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- Nature's Serial Story - 60/78 -


mood, and he retired early.

CHAPTER XLVIII

IDLEWILD

In the morning Nature appeared to have forgotten both her passion and her penitence, and smiled serenely over the havoc she had made, as if it were of no consequence.

Amy said, "Let us take the strong rockaway, call for Miss Hargrove, and visit some of the streams"; and she noted that Burt's assent was too undemonstrative to be natural. Maggie decided to go also, and take the children, while Leonard proposed to devote the day to repairing the damage to the farm, his brothers promising to aid him in the afternoon.

When at last the party left their carriage at one of the entrances of Idlewild, the romantic glen made so famous by the poet Willis, a stranger might have thought that he had never seen a group more in accord with the open, genial sunshine. This would be true of Maggie and the children. They thought of that they saw, and uttered all their thoughts. The solution of one of life's deep problems had come to Maggie, but not to the others, and such is the nature of this problem that its solution can usually be reached only by long and hidden processes. Not one of the four young people was capable of a deliberately unfair policy; all, with the exception of Amy, were conscious whither Nature was leading them, and she had thoughts also of which she would not speak. There was no lack of truth in the party, and yet circumstances had brought about a larger degree of reticence than of frankness. To borrow an illustration from Nature, who, after all, was to blame for what was developing in each heart, a rapid growth of root was taking place, and the flower and fruit would inevitably manifest themselves in time. Miss Hargrove naturally had the best command over herself. She had taken her course, and would abide by it, no matter what she might suffer. Burt had mentally set his teeth, and resolved that he would be not only true to Amy, but also his old gay self. His pride was now in the ascendant. Amy, however, was not to be deceived, and her intuition made it clear that he was no longer her old happy, contented comrade. But she was too proud to show that her pride was wounded, and appeared to be her former self. Webb, as usual, was quiet, observant, and not altogether hopeless. And so this merry party, innocent, notwithstanding all their hidden thoughts about each other, went down into the glen, and saw the torrent flashing where the sunlight struck it through the overhanging foliage. Half-way down the ravine there was a rocky, wooded plateau from which they had a view of the flood for some distance, as it came plunging toward them with a force and volume that appeared to threaten the solid foundations of the place on which they stood. With a roar of baffled fury it sheered off to the left, rushed down another deep descent, and disappeared from view. The scene formed a strange blending of peace and beauty with wild, fierce movement and uproar. From the foliage above and around them came a soft, slumberous sound, evoked by the balmy wind that fanned their cheeks. The ground and the surface of the torrent were flecked with waving, dancing light and shade, as the sunlight filtered through innumerable leaves, on some of which a faint tinge of red and gold was beginning to appear. Beneath and through all thundered a dark, resistless tide, fit emblem of lawless passion that, unchanged, unrestrained by gentle influences, pursues its downward course reckless of consequences. Although the volume of water passing beneath their feet was still immense, it was evident that it had been very much greater. "I stood here yesterday afternoon," said Burt, "and then the sight was truly grand."

"Why, it was raining hard in the afternoon!" exclaimed Miss Hargrove.

"Burt seemed even more perturbed than the weather yesterday," Amy remarked, laughing. "He was out nearly all the time. We were alarmed about him, fearing lest he should be washed away, dissolved, or something."

"Do I seem utterly quenched this morning?" he asked, in a light vein, but flushing deeply.

"Oh, no, not in the least, and yet it's strange, after so much cold water has fallen on you."

"One is not quenched by such trifles," he replied, a little coldly.

They were about to turn away, when a figure sprang out upon a rock, far up the stream, in the least accessible part of the glen. They all recognized Mr. Alvord, as he stood with folded arms and looked down on the flood that rushed by on either side of him. He had not seen them, and no greeting was possible above the sound of the waters. Webb thought as he carried little Ned up the steep path, "Perhaps, in the mad current, he sees the counterpart of some period in his past."

The bridge across the mouth of Idlewild Brook was gone, and they next went to the landing. The main wharf was covered with large stones and gravel, the debris of the flood that had poured over it from the adjacent stream, whose natural outlet had been wholly inadequate. Then they drove to the wild and beautiful Mountainville road, that follows the Moodna Creek for a long distance. They could not proceed very far, however, for they soon came to a place where a tiny brook had passed under a wooden bridge. Now there was a great yawning chasm. Not only the bridge, but tons of earth were gone. The Moodna Creek, that had almost ceased to flow in the drought, had become a tawny river, and rushed by them with a sullen roar, flanging over the tide was an old dead tree, on which was perched a fish-hawk. Even while they were looking at him, and Burt was wishing for his rifle, the bird swooped downward, plunged into the stream with a splash, and rose with a fish in his talons. It was an admirable exhibition of fearlessness and power, and Burt admitted that such a sportsman deserved to live.

CHAPTER XLIX

ECHOES OF A PAST STORM

Miss Hargrove returned to dine with them, and as they were lingering over the dessert and coffee Webb remarked, "By the way, I think the poet Willis has given an account of a similar, or even greater, deluge in this region." He soon returned from the library, and read the following extracts: "'I do not see in the Tribune or other daily papers any mention of an event which occupies a whole column on the outside page of the highest mountain above West Point. An avalanche of earth and stone, which has seamed from summit to base the tall bluff that abuts upon the Hudson, forming a column of news visible for twenty miles, has reported a deluge we have had--a report a mile long, and much broader than Broadway.'"

"Certainly," said Mr. Clifford, "that's the flood of which I spoke yesterday. It was very local, but was much worse than the one we have just had. It occurred in August of '53. I remember now that Mr. Willis wrote a good deal about the affair in his letters from Idlewild. What else does he say?"

Webb, selecting here and there, continued to read: "'We have had a deluge in the valley immediately around us--a deluge which is shown by the overthrown farm buildings, the mills, dams, and bridges swept away, the well-built roads cut into chasms, the destruction of horses and cattle, and the imminent peril to life. It occurred on the evening of August 1, and a walk to-day down the valley which forms the thoroughfare to Cornwall Landing (or, rather, a scramble over its gulfs in the road, its upset barns and sheds, its broken vehicles, drift lumber, rocks, and rubbish) would impress a stranger like a walk after the deluge of Noah.

"'The flood came upon us with scarce half an hour's notice. My venerable neighbor, of eighty years of age, who had passed his life here, and knows well the workings of the clouds among the mountains, had dined with us, but hastened his departure to get home before what looked like a shower, crossing with his feeble steps the stream whose strongest bridge, an hour after, was swept away. Another of our elderly neighbors had a much narrower escape. The sudden rush of water alarmed him for the safety of an old building he used for his stable, which stood upon the bank of the small stream usually scarce noticeable as it crosses the street at the landing. He had removed his horse, and returned to unloose a favorite dog, but before he could accomplish it the building fell. The single jump with which he endeavored to clear himself of the toppling rafters threw him into the torrent, and he was swept headlong toward the gulf which it had already torn in the wharf on the Hudson. His son and two others plunged in, and succeeded in snatching him from destruction. Another citizen was riding homeward, when the solid and strongly embanked road was swept away before and behind him, and he had barely time to unhitch his horse and escape, leaving his carriage islanded between the chasms. A man who was driving with his wife and child along our own wall on the river-shore had a yet more fearful escape: his horse suddenly forced to swim, and his wagon set afloat, and carried so violently against a tree by the swollen current of Idlewild Brook that he and his precious load were thrown into the water, and with difficulty reached the bank beyond. A party of children who were out huckleberrying on the mountain were separated from home by the swollen brook, and one of them was nearly drowned in vainly attempting to cross it. Their parents and friends were out all night in search of them. An aged farmer and his wife, who had been to Newburgh, and were returning with their two-horse wagon well laden with goods, attempted to drive over a bridge as it unsettled with the current, and were precipitated headlong. The old man caught a sapling as he went down with the flood, the old woman holding on to his coat-skirts, and so they struggled until their cries brought assistance.' Other and similar incidents are given. One large building was completely disembowelled, and the stream coursed violently between the two halves of its ruins. 'I was stopped,' he writes in another place, 'as I scrambled along the gorge, by a curious picture for the common highway. The brick front of the basement of a dwelling-house had been torn off, and the mistress of the house was on her hands and knees, with her head thrust in from a rear window, apparently getting her first look down into the desolated kitchen from which she had fled in the night. A man stood in the middle of the floor, up to his knees in water, looking round in dismay, though he had begun to pick up some of the overset chairs and utensils. The fireplace, with its interrupted supper arrangements, the dresser, with its plates and pans, its cups and saucers, the closets and cupboards, with their various stores and provisions, were all laid open to the road like a sliced watermelon.'"

"Well," ejaculated Leonard, "we haven't so much cause to complain, after hearing of an affair like that. I do remember many of my impressions at the time, now that the event is recalled so vividly, but have forgotten how so sudden a flood was accounted for."

"Willis speaks of it on another page," continued Webb, as 'the aggregation of extensive masses of clouds into what is sometimes called a "waterspout," by the meeting of winds upon the converging edge of our bowl of highlands. The storm for a whole country was thus concentrated.' I think there must have been yesterday a far heavier fall of water on the mountains a little to the southeast than we had here. Perhaps the truer explanation in both instances would be that the winds brought heavy clouds together or against the mountains in such a way as to induce an


Nature's Serial Story - 60/78

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