Nature's Serial Story by Edward Payson Roe
Chapter XLV. Summer's Weeping Farewell
Nature was at last awakening from her long, deathlike repose with an energy that was startling. The thin skirmish-line of vapor was followed by cloudy squadrons, and before sunset great masses of mist were pouring over Storm King, suggesting that the Atlantic had taken the drought in hand, and meant to see what it could do. The wind mourned and shrieked about the house, as if trouble, and not relief, were coming. In spite of the young moon, the night grew intensely dark. The dash of rain was expected every moment, but it did not come.
Amy thought with a shudder of their desolate camping-ground. Time must pass before pleasant associations could be connected with it. The intense darkness, the rush and roar of the coming storm, the agony, the death that might have occurred there, were now uppermost in her mind. She had found an opportunity to ask Webb questions similar to those of Miss Hargrove, and he had given Burt full credit for taking a fearful risk. A woman loves courage in the abstract, and when it is shown in behalf of herself or those whom she loves, he who has manifested it became heroic. But her homage troubled Burt, who was all at sea, uncertain of himself, of the future, of almost everything, but not quite uncertain as to Miss Hargrove. There was something in her look when they first met after their common peril that went straight to his deepest consciousness. He had before received, with not a little complacency, glances of preference, but none like that, in which a glimpse of feeling, deep and strong, had been revealed in a moment of weakness. The thought of it moved him far more profoundly than the remembrance of his danger. Indeed, he scarcely thought of that, except as it was associated with a girl who now might have been dead or dying, and who, by a glance, had seemed to say, "What you saved is yours."
If this were true it was indeed a priceless, overwhelming gift, and he was terrified at himself as he found how his whole nature was responding. He also knew that it was not in his frank, impetuous spirit to disguise deep feeling. Should Miss Hargrove control his heart, he feared that all would eventually know it, as they had speedily discovered his other little affairs. And little, indeed, they now seemed to him, relating to girls as immature as himself. Some had since married, others were engaged, "and none ever lost their appetites," he concluded, with a grim smile.
But he could not thus dismiss the past so far as Amy was concerned, the orphan girl in his own home to whom he had promised fealty. What would be his feeling toward another man who had promised so much and had proved fickle? What would the inmates of his own home say? What would even his gentle mother, of whom he had made a confidante, think of him? Would not a look of pain, or, even worse, of scorn, come into Amy's eyes? He did love her dearly; he respected her still more as the embodiment of truth and delicacy. From Miss Hargrove's manner he knew that Amy had never gossiped about him, as he felt sure nine-tenths of his acquaintances would have done. He also believed that she was taking him at his word, like the rest of the family, and that she was looking forward to the future that he had once so ardently desired. The past had taught him that she was not one to fall tumultuously in love, but rather that she would let a quiet and steady flame kindle in her heart, to last through life. She had proved herself above hasty and resentful jealousy, but she had, nevertheless, warned him on the mountain, and had received the renewed manifestations of his loyalty as a matter of course. Since his rescue of her friend in the morning her eyes had often sought his with a lustre so gentle and approving that he felt guilty, and cursed himself for a fickle wretch. Cost him what it might, he must be true to her.
She, little divining his tragic mood, which, with the whole force of his will, he sought to disguise, gave him an affectionate good-night kiss as she said, "Dear Burt, how happily the day has ended, after all!--and we know the reason why."
"Yes, Burt," added Webb; "no man ever did a braver thing."
His father's hearty praise, and even his mother's grateful and almost passionate embrace, only added to his deep unrest. As he went to his room he groaned, "If they only knew!"
After very little and troubled sleep he awoke on the following morning depressed and exhausted. Mental distress was a new experience, and he showed its effects; but he made light of it, as the result of over-excitement and fatigue. He felt that Nature harmonized with his mood, for he had scarcely ever looked upon a gloomier sky. Yet, strange to say, no rain had fallen. It seemed as if the malign spell could not be broken. The wind that had been whirling the dust in clouds all night long grew fitful, and died utterly away, while the parched earth and withered herbage appeared to look at the mocking clouds in mute, despairing appeal. How could they be so near, so heavy, and yet no rain? The air was sultry and lifeless. Fall had come, but no autumn days as yet. Experienced Mr. Clifford looked often at the black, lowering sky, and predicted that a decided change was at hand.
"My fear is," he added, "that the drought may be followed by a deluge. I don't like the looks of the clouds in the southeast."
Even as he spoke a gleam of lightning shot athwart them, and was soon followed by a heavy rumble of thunder. It seemed that the electricity, or, rather, the concussion of the air, precipitated the dense vapor into water, for within a few moments down came the rain in torrents. As the first great drops struck the roads the dust flew up as if smitten by a blow, and then, with scarcely any interval, the gutters and every incline were full of tawny rills, that swelled and grew with hoarser and deeper murmurs, until they combined in one continuous roar with the downfall from clouds that seemed scarcely able to lift themselves above the tree-tops. The lightning was not vivid, but often illumined the obscurity with a momentary dull red glow, and thunder muttered and growled in the distance almost without cessation.
The drought had been depressing. To Amy its gloomy, portentous ending was even more so. The arid noonday heat and glare of preceding days had given place to a twilight so unnatural that it had almost the awe-inspiring effect of an eclipse. The hitherto brazen sky seemed to have become an overhanging reservoir from which poured a vertical cataract. The clouds drooped so heavily, and were so black, that they gave an impression of impending solid masses that might fall at any moment with crushing weight. Within an hour the beds of streams long dry were full and overflowing.
In spite of remonstrances Webb put on a rubber suit, and went to look after some little bridges on the place. He soon returned, and said, "If this keeps up until morning, there will be a dozen bridges lacking in our region. I've tried to anchor some of our little affairs by putting heavy stones on them, so that the water will pass over instead of sweeping them away. It makes one think that the flood was no myth."
To the general relief, the rain slackened in the late afternoon, and soon ceased. The threatening pall of clouds lifted a little, and in rocky channels on the mountains the dull gleam of rushing water could be seen. From every side its voice was heard, the scale running up, from the gurgle in the pipes connected with the roof, to the roar of the nearest large stream. The drought was truly broken.
As the day advanced Burt had grown very restless. Amy watched him curiously. The long day of imprisonment had given time for thought, and a review of the past novel and exciting experiences. She had not seen the glances from Miss Hargrove which had suggested so much to Burt, but she had long since perceived that her friend greatly enjoyed his society. Had she loved him she would have seen far more. If this interest had been shown in Webb, she would have understood herself and Miss Hargrove also much better. Preoccupied as she was by her sense of loss and shortcoming produced by Webb's apparent absorption in pursuits which she did not share, the thought had repeatedly occurred to her that Miss Hargrove's interest in Burt might be more than passing and friendly. If this were true, she was sure the event of the preceding day must develop and deepen it greatly. And now Burt's manner, his fits of absent-mindedness, during which he stared at vacancy, awakened surmises also. "Where are his thoughts?" she queried, and she resolved to find out.
"Burt," she said, arousing him from one of the lapses into deep thought which alternated with his restless pacings and rather forced gayety, "it has stopped raining. I think you ought to ride over and see how Gertrude is. I feel real anxious about her."
His face lighted up with eagerness. "Do you truly think I ought to go?" he asked.
"Certainly, and it would be a favor to me also," she added.
He looked at her searchingly for a moment, but there was nothing in her friendly expression to excite his fears.
"Very well," he tried to say quietly. "I'll go. A swift gallop would do me good, I believe."
"Of course it will, and so will a walk brighten me up. I'm going out to see the brook."
"Let me go with you," he exclaimed, with an eagerness too pronounced.
"No, please. I'd rather hear how Gertrude is;" and she went to her room to prepare for her walk, smiling a little bitterly as she mused: "I now know where his thoughts were. I must be lacking indeed. Not only brother Webb, but also lover Burt, has grown weary of me. I can't entertain either of them through one rainy day." From her window she saw Burt riding away with a promptness that brought again the smile rarely seen on her fair features. In her light rubber suit, she started on her ramble, her face almost as clouded as the sky. Another had been on the watch also, and Webb soon joined her, with the question, "May I not go too?"
"Oh, I fear it will take too much of your time," she said, in tones that were a little constrained.
He saw that she was depressed. He, too, had been interpreting Burt, and guessed his destination as he galloped away. His love for Amy was so deep that in a generous impulse of self-forgetfulness he was sorry for her, and sought to cheer her, and make what poor amends he could for Burt's absence, and all that it foreboded. "Since you don't say outright that I can't go," he said, "I think I'll venture;" and then, in a quiet, genial way, he began to talk about the storm and its effects. She would not have believed that even remarkable weather could be made so interesting a topic as it soon proved. Before long they stood upon the bank, and saw a dark flood rushing by where but yesterday had trickled a little rill. Now it would carry away horse and rider, should they attempt to ford it, and the fields beyond were covered with water.
"I don't like these violent changes," said Amy. "Tennyson's brook, that 'goes on forever,' is more to my taste than one like this, that almost stops, and then breaks out into a passionate, reckless torrent."
"It's the nature of this brook; you should not blame it," he answered. "But see, it's falling rapidly already."
"Oh, certainly; nothing lasts," and she turned away abruptly.
"You are mistaken, sister Amy," he replied, with strong, quiet emphasis.
The early twilight deepened around them, and gloomy night came on apace, but before Amy re-entered the house his unselfish efforts were rewarded. Burt's threatened disloyalty apparently had lost its depressing influence. Some subtile reassuring power had been at work, and the clouds passed from her face, if not from the sky.