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Farmer Eli’s Vacation
by [?]

“Terrible flat water!” he announced. “Tastes as if it come out o’ the cistern.” But the others could find no fault with it, and Sereno drained the pail.

“Pretty good, I call it,” he said; and Mrs. Pike rejoined,–

“You always was pretty particular about water, father.”

But Eli still shook his head, and ejaculated, “Brackish, brackish!” as he began to put the bit in Doll’s patient mouth. He was thinking, with a passion of loyalty, of the clear, ice-cold water at home, which had never been shut out, by a pump, from the purifying airs of heaven, but lay where the splashing bucket and chain broke, every day, the image of moss and fern. His throat grew parched and dry with longing.

When they were within three miles of the sea, it seemed to them that they could taste the saltness of the incoming breeze; the road was ankle-deep in dust; the garden flowers were glaring in their brightness. It was a new world. And when at last they emerged from the marsh-bordered road upon a ridge of sand, and turned a sudden corner, Mrs. Pike faced her husband in triumph.

“There, father!” she cried. “There ’tis!”

But Eli’s eyes were fixed on the dashboard in front of him. He looked pale.

“Why, father,” said she, impatiently, “ain’t you goin’ to look? It’s the sea!”

“Yes, yes,” said Eli, quietly; “byme-by. I’m goin’ to put the horses up fust.”

“Well, I never!” said Mrs. Pike; and as they drew up on the sandy tract where Sereno had previously arranged a place for their tents, she added, almost fretfully, turning to Hattie, “I dunno what’s come over your father. There’s the water, an’ he won’t even cast his eyes at it.”

But Hattie understood her father, by some intuition of love, though not of likeness.

“Don’t you bother him, ma,” she said. “He’ll make up his mind to it pretty soon. Here, le’s lift out these little things, while they’re unharnessin’, and then they can get at the tents.”

Mrs. Pike’s mind was diverted by the exigencies of labor, and she said no more; but after the horses had been put up at a neighboring house, and Sereno, red-faced with exertion, had superintended the tent-raising, Hattie slipped her arm through her father’s, and led him away.

“Come, pa,” she said, in a whisper; “le’s you and me climb over on them rocks.”

Eli went; and when they had picked their way over sand and pools to a headland where the water thundered below, and salt spray dashed up in mist to their feet, he turned and looked at the sea. He faced it as a soul might face Almighty Greatness, only to be stricken blind thereafter; for his eyes filled painfully with slow, hot tears. Hattie did not look at him, but after a while she shouted in his ear, above the outcry of the surf,–

“Here, pa, take my handkerchief. I don’t know how ’tis about you, but this spray gets in my eyes.”

Eli took it obediently, but he did not speak; he only looked at the sea. The two sat there, chilled and quite content, until six o’clock, when Mrs. Pike came calling to them from the beach, with dramatic shouts, emphasized by the waving of her ample apron,–

“Supper’s ready! Sereno’s built a bum-fire, an’ I’ve made some tea!”

Then they slowly made their way back to the tents, and sat down to the evening meal. Sereno seemed content, and Mrs. Pike was bustling and triumphant; the familiar act of preparing food had given her the feeling of home.

“Well, father, what think?” she asked, smiling exuberantly, as she passed him his mug of tea. “Does it come up to what you expected?”

Eli turned upon her his mild, dazed eyes.

“I guess it does,” he said, gently.

That night, they sat upon the shore while the moon rose and laid in the water her majestic pathway of light. Eli was the last to leave the rocks, and he lay down on his hard couch in the tent, without speaking.