The winter days had grown very long; the sun had passed the vernal equinox, and yet it looked upon unbroken snowfields. Then, about the middle of April, the snow passed quickly away in blazing sunshine, in a thousand rivulets, in a flooded river. The roads were heavy with mud, but the earth was left green, the bud of spring having been nurtured beneath the kindly shelter of the snow.
Now came the most lovely moment of the year. All the trees were putting forth new leaves, leaves so young, so tiny as yet, that one could see the fowls of the air when they lodged in the branches—no small privilege, for now the orange oriole, and the bluebird, and the primrose-coloured finch, were here, there, and everywhere; and more rarely the scarlet tanager. A few days before and they had not come; a few days more and larger leaves would hide them perfectly. Just at this time, too, along the roadsides, big hawthorn shrubs and wild plum were in blossom, and in the sheltered fields the mossy sod was pied with white and purple violets, whose flowerets so outstripped their half-grown leaves that blue and milky ways were seen in woodland glades.
With the sense of freedom that comes with the thus sudden advent of the young summer, Winifred Rexford strayed out of the house one morning. She did not mean to go, and when she went through the front gate she only meant to go as far as the first wild plum-tree, to see if the white bloom was turning purple yet, as Principal Trenholme had told her it would. When she got to the first plum-tree she went on to the second. Winifred wore a grey cotton dress; it was short, not yet to her ankles, and her broad hat shaded her from the sun. When she reached the second group of plum-trees she saw a scarlet tanager sitting on a telegraph pole—for along the margin of the road, standing among uncut grass and flowers and trees, tall barkless stumps were set, holding the wires on high. Perhaps they were ugly things, but a tree whose surface is uncut is turned on Nature’s lathe; at any rate, to the child the poles were merely a part of the Canadian road, and the scarlet tanager showed its plumage to advantage as it sat on the bare wood. There was no turning back then; even Sophia would have neglected her morning task to see a tanager! She crept up under it, and the bird, like a streak of red flame, shot forth from the pole, to a group of young pine trees further on.