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"RAINBOW IN THE MORNING"
THAT was the year noted for a celestial phenomenon of great interest to astronomers.
We were taking breakfast rather earlier than usual that morning in August, for a party of us had planned to go blackberrying up at the "burnt lots."
Three or four years before, forest fires had burned over a large tract up in the great woods to the north of the old Squire's farm. We had heard that blackberries were very plentiful there that season; and now that haying was over, Addison and I had planned to drive up there with the girls, and Catherine and Thomas Edwards, who wished to go with us.
So far as Addison and I were concerned, the trip was not wholly for blackberries; we had another motive for going — one that we were keeping a profound secret. One afternoon late in the preceding fall we had gone up there to shoot partridges; and Addison, who was much interested in mineralogy, had come across what he believed to be silver in a ledge.
Every one knows that there is silver in Maine. Not a few know it to their sorrow; for there is nothing more discouraging than a mine that yields just a little less than enough to pay running expenses. But to us boys Addison's discovery suggested the possibilities of vast fortunes.
Addison felt very sure that it was silver, but we decided to say nothing to any one until we were certain. All that winter, however, we cherished rosy hopes of soon being wealthy. At the first opportunity we meant to make a quiet trip up there with hammer and drill to obtain specimens for assay, but for one reason or another we did not get round to it until August, when we planned the blackberrying excursion.
While we were at the breakfast table that morning there came a thundershower, and a thundershower in the early morning is unusual in Maine. The sun had risen clear, but a black cloud rose in the west, the sky darkened suddenly, and so heavy a shower fell that at first we thought we should have to give up the trip.
But the shower ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and the sun shone out again. Ellen, who had gone to the pantry for something, called to us that there was a bright rainbow in the northwest.
"Do come here to the back window!" she cried. "It's a lovely one!"
Sure enough, there was a vivid rainbow; the bright arch spanned the whole northwestern sky over the great woods.
the old Squire remarked, smiling. "Better take your coats and umbrellas with you to-day."
"Rainbow in the morning,
Good sailors take warning,"
We did not know then how many times during that day our thoughts would go back to the rainbow and the old superstition.
After breakfast we hitched up Old Sol, drove round by the Edwardses' to pick up Tom and Kate, and from there followed the lumber road into the great woods, to Otter Brook. The "burnt lots" were perhaps a mile beyond the brook.
Addison and I picked blackberries for a while with the others; then, watching our chance, we stole away and made for the ledges, a mile or two to the northeast.
I had managed to bring a drill hammer along in my basket, wrapped up in my jacket; and Addison had brought a short drill in his pocket. We found the ledge where Addison had made his discovery and had
no great trouble in chipping off some specimens. I may add here that the specimens later proved to contain silver — in small quantities. I still have a few of them — mementos of youthful hopes that faded early in the light of greater knowledge.
We followed the ledges off to the northeast over several craggy hills. At one place we found many exfoliating lumps of mica; we cleaved out sheets of it nearly a foot square, which Addison believed might prove valuable for stove doors.
While pottering with the mica, I accidentally broke into a kind of cavity, or pocket, in the ledge, partly filled with disintegrated rock; and on clearing out the loose stuff from this pocket we came upon a beautiful three-sided crystal about two inches long, like a prism, green in color, except at one end, where it shaded to pink.
It was a tourmaline crystal, similar to certain fine ones that have been found some miles to the eastward, at the now world-famous Mount Mica. At that time we did not know what it was, but, thinking that it might be valuable, we searched the pocket for other crystals, but found no more.
We had both become so much interested in searching for minerals that we had quite forgotten our luncheon. The sky, I remember, was overcast and the sun obscured; it was also very smoky from forest fires, which in those days were nearly always burning somewhere to the north of us during the summer.
But presently, as Addison was thumping away with the hammer, I noticed that it was growing dark. At first I thought that it was merely a darker cloud above the smoke that had drifted over the sun, and said nothing; but the sky continued to darken, and soon Addison noticed it.
"Another shower coming, I guess," he said, looking up. "Don't see any particular clouds, though. I wonder what makes it so dark?"
"It seems just like night coming on," said I. "But it isn't so late as all that, is it? "
"No!" exclaimed Addison. "It isn't night yet, I know!" And he hastily took out Theodora's watch, which she had intrusted to him to carry that day, so that we should know when to start for home. "It's only half past three, and the sun doesn't set now till after seven o'clock."
We hammered at the ledge again for a while; but still it grew darker.
"Well, this beats me!" Addison exclaimed; and again he surveyed the sky.
"That watch hasn't stopped, has it?" I said; for night was plainly falling.
Addison hastily looked again.
"No, it's ticking all right," he said. "Theodora's watch never stops, you know." It was a fine watch that her father had left to her.
By that time it was so dark that we could hardly see the hands on the watch; and although the day had been warm, I noticed a distinct change in the temperature — a chill. Somewhere in the woods an owl began to hoot dismally, as owls do at night; and from a ledge a little distance from the one on which we stood a whippoorwill began to chant.
Night was evidently descending on the earth — at four o'clock of an August afternoon! We stared round and then looked at each other, bewildered.
"Addison, what do you make of this!" I cried.
Thoughts of that rainbow in the morning had flashed through my mind; and with it came a cold touch of superstitious fear, such as I had never felt in my life before. In that moment I realized what the fears of the ignorant must have been through all the past ages of the world. It is a fear that takes away your reason. I could have cried out, or run, or done any other foolish thing.
Without saying a word, Addison put the tourmaline crystal into his pocket and picked up the drill and the little bundle of silver-ore specimens, which to carry the more easily he had tied up in his handkerchief.
"Come on," he said in a queer, low tone. "Let's go find Theodora and Nell. I guess we'd better go home — if it's coming on night in the middle of the afternoon."
He tried to laugh, for Addison had always prided himself on being free from all superstition. But I saw that he was startled; and he admitted afterwards that he, too, had remembered about that rainbow in the morning, and had also thought of the comet that had appeared a few years before and that many people believed to presage the end of the world.
We started to run back, but it had already grown so dark that we had to pay special heed to our steps. We could not walk fast. To this day I remember how strange and solemn the chanting of the whippoorwills and the hoarse skook! of the nighthawks sounded to me. No doubt I was frightened. It was exactly like evening; the same chill was in the air.
At last we reached the place where we had left the others, but they were not there. Addison called to Theodora and Ellen several times in low, suppressed tones; I, too, felt a great disinclination to shout or speak aloud.
"I guess they've all gone back where we left the wagon," Addison said at last.
We made our way through the tangled bushes, brush and woods, down to Otter Brook. In the darkness we went a little astray from the place where we had unharnessed the horse; but presently, as we were moving about in the brushwood, we heard a low voice say:
"Is that you, Ad?"
It was Theodora; and immediately we came upon them all, sitting together forlornly there in the wagon. They had hitched up Old Sol and were anxiously waiting for us in order to start for home. The strange phenomenon seemed to have dazed them; they sat there in the dark as silent as so many mice.
"Hello, girls!" Addison exclaimed. "Are you all there? Quite dark, isn't it?"
"Oh, Ad, what do you think this is?" Theodora asked, still in the same hushed voice.
"Well, I think it is dark," replied Addison, trying to appear unconcerned.
"Don't laugh, Ad," said Theodora solemnly. "Something awful has happened."
"And where have you two been so long?" asked Catherine. "We thought you were lost. We thought you would never come. What time is it?"
We struck a match and looked. It was nearly half past four.
"Oh, get in, Ad, and take the reins! Let's go home!" Ellen pleaded.
"Yes, Ad, let's go home, if we can get there," said Tom Edwards. "What d'ye suppose it is, anyhow?"
"Dark!" exclaimed Addison hardily. "Just plain dark!"
"Oh, Addison!" exclaimed Theodora reprovingly. "Don't try to joke about a thing like this."
"It may be the end of the world," Ellen murmured.
"The world has had a good many ends to it," said Addison. "Which end do you think this is, Nell?"
But neither Ellen nor Theodora cared to reply to him. Their low, frightened voices increased my uneasiness. I could think of nothing except that rainbow in the morning; "morning," "warning," seemed to ring in my ears.
We climbed into the wagon and started homeward, but it was so dark that we had to plod along slowly. Old Sol was unusually torpid, as if the ominous obscurity had dazed him, too. After a time he stopped short and snorted; we heard the brush crackle and caught a glimpse of a large animal crossing the road ahead of us.
"That's a bear," Thomas said. "Bears are out, just as if it were night."
Some minutes passed before we could make Old Sol go on; and again we heard owls hooting in the woods.
Long before we got down to the cleared land, however, the sky began gradually to grow lighter. We all noticed it, and a feeling of relief stole over us. In the course of twenty minutes it became so light that we could discern objects round us quite plainly. The night chill, too, seemed to go from the air.
Suddenly, as we rattled along, Addison jumped up from his seat and turned to us. "I know now what this is!" he cried. "Why didn't I think of it before?"
"What is it — if you know?" cried Catherine and Theodora at once.
"The eclipse! The total eclipse of the sun!" exclaimed Addison. "I remember now reading something about it in the Maine Farmer a fortnight ago. It was to be on the 7th — and this is it!"
At that time advance notices of such phenomena were not so widely published as they are now; at the old farm, too, we did not take a daily newspaper. So one of the great astronomical events of the last century had come and gone, and we had not known what it was until it was over.
Except for the dun canopy of smoke and clouds over the sun we should have guessed at once, of course, the cause of the darkness; but as it was, the eclipse had given us an anxious afternoon; and although the rainbow in the morning had probably not the slightest connection with the eclipse, — indeed, could not have had, — it had greatly heightened the feeling of awe and superstitious dread with which we had beheld night fall in the middle of the afternoon!
By the time we got home it was light again. As we drove into the yard, the old Squire came out, smiling. "Was it a little dark up where you were blackberrying a while ago?" he asked.
"Well, just a little dark, sir," Addison replied, with a smile as droll as his own. "But I suppose it was all because of that rainbow in the morning that you told us to look out for."