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A Daughter of the Forest

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“Margot! Margot!”

Mother Angelique’s anxious call rang out over the water, once, twice, many times. But, though she shaded her brows with her hands and strained her keen ears to listen, there was no one visible and no response came back to her. So she climbed the hill again and, reëntering the cabin, began to stir with almost vicious energy the contents of a pot swinging in the wide fireplace. As she toiled she muttered and wagged her gray head with sage misgivings.

“For my soul! There is the ver’ bad hoorican’ a-comin’, and the child so heedless. But the signs, the omens! This same day I did fall asleep at the knitting and waked a-smother. True, ’twas Meroude, the cat, crouched on my breast; yet what sent her save for a warning?”

Though even in her scolding the woman smiled, recalling how Margot had jeered at her superstition; and that when she had dropped her bit of looking-glass the girl had merrily congratulated her on the fact; since by so doing she had secured “two mirrors in which to behold such loveliness!”

“No, no, not so. Death lurks in a broken glass; or, at the best, must follow seven full years of bad luck and sorrow.”

On which had come the instant reproof:

“Silly Angelique! When there is no such thing as luck but all is of the will of God.”

The old nurse had frowned. The maid was too wise for her years. She talked too much with the master. It was not good for womenkind to listen to grave speech or plague their heads with graver books. Books, indeed, were for priests and doctors; and, maybe, now and then, for men who could not live without them, like Master Hugh. She, Angelique, had never read a book in all her life. She never meant to do so. She had not even learned a single letter printed in their foolish pages. Not she. Yet was not she a most excellent cook and seamstress? Was there any cabin in all that northland as tidy as that she ruled? Would matters have been the better had she bothered her poor brain with books? She knew her duty and she did it. What more could mortal?

This argument had been early in the day. A day on which the master had gone away to the mainland and the house-mistress had improved by giving the house an extra cleaning. To escape the soapsuds and the loneliness, Margot had, also, gone, alone and unquestioned; taking with her a luncheon of brown bread and cold fowl, her book and microscope. Angelique had watched the little canoe push off from shore, without regret, since now she could work unhindered at clearing the room of the “rubbishy specimen” which the others had brought in to mess the place.

Now, at supper time, perfect order reigned, and perfect quiet, as well; save for the purring of Meroude upon the hearth and the simmering of the kettle. Angelique wiped her face with her apron.

“The great heat! and May but young yet. It means trouble. I wish——”

Suddenly, the cat waked from her sleep and with a sharp meouw leaped to her mistress’ shoulder; who screamed, dropped the ladle, splashed the stew, and boxed the animal’s ears—all within a few seconds. Her nerves were already tingling from the electricity in the air, and her anxiety returned with such force that, again swinging the crane around away from the fire, she hurried to the beach.

To one so weatherwise the unusual heat, the leaden sky, and the intense hush were ominous. There was not a breath of wind stirring, apparently, yet the surface of the lake was already dotted by tiny white-caps, racing and chasing shoreward, like live creatures at play. Not many times, even in her long life in that solitude, had Angelique Ricord seen just that curious coloring of cloud and water, and she recalled these with a shudder....