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- Nature's Serial Story - 6/78 -
of a world, it seemed to Amy. The moon, nearly full, had risen in the gap of the Highlands, and had now climbed well above the mountains, softening and etherealizing them until every harsh, rugged outline was lost. The river at their feet looked pallid and ghostly also. When not enchained by frost, lights twinkled here and there all over its broad surface, and the intervals were brief when the throbbing engines of some passing steamer were not heard. Now it was like the face of the dead when a busy life is over.
"It's all very beautiful," said Amy, shivering, "but too cold and still. I love life, and this reminds one of death, the thoughts of which, with all that it involves, have oppressed me so long that I must throw off the burden. I was growing morbid, and giving way to a deeper and deeper depression, and now your sunny home life seems just the antidote for it all."
The warm-hearted fellow was touched, for there were tears in the young girl's eyes. "You have come to the right place, Amy," he said, eagerly. "You cannot love life more than I, and I promise to make it lively for you. I'm just the physician to minister to the mind diseased with melancholy. Trust me. I can do a hundred-fold more for you than delving, matter-of-fact Webb. So come to me when you have the blues. Let us make an alliance offensive and defensive against all the powers of dulness and gloom."
"I'll do my best," she replied, smiling; "but there will be hours, and perhaps days, when the past with its shadows will come back too vividly for me to escape it."
"I'll banish all shadows, never fear. I'll make the present so real and jolly that you will forget the past."
"I don't wish to forget, but only to think of it without the dreary foreboding and sinking of heart that oppressed me till I came here. I know you will do much for me, but I am sure I shall like Webb also."
"Oh, of course you will. He's one of the best fellows in the world. Don't think that I misunderstand him or fail to appreciate his worth because I love to run him so. Perhaps you'll wake him up and get him out of his ruts. But I foresee that I'm the medicine you most need. Come to the fire; you are shivering."
"Oh, I'm so glad that I've found such a home," she said, with a grateful glance, as she emerged from the curtains.
GUNNING BY MOONLIGHT
Webb saw the glance from eyes on which were still traces of tears; he also saw his brother's look of sympathy; and with the kindly purpose of creating a diversion to her thoughts he started up, breaking off his discussion with Leonard, and left the room. A moment later he returned from the hall with the double-barrelled gun.
"What now, Webb?" cried Burt, on the _qui vive_. "You will make Amy think we are attacked by Indians."
"If you are not afraid of the cold, get your gun, and I think I can give you some sport, and, for a wonder, make you useful also," Webb replied. "While you were careering this afternoon I examined the young trees in the nursery, and found that the rabbits were doing no end of mischief. It has been so cold, and the snow is so deep, that the little rascals are gathering near the house. They have gnawed nearly all the bark off the stems of some of the trees, and I doubt whether I can save them. At first I was puzzled by their performances. You know, father, that short nursery row grafted with our seedling apple, the Highland Beauty? Well, I found many of the lower twigs taken off with a sharp, slanting cut, as if they had been severed with a knife, and I imagined that a thrifty neighbor had resolved to share in our monopoly of the new variety, but I soon discovered that the cuttings had been made too much at random to confirm the impression that some one had been gathering scions for grafting. Tracks on the snow, and girdled trees, soon made it evident that rabbits were the depredators. One of the little pests must have climbed into a bushy tree at least eighteen inches from the snow, in order to reach the twigs I found cut."
"A rabbit up a tree!" exclaimed Leonard. "Who ever heard of such a thing?"
"Well, you can see for yourself to-morrow," Webb resumed. "Of course we can't afford to pasture the little fellows on our young trees, and so must feed them until they can be shot or trapped. The latter method will be good fun for you, Alf. This afternoon I placed sweet apples, cabbage-leaves, and turnips around the edge of a little thicket near the trees; and, Burt, you know there is a clump of evergreens near, from whose cover I think we can obtain some good shots. So get your gun, and we'll start even."
At the prospect of sport Burt forgot Amy and everything else, and dashed off.
"Oh, papa, can't I go with them?" pleaded Alf.
"What do you think, Maggie?" Leonard asked his wife, who now entered.
"Well, boys will be boys. If you will let mamma bundle you up--"
"Oh, yes, anything, if I can only go!" cried Alf, trembling with excitement.
"Sister Amy," Webb remarked, a little diffidently, "if you care to see the fun, you can get a good view from the window of your room. I'll load my gun in the hall."
"Can I see you load?" Amy asked, catching some of Alf's strong interest. "It's all so novel to me."
"Certainly. I think you will soon find that you can do pretty much as you please in your new home. You are now among republicans, you know, and we are scarcely conscious of any government."
"But I have already discovered one very strong law in this household," she smilingly asserted, as she stood beside him near the hall-table, on which he had placed his powder-flask and shot-pouch.
"Ah, what is that?" he asked, pouring the powder carefully into the muzzles of the gun.
"The law of kindness, of good-will. Why," she exclaimed, "I expected to be weeks in getting acquainted, but here you are all calling me sister Amy as if it were the most natural thing in the world. It seems so odd," she laughed, "that I am not a bit afraid of you, even with your gun, and yet we have just met, as it were. The way you and your brothers say 'sister Amy' makes the relation seem real. I can scarcely believe that I am the same girl that stepped down at the station this evening, nor can I get over my pleased wonder at the transformation."
"Amy," said the young man, earnestly, "your coming promises so much to us all! You were just the one element lacking in our home. I now see that it was so. I already have the presentiment that you will do more for us than we can for you."
"I ought to do all that the deepest gratitude could prompt. You have never known what it is to be desolate one hour, and to find an ideal home the next."
"I wish it might be an ideal home to you; but don't expect too much. You will find some of us very human."
"Therefore I shall feel the more at home. Papa always spoiled me by letting me have my own way, and I shall often tax your patience. Do you know, I never saw a gun loaded before. There seems to be so much going on here, and I have lived such a quiet life of late. How will you make the thing go off?"
"These little precussion-caps will do the business. It seems to me that I've always been quiet, and perhaps a trifle heavy. I hope you will think it your mission to render me less matter-of-fact. I'm ready now, and here comes Burt with his breech-loader. If you will go to your room now, you can see our shots."
A moment later she stood with Johnnie at her window, both almost holding their breath in expectation as they saw the young men, with Alf following, steal toward a clump of evergreens behind the house.
"Quiet and steady now," Webb cautioned his eager brother; "and, Alf, you step in my tracks, so there may be no noise." Thus they made their way among the pines, and peered cautiously out. "Hold on, Burt," Webb whispered, as the former was bringing his gun to his shoulder; "I want a crack at them as well as yourself. Let's reconnoitre. Yes, there are three or four of the scamps. Let Alf see them. They look so pretty in the moonlight that I've scarcely the heart to disturb, much less to kill them."
"Oh, stop your sentimental nonsense!" muttered Burt, impatiently. "It's confoundedly cold, and they may take fright and disappear."
"Black ingratitude!" Webb exclaimed. "If there isn't one in the apple nursery in spite of all my provision for them! That ends my compunctions. I'll take him, and you that big fellow munching a cabbage-leaf. We'll count three--now, one, two--" The two reports rang out as one, and the watchers at the window saw the flashes, and thrilled at the reverberating echoes.
"It's almost as exciting as if they were shooting Indians, robbers, or giants," cried Johnnie, clapping her hands and jumping up and down.
"Back," said Webb to Alf, who was about to rush forward to secure the game; "we may get another shot."
They waited a few moments in vain, and then succumbed to the cold. To Alf was given the supreme delight of picking up the game that lay on the snow, making with their blood the one bit of color in all the white garden.
"Poor little chaps!" Webb remarked, as he joined the family gathered around Alf and the rabbits in the sitting-room. "It's a pity the world wasn't wide enough for us all."
"What has come over you, Webb?" asked Burt, lifting his eyebrows. "Has there been a hidden spring of sentiment in your nature all these years, which has just struck the surface?"
It was evident that nearly all shared in Webb's mild regret that such a sudden period had been put to life at once so pretty, innocent, and
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