Chapter XVIII. Learning to be a Lady.
 

The books sent for by Mr. Howitt came a few days after the adventure at the ranch, and Sammy, with all the intensity of her nature, plunged at once into the work mapped out for her by the shepherd.

All through the long summer and autumn, the girl spent hours with her teacher out on the hillside. Seated on some rocky bench, or reclining on the grassy slope, she would recite the lessons he gave her, or listen to him, as he read aloud from character forming books, pausing now and then to slip in some comment to make the teaching clear, or to answer her eager questions.

At other times, while they followed the sheep, leisurely, from one feeding ground to another, he provoked her to talk of the things they were reading, and, while he thus led her to think, he as carefully guarded her speech and language.

At first they took the old familiar path of early intellectual training, but, little by little, he taught her to find the way for herself. Always as she advanced, he encouraged her to look for the life that is more than meat, and always, while they read and talked together, there was opened before them the great book wherein God has written, in the language of mountain, and tree, and sky, and flower, and brook, the things that make truly wise those who pause to read.

From her mother, and from her own free life in the hills, Sammy had a body beautiful with the grace and strength of perfect physical womanhood. With this, she had inherited from many generations of gentle-folk a mind and spirit susceptible of the highest culture. Unspoiled by the hot-house, forcing process, that so often leaves the intellectual powers jaded and weak, before they have fully developed, and free from the atmosphere of falsehood and surface culture, in which so many souls struggle for their very existence, the girl took what her teacher had to offer and made it her own. With a mental appetite uninjured by tit-bits and dainties, she digested the strong food, and asked eagerly for more.

Her progress was marvelous, and the old scholar often had cause to wonder at the quickness with which his pupil's clear mind grasped the truths he showed her. Often before he could finish speaking, a bright nod, or word, showed that she had caught the purpose of his speech, while that wide eager look, and the question that followed, revealed her readiness to go on. It was as though many of the things he sought to teach her slept already in her brain, and needed only a touch to arouse them to vigorous life.

In time, the girl's very clothing, and even her manner of dressing her hair, came to reveal the development and transformation of her inner self; not that she dressed more expensively; she could not do that; but in the selection of materials, and in the many subtle touches that give distinction even to the plainest apparel, she showed her awakening. To help her in this, there was Aunt Mollie and a good ladies' magazine, which came to her regularly, through the kindness of her teacher.

Sammy's father, too, came unconsciously under the shepherd's influence. As his daughter grew, the man responded to the change in her, as he always responded to her every thought and mood. He talked often now of the old home in the south land, and sometimes fell into the speech of other days, dropping, for a moment, the rougher expressions of his associates. But all this was to Sammy alone. To the world, there was no change in Jim, and he still went on his long rides with Wash Gibbs. By fall, the place was fixed up a bit; the fence was rebuilt, the yard trimmed, and another room added to the cabin.

So the days slipped away over the wood fringed ridges. The soft green of tree, and of bush, and grassy slope changed to brilliant gold, and crimson, and russet brown, while the gray blue haze that hangs always over the hollows took on a purple tone. Then in turn this purple changed to a deeper, colder blue, when the leaves had fallen, and the trees showed naked against the winter sky.

With the cold weather, the lessons were continued in the Lane cabin on the southern slope of Dewey. All day, while the shepherd was busy at the ranch, Sammy pored over her books; and every evening the old scholar climbed the hill to direct the work of his pupil, with long Jim sitting, silent and grim, by the fireside, listening to the talk, and seeing who knows what visions of the long ago in the dancing flame.

And so the winter passed, and the spring came again; came, with its soft beauty of tender green; its wealth of blossoms, and sweet fragrance of growing things. Then came the summer; that terrible summer, when all the promises of spring were broken; when no rain fell for weary months, and the settlers, in the total failure of their crops, faced certain ruin.