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Chapter I.

  A single cloud on a sunny day    When all the rest of heaven is clear,    A frown upon the atmosphere,    That hath no business to appear,  When skies are blue and earth is gay.


Come, dear grandpa!—the old mare and the wagon are at the gate—all ready."

"Well, dear!"—responded a cheerful hearty voice, "they must wait a bit; I haven't got my hat yet."

"O I'll get that."

And the little speaker, a girl of some ten or eleven years old, dashed past the old gentleman and running along the narrow passage which led to his room soon returned with the hat in her hand.

"Yes, dear,—but that ain't all. I must put on my great-coat—and I must look and see if I can find any money—"

"O yes—for the post-office. It's a beautiful day, grandpa. Cynthy!—won't you come and help grandpa on with his great-coat?—And I'll go out and keep watch of the old mare till you're ready."

A needless caution. For the old mare, though spirited enough for her years, had seen some fourteen or fifteen of them and was in no sort of danger of running away. She stood in what was called the back meadow, just without the little paling fence that enclosed a small courtyard round the house. Around this courtyard rich pasture-fields lay on every side, the high road cutting through them not more than a hundred or two feet from the house.

The little girl planted herself on the outside of the paling and setting her back to it eyed the old mare with great contentment; for besides other grounds for security as to her quiet behaviour, one of the men employed about the farm, who had harnessed the equipage, was at the moment busied in putting some clean straw in the bottom of the vehicle.

"Watkins," said the child presently to this person, "here is a strap that is just ready to come unbuckled."

"What do you know about straps and buckles?" said the man rather grumly. But he came round however to see what she meant, and while he drew the one and fastened the other took special good care not to let Fleda know that her watchful eyes had probably saved the whole riding party from ruin; as the loosing of the strap would of necessity have brought on a trial of the old mare's nerves which not all her philosophy could have been expected to meet. Fleda was satisfied to see the buckle made fast, and that Watkins, roused by her hint or by the cause of it, afterwards took a somewhat careful look over the whole establishment. In high glee then she climbed to her seat in the little wagon, and her grandfather coming out coated and hatted with some difficulty mounted to his place beside her.

"I think Watkins might have taken the trouble to wash the wagon, without hurting himself," said Fleda; "it is all specked with mud since last time."

"Ha'n't he washed it!" said the old gentleman in a tone of displeasure."Watkins!"—


"Why didn't you wash the wagon as I told you?"

"I did."

"It's all over slosh."

"That's Mr. Didenhover's work—he had it out day 'fore yesterday; and if you want it cleaned, Mr....