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V. A Handful of Heather Henry van Dyke

White Heather.

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Ericht Water is formed by the marriage of two streams, one flowing out of Strath Ardle and the other descending from Cairn Gowar through the long, lonely Pass of Glenshee. The Ericht begins at the bridge of Cally, and its placid, beautiful glen, unmarred by railway or factory, reaches almost down to Blairgowrie. On the southern bank, but far above the water, runs the high road to Braemar and the Linn of Dee. On the other side of the river, nestling among the trees, is the low white manor-house,

"An ancient home of peace."

It is a place where one who had been wearied and perchance sore wounded in the battle of life might well desire to be carried, as Arthur to the island valley of Avilion, for rest and healing.

I have no thought of renewing the conflicts and cares that filled that summer with sorrow. There were fightings without and fears within; there was the surrender of an enterprise that had been cherished since boyhood, and the bitter sense of irremediable weakness that follows such a reverse; there was a touch of that wrath with those we love, which, as Coleridge says,

"Doth work like madness in the brain;"

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flying across the sea from these troubles, I had found my old comrade of merrier days sentenced to death, and caught but a brief glimpse of his pale, brave face as he went away into exile. At such a time the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened, and the clouds return after rain. But through those clouds the Mistress of the Glen came to meet me--a stranger till then, but an appointed friend, a minister of needed grace, an angel of quiet comfort. The thick mists of rebellion, mistrust, and despair have long since rolled away, and against the background of the hills her figure stands out clearly, dressed in the fashion of fifty years ago, with the snowy hair gathered close beneath her widow's cap, and a spray of white heather in her outstretched hand.

There were no other guests in the house by the river during those still days in the noontide hush of midsummer. Every morning, while the Mistress was busied with her household cares and letters, I would be out in the fields hearing the lark sing, and watching the rabbits as they ran to and fro, scattering the dew from the grass in a glittering spray. Or perhaps I would be angling down the river, with the swift pressure of the water around my knees, and an inarticulate current of cooling thoughts flowing on and on through my brain like the murmur of the stream. Every afternoon there were long walks with the Mistress in the old-fashioned garden, where wonderful roses were blooming; or through the dark, fir-shaded den where the wild burn dropped down to join the river; or out upon the high moor under the waning orange sunset. Every night there were luminous and restful talks beside the open fire in the library, when the words came clear and calm from the heart, unperturbed by the vain desire of saying brilliant things, which turns so much of our conversation into a combat of wits instead of an interchange of thoughts. Talk like this is possible only between two. The arrival of a third person sets the lists for a tournament, and offers the prize for a verbal victory. But where there are only two, the armour is laid aside, and there is no call to thrust and parry.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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