II. The Crystal City and the Traveller

The wind, veering, came bitter cold; the rain hardened to hail; the clouds, changed to brittle nets of frost, and shaken to shreds by the rough wind, fell hissing in a scatter of snow. Next morning when Allen opened his door the wind was gone, the sky clear. Brier Pond, lately covered with clear ice, lay under a blanket of snow. He hurried across the pond, his dog following. Near the far shore was a bare spot on the ice cut by one of the sleigh-runners. Up in the woods, opposite, was the Moss Trail. Sunlight fell on the hills above him. He halted, looking up at the tree-tops. Twig, branch, and trunk glowed with the fire of diamonds through a lacy necking of hoar frost. Every tree had put on a jacket of ice and become as a fountain of prismatic hues. Here and there a dead pine rose like a spire of crystal; domes of deep-coloured glass and towers of jasper were as the landmarks of a city. Allen climbed the shore, walking slowly. He could see no track of sleigh or dog or any living thing. A frosted, icy tangle of branches arched the trail--a gateway of this great, crystal city of the woods. He entered, listening as he walked. Branches of hazel and dogwood were like jets of water breaking into clear, halted drops and foamy spray above him. He went on, looking up at this long sky-window of the woods. In the deep silence he could hear his heart beating.

"Sport," .said he to the dog, "show me the way;" but the dog only wagged his tail.

Allen returned to the house.

"Wife," said he, "look at the woods yonder. They are like the city of holy promise. 'Behold I will lay thy stones with fair colours and thy foundations with sapphires, and I will make thy windows of agate.'"

"Did you find the track of the little sleigh?" said she.

"No," he answered, "nor will any man, for all paths are hidden."

"Theron--may we keep the boy?" she inquired.

"I think it is the will of God," said Allen.

The boy grew and throve in mind and body. For a time he prattled in a language none who saw him were able to comprehend. But he learned English quickly and soon forgot the jargon of his babyhood. The shadows of mystery that fell over his coming lengthened far into his life and were deepened by others that fell across them. Before he could have told the story, all memory of whom he left or whence he came had been swept away. It was a house of riddles where Allen dwelt--a rude thing of logs and ladders and a low roof and two rooms. Yet one ladder led high to glories no pen may describe. The Allens, with this rude shelter, found delight in dreams of an eternal home whose splendour and luxury would have made them miserable here below. What a riddle was this! And then, as to the boy Sid, there was the riddle of his coming, and again that of his character, which latter was, indeed, not easy to solve. There were few books and no learning in that home. For three winters Trove tramped a trail to the schoolhouse two miles away, and had no further schooling until he was a big, blond boy of fifteen, with red cheeks, and eyes large, blue, and discerning, and hands hardened to the axe helve. He had then discovered the beauty of the woods and begun to study the wild folk that live in holes and thickets. He had a fine face. You would have called him handsome, but not they among whom he lived. With them handsome was as handsome did, and the face of a man, if it were cleanly, was never a proper cause of blame or compliment. But there was that in his soul, which even now had waked the mother's wonder and set forth a riddle none were able to solve.