"Well," I said, extending my hand, "what next?" I had speedily made up my mind that Bart should take the initiative in our camping-out arrangement, and I therefore did not suggest that the first thing to be done was to set our camp itself in order.
"Come out," he said, taking my hand in the same way that the Infant does when she wishes to lead the way to the discovery of the fairyland that lies beyond the meadows of the farm. So we sauntered out. Once under the sun, the same delicious thought occurred to each that, certain prudences having been seen to, we were for the time without responsibilities, and the fact made us laugh for the very freedom of it and pull one another hither and thither like a couple of children.
Meanwhile the word knoll had not been uttered, but our feet were at once drawn in its direction by an irresistible force, and presently we found ourselves standing at the lower end of the ridge and looking up the slope!
"I wish we had a picture of it as it must have been before the land was cleared, - it would be a great help in replanting," I said; "it needs something dense and bold for a background to the rocks."
"The skeleton of the old barn on the other side spoils it; it ought to come down," was Bart's rejoinder. "It seems as if everything we wish to do hinges on some other thing."
This barn had been set back against the knoll so that from the house the hayloft window seemed like a part of a low shed. Certainly our forbears knew the ways of the New England wind very thoroughly, judging by the way they huddled their houses and outbuildings in hollows or under hillsides to avoid its stress. And when they couldn't do that, they turned sloping, humpbacked roofs toward the northeast to shed the snow and tempt the wind in its wild moods to play leapfrog and thus pass over.
Such a roof as this has the house at the next farm, and judging by the location of the old hay barn, and the lay of the road, it must have once belonged to this adjoining property rather than to ours.
Slowly we circled the knoll, dropped into the hollow, and stood upon the uneven floor of wide chestnut planks that was to be our camp. Other lodgers had this barn besides ourselves and, unlike ourselves, hereditary tenants. Swallows of steel-blue wings hung their nests in a whispering colony against the beams, a pair of gray squirrels arched their tails at us and chattering whisked up aloft, where they evidently have a family in the dilapidated pigeon cote, while among some cornstalks and other litter in the low earth cellar beneath we could hear the rustling doubtless born of the swift little feet of mice. (Yes, I know that it is a feminine quality lacking in me, but I have never yet been able to conjure up any species of fear in connection with these playful little rodents.)
The cots, table, chairs, and screens were as I had placed them several days ago; but it was not the interior that held us but the view looking eastward across the sunlit meadows. In fact this side of the barn had the wide openings of an observatory. The gnarled apple trees of the orchard still bore pink-and-white wreaths on the shady side, and the purling of bluebirds blended with the voice of the river that ran between the hills afar off - the same stream that further up country was to be pent between walls and prisoned to make a reservoir. Sitting there, we gazed upon the soft yet glowing beauty of it all, with never a thought of pick and spade, grub axe or crowbar, to pry between the rocks of the knoll to find the depth or quality of its soil or test the planting possibilities.
"Let us go up to the woods and see Blake; he wrote me that he is to be there to-day, and suggested we should both meet him and see the treasure-trove to be found there before the spring blossoms are quite shed," said Bart, suddenly, fumbling among the letters in his pocket; "and by the way, he said he would come back with us. He evidently forgets that we are not 'at home' to company!"
"But The Man from Everywhere is not company. He is simply a permanent institution and can, go on dropping in as usual all summer if he likes. Ann-stasia adores him, for did he not bring her a beautiful sandalwood rosary of carved beads from somewhere and a pair of real tortoise-shell combs not two months ago? And of course Maria Maxwell will not object; why should she? he will come and go as usual, and she will hardly know that he is in the house."
Barney harnessed the mild-faced horse of our neighbour's lending to that most comfortable of all vehicles, a buggy with an ample box behind and a top that can be dropped and made into a deep pocket to hold gleanings, or raised as a shield from sun and rain.-Ah! dear Mrs. Evan, is there anything that turns a sober, settled married couple backward to the enchanted "engaged" region like driving away through the spring lanes in a buggy pulled by a horse who has had nature-loving owners, so that he seems to know by intuition when to pause and when it would be most acceptable to his passengers to have him wander from the beaten track and browse among the tender wayside grasses that always seem so much more tempting than any pasture grazing?
As you will infer from this, Romeo is not only of a gentle, meditative disposition, but his harness is destitute of a check rein, overdraw, or otherwise.
"Have you put in the trowels?" I asked, as we drove out the gate, the reins hanging so loosely from between
Bart's knees, as he lit his pipe, that it was by mere chance that Romeo took the right turn.
"No, I never thought of them; this is merely a prospecting trip. Did you put in the lunch?"
I was obliged to confess that I had not, but later on a box of sandwiches was found under the seat in company with Romeo's nose-bag of oats, this indication being that, as Barney alone knew directly of our destination, he must have informed Anastasia, who took pity, regarding us, as she does, as a cross between lunatics and the babes in the woods.