Summer hurried on at a rapid pace, the days grew perceptibly shorter, and the birds of passage gathered in large companies on the beach and on the hill-tops, holding noisy consultations to prepare for their long southward journey. Maurice still stayed on at the Ormgrass Farm, but a strange, feverish mood had come over him. He daily measured the downward progress of the glacier in agitated expectancy, although as a scientific experiment it had long ceased to yield him any satisfaction. That huge congealed residue of ten thousand winters had, however, acquired a human interest to him which it had lacked before; what he had lost as a scientist he had gained as a man. For, with all respect for Science, that monumental virgin at whose feet so many cherished human illusions have already been sacrificed, it is not to be denied that from an unprofessional point of view a warm-blooded, fair-faced little creature like Elsie is a worthier object of a bachelor’s homage. And, strive as he would, Maurice could never quite rid himself of the impression that the glacier harbored in its snowy bosom some fell design against Elsie’s peace and safety. It is even possible that he never would have discovered the real nature of his feelings for her if it had not been for this constant fear that she might any moment be Snatched away from him.
It was a novel experience in a life like his, so lonely amid its cold, abstract aspirations, to have this warm, maidenly spring-breath invading those chambers of his soul, hitherto occupied by shivering calculations regarding the duration and remoteness of the ice age. The warmer strata of feeling which had long lain slumbering beneath this vast superstructure of glacial learning began to break their way to the light, and startled him very much as the earth must have been startled when the first patch of green sod broke into view, steaming under the hot rays of the noonday sun. Abstractly considered, the thing seemed preposterous enough for the plot of a dime novel, while in the light of her sweet presence the development of his love seemed as logical as an algebraic problem. At all events, the result was in both cases equally inexorable. It was useless to argue that she was his inferior in culture and social accomplishments; she was still young and flexible, and displayed an aptness for seizing upon his ideas and assimilating them which was fairly bewildering. And if purity of soul and loving singleness of purpose be a proof of noble blood, she was surely one of nature’s noblewomen.
In the course of the summer, Fern had made several attempts to convince old Tharald that the glacier was actually advancing. He willingly admitted that there was a possibility that it might change its mind and begin to recede before any mischief was done, but he held it to be very hazardous to stake one’s life on so slim a chance. The old man, however, remained impervious to argument, although he no longer lost his temper when the subject was broached. His ancestors had lived there on the farm century after century, he said, and the glacier had done them no harm. He didn’t see why he should be treated any worse by the Almighty than they had been; he had always acted with tolerable fairness toward everybody, and had nothing to blame himself for.