Chapter XXIX. Nature's Workshop

During the hour she slept an ideal shower crossed the sky. In the lower strata of air there was scarcely any wind, and the rain came down vertically, copiously, and without beating violence. The sun-warmed earth took in every drop like a great sponge.

Beyond the first muttered warning to the little May party in the grove there was no thunder. The patter of the rain was a gentle lullaby to Amy, and at last she was wakened by a ray of sunlight playing upon her face, yet she still heard the soft fall of rain. With the elasticity of youth, she sprang up, feeling that the other cloud that had shadowed her thoughts might soon pass also. As she went singing down the stairway, Webb called from the front door: "Amy, look here! I was hoping you would come. See that rainbow." The cloud still hung heavily over the eastern mountains, while against it was a magnificent arch, and so distinctly defined that its feet appeared to rest on the two banks of the river. They watched it in silence until it faded away, and the whole scene, crowned with flowers and opening foliage tinted like blossoms of varied hues, was gemmed with crystals by the now unclouded sun, for the soft rain had clung to everything, from the loftiest tree-top to the tiniest spire of grass. Flame-like orioles were flashing through the perfumed air. Robins, with their heads lifted heavenward, were singing as rapturously as if they were saints rather than rollicking gormandizers. Every bird that had a voice was lifting it up in thanksgiving, but clear, sweet, and distinct above them all came the notes of the wood-thrush, with his Beethoven-like melody.

"Have you no words for a scene like this, Webb?" she asked, at last.

"It is beyond all words, Amy. It is one of nature's miracles. My wonder exceeds even my admiration, for the greater part of this infinite variety of beauty is created out of so few materials and by so simple yet mysterious a method that I can scarcely believe it, although I see it and know it. Men have always agreed to worship the genius which could achieve the most with the least. And yet the basis of nearly all we see is a microscopic cell endowed with essential powers. That large apple-tree yonder, whose buds are becoming so pink, started from one of these minute cells, and all the growth, beauty, and fruitfulness since attained were the result of the power of this one cell to add to itself myriads of like cells, which form the whole structure. It is cell adding cells that is transforming the world around us." He spoke earnestly, and almost as if he were thinking aloud, and he looked like one in the presence of a mystery that awed him. The hue of Amy's eyes deepened, and her face flushed in her quickened interest. Her own mind had been turning to kindred thoughts and questionings. She had passed beyond the period when a mind like hers could be satisfied with the mere surface of things, and Webb's direct approach to the very foundation principles of what she saw sent a thrill through all her nerves as an heroic deed would have done.

"Can you not show me one of those cells with your microscope?" she asked, eagerly.

"Yes, easily, and some of its contents through the cell's transparent walls, as, for instance, the minute grains of chlorophyll, that is, the green of leaves. All the hues of foliage and flowers are caused by what the cells contain, and these, to a certain extent, can be seen and analyzed. But there is one thing within the cell which I cannot show you, and which has never been seen, and yet it accounts for everything, and is the architect of all--life. When we reach the cell we are at the threshold of this mysterious presence. We know that it is within. We can see its work, for its workshop is under our eye, and in this minute shop it is building all the vegetation of the world, but the artisan itself ever remains invisible."

"Ah, Webb, do not say artisan, but rather artist. Does not the beauty all around us prove it? Surely there is but one explanation, the one papa taught me: it is the power of God. He is in the little as well as in the great. Do you not believe so, Webb?"

"Well, Amy," he replied, smilingly, "the faith taught you by your father is, to my mind, more rational than any of the explanations that I have read, and I have studied several. But then I know little, indeed, compared with multitudes of others. I am sure, however, that the life of God is in some way the source of all the life we see. But perplexing questions arise on every side. Much of life is so repulsive and noxious-- But there! what a fog-bank I am leading you into this crystal May evening! Most young girls would vote me an insufferable bore should I talk to them in this style."

"So much the worse for the young girls then. I should think they would feel that no compliment could exceed that of being talked to as if they had brains. But I do not wish to put on learned airs. You know how ignorant I am of even the beginnings of this knowledge. All that I can say is that I am not content to be ignorant. The curiosity of Mother Eve is growing stronger every day; and is it strange that it should turn toward the objects, so beautiful and yet so mysterious, that meet my eyes on every side?"

"No," said he, musingly, "the strange thing is that people have so little curiosity in regard to their surroundings. Why, multitudes of intelligent persons are almost as indifferent as the cattle that browse around among the trees and flowers. But I am a sorry one to preach. I once used to investigate things, but did not see them. I have thought about it very much this spring. It is said that great painters and sculptors study anatomy as well as outward form. Perhaps here is a good hint for those who are trying to appreciate nature. I am not so shallow as to imagine that I can ever understand nature any more than I can you with your direct, honest gaze. So to the thoughtful mystery is ever close at hand, but it seems no little thing to trace back what one sees as far as one can, and you have made me feel that it is a great thing to see the Divine Artist's finished work."

They were now joined by others, and the perfect beauty of the evening as it slowly faded into night attracted much attention from all the family. The new moon hung in the afterglow of the western sky, and as the dusk deepened the weird notes of the whip-poor-will were heard for the first time from the mountain-sides.

At the supper-table Leonard beamed on every one. "A rain like this, after a week of sunshine has warmed the earth" he exclaimed, "is worth millions to the country. We can plant our corn next week."

"Yes," added his father, "the old Indian sign, the unfolding of the oak leaves, indicates that it is now safe to plant. Next week will be a busy one. After long years of observation I am satisfied that the true secret of success in farming is the doing of everything at just the right time. Crops put in too early or too late often partially fail; but if the right conditions are complied with from the beginning, they start with a vigor which is not lost until maturity."

Burt indulged in a gayety that was phenomenal even for him, but after supper he disappeared. Amy retired to her room early, but she sat a long time at her window and looked out into the warm, fragrant night. She had forgotten poor Burt, who was thinking of her, as in his unrest he rode mile after mile, holding his spirited horse down to a walk. She had almost forgotten Webb, but she thought deeply of his words, of the life that was working all around her so silently and yet so powerfully. Unseen it had created the beauty she had enjoyed that day. From the very contrast of ideas it made her think of death, of her father, who once had been so strong and full of life. The mystery of one seemed as great as that of the other, and a loneliness such as she had not felt before for months depressed her.

"I wish I could talk to Webb again," she thought. "He says he does not understand me. Little wonder; I do not understand myself. It would seem that when one began to think nothing that appeared simple before is understood; but his words are strong and assured. He leads one to the boundaries of the known, and then says, quietly, we can go no further; but he makes you feel that what is beyond is all right. Oh, I wish Burt was like him!"