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Since our arrival from Westchester the weather had been more or less unsettled-- fog, rain, chilling winds alternating with days of midsummer heat. But now the exhausting temperature of July remained constant; fiery days of sunshine were succeeded by nights so hot and suffocating that life seemed well-nigh insupportable under tents or in barracks, and officers and men, almost naked, lay panting along the river bank through the dreadful hours of darkness which brought no relief from the fiery furnace of the day.
Schott's riflemen mounted guard stripped to the waist; the Oneidas and Stockbridge scouts strode about unclothed save for the narrow clout and sporran; and all day and all night our soldiers splashed in the river where our horses also stood belly deep, heads hanging, under the willows.
During that brief but scorching period I went to Mrs. Rannock's every evening after dark, and usually found Lois lying in the open under the stars, the garret being like an oven, so she said.
Here we had made up our quarrel, and here, on the patch of uncut English grass, we lay listlessly, speaking only at intervals, gasping for air and coolness, which neither darkness nor stars had brought to this sun-cursed forest-land.
But for the last two nights I had not found Lois waiting for me, nor did Mrs. Rannock seem to know whither she had gone, which caused me much uneasiness.
The third evening I went to find her at Mrs. Rannock's before the after-glow had died from the coppery zenith, and I encountered her moving toward the Spring path, just entering the massed elder bloom. Her face was dewy with perspiration, pale, and somewhat haggard.
"Lois, why have you avoided me?" I exclaimed. "All manner of vague forebodings have assailed me these two days past
"Listen to this silly lad!" she said impatiently. "As though a few hours' absence lessen loyalty and devotion!"
"But where have you been?"
"Where I may not take you, Euan."
"And where is that?" I asked bluntly.
"Lord! What a catechism is this for a free girl to answer willy-nilly! If you must know, I have played the maid of ancient Greece these two nights past. Otherwise, I had died, I think."
And seeing my perplexed mien, she began to laugh.
"Euan, you are stupid! Did not the Grecian maids spend half their lives in the bath?"
The slight flush of laughter faded from her face; the white fatigue came back; and she passed the back of one hand wearily across her brow, clearing it of the damp curls.
"The deadly sultriness of these nights," she sighed. "I was no longer able to endure the heat under the eaves among my dusty husks. So lately I have stolen at night to the Spring Waiontha to bathe in the still, cold pools. Oh, Euan, it is most delicious! I have slept there until dawn, lying up to my throat in the crystal flood." She laughed again. "And once, lying so, asleep, my body slipped and in I slid, deep, deep in, and awoke in a dreadful fright half drowned."
"Is it wise to sleep so in the Water?" I asked uneasily.
"Oh! Am I ever wise?" she said wearily. "And the blood beats in my veins these heated nights so that I am like to suffocate. I made a bed for me by Mrs. Rannock, but she sobbed in her sleep all night and I could not close my eyes, So I thought of the Spring Waiontha, and the next instant was on my way there, feeling the path with naked feet through the starlight, and dropped my clothing from me in the darkness and sank into the cool, sweet pool. Oh, it was heaven, Euan! I would you might come also."
"I can walk as far as the pool with you, at all events," said I.
"Wonderful! And will you?"
"Do I ever await asking to follow you anywhere?" said I sentimentally.
But she only laughed at me and led the way across the dreary strip of clearing, moving with a swift confidence in her knowledge of the place, which imitating, I ran foul of a charred stump, and she heard what I said.
"Poor lad!" she exclaimed contritely, slipping her hand into mine. "I should have guided you. Does it pain you?"
Our hands were clasped, and she pressed mine with all the sweet freedom of a comradeship which means nothing deeper. For I now had learned from her own lips, sadly enough, how it was with her-- how she regarded our friendship. It was to her a deep and living thing-- a noble emotion, not a passion-- a belief founded on gratitude and reason, not a confused, blind longing and delight possessing every waking moment, ever creating for itself a thousand tender dreams or fanciful and grotesque apprehensions.
Clear-headed so far, reasonable in her affection, gay or tender as the mood happened, convinced that what I declared to be my love for her was but a boy's exaggeration for the same sentiments she entertained toward me, how could she have rightly understood the symptoms of this amazing malady that possessed me-- these reasonless extremes of ardour, of dejection, of a happiness so keen and thrilling that it pained sometimes, and even at moments seemed to make me almost drunk.
Nor did I myself entirely comprehend what ailed me, never having been able to imagine myself in love, or ever dreamed that I possessed the capacity for such a violent devotion to any woman. I think now, at that period, somewhere under all the very real excitement and emotion of an adolescent encountering for the first time the sweet appeal of youthful mind and body, that I seemed to feel there might be in it all something not imperishable. And caught myself looking furtively and a little fearfully at her, at times, striving to conceive myself indifferent.
When we came to the Spring Waiontha I had walked straight into the water except for her, so dark it was around us. And:
"How can you ever get back alone?" said she.
"Oho!" said I, laughing, "I left the willow-tips a-dangle, breaking them with my left hand. I am woodsman enough to feel my way out."
"But not woodsman enough to spare your shins in the clearing," she said saucily.
"Shall we sit and talk?" I said.
"Oh, Euan! And my bath! I am fairly melting as I stand here."
"But I have not seen you for two entire nights, Lois."
"I know, poor boy, but you seem to have survived."
"When I do not see you every day I am most miserable."
"So am I-- but I am reasonable, too. I say to myself, if I don't see Euan today I will nevertheless see him to-morrow, or the day after, or the next, God willing----"
"How can you reason so coldly?"
"I-- reason coldly? There is nothing cold in me where you are concerned. But I have to console myself for not seeing you----"
"I am inconsolable," said I fervently.
"No more than am I," she retorted hotly, as though jealous that I should arrogate to myself a warmer feeling concerning her than she entertained for me.
"I care so much for you, Lois," said I.
"And I for you."
"Not as I care for you."
"Exactly as you care for me. Do you think me insensible to gratitude and affection?"
"I do not desire your gratitude for a few articles----"
"It isn't for them-- though I'm grateful for those things too! It's gratitude to God for giving me you, Euan Loskiel! And you ought to take shame to yourself for doubting it!"
I said nothing, being unable to see her in the darkness, much less perceive what expression she wore for her rebuke to me. Then as I stood silent, I felt her little hands groping on my arm; and my own closed on them and I laid my lips to them.
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The Hidden Children -by- Robert W. ChambersBottom Content goes here. Wikipedia content requires these links..... Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.