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Spy Rock Henry van Dyke

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The Hilltop School stood on a blessed site. Lifted high above the village, it held the crest of the last gentle wave of the mountains that filled the south with crowding billows, ragged and tumultuous. Northward, the great plain lay at our feet, smiling in the sun; meadows and groves, yellow fields of harvest and green orchards, white roads and clustering towns, with here and there a little city on the bank of the mighty river which curved in a vast line of beauty toward the blue Catskill Range, fifty miles away. Lines of filmy smoke, like vanishing footprints in the air, marked the passage of railway trains across the landscape--their swift flight reduced by distance to a leisurely transition. The bright surface of the stream was furrowed by a hundred vessels; tiny rowboats creeping from shore to shore; knots of black barges following the lead of puffing tugs; sloops with languid motion tacking against the tide; white steamboats, like huge toy-houses, crowded with pygmy inhabitants, moving smoothly on their way to the great city, and disappearing suddenly as they turned into the narrows between Storm-King and the Fishkill Mountains. Down there was life, incessant, varied, restless, intricate, many-coloured--down there was history, the highway of ancient voyagers since the days of Hendrik Hudson, the hunting-ground of Indian tribes, the scenes of massacre and battle, the last camp of the Army of the Revolution, the Head-quarters of Washington--down there were the homes of legend and poetry, the dreamlike hills of Rip van Winkle's sleep, the cliffs and caves haunted by the Culprit Fay, the solitudes traversed by the Spy--all outspread before us, and visible as in a Claude Lorraine glass, in the tranquil lucidity of distance. And here, on the hilltop, was our own life; secluded, yet never separated from the other life; looking down upon it, yet woven of the same stuff; peaceful in circumstance, yet ever busy with its own tasks, and holding in its quiet heart all the elements of joy and sorrow and tragic consequence.

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The Master was a man of most unworldly wisdom. In his youth a great traveller, he had brought home many observations, a few views, and at least one theory. To him the school was the most important of human institutions--more vital even than the home, because it held the first real experience of social contact, of free intercourse with other minds and lives coming from different households and embodying different strains of blood. "My school," said he, "is the world in miniature. If I can teach these boys to study and play together freely and with fairness to one another, I shall make men fit to live and work together in society. What they learn matters less than how they learn it. The great thing is the bringing out of individual character so that it will find its place in social harmony."

Yet never man knew less of character in the concrete than Master Ward. To him each person represented a type--the scientific, the practical, the poetic. From each one he expected, and in each one he found, to a certain degree, the fruit of the marked quality, the obvious, the characteristic. But of the deeper character, made up of a hundred traits, coloured and conditioned most vitally by something secret and in itself apparently of slight importance, he was placidly unconscious. Classes he knew. Individuals escaped him. Yet he was a most companionable man, a social solitary, a friendly hermit.

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The Blue Flower
Henry van Dyke

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