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One Day in Spring by Eliza Calvert Hall

 

According to the calendar, it was the last day of March, but for weeks the spirit of April and May had breathed on the face of the earth, and those who had memories of many springs declared that never before had there been such weather in the month of March.

In the annals of the rural weather prophets, the winter had been set down as the coldest ever known—a winter of many snows, of frozen rivers, and skies so heavily clouded that there was little difference between the day and the night. Wild creatures had frozen and starved to death, and man and beast had drawn near to each other in the companionship of common suffering. Then, as if repenting of her harshness to her helpless children, Nature had sent a swift and early spring. It was March, but hardly a March wind had blown. The rain that fell was not the cold, wind-driven rain of March; it was the warm, delicate April shower. The sun had the warmth of May, and all the flowers of field, forest, and garden had felt the summons of sun and rain and started up from the underworld in such haste that they trod on each other's heels. Flowers that never had met before stood side by side and looked wonderingly at each other. The golden flame of the daffodils was almost burnt out, and the withered blossoms drooped in the grass like extinguished torches; but hyacinths were opening their censers; tulips were budding; the plumes of the lilacs showed color, and honeysuckles and roses looked as if they were trying to bloom with the lilac and the snowball. March had blustered in with the face and voice of February, but she was going out a flower-decked Queen of May.

The fragrant air was like the touch of a warm hand. Fleets of white clouds sailed on the sea of pale blue ether, and the trees, not yet in full leaf, cast delicate shadows on the grass. On a day like this in ancient Rome, young and old clad themselves in garments of joy and went forth to the festival of the goddess of grain and harvests; and under such skies, English poets were wont to sing of skylarks and of golden daffodils. But in the calendar of the Kentucky housewife there is no Floralia or Thesmophoria, and no smile or breath of song was on the lips of the girl who was climbing the back stairs of an old farmhouse, with a bucket of water in one hand and a cake of soap in the other, to celebrate the Christian festival of spring cleaning. The steps were steep and narrow, and every time she set her foot down they creaked dismally, as if to warn the climber that they might fall at any minute. She toiled painfully up and set the bucket on the floor. Where should she begin her work? She went into the nearest bedroom, opened the door of a closet, and looked disgustedly at the disorder within,—coats, hats, trousers, disabled suspenders, a pair of shoes caked with mud, an old whip-handle, an empty blacking box, a fishing-pole and tangled line, a hammer, and a box of rusty nails. It was not an unfamiliar sight. She had cleaned the boys' closet and the boys' room every spring for—how many years? It made her tired to think of it, and she sat down on the edge of the slovenly bed and stared hopelessly around the low-ceiled, dingy room. The mouldy wall paper was peeling off, the woodwork was an ugly brown, dirty, discolored, and worn off in spots; the furniture was rickety, the bedclothes coarse and soiled; and walls, floors, and furniture reeked with a musty odor as of old age, decay, and death. All houses that have sheltered many generations acquire this atmosphere; nothing but fire can wholly destroy such uncleanness, and some vague idea of the impossibility of making the old house wholesomely clean crossed the girl's mind as she sat listlessly on the side of the bed and stared out of the window.

There are two kinds of homesickness. One is a longing for home that seizes the wanderer and draws him across continent and ocean back to the country and the house of his nativity. Men have died of this homesickness on many a foreign soil. The other kind is a sickness of home that draws us away from ordered rooms, from sheltering walls and roofs, to the bare, primitive forest life that was ours ages ago. It was this homesickness that made Miranda sigh and frown as she looked at that room, gray and dingy with the accumulated dirt of the winter, and thought of the task before her. While she sat, scowling and rebellious, a breeze blew in, scattering the sickly odors of the bedroom, and at the same moment she heard two sounds that seem to belong specially to the spring of the year, the bleating of some young lambs in a near meadow and the plaintive lowing of a calf that had been separated from its mother. Yes, spring was here. How she had longed for it all through the long, cold, dark days of winter! And now she must spend its sunny hours in house cleaning! A weariness of all familiar things was upon her; she hated the old house; she wanted to go,—somewhere, anywhere, and her soul, like a caged bird, was beating its wings against the bars of circumstance. She went to the window and leaned out. A branch of a maple tree growing near the house almost touched her cheek, and she noticed the lovely shape and color of the young leaves. Farther on was a giant oak whose orange-green tassels swung gaily in the breeze, and through the trees she had a glimpse of a green meadow bordered by an osage orange hedge that looked like a pale green mist in the morning sunshine. She saw and felt the glory and sweetness of the spring with her physical senses only, for in her heart there was a “winter of discontent.” But while she leaned from the window, looking at the trees and sky, came one of those unexplained flashes of consciousness in which the present is obliterated and we are snatched back to a shadowy past. What was the incantation that made her feel that she had lived this same moment ages and ages ago? Was it the voice of the wind and the voice of the bird in the tree-tops? Was it the shimmer of morning mist and the gold-green oak tassels against the blue sky? Or was it a blending of all these sights and sounds? Her gaze wandered farther and farther on till it reached the horizon line where stretched a fragment of the primitive wood, bounded by smooth turnpikes and fenced-in fields and meadows. Serene and majestic these forest remnants stand in every Kentucky landscape, guardians of the Great Silence, homes for the hunted bird and beast, and sanctuaries where the stricken soul of man may find a miracle of healing. A wild, unreasonable longing possessed the homesick girl as she looked at that line of trees, softly green and faintly veiled, and thought of what lay in their secret deeps. All her life had been spent in the country, and yet how many years it had been since she had seen the woods in spring. The woods in spring! The words were like a strain of music, and as she whispered them to herself, something rent the veil between childhood and womanhood, and she saw herself a little girl roaming through the forest, clinging to her father's hand and searching for spring's wild flowers. She saw the blue violets nestling at the foot of mossy stumps, columbines and ferns waving in damp, rocky places, purple hepaticas, yellow celandine, the pinkish lavender bells of the cowslip, Solomon's seal lifting its tiers of leaves by lichened rocks around a dripping spring, and that strange white flower, more like the corpse of a flower than the flower itself, that she had found once—and then no more—growing by a fallen log and half buried under the drift of fallen leaves. Suddenly she started up, hurried from the room, and ran swift-footed down-stairs and into the kitchen, where her mother stood at a table washing the breakfast dishes.

“Mother,” she said breathlessly, “I'm going over to the woods awhile. I want to see if the violets are in bloom yet. I'll be back after awhile.”

Ellen Crawford paused in her work and looked helplessly at her daughter. The mind of her child had always been a sealed book to her, and she was never without a feeling of apprehension as to what Miranda would do next. “For mercy's sake!” she said weakly. Going to the woods to look for violets in house-cleaning time, when each day's unfinished work overflowed into the brimming hours of the next day! There were no words to fit such folly, and the mother only stood stupefied, looking through the open door at the flying footsteps of her errant daughter.

Miranda ran through the back yard where the house dog lay basking in the sun, and two broods of young chickens were “peeping” around in the wet grass, led by their clucking mothers. The cat came purring and tried to rub herself against Miranda's garments, but she thrust her aside and hurried on. These creatures belonged to the house, and it was the house from which she was fleeing. As she passed through the sagging garden gate, a casual gust of wind stirred the boughs of a water-maple tree near by, and scattered a shower of petals over her hair and shoulders, while a robin in the topmost branch sang a Godspeed to the pilgrim who was hastening to the altars of spring. Down the garden path she sped with never a glance aside at the trim rows of early vegetables bordered by clumps of iris and peonies, with now and then an old-fashioned rose that looked as if it were tired of growing and blooming in the same spot so many years. If one had stopped her and said: “Where are you going?” she could not have told him where. If he had asked: “What do you seek?” again she would have been at a loss for a reply. But she had heard a call more imperative than the voice of father or mother, more authoritative than the voice of conscience; something had passed out of her life with the passing of childhood and first youth; she was going to find the precious lost joy; and the power that guides the bird in its autumnal flight to the south and brings it north again was guiding her feet to the woods in spring.

She pushed aside some loose palings and crept through the opening into the pasture that lay back of the garden. The cows stopped feeding and stared at her in mild surprise as she stood, irresolute and wavering, looking back at the house, where her mother was lifting the burden of the day's toil, and then at the orchard on one side, where the peach trees were faintly flushed with pink. In the middle of the pasture stood a group of elms. When the wind passed over them, their branches swayed with the grace of willows, and against the blue sky their half-grown leaves were delicate as the fronds of the maidenhair fern. The elms seemed to beckon her, and she crossed over and stood for a moment looking up at the sky “in a net",—the net of leafy branches. While she gazed upward, a sudden wind came blowing from the direction of the forest, and on its breath was the mysterious sweetness that is one of the surest tokens of spring. It is as if every tree and plant of the forest had sent forth a premonition of its blooming, a spirit perfume waiting to be embodied in a flower. Miranda drew a long breath and looked across the meadow to the freshly plowed field whose western boundary line was “all awave with trees", each clad in its own particular tint of verdure, from the silver green of the silver poplar to the black green of the cedars. The dogwood, that white maiden of the forest, was still in hiding; the wild cherry, that soon would stand like a bride in her wedding veil, was now just a shy girl in a dress of virginal green; the purplish pink of the red-bud flower was barely visible on its spreading limbs. The Great Artist had merely outlined and touched here and there with his brush the picture which later on he would fill in with the gorgeous coloring of summer's full leafage and full flowering.

She hurried across the meadow, climbed the old rail fence, and plodded her way over the plowed ground, stepping from ridge to ridge and feeling the earth crumble under her feet at every step. It was a ten-acre field, and she was out of breath by the time she reached the other side. There was no fence between field and forest; the only boundary line was the last furrow made by the plow. On one side of this furrow lay civilization with its ordered life of cares and duties. On the other side was the wild, free life of Nature. She stopped and looked doubtfully into the sunlit aisles of the forest, as we look at old familiar places, revisited after long absence, to see if they measure up to the stately beauty with which our childish imagination clothed them. She stepped timidly through the underbrush at the edge of the wood and looked above and around. So many years had passed, and so many things had passed with the years! Perhaps the remembered enchantment had passed too. She recalled the song of the birds, and how the voice of the wind in the tree-tops had sounded against the fathomless stillness that lies at the heart of the forest. She held her breath and listened. Wind and leaf and bird were making music together as of old; and under the whisper and the song she felt the presence of the eternal, inviolable calm against which earth's clamor vainly beats. She recalled the rustle of the dead leaves under her feet, and the odor that the heat of the sun drew from the moist earth. There were dead leaves to-day in every path, and Nature was distilling the same perfumes and making beauty from ashes by the same wondrous alchemy she had used when the earth was young. Nothing had changed except herself. She looked around for an opening in the underbrush, some trace of a path, and then hastened fearlessly on to find the main path that led through the heart of the woods, and made a “short cut” for the traveler on foot. Besides this central path, there were numerous little by-paths made by the feet of cattle that had pastured here for a few months of the previous summer. Each one of these invited her feet, and each one led past some fairy spot—a bed of flowers, a bower of wild vines, a grapevine swing, a tiny spring from which she drank, using a big, mossy acorn cup for a goblet. She wandered from one side of the main path to the other, and thrice she walked from road to road. All winter she had been snow-bound and ice-bound within the walls of the old farmhouse, and now spring had unlocked the doors of the prison. Lighter grew her footsteps the longer she walked, and in every muscle she felt the joy of motion that the fawn feels when it leaps through the forest, or the bird when it cleaves the sunny air on glistening wing.

Gone was the thought of time, for here were no tasks to be done, no breakfast, dinner, and supper; and the day had but three periods,—sunrise, noontide, and sunset. The house she had left that morning seemed a long way off, almost in another world; and the forest was an enchanted land where there was no ugly toil for one's daily bread. Duty and fear alike were lulled to sleep, and while the sun climbed to its zenith she roamed as care-free as any wild creature of the woods. Suddenly a cloud darkened the sun and melted into a soft, warm mist that the wind caught up and blew like a veil across the face of spring. Miranda paused, lifted her head, and held out her hands to catch the gracious baptism. It was only a momentary shower, past in a burst of sunshine, but it left its chrism on her forehead and hair and made her feel more akin to flower and tree. How many gifts were falling from the hand of spring! To the birds the joy of mating and nesting; to the roots and seeds in the dark, cold earth warmth and moisture and a resurrection morn; and to the ancients of the forest a vesture as fresh as that which clothes the sapling of the spring.

Surely we have severed some tie that once bound us to the Great Mother's heart or this outflow and inflow of life and beauty that we call spring would touch men and women too, and then would come the Golden Age. Nature is kinder to her trees and flowers than she is to her sons and daughters. The girl who lifted her forehead to the sacrament of the rain should have received a blessing that would touch her face with the color of the rose and put the strength and grace of the young trees into her limbs. But how sad and strange she looked, flitting through the vernal freshness of the forest! Her faded calico gown hung limp over her thin body, and her hair and cheek were as faded as the gown. She should have been a nymph, but she was only a tired, worn daughter of the soil, and amid all this opulence of giving there was no gift for her except the ecstatic yearning that was welling up in her heart and leading her here and there in search of something she could not name.

How sweet the air was! She breathed deeply as she walked, and at every inspiration a burden seemed to fall from both body and soul. Just to be alive was good—to breathe, to walk through the sun-flecked forest paths, to feel the warmth of the sunshine on her shoulders, and to know that the world of the forest belonged to her as it belonged to the bird and the bee. She had almost reached the other side of the strip of woodland, and through the trees she caught glimpses of a wheat field stretching like a pale green sea from this strip of woodland to another that belonged to a neighboring farm. She thought of a hymn her mother often sang when the drudgery of the farm permitted her soul to rise on the wings of song:

    “Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
       Stand dressed in living green;
     So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
       While Jordan rolled between.”

She lifted up her voice and sang the old hymn:

    “There is a land of pure delight
       Where saints immortal reign;
     Infinite day excludes the night,
       And pleasures banish pain.

    “There everlasting spring abides
       And never withering flowers:
     Death, like a narrow sea, divides
       This pleasant land from ours.”

Alas! How strange and sad it sounded with the “careless rapture” of the birds. Never before had a song of death been sung in those forest aisles, and suddenly she stopped, silenced by a sense of the incongruity of such a hymn in the spring woods. Why should one sing of “sweet fields” and “pleasant lands” beyond the sea of death? Right here are pleasant lands and sweet fields, and our songs should be of the “pure delight” of this old earth. Better than such worship as ours the worship of the pagan, who went forth with music to meet the dawn and sang hymns in praise of seed-time and harvest.

It is not alone by “getting and spending” that we “lay waste our powers” and loosen our hold on the possessions that Nature so freely offers us. Perpetually she calls to us with her voice of many waters, her winds and bird songs. She opens and closes each day with cloudy splendors that transcend the art of poet or painter. She spends centuries making the columned sanctuaries of her forests more majestic than Solomon's temple, and lights them with the glory of the sun and stars. Life more abundant is in her air and sunshine. She offers to each soul the solitude of the wilderness, and the mountains, where Christ found rest and strength after the presence of crowds had drained him of his virtue. And we—we wrap ourselves in the mantle of Care; we build walls of stone to shut out from us all sweet influences of Nature; we sing of “an everlasting spring", and then let the fleeting hours of our earthly springs go by without once tasting their full sweetness; we look for a heaven beyond death, unmindful of the heaven within and around us; we deem the light that falls through a stained glass window more religious than the light of open day, and a waxen taper more sacred than a star; we shorten life by cutting it off from its source, and at last, worn out with sordid cares, we give our bodies back to earth without having known one hour of the real joy of life.

Vague, half-formed thoughts like these were in Miranda's mind as she paused and looked up in response to a voice from a neighboring oak: “Chic-o-ree! Chic-o-ree!” The syllables were clear and distinct as if spoken by a human voice, and from a tree across the path came the answer: “Chic-o-ree! Chic-o-ree!” All her consciousness had been merged in seeing, but now she was aware of a chorus of voices calling, chirping, whistling, trilling, fluting, warbling from far and near, the orchestra of May assembled a month in advance of its usual time.

“If we could only live outdoors!” she whispered to herself. All the high emotions that fill the heart of a poet in spring were stirring in the breast of the country girl, and finding no way of expression they could only change into poignant longings that she herself but half understood. There was a puzzled, baffled look on her face as she stood hesitant, wondering what step to take next. So many remembered things she had found in the woods!—music, perfume, light winds and warmth and flowers and trees, but there was still something, nameless, elusive, that had once been hers, and she must find it before the day ended.

       * * * * *

She stooped to gather a violet growing by a fallen tree, and the second time that day a wave of memory and feeling swept over her, and in one exquisite moment she found the lost treasure! For the heart that leaped and throbbed faster at sight of the violet was the heart of a little child.

       * * * * *

It was past the middle of the afternoon. The wind had died down to a mere occasional whisper, the birds chirped more softly, and there seemed to be a hush and a pause, as if all the creatures of the wood felt the languorous spell of the hour. Miranda looked about for a resting place. She was standing near the main path in a partly cleared space, a sort of fairy ring, in the center of which was a giant tree that had suffered a lingering death from a stroke of lightning. Lithe and graceful, with the sap of a new life coursing through their veins, its comrades were waving and beckoning to each other and welcoming the birds to leafy shelters, while, stark and stiff with decay, the stricken one stood like the skeleton at the feast, stretching its helpless arms skyward as if imploring Nature to raise it from the dead. All around it were the kings of the forest, the fruitful walnut and hickory whose leaves smell like the “close-bit thyme” on the downs of Sussex by the sea; the tasseled oak, and the elm more graceful than any graveyard willow; but moved by some hidden impulse, this girl whose youth was almost gone chose the dead tree for her own. The ground was littered with strips of bark that the electric storm had torn from the trunk. She gathered these and laid them at the root for protection from the damp earth. Then, seating herself, she leaned back against the trunk of the tree and drew a long, sighing breath of deep content. Through the woods on the other side of the path she could see the field of young wheat, and she had a vague, dreamy thought of the summer's heat that would ripen the grain and of the harvest with its terrible toil for the women of the farm. The heat of summer and the cold of winter were alike hateful to her, but no thought of either could break this blissful calm. Like an evil dream the winter was gone, and like an evil dream the summer too would go, and both would be forgotten. What mattered heat or cold? Every winter had its spring; every summer its autumn; and the heart need remember only its springs and autumns. She looked upward into the depths of pale blue ether, and followed the course of the white, drifting clouds. O, ecstasy of ecstasies! To live on such an earth with such a sky above! Looking at the sky was like looking into a vast crystal. Farther and farther into space her gaze seemed to penetrate, and presently her soul began to follow her gaze. Something in that boundless space seemed to be drawing her out of the body. Her breath was so light it would hardly have moved a gossamer; her eyelids drooped slowly and heavily, and she slept a sleep too deep for dreams.

An hour passed, and still the mystery of sleep enfolded her. A bee hummed noisily about her head, a catbird sang in a tree near by, but she was too far away to be disturbed by any sound of earth.

    “Ye are not bound!
       The soul of things is sweet,
     The heart of being is celestial rest—”

All this the sleeper knew. She had broken the chains of habit that mortals forge for themselves and bind on themselves; in the freedom of that spring day her soul had tasted the sweetness that lies at the “soul of things", and now in sleep she had found the “celestial rest” that lies at “the heart of being.”

Was that a human footstep or was it a rabbit rustling the underbrush? Was it a human voice or the note of a bird? Along the fresh path between the two roads came a man, walking with a glad, free stride and whistling softly under his breath. The joy of the season was in his face, and he was at home in the woods, for when a redbird called to its mate, the man whistled a reply and smiled to hear the bird's instant response. Suddenly he caught sight of the sleeping girl at the foot of the tree; the whistle and the smile died on his lips and he stopped short, amazed and bewildered. A woman asleep in the forest! Wonder of wonders! The sunshine flecked her face and her hair, and in the sweet placidity of sleep he hardly recognized the girl he had often seen in the country church on Sundays. What was she doing here alone and unprotected? Surprise and wonder vanished as he realized the situation, and his face crimsoned like a bashful girl's. For the moment the whole wood seemed to belong to the sleeper at whom he was gazing, and he felt the confusion of one who accidentally invades the privacy of a maiden's room. Here was no fairy princess to be wakened with a kiss, but a helpless woman who must be guarded as long as she slept, and he was a knight in homespun appointed to keep the watch. He knew, though no poet had ever told him, that sleep is “a holy thing.” If it had been possible, he would have silenced the songs of the birds, and he held his breath as he turned and tiptoed softly away, looking timidly back now and then to see if she still slept. When he had gone a few rods, he stepped out of the path and took his place behind the trunk of a tree. Here he could watch and see that no other intruder passed by, and when she wakened he would be ready to follow her homeward flight. There were tasks at home awaiting his hand, but here was a work more important than any labor of farm or fireside. Steadfastly he watched and listened, while the sun sank lower, and the woods were filled with a golden glow like the radiance of many candles lighted in some great temple.

Sleep is a mystery, and so is our awakening from sleep. Who can tell where the soul goes, when the body lies motionless, unseeing, unhearing, and who can tell what calls it back from those far and unremembered lands?

It may have been the chill of the coming night as the sun went down, or the cry of a bird that summoned Miranda again to earth. She opened her eyes with a long, sighing breath. How heavenly to waken out of doors and see the blue sky and the swaying limbs of the trees instead of the cracked ceiling of her bedroom! Then, as full consciousness came back to her with memory of the day just passed, she saw that the sun was nearly down. Night was at hand; the birds were seeking their nests, and she must return to her home. With the thought of home came the thought of duty, of the undone work she had left behind her that morning, and her mother toiling in the gloomy kitchen. She sprang up, every sense alert, turned her face in the direction of home, and took the nearest path through the underbrush.

The watcher by the tree heard her flying steps and breathed a sigh of relief. He moved cautiously around the trunk of the oak and waited till he was sure she was out of the wood. Then he followed her trail and caught sight of her half-way across the plowed field. He watched till she was safe inside the pasture and then retraced his steps to the dead tree. Had he been living in a dream? No, for here were the withered violets lying on the ground witnessing to the reality of the last few hours. He gathered up the poor, limp flowers, placed them carefully in his waistcoat pocket and walked rapidly homeward.

The sun was just on the horizon line, when Miranda reached the garden gate, and the splendor of light all around made her pause and look back to the glowing West. Clouds were gathering for a storm; every cloud was a mount of transfiguration, golden-hued or rose-colored, and the evening sky was pierced by long arrows of light that grew brighter and more far-reaching as the great central light sank lower behind the little hills. The wind was blowing across the fields, carrying with it the fragrance that night draws from the heart of the forest. One moment the sad magnificence of dying day held her spellbound, then conscience spoke again, and she hurried into the kitchen. The golden light was streaming into the room, bringing out all its ugliness and disorder, and her mother was standing by the table just where Miranda had left her that morning.

“This is a pretty time of day for you to come home. Where have you been all this time?” She looked at her daughter with cold displeasure, but under the displeasure Miranda saw the expression of despair and weariness that comes of unrecompensed toil, and a pang of remorse went through her heart. She took her mother by the shoulders and gently pushed her away from the table.

“Go out and sit on the porch, Mother, and look at the sky. I'll get supper, and to-morrow I'll begin the house cleaning.”

There was something in the girl's voice that checked the rising anger in her mother's heart and stilled the upbraiding words that were on her lips. She looked searchingly at her daughter and then turned silently away. Miranda went to work with a willingness that surprised herself. All the weariness and disgust of the morning were gone. She had voluntarily resumed the shackles of duty, but as she worked she looked out of the window to catch glimpses of the fading splendor that was rounding out her flawless day, and in her heart she resolved that as long as she lived, no spring should pass without a day in the woods. She had eaten nothing since morning, but the mood of exaltation was still upon her, and even the odor of the food she cooked roused no sense of hunger. She thought of a Bible text learned when she was a child: “Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Perhaps all the splendor of color and light, all the opulence of perfume and warmth and music that make spring are words of God. All day she had been living by those words, and she knew the meaning of another occult saying of Christ: “I have meat to eat that ye know not of.”

She placed the evening meal on the table, called the family, and served them more cheerfully than ever before; and when they had eaten, she cleared the table and washed the dishes, while her mother rested again on the porch. Her hands moved mechanically over the work. She could hear the voices of her father and brothers; they were talking about crops and the weather, and the planting that must be done that week. Now and then her mother put in a word of querulous complaining over the hardship of the day just passed and of all those that were to come. She heard it as in a dream for still “the holy spirit of the spring” possessed her, and it seemed strange and unbelievable that people could be troubled over such trifles as sweeping and cleaning and cooking, when there were the woods and the great, deep peace of the woods in which all such cares might be forgotten.

After she had set the table for breakfast, she went out on the porch. Her mother and the boys had gone up-stairs to bed, and her father was knocking the ashes from his pipe and yawning loudly. She sat down on the bench beside him and laid her hand on his knee. Such a thing as a caress had not passed between father and daughter since the latter had outgrown her childhood, and the man turned in surprise and peered through the gloom at the face of the girl, as if seeking an explanation of that familiar touch.

“Your mother says you been roamin' around in the woods all day, Mirandy,” he said awkwardly. “That ain't safe for a girl. Don't you know that?”

“I wasn't afraid,” she answered; “and, Father, I want to ask a favor of you.” Her voice had the eager pleading of a child's. “I want you to go walkin' with me in the woods next Sunday, just like we used to do when I was a little girl.” Something in her voice and the words “when I was a little girl” touched a chord of memory that had not vibrated for many a year. Perhaps the tired, hard-worked man had a glimpse of the meagerness of his child's life, for he laid his rough hand over hers and spoke with the voice she remembered he had used when she was “a little girl.”

“Why, that's a curious notion, Mirandy,” he said. “What'll the preacher say, if he hears we've gone walkin' in the woods on Sunday instead of goin' to church? But I'll go just to please you, provided the weather's suitable. Now, le's shut up the house and go to bed. It's time everybody was asleep.”

They went in together, and while her father closed the doors and put down the windows in anticipation of the coming rain, Miranda lighted her lamp in the kitchen and went softly up-stairs. She still felt the delicious sleepiness that comes from breathing outdoor air all day, and her nap in the woods seemed only to have given her a longing for more sleep.

At the head of the stairs were the soap and water still waiting to be used, but she could look at them now without any of the irritation she had felt that morning, for she knew the hidden meaning of the work that lay before her. Was not Nature cleaning the whole earth, purifying it with her sunshine and her wind, and washing it with her dew and rain? If men and women could only live in the wind and sun with no shelter but the branches of the trees! But since they must have houses, these, too, must know the wholesome touch of wind, sun, and water. Lovely pictures of clouds, trees, fields, birds, and flowers filled her brain and made more apparent the ugliness of her room. Her sense of smell, sharpened by breathing forest air, took instant note of the musty odors that came from walls, floors, and clothing. She pushed the bedstead near the window so that she might feel the night air blowing over her face as she slept and resolved that the next night should find that room as like to a nook in the woods as she could make it; and when the scrubbing and whitewashing were over, she would go again and again to the woods and gather the flowers of spring, summer, and autumn to sweeten the air of the old house. As she blew out the lamp, there was a rumble of thunder from the west; a wind with the smell of rain swept through the dark room, and, laying her head on the pillow, she smiled to think how the creatures of the forest would look and feel in the scented night and the falling rain. All the spring landscape on which she had gazed that day seemed imprinted on her brain, and when she closed her eyes, it passed like a panorama before her inner vision: wind-swept trees whose leafy branches waved against the pale blue sky; tremulous shadows on the fresh greensward; flowers of the garden and flowers of the forest flushing, purpling, paling, flaming, glowing in orderly beds or in wild forest nooks; long grey fences outlining farms and roads; sunlight glinting on the wings of flying birds; misty hills and little valleys sloping down to the level of the fertile fields; glory of midday and greater glory of sunset softening into the quiet, star-lit evening skies.

What need of the painter's canvas and brush when the soul can thus imprint on its records Beauty's every line and every color to be recalled instantly from the shadows of time by Memory's magic art?

The thunder muttered fitfully, and presently the rain came, dashing against the roof like a rattle of musketry, then quieting to a steady downpour that promised to last all night. She lay still, listening drowsily to the music of the storm and seeing through her closed eyelids the flashes of lightning. She was not tired, only sleepy and happy. The same calm that enveloped her in the forest was around her now, and soon she was sleeping as deeply and sweetly as she had slept in the afternoon. And while she slept, the man who had guarded her forest slumber sat in the darkness, dreaming, and gazing at a picture that would never fade from his brain: In the midst of the living forest a dead tree, and at its foot a sleeping girl holding a bunch of withered violets.

Ah, well! The perfect day was over and never again would come another like it. To-morrow the sleeper and the dreamer would wake and rise to the old, dull routine of daily toil and daily weariness, but though the day was gone, its grace would abide forever, and life could never be quite the same to the one who had met face to face with the True Romance, and to the other who had lived, for a few charmed hours, the life of the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field.

 
 
 

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