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  • 1895
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“Ay! ay! Captain!” said Hildegarde, cheerily. She handed in the groceries which they had bought at the little store, half a mile away, stepped lightly into the exact middle of the canoe, and sank with one motion to her seat.

Roger nodded approvingly. “You are perfect in your entrances!” he said. “Some day I shall have to drill you in your exits, as I did the girls.”

“What do you mean?” asked Hilda. “Don’t I get out properly?”

“Quite well enough for ordinary occasions. But I made the girls put on their bathing-dresses, and then took them out and tipped them over, so that they would know just what to do.”

“Thank you kindly. As I have not my bathing-dress on to-day, please don’t give me a lesson just now.”

They paddled on in silence; the two had become fast friends since the day of Madge’s visit, and had had many pleasant paddles together. Hildegarde looked about her, at peace with all the world. Pollock’s Cove was a thousand miles away, and there was nothing to break the spirit of peace that brooded over the water.

Are you so sure, Hilda?

The girl’s face was set toward the land; she saw the wooded island with its fringe of silver birches standing like sentinels to guard the water’s edge; she saw the lovely tangle of asters and golden- rod that gave it its name of Royal Island, and the strip of sand on which the waves were lapping gently; but she saw nothing of the west behind her.

“What are you watching so earnestly, Captain?” she said presently. “No boats, I hope?”

“No, no boats! we may have a shower by-and-bye; but I hope we shall get home in time.”

It was a curious sky that Roger was watching. The day had been smoky throughout, with ragged brown clouds hanging about the horizon, and thunder muttering low in the distance. The smoky fringe might well come from the forest fires which were raging in a neighbouring district, Roger thought, and the thunder was an every-day matter of hot weather; but now the clouds were beginning to thicken at one point, and their ragged edges turned to firmer roundings, and their hue was fast deepening to black. Roger paddled with strong, even strokes, and the canoe flew over the water. The distant thunder-growl took on a more insistent voice, and every now and then came a long rolling note, which seemed to pass on and over their heads.

“‘Hear now how dey roll de great balls about,'” quoted Hildegarde. “If we were in the Catskills, we might look out for Hendrik Hudson and his men, after such a peal as that.”

“I am afraid we may have to look out for ourselves!” said Roger, laughing. “I begin to feel rather doubtful about getting home before the storm, Miss Hilda.”

“It is growing dark, isn’t it?” said Hilda, innocently. “Will it be much of a shower, do you think, Captain?”

“Well,–I think we may observe slight alterations in the atmospheric conditions. You are not afraid of a squall?”

“No, indeed! only tell me what I must do.”

“Nothing but sit still–the hardest thing for some people to do; but I have noticed that you are not fidgety. Is your hat securely fastened?”

“As securely as my head!”

“That is well. Stand by, then, and be ready, for it is coming pretty near.”

Roger was used to every variety of weather, but he had been wholly unprepared for the velocity of the storm which was moving down the lake. The clouds, which, a moment before, it seemed, had been merely a thickening of the general smoky condition, were now gathered into a heavy mass, dense blackness fringed with a misty gleam. It came sweeping over the water toward them, devouring the sunlight. A rushing sound was heard, that rose into a roar. “Steady, now!” said Roger. “Steady, child! and don’t be frightened. Here it comes!”

Next moment they were struck, beaten, blinded. For a moment Hildegarde struggled for breath, so furious was the onset of the storm; she crouched low in the canoe, but remained perfectly still. The wind tore at them as if with frantic hands that sought their life; the water hissed under them, raced past them madly. No waves could rise under the raging gale, but black flaw after flaw flew along the surface of the lake. The rain fell in torrents; the falling streams were caught by the wind, tossed hither and thither, twisted into fantastic shapes of spray, sent flying forward, forward with the storm.

No glimpse of land could be seen now; the night was around them,– night gone mad, and they helpless toys in its grasp. Helpless? No! for Roger’s strong arm kept the tiny boat steady, as she drove before the wind. His face was streaming with rain, his fair hair tossed wildly over his brow, but his look was steadfast as ever, and now and then he glanced at Hildegarde and smiled encouragement. Bewildered at first, Hildegarde felt no fear, and presently, seeing the quiet confidence of her companion, a wild exhilaration possessed her. She had read of this kind of thing; it had been a dream, a picture in her mind always; now she was wrapped in the great storm, almost a part of it, borne along on its wings like the birds that beat their wings past her upon the gale. The lightning, which till now had shaken quivering lances of flame across the black water, a flash, then darkness, then again a flash, now became continuous, playing in lambent flames amid the blackness, lighting up the wild turmoil of wind and wave and cloud. The thunder rolled without pause,–overhead, around, beneath them. Crash! boom! crash! And all the while the water hissed past them; all the while the wind buffeted and shook them, and the rain lashed their faces with stinging whips. The frail canoe quivered like a living thing in mortal terror. What would be the end?

The end came soon enough. Hildegarde was suddenly brought down from her airy castle of storm-wrapped bliss by hearing Roger’s voice, high-pitched to carry across the uproar, saying with calm emphasis, “Take off your shoes! We shall very likely go over when we round this point. If we do, strike out at once, and swim till I get hold of you.”

Hildegarde nodded, and pulled off her low shoes; then she tried to think how it would feel to be flung into this mad water. The next moment the wind, which had lulled for an instant,–or had it only recoiled to take a fresh spring?–the wind rushed out of the darkness, and caught the canoe. It was a breathless struggle, man against the powers of air and of water. Hilda saw the powerful arms braced like steel to meet the onset, saw the quiet face set like marble, clenched teeth and frowning brow,–and saw no more, for here the canoe, having borne all that birch-bark could bear, capsized, and the girl found herself in the black water.

Down, down, down! Was she going to the bottom? She struck out blindly, as she had been told, trying to keep her thoughts together. They said that drowning was pleasant; but she did not want to drown. Should she ever be able to breathe again? Her dress clung about her ankles, the water hummed and buzzed in her ears, in her nostrils; but still she swam bravely. Suddenly she felt a strong arm thrown round her, and in another moment her head was out of water. Oh, the blessed air of heaven! how she drank it in, in deep, gasping breaths! Just to be alive, to breathe, was happiness enough. Roger was swimming strongly and steadily with one arm, holding her with the other. He caught the paddle in his teeth as it floated by, and at first Hildegarde could think of nothing but how funny he looked, like a great fair-haired dog swimming about. He had righted the canoe, and now flung the paddle into it, and turned to Hildegarde. “All right? Thank Heaven! Take hold by the bow, and I will tow you ashore.”

“I can swim,” said Hildegarde. “I am all right, truly. Can’t I swim on the other side and help her along, instead of hindering?”

“To be sure. Hurrah for you!”

Hilda grasped the canoe with her left hand and tried to swim with her right. She could do little, however, against the furious battling of wind and wave; and Captain Roger set his teeth, and wondered whether he was going to be beaten this time. “I won’t!” he said aloud to the storm; and shook his head, lion-like, and braced his strong shoulders, and swam on grimly. A few moments of silent, breathless fighting, the wind screeching, like Bedlam loose, the foam driving and hissing, the lightning blazing, incessant, maddening.

Could they reach the shore? Hildegarde asked herself. Was this only prolonging the agony, dragging this brave man to death with her, on her account? If he were not hampered with her, he would have been safe on shore before this. If she were a girl in a story-book, she would loose her hold now, and sink silently; but she was not a girl in a story-book. She was a very real Hilda Grahame, and she did not want to sink. And how could our poor Hilda know that the Merryweather obstinacy was roused, and that Roger meant to save her and himself, and the canoe, too, if he had to swim across the lake to do it? But now she heard him cry out, in a joyful tone: “Courage, little girl! here we are, all right!”

Next moment,–oh, joy! oh, wonder past belief! she felt the ground beneath her feet. She was walking, standing upright on the good, solid, blessed earth. The canoe touched bottom, grazed, floated again, then grounded gently and was still.

“Shake yourself as well as you can,” said Roger, “while I haul her up. So, now then! under this, and here we are!”

In the turn of a hand he hauled the canoe up on the sand, turned it over, and drew Hildegarde beneath the shelter. A clump of bushes broke the force of the wind, so they could breathe in peace, without having to fight for every breath.

For a few minutes they sat in silence, panting, dripping, gazing at each other with dilated eyes. Their thoughts were utterly irrelevant, as thoughts are apt to be after a great crisis. Roger was thinking that a pretty face looked much prettier wet than dry, and compared apples and flowers; Hildegarde wondered if Saint Bernard dogs could swim. “Because Newfoundlands are black, you know,” she found herself saying aloud in an explanatory tone.

“I beg your pardon!” said Roger, remorsefully. “I–I am afraid you are very wet.”

Hildegarde felt that she must either cry or laugh, so she laughed. “If it were not for you, Captain, I should not be alive now. I should have gone down, down,–and the water was so black. Was it ever anything but black in that place?” Her voice shook, but she pulled herself together instantly. “Why do you look troubled, Captain?” she asked. “The island is solid, isn’t it?”

“You are so wet!” said Roger again, more ruefully than before.

“No wetter than you!” said Hilda, with a little laugh. Indeed, they were both streaming with water, and looked like a merman and mermaid very much out of their element.

“I? Oh, I never know whether I am wet or dry. But it is different for you; you will take cold, or–or something, won’t you?”

“You are afraid I shall melt?” asked Hildegarde. She stooped down and gathered her skirt together, wringing little floods of water from it. “No, I don’t think I shall melt, really, Captain. Do I look as if I were melting?”

“You look–” began Roger, and stopped suddenly, and then wondered why he stopped, and told himself he was an ass.

“Speaking of melting, reminds me,” he said, laughing. He felt in his pockets, and produced a small parcel. “I hope this is not melted. No, it is all right. Have some chocolate, and let us make merry on our desert island! See! the worst of the squall is over. It is lightening already; I can see the nearest island.”

“Yes, and the water begins to show grey, instead of all black and white. But has this really been nothing more than a squall, Captain Roger?”

“Oh, if you like the dignities of meteorology, I think we might very properly call this a tornado.”

“A tornado! I have been out in a tornado! And how splendid it all is!”

Roger laughed again. “Splendid, eh? So it is! Rather good fun, too, now we are on dry land.”

“Glorious fun!” cried Hildegarde.

The water still raced past at their feet; the rain still poured down, the thunder cracked and roared and bellowed, and the lightning blazed. But under the canoe it was really quite dry, considering; and the chocolate was excellent, and, on the whole, both Hildegarde and Roger thought well of tornadoes.

Meanwhile, there were some anxious faces at the camp. The storm had broken there as suddenly as out on the lake. Bell and Gertrude were out fishing, but fortunately near the shore, and they reached home just as the fury broke loose. Obadiah and Ferguson were blown in on the gale, turning handsprings as they came, and singing

“Oh, I’d give a sight
For to be a kite
When the wind is howly-wowling!”

Willy and Kitty were discovered, after a few minutes’ anxious search, under the great apple-tree, in high glee because it was raining apples, and the wind would mash them, and the lightning would cook them, and there was no need of coming home to tea, with apple-sauce growing on every tree. Being hoisted on the shoulders of the twins, they changed their point of view, and turning into Arabs mounted on camels, capered joyously into the house, to escape the sand-storm of the desert. Mr. Merryweather, who was spending a day or two in camp, came in from the boathouse, where he was tinkering boats as usual. The whole party sat down, wet and dishevelled, and drew breath as they looked at each other.

“Well, this is a visitation!” said Mr. Merryweather. “Why didn’t some of you tell me what was going on?”

“None of us knew till we found our faces slapped and our hair pulled out,” said Bell. “This is a surprise-party, I think, got up for our special benefit.”

“Are we all here?” asked Mrs. Merryweather. “Let me count! One, two, three, four, five, six, and you and I, Miles, make eight. But where are Roger and Hilda?”

“Out in the Cheemaun!” was the reply in chorus. There was a general exclamation of dismay, then each one commented in his fashion.

“Cricky!” said Phil. “The Professor will have a great chance for meteoro-lolli-lolli-logical observations, won’t he?”

“I fear, my gentle Roger,
You’ll be as wet as Bodger!”

said Gerald.

“Who is Bodger?” asked little Kitty.

“Bodger, my blessed child, was a stodger, and a codger, and a very artful dodger; he carried his bones to David Jones, and asked to be took as a lodger.”

“Do be quiet, Jerry!” said Bell. “Father, can the canoe stand such a gale as this?”

“And Hilda had on her BEST DRESS!” said Kitty, with tragic emphasis.

“Ho! Hilda doesn’t care for dresses!” said Willy, scornfully. “I got wheel-grease all over her skirt, the other day, and she didn’t say a word.”

“I do feel anxious, Miles,” said Mrs. Merryweather. “This is an awful gale.”

“Pooh! pooh!” said her husband. “Roger knows how to take care of himself, and Hilda too. Boys, is the skiff well moored?”

The boys knew it was, but thought it would be well to see, and disappeared by handsprings into the darkness. A double splash, followed by joyous shouts, announced their arrival on and departure from the wharf; and they shortly reappeared, dripping and gleeful.

“Boys, how can you!” exclaimed their mother. “This is the fifth time you have been in to-day; besides, I have just tidied up this room. Go away with you, and drip in the tent.”

“He pushed me off, and I pulled him in!” said Phil, in explanation. “Very sorry, shall not occur again.”

“I wanted to see how deep the water was,” said Gerald. “Very important, you know, to take soundings in a storm.”

“Still more important to quicken the circulation after a cold bath,” said Mr. Merryweather, taking up a leather strap from the table. The boys shrieked, and vanished through the window in a fine harlequin act.

The lightning blazed incessantly, the wind howled and roared about the camp, and the thunder pounded and smashed the clouds overhead. Bell and her mother drew closer together, and Kitty nestled down between them, and held a hand of each, “to keep herself safe.”

“If the lightning strikes the camp, what shall we do?” asked Willy.

“I think we shall be very likely to keep still!” said his father, dryly.

“Miles, how can you?” said Mrs. Merryweather. “I wonder you can joke, with those two children out in the canoe in this horror!”

“My dear, I would gladly weep, if I thought it would be of any assistance to Roger; as it is, I rather fancy he is quite as well off as we are, if not bet–“

Crack! The world turned to blue light, showing a ring of ghastly faces, looking terror at each other; then the sky fell, and all was night.

“All speak who are unhurt!” said Mr. Merryweather’s calm voice; and no one would have guessed the anguish of suspense in which he waited for the reply. But it came in a chorus: “Miranda!” “Bell!” “Gertrude!” “Will!” “Kitty!”

“Thank God!” said Miles Merryweather. “That was a close call. Boys, are you all right?” He stepped to the window as he spoke.

“All right, father!” For once the boys’ voices sounded grave; as the pall of darkness lifted, they entered, very pale, and holding each other tightly by the hand. “The big oak is struck!” they said. “Shivered into kindling-wood. We were just going to climb it, to look at the storm.”

“We don’t like this!” said Gerald. “We feel very much uncomfortable inside us, and we want our mother.”

And sure enough, the two tall fellows sat down on the floor by their mother, and put their heads in her lap; and she patted the curly heads, and talked to them soothingly, and forgot that they were not still her little lads, whom she had rocked in her arms together many and many a time.

“Your nerves are upset,” said their father. “Always the case when a stroke comes so near as that. If you ever feel inclined to climb a tree in a thunderstorm again, just mention it to me, and I will see to you.” He spoke lightly, but he took occasion to pass near the boys, and laid his hand on them, as if to make sure that they were really there and safe, and rubbed their shoulders and gave them a little affectionate slap.

For a while they sat quiet, for all were still quivering from the blow that had passed so near them. Gradually the fury of the storm abated; the lightning ceased to play continuously, and though each separate flash was still terribly vivid, yet the pauses between gave strength and refreshment to the wearied eyes and nerves. The great shocks of thunder rolled heavily, but still farther and farther away. The storm was moving off across the lake, and one thought was in the hearts of all–the birch canoe. How was it with those two, alone in that frail boat in the wild tempest? It seemed hours that they sat there, waiting and listening. At length–“It is lighter now,” said Mr. Merryweather. “Come, boys, let us go down to the wharf, and see what we can see. Hark! what was that?”

For a moment every heart stood still. Then Mrs. Merryweather began to cry, and Bell and Gertrude and Kitty all fell into her arms and round her neck, and sobbed in chorus; but the boys started to their feet with a wild “Hurrah!” and dashed out of the house, followed by their father and Willy. For now, clearer every moment and clearer, came ringing across the water the words of the Skye Boat Song, sung by joyous voices of a youth and a maiden.

“Speed, bonny boat, like a bird on the wing, Onward, the sailors cry.
Carry the lad that’s born to be king Over the sea to Skye.”

“But Roger is not a king!” said Gerald, with a queer little break in his voice. “He is only a codger!”

CHAPTER XIV.

ROGER THE CODGER.

“Miranda!” said Roger.

“Yes, my dear brother!”

“Tum te-tiddle-de-tum, tum, tum, tum!”

“Yes, my dear brother.”

“I–oh, I beg your pardon; that isn’t what I meant to say, of course. A–the moon is in perigee now, you know.”

“Roger,” said his sister-in-law, looking up from her sewing, “you know there is no earthly use in saying that kind of thing to me. ‘Perigee’ suggests nothing to me but periwig, and it is painful to think of the moon in so unbecoming a head-gear. Are you quite sure that THAT was what you were going to say?”

Roger laughed, looked a little confused, and threw stones into the water; Mrs. Merryweather sewed on buttons and waited.

“I shall be twenty-five next week,” was the professor’s next remark. “I–a–I am getting to be quite an old fogy.”

“Your teeth and digestion are still good,” said his sister-in-law, with provoking composure; “and you are able–generally speaking– to get about without a stick.”

“Pshaw!” said Roger. He laughed again, and threw out his powerful arms. He was lying at full length on the verandah, his handsome head propped against one of the pillars, framed in a mass of woodbine and trumpet-vine. Mrs. Merryweather looked at him, and thought that with the exception of her Miles and her boys, she had never seen a finer-looking fellow. Every line of the lithe, elastic figure was instinct with power; the face, from the broad upright brow to the firm chin, was alight with thought and intelligence. But the blue eyes, usually so clear in their grave gaze, held a shadow to-day, a curious look of shyness, one might almost say shamefacedness. Mrs. Merryweather gazed at him, and thought her own thoughts, but she knew her husband’s family, and held her peace.

“That is a very lovely girl, Miranda!” was the Professor’s next remark.

“Meaning Gertrude–?” said this wicked woman, innocently.

“Oh,–I mean Hilda, of course! She is remarkably intelligent, don’t you think so?”

Mrs. Merryweather assented warmly, and added praises of her own. Hildegarde’s little ears would surely have burned if she could have heard the good lady. As for Roger, he listened with great complacency.

“Yes!” he said. “She is sympathetic, and unselfish,–remarkably so, it seems to me; and–and she takes an interest in things,–I mean real things, such, as girls usually care nothing about.”

“Perigees, for example,” said his sister-in-law.

“Well,” said Roger, laughing, “yes, I suppose I do mean perigees, and that kind of thing. They are not in your line, Miranda, I know.”

“Oh, but I respect them!” said Mrs. Merryweather. “There is nothing I respect more highly than a perigee, unless it be an apogee, which always sounds like the beginning of an incantation. So Hilda likes them, does she?”

“Of course,” said Roger, slowly, skipping stones over the pond with thoughtful accuracy; “she has never studied any of these things, but she has really an astonishing aptitude for them. And her hand is so steady, and she has such a true eye.”

“Was that why you kept her sitting on a rock, waving a towel, for three mortal hours, yesterday morning?” asked his sister-in-law, dryly.

Roger turned scarlet.

“Was it so long?” he said. “I didn’t know–I never noticed. I–was taking observations, you know, and she seemed so–did she say she was tired? Was I a brute? Of course I was!”

“Don’t go off at a tangent, or whatever you call the thing!” said Mrs. Merryweather. “She said she had had a most delightful morning, and that waving a towel had been her favourite amusement from baby-hood.”

Roger looked wistfully at his sister-in-law. They were genuinely fond of each other, but they spoke different languages, and he sometimes found it difficult to follow her turns of speech. He was silent for a few minutes, absorbed in calculating the curves of his stones, which really skimmed in an astonishing manner.

“I suppose,” he said, presently, watching a particularly adventurous pebble, “I suppose, Miranda, that I must seem–well– quite an old fellow, to such a young creature as that?”

Mrs. Merryweather had a quizzical reply on the tip of her tongue, but glancing at Roger’s face, thought better of it, and merely said, “My dear boy, don’t be absurd!”

“I don’t mean to be absurd,” said Roger, sitting upright, and forgetting his pebbles. “But–well, I am a kind of grandfather to all the children, you know, and she would naturally–eh? regard me in the same light. That–a–that seems perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it?”

Mrs. Merryweather made no reply. Roger followed the direction of her eyes, and saw Hildegarde and Gerald coming up from the wharf. Hildegarde had been drying her hair after the daily swim, and it hung in long locks over her shoulders; the tall boy was bending over her, pleading earnestly for something.

“Just a little bit!” he said, as they came within hearing. “Oh, I say, Miss Hilda, just a scrap. You have such lots, you never would miss it. Just a little lock of hair!”

Roger Merryweather’s face grew very grave. He did not move, but his grasp tightened on the pebble in his hand.

“What do you want of it?” said downright Hilda, laughing and tossing her tawny mane. Mrs. Merryweather listened for the faintest shade of coquetry in the girl’s tone, found none, and listened on, well content.

“What do I want of it?” cried Gerald. “What a question!–

“O Hilda, fair beyond compare!
I’ll make a garland of thy hair, Shall twine my heart forevermair,
Until the day I dee!”

“Very proper!” said Hilda. “I am glad to find that you know your ballads. What else will you do with it, for example?”

“Wi’ ae lock o’ thy yellow hair
I’ll theek my nest when it grows bare!”

Gerald went on. “The excelsior is coming out of my mattress, and I thought–“

“I can’t spare enough for that,” said Hildegarde. “Any other uses for my poor hair?”

“The Mater has a single hair of George Washington’s, done up in a gold snuffbox,” cried the boy. “If you’ll give me two, I will hunt up a snuffbox. There’s a fine old stingo in the Chemical Works who takes snuff, and I will get his, and give him a tomato can instead, and keep one hair in that.”

“And the other?” Hilda persisted, taking the long tresses in her hand, and running them through her fingers in a tantalizing manner,–“the other hair, Master Obadiah?”

“Oh, dear! what a persistent thing a girl is! I–must you really know? Because you mightn’t like it, if I told you the truth.” The ingenuous youth here turned a somersault, and coming up on one knee, remained in an attitude of supplication, clasping his hands imploringly. Hilda laughed, but still caressed her locks, unmoved.

“The other hair!” she said.

“Well, if you MUST know, I want to make a new kind of fly for the bass. They aren’t biting at all, and your hair is just the colour, to a shade. There! that is the terewth. Do you mind?”

“Mind, you foolish boy? You might have had your fly made by this time. Here, give me your knife!”

She stood still, and severed a long, fair tress, which she laid in Gerald’s hand.

“There! that will make a whole swarm of flies; and if there is any left over, you can theek your nest with it.”

At this moment she looked up and saw the Professor sitting on the verandah, watching her. Her face lighted up with the brightest smile, Roger thought, that he had ever seen, and she hastened forward.

“Oh, Captain! I was afraid I was too late. Aren’t you going to take observations this morning? And mayn’t I go too? Here is my towel, all ready.”

Gerald clapped his hand to his face, with an exclamation of acute pain.

“My dear boy, what is the matter?” cried his mother and Hildegarde in one breath.

“It is–nothing!” gasped the boy, sitting down on the edge of the verandah. “Where is the glue?”

“The glue!” repeated Hilda.

“Le Page’s glue! My nose has become disjointed, and I would fain repair it. I am suffering excruciating torments; but don’t mind me. Go on your towelled and triumphant way, and leave the noseless wretch to pine alone!”

“And make his flies!” said Hilda. “You miserable boy, you really took me in. Good-by, dear madam; I will get Bell, and we will surely be home in time for dinner this time. Won’t we, Captain?” But the Captain did not commit himself.

“Mater,” said Gerald, watching the two as they walked away together, “do you think–“

“Not often!” said his mother. “It is a dangerous occupation.”

“True!” said Gerald. “Well, if I mustn’t think, where is Phil?”

CHAPTER XV.

A MORNING HOUR.

It is morning in the Lonely Cove. Before and around lies a broad stretch of glimmering water, dotted here and there with great stumps, and lined about the shore with dead trees. Dams built in the river beyond have raised the level of the lake, and hundreds of trees have died.

On every side is a network of gnarled and knotted roots. The black limbs grapple with each other; here one has dragged his neighbour over, and he lies with arms outstretched, writhen into antic twists and curves, as if he had died in torment; there, in singular contrast, are two friends,–oaks, were they once?–who have fallen into one another’s arms, and, dead, seem still to embrace and uphold each other tenderly.

Here again are stumps that gleam like gray silver, bare and polished, worn by storms and winds. The shining water is clear, and one sees the bottom covered with particles of wood, chipped from the rotting trees, preserved by the water from further decay.

Through this silent water glides the Cheemaun, Hilda in the bow– where is Hilda so happy as in the birch canoe?–Roger paddling in the stern. As the paddle dips, bubbles rise and burst, large and round. Behind, the dark woods curve in a lovely line; between wood and water, spread like a bed for the dead and dying trees, a swamp, bright with rushes and water-weed.

On the crest of a snow-white birch sits a great fish-hawk, with bent head and closed wings. What is the hunter dreaming of? Hours of sport, most likely; long pauses on balanced wings, the arrowy downward sweep, the swift plunge, and the triumph of the upward plunge, dripping and proud, bearing his prey aloft.

Some real or fancied noise disturbs the vision; he rises, spreads the wide, hollow wings, and flaps slowly away. Roused by his flight, half a dozen crows burst suddenly into talk, and protest violently against some deadly injury, then as suddenly fall silent again.

Whirr! a kingfisher darts down with a quick splash, and back to his bough with a fish in his beak. The canoe moves on, slowly, noiselessly; here the water is only three inches deep, but the soft bottom yields as the strong young arms ply the paddle.

Hilda lifts her hand with a warning gesture, and they are motionless once more. Look! not fifty yards away, a group of pretty birds play and paddle in the shallow water. Sandpipers, are they? They might be enchanted princesses, Hilda thinks, as they go mincing along, turning their heads now to this side, now to that, admiring themselves in the clear water. One of them finds a bit of succulent weed, and the others come running, for all the world like curious girls, ruffling their pretty feathers, cocking their pretty heads; and they peck, and chatter, and peck again, wholly unconscious of the two monsters who are drifting nearer and nearer. Suddenly one of them catches sight of a moving shadow, hears some faint lapping of water against the side of the canoe, inaudible to ears less fine; and the three princesses are up and away, fluttering, hopping, fairly flying at last, to hide themselves in the deeps of the bog-land.

Neither of the two had spoken during all this time. Both felt the magic of the place so strong upon them that speech seemed profanation. The flight of the little birds, however, loosened the spell. Hildegarde spoke, but softly, almost under her breath. “Captain! Do you see the lizard? Look at him, on the log there! The greenness of him! soul of an emerald!”

“I was looking at the fish,” said Roger.

“What for a fish?” Hilda leaned over the side, and looked into the clear shallow water. A bream was hovering over her wide, shallow nest, fanning the water slowly with wide-spread wings. “Why does she do that?”

“To protect the eggs; they are there in the sand, and she is keeping off all the water-people who like eggs for breakfast.”

They drifted on again in silence: what was there good enough to say in such a place?

Hildegarde pulled the transparent stems of jewel-weed, with their glowing, pitcher-shaped blossoms, and twined them into a garland, which she hung over the bow of the canoe. “Dear Cheemaun!” she said. “She shall be decorated as Hiawatha’s was. She deserves to be hung with real jewels.”

“Are there any more real than these?” said Roger. “And–you really like the Cheemaun, do you, Miss Hilda? and the place? I thought you would like the place.”

“Oh!” said Hilda, and her voice said enough. “How did you find it? How strange that I have never heard of it before! There is nothing so beautiful in the world, I am sure! Have the others been here?”

“N–no,” answered Roger, slowly. “I don’t think they have been here. I–I found it one morning, when I was shooting, two or three years ago; and I am afraid I have been greedy, and kept it to myself.”

“How good of you to bring me!” cried Hilda. “I like it all the better because no one–that is, because it is so lonely and still. You–you don’t shoot now much, do you, Captain Roger?”

“No. I used to be very fond of it when I was a boy; but now, well, I would rather see them alive, don’t you know?”

Hildegarde nodded her wise little head, and knew very well indeed, and thought the Captain was very right.

“I do not see how a sportsman can really love creatures,” she said. “If you love them, you want them to live, as you say. Oh! oh, Captain Roger, please quickly stop! Look! What wonder is this?”

Hilda’s voice sank to a whisper, thrilled with excitement. There, a few yards away from them, ashen grey against the silver-grey of a dead tree, was a great bird. To Hilda’s excited fancy, it seemed the spirit of the place, changed by some wizardry into bird form, crouching there amid the ruins of the forest where once it had flitted and frolicked, a gauze-winged sprite.

Roger, less imaginative, and more skilled in wood-lore, saw a great blue heron, sitting huddled together on a stump, its head drawn in, its yellow eyes glaring wild with fright.

“It must be wounded!” he said softly. “Keep very still, and I will see if we can come nearer.”

Softly, slowly, the birch canoe stole through the water. It scarcely seemed to move, yet every moment brought them nearer to the wild creature of the woods. It made no attempt to fly, only crouched lower, and tried to flatten itself against the stump.

“Oh, poor, poor thing!” whispered Hilda. “Can you do anything for it, Captain Roger?”

“Only one thing, I fear,” said Roger, gently. “Its leg is broken, and we must not leave it in misery.”

“You must kill it? Oh, it seems too pitiful! No, I am not going to be silly, only I will turn my head away, please, Captain Roger.”

Now she could have put her hand on the wounded bird, as it sat motionless, only the wide eyes of terror telling that it was alive. The bow of the boat passed close against the log, and on beyond. Hilda thought she should never forget the dumb agony of those eyes. They should not be here at all, she thought. It was not decent for human beings to thrust themselves into the sorrows and mysteries of the woods and water. She could not–

Roger leaned forward, paddle in hand; a moment, and all was over. Something slid into the water, and there was a little plashing murmur among the reeds; then stillness again.

The canoe began to move backward, and Hilda opened her eyes, which had been tightly closed. Neither of the two spoke until they were in open water again, and the swamp left behind.

“I am sorry!” said Roger then, almost apologetically. “I am sorry that happened. The poor creature had been shot, and was badly wounded; it would only have lingered in pain.”

“Oh yes, I know; I am so glad you were there, to help it out of the suffering.”

“But now you will never want to come here again, I fear.”

“Oh, but I shall!” cried Hilda. “I am not so silly as that, truly I am not. I shall always think of this as the loveliest place I know; and–“

“Well, and–what?” asked Roger.

“Oh, nothing! Only–well, it is your own place,” said Hilda frankly, “and I shall always think of you here, in the dear Cheemaun, with the enchanted princesses–I mean the sandpipers– and the fish-hawk, and all the rest of it.”

“If it is mine, I may do what I like with it, and I give it to you. Will you have it?”

“Oh, we will share it together!” cried Hilda eagerly; and then bethought herself, and blushed in her usual ridiculous way, and wondered if the back of her neck were blushing too. It was, and Roger saw the crimson mounting to the pretty ears and losing itself in the fair hair; and he wondered–and wondered again, and then remembered that people sometimes blushed when they were angry. He was a very, very stupid Roger, in some ways; but in a moment Hilda began to talk as cheerfully as possible, and to ask about all the birds they had seen, so Roger was relieved, and they paddled home to breakfast in a very pleasant way.

CHAPTER XVI.

GOOD-BY.

The golden morning passed all too quickly; the mornings always did, out at camp. There was the merry dish-washing, the sweeping and setting to rights, and then all separated to their different tasks,–fishing, boat-mending, cooking, photographing or surveying, till the hour of noon brought them together again for the swimming. Roger departed on his wheel, having business in the village.

The three girls sat down before a huge basket of mending, “Three against Thebes,” as Bell said, and plied their needles diligently. Hildegarde felt as if she were sewing in a dream; her fingers flew, for she could almost sew in her sleep, but her thoughts were away in the Lonely Cove, with the wild creatures and the stillness. She would like to go back there, she thought, with– well, she would like to go back there, and stay, long hours, till the spirit of the place had sunk deep into her heart. She had felt it, the touch of its hand in passing, the brushing of its robe, but that only showed her how little she knew, how infinitely more there was to learn, to see, to love. She shut her eyes and tried to call back the scene, all grey and silver, glimmering in the faint early light.

Was not this really life, the life of nature, of the woods and fields? Would not one grow better, purer, to stay always in this lovely wilderness, where every leaf had a voice, every stone showed forth its steadfast lesson, every morning and evening was full of joy and peace? Why should one ever go back to places where people talked and gossiped and made formal calls?

Such new worlds, too, were opening before her! Not only this great one of nature, but the sister world of science, which till now had been only a name. She had always thought of “scientific people” much as she would of the inhabitants of Mars, never having been thrown with any in this short life, which seemed to her so long, so full. As she said to her friend here, she had had many lives already, all beautiful, joyful beyond measure; but this strange world, where they spoke a language of their own, where all the men wore spectacles and long beards, and all the women short hair and spectacles,–this world she had never thought even to peep into. And now–behold! the magic door had been opened by friendly hands; opened only a little way, it was true, but wide enough for her to see at least beyond the threshold,–and it was fairy-land! As for the long beards and the spectacles,–Hildegarde laughed to herself, a little soft, happy laugh.

Gerald, who was lying at her feet, looked up, and laughed too, for pure good-will.

“Good joke!” he said; “excellent joke! See here, Miss Hilda–“

“Do leave off that tiresome ‘Miss,’ Jerry! You know I told you to, ages ago.”

“I know! but my manners are so superlative. Well, Hilda, then, just listen to this! I have been improving a little on one of your old ballads–“

“Improving? sacrilegious wretch!”

“Oh, but listen! Why should a ballad be too old to be improved? This goes beautifully.

“Our lads are to the fishing gane,
A-fishing with a line and float, And they hae grippet Hilda the Grahame, For stealing o’ the Codger’s boat.”

“I didn’t steal it!” cried Hilda, aiming a neatly folded stocking- ball at the boy’s head; but Gerald avoided it, and went on.

“And they hae tied her hand and foot, And brought her to the camp, wuss luck! The lads and lasses met her there,
Cried ‘Hilda Grahame, thou art a duck!'”

“Obadiah, you are a very impudent boy. Wait till Monday week, that’s all! But go on; let me hear all this villainy.”

“Up then spake the brave Gerald,
As he sat by the Codger’s knee, ‘Fifteen horned pouts I’ll give to you, If you’ll let Hilda the Grahame go free.’

“‘Oh haud your tongue,’ says Roger the Codger, ‘And wie your pleading let me be;
For though-‘”

“Hallo!”

“What is the matter?” asked Bell, who had been listening with high approval to the ballad. “Why, here is the Codger himself, back again. I thought he was not coming till night. What’s up, Codger?”

Bell and Hildegarde rose, with a vague feeling of uneasiness, and as they did so, Roger advanced to meet them. Hilda fancied he looked grave, and her heart leaped into quick alarm. “You have no bad news, Captain Roger?” she cried. “My mother–Cousin Wealthy–!”

“Both well, quite well!” said Roger, hastily. “I called at the house as I came by, and found Mrs. Grahame there, looking extremely well, I thought.”

“Mamma there!” cried Hilda. “Why–when did she come? Why did she not write that she was coming? I ought to have been there to meet her. You are sure you have nothing bad to tell me, Captain Roger? You looked so grave as you came up. I would rather know at once, please, if anything is wrong.”

Roger smiled, and his honest eyes reassured the startled girl.

“You may believe me,” he said, simply. “If I looked grave, it was not on your account, Miss Hilda, but on our own. A letter must have gone astray, your mother thinks. You should have heard from her several days ago; and–and she is expecting visitors to- morrow, and–well, if I must tell the truth, the carriage is here, and I am to drive you home as soon as you are ready.”

A cry of dismay broke from the lips of the whole family; a cry so hearty, so full of distress, of affectionate concern, that it brought the quick tears to Hilda’s eyes. She smiled through the tears at Bell, who already had her in her arms, and declared she could not let her go; while Will and Kitty pulled at her gown, and cried frantically that Hilda was theirs, and should never go away, never at all. Mrs. Merryweather smoothed her hair, and murmured kind, understanding words in a low tone; and Gertrude sat down on the ground and wept piteously.

“Oh,” said Hilda to all these good friends, “you know it is not because I don’t want to go to my blessed mother; of course you all know that–“

“Of course we do, dear!” cried Bell and her mother, soothingly. “Of course you want to go, and we ought to want you to go; but we don’t; and it has come so quickly, and all.”

“And we were going to the Painted Rocks to-morrow!” cried Phil.

Gerald began to mutter something under his breath about

“Little Gerald was my brudder,
Merry Mater was my mudder,
Nebber heard ob any udder.”

But his adaptation was checked by a look from his mother, and he relapsed into gloom. “It’s a horrid, atrocious shame!” he said. “I can’t help it, and Hilda needn’t speak to me again if she doesn’t want to; but I cannot tell a lie, and I am NOT glad that Mrs. Grahame has come home, and I never shall be.”

“Dear Jerry!” said Hilda. “We have had such good times, haven’t we? And you will be coming back, you know, to town some day, and I shall hear all about the merrymakings–“

But here her voice broke, and deeply ashamed of herself, she hurried into the house to put her things together. The kind Merryweathers went with her, and vied with each other in helping her make her preparations. Since it must be, it should be as cheerfully done as possible; so Bell packed her trunk, and Gertrude buttered bread with ardour, that Hilda might have luncheon before she went; a good many tears fell into the butter, but Hilda said she did not mind that.

Soon, too soon, alas! all was ready; the little trunk packed and strapped, and Hilda in jacket and hat–the first time in a month that she had worn either–smiling as well as she could, and kissing and shaking hands, almost in silence.

Mr. Merryweather had just come up from the boathouse, and joined his regrets to the general chorus.

“And who is the captain of this black-sailed ship that carries our little girl away from us?” he asked. “Are you going to drive her in, Gerald?”

“No, father,” said Gerald, hastily. “I think Roger is going in.”

“Yes,” said Roger; “I am going in, Miles.”

“Oh!” said Mr. Merryweather. “Is there anything special you want to see to in town, Roger?”

“Why–no; I am going for–“

“Then, if it’s all the same, suppose you let Phil drive Hilda in. I want your help this afternoon, very much, on the Keewaydin. The boys aren’t quite strong enough to tackle her. What do you say, Hilda? You would just as lief have Phil, I dare say, and it will be a treat to him.”

What could our poor dear Hilda say? What could she do but smile her assent, when she saw Phil’s honest face radiant with pleasure?

Gerald, after looking round in vain for his mother and Bell, who had gone into the house to get something, did indeed mutter that he wanted Phil dreadfully, to do something of great importance, it did not appear precisely what; but he was promptly set down by his father.

Roger Merryweather stood silent. The habit of giving way to others, of letting the youngsters have all the pleasure possible, and taking the workaday parts of life for himself, was strong upon him. And when had he refused his brother Miles anything?

Miles Merryweather nodded in satisfaction, and went into the house to get his letters.

“I am going to send Phil in with Hilda, instead of Roger,” he announced, cheerfully. “Is there anything–“

“Oh, father, how could you?” cried Bell, springing to her feet.

“How could I what?” asked her father. “Miranda, have you any errands for Phil to do?”

He looked at his wife, and opened his eyes wide; for the placid woman was ruffling all over, like an angry partridge.

“Don’t speak to me, Miles Merryweather!” she cried. “Don’t dare to say a word to me! You are a great stupid, stupid,–and Roger is another! Why I ever married into such a family–“

She ruffled away out of the house; Bell hurried after her without a word, only casting a reproachful glance at her father as she went. Mr. Merryweather stood still in utter bewilderment.

“Are these people mad?” he said. “What on earth is the matter? Gerald, will you give these letters to Phil, and tell him–now what is the matter with you, I should like to know?”

For Gerald’s bright face was clouded over with unmistakable ill- humour,–a circumstance so amazing that one might well wonder. He actually scowled at his father, whom he adored.

“Donki foolumque cano!” he said. “No disrespect to anybody, sir, but I am thinking of emigrating. This family is too much for me.”

He stalked out again, leaving Mr. Merryweather more puzzled than ever.

“Decidedly, they are mad!” he murmured. “Thank goodness, there is one sensible head among all these feathertops! Oh, here you are, Roger! Give these letters to Phil, will you, please, and tell him not to forget the mail.”

Roger took the letters, and laughed. His cheek was slightly flushed, and his eyes danced with something very unlike their usual calm intelligence. “All right!” he said. “Give me the letters, Miles. They shall be mailed.” He took the packet, and started to leave the room, but turned back for a moment, to lay his hand affectionately on his brother’s shoulder. “I am a codger, Miles,” he said, “but–do you know–I think you are a bit of a codger, too. It runs in the blood, I suppose. Good-by, old fellow! and let the Keewaydin wait until to-morrow, will you?”

He ran out. His brother, now speechless, followed him: saw him put Phil aside with a word and a smile; saw him lift Hildegarde lightly into the wagon, and take his seat beside her; saw the girl, her face bright as a flower, leaning forward to say farewell, and the other faces crowding round her, eager, loving, sorrowful; saw handkerchiefs and caps waving, and heard the cries of “Good-by, dear Hilda! Come again! Oh, come back to us soon!”

Then the woods closed in behind the carriage and it was gone.

Gerald looked long after it; then he advanced to the middle of the piazza, and deliberately turned three back somersaults.

“Would anybody like to tread on the tail of my coat?” he said, joyously. “Phil, you are a double-barrelled, self-revolving idiot, but I love you. Join me, then, in three cheers for the Codger. Long may he wave! Now, then, hip, hip, hurrah!”

“Hurrah!” cried Phil, who had received enlightenment in some way, and was beaming like his brother.

“Hurrah!” cried Mrs. Merryweather and Bell in concert, fixing eyes of triumph on their husband and father.

“Hurrah it is, doubtless,” said Mr. Merryweather, looking slightly nettled,–a rare thing in the most cheerful of men. “But MAY I ask why my arrangements are changed without a word to me? I intended that Phil should–“

“Dear Miles!” said his wife. “I am sorry I called you names.”

“DEAR papa!” said the Merryweathers in chorus; “we all love you SO much!”

“And were you ever young?” asked Mrs. Merryweather, no longer swelling, partridge-like, but taking her husband’s arm with her sweetest smile.

“And did you ever see a girl you liked, Miles Merryweather? and if you ever had, would you have let another boy drive her in town while the breath was in you? Would you?”

“Oh!” said Miles Merryweather.

THE END