complaint. Will you do what I ask?"
"Yes, Webb. You say you do not understand me, and yet always prove that you do. If Burt would only treat me as you do, I should be perfectly happy."
"Well, Burt's good-hearted, but sometimes he mislays his judgment," said Webb, laughing. "Come, cheer up. There is no occasion for any high tragedy on his part or for grieving on yours. You go and tell mother all about it, and just how you feel. She is the right one to manage this affair, and her influence over Burt is almost unbounded. Do this, and, take my word for it, all will soon be serene."
And so it proved. Amy felt that night what it is to have a mother's boundless love and sympathy, and she went to her rest comforted, soothed, and more assured as to the future than she had been for a long time. "How quiet and sensible Webb was about it all!" was her last smiling thought before she slept. His thought as he strolled away in the moonlight after she left him was, "It is just as if I half believed. She has the mind of a woman, but the heart of a child. How apt was her use of that rose! It told all."
Burt did not stroll; he strode mile after mile, and the uncomfortable feeling that he had been very unwise, to say the least, and perhaps very unjust, was growing upon him. When at last he returned, his mother called to him through the open door. Sooner or later, Mrs. Clifford always obtained the confidence of her children, and they ever found that it was sacred. All that can be said, therefore, was, that he came from her presence penitent, ashamed, and hopeful. His mood may best be explained, perhaps, by a note written before he retired. "My dear sister Amy," it ran, "I wish to ask your pardon. I have been unjust and ungenerous. I was so blinded and engrossed by my own feelings that I did not understand you. I have proved myself unworthy of even a sister's love; but I will try to make amends. Do not judge me harshly because I was so headlong. There is no use in trying to disguise the truth. What I have said so unwisely and prematurely I cannot unsay, and I shall always be true to my words. But I will wait patiently as long as you please; and if you find, in future years, that you cannot feel as I do, I will not complain or blame you, however sad the truth may be to me. In the meantime, let there be no constraint between us. Let me become once more your trusted brother Burt." This note he pushed under her door, and then slept too soundly for the blighted youth he had a few hours before deemed himself.
He felt a little embarrassed at the prospect of meeting her the next morning, but she broke the ice at once by coming to him on the piazza and extending her hand in smiling frankness as she said: "You are neither unjust nor ungenerous, Burt, or you would not have written me such a note. I take you at your word. As you said the first evening I came, we shall have jolly times together."
The young fellow was immensely relieved and grateful, and he showed it. Soon afterward he went about the affairs of the day happier than he had been for a long time. Indeed, it soon became evident that his explosion on the previous evening had cleared the air generally. Amy felt that the one threatening cloud had sunk below the horizon. As the days passed, and Burt proved that he could keep his promise, her thoughts grew as serene as those of Johnnie. Her household duties were not very many, and yet she did certain things regularly. The old people found that she rarely forgot them, and she had the grace to see when she could help and cheer. Attentions that must be constantly asked for have little charm. A day rarely passed that did she not give one or more of its best hours to her music and drawing; for, while she never expected to excel in these arts, she had already learned that they would enable her to give much pleasure to others. Her pencil, also, was of great assistance in her study of out-door life, for the fixed attention which it required to draw a plant, tree, or bit of scenery revealed its characteristics. She had been even more interested in the unfolding of the leaf-buds than in the flowering of the trees, and the gradual advance of the foliage, like a tinted cloud, up the mountain-slopes, was something she never tired of watching. When she spoke of this one day to Webb, he replied:
"I have often wondered that more is not said and written about our spring foliage, before it passes into its general hue of green. To me it has a more delicate beauty and charm than anything seen in October. Different trees have their distinct coloring now as then, but it is evanescent, and the shades usually are less clearly marked. This very fact, however, teaches the eye to have a nicety of distinction that is pleasing."
The busy days passed quickly on. The blossoms faded from the trees, and the miniature fruit was soon apparent. The strawberry rows, that had been like lines of snow, were now full of little promising cones. The grass grew so lusty and strong that the dandelions were hidden except as the breeze caught up the winged seeds that the tuneful yellow-birds often seized in the air. The rye had almost reached its height, and Johnnie said it was "as good as going to the ocean to see it wave." At last the swelling buds on the rose-bushes proclaimed the advent of June.
JUNE AND HONEY-BEES
It is said that there is no heaven anywhere for those incapable of recognizing and enjoying it. Be this as it may, the month of June is a segment of heaven annually bestowed on those whose eyes and ears have been opened to beauty in sight and sound. Indeed, what sense in man is not gratified to the point of imaginary perfection during this early fruition of the varied promise of spring? Even to the sense of touch, how exquisite is the "feel" of the fragrant rose-petals, the soft young foliage that has transformed the world, and the queer downy fledglings in innumerable nests! To the eye informed by a heart in love with nature the longest days of the year are all too short to note half that exists and takes place. Who sees and distinguishes the varied blossoming of the many kinds of grain and grasses that are waving in every field? And yet here is a beauty as distinct and delicate as can be found in some of Mendelssohn's "Songs without Words"—blossomings so odd, delicate, and evanescent as to suggest a child's dream of a flower. Place them under a strong glass, and who can fail to wonder at the miracles of form and color that are revealed? From these tiny flowerets the scale runs upward until it touches the hybrid rose. During this period, also, many of the forest trees emulate the wild flowers at their feet until their inflorescence culminates in the white cord-like fringe that foretells the spiny chestnut burrs.
So much has been written comparing this exquisite season when spring passes insensibly into summer with the fulfilled prophecy of girlhood, that no attempt shall be made to repeat the simile. Amy's birthday should have been in May, but it came early in June. May was still in her heart, and might linger there indefinitely; but her mind, her thoughts, kept pace with nature as unconsciously as the flowers that bloomed in their season. There were little remembrances from all the family, but Webb's gift promised the most pleasure. It was a powerful opera-glass; and as he handed it to her on the piazza in the early morning he said:
"Our troupe are all here now, Amy, and I thought that you would like to see the singers, and observe their costumes and expressions. Some birds have a good deal of expression and a very charming manner while singing—a manner much more to my taste than that of many a prima donna whom I have heard, although my taste may be uncultivated. Focus your glass on that indigo-bird in yonder tree-top. Don't you see him?—the one that is favoring us with such a lively strain, beginning with a repetition of short, sprightly notes. The glass may enable you to see his markings accurately."
"Oh, what an exquisite glossy blue! and it grows so deep and rich about the head, throat, and breast! How plain I can see him, even to the black velvet under his eyes! There is brown on his wings, too. Why, I can look right into his little throat, and almost imagine I see the notes he is flinging abroad so vivaciously. I can even make out his claws closed on a twig, and the dew on the leaves around him is like gems. Truly, Webb, you were inspired when you thought of this gift."
"Yes," he replied, quietly, looking much pleased, however, "with a very honest wish to add to your enjoyment of the summer. I must confess, too, that I had one thought at least for myself. You have described the indigo-bird far more accurately than I could have done, although I have seen it every summer as long as I can remember. You have taught me to see; why should I not help you to see more when I can do it so easily? My thought was that you would lend me the glass occasionally, so that I might try to keep pace with you. I've been using the microscope too much—prying into nature, as Burt would say, with the spirit of an anatomist."
"I shall value the glass a great deal more if you share it with me," she said, simply, with a sincere, direct gaze into his eyes; "and be assured, Webb," she added, earnestly, "you are helping me more than I can help you. I'm not an artist, and never can be, but if I were I should want something more than mere surface, however beautiful it might be. Think of it, Webb, I'm eighteen to-day, and I know so little! You always make me feel that there is so much to learn, and, what is more, that it is worth knowing. You should have been a teacher, for you would make the children feel, when learning their lessons, as Alf does when after game. How well nature bears close scrutiny!" she added, sweeping the scene with her glass. "I can go every day now on an exploring expedition. But there is the breakfast-bell."
Mr. Clifford came in a little late, rubbing his hands felicitously, as he said:
"I have just come from the apiary, and think we shall have another swarm to-day. Did you ever hear the old saying, Amy,
'A swarm of bees in June Is worth a silver spoon'?
If one comes out to-day, and we hive it safely, we shall call it yours, and you shall have the honey."
"How much you are all doing to sweeten my life!" she said, laughing; "but I never expected the present of a swarm of bees. I assure you it is a gift that you will have to keep for me, and yet I should like to see how the bees swarm, and how you hive them. Would it be safe? I've heard that bees are so wise, and know when people are afraid of them."
"You can fix yourself up with a thick veil and a pair of gloves so that there will be no danger, and your swarm of bees, when once in hive, will take care of themselves, and help take care of you. That's the beauty of bee-culture."
"Our bees are literally in clover this year," Leonard remarked. "That heavy coating of wood-ashes that I gave to a half-acre near the apiary proved most effective, and the plot now looks as if a flurry of snow had passed over it, the white clover blossoms are so thick. That is something I could never understand, Webb. Wood-ashes will always bring white clover. It's hard to believe that it all comes from seed dormant in the ground."
"Well, it does," was the reply.
"A great many think that the ashes simply produce conditions in the soil which generate the clover."
"Out of nothing? That would not be simple at all, and if any one could prove it he would make a sensation in the scientific world."
"Now, Len, here's your chance," laughed Burt. "Just imagine what a halo of glory you would get by setting the scientific world agape with wonder!"
"I could make the scientific world gape in a much easier way," Leonard replied, dryly. "Well, Amy, if you are as fond of honey as I am, you will think a swarm of bees a very nice present. Fancy buckwheat cakes eaten with honey made from buckwheat blossoms! There's a conjunction that gives to winter an unflagging charm. If the old Hebrews felt as I do, a land flowing with milk and honey must have been very alluring. Such a land the valley of the Hudson certainly is. It's one of the finest grass regions of the world, and grass means milk; and the extensive raspberry fields along its banks mean honey. White clover is all very well, but I've noticed that when the raspberry-bushes are in bloom they are alive with bees. I believe even the locust-trees would be deserted for these insignificant little blossoms that, like many plain people, are well worth close acquaintance."
"The linden-tree, which also blooms this month," added Webb, "furnishes the richest harvest for the honeybees, and I don't believe they would leave its blossoms for any others. I wish there were more lindens in this region, for they are as ornamental as they are useful. I've read that they are largely cultivated in Russia for the sake of the bees. The honey made from the linden or bass-wood blossoms is said to be crystal in its transparency, and unsurpassed in delicacy of flavor."
"Well," said Mr. Clifford, "I shall look after the apiary to-day. That's good lazy work for an old man. You can help me watch at a safe distance, Amy, and protected, as I said, if they swarm. It wouldn't be well for you to go too near the hives at first, you know," he added, in laughing gallantry, "for they might mistake you for a flower. They are so well acquainted with me that I raise neither expectations nor fears. You needn't come out before ten o'clock, for they don't swarm until toward midday."
With shy steps, and well protected, Amy approached the apiary, near which the old gentleman was sitting in placid fearlessness under the shade of a maple, the honey of whose spring blossoms was already in the hive. For a time she kept at a most respectful distance, but, as the bees did not notice her, she at last drew nearer, and removed her veil, and with the aid of her glass saw the indefatigable workers coming in and going out with such celerity that they seemed to be assuring each other that there were tons of honey now to be had for the gathering. The bees grew into large insects under her powerful lenses, and their forms and movements were very distinct. Suddenly from the entrance of one hive near Mr. Clifford, which she happened to be covering with her glass, she saw pouring out a perfect torrent of bees. She started back in affright, but Mr. Clifford told her to stand still, and she noted that he quietly kept his seat, while following through his gold-rimmed spectacles the swirling, swaying stream that rushed into the upper air. The combined hum smote the ear with its intensity. Each bee was describing circles with almost the swiftness of light, and there were such numbers that they formed a nebulous living mass. Involuntarily she crouched down in the grass. In a few moments, however, she saw the swarm draw together and cluster like a great black ball on a bough of a small pear-tree. The queen had alighted, and all her subjects gathered around her.
"Ah," chuckled the old gentleman, rising quietly, "they couldn't have been more sensible if they had been human—not half so sensible in that case, perhaps. I think you will have your swarm now without doubt. That's the beauty of these Italian bees when they are kept pure: they are so quiet and sensible. Come away now, until I return prepared to hive them."
The young girl obeyed with alacrity, and was almost trembling with excitement, to which fear as well as the novelty of the scene contributed not a little. Mr. Clifford soon returned, well protected and prepared for his work. Taking an empty hive, he placed it on the ground in a secluded spot, and laid before its entrances a broad, smooth board. Then he mounted a step-ladder, holding in his left hand a large tin pan, and gently brushed the bees into it as if they had been inanimate things. A sheet had first been spread beneath the pear-tree to catch those that did not fall into the pan. Touched thus gently and carefully, the immense vitality of the swarm remained dormant; but a rough, sudden movement would have transformed it instantly into a vengeful cloud of insects, each animated by the one impulse to use its stiletto. Corning down from the ladder he turned the pan toward Amy, and with her glass she saw that it was nearly half full of a crawling, seething mass that fairly made her shudder. But much experience rendered the old gentleman confident, and he only smiled as he carried the pan of bees to the empty hive, and poured them out on the board before it. The sheet was next gathered up and placed near the hive also, and then the old gentleman backed slowly and quietly away until he had joined Amy, to whom he said, "My part of the work is now done, and I think we shall soon see them enter the hive." He was right, for within twenty minutes every bee had disappeared within the new domicile. "To-night I will place the hive on the platform with the others, and to-morrow your bees will be at work for you, Amy. I don't wonder you are so interested, for of all insects I think bees take the palm. It is possible that the swarm will not fancy their new quarters, and will come out again, but it is not probable. Screened by this bush, you can watch in perfect safety;" and he left her well content, with her glass fixed on the apiary.
Having satisfied herself for the time with observing the workers coming and going, she went around to the white clover-field to see the process of gathering the honey. She had long since learned that bees while at work are harmless, unless so cornered that they sting in self-defence. Sitting on a rock at the edge of the clover-field, she listened to the drowsy monotone of innumerable wings. Then she bent her glass on a clover head, and it grew at once into a collection of little white tubes or jars in which from earth, air, and dew nature distilled the nectar that the bees were gathering. The intent workers stood on their heads and emptied these fragrant honey-jars with marvellous quickness. They knew when they were loaded, and in straight lines as geometrically true as the hexagon cells in which the honey would be stored they darted to their hives. When the day grew warm she returned to the house and read, with a wonder and delight which no fairy tale had ever produced, John Burroughs's paper, "The Pastoral Bees," which Webb had found for her before going to his work. To her childish credulity fairy lore had been more interesting than wonderful, but the instincts and habits of these children of nature touched on mysteries that can never be solved.
At dinner the experiences of the apiary were discussed, and Leonard asked, "Do you think the old-fashioned custom of beating tin pans and blowing horns influences a swarm to alight? The custom is still maintained by some people in the vicinity."
"I doubt it," said Webb. "It is no longer practiced by scientific bee-keepers, and yet it is founded on the principle that anything which disconcerts the bees may change their plans. It is said that water or dry earth thrown into a whirling swarm will sometimes cause it to alight or return to the hive."
"Your speaking of blowing horns," said Mr. Clifford, laughing, "recalls a hiving experience that occurred seventy years ago. I was a boy then, but was so punctured with stings on a June day like this that a vivid impression was made on my memory. We were expecting swarms every day. A neighbor, a quaint old man who lived very near, had gained the reputation of an expert at this business. I can see him now, with his high stove-pipe hat, and his gnarled, wrinkled visage, which he shrouded in a green veil when hiving a swarm. He was a good-hearted old fellow, but very rough in his talk. He had been to sea in early life, and profanity had become the characteristic of his vernacular. Well, word came one morning that the bees were swarming, and a minute later I aroused the old man, who was smoking and dozing on his porch. I don't believe you ever ran faster, Alf, than I did then. Hiving bees was the old fellow's hobby and pride, and he dived into his cottage, smashing his clay pipe on the way, with the haste of an attacked soldier seizing his weapons. In a moment he was out with all his paraphernalia. To me was given a fish-horn of portentous size and sound. The 'skips,' which were the old fashioned straw hives that the bears so often emptied for our forefathers, stood in a large door-yard, over which the swarm was circling. As we arrived on the scene the women were coming from the house with tin pans, and nearly all the family were out-of-doors. It so happened that an old white horse was grazing in the yard, and at this critical moment was near the end of the bench on which stood the hives. Coming up behind him, I thoughtlessly let off a terrific blast from my horn, at which he, terrified, kicked viciously. Over went a straw skip, and in a moment we had another swarm of bees on hand that we had not bargained for. Dropping my horn, I covered my face with my arm, and ran for life to the house, but I must have been stung twenty times before I escaped. The bees seemed everywhere, and as mad as hornets. Although half wild with pain, I had to laugh as I saw the old man frantically trying to adjust his veil, meanwhile almost dancing in his anguish. In half a minute he succumbed, and tore into a wood-shed. Everybody went to cover instantly except the white horse, and he had nowhere to go, but galloped around the yard as if possessed. This only made matters worse, for innocent as he was, the bees justly regarded him as the cause of all the trouble. At last, in his uncontrollable agony, he floundered over a stone wall, and disappeared. For an hour or two it was almost as much as one's life was worth to venture out. The old man, shrouded and mittened, at last crept off homeward to nurse his wounds and his wrath, and he made the air fairly sulphurous around him with his oaths. But that kind of sulphuric treatment did not affect the bees, for I observed from a window that at one point nearest the skips he began to run, and he kept up a lively pace until within his door. What became of the swarm we expected to hive I do not know. Probably it went to the woods. That night we destroyed the irate swarm whose skip had been kicked over, and peace was restored."
"If you had told that story at the breakfast-table," said Amy, as soon as the laugh caused by the old gentleman's account had subsided, "you could never have induced me to be present this morning, even at such a respectful distance."
"An old man who lives not far from us has wonderful success with bees," Leonard remarked. "He has over fifty hives in a space not more than twenty feet square, and I do not think there is a tenth of an acre in his whole lot, which is in the centre of a village. To this bare little plot his bees bring honey from every side, so that for his purpose he practically owns this entire region. He potters around them so much that, as far as he is concerned, they are as docile as barn-door fowls, and he says he minds a sting no more than a mosquito bite. There are half a dozen small trees and bushes in his little yard, and his bees are so accommodating that they rarely swarm elsewhere than on these low trees within a lew feet of the skips. He also places mullein stalks on a pole, and the swarms often cluster on them. He told me that on one day last summer he had ten swarms to look after, and that he hived them all; and he says that his wife is as good at the work as he is. On a pole which forms the corner of a little poultry-coop he keeps the record of the swarms of each season, and for last summer there are sixty-one notches. A year ago this month four swarms went into a barrel that stood in a corner of his yard, and he left them there. By fall they had filled the barrel with honey, and then, in his vernacular, he 'tuck it up'; that is, he killed the bees, and removed all the honey."
"That is the regular bee-phrase in this region. If a hive is to be emptied and the bees destroyed, or a bee tree to be cut down, the act is described as 'taking up' the hive or tree," Burt explained. "By the way, Amy," he added, "we must give you a little bee-hunting experience in the mountains next October. It would make a jolly excursion. We can leave you with a guard at some high point, when we strike a bee-line, and we might not be long in finding the tree."
"We'll put the expedition right down on the fall programme," she said, smilingly. Then turning to Mr. Clifford, she continued: "You spoke in praise of Italian bees. What kind are they? and how many kinds are there?"
"Really only two distinct kinds—our native brownish-black bees, and the Italians imported by Mr. S. B. Parsons and others about fifteen years ago. There is a cross or hybrid between these two kinds that are said to be so ill-natured that it is unsafe to go anywhere near their hives."
"Burt," said Webb, "you must remember reading in Virgil of the 'golden bees.'"
"Yes, indistinctly; but none of them ever got in my bonnet or made much impression. I don't like bees, nor do they like me. They respect only the deliberation of profound gravity and wisdom. Father has these qualities by the right of years, and Webb by nature, and their very presence soothes the irascible insects; but when I go among them they fairly bristle with stings. Give me a horse, and the more spirited the better."
"Oh, no, Burt; can't give you any," said Leonard, with his humorous twinkle. "I'll sell you one, though, cheap."
"Yes, that vicious, uncouth brute that you bought because so cheap. I told you that you were 'sold' at the same time with the horse."
"I admit it," was the rueful reply. "If he ever balks again as he did to-day, I shall be tempted to shoot him."
"Oh, dear!" said Amy, a little petulantly, "I'd rather hear about Italian bees than balky horses. Has my swarm of bees any connection with those that Virgil wrote about, Webb?"
"They may be direct descendants," he replied.
"Then call them May-bees," laughed Burt.
"The kind of bees that Virgil wrote about were undoubtedly their ancestors," resumed Webb, smiling at Burt's sally, "for bees seem to change but little, if any, in their traits and habits. Centuries of domestication do not make them domestic, and your swarm, if not hived, would have gone to the mountains and lived in a hollow tree. I have a book that will give you the history and characteristics of the Italians, if you would like to read about them."
"I certainly should. My mind is on bees now, and I intend to follow them up until I get stung probably. Well, I've enjoyed more honey this morning, although I've not tasted any, than in all my life. You see how useful I make the opera-glass, Webb. With it I can even gather honey that does not cloy."
BURT BECOMES RATIONAL
Burt had expended more on his present for Amy than had any of the family, and, while it had been acknowledged most cordially, he was a little disappointed that his choice had not been so happy as Webb's. Therefore after dinner he said: "I feel almost envious. I wish I could give you a great deal of pleasure also to-day. How would you like to go in a row-boat to Constitution Island, and make that visit to Miss Warner of which we spoke last winter? It's warm, but not sultry, and we would keep in the shadow of the mountains most of the way down."
She hesitated a moment.
"Don't be afraid, Amy," he said, in a low tone.
"I'll go with you," she assented, cordially, "and I cannot think of anything that would make my birthday more complete."
"I'll be ready in an hour," he said, flushing with pleasure, and he went up to his room two steps at a time.
Burt's mental processes during the past few weeks had been characteristic, and would have amused Amy had she been fully aware of them. As Webb surmised, his fever had to run its course, but after its crisis had passed he rapidly grew rational. Moreover, in his mother, and indeed in Amy herself, he had the best of physicians. At first he was very penitent, and not a little chagrined at his course. As days went by, however, and it was not referred to by word or sign on the part of the family, his nervous apprehension passed away. He thought he detected a peculiar twinkle in Leonard's eyes occasionally, but it might have resulted from other causes. Still Amy did the most to reassure him both consciously and unconsciously. As she said, she took him at his word, and being unembarrassed by any feeling of her own, found it easy to act like a sister toward him. This naturally put him at his ease. In her floral expeditions with Johnnie, however, and her bird-nestings with Alf, wherein no birds were robbed, she unconsciously did more to reconcile him to the necessity of waiting than could hours of argument from even his mother. She thus proved to him that he had spoken much too soon—that she was not ready for his ill-chosen, passionate words, which had wounded instead of firing her heart as he intended they should. He now berated his stupidity, but consoled himself with the thought that love is always a little blind. He saw that she liked Webb exceedingly, and enjoyed talking with him, but he now was no longer disposed to be jealous. She ever seemed to be asking questions like an intelligent child. "Why shouldn't she like Webb?" he thought. "He is one of the best fellows in the world, and she has found out that he's a walking encyclopedia of out-door lore."
Burt was not one to be depressed or to remain in the valley of humiliation very long. After a week or two a slight feeling of superiority began to assert itself. Amy was not only too young to understand him, but also, perhaps, to appreciate him. He believed that he knew more than one pretty girl to whom he would not have spoken in vain. Some day the scales would fall from Amy's eyes. He could well afford to wait until they did, and he threw back his handsome head at the thought, and an exultant flash came into his blue eyes. Oh, he would be faithful, he would be magnanimous, and he also admitted to himself that he would be very glad and grateful; but he would be very patient, perhaps a little too much so to suit her. Since he had been told to "wait," he would wait until her awakening heart constrained her to give unequivocal signs of readiness to surrender.
Thus his thoughts ran on while he was busy about the farm, or galloping over the country on business or pleasure. After the corn-planting and the rush of work in May was over, he had given himself a week's outing among the trout streams of Ulster County, and had returned with his equanimity quite restored. To assure Amy of this, and that she had nothing more to fear, but everything to gain, was one of his motives in asking her to take the long sail that afternoon. He succeeded so well that a smile of very genuine satisfaction hovered about her lips more than once. She enjoyed the expedition exceedingly. She was grateful for the kind reception given her by the authors who had done much to sweeten and purify the world's thought. She was charmed with the superb scenery as on their return they glided along in the shadows of Cro' Nest, whose sides seemed lined with a choir of wood and veery thrushes and other wild songsters. At last they evoked the spirit of music in her. She took an oar with Burt, and they pulled, sang, and laughed together like careless, happy children. Yet more than once she shyly glanced at him, and queried, Could his flushed and mirthful face be that of the passionate lover and blighted youth of scarce a month since? Burt said something droll, and her laugh raised a musical echo against the steep rocks near. His wit was not its cause, but her own thought: "My plea was that I was too young; he's very young, too."
As they neared the point of Storm King the evening boat, the "Mary Powell," swept toward them with scarcely more apparent effort than that of a swan. A few moments later their skiff was dancing over the swells, Amy waving her handkerchief, and the good-natured pilot awakening a hundred echoes by his steam-whistle of responsive courtesy.
They were at home in time for supper, and here another delicious surprise awaited Amy. Johnnie and Alf felt that they should do something in honor of the day. From a sunny hillside they had gleaned a gill of wild strawberries, and Webb had found that the heat of the day had so far developed half a dozen Jacqueminot rosebuds that they were ready for gathering. These with their fragrance and beauty were beside her plate in dainty arrangement. They seemed to give the complete and final touch to the day already replete with joy and kindness, and happy, grateful tears rushed into the young girl's eyes. Dashing them brusquely away, she said: "I can't tell you all what I feel, and I won't try. I want you to know, however," she added, smilingly, while her lips quivered, "that I am very much at home."
Burt was in exuberant spirits, for Amy had told him that she had enjoyed every moment of the afternoon. This had been most evident, and the young fellow congratulated himself. He could keep his word, he could be so jolly a companion as to leave nothing to be desired, and waiting, after all, would not be a martyrdom. His mood unloosed his tongue and made him eloquent as he described his experiences in trout-fishing. His words were so simple and vivid that he made his listeners hear the cool splash and see the foam of the mountain brooks. They saw the shimmer of the speckled beauties as they leaped for the fly, and felt the tingle of the rod as the line suddenly tightened, and hear the hum of the reel as the fish darted away in imagined safety. Burt saw his vantage—was not Amy listening with intent eyes and glowing cheeks?—and he kept the little group in suspense almost as long as it had taken him to play, land, and kill a three-pound trout, the chief trophy of his excursion.
Webb was unusually silent, and was conscious of a depression for which he could not account. All was turning out better than he had predicted. The relations between Burt and Amy were not only "serene," but were apparently becoming decidedly blissful. The young girl was enthusiastic over her enjoyment of the afternoon; there were no more delicately veiled defensive tactics against Burt, and now her face was full of frank admiration of his skill as an angler and of interest in the wild scenes described. Burt had spent more time in society than over his books while at college, and was a fluent, easy talker. Webb felt that he suffered in contrast, that he was grave, heavy, dull, and old—no fit companion for the girl whose laughing eyes so often rested on his brother's face and responded to his mirth. Perhaps Burt would not have long to wait; perhaps his rash, passionate words had already given to Amy's girlish unconsciousness the shock that had destroyed it, and she was learning that she was a woman who could return love for love. Well, granting this, was it not just what they were all expecting? "But the change is coming too soon," he complained to himself. "I wish she could keep her gentle, lovable, yet unapproachable May-day grace a little longer. Then she was like the wind-flower, which the eyes can linger upon, but which fades almost the moment it is grasped. It made her so different from other girls of her age. It identified her with the elusive spirit of nature, whose beauty entrances one, but search and wander where we will, nothing can be found that is distinctly and tangibly ours or any one's. Amy, belonging definitely to any one, would lose half her charm."
Webb saw and heard all that passed, but in a minor key thoughts like these were forming themselves with little volition on his part, and were symptoms which as yet he did not understand. In an interval of mirth, Johnnie heard footsteps on the piazza, and darting out, caught a glimpse of Mr. Alvord's retreating form. He had come on some errand, and, seeing the group at the supper-table, had yielded to the impulse to depart unrecognized. This the little girl would by no means permit. Since Easter an odd friendship had sprung up between her and the lonely man, and she had become almost his sole visitor. She now called after him, and in a moment was at his side. "Why are you going away?" she said. "You must not go till I show you my garden."