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Mary breathed a breath of deep relief. Peacewas restored between Ma Harris and herself, but sheknew that between her two guests there yawned abreach that time and frequent intercourse only widenedand deepened. Once in an uncharitable momentSally had likened Ma Harris to Dan's old wall-eyedmare, and more than once Ma Harris had made disparagingremarks about Sally's cooking. The bearerof tales had attended to her work, and thereafter thetwo seldom met without an interchange of hostile words.Mary was of those blessed ones who love and who makepeace, and for the next hour she stood as a bufferbetween two masked batteries. If a sarcastic remarkwere thrown out, she caught it before it could reachits mark, and took away its sting by some kindlyinterpretation of her own. If a challenge were given,she took it up and laughed it off as a joke. If theconversation threatened to become personal, she ledits course into the safe channel of generalities; andfor once the two enemies were completely baffled intheir efforts to bring about a quarrel. But only Maryknew at what cost peace had been purchased, when[Pg 54]she lay down on the old sofa in the hall for a moment'srest before going to the kitchen to cook supper and maketea-cakes for the May Meeting basket. After suppershe sewed buttons on Lucy Ellen's frock and littleJohn's blouse and, being a woman and young, shethought of the pale blue dimity she had hoped to wearto the May Meeting, because pale blue was John'sfavorite color.
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May Meeting in the country is like Easter Sundayin town, a gala occasion, and it was an idyllic scenearound the little country church as the congregationgathered under the trees. Stalwart men, matronlywomen, and youth and maiden clad in fresh apparelthat matched the garb of Nature. They had worshippedGod in prayer and song within church walls,and now they were to enjoy the gifts of God underthe arch of his blue sky and in the green aisles of hisfirst temple. The old earth had yielded a bountifultribute to man's toil, and on the damask cloths spreadover the sward lay the fruits and grains of last year'sharvest, changed by woman's skill into the viandsthat are the symbols of Southern hospitality, as saltis the symbol of the Arab's.[Pg 68]
The way to the bridge was a shady avenue, the treesin that rich alluvial soil growing to extraordinary heightand grandeur, and in the comfortable homes and well-tilledfarms there was a cheerful presentment of thelegendary "Man with the Hoe." Only one melancholyspot by the roadside marred the traveler'spleasure. It was a country graveyard, walled aroundwith stone, surmounted with an iron railing to protectit from the desecrating tread of beast or man. Nearlya century ago the hand of some woman had planted onone of the graves a spray of myrtle and a lily of the[Pg 75]valley, and Nature had laid her leveling touch on eachgrassy mound and changed the place outwardly to agarden of flowers. But neither spring's white glory oflilies and azure of myrtle, the rich foliage of summer,the crimson splendor of autumn, nor winter's deepestsnow could hide from the passer-by the secret of theplace. Young lovers like Matty and Percival mightgo by with laughter and smiles unchecked; not yetfor them the thought of death. But John touchedthe horse to a quicker pace and looked to the otherside of the road where sunny fields of grain spoke oflife more abundantly, and Mary drew closer to John'sside, saying in her heart: "I wish there was no deathin this world."
It was past the middle of the afternoon. The windhad died down to a mere occasional whisper, the birdschirped more softly, and there seemed to be a hush anda pause, as if all the creatures of the wood felt thelanguorous spell of the hour. Miranda looked aboutfor a resting place. She was standing near the mainpath in a partly cleared space, a sort of fairy ring,in the center of which was a giant tree that had suffereda lingering death from a stroke of lightning. Litheand graceful, with the sap of a new life coursing throughtheir veins, its comrades were waving and beckoning[Pg 227]to each other and welcoming the birds to leafy shelters,while, stark and stiff with decay, the stricken onestood like the skeleton at the feast, stretching itshelpless arms skyward as if imploring Nature to raiseit from the dead. All around it were the kings of theforest, the fruitful walnut and hickory whose leavessmell like the "close-bit thyme" on the downs of Sussexby the sea; the tasseled oak, and the elm more gracefulthan any graveyard willow; but moved by somehidden impulse, this girl whose youth was almost gonechose the dead tree for her own. The ground waslittered with strips of bark that the electric storm hadtorn from the trunk. She gathered these and laid themat the root for protection from the damp earth. Then,seating herself, she leaned back against the trunk ofthe tree and drew a long, sighing breath of deep content.Through the woods on the other side of the pathshe could see the field of young wheat, and she had avague, dreamy thought of the summer's heat thatwould ripen the grain and of the harvest with its terribletoil for the women of the farm. The heat of summerand the cold of winter were alike hateful to her, butno thought of either could break this blissful calm.Like an evil dream the winter was gone, and like an[Pg 228]evil dream the summer too would go, and both would beforgotten. What mattered heat or cold? Everywinter had its spring; every summer its autumn;and the heart need remember only its springs andautumns. She looked upward into the depths of paleblue ether, and followed the course of the white,drifting clouds. O, ecstasy of ecstasies! To live onsuch an earth with such a sky above! Looking at thesky was like looking into a vast crystal. Farther andfarther into space her gaze seemed to penetrate, andpresently her soul began to follow her gaze. Somethingin that boundless space seemed to be drawing herout of the body. Her breath was so light it wouldhardly have moved a gossamer; her eyelids droopedslowly and heavily, and she slept a sleep too deepfor dreams.
At the head of the stairs were the soap and waterstill waiting to be used, but she could look at them nowwithout any of the irritation she had felt that morning,for she knew the hidden meaning of the work that laybefore her. Was not Nature cleaning the whole earth,purifying it with her sunshine and her wind, andwashing it with her dew and rain? If men and women[Pg 237]could only live in the wind and sun with no shelterbut the branches of the trees! But since they musthave houses, these, too, must know the wholesometouch of wind, sun, and water. Lovely pictures ofclouds, trees, fields, birds, and flowers filled her brainand made more apparent the ugliness of her room. Hersense of smell, sharpened by breathing forest air, tookinstant note of the musty odors that came from walls,floors, and clothing. She pushed the bedstead nearthe window so that she might feel the night air blowingover her face as she slept and resolved that the nextnight should find that room as like to a nook in thewoods as she could make it; and when the scrubbingand whitewashing were over, she would go again andagain to the woods and gather the flowers of spring,summer, and autumn to sweeten the air of the oldhouse. As she blew out the lamp, there was a rumbleof thunder from the west; a wind with the smell ofrain swept through the dark room, and, laying her headon the pillow, she smiled to think how the creatures ofthe forest would look and feel in the scented night andthe falling rain. All the spring landscape on whichshe had gazed that day seemed imprinted on her brain,and when she closed her eyes, it passed like a panorama[Pg 238]before her inner vision: wind-swept trees whose leafybranches waved against the pale blue sky; tremulousshadows on the fresh greensward; flowers of the gardenand flowers of the forest flushing, purpling, paling, flaming,glowing in orderly beds or in wild forest nooks;long grey fences outlining farms and roads; sunlightglinting on the wings of flying birds; misty hills andlittle valleys sloping down to the level of the fertilefields; glory of midday and greater glory of sunsetsoftening into the quiet, star-lit evening skies. 041b061a72