"Not necessarily; but only the most vigorous treatment could have saved him."
"But he risked his life?" she persisted.
"Certainly; but a brave man could scarcely have acted otherwise. The snake was at your very feet."
"Thank you," she said, simply, and there was a very gentle expression in her eyes.
Much of the work of breaking up was left to Lumley, and an abundant reward for his labor. He had returned with an exultant grin, but at a sign from Dr. Marvin concealed his trophies. As soon as he had a chance, however, he gave Burt two rattles, one having twelve and the other fourteen joints, thus proving the fear, that the mate of the snake first killed was not far off, to be well grounded. At the foot of the mountain they met Mr. Hargrove, driving rapidly. He explained that his barometer and the indications of a storm had alarmed him also, and that he had come for his daughter and Fred. Nothing was said of Miss Hargrove's recent peril in the brief, cordial parting. Her eyes and Burt's met almost involuntarily as she was driven away, and he was deeply perturbed.
The face of Nature was also clouding fast, and she was sighing and moaning as if she, too, dreaded the immediate future.
SUMMER'S WEEPING FAREWELL
Nature was at last awakening from her long, deathlike repose with an energy that was startling. The thin skirmish-line of vapor was followed by cloudy squadrons, and before sunset great masses of mist were pouring over Storm King, suggesting that the Atlantic had taken the drought in hand, and meant to see what it could do. The wind mourned and shrieked about the house, as if trouble, and not relief, were coming. In spite of the young moon, the night grew intensely dark. The dash of rain was expected every moment, but it did not come.
Amy thought with a shudder of their desolate camping-ground. Time must pass before pleasant associations could be connected with it. The intense darkness, the rush and roar of the coming storm, the agony, the death that might have occurred there, were now uppermost in her mind. She had found an opportunity to ask Webb questions similar to those of Miss Hargrove, and he had given Burt full credit for taking a fearful risk. A woman loves courage in the abstract, and when it is shown in behalf of herself or those whom she loves, he who has manifested it became heroic. But her homage troubled Burt, who was all at sea, uncertain of himself, of the future, of almost everything, but not quite uncertain as to Miss Hargrove. There was something in her look when they first met after their common peril that went straight to his deepest consciousness. He had before received, with not a little complacency, glances of preference, but none like that, in which a glimpse of feeling, deep and strong, had been revealed in a moment of weakness. The thought of it moved him far more profoundly than the remembrance of his danger. Indeed, he scarcely thought of that, except as it was associated with a girl who now might have been dead or dying, and who, by a glance, had seemed to say, "What you saved is yours."
If this were true it was indeed a priceless, overwhelming gift, and he was terrified at himself as he found how his whole nature was responding. He also knew that it was not in his frank, impetuous spirit to disguise deep feeling. Should Miss Hargrove control his heart, he feared that all would eventually know it, as they had speedily discovered his other little affairs. And little, indeed, they now seemed to him, relating to girls as immature as himself. Some had since married, others were engaged, "and none ever lost their appetites," he concluded, with a grim smile.
But he could not thus dismiss the past so far as Amy was concerned, the orphan girl in his own home to whom he had promised fealty. What would be his feeling toward another man who had promised so much and had proved fickle? What would the inmates of his own home say? What would even his gentle mother, of whom he had made a confidante, think of him? Would not a look of pain, or, even worse, of scorn, come into Amy's eyes? He did love her dearly; he respected her still more as the embodiment of truth and delicacy. From Miss Hargrove's manner he knew that Amy had never gossiped about him, as he felt sure nine-tenths of his acquaintances would have done. He also believed that she was taking him at his word, like the rest of the family, and that she was looking forward to the future that he had once so ardently desired. The past had taught him that she was not one to fall tumultuously in love, but rather that she would let a quiet and steady flame kindle in her heart, to last through life. She had proved herself above hasty and resentful jealousy, but she had, nevertheless, warned him on the mountain, and had received the renewed manifestations of his loyalty as a matter of course. Since his rescue of her friend in the morning her eyes had often sought his with a lustre so gentle and approving that he felt guilty, and cursed himself for a fickle wretch. Cost him what it might, he must be true to her.
She, little divining his tragic mood, which, with the whole force of his will, he sought to disguise, gave him an affectionate good-night kiss as she said, "Dear Burt, how happily the day has ended, after all!—and we know the reason why."
"Yes, Burt," added Webb; "no man ever did a braver thing."
His father's hearty praise, and even his mother's grateful and almost passionate embrace, only added to his deep unrest. As he went to his room he groaned, "If they only knew!"
After very little and troubled sleep he awoke on the following morning depressed and exhausted. Mental distress was a new experience, and he showed its effects; but he made light of it, as the result of over-excitement and fatigue. He felt that Nature harmonized with his mood, for he had scarcely ever looked upon a gloomier sky. Yet, strange to say, no rain had fallen. It seemed as if the malign spell could not be broken. The wind that had been whirling the dust in clouds all night long grew fitful, and died utterly away, while the parched earth and withered herbage appeared to look at the mocking clouds in mute, despairing appeal. How could they be so near, so heavy, and yet no rain? The air was sultry and lifeless. Fall had come, but no autumn days as yet. Experienced Mr. Clifford looked often at the black, lowering sky, and predicted that a decided change was at hand.
"My fear is," he added, "that the drought may be followed by a deluge. I don't like the looks of the clouds in the southeast."
Even as he spoke a gleam of lightning shot athwart them, and was soon followed by a heavy rumble of thunder. It seemed that the electricity, or, rather, the concussion of the air, precipitated the dense vapor into water, for within a few moments down came the rain in torrents. As the first great drops struck the roads the dust flew up as if smitten by a blow, and then, with scarcely any interval, the gutters and every incline were full of tawny rills, that swelled and grew with hoarser and deeper murmurs, until they combined in one continuous roar with the downfall from clouds that seemed scarcely able to lift themselves above the tree-tops. The lightning was not vivid, but often illumined the obscurity with a momentary dull red glow, and thunder muttered and growled in the distance almost without cessation.
The drought had been depressing. To Amy its gloomy, portentous ending was even more so. The arid noonday heat and glare of preceding days had given place to a twilight so unnatural that it had almost the awe-inspiring effect of an eclipse. The hitherto brazen sky seemed to have become an overhanging reservoir from which poured a vertical cataract. The clouds drooped so heavily, and were so black, that they gave an impression of impending solid masses that might fall at any moment with crushing weight. Within an hour the beds of streams long dry were full and overflowing.
In spite of remonstrances Webb put on a rubber suit, and went to look after some little bridges on the place. He soon returned, and said, "If this keeps up until morning, there will be a dozen bridges lacking in our region. I've tried to anchor some of our little affairs by putting heavy stones on them, so that the water will pass over instead of sweeping them away. It makes one think that the flood was no myth."
To the general relief, the rain slackened in the late afternoon, and soon ceased. The threatening pall of clouds lifted a little, and in rocky channels on the mountains the dull gleam of rushing water could be seen. From every side its voice was heard, the scale running up, from the gurgle in the pipes connected with the roof, to the roar of the nearest large stream. The drought was truly broken.
As the day advanced Burt had grown very restless. Amy watched him curiously. The long day of imprisonment had given time for thought, and a review of the past novel and exciting experiences. She had not seen the glances from Miss Hargrove which had suggested so much to Burt, but she had long since perceived that her friend greatly enjoyed his society. Had she loved him she would have seen far more. If this interest had been shown in Webb, she would have understood herself and Miss Hargrove also much better. Preoccupied as she was by her sense of loss and shortcoming produced by Webb's apparent absorption in pursuits which she did not share, the thought had repeatedly occurred to her that Miss Hargrove's interest in Burt might be more than passing and friendly. If this were true, she was sure the event of the preceding day must develop and deepen it greatly. And now Burt's manner, his fits of absent-mindedness, during which he stared at vacancy, awakened surmises also. "Where are his thoughts?" she queried, and she resolved to find out.
"Burt," she said, arousing him from one of the lapses into deep thought which alternated with his restless pacings and rather forced gayety, "it has stopped raining. I think you ought to ride over and see how Gertrude is. I feel real anxious about her."
His face lighted up with eagerness. "Do you truly think I ought to go?" he asked.
"Certainly, and it would be a favor to me also," she added.
He looked at her searchingly for a moment, but there was nothing in her friendly expression to excite his fears.
"Very well," he tried to say quietly. "I'll go. A swift gallop would do me good, I believe."
"Of course it will, and so will a walk brighten me up. I'm going out to see the brook."
"Let me go with you," he exclaimed, with an eagerness too pronounced.
"No, please. I'd rather hear how Gertrude is;" and she went to her room to prepare for her walk, smiling a little bitterly as she mused: "I now know where his thoughts were. I must be lacking indeed. Not only brother Webb, but also lover Burt, has grown weary of me. I can't entertain either of them through one rainy day." From her window she saw Burt riding away with a promptness that brought again the smile rarely seen on her fair features. In her light rubber suit, she started on her ramble, her face almost as clouded as the sky. Another had been on the watch also, and Webb soon joined her, with the question, "May I not go too?"
"Oh, I fear it will take too much of your time," she said, in tones that were a little constrained.
He saw that she was depressed. He, too, had been interpreting Burt, and guessed his destination as he galloped away. His love for Amy was so deep that in a generous impulse of self-forgetfulness he was sorry for her, and sought to cheer her, and make what poor amends he could for Burt's absence, and all that it foreboded. "Since you don't say outright that I can't go," he said, "I think I'll venture;" and then, in a quiet, genial way, he began to talk about the storm and its effects. She would not have believed that even remarkable weather could be made so interesting a topic as it soon proved. Before long they stood upon the bank, and saw a dark flood rushing by where but yesterday had trickled a little rill. Now it would carry away horse and rider, should they attempt to ford it, and the fields beyond were covered with water.
"I don't like these violent changes," said Amy. "Tennyson's brook, that 'goes on forever,' is more to my taste than one like this, that almost stops, and then breaks out into a passionate, reckless torrent."
"It's the nature of this brook; you should not blame it," he answered. "But see, it's falling rapidly already."
"Oh, certainly; nothing lasts," and she turned away abruptly.
"You are mistaken, sister Amy," he replied, with strong, quiet emphasis.
The early twilight deepened around them, and gloomy night came on apace, but before Amy re-entered the house his unselfish efforts were rewarded. Burt's threatened disloyalty apparently had lost its depressing influence. Some subtile reassuring power had been at work, and the clouds passed from her face, if not from the sky.
FATHER AND DAUGHTER
That sombre day would ever be a memorable one to Miss Hargrove. Nature seemed weeping passionately over the summer that had gone, with all its wealth of beauty and life. She knew that her girlhood had gone with it. She had cautioned her brother to say nothing of her escape on the previous day, for she was too unnerved to go over the scene again that night, and meet her father's questioning eyes. She wanted to be alone first and face the truth; and this she had done in no spirit of weak self-deception. The shadow of the unknown had fallen upon her, and in its cold gray light the glitter and tinsel of the world had faded, but unselfish human love had grown more luminous. The imminence of death had kindled rather than quenched it. It was seen to be something intrinsically precious, something that might survive even the deadliest poison.
Her father was disposed to regard Burt as one who looked upon life in the light of a pleasure excursion, and who might never take it seriously. His laugh hereafter could never be so light and careless to her but that, like a minor key, would run the thought, "He risked his life for me; he might have died for me."
Her dark, full eyes, the warm blood that her thoughts brought into her face even in the solitude of her chamber, did not belie her nature, which was intense, and capable of a strong and an abiding passion when once kindled.
Mr. Hargrove had watched her with the deepest solicitude on her return, and he felt rather than saw the change that had taken place in his idol. She had pleaded fatigue, and retired early. In the morning she was again conscious of his half-questioning scrutiny, and when he went to his study she followed, and told him what had occurred. He grew very pale, and drew a long, deep breath. Then, as if mastered by a strong impulse, he clasped her to his heart, and said, in trembling tones, "Oh, Trurie, if I had lost you!"
"I fear you would have lost me, papa, had it not been for Mr. Clifford."
He paced the room for a few moments in agitation, and at last stopped before her and said: "Perhaps in a sense I am to lose you after all. Has Mr. Clifford spoken?"
"No, papa; he has only risked his life to save mine."
"You are very grateful?"
"Do not think I underestimate his act, Trurie; but, believe me, if he should speak now or soon, you are in no condition to answer him."
She smiled incredulously.
"He did what any man would do for a woman in peril. He has no right to claim such an immense reward."
"Before I went to the mountains I said I was no longer a child; but I was, compared with what I am now. It seems to me that feeling, experience, more than years, measures our age. I am a woman to-day, one who has been brought so near the future world that I have been taught how to value what may be ours now. I have learned how to value you and your unselfish love as I never did before. Mr. Clifford will not speak very soon, if he ever does, and I have not yet decided upon my answer. Should it be favorable, rest assured more than gratitude will prompt me; and also be assured you would not lose me. Could I not be more to you were I happy than if I went through life with the feeling that I had missed my chance?"
"I fear your mother would never give her consent to so unworldly a choice," he said, with a troubled brow.
"I've yet to be convinced that it would be such a choice. It's scarcely unworldly to make the most and the best of the world one is in, and mamma must permit me to judge for myself, as she chose for herself. I shall never marry any one but a gentleman, and one who can give me a home. Have I not a right to prefer a home to an establishment, papa?"
He looked at her long and searchingly, and she met his scrutiny with a grave and gentle dignity. "I suppose we must submit to the inevitable," he said at last.
"It seems but the other day that you were a baby on my knee," he began, sadly; "and now you are drifting far away."
"No, papa, there shall be no drifting whatever. I shall marry, if ever, one whom I have learned to love according to Nature's simple laws—one to whom I can go without effort or calculation. I could give my heart, and be made rich indeed by the gift. I couldn't invest it; and if I did, no one would be more sorry than you in the end."
"I should indeed be more than sorry if I ever saw you unhappy," he said, after another thoughtful pause; then added, shaking his head, "I've seen those who gave their hearts even more disappointed with life than those who took counsel of prudence."
"I shall take counsel of prudence, and of you too, papa."
"I think it is as I feared—you have already given your heart."
She did not deny it. Before leaving him she pleaded: "Do not make much of my danger to mamma. She is nervous, and not over-fond of the country at best. You know that a good many people survive in the country," she concluded, with a smile that was so winning and disarming that he shook his head at her as he replied:
"Well, Trurie, I foresee what a lovingly obstinate little girl you are likely to prove. I think I may as well tell you first as last that you may count on me in all that is fairly rational. If, with my years and experience, I can be so considerate, may I hope that you will be also?"
Her answer was reassuring, and she went to tell her mother. She had been forestalled. Fred was quite as confidential with his mother as she with her father, and the boy had been wild to horrify Mrs. Hargrove by an account of his sister's adventure. The injunction laid upon him had been only for the previous evening, and Gertrude found her mother almost hysterical over the affair, and less inclined to commend Burt than to blame him as the one who had led her daughter into such "wild, harum-scarum experiences."
"It's always the way," she exclaimed, "when one goes out of one's own natural associations in life."
"I've not been out of my natural associations," Gertrude answered, hotly. "The Cliffords are as well-bred and respectable as we are;" and she went to her room.
It was a long, dismal day for her, but, as she had said to her father, she would not permit herself to drift. Her nature was too positive for idle, sentimental dreaming. Feeling that she was approaching one of the crises of her life, she faced it resolutely and intelligently. She went over the past weeks from the time she had first met Burt under the Gothic willow arch, and tried to analyze not only the power he had over her, but also the man himself. "I have claimed to papa that I am a woman, and I should act like one," she thought. A few things grew plain. Her interest in Burt had been a purely natural growth, the unsought result of association with one who had proved congenial. He was so handsome, so companionable, so vital with spirit and mirthfulness, that his simple presence was exhilarating, and he had won his influence like the sun in spring-time. Had he the higher qualities of manhood, those that could sustain her in the inevitable periods when life would be no laughing matter? Could he meet the winter of life as well as the summer? She felt that she scarcely knew him well enough to be sure of this, but she was still sufficiently young and romantic to think, "If he should ever love me as I can love him, I could bring out the qualities that papa fears are lacking." His courage seemed an earnest of all that she could desire.
Amy's feeling toward him, and the question whether he had ever regarded her in another light than that of a sister, troubled her the most. Amy's assurance of implicit trust, and her promise to deserve it, appeared to stand directly in her path, and before that stormy day closed she had reached the calmness of a fixed resolution. "If Amy loves him, and he has given her reason to do so, I shall not come between them, cost me what it may. I'll do without happiness rather than snatch it from a friend who has not only spoken her trust, but proved it."
Therefore, although her heart gave a great bound as she saw Burt riding toward the house in the late afternoon, she went to her father and said: "Mr. Clifford is coming. I wish you would be present during his call."
The young fellow was received cordially, and Mr. Hargrove acknowledged his indebtedness so feelingly that Burt flushed like a girl, and was greatly embarrassed. He soon recovered himself, however, and chatted in his usual easy and spirited way. Before he left he asked, hesitatingly, "Would you like a souvenir of our little episode yesterday?" and took from his pocket the rattles of the snake he had killed.
"It was not a little episode," Gertrude replied, gravely. "I shall indeed value the gift, for it will remind me that I have a friend who did not count the cost in trying to help me."
Impetuous words rose to Burt's lips, but he checked them in time. Trembling for his resolutions, he soon took his departure, and rode homeward in deeper disquiet than he had ever known. He gave Amy her friend's messages, and he also, in spite of himself, afforded her a clearer glimpse of what was passing in his mind than she had received before. "I might have learned to love him in time, I suppose," she thought, bitterly, "but it's impossible now. I shall build my future on no such uncertain foundation, and I shall punish him a little, too, for it's time he had a lesson."
DISQUIET WITHIN AND WITHOUT
Amy would scarcely have been human had she felt otherwise, for it appeared that Burt was in a fair way to inflict a slight that would touch the pride of the gentlest nature. During her long residence abroad Amy had in a general and unthinking way adopted some English ideas on the subject of marriage. Burt had at first required what was unnatural and repugnant, and she had resented the demand that she should pass from an age and a state of feeling slightly removed from childhood to relations for which she was not ready. When he had sensibly recognized his error, and had appeared content to wait patiently and considerately, she had tacitly assented to his hopes and those of his parents. Her love and gratitude toward the latter influenced her powerfully, and she saw no reason why she should disappoint them. But she was much too high-spirited a girl to look with patience on any wavering in Burt. She had not set her heart on him or sought to be more to him than to a brother, and if he wished for more he must win and hold the right by undoubted loyalty. The fact that Amy had been brought into the Clifford family as a daughter and sister had not cheated Nature a moment, as both Burt and Webb had proved. She was not their sister, and had unconsciously evoked from each of the young men a characteristic regard. Burt must not be judged too harshly. He had to contend with a temperament not uncommon—one that renders its possessor highly susceptible to the beauty and fascination of women. He was as far removed from the male flirt genus as sincerity is from falsehood; but his passion for Amy had been more like a manifestation of a trait than a strong individual preference based on mutual fitness and helpfulness. Miss Hargrove was more truly his counterpart. She could supplement the weaknesses and defects of his character more successfully than Amy, and in a vague way he felt this. With all the former's vivacity there was much reserve strength and magnetism. She was unusually gifted with will power, and having once gained an influence over a person, she would have, as agents to maintain it, not only her beauty, but tact, keen insight and a very quick intelligence. Although true herself, she was by no means unsophisticated, and having once comprehended Burt's character, she would have the power, possessed by few others, to make the most of him.
Amy was nearer to nature. She would first attract unconsciously, like a rare and beautiful flower, and the loveliness and fragrance of her life would be undying. Burt had felt her charm, and responded most decisively; but the tranquil regard of her unawakened heart had little power to retain and deepen his feeling. She bloomed on at his side, sweet to him, sweet to all. In Miss Hargrove's dark eyes lurked a stronger spell, and he almost dared to believe that they had revealed to him a love of which he began to think Amy was not capable. On the generous young fellow, whose intentions were good, this fact would have very great influence, and in preserving her supremacy Miss Hargrove would also be able to employ not a little art and worldly wisdom.
The events that are most desired do not always happen, however, and poor Burt felt that he had involved himself in complications of which he saw no solution; while Amy's purpose to give him "a lesson" promised anything but relief. Her plan involved scarcely any change in her manner toward him. She would simply act as if she believed all that he had said, and take it for granted that his hopes for the future were unchanged. She proposed, however, to maintain this attitude only long enough to teach him that it is not wise, to say the least, to declare undying devotion too often to different ladies.
The weather during the night and early on the following morning was puzzling. It might be that the storm was passing, and that the ragged clouds which still darkened the sky were the rear-guard or the stragglers that were following the sluggish advance of its main body; or it might be that there was a partial break in Nature's forces, and that heavier cloud-masses were still to come. Mr. Clifford inclined to the latter view. "Old Storm King is still shrouded," he said at the breakfast-table, "and this heavy, sultry air does not indicate clearing weather."
Events soon confirmed his opinion. Nature seemed bent on repeating the programme of the preceding day, with the purpose of showing how much more she could do on the same line of action. There was no steady wind from any quarter. Converging or conflicting currents in the upper air may have brought heavy clouds together in the highlands to the southwest, for although the rain began to fall heavily, it could not account for the unprecedented rise of the streams. In little over an hour there was a continuous roar of rushing water. Burt, restless and almost reckless, went out to watch the floods. He soon returned to say that every bridge on the place had gone, and that what had been dry and stony channels twenty-four hours before were now filled with resistless torrents.
Webb also put on his rubber suit, and they went down the main street toward the landing. This road, as it descended through a deep valley to the river, was bordered by a stream that drained for some miles the northwestern slope of the mountains. For weeks its rocky bed had been dry; now it was filled with a river yellow as the Tiber. One of the main bridges across it was gone, and half of the road in one place had been scooped out and carried away by the furious waters. People were removing their household goods out into the vertical deluge lest they and all they had should be swept into the river by the torrent that was above their doorsteps. The main steamboat wharf, at which the "Powell" had touched but a few hours before, was scarcely passable with boats, so violent was the current that poured over it. The rise had been so sudden that people could scarcely realize it, and strange incidents had occurred. A horse attached to a wagon had been standing in front of a store. A vivid flash of lightning startled the animal, and he broke away, galloped up a side street to the spot where the bridge had been, plunged in, was swept down, and scarcely more than a minute had elapsed before he was back within a rod or two of his starting-point, crushed and dead.
Webb soon returned. He had noticed that Amy's eyes had followed him wistfully, and almost reproachfully, as he went out. Nature's mood was one to inspire awe, and something akin to dread, in even his own mind. She appeared to have lost or to have relaxed her hold upon her forces. It seemed that the gathered stores of moisture from the dry, hot weeks of evaporation were being thrown recklessly away, regardless of consequences. There was no apparent storm-centre, passing steadily to one quarter of the heavens, but on all sides the lightning would leap from the clouds, while mingling with the nearer and louder peals was the heavy and continuous monotone from flashes below the horizon.
He was glad he had returned, for he found Amy pale and nervous indeed. Johnnie had been almost crying with terror, and had tremblingly asked her mother if Noah's flood could come again.
"No," said Maggie, confidently. "If there was to be another flood, grandpa would have been told to build an ark;" and this assurance had appeared so obviously true that the child's fears were quieted. Even Leonard's face was full of gloom and foreboding, when the children were not present, as he looked out on flooded fields, and from much experience estimated the possible injury to the farm and the town. Mr. and Mrs. Clifford were quiet and serene. They had attained a peace which was not easily disturbed, and the old gentleman remarked: "I have seen a worse storm even in this vicinity. You must remember it, Leonard."
"But this deluge isn't over," was the reply. "It seems a tremendous reaction from the drought, and where it will end it is hard to tell, unless this steady downpouring slackens soon."
Leonard's fears were not realized, however. The unusual and tropical manifestations of the storm at last ceased, and by night the rain fell softly and gently, as if Nature were penitent over her wild passion. The results of it, however, were left in all directions. Many roads were impassable; scores of bridges were gone. The passengers from the evening boats were landed on a wharf partially submerged, and some were taken in boats to a point whence they could reach their carriages.
In the elements' disquiet Burt had found an excuse for his own, and he had remained out much of the day. He had not called on Miss Hargrove again, but had ridden far enough to learn that the bridges in that direction were safe. All the family had remonstrated with him for his exposure, and Amy asked him, laughingly, if he had been "sitting on bridges to keep them from floating away."
"You are growing ironical," he answered for he was not in an amiable mood, and he retired early.
In the morning Nature appeared to have forgotten both her passion and her penitence, and smiled serenely over the havoc she had made, as if it were of no consequence.
Amy said, "Let us take the strong rockaway, call for Miss Hargrove, and visit some of the streams"; and she noted that Burt's assent was too undemonstrative to be natural. Maggie decided to go also, and take the children, while Leonard proposed to devote the day to repairing the damage to the farm, his brothers promising to aid him in the afternoon.
When at last the party left their carriage at one of the entrances of Idlewild, the romantic glen made so famous by the poet Willis, a stranger might have thought that he had never seen a group more in accord with the open, genial sunshine. This would be true of Maggie and the children. They thought of that they saw, and uttered all their thoughts. The solution of one of life's deep problems had come to Maggie, but not to the others, and such is the nature of this problem that its solution can usually be reached only by long and hidden processes. Not one of the four young people was capable of a deliberately unfair policy; all, with the exception of Amy, were conscious whither Nature was leading them, and she had thoughts also of which she would not speak. There was no lack of truth in the party, and yet circumstances had brought about a larger degree of reticence than of frankness. To borrow an illustration from Nature, who, after all, was to blame for what was developing in each heart, a rapid growth of root was taking place, and the flower and fruit would inevitably manifest themselves in time. Miss Hargrove naturally had the best command over herself. She had taken her course, and would abide by it, no matter what she might suffer. Burt had mentally set his teeth, and resolved that he would be not only true to Amy, but also his old gay self. His pride was now in the ascendant. Amy, however, was not to be deceived, and her intuition made it clear that he was no longer her old happy, contented comrade. But she was too proud to show that her pride was wounded, and appeared to be her former self. Webb, as usual, was quiet, observant, and not altogether hopeless. And so this merry party, innocent, notwithstanding all their hidden thoughts about each other, went down into the glen, and saw the torrent flashing where the sunlight struck it through the overhanging foliage. Half-way down the ravine there was a rocky, wooded plateau from which they had a view of the flood for some distance, as it came plunging toward them with a force and volume that appeared to threaten the solid foundations of the place on which they stood. With a roar of baffled fury it sheered off to the left, rushed down another deep descent, and disappeared from view. The scene formed a strange blending of peace and beauty with wild, fierce movement and uproar. From the foliage above and around them came a soft, slumberous sound, evoked by the balmy wind that fanned their cheeks. The ground and the surface of the torrent were flecked with waving, dancing light and shade, as the sunlight filtered through innumerable leaves, on some of which a faint tinge of red and gold was beginning to appear. Beneath and through all thundered a dark, resistless tide, fit emblem of lawless passion that, unchanged, unrestrained by gentle influences, pursues its downward course reckless of consequences. Although the volume of water passing beneath their feet was still immense, it was evident that it had been very much greater. "I stood here yesterday afternoon," said Burt, "and then the sight was truly grand."
"Why, it was raining hard in the afternoon!" exclaimed Miss Hargrove.
"Burt seemed even more perturbed than the weather yesterday," Amy remarked, laughing. "He was out nearly all the time. We were alarmed about him, fearing lest he should be washed away, dissolved, or something."
"Do I seem utterly quenched this morning?" he asked, in a light vein, but flushing deeply.
"Oh, no, not in the least, and yet it's strange, after so much cold water has fallen on you."
"One is not quenched by such trifles," he replied, a little coldly.
They were about to turn away, when a figure sprang out upon a rock, far up the stream, in the least accessible part of the glen. They all recognized Mr. Alvord, as he stood with folded arms and looked down on the flood that rushed by on either side of him. He had not seen them, and no greeting was possible above the sound of the waters. Webb thought as he carried little Ned up the steep path, "Perhaps, in the mad current, he sees the counterpart of some period in his past."
The bridge across the mouth of Idlewild Brook was gone, and they next went to the landing. The main wharf was covered with large stones and gravel, the debris of the flood that had poured over it from the adjacent stream, whose natural outlet had been wholly inadequate. Then they drove to the wild and beautiful Mountainville road, that follows the Moodna Creek for a long distance. They could not proceed very far, however, for they soon came to a place where a tiny brook had passed under a wooden bridge. Now there was a great yawning chasm. Not only the bridge, but tons of earth were gone. The Moodna Creek, that had almost ceased to flow in the drought, had become a tawny river, and rushed by them with a sullen roar, flanging over the tide was an old dead tree, on which was perched a fish-hawk. Even while they were looking at him, and Burt was wishing for his rifle, the bird swooped downward, plunged into the stream with a splash, and rose with a fish in his talons. It was an admirable exhibition of fearlessness and power, and Burt admitted that such a sportsman deserved to live.
ECHOES OF A PAST STORM
Miss Hargrove returned to dine with them, and as they were lingering over the dessert and coffee Webb remarked, "By the way, I think the poet Willis has given an account of a similar, or even greater, deluge in this region." He soon returned from the library, and read the following extracts: "'I do not see in the Tribune or other daily papers any mention of an event which occupies a whole column on the outside page of the highest mountain above West Point. An avalanche of earth and stone, which has seamed from summit to base the tall bluff that abuts upon the Hudson, forming a column of news visible for twenty miles, has reported a deluge we have had—a report a mile long, and much broader than Broadway.'"
"Certainly," said Mr. Clifford, "that's the flood of which I spoke yesterday. It was very local, but was much worse than the one we have just had. It occurred in August of '53. I remember now that Mr. Willis wrote a good deal about the affair in his letters from Idlewild. What else does he say?"
Webb, selecting here and there, continued to read: "'We have had a deluge in the valley immediately around us—a deluge which is shown by the overthrown farm buildings, the mills, dams, and bridges swept away, the well-built roads cut into chasms, the destruction of horses and cattle, and the imminent peril to life. It occurred on the evening of August 1, and a walk to-day down the valley which forms the thoroughfare to Cornwall Landing (or, rather, a scramble over its gulfs in the road, its upset barns and sheds, its broken vehicles, drift lumber, rocks, and rubbish) would impress a stranger like a walk after the deluge of Noah.
"'The flood came upon us with scarce half an hour's notice. My venerable neighbor, of eighty years of age, who had passed his life here, and knows well the workings of the clouds among the mountains, had dined with us, but hastened his departure to get home before what looked like a shower, crossing with his feeble steps the stream whose strongest bridge, an hour after, was swept away. Another of our elderly neighbors had a much narrower escape. The sudden rush of water alarmed him for the safety of an old building he used for his stable, which stood upon the bank of the small stream usually scarce noticeable as it crosses the street at the landing. He had removed his horse, and returned to unloose a favorite dog, but before he could accomplish it the building fell. The single jump with which he endeavored to clear himself of the toppling rafters threw him into the torrent, and he was swept headlong toward the gulf which it had already torn in the wharf on the Hudson. His son and two others plunged in, and succeeded in snatching him from destruction. Another citizen was riding homeward, when the solid and strongly embanked road was swept away before and behind him, and he had barely time to unhitch his horse and escape, leaving his carriage islanded between the chasms. A man who was driving with his wife and child along our own wall on the river-shore had a yet more fearful escape: his horse suddenly forced to swim, and his wagon set afloat, and carried so violently against a tree by the swollen current of Idlewild Brook that he and his precious load were thrown into the water, and with difficulty reached the bank beyond. A party of children who were out huckleberrying on the mountain were separated from home by the swollen brook, and one of them was nearly drowned in vainly attempting to cross it. Their parents and friends were out all night in search of them. An aged farmer and his wife, who had been to Newburgh, and were returning with their two-horse wagon well laden with goods, attempted to drive over a bridge as it unsettled with the current, and were precipitated headlong. The old man caught a sapling as he went down with the flood, the old woman holding on to his coat-skirts, and so they struggled until their cries brought assistance.' Other and similar incidents are given. One large building was completely disembowelled, and the stream coursed violently between the two halves of its ruins. 'I was stopped,' he writes in another place, 'as I scrambled along the gorge, by a curious picture for the common highway. The brick front of the basement of a dwelling-house had been torn off, and the mistress of the house was on her hands and knees, with her head thrust in from a rear window, apparently getting her first look down into the desolated kitchen from which she had fled in the night. A man stood in the middle of the floor, up to his knees in water, looking round in dismay, though he had begun to pick up some of the overset chairs and utensils. The fireplace, with its interrupted supper arrangements, the dresser, with its plates and pans, its cups and saucers, the closets and cupboards, with their various stores and provisions, were all laid open to the road like a sliced watermelon.'"
"Well," ejaculated Leonard, "we haven't so much cause to complain, after hearing of an affair like that. I do remember many of my impressions at the time, now that the event is recalled so vividly, but have forgotten how so sudden a flood was accounted for."
"Willis speaks of it on another page," continued Webb, as 'the aggregation of extensive masses of clouds into what is sometimes called a "waterspout," by the meeting of winds upon the converging edge of our bowl of highlands. The storm for a whole country was thus concentrated.' I think there must have been yesterday a far heavier fall of water on the mountains a little to the southeast than we had here. Perhaps the truer explanation in both instances would be that the winds brought heavy clouds together or against the mountains in such a way as to induce an enormous precipitation of vapor into rain. Mr. Willis indicates by the following passage the suddenness of the flood he describes: 'My first intimation that there was anything uncommon in the brook was the sight of a gentleman in a boat towing a cow across the meadow under our library window—a green glade seldom or never flooded. The roar from the foaming precipices in the glen had been heard by us all, but was thought to be thunder.' Then he tells how he and his daughter put on their rubber suits and hastened into the glen. 'The chasm,' he writes, 'in which the brook, in any freshet I had heretofore seen, was still only a deep-down stream, now seemed too small for the torrent. Those giddy precipices on which the sky seems to lean as you stand below were the foam-lashed sides of a full and mighty river. The spray broke through the tops of the full-grown willows and lindens. As the waves plunged against the cliffs they parted, and disclosed the trunks and torn branches of the large trees they had overwhelmed and were bearing away, and the earth-colored flood, in the wider places, was a struggling mass of planks, timber, rocks, and roots—tokens of a tumultuous ruin above, to which the thunder-shower pouring around us gave but a feeble clew. A heavy-limbed willow, which overhung a rock on which I had often sat to watch the freshets of spring, rose up while we looked at it, and with a surging heave, as if lifted by an earthquake, toppled back, and was swept rushingly away.'"
"How I would have liked to see it!" exclaimed Miss Hargrove.
"I can see it," said Amy, leaning back, and closing her eyes. "I can see it all too vividly. I don't like nature in such moods." Then she took up the volume, and began turning the leaves, and said: "I've never seen this book before. Why, it's all about this region, and written before I was born. Oh dear, here is another chapter of horrors!" and she read: "Close to our gate, at the door of one of our nearest and most valued neighbors—a lovely girl was yesterday struck dead by lightning. A friend who stood with her at the moment was a greater sufferer, in being prostrated by the same flash, and paralyzed from the waist downward—her life spared at the cost of tortures inexpressible.'"
Webb reached out his hand to take the book from her, but she sprang aloof, and with dilating eyes read further: "'Misa Gilmour had been chatting with a handsome boy admirer, but left him to take aside a confidential friend that she might read her a letter. It was from her mother, a widow with this only daughter. They passed out of the gate, crossed the road to be out of hearing, and stood under the telegraph wire, when the letter was opened. Her lips were scarce parted to read when the flash came—an arrow of intense light-' Oh, horrible! horrible! How can you blame me for fear in a thunderstorm?"
"Amy," said Webb, now quietly taking the book, "your dread at such times is constitutional. If there were need, you could face danger as well as any of us. You would have all a woman's fortitude, and that surpasses ours. Take the world over, the danger from lightning is exceedingly slight, and it's not the danger that makes you tremble, but your nervous organization."
"You interpret me kindly," she said, "but I don't see why nature is so full of horrible things. If Gertrude had been bitten by the snake, she might have fared even worse than the poor girl of whom I have read."
Miss Hargrove could not forbear a swift, grateful glance at Burt.
"I do not think nature is full of horrible things," Webb resumed. "Remember how many showers have cooled the air and made the earth beautiful and fruitful in this region. In no other instance that I know anything about has life been destroyed in our vicinity. There is indeed a side to nature that is full of mystery—the old dark mystery of evil; but I should rather say it is full of all that is beautiful and helpful. At least this seems true of our region. I have never seen so much beauty in all my life as during the past year, simply because I am forming the habit of looking for it."
"Why, Webb," exclaimed Amy, laughing, "I thought your mind was concentrating on crops and subjects as deep as the ocean."
"It would take all the salt of the ocean to save that remark," he replied; but he beat a rather hasty retreat.
"Well, Amy," said Mr. Clifford, "you may now dismiss your fears. I imagine that in our tropical storm summer has passed; and with it thunder-showers and sudden floods. We may now look forward to two months of almost ideal weather, with now and then a day that will make a book and a wood fire all the more alluring."
The old gentleman's words proved true. The days passed like bright smiles, in which, however, lurked the pensiveness of autumn. Slowly failing maples glowed first with the hectic flush of disease, but gradually warmer hues stole into the face of Nature, for it is the dying of the leaves that causes the changes of color in the foliage.
IMPULSES OF THE HEART
The fall season brought increased and varied labors on the farm and in the garden. As soon as the ground was dry after the tremendous storm, and its ravages had been repaired as far as possible, the plows were busy preparing for winter grain, turnips were thinned out, winter cabbages and cauliflowers cultivated, and the succulent and now rapidly growing celery earthed up. The fields of corn were watched, and as fast as the kernels within the husks—now becoming golden-hued—were glazed, the stalks were cut and tied in compact shocks. The sooner maize is cut, after it has sufficiently matured, the better, for the leaves make more nutritious fodder if cured or dried while still full of sap. From some fields the shocks were wholly removed, that the land might be plowed and seeded with grain and grass. Buckwheat, used merely as a green and scavenger crop, was plowed under as it came into blossom, and that which was sown to mature was cut in the early morning, while the dew was still upon it, for in the heat of the day the grain shells easily, and is lost. After drying for a few days in compact little heaps it was ready for the threshing-machine. Then the black, angular kernels—promises of many winter breakfasts—were spread to dry on the barn floor, for if thrown into heaps or bins at this early stage, they heat badly.
The Cliffords had long since learned that the large late peaches, that mature after the Southern crop is out of the market, are the most profitable, and almost every day Abram took to the landing a load of baskets full of downy beauties. An orange grove, with Its deep green foliage and golden fruit, is beautiful indeed, but an orchard laden with Crawford's Late, in their best development, can well sustain comparison. Sharing the honors and attention given to the peaches were the Bartlett and other early pears. These latter fruits were treated in much the same way as the former. The trees were picked over every few days, and the largest and ripest specimens taken, their maturity being indicated by the readiness of the stem to part from the spray when the pear is lifted. The greener and imperfect fruit was left to develop, and the trees, relieved of much of their burden, were able to concentrate their forces on what was left. The earlier red grapes, including the Delaware, Brighton, and Agawam, not only furnished the table abundantly, but also a large surplus for market. Indeed, there was high and dainty feasting at the Cliffords' every day—fruit everywhere, hanging temptingly within reach, with its delicate bloom untouched, untarnished.
The storm and the seasonable rains that followed soon restored its fulness and beauty to Nature's withered face. The drought had brought to vegetation partial rest and extension of root growth, and now, with the abundance of moisture, there was almost a spring-like revival. The grass sprang up afresh, meadows and fields grew green, and annual weeds, from seeds that had matured in August, appeared by the million.
"I am glad to see them," Webb remarked. "Before they can mature any seed the frost will put an end to their career of mischief, and there will be so many seeds less to grow next spring."
"There'll be plenty left," Leonard replied.
The Cliffords, by their provident system of culture, had prepared for droughts as mariners do for storms, and hence they bad not suffered so greatly as others; but busy as they were kept by the autumnal bounty of Nature, and the rewards of their own industry, they found time for recreation, and thoughts far removed from the material questions of profit and loss. The drama of life went on, and feeling, conviction, and love matured like the ripening fruits, although not so openly. As soon as his duties permitted, Burt took a rather abrupt departure for a hunting expedition in the northern woods, and a day or two later Amy received a note from Miss Hargrove, saying that she had accepted an invitation to join a yachting party.
"Oh, Webb!" she exclaimed, "I wish you were not so awfully busy all the time. Here I am, thrown wholly on your tender mercies, and I am neither a crop nor a scientific subject."
He gave her little reason for complaint. The increasing coolness and exhilarating vitality of the air made not only labor agreeable, but out-door sports delightful, and he found time for an occasional gallop, drive, or ramble along roads and lanes lined with golden-rod and purple asters; and these recreations had no other drawback than the uncertainty and anxiety within his heart. The season left nothing to be desired, but the outer world, even in its perfection, is only an accompaniment of human life, which is often in sad discord with it.
Nature, however, is a harmony of many and varied strains, and the unhappy are always conscious of a deep minor key even on the brightest days. To Alf and Johnnie the fall brought unalloyed joy and promise; to those who were older, something akin to melancholy, which deepened with the autumn of their life; while to Mr. Alvord every breeze was a sigh, every rising wind a mournful requiem, and every trace of change a reminder that his spring and summer had passed forever, leaving only a harvest of bitter memories. Far different was the dreamy pensiveness with which Mr. and Mrs. Clifford looked back upon their vanished youth and maturity. At the same time they felt within themselves the beginnings of an immortal youth. Although it was late autumn with them, not memory, but hope, was in the ascendant.
During damp or chilly days, and on the evenings of late September, the fire burned cheerily on the hearth of their Franklin stove. The old gentleman had a curious fancy in regard to his fire-wood. He did not want the straight, shapely sticks from their mountain land, but gnarled and crooked billets, cut from trees about the place that had required pruning and removal.
"I have associations with such fuel" he said, "and can usually recall the trees—many of which I planted—from which it came; and as I watch it burn and turn into coals, I see pictures of what happened many years ago."
One evening he threw on the fire a worm-eaten billet, the sound part of which was as red as mahogany; then drew Amy to him and said, "I once sat with your father under the apple-tree of which that piece of wood was a part, and I can see him now as he then looked."
She sat down beside him, and said, softly, "Please tell me how he looked."
In simple words the old man portrayed the autumn day, the fruit as golden as the sunshine, a strong, hopeful man, who had passed away in a far-distant land, but who was still a living presence to both. Amy looked at the picture in the flickering blaze until her eyes were blinded with tears. But such drops fall on the heart like rain and dew, producing richer and more beautiful life.
The pomp and glory of October were ushered in by days of such surpassing balminess and brightness that it was felt to be a sin to remain indoors. The grapes had attained their deepest purple, and the apples in the orchard vied with the brilliant and varied hues of the fast-turning foliage. The nights were soft, warm, and resonant with the unchecked piping of insects. From every tree and shrub the katydids contradicted one another with increasing emphasis, as if conscious that the time was at hand when the last word must be spoken. The stars glimmered near through a delicate haze, and in the western sky the pale crescent of the moon was so inclined that the old Indian might have hung upon it his powder-horn.
On such an evening the young people from the Cliffords' had gathered on Mr. Hargrove's piazza, and Amy and Gertrude were looking at the new moon with silver in their pockets, each making her silent wish. What were those wishes? Amy had to think before deciding what she wanted most, but not Miss Hargrove. Her face has grown thinner and paler during the last few weeks; there is unwonted brilliancy in her eyes to-night, but her expression is resolute. Her wish and her hope were at variance. Times of weakness, if such they could be called, would come, but they should not appear in Burt's or Amy's presence.
The former had just returned, apparently gayer than ever. His face was bronzed from his out-door life in the Adirondacks. Its expression was also resolute, and his eyes turned oftenest toward Amy, with a determined loyalty. As has been said, not long after the experiences following the storm, he had yielded to his impulse to go away and recover his poise. He felt that if he continued to see Miss Hargrove frequently he might reveal a weakness which would lead not only Amy to despise him, but also Miss Hargrove, should she become aware of the past. As he often took such outings, the family, with the exception of Webb and Amy, thought nothing of it. His brother and the girl he had wooed so passionately now understood him well enough to surmise his motive, and Amy had thought, "It will do him good to go away and think awhile, but it will make no difference; this new affair must run its course also." And yet her heart began to relent toward him after a sisterly fashion. She wondered if Miss Hargrove did regard him as other than a friend to whom she owed very much. If so, she smiled at the idea of standing in the way of their mutual happiness. She had endured his absence with exceeding tranquillity, for Webb had given her far more of his society, and she, Alf, and Johnnie often went out and aided him in gathering the fruit. For some reason these light tasks had been more replete with quiet enjoyment than deliberate pleasure-seeking.
Burt had been at pains to take, in Amy's presence, a most genial and friendly leave of Miss Hargrove, but there was no trace of the lover in his manner. His smiles and cordial words had chilled her heart, and had strengthened the fear that in some way he was bound to Amy. She knew that she had fascinated and perhaps touched him deeply, but imagined she saw indications of an allegiance that gave little hope for the future. If he felt as she did, and were free, he would not have gone away; and when he had gone, time grew leaden-footed. Absence is the touchstone, and by its test she knew that her father was right, and that she, to whom so much love had been given unrequited, had bestowed hers apparently in like manner. Then had come an invitation to join a yachting party to Fortress Monroe, and she had eagerly accepted. With the half-reckless impulse of pride, she had resolved to throw away the dream that had promised so much, and yet had ended in such bitter and barren reality. She would forget it all in one brief whirl of gayety; and she had been the brilliant life of the party. But how often her laugh had ended in a stifled sigh! How often her heart told her, "This is not happiness, and never can be again!" Her brief experience of what is deep and genuine in life taught her that she had outgrown certain pleasures of the past, as a child outgrows its toys, and she had returned thoroughly convinced that her remedy was not in the dissipations of society.
The evening after her return Burt, with Webb and Amy, had come to call, and as she looked upon him again she asked herself, in sadness, "Is there any remedy?" She was not one to give her heart in a half-way manner.
It seemed to her that he had been absent for years, and had grown indefinitely remote. Never before had she gained the impression so strongly that he was in some way bound to Amy, and would abide by his choice. If this were true, she felt that the sooner she left the vicinity the better, and even while she chatted lightly and genially she was planning to induce her father to return to the city at an early date. Before parting, Amy spoke of her pleasure at the return of her friend, who, she said, had been greatly missed, adding: "Now we shall make up for lost time. The roads are in fine condition for horseback exercise, nutting expeditions will soon be in order, and we have a bee-hunt on the programme."
"I congratulate you on your prospects," said Miss Hargrove. "I wish I could share in all your fun, but fear I shall soon return to the city."
Burt felt a sudden chill at these words, and a shadow from them fell across his face. Webb saw their effect, and he at once entered on a rather new role for him. "Then we must make the most of the time before you go," he began. "I propose we take advantage of this weather and drive over to West Point, and lunch at Fort Putnam."
"Why, Webb, what a burst of genius!" Amy exclaimed. "Nothing could be more delightful. Let us go to-morrow for we can't count on such weather long."
Miss Hargrove hesitated. The temptation was indeed strong, but she felt it would not be wise to yield, and began, hesitatingly, "I fear my engagements—" At this moment she caught a glimpse of Burt's face in a mirror, and saw the look of disappointment which he could not disguise. "If I return to the city soon," she resumed, "I ought to be at my preparations."
"Why, Gertrude," said Amy, "I almost feel as if you did not wish to go. Can't you spare one day? I thought you were to remain in the country till November. I have been planning so much that we could do together!"
"Surely, Miss Hargrove," added Burt, with a slight tremor in his voice, "you cannot nip Webb's genius in the very bud. Such an expedition as he proposes is an inspiration."
"But you can do without me," she replied, smiling on him bewilderingly.
It was a light arrow, but its aim was true. Never before had he so felt the power of her beauty, the almost irresistible spell of her fascination. While her lips were smiling, there was an expression in her dark eyes that made her words, so simple and natural in themselves, a searching question, and he could not forbear saying, earnestly, "We should all enjoy the excursion far more if you went with us."
"Truly, Miss Hargrove," said Webb, "I shall be quenched if you decline, and feel that I have none of the talent for which I was beginning to gain a little credit."
"I cannot resist such an appeal as that, Mr. Clifford," she said, laughingly.
"This is perfectly splendid!" cried Amy. "I anticipate a marvellous day to-morrow. Bring Fred also, and let us all vie with each other in encouraging Webb."
"Has that quiet Webb any scheme in his mind?" Miss Hargrove thought, after they had gone. "I wish that tomorrow might indeed be 'a marvellous day' for us all."
"Can I do without her?" was poor Burt's query. An affirmative answer was slow in coming, though he thought long and late.
WEBB'S FATEFUL EXPEDITION
Mr. Hargrove had welcomed the invitation that took his daughter among some of her former companions, hoping that a return to brilliant fashionable life would prove to her that she could not give it up. It was his wish that she should marry a wealthy man of the city. His wife did not dream of any other future for her handsome child, and she looked forward with no little complacency to the ordering of a new and elegant establishment.
At the dinner-table Gertrude had given a vivacious account of her yachting experience, and all had appeared to promise well; but when she went to the library to kiss her father good-night, he looked at her inquiringly, and said, "You enjoyed every moment, I suppose?"
She shook her head sadly, and, after a moment, said: "I fear I've grown rather tired of that kind of thing. We made much effort to enjoy ourselves. Is there not a happiness which comes without so much effort?"
"I'm sorry," he said, simply.
"Perhaps you need not be. Suppose I find more pleasure in staying with you than in rushing around?"
"That would not last. That is contrary to nature."
"I think it would be less contrary to my nature than forced gayety among people I care nothing about."
He smiled at her fondly, but admitted to himself that absence had confirmed the impressions of the summer, instead of dissipating them, and that if Burt became her suitor he would be accepted.
When she looked out on the morning of the excursion to Fort Putnam it was so radiant with light and beauty that hope sprang up within her heart. Disappointment that might last through life could not come on a day like this. Silvery mists ascended from the river down among the Highlands. The lawn and many of the fields were as green as they had been in June, and on every side were trees like immense bouquets, so rich and varied was their coloring. There was a dewy freshness in the air, a genial warmth in the sunshine, a spring-like blue in the sky; and in these was no suggestion that the November of her life was near. "And yet it may be," she thought. "I must soon face my fate, and I must be true to Amy."
Mrs. Hargrove regarded with discontent the prospect of another long mountain expedition; but Fred, her idol, was wild for it, and in a day or two he must return to school in the city, from which, at his earnest plea, he had been absent too long already; so she smiled her farewell at last upon the fateful excursion.
He, with his sister, was soon at the Cliffords', and found the rockaway—the strong old carryall with which Gertrude already had tender associations—in readiness. Maggie had agreed to chaperon the party, little Ned having been easily bribed to remain with his father.
Miss Hargrove had looked wistfully at the Clifford mansion as she drew near to it. Never had it appeared to her more home-like, with its embowering trees and laden orchards. The bright hues of the foliage suggested the hopes that centred there: the ocean, as she had seen it—cold and gray under a clouded sky—was emblematic of life with no fulfilment of those hopes. And when Mr. Clifford met her at the door, and took her in to see the invalid, who greeted her almost as affectionately as she would have welcomed Amy after absence, Miss Hargrove knew in the depths of her heart how easily she could be at home there.
Never did a pleasure-party start under brighter auspices. Even Mrs. Clifford came out, on her husband's arm, to wave them a farewell.
The young men had their alpenstocks, for it was their intention to walk up the steep places. Webb was about to take Alf and Johnnie on the front seat with him, when Amy exclaimed: "I'm going to drive, Mr. Webb. Johnnie can sit between us, and keep me company when you are walking. You needn't think that because you are the brilliant author of this expedition you are going to have everything your own way."
Indeed, not a little guile lurked behind her laughing eyes, which ever kept Webb in perplexity—though he looked into them so often—as to whether they were blue or gray. Miss Hargrove demurely took her seat with Maggie, and Burt had the two boys with him. Fred had brought his gun, and was vigilant for game now that the "law was up."
They soon reached the foot of the mountain, and there was a general unloading, for at first every one wished to walk. Maggie good-naturedly climbed around to the front seat and took the reins, remarking that she would soon have plenty of company again.
Burt had not recognized Amy's tactics, nor did he at once second them, even unconsciously. His long ruminations had led to the only possible conclusion—the words he had spoken must be made good. Pride and honor permitted no other course. Therefore he proposed to-day to be ubiquitous, and as gallant to Maggie as to the younger ladies. When Miss Hargrove returned to the city he would quietly prove his loyalty. Never before had he appeared in such spirits; never so inexorably resolute. He recalled Amy's incredulous laugh at his protestation of constancy, and felt that he could never look her in the face if he faltered. It was known that Miss Hargrove had received much attention, and her interest in him would be likely to disappear at once should she learn of his declaration of undying devotion to another but a few months before. He anathematized himself, but determined that his weakness should remain unknown. It was evident that Amy had been a little jealous, but probably that she did not yet care enough for him to be very sensitive on the subject. This made no difference, however. He had pledged himself to wait until she did care. Therefore he sedulously maintained his mask. Miss Hargrove should be made to believe that she had added much to the pleasure of the excursion, and there he would stop. And Burt on his mettle was no bungler. The test would come in his staying powers.
Webb, however, was quietly serene. He had not watched and thought so long in vain. He had seen Burt's expression the evening before, and knew that a wakeful night had followed. His own feeling had taught him a clairvoyance which enabled him to divine not a little of what was passing in his brother's mind and that of Miss Hargrove. Amy troubled him more than they. Her frank, sisterly affection was not love, and might never become love.
One of the objects of the expedition was to obtain an abundant supply of autumn leaves and ferns for pressing. "I intend to make the old house look like a bower this winter," Amy remarked.
"That would be impossible with our city home," Miss Hargrove said, "and mamma would not hear of such an attempt. But I can do as I please in my own room, and shall gather my country souvenirs to-day."
The idea of decorating her apartment with feathery ferns and bright-hued leaves took a strong hold upon her fancy, for she hoped that Burt would aid her in making the collection. Nor was she disappointed, for Amy said:
"Burt, I have gathered and pressed nearly all the ferns I need already. You know the shady nooks where the most delicate ones grow, and you can help Gertrude make as good a collection as mine. You'll help too, won't you, Webb?" added the innocent little schemer, who saw that Burt was looking at her rather keenly.
So they wound up the mountain, making long stops here and there to gather sylvan trophies and to note the fine views. Amy's manner was so cordial and natural that Burt's suspicions had been allayed, and the young fellow, who could do nothing by halves, was soon deeply absorbed in making a superb collection for Miss Hargrove, and she felt that, whatever happened, she was being enriched by everything he obtained for her. Amy had brought a great many newspapers folded together so that leaves could be placed between the pages, and Webb soon noted that his offerings were kept separate from those of Burt. The latter tried to be impartial in his labors in behalf of the two girls, bringing Amy bright-hued leaves instead of ferns, but did not wholly succeed, and sometimes he found himself alone with Miss Hargrove as they pursued their search a short distance on some diverging and shaded path. On one of these occasions he said, "I like to think how beautiful you will make your room this winter."
"I like to think of it too," she replied. "I shall feel that I have a part of my pleasant summer always present."
"Has it been a pleasant summer?"
"Yes, the pleasantest I ever enjoyed."
"I should think you would find it exceedingly dull after such brilliant experiences as that of your yachting excursion."
"Do you find to-day exceedingly dull?"
"But I am used to the quiet country, and a day like this is the exception."
"I do not imagine you have ever lived a tame life."
"Isn't that about the same as calling me wild?"
"There's no harm in beginning a little in that way. Time sobers one fast enough."
"You are so favored that I can scarcely imagine life bringing sobering experiences to you very soon."
"Indeed? Have you forgotten what occurred on these very mountains, at no great distance? I assure you I never forget it;" and her eyes were eloquent as she turned them upon him.
"One does not forget the most fortunate event of one's life. Since you were to meet that danger, I would not have missed being near for the world. I had even a narrower escape, as you know, on this mountain. The spot where Webb found me is scarcely more than a mile away."
She looked at him very wistfully, and her face grew pale, but she only said, "I don't think either of us can forget the Highlands."
"I shall never forget that little path," he said, in a low tone, and he looked back at it lingeringly as they came out into the road and approached the rest of the party.
"Have you lost anything, Burt?" cried Amy, laughing.
"No, but I've found something. See this superb bunch of maiden hair. That spot should be marked for future supplies. Miss Hargrove will share with you, for you can't have anything so fine as this."
"Yes, indeed I have, and I shall call you and Webb to account if you do not to-day make Gertrude fare as well."
Both Miss Hargrove and Burt were bewildered. There was lurking mischief in Amy's eyes when she first spoke, and yet she used her influence to keep Burt in her friend's society. Her spirits seemed too exuberant to be natural, and Miss Hargrove, who was an adept at hiding her feelings under a mask of gayety, surmised that Amy's feminine instincts had taught her to employ the same tactics. Conscious of their secret, Miss Hargrove and Burt both thought, "Perhaps it is her purpose to throw us together as far as possible, and learn the truth."
Amy had a kinder purpose than they imagined. She wanted no more of Burt's forced allegiance, and was much too good-natured to permit mere pique to cause unhappiness to others. "Let Gertrude win him if she cares for him," was her thought, "and if she can't hold him his case is hopeless." She could not resist the temptation, however, to tease Burt a little.
But he gave her slight chance for the next few hours. Her mirthful question and the glance accompanying it had put him on his guard again, and he at once became the gay cavalier-general he had resolved on being throughout the day.
They made a long pause to enjoy the view looking out upon Constitution Island, West Point, the southern mountains, and the winding river, dotted here and there with sails, and with steamers, seemingly held motionless by their widely separated train of canal boats.
"What mountain is this that we are now to descend?" Miss Hargrove asked.
"Cro' Nest," Burt replied. "It's the first high mountain that abuts on the river above West Point, you will remember."
"Oh, yes, I remember. I have a song relating to it, and will give you a verse;" and she sang:
"'Where Hudson's waves o'er silvery sands Wind through the hills afar, And Cro' Nest like a monarch stands, Crowned with a single star.'"
After a round of applause had subsided, Burt, whose eyes had been more demonstrative than his hands, said, "That's by Morris. We can see from Fort Putnam his old home under Mount Taurus."
"I know. He is the poet who entreated the woodman to 'spare that tree.'"
"Which the woodman will never do," Webb remarked, "unless compelled by law; nor even then, I fear."
"Oh, Webb!" cried Amy, "with what a thump you drop into prose!"
"I also advise an immediate descent of the mountain if we are to have any time at Fort Putnam," he added. "I'll walk on."
They were soon winding down the S's by which the road overcame the steep declivity. On reaching a plateau, before the final descent, they came across a wretched hovel, gray and storm-beaten, with scarcely strength to stand. Rags took the place of broken glass in the windows. A pig was rooting near the doorstep, on which stood a slatternly woman, regarding the party with dull curiosity.
"Talk about the elevating influence of mountain scenery," said Miss Hargrove; "there's a commentary on the theory."
"The theory's correct," persisted Burt. "Their height above tide-water and the amount of bad whiskey they consume keep our mountaineers elevated most of the time."
"Does Lumley live in a place like that?" Miss Hargrove asked.
"He did—in a worse one, if possible," Webb replied for Amy, who hesitated. "But you should see how it is changed. He now has a good vegetable garden fenced in, a rustic porch covered with American ivy, and—would you believe it?—an actual flower-bed. Within the hut there are two pictures on the wall, and the baby creeps on a carpeted floor. Lumley says Amy is making a man of him."
"You forget to mention how much you have helped me," Amy added.
"Come, let us break up this mutual admiration society," said Burt. "I'm ready for lunch already, and Fort Putnam is miles away."
The road from the foot of the mountain descends gradually through wild, beautiful scenery to West Point. Cro' Nest rises abruptly on the left, and there is a wooded valley on the right, with mountains beyond. The trees overhung the road with a canopy of gold, emerald, and crimson foliage, and the sunlight came to the excursionists as through stained-glass windows. Taking a side street at the back of the military post, they soon reached a point over which frowned the ruins of the fort, and here they left their horses. After a brief climb to the northward they entered on an old road, grass-grown and leaf-carpeted, and soon passed through the gaping sally-port, on either side of which cone-like cedars stood as sentinels. Within the fort Nature had been busy for a century softening and obliterating the work of man. Cedar trees—some of which were dying from age—grew everywhere, even on the crumbling ramparts. Except where ledges of the native rock cropped out, the ground was covered with a thick sward. Near the centre of the inclosure is the rocky basin. In it bubbles the spring at which the more temperate of the ancient garrison may have softened the asperities of their New England rum.
The most extensive ruins are seen by turning sharply to the left from the sally-port. Here, yawning like caverns, their entrances partially choked by the debris, are six casemates, or vaults. They were built of brick, covered with stone, and are eighteen feet deep and twelve wide, with an arched roof twelve feet high. On the level rampart above them were long, withered grass, the wild dwarf-rose, and waving golden-rod. The outer walls, massy and crumbling, or half torn away by vandal hands, were built in angles, according to the engineering science of the Revolution, except on the west, where the high ramparts surmount a mural perpendicular precipice fifty feet in height. Inland, across the valley, the mountains were seen, rising like rounded billows in every direction, while from the north, east, and south the windings of the Hudson were visible for fifteen miles.
All but Amy had visited the spot before, and Burt explored the place with her while the rest prepared for lunch. She had asked Gertrude to accompany them, but the latter had sought refuge with Maggie, and at her side she proposed to remain. She scarcely dared trust herself with Burt, and as the day advanced he certainly permitted his eyes to express an interest that promised ill for his inexorable purpose of constancy.
It had become clear to Miss Hargrove that he was restrained by something that had occurred between him and Amy, and both her pride and her sense of truth to her friend decided her to withdraw as far as possible from his society, and to return to the city.
She and Burt vied with each other in gayety at lunch. When it was over they all grouped themselves in the shade of a clump of cedars, and looked away upon the wide prospect, Webb pointing out objects of past and present interest. Alf and Fred speedily grew restless and started off with the gun, Johnnie's head sank into her mother's lap, Miss Hargrove and Burt grew quiet and preoccupied, their eyes looking off into vacancy. Webb was saying, "By one who had imagination how much more could be seen from this point than meets the eye! There, on the plain below us, would rise the magnificent rustic colonnade two hundred and twenty feet long and eighty feet wide, beneath which Washington gave the great banquet in honor of the birth of the Dauphin of France, and on the evening of the same day these hills blazed with musketry and rolled back the thunder of cannon with which the festivities of the evening were begun. Think of the 'Father of his Country' being there in flesh and blood, just as we are here! In the language of an old military journal, 'He carried down a dance of twenty couple on the green grass, with a graceful and dignified air, having Mrs. Knox for his partner.' In almost a direct line across the river you can see the Beverly Robinson house, from which Arnold carried on his correspondence with Andre. You can look into the window of the room to which, after hearing of the capture of Andre, he hastened from the breakfast-table. To this upper room he immediately summoned his wife, who had been the beautiful Margaret Shippen, you remember, and told her of his awful peril, then rushed away, leaving the poor, terror-stricken woman unconscious on the floor. Would you not like to look through the glass at the house where the tragedy occurred, Miss Hargrove?"
At the sound of her name the young girl started visibly, and Webb saw that there were tears in her eyes; but she complied without a word, and he so directed the glass that it covered the historic mansion.
"How full of sensibility she is!" thought innocent Webb, taking her quickly suppressed emotion as a tribute to his moving reminiscences.
"Oh, Webb, have done with your lugubrious ancient history!" cried Burt, springing up.
"It's time we were getting ready for a homeward move," said Maggie. "I'll go and pack the things."
"And I'll help you," added Miss Hargrove, hastily following her.
"Let me look at the house, too," said Amy, taking the glass; then added, after a moment: "Poor Margaret Arnold! It was indeed a tragedy, as you said, Webb—a sadder one than these old military preparations can suggest. In all his career of war and treachery Arnold never inflicted a more cruel wound."
"How much feeling Miss Hargrove showed!" Webb remarked, musingly.
"Yes," said Amy, quietly, "she was evidently feeling deeply." Her thought was, "I don't believe she heard a word that Webb said." Then, seeing that Burt was helping Maggie and Miss Hargrove, she added, "Please point out to me some other interesting places."
Webb, well pleased, talked on to a listener who did not give him her whole attention. She could not forget Gertrude's paleness, and her alternations from extreme gayety to a look of such deep sadness as to awaken not a little sympathetic curiosity. Amy loved her friend truly, and it did not seem strange to her that Miss Hargrove was deeply interested in Burt, since they had been much thrown together, and since she probably owed her life to him. Amy's resentment toward Burt had passed away. She had found that her pride, merely, and not her heart, was wounded by his new passion, and she already began to feel that she never could have any such regard for him as her friend was possibly cherishing. Therefore it was, perhaps, not unnatural that her tranquil regard should prove unsatisfying to Burt in contrast with the passion of which Miss Hargrove was capable. She had seen his vain efforts to remain loyal, and had smiled at them, proposing to let matters take their course, and to give little aid in extricating him from his dilemma. But, if she had interpreted her friend's face aright, she could no longer stand aloof, an amused and slightly satirical spectator. If Burt deserved some punishment, Gertrude did not, and she was inclined to guess the cause of the latter's haste to return to the city.
It may thus be seen that Amy was fast losing her unsophisticated girlhood. While Burt's passionate words had awakened no corresponding feeling, they had taught her that she was no longer a child, since she could inspire such words. Her intimacy with Miss Hargrove, and the latter's early confidences, had enlarged her ideas on some subjects. As the bud of a flower passes slowly through long and apparently slow stages of immaturity and at last suddenly opens to the light, so she had reached that age when a little experience suggests a great deal, and the influences around her tended to develop certain thoughts very rapidly. She saw that her friend had not been brought up in English seclusion. Admirers by the score had flocked around her, and, as she had often said, she proposed to marry for love. "I have the name of being cold," she once told Amy, "but I know I can love as can few others, and I shall know it well when I do love, too." The truth was daily growing clearer to Amy that under our vivid American skies the grand passion is not a fiction of romance or a quiet arrangement between the parties concerned.
Miss Hargrove had not misjudged herself. Her tropical nature, when once kindled, burned with no feeble, wavering flame. She had passed the point of criticism of Burt. She loved him, and to her fond eyes he seemed more worthy of her love than any man she had ever before known. But she had not passed beyond her sense of truth and duty, and the feeling came to her that she must go away at once and engage in that most pathetic of all struggles that fall to woman's lot. As the conviction grew clear on this bright October day, she felt that her heart was bleeding internally. Tears would come into her eyes at the dreary prospect. Her former brilliant society life now looked as does an opera-house in the morning, when the gilding and tinsel that flashed and sparkled the evening before are seen to be dull and tarnished. Burt had appeared to especial advantage in his mountain home. He excelled in all manly sports. His tall, fine figure and unconscious, easy manner were as full of grace as deficient in conventionality, and she thought with disgust of many of her former admirers, who were nothing if not stylish after the arbitrary mode of the hour. At the same time he had proved that he could be at home in a drawing-room on the simple ground of good-breeding, and not because he had been run through fashion's latest mold. The grand scenery around her suggested the manhood that kindled her imagination—a manhood strong, fearless, and not degenerated from that sturdy age which had made these scenes historic.
By the time they were ready to start homeward the southern side of Cro' Nest was in deep blue shadow. They bowled along rapidly till they came to the steep ascent, and then the boys and the young men sprang out. "Would you like to walk, Gertrude?" Amy asked, for she was bent on throwing her friend and Burt together during the witching twilight that was coming on apace.
"I fear I am too tired, unless the load is heavy," she replied.
"Oh, no, indeed," said Webb. "It does not take long to reach the top of the mountain on this side, and then it's chiefly down hill the rest of the way."
Amy, who had been sitting with Webb and Johnnie as before, said to Miss Hargrove, "Won't you step across the seats and keep me company?"
She complied, but not willingly. She was so utterly unhappy that she wished to be left to herself as far as possible. In her realization of a loss that seemed immeasurable, she was a little resentful toward Amy, feeling that she had been more frank and confidential than her friend. If Amy had claims on Burt, why had she not spoken of them? why had she permitted her for whom she professed such strong friendship to drift almost wholly unwarned upon so sad a fate? and why was she now clearly trying to bring together Burt and the one to whom even he felt that he had no right to speak in more than a friendly manner? While she was making such immense sacrifices to be true, she felt that Amy was maintaining an unfair reticence, if not actually beguiling herself and Burt into a display of weakness for which they would be condemned—or, at least, he would be, and love identifies itself with its object. These thoughts, having once been admitted, grew upon her mind rapidly, for it is hard to suffer through another and maintain a gentle charity. Therefore she was silent when she took her seat by Amy, and when the latter gave her a look that was like a caress, she did not return it.
"You are tired, Gertrude," Amy began gently. "Indeed, you look ill. You must stay with me to-night, and I'll watch over you like Sairy Gamp."
So far from responding to Amy's playful and friendly words, Miss Hargrove said, hastily,
"Oh, no, I had better go right on home. I don't feel very well, and shall be better at home; and I must begin to get ready to-morrow for my return to the city."
Amy would not be repulsed, but, putting her arm around her friend, she looked into her eyes, and asked:
"Why are you so eager to return to New York? Are you tiring of your country friends? You certainly told me that you expected to stay till November."
"Fred must go back to school to-morrow," said Gertrude, in a constrained voice, "and I do not think it is well to leave him alone in the city house."
"You are withdrawing your confidence from me," said Amy, sadly.
"Have you ever truly given me yours?" was the low, impetuous response. "No. If you had, I should not be the unhappy girl I am-to-night. Well, since you wish to know the whole truth you shall. You said you could trust me implicitly, and I promised to deserve your trust. If you had said to me that Burt was bound to you when I told you that I was heart-whole and fancy-free, I should have been on my guard. Is it natural that I should be indifferent to the man who risked his life to save mine? Why have you left me so long in his society without a hint of warning? But I shall keep my word. I shall not try to snatch happiness from another."
Johnnie's tuneful little voice was piping a song, and the rumble of the wheels over a stony road prevented Maggie, on the last seat, from hearing anything.
The clasp of Amy's arm tightened. "Now you shall stay with me to-night," she said. "I cannot explain here and now. See, Burt has turned, and is coming toward us. I pledge you my word he can never be to me more than a brother. I do not love him except as a brother, and never have, and you can snatch no happiness from me, except by treating me with distrust and going away."
"Oh, Amy," began Miss Hargrove, in tones and with a look that gave evidence of the chaotic bewilderment of her mind.
"Hush! We are not very lonely, thank you, Mr. Burt. You look, as far as I can see you through the dusk, as if you were commiserating us as poor forlorn creatures, but we have some resources within ourselves."
"The dusk is, indeed, misleading. We are the forlorn creatures who have no resources. Won't you please take us in?"
"Take you in! What do you take us for? I assure you we are very simple, honest people."
"In that case I shall have no fears, but clamber in at once. I feel as if I had been on a twenty-mile tramp."
"What an implied compliment to our exhilarating society!"
"Indeed there is—a very strong one. I've been so immensely exhilarated that, in the re-action, I'm almost faint."
"Maggie," cried Amy, "do take care of Burt; he's going to faint."
"He must wait till we come to the next brook, and then we'll put him in it."
"Webb," said Amy, looking over her shoulder at the young man, who was now following the carriage, "is there anything the matter with you, also?"
"Nothing more than usual."
"Oh, your trouble, whatever it may be, is chronic. Well, well, to think that we poor women may be the only survivors of this tremendous expedition."
"That would be most natural—the survival of the fittest, you know."
"I don't think your case serious. Science is uppermost in your mind, as ever. You ought to live a thousand years, Webb, to see the end of all your theories."
"I fear it wouldn't be the millennium for me, and that I should have more perplexing theories at its end than now."
"That's the way with men—they are never satisfied," remarked Miss Hargrove. "Mr. Clifford, this is your expedition, and it's getting so dark that I shall feel safer if you are driving."
"Oh, Gertrude, you have no confidence in me whatever. As if I would break your neck—or heart either!" Amy whispered in her friend's ear.
"You are a very mysterious little woman," was the reply, given in like manner, "and need hours of explanation." Then, to Webb: "Mr. Clifford, I've much more confidence in you than in Amy. Her talk is so giddy that I want a sober hand on the reins."
"To which Mr. Clifford do you refer?" asked Burt.
"Oh, are you reviving? I thought you had become unconscious."
"I'm not wholly past feeling."
"I want one to drive who can see his way, not feel it," was the laughing response.
Amy, too, was laughing silently, as she reined in the horses. "What are you two girls giggling about?" said Burt, becoming a little uncomfortable. "The idea of two such refined creatures giggling!"
"Well," exclaimed Webb, "what am I to do? I can't stand up between you and drive."
"Gertrude, you must clamber around and sustain Burt's drooping spirits."
"Indeed, Amy, you must know best how to do that," was the reply. "As guest, I claim a little of the society of the commander-in-chief. You had it coming over."
"I'll solve the vexed question," said Burt, much nettled, and leaping out.
"Now, Burt, the question isn't vexed, and don't you be," cried Amy, springing lightly over to the next seat. "There are Fred and Alf, too, with the gun. Let us all get home as soon as possible, for it's nearly time for supper already. Come, I shall feel much hurt if you don't keep me company."
Burt at once realized the absurdity of showing pique, although he felt that there was something in the air which he did not understand. He came back laughing, with much apparent good-nature, and saying, "I thought I'd soon bring one or the other of you to terms."
"Oh, what a diplomat you are!" said Amy, with difficulty restraining a new burst of merriment.
They soon reached the summit, and paused to give the horses a breathing. The young moon hung in the west, and its silver crescent symbolized to Miss Hargrove the hope that was growing in her heart. "Amy," she said, "don't you remember the song we arranged from 'The Culprit Fay'? We certainly should sing it here on this mountain. You take the solo."
Amy sang, in clear soprano:
"'The moon looks down on old Cro' Nest, She mellows the shades on his shaggy breast, And seems his huge gray form to throw In a silver cone on the wave below.'"
"Imagine the cone and wave, please," said Miss Hargrove; and then, in an alto rich with her heart's deep feeling, she sang with Amy:
"'Ouphe and goblin! imp and sprite! Elf of eve! and starry fay! Ye that love the moon's soft light, Hither—hither wend your way; Twine ye in a jocund ring; Sing and trip it merrily, Hand to hand and wing to wing, Round the wild witch-hazel tree.'"
"If I were a goblin, I'd come, for music like that," cried Burt, as they started rapidly homeward.
"You are much too big to suggest a culprit fay," said Amy.
"But the description of the fay's charmer is your portrait," he replied, in a low tone:
"'But well I know her sinless mind Is pure as the angel forms above, Gentle and meek, and chaste and kind, Such as a spirit well might love.'"
"Oh, no; you are mistaken, I'm not meek in the least. Think of the punishment:
"'Tied to the hornet's shardy wings, Toss'd on the pricks of nettles' stings;'
you know the rest."
"What witchery has got into you to-night, Amy?"
"Do you think I'm a witch? Beware, then. Witches can read men's thoughts."
"That last song was so good that I, for one, would be glad of more," cried Webb.
"You men must help us, then," said Miss Hargrove, and in a moment the wild, dim forest was full of melody, the rocks and highlands sending back soft and unheeded echoes.
Burt, meantime, was occupied with disagreeable reflections. Perhaps both the girls at last understood him, and had been comparing notes, to his infinite disadvantage. His fickleness and the dilemma he was in may have become a jest between them. What could he do? Resentment, except against himself, was impossible. If Amy understood him, in what other way could she meet any approach to sentiment on his part than by a laughing scorn? If Miss Hargrove had divined the past, or had received a hint concerning it, why should she not shun his society? He was half-desperate, and yet felt that any show of embarrassment or anger would only make him appear more ridiculous. The longer he thought the more sure he was that the girls were beginning to guess his position, and that his only course was a polite indifference to both. But this policy promised to lead through a thorny path, and to what? In impotent rage at himself he ground his teeth during the pauses between the stanzas that he was compelled to sing. Such was the discord in his heart that he felt like uttering notes that would make "night hideous."
He was still more distraught when, on their return, they found Mr. Hargrove's carriage in waiting, and Amy, after a brief conference with her friend in her room, came down prepared to accompany Miss Hargrove home after supper. In spite of all his efforts at ease and gayety, his embarrassment and trouble were evident. He had observed Miss Hargrove's pallor and her effort to keep up at Fort Putnam, and could not banish the hope that she sympathized with him; but now the young girl was demurely radiant. Her color had come again, and the lustre of her beautiful eyes was dazzling. Yet they avoided his, and she had far more to say to Webb and the others than to him. Webb, too, was perplexed, for during the day Amy had been as bewildering to him as to Burt. But he was in no uncertainty as to his course, which was simply to wait. He, with Burt, saw the girls to the carriage, and the latter said good-night rather coldly and stiffly. Alf and Fred parted regretfully, with the promise of a correspondence which would be as remarkable for its orthography as for its natural history.