UP, up! What a height it was, and how the horses toiled as they drew the heavy wagons up the mountain side. Whenever they came to a very steep place, the boys and all the gentlemen, except Colonel Rush, would jump out and walk, so as to lighten the load. Aunt Annie and Aunt Bessie, who was really Aunt Bessie now, for she was Uncle Ruthven's wife, also tried this; but they soon tired, and were glad to take their seats in the wagon again.
Maggie thought she must take her turn too, and asked papa to lift her out. Papa consented, warning her, however, that she would[Pg 10] find it harder work than she imagined to clamber up these steep ascents on her own two small feet. But Maggie thought she would like to be "a relief to the horses," so papa took her out.
Then Bessie's sweet little voice piped up from the snug corner, where she sat nestled between Colonel Rush and his wife.
"Mamma, bettn't I walk a little too, on 'count of the poor horses?"
At which Mr. Porter who walked beside the wagon, holding the reins, and now and then chirruping to the willing creatures who needed no whip or harsh command, turned his head towards the tiny figure with a merry twinkle in his eye.
"I think not, darling," said mamma; "by the time we are at the Lake House you will be more than tired enough with this long day's journey."
"I do not wish to walk, mamma," said Bessie, "only for the horses."
"The horses don't make much account of[Pg 11] your weight, I reckon," said Mr. Porter, good-naturedly, "and though this seems mighty hard work to you, they are used to it, and don't mind it so much. Besides, they know that every pitch takes them nearer to their stable, where they'll have a good rest and a feed of oats. They'd rather go up than down any day."
"How do they know it?" asked Bessie, who had already made friends with Mr. Porter.
"Well," said Mr. Porter, taking off his hat and fanning himself with it, "I can't just say how; certain it is they do know it."
"Maybe it's their instinct," said Bessie.
"That's about it," he answered, with a smile.
"These are fine teams of yours, Mr. Porter," said Colonel Rush.
"You may say that, sir," answered the old man, looking with pride at the noble beasts, "and this is the best of the lot. These are Vermont horses, sure-footed as goats, as they need to be on these mountain[Pg 12] roads; strong as elephants, and wiser than many a creature that goes on two feet. Why, I could tell you stories of this fellow," and he nodded towards the horse nearest him, "that maybe you'll find it hard to believe. I named him 'Solomon,' thinking it suitable; but the boys they shortened it to 'Sol,' and that's what he goes by. I tell you, he knows a thing or two, that horse."
Mr. Porter paused for breath, and Bessie, after waiting a moment or two in hopes of the stories of old Sol, said,—
"We'll believe you, Mr. Porter, if you tell us those stories."
"So I will," he answered, "but not now. It takes the breath out of a man trudging up these hills, and I can't tell you long stories now. But you come into the kitchen some evening, and I'll tell you a bushel full."
Maggie had found that "trudging up the hills" took the breath out of a little girl, and papa's words soon proved themselves true; but she plodded along perseveringly, flushed[Pg 13] and panting, holding to papa's hand, and happy in her belief that she was sparing the horses by her own exertions.
And now they came to a level spot where all might rest. A beautiful resting place it was, a perfect bower of the wild clematis, rock ivy and briar rose, the latter now in full flower. The long, slender sprays flung themselves from tree to tree, or ran climbing over the rocks, while the delicate pink blossoms hung, many of them, within the children's reach. Uncle Ruthven's warning checked Maggie's too eager fingers until he could cut them carefully with his knife, and place them in her hands stripped of their sharp little thorns. Maggie thanked him for his thoughtful kindness when she saw the misfortune which had happened to Hafed; for the little Persian, always anxious to please his "Missys," had grasped too heedlessly the tempting branches, and was now wringing his fingers as he danced about, half laughing, half crying, and saying,—
"Prettys no good, no good."
Maggie and Bessie were quite distressed for him, until his master, having taken out the thorns, bade him wash his bleeding fingers in the brook which ran by the roadside. Bessie had been taken from the wagon that she might rest herself by running about a little after her long ride, and now she and Maggie, as well as Hafed, forgot pricks and scratches in the pleasure of watching the brook, and feeling its cool, clear waters trickle through their fingers. What a noisy, merry, frolicksome stream this was, gurgling and splashing, rushing and tumbling in its rocky bed; now leaping gracefully in a miniature waterfall over some narrow ledge, now rippling and singing about the roots of the trees and over the pebbles that lay in its course, now flashing in the sunlight, and now hiding in a crevice of the rocks as if it were playing at Bopeep.
"What a fuss it makes about nothing," said Harry, as he dipped his fingers into the water, and carried some of the clear, sparkling[Pg 15] drops to his lips, "One would think it was doing a wonderful lot of work."
"So it does," said Maggie, following her brother's example.
"What work does it do?" asked Harry, always ready to listen to any of Maggie's new ideas.
"Sometimes it gives a thirsty boy a drink, and he is very ungrateful, and says it makes a fuss about nothing," said Maggie, mischievously.
Harry playfully sprinkled her with the drops which hung from his fingers. "And what else?"
"It waters the flowers and mosses and trees," said Maggie; "and the birds and squirrels can come and take a drink too, if they like."
"And it makes a pretty waterfall for us to see, and a nice, pleasant noise for us to listen to," said Bessie.
"All that is no better than play," said Harry.
"And it helps to make the sea," said Bessie. "Mamma said so."
"Ho!" said Fred; "much this little brook does towards filling the sea, Queen Bess."
"But it helps, and does all it can, Fred."
"Yes," said Maggie; "one little brook runs on until it finds another little brook, and then they join, and run on together, and then they meet another and another till they all make a small river, and that joins other little rivers and brooks, till there is a very large one like that we sailed on this morning, and that runs into the great, great sea that we used to see at Quam Beach last summer."
"Hallo, Midge!" said Fred; "where did you find out so much?"
"It's not my own finding out," said Maggie; "the other day my geography lesson was about rivers, and mamma told me all that, and Bessie heard too; so when we first saw this brook farther down the mountain, we remembered what mamma said, and Aunt May said a very nice thing."
"What was it?" asked Harry.
"She said little children might be like the brooks and springs. Not one could do a great deal by himself, but every little helped in the work God gave his creatures to do for him, just as every brook helped to fill the great sea to which it ran; and if we were good and sweet, it made everything bright and pleasant about us, just like a clear and running stream. But cross and naughty children were like the muddy brooks and dull pools, which no one could drink, or make of any use. I hope I won't be like an ugly, muddy pool that does no good to any one, but just stands still, and looks disagreeable all the day long, and has toads and things in it."
The boys laughed at the ending of Maggie's speech, so like herself, and Uncle Ruthven as he dipped a drinking cup into the flashing stream, said,—
"I do not think we need fear that, little Maggie."
"No," said Harry; "there is rather too[Pg 18] much sunshine and sparkle about Maggie to think that she would become a stagnant pool, full of ugly tempers and hateful faults, like 'toads and things.'"
"Yes," laughed Fred, "and she could not stand still with nothing to do; could you, Midget Fidget?"
Maggie was in too sunny a humor to be teased by anything Fred could say, though she did not like the name he called her, and she answered with good temper,—
"No, indeed, I could not, Fred; but if I am naughty I suppose I do not run just the way I ought to, and perhaps I grow a little muddy sometimes."
"It don't last long then, I'll say that for you," answered Fred, touched by his little sister's sweet-tempered honesty.
"No, it does not," said Bessie, who had been listening to the last few sentences with a sober face, "and my own little brook Maggie is the best and brightest brook of all the family. No, thank you, Uncle Ruthven," as her[Pg 19] uncle offered her a drink from his cup; "the water tastes better this way;" and she dipped her tiny hand again in the stream.
"But it would take you till sundown to satisfy your thirst out of that make-believe hand, Princess," said Mr. Stanton, "and Mr. Porter is ready for a fresh start."
So Bessie took a drink from her uncle's cup, and the other children were glad to do the same, since they were now forced to leave this pleasant spot.
Mamma said she thought Maggie had walked far enough, so she once more took her seat in the wagon, and as Mr. Porter said they had passed the steepest part of the ascent, the gentlemen and boys all did the same. The scene did not grow less beautiful as they went on upward. They could see to a great distance, and the view was very lovely. Behind and below them lay hills and forests, with here and there a break or clearing where some cozy home farm nestled, with the smoke from its chimney curling lazily up into the[Pg 20] quiet summer air. Still farther down, the valleys with their glistening ponds and streams, and the villages clustering here and there, their houses and churches looking from this height almost as small as toys; while far in the distance, flashing in the sunlight, rolled the noble river up whose waters they had come that morning.
Around them and above them lay great swells of land, over which they had yet to pass, rising one above another till they were crowned with the lofty summit of the mountain. Here stood out sharply against the sky a gray, bare mass of rock, with a tuft of pine-trees growing on the very top. By some people this was called "The Point," by others, "The Chief's Head," because they fancied it looked like an Indian's head wearing a plume of feathers. It could be seen for many miles, and long before our party began to ascend the mountain, Mr. Bradford had pointed it out to the children. The boys at once imagined they saw the Indian's head plainly. Maggie[Pg 21]sometimes thought she did, sometimes thought she did not, and was very eager about it; but now as the road took a sudden bend, bringing the great rock into nearer view, she declared the likeness was to be seen distinctly, nose, mouth, chin and all.
Bessie could not see any resemblance, and since Maggie could, was rather distressed; but mamma and the Colonel consoled her by saying that they, like herself, could see nothing but a huge, gray stone, crowned by a few lonely-looking trees.
"There's more fancy than anything else about it, I believe myself," said Mr. Porter; "if it was not for the old story probably no one would see any resemblance."
"What story?" asked Harry, eagerly.
"Why," answered Mr. Porter, "it is said that a tribe of Indians once lived among these valleys and mountains, whose chief died. He left twin sons, both famous warriors, and it was doubtful which would be chosen by the tribe to be their chief or king in the father's[Pg 22] place. One of the brothers was very anxious for this honor. He was a proud and selfish man, who seemed to care for no one in the world but his beautiful young wife, whom he dearly loved. His brother was more of a favorite with the people, and he feared that their choice would fall upon him, so he determined to kill him that he might be out of his way.
"The brother was fond of climbing to the mountain top, and sitting there to look out over the broad lands which had belonged to his fathers for so many years. One night when the wicked chief was returning from the hunt, he saw, as he thought, in the dim moonlight, his brother sitting in his usual place. This was very near the edge of the rock, where a slight push might throw him over, and it came into the bad man's heart to climb up softly behind him, and, with a sudden shove, to send him down upon the rocks below. He gave himself no time to think, and in a few moments he had reached the quiet figure[Pg 23] which was half concealed by a clump of trees, and, with a push of his powerful hand, sent it whirling over into the valley below."
"Oh, the bad, bad man!" said Bessie. "He was just like a Cain, and his poor brother who never did him any harm! I think that is a bad story."
"Probably it's not true, but just a fable," said Mr. Porter.
"Then they oughtn't to say it about the poor Indian," said Bessie, indignantly. "If he didn't do it, they ought not to make it up about him."
"And likely enough the man himself never lived," said Mr. Porter.
"Then they oughtn't to say he did," persisted Bessie; "And to make him so wicked too. There's enough of bad people without making up any more."
"Well, what was the end of it?" asked Fred.
"Just as the poor lost one went over the edge, a scream rang out on the night air, and[Pg 24] the Indian knew it was the voice of his beloved wife whom he had thus sent to her death. The story goes on to say that he was so stricken with horror and grief when he found what he had done, that he wished the earth might open and swallow him, which it did, all but his head, which was turned into stone, and so has remained to speak of the punishment of his wicked deed."
"That tribe of Indians must have been giants then," said Harry, laughing as he looked up at the enormous mass of stone.
"Now I know that story never was," said Bessie. "People don't be turned into stone because they are bad, and nobody ever had such a big head, and people ought not to say it."
Bessie had heard many a fairy tale, many a fable, and had never objected to them, though she always preferred to listen to stories which were, or might be, true; but somehow, no one could tell why, this fancy about the rock seemed to shock her sense of truth, and from[Pg 25] this time she could never be persuaded to call it the "Chief's Head." Her mother also noticed that when she was out of doors, she always sat or stood with her back towards it if she could possibly do so.
But they were by no means to mount so far as this before they came to their resting-place. Chalecoo Lake lay a good way below the "Point," nestled in a beautiful basin among the hills, and here the road ended. Those who wished to go higher must do so by a rough mountain path which led to the very summit.
The children were delighted to see what a quantity of birds and squirrels there appeared to be in the woods. The former were hopping about all over the trees, singing among the branches, and seeming scarcely disturbed by the approach of the wagons.
As for the squirrels, they were as saucy as possible, waiting and watching with their sharp, bright eyes till the travellers were close upon them, then gliding ahead to a short distance[Pg 26] and looking back, or perhaps leaping from one to another of the old fallen trunks which lay by the roadside almost within arm's length.
Once as the party, who were all growing somewhat tired, were rather quiet, they suddenly heard a long, loud chirrup; and looking round to the side whence the noise came, there, upon a heap of stones, sat a large gray squirrel, with his tail curled gracefully over his back like a plume, and seeming to call attention to himself by his song. Not in the least alarmed by the eager delight of the children, or the whistling and shouts of the boys, he sat still till all the wagons had passed, when he darted ahead of the foremost one, and seating himself this time on an old rail fence, began his pretty call again, and took a second close look at our friends. This he did five or six times in succession, to the great amusement and satisfaction of the little ones, who were beginning to hope he would go with them all the way to the house, when with a[Pg 27] pert, defiant whisk of his bushy tail, he leaped down the bank, and was lost to sight in the thick trees of the ravine.
At another time a rabbit ran across the road, but he was by no means so sociable as Bunny, and scampered away as if his life depended on hiding himself among the bushes as fast as possible.
"You wait till to-morrow morning," said Mr. Porter, as Bessie said how sorry she was that the squirrel had not kept on with them; "You wait till to-morrow morning and you'll see squirrels enough for the asking. Tame as your little dog there, they are too."
"Oh, Mr. Porter!" said Bessie, "do you shut the poor little squirrels up in a cage?"
"Not I," answered Mr. Porter. "I would not allow it on any account, and never did. You'll see how my boy Bob manages them."
And now they came to the lake itself. What a wild, curious place it was, such as none of the children had ever seen, not even Harry, who was considered by his brothers[Pg 28] and sisters quite a travelled young gentleman, because he had at one time gone with his father to Washington, and at another to Niagara.
Great masses and blocks of granite lay piled one above another round three sides of the lake, here and there poised in such a manner that many of them looked as if the slightest touch must send them headlong into the waters below. And yet thus they had remained for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, held firmly by the Almighty Hand which had given to each its place. Mosses and lichens, of all shades of gray, green and brown, covered their weather-beaten sides, while their tops were crowned with oaks, maples, pines and firs.
Around the southern side, and close to the mountain, which here rose still farther up, up, steep and rugged, to the Point, or Indian's Head, wound the road; and a dangerous road it looked, with the deep waters of the lake on one side, the rough mountain on the other[Pg 29] where the huge boulders overhung the travellers as they passed on. But with sure-footed, steady horses, and a careful driver, Mr. Bradford said there was no danger, for the road was good and strong, "built upon a rock," and kept in capital order by Mr. Porter and his industrious sons. Still, more than one of the ladies drew a breath of relief when it was safely passed.
Away at the eastern end, where there was a break in the rock, and a little back from the lake, stood Mr. Porter's house, a long, low, pleasant-looking building, painted white, with green blinds, wide piazzas, and magnificent shade trees. Garden, orchard and fields lay behind on the slope of the hill where it fell gently away to the valley below, and the whole place told of order and industry, showing in beautiful contrast to the wild grandeur of the other sides of the lake.
So here Maggie and Bessie were at last, at the long-talked-of Chalecoo Lake; and glad enough they, as well as the rest of the party,[Pg 30] were to be at their journey's end, pleasant though it had been. Ten hours of steady travelling was tiresome work for little people.
In the wide-open doorway stood Mrs. Porter, waiting to welcome them.
"What a jolly-looking old lady!" exclaimed Fred. "I shall like her, I know. She looks as if she belonged to this dear old place."
"That's so," said Mr. Porter, putting his head on one side, and gazing admiringly at his wife; "She's as jolly as she looks, and as good as she's jolly. My! but she'll spoil your children, Mrs. Bradford."
Mrs. Bradford smiled, and did not look as if she thought the "spoiling" would hurt her children very much; and now, with a loud "whoa," Mr. Porter drew in his horses, and his wife with her two daughters came down to help unload.
"You see I have brought you a large family, Mrs. Porter," said Mrs. Bradford, "but you have room for all, I believe?"
"Yes, and heart room too," was the answer, as the old lady took baby from her nurse, and covered her with kisses. Miss Baby looked for a moment as if she had half a mind to resent this liberty, but thought better of it, and presently was crowing and smiling in the kind old face, which looked so pleasantly at her. Indeed, not one of the children could resist the cheery, coaxing voice and tender manner; and in five minutes they were all crowding about her, as she told of all the treats she had in store for them; and even shy Maggie had summoned up courage to ask a question which had long been troubling her.
"Mrs. Porter," she whispered, pulling the old lady's head down towards her, "may I ask you a secret?"
"To be sure, my lamb, a dozen if you like," answered Mrs. Porter.
"Do you have trundle beds?" whispered Maggie again.
"Trundle beds? Well, I believe there is[Pg 32] an old one up garret," said Mrs. Porter, "but I'll have it down for you, and put to rights if you like."
"Oh, no!" said Maggie, "please don't. I do hate them so, and I had to sleep in one all last summer at Quam."
"Oh! that's it," said Mrs. Porter, "well, you shall sleep in no trundle bed here, since you don't like it. Come along up-stairs, and you shall see what nice little cottage beds we have for you young ones."
So this trouble was at an end, and Maggie felt quite free to enjoy all the new pleasures about her, without fear of the dreaded trundle bed.
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