Chapter XLVII. Disquiet Within and Without

Amy would scarcely have been human had she felt otherwise, for it appeared that Burt was in a fair way to inflict a slight that would touch the pride of the gentlest nature. During her long residence abroad Amy had in a general and unthinking way adopted some English ideas on the subject of marriage. Burt had at first required what was unnatural and repugnant, and she had resented the demand that she should pass from an age and a state of feeling slightly removed from childhood to relations for which she was not ready. When he had sensibly recognized his error, and had appeared content to wait patiently and considerately, she had tacitly assented to his hopes and those of his parents. Her love and gratitude toward the latter influenced her powerfully, and she saw no reason why she should disappoint them. But she was much too high-spirited a girl to look with patience on any wavering in Burt. She had not set her heart on him or sought to be more to him than to a brother, and if he wished for more he must win and hold the right by undoubted loyalty. The fact that Amy had been brought into the Clifford family as a daughter and sister had not cheated Nature a moment, as both Burt and Webb had proved. She was not their sister, and had unconsciously evoked from each of the young men a characteristic regard. Burt must not be judged too harshly. He had to contend with a temperament not uncommon--one that renders its possessor highly susceptible to the beauty and fascination of women. He was as far removed from the male flirt genus as sincerity is from falsehood; but his passion for Amy had been more like a manifestation of a trait than a strong individual preference based on mutual fitness and helpfulness. Miss Hargrove was more truly his counterpart. She could supplement the weaknesses and defects of his character more successfully than Amy, and in a vague way he felt this. With all the former's vivacity there was much reserve strength and magnetism. She was unusually gifted with will power, and having once gained an influence over a person, she would have, as agents to maintain it, not only her beauty, but tact, keen insight and a very quick intelligence. Although true herself, she was by no means unsophisticated, and having once comprehended Burt's character, she would have the power, possessed by few others, to make the most of him.

Amy was nearer to nature. She would first attract unconsciously, like a rare and beautiful flower, and the loveliness and fragrance of her life would be undying. Burt had felt her charm, and responded most decisively; but the tranquil regard of her unawakened heart had little power to retain and deepen his feeling. She bloomed on at his side, sweet to him, sweet to all. In Miss Hargrove's dark eyes lurked a stronger spell, and he almost dared to believe that they had revealed to him a love of which he began to think Amy was not capable. On the generous young fellow, whose intentions were good, this fact would have very great influence, and in preserving her supremacy Miss Hargrove would also be able to employ not a little art and worldly wisdom.

The events that are most desired do not always happen, however, and poor Burt felt that he had involved himself in complications of which he saw no solution; while Amy's purpose to give him "a lesson" promised anything but relief. Her plan involved scarcely any change in her manner toward him. She would simply act as if she believed all that he had said, and take it for granted that his hopes for the future were unchanged. She proposed, however, to maintain this attitude only long enough to teach him that it is not wise, to say the least, to declare undying devotion too often to different ladies.

The weather during the night and early on the following morning was puzzling. It might be that the storm was passing, and that the ragged clouds which still darkened the sky were the rear-guard or the stragglers that were following the sluggish advance of its main body; or it might be that there was a partial break in Nature's forces, and that heavier cloud-masses were still to come. Mr. Clifford inclined to the latter view. "Old Storm King is still shrouded," he said at the breakfast-table, "and this heavy, sultry air does not indicate clearing weather."

Events soon confirmed his opinion. Nature seemed bent on repeating the programme of the preceding day, with the purpose of showing how much more she could do on the same line of action. There was no steady wind from any quarter. Converging or conflicting currents in the upper air may have brought heavy clouds together in the highlands to the southwest, for although the rain began to fall heavily, it could not account for the unprecedented rise of the streams. In little over an hour there was a continuous roar of rushing water. Burt, restless and almost reckless, went out to watch the floods. He soon returned to say that every bridge on the place had gone, and that what had been dry and stony channels twenty-four hours before were now filled with resistless torrents.

Webb also put on his rubber suit, and they went down the main street toward the landing. This road, as it descended through a deep valley to the river, was bordered by a stream that drained for some miles the northwestern slope of the mountains. For weeks its rocky bed had been dry; now it was filled with a river yellow as the Tiber. One of the main bridges across it was gone, and half of the road in one place had been scooped out and carried away by the furious waters. People were removing their household goods out into the vertical deluge lest they and all they had should be swept into the river by the torrent that was above their doorsteps. The main steamboat wharf, at which the "Powell" had touched but a few hours before, was scarcely passable with boats, so violent was the current that poured over it. The rise had been so sudden that people could scarcely realize it, and strange incidents had occurred. A horse attached to a wagon had been standing in front of a store. A vivid flash of lightning startled the animal, and he broke away, galloped up a side street to the spot where the bridge had been, plunged in, was swept down, and scarcely more than a minute had elapsed before he was back within a rod or two of his starting-point, crushed and dead.

Webb soon returned. He had noticed that Amy's eyes had followed him wistfully, and almost reproachfully, as he went out. Nature's mood was one to inspire awe, and something akin to dread, in even his own mind. She appeared to have lost or to have relaxed her hold upon her forces. It seemed that the gathered stores of moisture from the dry, hot weeks of evaporation were being thrown recklessly away, regardless of consequences. There was no apparent storm-centre, passing steadily to one quarter of the heavens, but on all sides the lightning would leap from the clouds, while mingling with the nearer and louder peals was the heavy and continuous monotone from flashes below the horizon.

He was glad he had returned, for he found Amy pale and nervous indeed. Johnnie had been almost crying with terror, and had tremblingly asked her mother if Noah's flood could come again.

"No," said Maggie, confidently. "If there was to be another flood, grandpa would have been told to build an ark;" and this assurance had appeared so obviously true that the child's fears were quieted. Even Leonard's face was full of gloom and foreboding, when the children were not present, as he looked out on flooded fields, and from much experience estimated the possible injury to the farm and the town. Mr. and Mrs. Clifford were quiet and serene. They had attained a peace which was not easily disturbed, and the old gentleman remarked: "I have seen a worse storm even in this vicinity. You must remember it, Leonard."

"But this deluge isn't over," was the reply. "It seems a tremendous reaction from the drought, and where it will end it is hard to tell, unless this steady downpouring slackens soon."

Leonard's fears were not realized, however. The unusual and tropical manifestations of the storm at last ceased, and by night the rain fell softly and gently, as if Nature were penitent over her wild passion. The results of it, however, were left in all directions. Many roads were impassable; scores of bridges were gone. The passengers from the evening boats were landed on a wharf partially submerged, and some were taken in boats to a point whence they could reach their carriages.

In the elements' disquiet Burt had found an excuse for his own, and he had remained out much of the day. He had not called on Miss Hargrove again, but had ridden far enough to learn that the bridges in that direction were safe. All the family had remonstrated with him for his exposure, and Amy asked him, laughingly, if he had been "sitting on bridges to keep them from floating away."

"You are growing ironical," he answered for he was not in an amiable mood, and he retired early.