Chapter XXXVIII. The Two Lovers

The July sun speedily drank up the superabundant moisture, and the farm operations went on with expedition. The corn grew green and strong, and its leaves stretched up to Abram's shoulder as he ran the cultivator through it for the last time. The moist sultriness of the Fourth finished the ox-heart cherries. They decayed at once, to Alf's great regret. "That is the trouble with certain varieties of cherries," Webb remarked. "One shower will often spoil the entire crop even before it is ripe." But it so happened that there were several trees of native or ungrafted fruit on the place, and these supplied the children and the birds for many days thereafter. The robins never ceased gorging themselves. Indeed, they were degenerating into shameless gourmands, and losing the grace of song, as were also the bobolinks in the meadows.

Already there was a perceptible decline in the morning and evening minstrelsy of all the birds, and, with the exception of calls and twitterings, they grew more and more silent through the midday heat. With the white bloom of the chestnut-trees the last trace of spring passed away. Summer reached its supreme culmination, and days that would not be amiss at the equator were often followed by nights of breathless sultriness. Early in the month haying and harvest were over, and the last load that came down the lane to the barn was ornamented with green boughs, and hailed with acclamations by the farm hands, to whom a generous supper was given, and something substantial also to take home to their families.

As the necessity for prompt action and severe labor passed, the Cliffords proved that their rural life was not one of plodding, unredeemed toil. For the next few weeks Nature would give them a partial respite. She would finish much of the work which they had begun. The corn would mature, the oats ripen, without further intervention on their part. By slow but sure alchemy the fierce suns would change the acid and bitter juices in the apples, peaches, plums, and pears into nectar. Already Alf was revelling in the harvest apples, which, under Maggie's culinary magic, might tempt an ascetic to surfeit.

While Burt had manfully done his part in the harvest-field, he had not made as long hours as the others, and now was quite inclined to enjoy to the utmost a season of comparative leisure. He was much with Amy, and she took pleasure in his society, for, as she characterized his manner in her thoughts, he had grown very sensible. He had accepted the situation, and he gave himself not a little credit for his philosophical patience. He regarded himself as committed to a deep and politic plan, in which, however, there was no unworthy guile. He would make himself essential to Amy's happiness. He would be so quietly and naturally devoted to her that she would gradually come to look forward to a closer union as a matter of course. He also made it clear to her that she had no rivals in his thoughts, or even admiration, and, as far as courtesy permitted, withdrew from the society of a few favorites who once had welcomed him gladly and often. He had even pretended indifference to the advent of a dark-eyed beauty to the neighborhood, and had made no efforts to form her acquaintance. This stranger from the city was so charming, however, that he had felt more than once that he was giving no slight proof of constancy. His fleet horse Thunder was his great ally, and in the long twilight evenings, he, with Amy, explored the country roads far and near. When the early mornings were not too warm they rowed upon the river, or went up the Moodna Creek for water-lilies, which at that hour floated upon the surface with their white petals all expanded--beautiful emblems of natures essentially good. From mud and slime they developed purity and fragrance. He was also teaching Amy to be an expert horsewoman, and they promised themselves many a long ride when autumn coolness should make such exercise more agreeable.

Burt was a little surprised at his tranquil enjoyment of all this companionship, but nevertheless prided himself upon it. He was not so mercurial and impetuous as the others had believed him to be, but was capable of a steady and undemonstrative devotion. Amy was worth winning at any cost, and he proposed to lay such a patient siege that she could not fail to become his. Indeed, with a disposition toward a little retaliation, he designed to carry his patience so far as to wait until he had seen more than once an expression in her eyes that invited warmer words and manner. But he had to admit that time was passing, and that no such expression appeared. This piqued him a little, and he felt that he was not appreciated. The impression grew upon him that she was very young--unaccountably young for one of her years. She enjoyed his bright talk and merry ways with much the same spirit that Alf's boyish exuberance called forth. She had the natural love of all young, healthful natures for pleasure and change, and she unconsciously acted toward him as if he were a kind, jolly brother who was doing much to give the spice of variety to her life. At the same time her unawakened heart was disposed to take his view of the future. Why should she not marry him, after her girlhood had passed? All the family wished and expected it, and surely she liked him exceedingly. But it would be time enough for such thoughts years hence. He had the leisure and self-control for good-comradeship, and without questioning she enjoyed it. Her life was almost as free from care as that of the young birds that had begun their existence in June.

Only Webb perplexed and troubled her a little. At this season, when even Leonard indulged in not a little leisure and rest, he was busy and preoccupied. She could not say that he avoided her, and yet it seemed to happen that they were not much together. "I fear I'm too young and girlish to be a companion for him," she sighed. "His manner is just as kind and gentle, but he treats me as if I were his very little sister. I don't seem to have the power to interest him that I once had. I wish I knew enough to talk to him as he would like;" and she stealthily tried to read some of the scientific books that she saw him poring over.

He, poor fellow, was engaged in the most difficult task ever given to man--the ruling of his own spirit. He saw her sisterly solicitude and goodwill, but could not respond in a manner as natural as her own. This was beyond human capability. His best resource was the comparative solitude of constant occupation. He was growing doubtful, however, as to the result of his struggle, while Amy was daily becoming more lovely in his eyes. Her English life had not destroyed the native talent of an American girl to make herself attractive. She knew instinctively how to dress, how to enhance the charms of which nature had not been chary, and Webb's philosophy and science were no defence against her winsomeness. In her changeful eyes lurked spells too mighty for him. Men of his caste rarely succumb to a learned and aggressive woman. They require intelligence, but it is a feminine intelligence, which supplements their own, and is not akin to it. Webb saw in Amy all that his heart craved, and he believed that he also saw her fulfilling Burt's hopes. She seemed to be gradually learning that the light-hearted brother might bring into her life all the sunshine and happiness she could desire. Webb depreciated himself, and believed that he was too grave and dull to win in any event more than the affection which she would naturally feel for an elder brother, and this she already bestowed upon him frankly and unstintedly. Burt took the same view, and was usually complacency itself, although a week seemed a long time to him, and he sometimes felt that he ought to be making more progress. But he had no misgivings. He would be faithful for years, and Amy could not fail to reward such constancy.