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the night, and enjoy Alicia's companionship through the day. So finally came the day when Louisa was to leave New York, and Alicia return to her own home.

Alicia woke early on the last morning, a glow of happiness at her heart. She had been a comfort. Little had been said, but there was something in the way in which Mrs. Gray had last night taken the girl's two hands in hers, and held them close for one moment, that was better than words.

When Alicia parted her blue curtains to look out on an early morning world, it was a sort of fairyland that met her eyes. For after all the snow, the weather had the day before moderated, and a slight rain. fallen, turning before morning to ice. Every twig on every branch glittered in its bath of sunbeams. Alicia caught her breath at the beauty of it.

Across the tip of Moat drifted a fleecy scarf of mist, and far in the distance Washington reared majestic in white shining robes. The air was as clear as a bell, and again penetratingly cold, and the girl's healthy young blood tingled responsively as she took her icy bath and got quickly into her clothes. Her room was unheated except by the warmth that came from the hall when she left her door open.

Peeping into Mrs. Gray's room as she passed through the upper hall, and finding her sound asleep, Alicia took a hasty bite in the pantry, and was soon outdoors and had strapped on her snowshoes.

As she made her way toward the veery's nest through the gleaming pines and fir balsams, an icy twig snapped here and there with a tinkling sound, musical, as if the elves of the wood were playing their chimes to greet the early day. And here was the veery's nest, lined with silver, and folded about with a napkin of Alicia knelt, and touched her lips to the cup's rim "To Robert!"


she whispered, as if the elves might hear. "And Aunt Helen. Let her keep well for him."

She started at a sudden sound. It was only a rabbit within a stone's throw, eyeing her alertly, and ready to vanish if she stirred. He made such a charming picture that Alicia kept as still as she could, and longed for her camera. A moment or two, and he was away. She must go back. But first she drew from her pocket a letter from Robert to Louisa, which the latter had forwarded within one of her own. "Dear Louisa," it ran. "So you and Alicia are going to disport yourselves in the big city. I wouldn't mind very much being there at the same time. It seems about two years since I saw you all. How is Alicia? Tell her she doesn't keep up her end of correspondence. Does she seem older, or changed any? How about Hurry? Of course Alicia can ride him whenever she likes. What have you both been up to? ***" An account of his own doings followed, of ranch life that evidently appealed to him strongly, and then he wound up his letter with a few more tions. Alicia was all right, wasn't she? She must be, he knew, but the letters he had got from her so far wouldn't fill the veery's nest. ****. Did Alicia play on his piano? He surely hoped so. Tell her that Dad and Mother would like it if she did.


"This letter seems to be more for you than me," Louisa had penciled on the margin. "You needn't return it."

Alicia's cheeks felt burning. She took up a handful of snow and rubbed them till they glowed like wild roses.



New York, February 14,1896 Dear Alicia,


is not a

week yet since I

left North Conway, but I feel as if it were much longer. Not that the time has dragged in the least, but it has been full of so many new experiences. I feel myself such a different person, and would not for the world have missed this broadening and enlarging experience. I'm afraid Mrs. Redpath won't ask you next year, as you thought possible, for she seems a little offended, I think, at your lightly refusing so generous an offer. You are too impulsive, I am afraid, for certainly you must by this time be regretting your mistake.

Mr. Redpath's tastes are quite literary, and many most interesting people come to the house. Already I have met and talked with two wellknown authors-Mrs. C—and Mr. R. I have been twice to the theatre, and tonight is Grand Opera.


You asked if Elsie is as pretty as ever. How much you always think of looks, Alicia! Yes, I believe she is called very pretty, though I myself prefer the blonde type. She has a good many men callers, and two in particular rather haunt the house. A Mr. Islington, said to be fabulously rich, is bright, tall, and I must admit the finest looking man I have ever He sat next me at dinner last night. I will tell you more about him later, for I saw more of him than of anyone else during the evening. He wants to come to North Conway next summer, for he has never seen the White Mountains. The other man is Mr. Brown, who supports two elderly sisters, and has hardly a penny to his name. What the Redpaths see in him it is hard for me to understand. He has nothing to say for himself, and and is bald and very stout. Yet his intimacy with Elsie seems to be encouraged. I cannot understand it.

Well, it is time for me to dress for dinner and opera. I shall wear light green and rosebuds. A box of them has just come from Mr. Isling

ton. How charming of charming of him! I haven't any proper opera cloak, but Elsie has lent me one of hers, a beauty of dark green velvet trimmed with swansdown.

I thought Elsie seemed seemed a little jealous about the rosebuds. She has known Mr. Islington a long time. If there is one fault above another I dislike, and have always tried to avoid, it is jealousy. Now I think of it, Elsie has more than once shown signs of it since I came. If Mr. Islington finds it interesting to sit by me and talk with me the greater part of the evening, surely he has a right to do so, since he and Elsie are not engaged. If they were, that would be an entirely different matter. I naturally took an interest in him, as she had told me a great deal about his being such a fine character. Now I must dress, or I shall be late. Love to Aunt Helen.



New York, February 18, 1896 Dear Alicia,

What a difference a few days can make in one's estimate of persons! I find that my first impressions of Mr. Brown and Mr. Islington were very superficial. On closer acquaintance I find Mr. Brown possesses a certain stability and dignity that has won my high esteem. He is not so very bald, and his eyes are a beautiful shade of blue. As to Mr. Islington,--it was unusually stupid of me,he is the penniless one with the two old sisters. It seems to me that he himself might have made that clear to me, since Elsie did not. If there is one fault above another I find it hard to forgive, it is duplicity. On after reflection it struck me as in poor taste, Mr. Islington's sending me the rosebuds There were at least two dozen of them, and he is far from being in a position to squander money on flowers, or on anything else. Elsie

quite fired up when I said so to her, and implied, quite unjustly, that I had "led him on."

I shall certainly not encourage that silly notion of his about coming to North Conway. It would look very marked, and I am not one to give encouragement indiscreetly. For that reason I think I shall, from now on, not write so frequently to Robert, and I would advise you not to. Come to think of it, you haven't sent him many letters. Probably you haven't thought of him as a possible lover for either of us.

You don't know how much more able I feel, from this visit to New York, to take, the wide view of things. One admires Robert certainly, but what prospect is there of his ever having much of an income? It looks to me as if he meant to settle out at the ends of the earth on one of those ranches. What sort of a life would that be for either of us?

They say Mr. Brown is immensely rich. He inherited two enormous fortunes. Yet he keeps at his business all the time, which is admirable, I think. He is just coming to go with me over the Metropolitan Museum, so good-bye for Love to Aunt Helen.


In haste,

New York, February 23, 1896
Dear Alicia,

Mr. Brown took me to see The School for Scandal last evening, and I had the most delightful time! You see what you are missing. I could stay here contentedly for weeks, but this is private for some utterly incomprehensible reason Mrs. Redpath Redpath doesn't seem quite as cordial as she did at first. I can't think of any possible reason for this, unless it is, what friends of Elsie tell me, that Mr. Brown

was very attentive to her before I came. I suspect that all Mrs. Redpath attaches value to is the fact of his wealth, for it is perfectly evident that Elsie is madly in love with Mr. Islington. If there is one fault I despise more than another it is worldliness. What I care about myself in Mr. Brown is his dignity and real worth.

There was something else I meant to tell you, but I can't now recall what it was. Mr. Brown is coming to call at five, and it is quarter of now. I must do a little to my hair. He says it is the prettiest he ever saw. Love to Aunt Helen. I shall be home soon, and then she will see me often. New York is altogether delightful, but nothing now would induce me to prolong the visit, for I am sure Aunt Helen needs me. This is the important time to be with her, when she is convalescing and really able to care who is near her.



P. S. Mr. Brown has offered himself, and I have accepted. I am coming home directly, and will tell you everything then. I am SO sorry I haven't had time to buy the scarf you wrote about. You can see how every instant of my time has been filled. And the shopping district is so far down. And really, Alicia, those scarfs are very expensive, and if I were you I should think twice before deciding to buy one. You may have my last year's gray one if you like. We shall marry in May, and I mean to come on in April and get all my trousseau in New York.

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had wings, and she kept restlessly busy from one task to another that the hours might hurry by. But by the middle of the afternoon there seemed to be nothing left undone in the little house, now in a state of unwonted tidiness, and Alicia decided to carry over a basket of wild strawberries to Mrs. Gray. She chose a pretty Indian basket, and heaped it with the spicy fruit, which grew near by. She added a deeppink wild rose, from the clusters that peered over the Dale's green


Arrived at Tanglewild, she found Mrs. Gray putting some finishing touches to Robert's room. The green and white curtains had been freshly laundered, and vase of mountain laurel stood upon the bureau.

"I'm so glad you've come over, dear," said Mrs. said Mrs. Gray. You've saved me some steps, for I was just going over to see if you would drive with me over to Stepping Stones. I want to get a pair of chickens, and some eggs, and cream."

"I see your young man is to have a royal welcome!" said Alicia. "Yes. I'd just love to go. I'll just run back for my jacket.'

"Oh, don't trouble to do that. Take my plaid shawl. I engaged the carriage for four o'clock, and it ought to be here soon."

A few minutes more, and it came, and Mrs. Gray and Alicia had settled themselves comfortably on the wide seat, and were on their way.

Stepping Stones was a farm on the edge of Bartlett, and Alicia, who had always delighted in any excursion to this region, was often Mrs. Gray's companion thither. Their way, for the latter part, lay beside the Saco River, and its gleaming, rippling waters were glimpsed between the trees that grew thickly along its banks. The river wound.

about with a leisurely grace, and lay a wide blue scarf upon the dreaming light green meadows.

"Do let's drive very slowly for awhile," said Alicia. "It is SO lovely!"

"Get out for a minute or two if you want to," said Mrs. Gray. "We've time enough for that. Run down to the river." She checked the horse as she spoke.

Alicia made her way to the shore. How still it was, except for the swaying of some branches of weeping-willow! As she stooped and made a hollow of her hand to drink from the clear water, she saw, close to her on the ground, perhaps thirty butterflies, with folded wings. And now they rose, and fluttered together over the river, a shining, widening golden cloud.

"I want to live in North Conway,' said Alicia as she stepped back into the buggy, "because I always have lived there, and I love it, but if I ever chose to move it would be to Bartlett. There is an indescribable charm about the place."

"There is," assented Mrs. Gray. "I always took to Bartlett."

And it suddenly entered the older woman's mind that the charm of that peaceful village was not unlike that of the girl herself in her quieter moods. Bartlett was unfinished, it had some inharmonious houses, but in the main there was about it a natural restful beauty, with unexpected delights for those who cared to wander among its fields and woods.

They reached the hospitable farm, with its many outlying buildings, and while Mrs. Gray enjoyed a gossip with the farmer's wife, Mrs. Deane, Alicia strolled about and went finally into the great fragrant barn. to watch the milking of the Jersey cows.

Edith Dabney, a North Conway child visiting at the farm, ran into the barn, and came to a stand by Alicia's side. She was eleven years old,

strong and tall for her age, with a piquant face and curly light brown hair which she shook about a good deal.

"Why is this place named 'Stepping Stones'? asked Alicia.

"You see that brook over there, Stones'"? replied the little girl. "No. I guess you can't see it from here, but you can hear it. It makes noise enough! It cuts right across the farm. And in the widest part there's a lot of stepping-stones. We children all like the brook the best of any part of the farm, 'cause we like sailing chips there, and going across the stones. It's awful tipply! So we young ones got to saying, when we were coming here, that we were coming to Stepping Stones. Then Mrs. Deane's folks began to call it that, and everybody else."

"It's a pretty name," said Alicia. Mrs. Gray and Alicia made no stop on their homeward road. Alicia hardly spoke. Her thoughts were of tomorrow, and of Robert coming. She wondered if he would be changed. She felt a queer unfamiliar shyness at the idea of meeting him. She knew one thing, she was going to be very dignified, and entirely grown-up. If she hadn't been quite that when they parted last year, she certainly was so now. Very likely he had thought her a silly thing! Oh, she would be cordial of course, but reserved. How How she lamented her former childishness!

"You must go to bed early," said Mrs. Gray, glancing at the girl's dreamy face. "We must be our brightest for Robert tomorrow.'

"I shan't be over tomorrow, Aunt Helen, dear," said Alicia, rousing herself. "Robert can very well wait till the next day to see me."

"You're always welcome, Alicia," said Mrs. Gray. "You know that, I hope."

"You always make me feel so, but I'll come the next day. I'd really

rather. Or Robert can run over to I've got some sewing for Mother I must finish.”

see us.

Mrs. Gray dropped Alicia at her own house. Supper would be late for them both. Alicia was very hungry after the long drive, and it was nearly eight o'clock when she had cleared away the remnants of food and washed the few dishes. She stepped out into the front garden. where her father and mother were strolling.

The air was deliciously cool and fragrant with near-by balsam and the roses that grew in profusion and were Alicia's pride. There were several varieties, and perhaps the kind Alicia loved best was the bush of soft-petaled old-fashioned white ones. She took one of these from the bush, and fastened it in the belt of her blue gown.

"I think I'll go and look at the veery's nest," she said, "else the mother-veery will think I'm offended, it's so long since I made her a real call."

There had been a drenching rain two days ago, and the woods were at their freshest. Every leaf glistened, and the mosses and ferns were softly green under the light that filtered through the branches. A patch of wild strawberries busied Alicia's hands. for a few moments. Seeing a strip of birch bark that lay upon the ground, she picked it up and formed. it into a little basket for the berries.

Through an opening among the pines she could just make out the "white horse" upon Humphrey's Ledge.

In all Alicia's after-life the recollection of what next happened had power to thrill her afresh. She had been so absorbed in her own thoughts that she did not hear quick steps coming over the pine carpet. Then Robert was before her, Robert more stalwart than ever, and deeply tanned.

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