A Mountain Woman
by Elia Wilkinson Peattie
A Mountain Woman
The Three Johns
Up the Gulch
A Michigan Man
A Lady of
My best Friend, and kindest Critic,
MOST of the tales in this little book have been printed before. "A
Mountain Woman" appeared in Harper's Weekly, as did "The Three Johns"
and "A Resuscitation." "Jim Lancy's Waterloo" was printed in the
Cosmopolitan, "A Michigan Man" in Lippincott's, and "Up the Gulch" in
Two Tales. The courtesy of these periodicals in permitting the stories
to be republished is cordially acknowledged.
E. W. P.
A Mountain Woman
IF Leroy Brainard had not had such a respect for literature, he
would have written a book.
As it was, he played at being an architect — and succeeded in
being a charming fellow. My sister Jessica never lost an opportunity of
laughing at his endeavors as an architect.
"You can build an enchanting villa, but what would you do with a
"I shall never have a chance at a cathedral," he would reply. "And,
besides, it always seems to me so material and so impertinent to build
a little structure of stone and wood in which to worship God!"
You see what he was like? He was frivolous, yet one could never
tell when he would become eloquently earnest.
Brainard went off suddenly Westward one day. I suspected that
Jessica was at the bottom of it, but I asked no questions; and I did
not hear from him for months. Then I got a letter from Colorado.
"I have married a mountain woman," he wrote. "None of your puny
breed of modern femininity, but a remnant left over from the heroic
ages, — a primitive woman, grand and vast of spirit, capable of true
and steadfast wifehood. No sophistry about her; no knowledge even that
there is sophistry. Heavens! man, do you remember the rondeaux and
triolets I used to write to those pretty creatures back East? It would
take a Saga man of the old Norseland to write for my mountain woman. If
I were an artist, I would paint her with the north star in her locks
and her feet on purple cloud. I suppose you are at the Pier. I know you
usually are at this season. At any rate, I shall direct this letter
thither, and will follow close after it. I want my wife to see
something of life. And I want her to meet your sister."
"Dear me!" cried Jessica, when I read the letter to her; "I don't
know that I care to meet anything quite so gigantic as that mountain
woman. I'm one of the puny breed of modern femininity, you know. I
don't think my nerves can stand the encounter."
"Why, Jessica!" I protested. She blushed a little.
"Don't think bad of me, Victor. But, you see, I've a little
scrap-book of those triolets upstairs." Then she burst into a peal of
irresistible laughter. "I'm not laughing because I am piqued," she said
frankly. "Though any one will admit that it is rather irritating to
have a man who left you in a blasted condition recover with such
extraordinary promptness. As a philanthropist, one of course rejoices,
but as a woman, Victor, it must be admitted that one has a right to
feel annoyed. But, honestly, I am not ungenerous, and I am going to do
him a favor. I shall write, and urge him not to bring his wife here. A
primitive woman, with the north star in her hair, would look well down
there in the Casino eating a pineapple ice, wouldn't she? It's all very
well to have a soul, you know; but it won't keep you from looking like
a guy among women who have good dressmakers. I shudder at the thought
of what the poor thing will suffer if he brings her here."
Jessica wrote, as she said she would; but, for all that, a
fortnight later she was walking down the wharf with the "mountain
woman," and I was sauntering beside Leroy. At dinner Jessica gave me no
chance to talk with our friend's wife, and I only caught the quiet
contralto tones of her voice now and then contrasting with Jessica's
vivacious soprano. A drizzling rain came up from the east with
nightfall. Little groups of shivering men and women sat about in the
parlors at the card-tables, and one blond woman sang love songs. The
Brainards were tired with their journey, and left us early. When they
were gone, Jessica burst into eulogy.
"That is the first woman," she declared, "I ever met who would make
a fit heroine for a book."
"Then you will not feel under obligations to educate her, as you
insinuated the other day?"
"Educate her! I only hope she will help me to unlearn some of the
things I know. I never saw such simplicity. It is antique!"
"You're sure it's not mere vacuity?"
"Victor! How can you? But you haven't talked with her. You must
to-morrow. Good-night." She gathered up her trailing skirts and started
down the corridor. Suddenly she turned back. "For Heaven's sake!" she
whispered, in an awed tone, "I never even noticed what she had on!"
The next morning early we made up a riding party, and I rode with
Mrs. Brainard. She was as tall as I, and sat in her saddle as if quite
unconscious of her animal. The road stretched hard and inviting under
our horses' feet. The wind smelled salt. The sky was ragged with gray
masses of cloud scudding across the blue. I was beginning to glow with
exhilaration, when suddenly my companion drew in her horse.
"If you do not mind, we will go back," she said.
Her tone was dejected. I thought she was tired.
"Oh, no!" she protested, when I apologized for my thoughtlessness
in bringing her so far. "I'm not tired. I can ride all day. Where I
come from, we have to ride if we want to go anywhere; but here there
seems to be no particular place to — to reach."
"Are you so utilitarian?" I asked, laughingly. "Must you always
have some reason for everything you do? I do so many things just for
the mere pleasure of doing them, I'm afraid you will have a very poor
opinion of me."
"That is not what I mean," she said, flushing, and turning her
large gray eyes on me. "You must not think I have a reason for
everything I do." She was very earnest, and it was evident that she was
unacquainted with the art of making conversation. "But what I mean,"
she went on, "is that there is no place — no end — to reach." She
looked back over her shoulder toward the west, where the trees marked
the sky line, and an expression of loss and dissatisfaction came over
her face. "You see," she said, apologetically, "I'm used to different
things — to the mountains. I have never been where I could not see
them before in my life." "Ah, I see! I suppose it is odd to look up
and find them not there."
"It's like being lost, this not having anything around you. At
least, I mean," she continued slowly, as if her thought could not
easily put itself in words, — "I mean it seems as if a part of the
world had been taken down. It makes you feel lonesome, as if you were
living after the world had begun to die."
"You'll get used to it in a few days. It seems very beautiful to me
here. And then you will have so much life to divert you."
"Life? But there is always that everywhere."
"I mean men and women."
"Oh! Still, I am not used to them. I think I might be not — not
very happy with them. They might think me queer. I think I would like
to show your sister the mountains."
"She has seen them often."
"Oh, she told me. But I don't mean those pretty green hills such as
we saw coming here. They are not like my mountains. I like mountains
that go beyond the clouds, with terrible shadows in the hollows, and
belts of snow lying in the gorges where the sun cannot reach, and the
snow is blue in the sunshine, or shining till you think it is silver,
and the mist so wonderful all about it, changing each moment and
drifting up and down, that you cannot tell what name to give the
colors. These mountains of yours here in the East are so quiet; mine
are shouting all the time, with the pines and the rivers. The echoes
are so loud in the valley that sometimes, when the wind is rising, we
can hardly hear a man talk unless he raises his voice. There are four
cataracts near where I live, and they all have different voices, just
as people do; and one of them is happy — a little white cataract —
and it falls where the sun shines earliest, and till night it is
shining. But the others only get the sun now and then, and they are
more noisy and cruel. One of them is always in the shadow, and the
water looks black. That is partly because the rocks all underneath it
are black. It falls down twenty great ledges in a gorge with black
sides, and a white mist dances all over it at every leap. I tell
father the mist is the ghost of the waters. No man ever goes there; it
is too cold. The chill strikes through one, and makes your heart feel
as if you were dying. But all down the side of the mountain, toward the
south and the west, the sun shines on the granite and draws long points
of light out of it. Father tells me soldiers marching look that way
when the sun strikes on their bayonets. Those are the kind of mountains
I mean, Mr. Grant."
She was looking at me with her face transfigured, as if it, like
the mountains she told me of, had been lying in shadow, and waiting for
the dazzling dawn.
"I had a terrible dream once," she went on; "the most terrible
dream ever I had. I dreamt that the mountains had all been taken down,
and that I stood on a plain to which there was no end. The sky was
burning up, and the grass scorched brown from the heat, and it was
twisting as if it were in pain. And animals, but no other person save
myself, only wild things, were crouching and looking up at that sky.
They could not run because there was no place to which to go." "You
were having a vision of the last man," I said. "I wonder myself
sometimes whether this old globe of ours is going to collapse suddenly
and take us with her, or whether we will disappear through slow
disastrous ages of fighting and crushing, with hunger and blight to
help us to the end. And then, at the last, perhaps, some luckless
fellow, stronger than the rest, will stand amid the ribs of the rotting
earth and go mad."
The woman's eyes were fixed on me, large and luminous. "Yes," she
said; "he would go mad from the lonesomeness of it. He would be afraid
to be left alone like that with God. No one would want to be taken into
"And our last man," I went on, "would have to stand there on that
swaying wreck till even the sound of the crumbling earth ceased. And he
would try to find a voice and would fail, because silence would have
come again. And then the light would go out — "
The shudder that crept over her made me stop, ashamed of myself.
"You talk like father," she said, with a long-drawn breath. Then she
looked up suddenly at the sun shining through a rift in those reckless
gray clouds, and put out one hand as if to get it full of the headlong
rollicking breeze. "But the earth is not dying," she cried. "It is well
and strong, and it likes to go round and round among all the other
worlds. It likes the sun and moon; they are all good friends; and it
likes the people who live on it. Maybe it is they instead of the fire
within who keep it warm; or maybe it is warm just from always going, as
we are when we run. We are young, you and I, Mr. Grant, and Leroy, and
your beautiful sister, and the world is young too!" Then she laughed a
strong splendid laugh, which had never had the joy taken out of it with
drawing-room restrictions; and I laughed too, and felt that we had
become very good companions indeed, and found myself warming to the joy
of companionship as I had not since I was a boy at school.
That afternoon the four of us sat at a table in the Casino
together. The Casino, as every one knows, is a place to amuse
yourself. If you have a duty, a mission, or an aspiration, you do not
take it there with you, it would be so obviously out of place; if
poverty is ahead of you, you forget it; if you have brains, you hasten
to conceal them; they would be a serious encumbrance.
There was a bubbling of conversation, a rustle and flutter such as
there always is where there are many women. All the place was gay with
flowers and with gowns as bright as the flowers. I remembered the
apprehensions of my sister, and studied Leroy's wife to see how she
fitted into this highly colored picture. She was the only woman in the
room who seemed to wear draperies. The jaunty slash and cut of
fashionable attire were missing in the long brown folds of cloth that
enveloped her figure. I felt certain that even from Jessica's
standpoint she could not be called a guy. Picturesque she might be,
past the point of convention, but she was not ridiculous.
"Judith takes all this very seriously," said Leroy, laughingly. "I
suppose she would take even Paris seriously." His wife smiled over at
him. "Leroy says I am melancholy," she said, softly; "but I am always
telling him that I am happy. He thinks I am melancholy because I do not
laugh. I got out of the way of it by being so much alone. You only
laugh to let some one else know you are pleased. When you are alone
there is no use in laughing. It would be like explaining something to
"You are a philosopher, Judith. Mr. Max MŸller would like to know
"Is he a friend of yours, dear?"
Leroy blushed, and I saw Jessica curl her lip as she noticed the
blush. She laid her hand on Mrs. Brainard's arm.
"Have you always been very much alone?" she inquired.
"I was born on the ranch, you know; and father was not fond of
leaving it. Indeed, now he says he will never again go out of sight of
it. But you can go a long journey without doing that; for it lies on a
plateau in the valley, and it can be seen from three different mountain
passes. Mother died there, and for that reason and others — father
has had a strange life — he never wanted to go away. He brought a lady
from Pennsylvania to teach me. She had wonderful learning, but she
didn't make very much use of it. I thought if I had learning I would
not waste it reading books. I would use it to — to live with. Father
had a library, but I never cared for it. He was forever at books too.
Of course," she hastened to add, noticing the look of mortification
deepen on her husband's face, "I like books very well if there is
nothing better at hand. But I always said to Mrs. Windsor — it was she
who taught me — why read what other folk have been thinking when you
can go out and think yourself? Of course one prefers one's own
thoughts, just as one prefers one's own ranch, or one's own father."
"Then you are sure to like New York when you go there to live,"
cried Jessica; "for there you will find something to make life
entertaining all the time. No one need fall back on books there."
"I'm not sure. I'm afraid there must be such dreadful crowds of
people. Of course I should try to feel that they were all like me,
with just the same sort of fears, and that it was ridiculous for us to
be afraid of each other, when at heart we all meant to be kind."
Jessica fairly wrung her hands. "Heavens!" she cried. "I said you
would like New York. I am afraid, my dear, that it will break your
"Oh," said Mrs. Brainard, with what was meant to be a gentle jest,
"no one can break my heart except Leroy. I should not care enough about
any one else, you know."
The compliment was an exquisite one. I felt the blood creep to my
own brain in a sort of vicarious rapture, and I avoided looking at
Leroy lest he should dislike to have me see the happiness he must feel.
The simplicity of the woman seemed to invigorate me as the cool air of
her mountains might if it blew to me on some bright dawn, when I had
come, fevered and sick of soul, from the city.
When we were alone, Jessica said to me: "That man has too much
vanity, and he thinks it is sensitiveness. He is going to imagine that
his wife makes him suffer. There's no one so brutally selfish as your
sensitive man. He wants every one to live according to his ideas, or he
immediately begins suffering. That friend of yours hasn't the courage
of his convictions. He is going to be ashamed of the very qualities
that made him love his wife."
There was a hop that night at the hotel, quite an unusual affair as
to elegance, given in honor of a woman from New York, who wrote a novel
Mrs. Brainard looked so happy that night when she came in the
parlor, after the music had begun, that I felt a moisture gather in my
eyes just because of the beauty of her joy, and the forced vivacity of
the women about me seemed suddenly coarse and insincere. Some wonderful
red stones, brilliant as rubies, glittered in among the diaphanous
black driftings of her dress. She asked me if the stones were not very
pretty, and said she gathered them in one of her mountain river-beds.
"But the gown?" I said. "Surely, you do not gather gowns like that
in river-beds, or pick them off mountain-pines?"
"But you can get them in Denver. Father always sent to Denver for
my finery. He was very particular about how I looked. You see, I was
all he had — " She broke off, her voice faltering.
"Come over by the window," I said, to change her thought. "I have
something to repeat to you. It is a song of Sydney Lanier's. I think he
was the greatest poet that ever lived in America, though not many agree
with me. But he is my dear friend anyway, though he is dead, and I
never saw him; and I want you to hear some of his words."
I led her across to an open window. The dancers were whirling by
us. The waltz was one of those melancholy ones which speak the spirit
of the dance more eloquently than any merry melody can. The sound of
the sea booming beyond in the darkness came to us, and long paths of
light, now red, now green, stretched toward the distant light-house.
These were the lines I repeated: —
"What heartache — ne'er a hill! Inexorable, vapid, vague, and
chill The drear sand levels drain my spirit low. With one poor word
they tell me all they know; Whereat their stupid tongues, to tease my
pain, Do drawl it o'er and o'er again. They hurt my heart with griefs
I cannot name; Always the same — the same."
But I got no further. I felt myself moved with a sort of passion
which did not seem to come from within, but to be communicated to me
from her. A certain unfamiliar happiness pricked through with pain
thrilled me, and I heard her whispering, —
"Do not go on, do not go on! I cannot stand it to-night!"
"Hush," I whispered back; "come out for a moment!" We stole into
the dusk without, and stood there trembling. I swayed with her emotion.
There was a long silence. Then she said: "Father may be walking alone
now by the black cataract. That is where he goes when he is sad. I can
see how lonely he looks among those little twisted pines that grow from
the rock. And he will be remembering all the evenings we walked there
together, and all the things we said." I did not answer. Her eyes were
still on the sea.
"What was the name of the man who wrote that verse you just said to
I told her.
"And he is dead? Did they bury him in the mountains? No? I wish I
could have put him where he could have heard those four voices calling
down the canyon."
"Come back in the house," I said; "you must come, indeed," I said,
as she shrank from re-entering.
Jessica was dancing like a fairy with Leroy. They both saw us and
smiled as we came in, and a moment later they joined us. I made my
excuses and left my friends to Jessica's care. She was a sort of social
tyrant wherever she was, and I knew one word from her would insure the
popularity of our friends — not that they needed the intervention of
any one. Leroy had been a sort of drawing-room pet since before he
stopped wearing knickerbockers.
"He is at his best in a drawing-room," said Jessica, "because there
he deals with theory and not with action. And he has such beautiful
theories that the women, who are all idealists, adore him."
The next morning I awoke with a conviction that I had been idling
too long. I went back to the city and brushed the dust from my desk.
Then each morning, I, as Jessica put it, "formed public opinion" to the
extent of one column a day in the columns of a certain enterprising
Brainard said I had treated him shabbily to leave upon the heels of
his coming. But a man who works for his bread and butter must put a
limit to his holiday. It is different when you only work to add to your
general picturesqueness. That is what I wrote Leroy, and it was the
unkindest thing I ever said to him; and why I did it I do not know to
this day. I was glad, though, when he failed to answer the letter. It
gave me a more reasonable excuse for feeling out of patience with him.
The days that followed were very dull. It was hard to get back into
the way of working. I was glad when Jessica came home to set up our
little establishment and to join in the autumn gayeties. Brainard
brought his wife to the city soon after, and went to housekeeping in an
odd sort of a way.
"I couldn't see anything in the place save curios," Jessica
reported, after her first call on them. "I suppose there is a
cooking-stove somewhere, and maybe even a pantry with pots in it. But
all I saw was Alaska totems and Navajo blankets. They have as many
skins around on the floor and couches as would have satisfied an
ancient Briton. And everybody was calling there. You know Mr. Brainard
runs to curios in selecting his friends as well as his furniture. The
parlors were full this afternoon of abnormal people, that is to say,
with folks one reads about. I was the only one there who hadn't done
something. I guess it's because I am too healthy."
"How did Mrs. Brainard like such a motley crew?"
"She was wonderful — perfectly wonderful! Those insulting
creatures were all studying her, and she knew it. But her dignity was
perfect, and she looked as proud as a Sioux chief. She listened to
every one, and they all thought her so bright."
"Brainard must have been tremendously proud of her."
"Oh, he was — of her and his Chilcat portires."
Jessica was there often, but — well, I was busy. At length,
however, I was forced to go. Jessica refused to make any further
excuses for me. The rooms were filled with small celebrities.
"We are the only nonentities," whispered Jessica, as she looked
around; "it will make us quite distinguished."
We went to speak to our hostess. She stood beside her husband,
looking taller than ever; and her face was white. Her long red gown of
clinging silk was so peculiar as to give one the impression that she
was dressed in character. It was easy to tell that it was one of
Leroy's fancies. I hardly heard what she said, but I know she
reproached me gently for not having been to see them. I had no further
word with her till some one led her to the piano, and she paused to
say, — "That poet you spoke of to me — the one you said was a friend
of yours — he is my friend now too, and I have learned to sing some of
his songs. I am going to sing one now." She seemed to have no timidity
at all, but stood quietly, with a half smile, while a young man with a
Russian name played a strange minor prelude. Then she sang, her voice a
wonderful contralto, cold at times, and again lit up with gleams of
passion. The music itself was fitful, now full of joy, now tender, and
"Look off, dear love, across the sallow sands,
And mark yon meeting of the sun and sea,
How long they kiss in sight of all the lands,
Ah! longer, longer we."
"She has a genius for feeling, hasn't she?" Leroy whispered to me.
"A genius for feeling!" I repeated, angrily. "Man, she has a heart
and a soul and a brain, if that is what you mean! I shouldn't think you
would be able to look at her from the standpoint of a critic."
Leroy shrugged his shoulders and went off. For a moment I almost
hated him for not feeling more resentful. I felt as if he owed it to
his wife to take offence at my foolish speech.
It was evident that the "mountain woman" had become the fashion. I
read reports in the papers about her unique receptions. I saw her name
printed conspicuously among the list of those who attended all sorts of
dinners and musicales and evenings among the set that affected
intellectual pursuits. She joined a number of women's clubs of an
"She is doing whatever her husband tells her to," said Jessica.
"Why, the other day I heard her ruining her voice on 'Siegfried'!"
But from day to day I noticed a difference in her. She developed a
terrible activity. She took personal charge of the affairs of her
house; she united with Leroy in keeping the house filled with guests;
she got on the board of a hospital for little children, and spent a
part of every day among the cots where the sufferers lay. Now and then
when we spent a quiet evening alone with her and Leroy, she sewed
continually on little white night-gowns for these poor babies. She
used her carriage to take the most extraordinary persons riding.
"In the cause of health," Leroy used to say, "I ought to have the
carriage fumigated after every ride Judith takes, for she is always
accompanied by some one who looks as if he or she should go into
One night, when he was chaffing her in this way, she flung her
sewing suddenly from her and sprang to her feet, as if she were going
to give way to a burst of girlish temper. Instead of that, a stream of
tears poured from her eyes, and she held out her trembling hands toward
"He does not know," she sobbed. "He cannot understand."
One memorable day Leroy hastened over to us while we were still at
breakfast to say that Judith was ill, — strangely ill. All night long
she had been muttering to herself as if in a delirium. Yet she answered
lucidly all questions that were put to her.
"She begs for Miss Grant. She says over and over that she 'knows,'
whatever that may mean."
When Jessica came home she told me she did not know. She only felt
that a tumult of impatience was stirring in her friend.
"There is something majestic about her, — something epic. I feel
as if she were making me live a part in some great drama, the end of
which I cannot tell. She is suffering, but I cannot tell why she
Weeks went on without an abatement in this strange illness. She did
not keep her bed. Indeed, she neglected few of her usual occupations.
But her hands were burning, and her eyes grew bright with that wild
sort of lustre one sees in the eyes of those who give themselves up to
strange drugs or manias. She grew whimsical, and formed capricious
friendships, only to drop them.
And then one day she closed her house to all acquaintances, and sat
alone continually in her room, with her hands clasped in her lap, and
her eyes swimming with the emotions that never found their way to her
Brainard came to the office to talk with me about her one day. "I
am a very miserable man, Grant," he said. "I am afraid I have lost my
wife's regard. Oh, don't tell me it is partly my fault. I know it well
enough. And I know you haven't had a very good opinion of me lately.
But I am remorseful enough now, God knows. And I would give my life to
see her as she was when I found her first among the mountains. Why, she
used to climb them like a strong man, and she was forever shouting and
singing. And she had peopled every spot with strange modern
mythological creatures. Her father is an old dreamer, and she got the
trick from him. They had a little telescope on a great knoll in the
centre of the valley, just where it commanded a long path of stars, and
they used to spend nights out there when the frost literally fell in
flakes. When I think how hardy and gay she was, how full of courage and
life, and look at her now, so feverish and broken, I feel as if I
should go mad. You know I never meant to do her any harm. Tell me that
"I think you were very egotistical for a while, Brainard, and that
is a fact. And you didn't appreciate how much her nature demanded. But
I do not think you are responsible for your wife's present condition.
If there is any comfort in that statement, you are welcome to it."
"But you don't mean — " he got no further.
"I mean that your wife may have her reservations, just as we all
have, and I am paying her high praise when I say it. You are not so
narrow, Leroy, as to suppose for a moment that the only sort of passion
a woman is capable of is that which she entertains for a man. How do I
know what is going on in your wife's soul? But it is nothing which even
an idealist of women, such as I am, old fellow, need regret."
How glad I was afterward that I spoke those words. They exercised a
little restraint, perhaps, on Leroy when the day of his terrible trial
came. They made him wrestle with the demon of suspicion that strove to
possess him. I was sitting in my office, lagging dispiritedly over my
work one day, when the door burst open and Brainard stood beside me.
Brainard, I say, and yet in no sense the man I had known, — not a hint
in this pale creature, whose breath struggled through chattering teeth,
and whose hands worked in uncontrollable spasms, of the nonchalant
elegant I had known. Not a glimpse to be seen in those angry and
determined eyes of the gayly selfish spirit of my holiday friend.
"She's gone!" he gasped. "Since yesterday. And I'm here to ask you
what you think now? And what you know."
A panorama of all shameful possibilities for one black moment
floated before me. I remember this gave place to a wave, cold as death,
that swept from head to foot; then Brainard's hands fell heavily on my
"Thank God at least for this much," he said, hoarsely; "I didn't
know at first but I had lost both friend and wife. But I see you know
nothing. And indeed in my heart I knew all the time that you did not.
Yet I had to come to you with my anger. And I remembered how you
defended her. What explanation can you offer now?"
I got him to sit down after a while and tell me what little there
was to tell. He had been away for a day's shooting, and when he
returned he found only the perplexed servants at home. A note was left
for him. He showed it to me.
"There are times," it ran, "when we must do as we must, not as we
would. I am going to do something I have been driven to do since I left
my home. I do not leave any message of love for you, because you would
not care for it from a woman so weak as I. But it is so easy for you to
be happy that I hope in a little while you will forget the wife who
yielded to an influence past resisting. It may be madness, but I am not
great enough to give it up. I tried to make the sacrifice, but I could
not. I tried to be as gay as you, and to live your sort of life; but I
could not do it. Do not make the effort to forgive me. You will be
happier if you simply hold me in the contempt I deserve."
I read the letter over and over. I do not know that I believe that
the spirit of inanimate things can permeate to the intelligence of man.
I am sure I always laughed at such ideas. Yet holding that note with
its shameful seeming words, I felt a consciousness that it was written
in purity and love. And then before my eyes there came a scene so
vivid that for a moment the office with its familiar furniture was
obliterated. What I saw was a long firm road, green with mid-summer
luxuriance. The leisurely thudding of my horse's feet sounded in my
ears. Beside me was a tall, black-robed figure. I saw her look back
with that expression of deprivation at the sky line. "It's like living
after the world has begun to die," said the pensive minor voice. "It
seems as if part of the world had been taken down."
"Brainard," I yelled, "come here! I have it. Here's your
explanation. I can show you a new meaning for every line of this
letter. Man, she has gone to the mountains. She has gone to worship her
Two weeks later I got a letter from Brainard, dated from Colorado.
"Old man," it said, "you're right. She is here. I found my mountain
woman here where the four voices of her cataracts had been calling to
her. I saw her the moment our mules rounded the road that commands the
valley. We had been riding all night and were drenched with cold dew,
hungry to desperation, and my spirits were of lead. Suddenly we got out
from behind the granite wall, and there she was, standing, where I had
seen her so often, beside the little waterfall that she calls the happy
one. She was looking straight up at the billowing mist that dipped down
the mountain, mammoth saffron rolls of it, plunging so madly from the
impetus of the wind that one marvelled how it could be noiseless. Ah,
you do not know Judith! That strange, unsophisticated, sometimes
awkward woman you saw bore no more resemblance to my mountain woman
than I to Hercules. How strong and beautiful she looked standing there
wrapped in an ecstasy! It was my primitive woman back in her primeval
world. How the blood leaped in me! All my old romance, so different
from the common love-histories of most men, was there again within my
reach! All the mystery, the poignant happiness were mine again. Do not
hold me in contempt because I show you my heart. You saw my misery. Why
should I grudge you a glimpse of my happiness? She saw me when I
touched her hand, not before, so wrapped was she. But she did not seem
surprised. Only in her splendid eyes there came a large content. She
pointed to the dancing little white fall. 'I thought something
wonderful was going to happen,' she whispered, 'for it has been
"I shall not return to New York. I am going to stay here with my
mountain woman, and I think perhaps I shall find out what life means
here sooner than I would back there with you. I shall learn to see
large things large and small things small. Judith says to tell you and
Miss Grant that the four voices are calling for you every day in the
"Yours in fullest friendship, "LEROY BRAINARD."
Jim Lancy's Waterloo
"WE must get married before time to put in crops," he wrote. "We
must make a success of the farm the first year, for luck. Could you
manage to be ready to come out West by the last of February? After
March opens there will be no let-up, and I do not see how I could get
away. Make it February, Annie dear. A few weeks more or less can make
no difference to you, but they make a good deal of difference to me."
The woman to whom this was written read it with something like
anger. "I don't believe he's so impatient for me!" she said to herself.
"What he wants is to get the crops in on time." But she changed the
date of their wedding, and made it February.
Their wedding journey was only from the Illinois village where she
lived to their Nebraska farm. They had never been much together, and
they had much to say to each other.
"Farming won't come hard to you," Jim assured her. "All one needs
to farm with is brains."
"What a success you'll make of it!" she cried saucily.
"I wish I had my farm clear," Jim went on; "but that's more than
any one has around me. I'm no worse off than the rest. We've got to pay
off the mortgage, Annie."
"Of course we must. We'll just do without till we get the mortgage
lifted. Hard work will do anything, I guess. And I'm not afraid to
work, Jim, though I've never had much experience."
Jim looked out of the window a long time, at the gentle undulations
of the brown Iowa prairie. His eyes seemed to pierce beneath the sod,
to the swelling buds of the yet invisible grass. He noticed how
disdainfully the rains of the new year beat down the grasses of the
year that was gone. It opened to his mind a vision of the season's
possibilities. For a moment, even amid the smoke of the car, he seemed
to scent clover, and hear the stiff swishing of the corn and the dull
burring of the bees.
"I wish sometimes," he said, leaning forward to look at his bride,
"that I had been born something else than a farmer. But I can no more
help farming, Annie, than a bird can help singing, or a bee making
honey. I didn't take to farming. I was simply born with a hoe in my
"I don't know a blessed thing about it," Annie confessed. "But I
made up my mind that a farm with you was better than a town without
you. That's all there is to it, as far as I am concerned."
Jim Lancy slid his arm softly about her waist, unseen by the other
passengers. Annie looked up apprehensively, to see if any one was
noticing. But they were eating their lunches. It was a common coach on
which they were riding. There was a Pullman attached to the train, and
Annie had secretly thought that, as it was their wedding journey, it
might be more becoming to take it. But Jim had made no suggestion about
it. What he said later explained the reason. "I would have liked to
have brought you a fine present," he said. "It seemed shabby to come
with nothing but that little ring. But I put everything I had on our
home, you know. And yet, I'm sure you'll think it poor enough after
what you've been used to. You'll forgive me for only bringing the ring,
"But you brought me something better," Annie whispered. She was a
foolish little girl. "You brought me love, you know." Then they rode in
silence for a long time. Both of them were new to the phraseology of
love. Their simple compliments to each other were almost ludicrous. But
any one who might have chanced to overhear them would have been
charmed, for they betrayed an innocence as beautiful as an unclouded
Annie tried hard not to be depressed by the treeless stretches of
the Nebraska plains.
"This is different from Illinois," she ventured once, gently; "it
is even different from Iowa."
"Yes, yes," cried Jim, enthusiastically, "it is different! It is
the finest country in the world! You never feel shut in. You can always
see off. I feel at home after I get in Nebraska. I'd choke back where
you live, with all those little gullies and the trees everywhere. It's
a mystery to me how farmers have patience to work there."
Annie opened her eyes. There was evidently more than one way of
looking at a question. The farm-houses seemed very low and mean to her,
as she looked at them from the window. There were no fences, excepting
now and then the inhospitable barbed wire. The door-yards were bleak to
her eyes, without the ornamental shrubbery which every farmer in her
part of the country was used to tending. The cattle stood unshedded in
their corrals. The reapers and binders stood rusting in the dull
"How shiftless!" cried Annie, indignantly. "What do these men mean
by letting their machinery lie out that way? I should think one winter
of lying out would hurt it more than three summers of using."
"It does. But sheds are not easily had. Lumber is dear." "But I
should think it would be economy even then."
"Yes," he said, "perhaps. But we all do that way out here. It takes
some money for a man to be economical with. Some of us haven't even
There was a six-mile ride from the station. The horses were
waiting, hitched up to a serviceable light wagon, and driven by the
"help." He was a thin young man, with red hair, and he blushed
vicariously for Jim and Annie, who were really too entertained with
each other, and at the idea of the new life opening up before them, to
think anything about blushing. At the station, a number of men insisted
on shaking hands with Jim, and being introduced to his wife. They were
all bearded, as if shaving were an unnecessary labor, and their
trousers were tucked in dusty top-boots, none of which had ever seen
blacking. Annie had a sense of these men seeming unwashed, or as if
they had slept in their clothes. But they had kind voices, and their
eyes were very friendly. So she shook hands with them all with
heartiness, and asked them to drive out and bring their womenkind. "I
am going to make up my mind not to be lonesome," she declared; "but,
all the same, I shall want to see some women."
Annie had got safe on the high seat of the wagon, and was balancing
her little feet on the inclined foot-rest, when a woman came running
across the street, calling aloud, —
"Mr. Lancy! Mr. Lancy! You're not going to drive away without
introducing me to your wife!"
She was a thin little woman, with movements as nervous and as
graceless as those of a grasshopper. Her dun-colored garments seemed to
have all the hue bleached out of them with wind and weather. Her face
was brown and wrinkled, and her bright eyes flashed restlessly, deep in
their sockets. Two front teeth were conspicuously missing; and her
faded hair was blown in wisps about her face. Jim performed the
introduction, and Annie held out her hand. It was a pretty hand,
delicately gloved in dove color. The woman took it in her own, and
after she had shaken it, held it for a silent moment, looking at it.
Then she almost threw it from her. The eyes which she lifted to scan
the bright young face above her had something like agony in them. Annie
blushed under this fierce scrutiny, and the woman, suddenly conscious
of her demeanor, forced a smile to her lips.
"I'll come out an' see yeh," she said, in cordial tones. "May be,
as a new house-keeper, you'll like a little advice. You've a nice
place, an' I wish yeh luck."
"Thank you. I'm sure I'll need advice," cried Annie, as they drove
off. Then she said to Jim, "Who is that old woman?"
"Old woman? Why, she ain't a day over thirty, Mis' Dundy ain't."
Annie looked at her husband blankly. But he was already talking of
something else, and she asked no more about the woman, though all the
way along the road the face seemed to follow her. It might have been
this that caused the tightening about her heart. For some way her
vivacity had gone; and the rest of the ride she asked no questions, but
sat looking straight before her at the northward stretching road, with
eyes that felt rather than saw the brown, bare undulations, rising
every now and then clean to the sky; at the side, little
famished-looking houses, unacquainted with paint, disorderly yards, and
endless reaches of furrowed ground, where in summer the corn had waved.
The horses needed no indication of the line to make them turn up a
smooth bit of road that curved away neatly 'mid the ragged grasses. At
the end of it, in a clump of puny scrub oaks, stood a square little
house, in uncorniced simplicity, with blank, uncurtained windows
staring out at Annie, and for a moment her eyes, blurred with the cold,
seemed to see in one of them the despairing face of the woman with the
wisps of faded hair blowing about her face.
"Well, what do you think of it?" Jim cried, heartily, swinging her
down from her high seat, and kissing her as he did so. "This is your
home, my girl, and you are as welcome to it as you would be to a
palace, if I could give it to you."
Annie put up her hands to hide the trembling of her lips; and she
let Jim see there were tears in her eyes as an apology for not
replying. The young man with the red hair took away the horses, and
Jim, with his arm around his wife's waist, ran toward the house and
threw open the door for her to enter. The intense heat of two great
stoves struck in their faces; and Annie saw the big burner, erected in
all its black hideousness in the middle of the front room, like a sort
of household hoodoo, to be constantly propitiated, like the gods of
Greece; and in the kitchen, the new range, with a distracted tea-kettle
leaping on it, as if it would like to loose its fetters and race away
over the prairie after its cousin, the locomotive.
It was a house of four rooms, and a glance revealed the fact that
it had been provided with the necessaries.
"I think we can be very comfortable here," said Jim, rather
Annie saw she must make some response. "I am sure we can be more
than comfortable, Jim," she replied. "We can be happy. Show me, if you
please, where my room is. I must hang my cloak up in the right place so
that I shall feel as if I were getting settled." It was enough. Jim
had no longer any doubts. He felt sure they were going to be happy ever
It was Annie who got the first meal; she insisted on it, though
both the men wanted her to rest. And Jim hadn't the heart to tell her
that, as a general thing, it would not do to put two eggs in the
corn-cake, and that the beefsteak was a great luxury. When he saw her
about to break an egg for the coffee, however, he interfered.
"The shells of the ones you used for the cake will settle the
coffee just as well," he said. "You see we have to be very careful of
eggs out here at this season."
"Oh! Will the shells really settle it? This is what you must call
prairie lore. I suppose out here we find out what the real relations of
invention and necessity are — eh?"
Jim laughed disproportionately. He thought her wonderfully witty.
And he and the help ate so much that Annie opened her eyes. She had
thought there would be enough left for supper. But there was nothing
left. For the next two weeks Jim was able to be much with her; and
they amused themselves by decorating the house with the bright
curtainings that Annie had brought, and putting up shelves for a few
pieces of china. She had two or three pictures, also, which had come
from her room in her old home, and some of those useless dainty things
with which some women like to litter the room.
"Most folks," Jim explained, "have to be content with one fire, and
sit in the kitchen; but I thought, as this was our honeymoon, we would
put on some lugs."
Annie said nothing then; but a day or two after she ventured, —
"Perhaps it would be as well now, dear, if we kept in the kitchen.
I'll keep it as bright and pleasant as I can. And, anyway, you can be
more about with me when I'm working then. We'll lay a fire in the
front-room stove, so that we can light it if anybody comes. We can just
as well save that much."
Jim looked up brightly. "All right," he said. "You're a sensible
little woman. You see, every cent makes a difference. And I want to be
able to pay off five hundred dollars of that mortgage this year."
So, after that, they sat in the kitchen; and the fire was laid in
the front room, against the coming of company. But no one came, and it
Then the season began to show signs of opening, — bleak signs,
hardly recognizable to Annie; and after that Jim was not much in the
house. The weeks wore on, and spring came at last, dancing over the
hills. The ground-birds began building, and at four each morning awoke
Annie with their sylvan opera. The creek that ran just at the north of
the house worked itself into a fury and blustered along with much noise
toward the great Platte which, miles away, wallowed in its vast sandy
bed. The hills flushed from brown to yellow, and from mottled green to
intensest emerald, and in the superb air all the winds of heaven seemed
to meet and frolic with laughter and song.
Sometimes the mornings were so beautiful that, the men being afield
and Annie all alone, she gave herself up to an ecstasy and kneeled by
the little wooden bench outside the door, to say, "Father, I thank
Thee," and then went about her work with all the poem of nature rhyming
itself over and over in her heart.
It was on such a day as this that Mrs. Dundy kept her promise and
came over to see if the young housekeeper needed any of the advice she
had promised her. She had walked, because none of the horses could be
spared. It had got so warm now that the fire in the kitchen heated the
whole house sufficiently, and Annie had the rooms clean to
exquisiteness. Mrs. Dundy looked about with envious eyes.
"How lovely!" she said.
"Do you think so?" cried Annie, in surprise. "I like it, of course,
because it is home, but I don't see how you could call anything here
"Oh, you don't understand," her visitor went on. "It's lovely
because it looks so happy. Some of us have — well, kind o' lost our
"It's easy to do that if you don't feel well," Annie remarked
sympathetically. "I haven't felt as well as usual myself, lately. And I
do get lonesome and wonder what good it does to fix up every day when
there is no one to see. But that is all nonsense, and I put it out of
She smoothed out the clean lawn apron with delicate touch. Mrs.
Dundy followed the movement with her eyes.
"Oh, my dear," she cried, "you don't know nothin' about it yet! But
you will know! You will!" and those restless, hot eyes of hers seemed
to grow more restless and more hot as they looked with infinite pity at
the young woman before her.
Annie thought of these words often as the summer came on, and the
heat grew. Jim was seldom to be seen now. He was up at four each
morning, and the last chore was not completed till nine at night. Then
he threw himself in bed and lay there log-like till dawn. He was too
weary to talk much, and Annie, with her heart aching for his fatigue,
forbore to speak to him. She cooked the most strengthening things she
could, and tried always to look fresh and pleasant when he came in.
But she often thought her pains were in vain, for he hardly rested his
sunburned eyes on her. His skin got so brown that his face was
strangely changed, especially as he no longer had time to shave, and
had let a rough beard straggle over his cheeks and chin. On Sundays
Annie would have liked to go to church, but the horses were too tired
to be taken out, and she did not feel well enough to walk far; besides,
Jim got no particular good out of walking over the hills unless he had
a plough in his hand.
Harvest came at length, and the crop was good. There were any way
from three to twenty men at the house then, and Annie cooked for all of
them. Jim had tried to get some one to help her, but he had not
succeeded. Annie strove to be brave, remembering that farm-women all
over the country were working in similar fashion. But in spite of all
she could do, the days got to seem like nightmares, and sleep between
was but a brief pause in which she was always dreaming of water, and
thinking that she was stooping to put fevered lips to a running brook.
Some of these men were very disgusting to Annie. Their manners were as
bad as they could well be, and a coarse word came naturally to their
"To be master of the soil, that is one thing," said she to herself
in sickness of spirit; "but to be the slave of it is another. These men
seem to have got their souls all covered with muck." She noticed that
they had no idea of amusement. They had never played anything. They did
not even care for base-ball. Their idea of happiness appeared to be to
do nothing; and there was a good part of the year in which they were
happy, — for these were not for the most part men owning farms; they
were men who hired out to help the farmer. A good many of them had been
farmers at one time and another, but they had failed. They all talked
politics a great deal, — politics and railroads. Annie had not much
patience with it all. She had great confidence in the course of things.
She believed that in this country all men have a fair chance. So when
it came about that the corn and the wheat, which had been raised with
such incessant toil, brought them no money, but only a loss, Annie
"I said the rates were ruinous," Jim said to her one night, after
it was all over, and he had found out that the year's slavish work had
brought him a loss of three hundred dollars; "it's been a conspiracy
from the first. The price of corn is all right. But by the time we set
it down in Chicago we are out eighteen cents a bushel. It means ruin.
What are we going to do? Here we had the best crop we've had for years
— but what's the use of talking! They have us in their grip."
"I don't see how it is," Annie protested. "I should think it would
be for the interest of the roads to help the people to be as prosperous
"Oh, we can't get out! And we're bound to stay and raise grain. And
they're bound to cart it. And that's all there is to it. They force us
to stand every loss, even to the shortage that is made in
transportation. The railroad companies own the elevators, and they have
the cinch on us. Our grain is at their mercy. God knows how I'm going
to raise that interest. As for the five hundred we were going to pay on
the mortgage this year, Annie, we're not in it."
Autumn was well set in by this time, and the brilliant cold sky
hung over the prairies as young and fresh as if the world were not old
and tired. Annie no longer could look as trim as when she first came to
the little house. Her pretty wedding garments were beginning to be worn
and there was no money for more. Jim would not play chess now of
evenings. He was forever writing articles for the weekly paper in the
adjoining town. They talked of running him for the state legislature,
and he was anxious for the nomination.
"I think I might be able to stand it if I could fight 'em!" he
declared; "but to sit here idle, knowing that I have been cheated out
of my year's work, just as much as if I had been knocked down on the
road and the money taken from me, is enough to send me to the asylum
with a strait-jacket on!"
Life grew to take on tragic aspects. Annie used to find herself
wondering if anywhere in the world there were people with light
hearts. For her there was no longer anticipation of joy, or present
companionship, or any divertissement in the whole world. Jim read books
which she did not understand, and with a few of his friends, who
dropped in now and then evenings or Sundays, talked about these books
in an excited manner.
She would go to her room to rest, and lying there in the darkness
on the bed, would hear them speaking together, sometimes all at once,
in those sternly vindictive tones men use when there is revolt in their
"It is the government which is helping to impoverish us," she would
hear Jim saying. "Work is money. That is to say, it is the active form
of money. The wealth of a country is estimated by its power of
production. And its power of production means work. It means there are
so many men with so much capacity. Now the government owes it to these
men to have money enough to pay them for their work; and if there is
not enough money in circulation to pay to each man for his honest and
necessary work, then I say that government is in league with crime. It
is trying to make defaulters of us. It has a hundred ways of cheating
us. When I bought this farm and put the mortgage on it, a day's work
would bring twice the results it will now. That is to say, the total at
the end of the year showed my profits to be twice what they would be
now, even if the railway did not stand in the way to rob us of more
than we earn. So that it will take just twice as many days' work now to
pay off this mortgage as it would have done at the time it was
contracted. It's a conspiracy, I tell you! Those Eastern capitalists
make a science of ruining us."
He got more eloquent as time went on, and Annie, who had known him
first as rather a careless talker, was astonished at the boldness of
his language. But conversation was a lost art with him. He no longer
talked. He harangued.
In the early spring Annie's baby was born, — a little girl with a
nervous cry, who never slept long at a time, and who seemed to wail
merely from distaste at living. It was Mrs. Dundy who came over to look
after the house till Annie got able to do so. Her eyes had that fever
in them, as ever. She talked but little, but her touch on Annie's head
was more eloquent than words. One day Annie asked for the glass, and
Mrs. Dundy gave it to her. She looked in it a long time. The color was
gone from her cheeks, and about her mouth there was an ugly tightening.
But her eyes flashed and shone with that same — no, no, it could not
be that in her face also was coming the look of half-madness! She
motioned Mrs. Dundy to come to her.
"You knew it was coming," she said, brokenly, pointing to the
reflection in the glass. "That first day, you knew how it would be."
Mrs. Dundy took the glass away with a gentle hand.
"How could I help knowing?" she said simply. She went into the next
room, and when she returned Annie noticed that the handkerchief stuck
in her belt was wet, as if it had been wept on. A woman cannot stay
long away from her home on a farm at planting time, even if it is a
case of life and death. Mrs. Dundy had to go home, and Annie crept
about her work with the wailing baby in her arms. The house was often
disorderly now; but it could not be helped. The baby had to be cared
for. It fretted so much that Jim slept apart in the mow of the barn,
that his sleep might not be disturbed. It was a pleasant, dim place,
full of sweet scents, and he liked to be there alone. Though he had
always been an unusual worker, he worked now more like a man who was
fighting off fate, than a mere toiler for bread.
The corn came up beautifully, and far as the eye could reach around
their home it tossed its broad green leaves with an ocean-like swelling
of sibilant sound. Jim loved it with a sort of passion. Annie loved it,
too. Sometimes, at night, when her fatigue was unbearable, and her
irritation wearing out both body and soul, she took her little one in
her arms and walked among the corn, letting its rustling soothe the
baby to sleep. The heat of the summer was terrible. The sun came up in
that blue sky like a curse, and hung there till night came to comfort
the blistering earth. And one morning a terrible thing happened. Annie
was standing out of doors in the shade of those miserable little oaks,
ironing, when suddenly a blast of air struck her in the face, which
made her look up startled. For a moment she thought, perhaps, there was
a fire near in the grass. But there was none. Another blast came,
hotter this time, and fifteen minutes later that wind was sweeping
straight across the plain, burning and blasting. Annie went in the
house to finish her ironing, and was working there, when she heard
Jim's footstep on the door-sill. He could not pale because of the tan,
but there was a look of agony and of anger — almost brutish anger —
in his eyes. Then he looked, for a moment, at Annie standing there
working patiently, and rocking the little crib with one foot, and he
sat down on the door-step and buried his face in his brown arms.
The wind blew for three days. At the end of that time every ear
was withered in the stalk. The corn crop was ruined.
But there were the other crops which must be attended to, and Jim
watched those with the alertness of a despairing man; and so harvest
came again, and again the house was filled with men who talked their
careless talk, and who were not ashamed to gorge while this one woman
cooked for them. The baby lay on a quilt on the floor in the coolest
part of the kitchen. Annie fed it irregularly. Sometimes she almost
forgot it. As for its wailing, she had grown so used to it that she
hardly heard it, any more than she did the ticking of the clock. And
yet, tighter than anything else in life, was the hold that little thing
had on her heart-strings. At night, after the interminable work had
been finished — though in slovenly fashion — she would take it up and
caress it with fierceness, and worn as she was, would bathe it and
soothe it, and give it warm milk from the big tin pail.
"Lay the child down," Jim would say impatiently, while the men
would tell how their wives always put the babies on the bed and let
them cry if they wanted to. Annie said nothing, but she hushed the
little one with tender songs.
One day, as usual, it lay on its quilt while Annie worked. It was a
terribly busy morning. She had risen at four to get the washing out of
the way before the men got on hand, and there were a dozen loaves of
bread to bake, and the meals to get, and the milk to attend to, and the
chickens and pigs to feed. So occupied was she that she never was able
to tell how long she was gone from the baby. She only knew that the
heat of her own body was so great that the blood seemed to be pounding
at her ears, and she staggered as she crossed the yard. But when she
went at last with a cup of milk to feed the little one, it lay with
clenched fists and fixed eyes, and as she lifted it, a last convulsion
laid it back breathless, and its heart had ceased to beat.
Annie ran with it to her room, and tried such remedies as she had.
But nothing could keep the chill from creeping over the wasted little
form, — not even the heat of the day, not even the mother's agonized
embrace. Then, suddenly, Annie looked at the clock. It was time to get
the dinner. She laid the piteous tiny shape straight on the bed, threw
a sheet over it, and went back to the weltering kitchen to cook for
those men, who came at noon and who must be fed — who must be fed.
When they were all seated at the table, Jim among them, and she had
served them, she said, standing at the head of the table, with her
hands on her hips: —
"I don't suppose any of you have time to do anything about it; but
I thought you might like to know that the baby is dead. I wouldn't
think of asking you to spare the horses, for I know they have to rest.
But I thought, if you could make out on a cold supper, that I would go
to the town for a coffin."
There was satire in the voice that stung even through the dull
perceptions of these men, and Jim arose with a cry and went to the room
where his dead baby lay.
About two months after this Annie insisted that she must go home to
Illinois. Jim protested in a way. "You know, I'd like to send you," he
said; "but I don't see where the money is to come from. And since I've
got this nomination, I want to run as well as I can. My friends expect
me to do my best for them. It's a duty, you know, and nothing less, for
a few men, like me, to get in the legislature. We're going to get a
railroad bill through this session that will straighten out a good many
things. Be patient a little longer, Annie."
"I want to go home," was the only reply he got. "You must get the
money, some way, for me to go home with."
"I haven't paid a cent of interest yet," he cried angrily. "I don't
see what you mean by being so unreasonable!"
"You must get the money, some way," she reiterated.
He did not speak to her for a week, except when he was obliged to.
But she did not seem to mind; and he gave her the money. He took her to
the train in the little wagon that had met her when she first came. At
the station, some women were gossiping excitedly, and Annie asked what
they were saying. "It's Mis' Dundy," they said. "She's been sent to
th' insane asylum at Lincoln. She's gone stark mad. All she said on the
way out was, 'Th' butter won't come! Th' butter won't come!'" Then they
laughed a little — a strange laugh; and Annie thought of a
drinking-song she had once heard, "Here's to the next who dies."
Ten days after this Jim got a letter from her. "I am never coming
back, Jim," it said. "It is hopeless. I don't think I would mind
standing still to be shot down if there was any good in it. But I'm not
going back there to work harder than any slave for those money-loaners
and the railroads. I guess they can all get along without me. And I am
sure I can get along without them. I do not think this will make you
feel very bad. You haven't seemed to notice me very much lately when
I've been around, and I do not think you will notice very much when I
am gone. I know what this means. I know I am breaking my word when I
leave you. But remember, it is not you I leave, but the soil, Jim! I
will not be its slave any longer. If you care to come for me here, and
live another life — but no, there would be no use. Our love, like our
toil, has been eaten up by those rapacious acres. Let us say good-by."
Jim sat all night with this letter in his hand. Sometimes he dozed
heavily in his chair. But he did not go to bed; and the next morning he
hitched up his horses and rode to town. He went to the bank which held
"I'll confess judgment as soon as you like," he said. "It's all up
It was done as quickly as the law would allow. And the things in
the house were sold by auction. All the farmers were there with their
wives. It made quite an outing for them. Jim moved around impassively,
and chatted, now and then, with some of the men about what the horses
ought to bring.
The auctioneer was a clever fellow. Between the putting up of the
articles, he sang comic songs, and the funnier the song, the livelier
the bidding that followed. The horses brought a decent price, and the
machinery a disappointing one; and then, after a delicious snatch
about Nell who rode the sway-backed mare at the county fair, he got
down to the furniture, — the furniture which Jim had bought when he
was expecting Annie.
Jim was walking around with his hands in his pockets, looking
unconcerned, and, as the furniture began to go off, he came and sat
down in the midst of it. Every one noticed his indifference. Some of
them said that after all he couldn't have been very ambitious. He
didn't seem to take his failure much to heart. Every one was
concentrating attention on the cooking-stove, when Jim leaned forward,
quickly, over a little wicker work-stand.
There was a bit of unfinished sewing there, and it fell out as he
lifted the cover. It was a baby's linen shirt. Jim let it lie, and then
lifted from its receptacle a silver thimble. He put it in his
The campaign came on shortly after this, and Jim Lancy was
defeated. "I'm going to Omaha," said he to the station-master, "and
I've got just enough to buy a ticket with. There's a kind of
satisfaction in giving the last cent I have to the railroads."
Two months later, a "plain drunk" was registered at the station in
Nebraska's metropolis. When they searched him they found nothing in his
pockets but a silver thimble, and Joe Benson, the policeman who had
brought in the "drunk," gave it to the matron, with his compliments.
But she, when no one noticed, went softly to where the man was
sleeping, and slipped it back into his pocket, with a sigh. For she
knew somehow — as women do know things — that he had not stolen that
The Three Johns
THE equinoctial line itself is not more imaginary than the line
which divided the estates of the three Johns. The herds of the three
Johns roamed at will, and nibbled the short grass far and near without
let or hindrance; and the three Johns themselves were utterly
indifferent as to boundary lines. Each of them had filed his
application at the office of the government land-agent; each was
engaged in the tedious task of "proving up;" and each owned one-third
of the L-shaped cabin which stood at the point where the three ranches
touched. The hundred and sixty acres which would have completed this
quadrangle had not yet been "taken up."
The three Johns were not anxious to have a neighbor. Indeed, they
had made up their minds that if one appeared on that adjoining
"hun'erd an' sixty," it would go hard with him. For they did not deal
in justice very much — the three Johns. They considered it effete. It
belonged in the East along with other outgrown superstitions. And they
had given it out widely that it would be healthier for land applicants
to give them elbow-room. It took a good many miles of sunburnt prairie
to afford elbow-room for the three Johns.
They met by accident in Hamilton at the land-office. John
Henderson, fresh from Cincinnati, manifestly unused to the ways of the
country, looked at John Gillispie with a lurking smile. Gillispie wore
a sombrero, fresh, white, and expansive. His boots had high heels, and
were of elegant leather and finely arched at the instep. His corduroys
disappeared in them half-way up the thigh. About his waist a sash of
blue held a laced shirt of the same color in place. Henderson puffed at
his cigarette, and continued to look a trifle quizzical.
Suddenly Gillispie walked up to him and said, in a voice of
complete suavity, "Damn yeh, smoke a pipe!" "Eh?" said Henderson,
"Smoke a pipe," said the other. "That thing you have is bad for
"I can take care of my complexion," said Henderson, firmly.
The two looked each other straight in the eye.
"You don't go on smoking that thing till you have apologized for
that grin you had on your phiz a moment ago."
"I laugh when I please, and I smoke what I please," said Henderson,
hotly, his face flaming as he realized that he was in for his first
That was how it began. How it would have ended is not known —
probably there would have been only one John — if it had not been for
the almost miraculous appearance at this moment of the third John. For
just then the two belligerents found themselves prostrate, their
pistols only half-cocked, and between them stood a man all gnarled and
squat, like one of those wind-torn oaks which grow on the arid heights.
He was no older than the others, but the lines in his face were deep,
and his large mouth twitched as he said: — "Hold on here, yeh fools!
There's too much blood in you to spill. You'll spile th' floor, and
waste good stuff. We need blood out here!"
Gillispie bounced to his feet. Henderson arose suspiciously,
keeping his eyes on his assailants.
"Oh, get up!" cried the intercessor. "We don't shoot men hereabouts
till they git on their feet in fightin' trim."
"What do you know about what we do here?" interrupted Gillispie.
"This is the first time I ever saw you around."
"That's so," the other admitted. "I'm just down from Montana. Came
to take up a quarter section. Where I come from we give men a show, an'
I thought perhaps yeh did th' same here."
"Why, yes," admitted Gillispie, "we do. But I don't want folks to
laugh too much — not when I'm around — unless they tell me what the
joke is. I was just mentioning it to the gentleman," he added, dryly.
"So I saw," said the other; "you're kind a emphatic in yer remarks.
Yeh ought to give the gentleman a chance to git used to the ways of
th' country. He'll be as tough as th' rest of us if you'll give him a
chance. I kin see it in him."
"Thank you," said Henderson. "I'm glad you do me justice. I wish
you wouldn't let daylight through me till I've had a chance to get my
quarter section. I'm going to be one of you, either as a live man or a
corpse. But I prefer a hundred and sixty acres of land to six feet of
"There, now!" triumphantly cried the squat man. "Didn't I tell yeh?
Give him a show! 'Tain't no fault of his that he's a tenderfoot. He'll
get over that."
Gillispie shook hands with first one and then the other of the men.
"It's a square deal from this on," he said. "Come and have a drink."
That's how they met — John Henderson, John Gillispie, and John
Waite. And a week later they were putting up a shanty together for
common use, which overlapped each of their reservations, and satisfied
the law with its sociable subterfuge.
The life wasn't bad, Henderson decided; and he adopted all the ways
of the country in an astonishingly short space of time. There was a
freedom about it all which was certainly complete. The three alternated
in the night watch. Once a week one of them went to town for
provisions. They were not good at the making of bread, so they
contented themselves with hot cakes. Then there was salt pork for a
staple, and prunes. They slept in straw-lined bunks, with warm blankets
for a covering. They made a point of bringing reading-matter back from
town every week, and there were always cards to fall back on, and Waite
sang songs for them with natural dramatic talent.
Nevertheless, in spite of their contentment, none of them was sorry
when the opportunity offered for going to town. There was always a bit
of stirring gossip to be picked up, and now and then there was a "show"
at the "opera-house," in which, it is almost unnecessary to say, no
opera had ever been sung. Then there was the hotel, at which one not
only got good fare, but a chat with the three daughters of Jim O'Neal,
the proprietor — girls with the accident of two Irish parents, who
were, notwithstanding, as typically American as they well could be. A
half-hour's talk with these cheerful young women was all the more to be
desired for the reason that within riding distance of the three Johns'
ranch there were only two other women. One was Minerva Fitch, who had
gone out from Michigan accompanied by an oil-stove and a knowledge of
the English grammar, with the intention of teaching school, but who had
been unable to carry these good intentions into execution for the
reason that there were no children to teach, — at least, none but
Bow-legged Joe. He was a sad little fellow, who looked like a
prairie-dog, and who had very much the same sort of an outlook on life.
The other woman was the brisk and efficient wife of Mr. Bill Deems, of
"Missourah." Mr. Deems had never in his life done anything, not even so
much as bring in a basket of buffalo chips to supply the scanty fire.
That is to say, he had done nothing strictly utilitarian. Yet he filled
his place. He was the most accomplished story-teller in the whole
valley, and this accomplishment of his was held in as high esteem as
the improvisations of a Welsh minstrel were among his reverencing
people. His wife alone deprecated his skill, and interrupted his
spirited narratives with sarcastic allusions concerning the empty
cupboard, and the "state of her back," to which, as she confided to any
who would listen, "there was not a rag fit to wear."
These two ladies had not, as may be surmised, any particular
attraction for John Henderson. Truth to tell, Henderson had not come
West with the intention of liking women, but rather with a
determination to see and think as little of them as possible. Yet even
the most confirmed misogynist must admit that it is a good thing to see
a woman now and then, and for this reason Henderson found it amusing to
converse with the amiable Misses O'Neal. At twenty-five one cannot be
unyielding in one's avoidance of the sex.
Henderson, with his pony at a fine lope, was on his way to town one
day, in that comfortable frame of mind adduced by an absence of any
ideas whatever, when he suddenly became conscious of a shiver that
seemed to run from his legs to the pony, and back again. The animal
gave a startled leap, and lifted his ears. There was a stirring in the
coarse grasses; the sky, which a moment before had been like sapphire,
dulled with an indescribable grayness.
Then came a little singing afar off, as if from a distant
convocation of cicad¾, and before Henderson could guess what it meant,
a cloud of dust was upon him, blinding and bewildering, pricking with
sharp particles at eyes and nostrils. The pony was an ugly fellow, and
when Henderson felt him put his forefeet together, he knew what that
meant, and braced himself for the struggle. But it was useless; he had
not yet acquired the knack of staying on the back of a bucking bronco,
and the next moment he was on the ground, and around him whirled that
saffron chaos of dust. The temperature lowered every moment. Henderson
instinctively felt that this was but the beginning of the storm. He
picked himself up without useless regrets for his pony, and made his
The saffron hue turned to blackness, and then out of the murk shot
a living green ball of fire, and ploughed into the earth. Then sheets
of water, that seemed to come simultaneously from earth and sky, swept
the prairie, and in the midst of it struggled Henderson, weak as a
little child, half bereft of sense by the strange numbness of head and
dullness of eye. Another of those green balls fell and burst, as it
actually appeared to him, before his horrified eyes, and the bellow and
blare of the explosion made him cry out in a madness of fright and
physical pain. In the illumination he had seen a cabin only a few feet
in front of him, and toward it he made frantically, with an animal's
instinctive desire for shelter.
The door did not yield at once to his pressure, and in the panic of
his fear he threw his weight against it. There was a cry from within, a
fall, and Henderson flung himself in the cabin and closed the door.
In the dusk of the storm he saw a woman half prostrate. It was she
whom he had pushed from the door. He caught the hook in its staple, and
turned to raise her. She was not trembling as much as he, but, like
himself, she was dizzy with the shock of the lightning. In the midst
of all the clamor Henderson heard a shrill crying, and looking toward
the side of the room, he dimly perceived three tiny forms crouched in
one of the bunks. The woman took the smallest of the children in her
arms, and kissed and soothed it; and Henderson, after he had thrown a
blanket at the bottom of the door to keep out the drifting rain, sat
with his back to it, bracing it against the wind, lest the frail staple
should give way. He managed some way to reach out and lay hold of the
other little ones, and got them in his arms, — a boy, so tiny he
seemed hardly human, and a girl somewhat sturdier. They cuddled in his
arms, and clutched his clothes with their frantic little hands, and the
three sat so while the earth and the heavens seemed to be meeting in
And back and forth, back and forth, in the dimness swayed the body
of the woman, hushing her babe.
Almost as suddenly as the darkness had fallen, it lifted. The
lightning ceased to threaten, and almost frolicked, — little wayward
flashes of white and yellow dancing in mid-air. The wind wailed less
frequently, like a child who sobs in its sleep. And at last Henderson
could make his voice heard.
"Is there anything to build a fire with?" he shouted. "The children
are shivering so."
The woman pointed to a basket of buffalo chips in the corner, and
he wrapped his little companions up in a blanket while he made a fire
in the cooking-stove. The baby was sleeping by this time, and the woman
began tidying the cabin, and when the fire was burning brightly, she
put some coffee on.
"I wish I had some clothes to offer you," she said, when the wind
had subsided sufficiently to make talking possible. "I'm afraid you'll
have to let them get dry on you."
"Oh, that's of no consequence at all! We're lucky to get off with
our lives. I never saw anything so terrible. Fancy! half an hour ago it
was summer; now it is winter!"
"It seems rather sudden when you're not used to it," the woman
admitted. "I've lived in the West six years now; you can't frighten me
any more. We never die out here before our time comes."
"You seem to know that I haven't been here long," said Henderson,
with some chagrin.
"Yes," admitted the woman; "you have the ear-marks of a man from
She was a tall woman, with large blue eyes, and a remarkable
quantity of yellow hair braided on top of her head. Her gown was of
calico, of such a pattern as a widow might wear.
"I haven't been out of town a week yet," she said. "We're not half
settled. Not having any one to help makes it harder; and the baby is
"But you're not alone with all these little codgers?" cried
Henderson, in dismay.
The woman turned toward him with a sort of defiance. "Yes, I am,"
she said; "and I'm as strong as a horse, and I mean to get through all
right. Here were the three children in my arms, you may say, and no way
to get in a cent. I wasn't going to stand it just to please other folk.
I said, let them talk if they want to, but I'm going to hold down a
claim, and be accumulating something while the children are getting up
a bit. Oh, I'm not afraid!"
In spite of this bold assertion of bravery, there was a sort of
break in her voice. She was putting dishes on the table as she talked,
and turned some ham in the skillet, and got the children up before the
fire, and dropped some eggs in water, — all with a rapidity that
"How long have you been alone?" he asked, softly.
"Three months before baby was born, and he's five months old now. I
— I — you think I can get on here, don't you? There was nothing else
She was folding another blanket over the sleeping baby now, and the
action brought to her guest the recollection of a thousand tender
moments of his dimly remembered youth.
"You'll get on if we have anything to do with it," he cried,
suppressing an oath with difficulty, just from pure emotion.
And he told her about the three Johns' ranch, and found it was
only three miles distant, and that both were on the same road; only her
cabin, having been put up during the past week, had of course been
unknown to him. So it ended in a sort of compact that they were to help
each other in such ways as they could. Meanwhile the fire got genial,
and the coffee filled the cabin with its comfortable scent, and all of
them ate together quite merrily, Henderson cutting up the ham for the
youngsters; and he told how he chanced to come out; and she entertained
him with stories of what she thought at first when she was brought a
bride to Hamilton, the adjacent village, and convulsed him with stories
of the people, whom she saw with humorous eyes.
Henderson marvelled how she could in those few minutes have rescued
the cabin from the desolation in which the storm had plunged it. Out of
the window he could see the stricken grasses dripping cold moisture,
and the sky still angrily plunging forward like a disturbed sea. Not a
tree or a house broke the view. The desolation of it swept over him as
it never had before. But within the little ones were chattering to
themselves in odd baby dialect, and the mother was laughing with them.
"Women aren't always useless," she said, at parting; "and you tell
your chums that when they get hungry for a slice of homemade bread they
can get it here. And the next time they go by, I want them to stop in
and look at the children. It'll do them good. They may think they won't
enjoy themselves, but they will."
"Oh, I'll answer for that!" cried he, shaking hands with her. "I'll
tell them we have just the right sort of a neighbor."
"Thank you," said she, heartily. "And you may tell them that her
name is Catherine Ford."
Once at home, he told his story.
"H'm!" said Gillispie, "I guess I'll have to go to town myself
Henderson looked at him blackly. "She's a woman alone, Gillispie,"
said he, severely, "trying to make her way with handicaps — "
"Shet up, can't ye, ye darned fool?" roared Gillispie. "What do yeh
take me fur?" Waite was putting on his rubber coat preparatory to
going out for his night with the cattle. "Guess you're makin' a
mistake, my boy," he said, gently. "There ain't no danger of any woman
bein' treated rude in these parts."
"I know it, by Jove!" cried Henderson, in quick contriteness.
"All right," grunted Gillispie, in tacit acceptance of this
apology. "I guess you thought you was in civilized parts."
Two days after this Waite came in late to his supper. "Well, I seen
her," he announced.
"Oh! did you?" cried Henderson, knowing perfectly well whom he
meant. "What was she doing?"
"Killin' snakes, b'gosh! She says th' baby's crazy fur um, an' so
she takes aroun' a hoe on her shoulder wherever she goes, an' when she
sees a snake, she has it out with 'im then an' there. I says to 'er,
'Yer don't expec' t' git all th' snakes outen this here country, d'
yeh?' 'Well,' she says, 'I'm as good a man as St. Patrick any day.' She
is a jolly one, Henderson. She tuk me in an' showed me th' kids, and
give me a loaf of gingerbread to bring home. Here it is; see?"
"Hu!" said Gillispie. "I'm not in it." But for all of his scorn he
was not above eating the gingerbread.
It was gardening time, and the three Johns were putting in every
spare moment in the little paling made of willow twigs behind the
house. It was little enough time they had, though, for the cattle were
new to each other and to the country, and they were hard to manage. It
was generally conceded that Waite had a genius for herding, and he
could take the "mad" out of a fractious animal in a way that the others
looked on as little less than superhuman. Thus it was that one day,
when the clay had been well turned, and the seeds arranged on the
kitchen table, and all things prepared for an afternoon of busy
planting, that Waite and Henderson, who were needed out with the
cattle, felt no little irritation at the inexplicable absence of
Gillispie, who was to look after the garden. It was quite nightfall
when he at last returned. Supper was ready, although it had been
Gillispie's turn to prepare it.
Henderson was sore from his saddle, and cross at having to do more
than his share of the work. "Damn yeh!" he cried, as Gillispie
appeared. "Where yeh been?"
"Making garden," responded Gillispie, slowly.
"Making garden!" Henderson indulged in some more harmless oaths.
Just then Gillispie drew from under his coat a large and friendly
looking apple-pie. "Yes," he said, with emphasis; "I've bin a-makin'
garden fur Mis' Ford."
And so it came about that the three Johns knew her and served her,
and that she never had a need that they were not ready to supply if
they could. Not one of them would have thought of going to town without
stopping to inquire what was needed at the village. As for Catherine
Ford, she was fighting her way with native pluck and maternal
unselfishness. If she had feared solitude she did not suffer from it.
The activity of her life stifled her fresh sorrow. She was pleasantly
excited by the rumors that a railroad was soon to be built near the
place, which would raise the value of the claim she was "holding down"
many thousand dollars.
It is marvellous how sorrow shrinks when one is very healthy and
very much occupied. Although poverty was her close companion, Catherine
had no thought of it in this primitive manner of living. She had come
out there, with the independence and determination of a Western woman,
for the purpose of living at the least possible expense, and making the
most she could while the baby was "getting out of her arms." That
process has its pleasures, which every mother feels in spite of
burdens, and the mind is happily dulled by nature's merciful provision.
With a little child tugging at the breast, care and fret vanish, not
because of the happiness so much as because of a certain mammal
complacency, which is not at all intellectual, but serves its purpose
better than the profoundest method of reasoning.
So without any very unbearable misery at her recent widowhood, this
healthy young woman worked in field and house, cared for her little
ones, milked the two cows out in the corral, sewed, sang, rode, baked,
and was happy for very wholesomeness. Sometimes she reproached herself
that she was not more miserable, remembering that long grave back in
the unkempt little prairie cemetery, and she sat down to coax her
sorrow into proper prominence. But the baby cooing at her from its
bunk, the low of the cattle from the corral begging her to relieve
their heavy bags, the familiar call of one of her neighbors from
without, even the burning sky of the summer dawns, broke the spell of
this conjured sorrow, and in spite of herself she was again a very
hearty and happy young woman. Besides, if one has a liking for comedy,
it is impossible to be dull on a Nebraska prairie. The people are a
merrier divertissement than the theatre with its hackneyed stories.
Catherine Ford laughed a good deal, and she took the three Johns into
her confidence, and they laughed with her. There was Minerva Fitch, who
insisted on coming over to tell Catherine how to raise her children,
and who was almost offended that the children wouldn't die of
sunstroke when she predicted. And there was Bob Ackerman, who had
inflammatory rheumatism and a Past, and who confided the latter to Mrs.
Ford while she doctored the former with homoeopathic medicines. And
there were all the strange visionaries who came out prospecting, and
quite naturally drifted to Mrs. Ford's cabin for a meal, and paid her
in compliments of a peculiarly Western type. And there were the three
Johns themselves. Catherine considered it no treason to laugh at them a
Yet at Waite she did not laugh much. There had come to be something
pathetic in the constant service he rendered her. The beginning of his
more particular devotion had started in a particular way. Malaria was
very bad in the country. It had carried off some of the most vigorous
on the prairie, and twice that summer Catherine herself had laid out
the cold forms of her neighbors on ironing-boards, and, with the
assistance of Bill Deems of Missourah, had read the burial service over
them. She had averted several other fatal runs of fever by the contents
of her little medicine-case. These remedies she dealt out with an
intelligence that astonished her patients, until it was learned that
she was studying medicine at the time that she met her late husband,
and was persuaded to assume the responsibilities of matrimony instead
of those of the medical profession.
One day in midsummer, when the sun was focussing itself on the raw
pine boards of her shanty, and Catherine had the shades drawn for
coolness and the water-pitcher swathed in wet rags, East Indian
fashion, she heard the familiar halloo of Waite down the road. This
greeting, which was usually sent to her from the point where the
dipping road lifted itself into the first view of the house, did not
contain its usual note of cheerfulness. Catherine, wiping her hands on
her checked apron, ran out to wave a welcome; and Waite, his squat body
looking more distorted than ever, his huge shoulders lurching as he
walked, came fairly plung-ing down the hill.
"It's all up with Henderson!" he cried, as Catherine approached.
"He's got the malery, an' he says he's dyin'." "That's no sign he's
dying, because he says so," retorted Catherine.
"He wants to see yeh," panted Waite, mopping his big ugly head. "I
think he's got somethin' particular to say."
"How long has he been down?"
"Three days; an' yeh wouldn't know 'im."
The children were playing on the floor at that side of the house
where it was least hot. Catherine poured out three bowls of milk, and
cut some bread, meanwhile telling Kitty how to feed the baby.
"She's a sensible thing, is the little daughter," said Catherine,
as she tied on her sunbonnet and packed a little basket with things
from the cupboard. She kissed the babies tenderly, flung her hoe — her
only weapon of defence — over her shoulder, and the two started off.
They did not speak, for their throats were soon too parched. The
prairie was burned brown with the sun; the grasses curled as if they
had been on a gridiron. A strong wind was blowing; but it brought no
comfort, for it was heavy with a scorching heat. The skin smarted and
blistered under it, and the eyes felt as if they were filled with sand.
The sun seemed to swing but a little way above the earth, and though
the sky was intensest blue, around about this burning ball there was a
halo of copper, as if the very ether were being consumed in yellow
Waite put some big burdock-leaves on Catherine's head under her
bonnet, and now and then he took a bottle of water from his pocket and
made her swallow a mouthful. She staggered often as she walked, and the
road was black before her. Still, it was not very long before the oddly
shaped shack of the three Johns came in sight; and as he caught a
glimpse of it, Waite quickened his footsteps.
"What if he should be gone?" he said, under his breath.
"Oh, come off!" said Catherine, angrily. "He's not gone. You make
But she was trembling when she stopped just before the door to
compose herself for a moment. Indeed, she trembled so very much that
Waite put out his sprawling hand to steady her. She gently felt the
pressure tightening, and Waite whispered in her ear:
"I guess I'd stand by him as well as anybody, excep' you, Mis'
Ford. He's been my bes' friend. But I guess you like him better, eh?"
Catherine raised her finger. She could hear Henderson's voice
within; it was pitiably querulous. He was half sitting up in his bunk,
and Gillispie had just handed him a plate on which two cakes were
swimming in black molasses and pork gravy. Henderson looked at it a
moment; then over his face came a look of utter despair. He dropped his
head in his arms and broke into uncontrolled crying.
"Oh, my God, Gillispie," he sobbed, "I shall die out here in this
wretched hole! I want my mother. Great God, Gillispie, am I going to
die without ever seeing my mother?"
Gillispie, maddened at this anguish, which he could in no way
alleviate, sought comfort by first lighting his pipe and then taking
his revolver out of his hip-pocket and playing with it. Henderson
continued to shake with sobs, and Catherine, who had never before in
her life heard a man cry, leaned against the door for a moment to
gather courage. Then she ran into the house quickly, laughing as she
came. She took Henderson's arms away from his face and laid him back on
the pillow, and she stooped over him and kissed his forehead in the
most matter-of-fact way.
"That's what your mother would do if she were here," she cried,
merrily. "Where's the water?"
She washed his face and hands a long time, till they were cool and
his convulsive sobs had ceased. Then she took a slice of thin bread
from her basket and a spoonful of amber jelly. She beat an egg into
some milk and dropped a little liquor within it, and served them
together on the first clean napkin that had been in the cabin of the
three Johns since it was built
At this the great fool on the bed cried again, only quietly, tears
of weak happiness running from his feverish eyes. And Catherine
straightened the disorderly cabin. She came every day for two weeks,
and by that time Henderson, very uncertain as to the strength of his
legs, but once more accoutred in his native pluck, sat up in a chair,
for which she had made clean soft cushions, writing a letter to his
mother. The floor was scrubbed; the cabin had taken to itself cupboards
made of packing-boxes; it had clothes-presses and shelves; curtains at
the windows; boxes for all sort of necessaries, from flour to tobacco;
and a cook-book on the wall, with an inscription within which was more
appropriate than respectful.
The day that she announced that she would have no further call to
come back, Waite, who was looking after the house while Gillispie was
afield, made a little speech.
"After this here," he said, "we four stands er falls together. Now
look here, there's lots of things can happen to a person on this cussed
praira, and no one be none th' wiser. So see here, Mis' Ford, every
night one of us is a-goin' to th' roof of this shack. From there we can
see your place. If anything is th' matter — it don't signify how
little er how big — you hang a lantern on th' stick that I'll put
alongside th' house to-morrow. Yeh can h'ist th' light up with a
string, and every mornin' before we go out we'll look too, and a white
rag'll bring us quick as we can git there. We don't say nothin' about
what we owe yeh, fur that ain't our way, but we sticks to each other
from this on."
Catherine's eyes were moist. She looked at Henderson. His face had
no expression in it at all. He did not even say good-by to her, and she
turned, with the tears suddenly dried under her lids, and walked down
the road in the twilight.
Weeks went by, and though Gillispie and Waite were often at
Catherine's, Henderson never came. Gillispie gave it out as his opinion
that Henderson was an ungrateful puppy; but Waite said nothing. This
strange man, who seemed like a mere untoward accident of nature, had
changed during the summer. His big ill-shaped body had grown more
gaunt; his deep-set gray eyes had sunk deeper; the gentleness which had
distinguished him even on the wild ranges of Montana became more
marked. Late in August he volunteered to take on himself the entire
charge of the night watch.
"It's nicer to be out at night," he said to Catherine. "Then you
don't keep looking off at things; you can look inside;" and he struck
his breast with his splay hand.
Cattle are timorous under the stars. The vastness of the plains,
the sweep of the wind under the unbroken arch, frighten them; they are
made for the close comforts of the barn-yard; and the apprehension is
contagious, as every ranchman knows. Waite realized the need of
becoming good friends with his animals. Night after night, riding up
and down in the twilight of the stars, or dozing, rolled in his
blanket, in the shelter of a knoll, he would hear a low roar; it was
the cry of the alarmist. Then from every direction the cattle would
rise with trembling awkwardness on their knees, and answer, giving out
sullen bellowings. Some of them would begin to move from place to
place, spreading the baseless alarm, and then came the time for action,
else over the plain in mere fruitless frenzy would go the whole
frantic band, lashed to madness by their own fears, trampling each
other, heedless of any obstacle, in pitiable, deadly rout. Waite knew
the premonitory signs well, and at the first warning bellow he was on
his feet, alert and determined, his energy nerved for a struggle in
which he always conquered.
Waite had a secret which he told to none, knowing, in his
unanalytical fashion, that it would not be believed in. But soon as
ever the dark heads of the cattle began to lift themselves, he sent a
resonant voice out into the stillness. The songs he sang were hymns,
and he made them into a sort of imperative lullaby. Waite let his lungs
and soul fill with the breath of the night; he gave himself up to the
exaltation of mastering those trembling brutes. Mounting, melodious,
with even and powerful swing he let his full notes fall on the air in
the confidence of power, and one by one the reassured cattle would lie
down again, lowing in soft contentment, and so fall asleep with noses
stretched out in mute attention, till their presence could hardly be
guessed except for the sweet aroma of their cuds.
One night in the early dusk, he saw Catherine Ford hastening across
the prairie with Bill Deems. He sent a halloo out to them, which they
both answered as they ran on. Waite knew on what errand of mercy
Catherine was bent, and he thought of the children over at the cabin
alone. The cattle were quiet, the night beautiful, and he concluded
that it was safe enough, since he was on his pony, to ride down there
about midnight and see that the little ones were safe.
The dark sky, pricked with points of intensest light, hung over him
so beneficently that in his heart there leaped a joy which even his
ever-present sorrow could not disturb. This sorrow Waite openly
admitted not only to himself, but to others. He had said to Catherine:
"You see, I'll always hev to love yeh. An' yeh'll not git cross with
me; I'm not goin' to be in th' way." And Catherine had told him, with
tears in her eyes, that his love could never be but a comfort to any
woman. And these words, which the poor fellow had in no sense mistaken,
comforted him always, became part of his joy as he rode there, under
those piercing stars, to look after her little ones. He found them
sleeping in their bunks, the baby tight in Kitty's arms, the little boy
above them in the upper bunk, with his hand in the long hair of his
brown spaniel. Waite softly kissed each of them, so Kitty, who was half
waking, told her mother afterwards, and then, bethinking him that
Catherine might not be able to return in time for their breakfast,
found the milk and bread, and set it for them on the table. Catherine
had been writing, and her unfinished letter lay open beside the ink. He
took up the pen and wrote,
"The childdren was all asleep at twelv. "J.W."
He had not more than got on his pony again before he heard an
ominous sound that made his heart leap. It was a frantic dull pounding
of hoofs. He knew in a second what it meant. There was a stampede among
the cattle. If the animals had all been his, he would not have lost
his sense of judgment. But the realization that he had voluntarily
undertaken the care of them, and that the larger part of them belonged
to his friends, put him in a passion of apprehension that, as a
ranchman, was almost inexplicable. He did the very thing of all others
that no cattle-man in his right senses would think of doing. Gillispie
and Henderson, talking it over afterward, were never able to understand
it. It is possible — just barely possible — that Waite, still drunk
on his solitary dreams, knew what he was doing, and chose to bring his
little chapter to an end while the lines were pleasant. At any rate, he
rode straight forward, shouting and waving his arms in an insane
endeavor to head off that frantic mob. The noise woke the children, and
they peered from the window as the pawing and bellowing herd plunged
by, trampling the young steers under their feet.
In the early morning, Catherine Ford, spent both in mind and body,
came walking slowly home. In her heart was a prayer of thanksgiving.
Mary Deems lay sleeping back in her comfortless shack, with her little
son by her side.
"The wonder of God is in it," said Catherine to herself as she
walked home. "All the ministers of all the world could not have
preached me such a sermon as I've had to-night."
So dim had been the light and so perturbed her mind that she had
not noticed how torn and trampled was the road. But suddenly a bulk in
her pathway startled her. It was the dead and mangled body of a steer.
She stooped over it to read the brand on its flank. "It's one of the
three Johns'," she cried out, looking anxiously about her. "How could
that have happened?"
The direction which the cattle had taken was toward her house, and
she hastened homeward. And not a quarter of a mile from her door she
found the body of Waite beside that of his pony, crushed out of its
familiar form into something unspeakably shapeless. In her excitement
she half dragged, half carried that mutilated body home, and then ran
up her signal of alarm on the stick that Waite himself had erected for
her convenience. She thought it would be a long time before any one
reached her, but she had hardly had time to bathe the disfigured face
and straighten the disfigured body before Henderson was pounding at her
door. Outside stood his pony panting from its terrific exertions.
Henderson had not seen her before for six weeks. Now he stared at her
with frightened eyes.
"What is it? What is it?" he cried. "What has happened to you, my
— my love?"
At least afterward, thinking it over as she worked by day or tossed
in her narrow bunk at night, it seemed to Catherine that those were the
words he spoke. Yet she could never feel sure; nothing in his manner
after that justified the impassioned anxiety of his manner in those
first few uncertain moments; for a second later he saw the body of his
friend and learned the little that Catherine knew. They buried him the
next day in a little hollow where there was a spring and some wild
"He never liked the prairie," Catherine said, when she selected the
spot. "And I want him to lie as sheltered as possible." After he had
been laid at rest, and she was back, busy with tidying her neglected
shack, she fell to crying so that the children were scared.
"There's no one left to care what becomes of us," she told them,
bitterly. "We might starve out here for all that any one cares."
And all through the night her tears fell, and she told herself that
they were all for the man whose last thought was for her and her
babies; she told herself over and over again that her tears were all
for him. After this the autumn began to hurry on, and the snow fell
capriciously, days of biting cold giving place to retrospective glances
at summer. The last of the vegetables were taken out of the garden and
buried in the cellar; and a few tons of coal — dear almost as diamonds
— were brought out to provide against the severest weather. Ordinarily
buffalo chips were the fuel. Catherine was alarmed at the way her
wretched little store of money began to vanish. The baby was fretful
with its teething, and was really more care than when she nursed it.
The days shortened, and it seemed to her that she was forever working
by lamp-light The prairies were brown and forbidding, the sky often a
mere gray pall. The monotony of the life began to seem terrible.
Sometimes her ears ached for a sound. For a time in the summer so many
had seemed to need her that she had been happy in spite of her poverty
and her loneliness. Now, suddenly, no one wanted her. She could find no
source of inspiration. She wondered how she was going to live through
the winter, and keep her patience and her good-nature.
"You'll love me," she said, almost fiercely, one night to the
children — "you'll love mamma, no matter how cross and homely she
gets, won't you?"
The cold grew day by day. A strong winter was setting in. Catherine
took up her study of medicine again, and sat over her books till
midnight. It occurred to her that she might fit herself for nursing by
spring, and that the children could be put with some one — she did not
dare to think with whom. But this was the only solution she could find
to her problem of existence.
November settled down drearily. Few passed the shack. Catherine,
who had no one to speak with excepting the children, continually
devised amusements for them. They got to living in a world of fantasy,
and were never themselves, but always wild Indians, or arctic
explorers, or Robinson Crusoes. Kitty and Roderick, young as they were,
found a never-ending source of amusement in these little grotesque
dreams and dramas. The fund of money was getting so low that Catherine
was obliged to economize even in the necessities. If it had not been
for her two cows, she would hardly have known how to find food for her
little ones. But she had a wonderful way of making things with eggs and
milk, and she kept her little table always inviting. The day before
Thanksgiving she determined that they should all have a frolic.
"By Christmas," she said to Kitty, "the snow may be so bad that I
cannot get to town. We'll have our high old time now."
There is no denying that Catherine used slang even in talking to
the children. The little pony had been sold long ago, and going to
town meant a walk of twelve miles. But Catherine started out early in
the morning, and was back by nightfall, not so very much the worse, and
carrying in her arms bundles which might have fatigued a bronco.
The next morning she was up early, and was as happy and
ridiculously excited over the prospect of the day's merrymaking as if
she had been Kitty. Busy as she was, she noticed a peculiar oppression
in the air, which intensified as the day went on. The sky seemed to
hang but a little way above the rolling stretch of frost-bitten grass.
But Kitty laughing over her new doll, Roderick startling the sullen
silence with his drum, the smell of the chicken, slaughtered to make a
prairie holiday, browning in the oven, drove all apprehensions from
Catherine's mind. She was a common creature. Such very little things
could make her happy. She sang as she worked; and what with the
drumming of her boy, and the little exulting shrieks of her baby, the
shack was filled with a deafening and exhilarating din.
It was a little past noon, when she became conscious that there
was sweeping down on her a gray sheet of snow and ice, and not till
then did she realize what those lowering clouds had signified. For one
moment she stood half paralyzed. She thought of everything, — of the
cattle, of the chance for being buried in this drift, of the stock of
provisions, of the power of endurance of the children. While she was
still thinking, the first ice-needles of the blizzard came peppering
the windows. The cattle ran bellowing to the lee side of the house and
crouched there, and the chickens scurried for the coop. Catherine
seized such blankets and bits of carpet as she could find, and crammed
them at windows and doors. Then she piled coal on the fire, and clothed
the children in all they had that was warmest, their out-door garments
included; and with them close about her, she sat and waited. The wind
seemed to push steadily at the walls of the house. The howling became
horrible. She could see that the children were crying with fright, but
she could not hear them. The air was dusky; the cold, in spite of the
fire, intolerable. In every crevice of the wretched structure the ice
and snow made their way. It came through the roof, and began piling up
in little pointed strips under the crevices. Catherine put the children
all together in one bunk, covered them with all the bedclothes she had,
and then stood before them defiantly, facing the west, from whence the
wind was driving. Not suddenly, but by steady pressure, at length the
window-sash yielded, and the next moment that whirlwind was in the
house, — a maddening tumult of ice and wind, leaving no room for
resistance; a killing cold, against which it was futile to fight.
Catherine threw the bedclothes over the heads of the children, and then
threw herself across the bunk, gasping and choking for breath. Her body
would not have yielded to the suffering yet, so strongly made and
sustained was it; but her dismay stifled her. She saw in one horrified
moment the frozen forms of her babies, now so pink and pleasant to the
sense; and oblivion came to save her from further misery.
She was alive — just barely alive — when Gillispie and Henderson
got there, three hours later, the very balls of their eyes almost
frozen into blindness. But for an instinct stronger than reason they
would never have been able to have found their way across that
trackless stretch. The children lying unconscious under their coverings
were neither dead nor actually frozen, although the men putting their
hands on their little hearts could not at first discover the beating.
Stiff and suffering as these young fellows were, it was no easy matter
to get the window back into place and re-light the fire. They had tied
flasks of liquor about their waists; and this beneficent fluid they
used with that sense of appreciation which only a pioneer can feel
toward whiskey. It was hours before Catherine rewarded them with a
gleam of consciousness. Her body had been frozen in many places. Her
arms, outstretched over her children and holding the clothes down about
them, were rigid. But consciousness came at length, dimly struggling up
through her brain; and over her she saw her friends rubbing and rubbing
those strong firm arms of hers with snow.
She half raised her head, with a horror of comprehension in her
eyes, and listened. A cry answered her, — a cry of dull pain from the
baby. Henderson dropped on his knees beside her.
"They are all safe," he said. "And we will never leave you again. I
have been afraid to tell you how I love you. I thought I might offend
you. I thought I ought to wait — you know why. But I will never let
you run the risks of this awful life alone again. You must rename the
baby. From this day his name is John. And we will have the three Johns
again back at the old ranch. It doesn't matter whether you love me or
not, Catherine, I am going to take care of you just the same. Gillispie
agrees with me."
"Damme, yes," muttered Gillispie, feeling of his hip-pocket for
consolation in his old manner.
Catherine struggled to find her voice, but it would not come.
"Do not speak," whispered John. "Tell me with your eyes whether you
will come as my wife or only as our sister."
Catherine told him.
"This is Thanksgiving day," said he. "And we don't know much about
praying, but I guess we all have something in our hearts that does just
"Damme, yes," said Gillispie, again, as he pensively cocked and
uncocked his revolver.
AFTER being dead twenty years, he walked out into the sunshine.
It was as if the bones of a bleached skeleton should join
themselves on some forgotten plain, and look about them for the
To be dead it is not necessary to be in the grave. There are places
where the worms creep about the heart instead of the body.
The penitentiary is one of these. David Culross had been in the
penitentiary twenty years. Now, with that worm-eaten heart, he came out
into liberty and looked about him for the habiliments with which he had
formerly clothed himself, — for hope, self-respect, courage,
pugnacity, and industry.
But they had vanished and left no trace, like the flesh of the dead
men on the plains, and so, morally unapparelled, in the hideous
skeleton of his manhood, he walked on down the street under the
You can understand, can you not, how a skeleton might wish to get
back into its comfortable grave? David Culross had not walked two
blocks before he was seized with an almost uncontrollable desire to beg
to be shielded once more in that safe and shameful retreat from which
he had just been released. A horrible perception of the largeness of
the world swept over him. Space and eternity could seem no larger to
the usual man than earth — that snug and insignificant planet —
looked to David Culross.
"If I go back," he cried, despairingly, looking up to the great
building that arose above the stony hills, "they will not take me in."
He was absolutely without a refuge, utterly without a destination; he
did not have a hope. There was nothing he desired except the
surrounding of those four narrow walls between which he had lain at
night and dreamed those ever-recurring dreams, — dreams which were
never prophecies or promises, but always the hackneyed history of what
he had sacrificed by his crime, and relinquished by his pride.
The men who passed him looked at him with mingled amusement and
pity. They knew the "prison look," and they knew the prison clothes.
For though the State gives to its discharged convicts clothes which are
like those of other men, it makes a hundred suits from the same sort of
cloth. The police know the fabric, and even the citizens recognize it.
But, then, were each man dressed in different garb he could not be
disguised. Every one knows in what dull school that sidelong glance is
learned, that aimless drooping of the shoulders, that rhythmic lifting
of the heavy foot.
David Culross wondered if his will were dead. He put it to the
test. He lifted up his head to a position which it had not held for
many miserable years. He put his hands in his pockets in a pitiful
attempt at nonchalance, and walked down the street with a step which
was meant to be brisk, but which was in fact only uncertain. In his
pocket were ten dollars. This much the State equips a man with when it
sends him out of its penal halls. It gives him also transportation to
any point within reasonable distance that he may desire to reach.
Culross had requested a ticket to Chicago. He naturally said Chicago.
In the long colorless days it had been in Chicago that all those
endlessly repeated scenes had been laid. Walking up the street now with
that wavering ineffectual gait, these scenes came back to surge in his
brain like waters ceaselessly tossed in a wind-swept basin.
There was the office, bare and clean, where the young
stoop-shouldered clerks sat writing. In their faces was a strange
resemblance, just as there was in the backs of the ledgers, and in the
endless bills on the spindles. If one of them laughed, it was not with
gayety, but with gratification at the discomfiture of another. None of
them ate well. None of them were rested after sleep. All of them rode
on the stuffy one-horse cars to and from their work. Sundays they lay
in bed very late, and ate more dinner than they could digest. There was
a certain fellowship among them, — such fellowship as a band of
captives among cannibals might feel, each of them waiting with vital
curiosity to see who was the next to be eaten. But of that fellowship
that plans in unison, suffers in sympathy, enjoys vicariously,
strengthens into friendship and communion of soul they knew nothing.
Indeed, such camaraderie would have been disapproved of by the Head
Clerk. He would have looked on an emotion with exactly the same
displeasure that he would on an error in the footing of the year's
accounts. It was tacitly understood that one reached the proud position
of Head Clerk by having no emotions whatever.
Culross did not remember having been born with a pen in his hand,
or even with one behind his ear; but certainly from the day he had been
let out of knickerbockers his constant companion had been that greatly
over-estimated article. His father dying at a time that cut short
David's school-days, he went out armed with his new knowledge of
double-entry, determined to make a fortune and a commercial name.
Meantime, he lived in a suite of three rooms on West Madison Street
with his mother, who was a good woman, and lived where she did that
she might be near her favorite meeting-house. She prayed, and cooked
bad dinners, principally composed of dispiriting pastry. Her idea of
house-keeping was to keep the shades down, whatever happened; and when
David left home in the evening for any purpose of pleasure, she wept.
David persuaded himself that he despised amusement, and went to bed
each night at half-past nine in a folding bedstead in the front room,
and, by becoming absolutely stolid from mere vegetation, imagined that
he was almost fit to be a Head Clerk.
Walking down the street now after the twenty years, thinking of
these dead but innocent days, this was the picture he saw; and as he
reflected upon it, even the despoiled and desolate years just passed
seemed richer by contrast.
He reached the station thus dreaming, and found, as he had been
told when the warden bade him good-by, that a train was to be at hand
directly bound to the city. A few moments later he was on that train.
Well back in the shadow, and out of sight of the other passengers, he
gave himself up to the enjoyment of the comfortable cushion. He would
willingly have looked from the window, — green fields were new and
wonderful; drifting clouds a marvel; men, houses, horses, farms, all a
revelation, — but those haunting visions were at him again, and would
not leave brain or eye free for other things.
But the next scene had warmer tints. It was the interior of a rich
room, — crimson and amber fabrics, flowers, the gleam of a statue
beyond the drapings; the sound of a tender piano unflinging a familiar
melody, and a woman. She was just a part of all the luxury.
He himself, very timid and conscious of his awkwardness, sat near,
trying barrenly to get some of his thoughts out of his brain on to his
"Strange, isn't it," the woman broke in on her own music, "that we
have seen each other so very often and never spoken? I've often thought
introductions were ridiculous. Fancy seeing a person year in and year
out, and really knowing all about him, and being perfectly acquainted
with his name — at least his or her name, you know — and then never
speaking! Some one comes along, and says, 'Miss Le Baron, this is Mr.
Culross,' just as if one didn't know that all the time! And there you
are! You cease to be dumb folks, and fall to talking, and say a lot of
things neither of you care about, and after five or six weeks of time
and sundry meetings, get down to honestly saying what you mean. I'm so
glad we've got through with that first stage, and can say what we think
and tell what we really like."
Then the playing began again, — a harp-like intermingling of soft
sounds. Zoe Le Baron's hands were very girlish. Everything about her
was unformed. Even her mind was so. But all promised a full completion.
The voice, the shoulders, the smile, the words, the lips, the arms, the
whole mind and body, were rounding to maturity.
"Why do you never come to church in the morning?" asks Miss Le
Baron, wheeling around on her piano-stool suddenly. "You are only there
at night, with your mother." "I go only on her account," replies
David, truthfully. "In the morning I am so tired with the week's work
that I rest at home. I ought to go, I know."
"Yes, you ought," returns the young woman, gravely. "It doesn't
really rest one to lie in bed like that. I've tried it at
boarding-school. It was no good whatever."
"Should you advise me," asks David, in a confiding tone, "to arise
early on Sunday?"
The girl blushes a little. "By all means!" she cries, her eyes
twinkling, "and — and come to church. Our morning sermons are really
very much better than those in the evening." And she plays a waltz, and
what with the music and the warmth of the room and the perfume of the
roses, a something nameless and mystical steals over the poor clerk,
and swathes him about like the fumes of opium. They are alone. The
silence is made deeper by that rhythmic unswelling of sound. As the
painter flushes the bare wall into splendor, these emotions illuminated
his soul, and gave to it that high courage that comes when men or women
suddenly realize that each life has its significance, — their own
lives no less than the lives of others.
The man sitting there in the shadow in that noisy train saw in his
vision how the lad arose and moved, like one under a spell, toward the
piano. He felt again the enchantment of the music-ridden quiet, of the
perfume, and the presence of the woman.
"Knowing you and speaking with you have not made much difference
with me," he whispers, drunk on the new wine of passion, "for I have
loved you since I saw you first. And though it is so sweet to hear you
speak, your voice is no more beautiful than I thought it would be. I
have loved you a long time, and I want to know — "
The broken man in the shadow remembered how the lad stopped,
astonished at his boldness and his fluency, overcome suddenly at the
thought of what he was saying. The music stopped with a discord. The
girl arose, trembling and scarlet.
"I would not have believed it of you," she cries, "to take
advantage of me like this, when I am alone — and — everything. You
know very well that nothing but trouble could come to either of us from
your telling me a thing like that."
He puts his hands up to his face to keep off her anger. He is
trembling with confusion.
Then she broke in penitently, trying to pull his hands away from
his hot face: "Never mind! I know you didn't mean anything. Be good,
do, and don't spoil the lovely times we have together. You know very
well father and mother wouldn't let us see each other at all if they —
if they thought you were saying anything such as you said just now."
"Oh, but I can't help it!" cries the boy, despairingly. "I have
never loved anybody at all till now. I don't mean not another girl, you
know. But you are the first being I ever cared for. I sometimes think
mother cares for me because I pay the rent. And the office — you can't
imagine what that is like. The men in it are moving corpses. They're
proud to be that way, and so was I till I knew you and learned what
life was like. All the happy moments I have had have been here. Now,
if you tell me that we are not to care for each other — "
There was some one coming down the hall. The curtain lifted. A
middle-aged man stood there looking at him.
"Culross," said he, "I'm disappointed in you. I didn't mean to
listen, but I couldn't help hearing what you said just now. I don't
blame you particularly. Young men will be fools. And I do not in any
way mean to insult you when I tell you to stop your coming here. I
don't want to see you inside this door again, and after a while you
will thank me for it. You have taken a very unfair advantage of my
invitation. I make allowances for your youth."
He held back the curtain for the lad to pass out. David threw a
miserable glance at the girl. She was standing looking at her father
with an expression that David could not fathom. He went into the hall,
picked up his hat, and walked out in silence.
David wondered that night, walking the chilly streets after he
quitted the house, and often, often afterward, if that comfortable and
prosperous gentleman, safe beyond the perturbations of youth, had any
idea of what he had done. How could he know anything of the black
monotony of the life of the man he turned from his door? The "desk's
dead wood" and all its hateful slavery, the dull darkened rooms where
his mother prosed through endless evenings, the bookless, joyless,
hopeless existence that had cramped him all his days rose up before
him, as a stretch of unbroken plain may rise before a lost man till it
The bowed man in the car-seat remembered with a flush of
reminiscent misery how the lad turned suddenly in his walk and entered
the door of a drinking-room that stood open. It was very comfortable
within. The screens kept out the chill of the autumn night, the
sawdust-sprinkled floor was clean, the tables placed near together, the
bar glittering, the attendants white-aproned and brisk.
David liked the place, and he liked better still the laughter that
came from a room within. It had a note in it a little different from
anything he had ever heard before in his life, and one that echoed his
mood. He ventured to ask if he might go into the farther room.
It does not mean much when most young men go to a place like this.
They take their bit of unwholesome dissipation quietly enough, and are
a little coarser and more careless each time they indulge in it,
perhaps. But certainly their acts, whatever gradual deterioration they
may indicate, bespeak no sudden moral revolution. With this young clerk
it was different. He was a worse man from the moment he entered the
door, for he did violence to his principles; he killed his
He had been paid at the office that night, and he had the money —
a week's miserable pittance — in his pocket. His every action revealed
the fact that he was a novice in recklessness. His innocent face piqued
the men within. They gave him a welcome that amazed him. Of course the
rest of the evening was a chaos to him. The throat down which he poured
the liquor was as tender as a child's. The men turned his head with
their ironical compliments. Their boisterous good-fellowship was as
intoxicating to this poor young recluse as the liquor.
It was the revulsion from this feeling, when he came to a
consciousness that the men were laughing at him and not with him, that
wrecked his life. He had gone from beer to whiskey, and from whiskey to
brandy, by this time, at the suggestion of the men, and was making
awkward lunges with a billiard cue, spurred on by the mocking applause
of the others. One young fellow was particularly hilarious at his
expense. His jokes became insults, or so they seemed to David.
A quarrel followed, half a jest on the part of the other, all
serious as far as David was concerned. And then — Well, who could tell
how it happened? The billiard cue was in David's hand, and the skull of
the jester was split, a horrible gaping thing, revoltingly animal.
David never saw his home again. His mother gave it out in church
that her heart was broken, and she wrote a letter to David begging him
to reform. She said she would never cease to pray for him, that he
might return to grace. He had an attorney, an impecunious and very aged
gentleman, whose life was a venerable failure, and who talked so much
about his personal inconveniences from indigestion that he forgot to
take a very keen interest in the concerns of his client. David's trial
made no sensation. He did not even have the cheap sympathy of the
morbid. The court-room was almost empty the dull spring day when the
east wind beat against the window, jangling the loose panes all through
the reading of the verdict.
Twenty years in the penitentiary!
David looked up at the judge and smiled. Men have been known to
smile that way when the car-wheel crashes over their legs, or a bullet
lets the air through their lungs.
All that followed would have seemed more terrible if it had not
appeared to be so remote. David had to assure himself over and over
that it was really he who was put in that disgraceful dress, and locked
in that shameful walk from corridor to work-room, from work-room to
chapel. The work was not much more monotonous than that to which he had
been accustomed in the office. Here, as there, one was reproved for not
doing the required amount, but never praised for extraordinary efforts.
Here, as there, the workers regarded each other with dislike and
suspicion. Here, as there, work was a penalty and not a pleasure.
It is the nights that are to be dreaded in a penitentiary. Speech
eases the brain of free men; but the man condemned to eternal silence
is bound to endure torments. Thought, which might be a diversion,
becomes a curse; it is a painful disease which becomes chronic. It does
not take long to forget the days of the week and the months of the year
when time brings no variance. David drugged himself on dreams. He knew
it was weakness, but it was the wine of forgetfulness, and he indulged
in it. He went over and over, in endless repetition, every scene in
which Zoe Le Baron had figured.
He learned by a paper that she had gone to Europe. He was glad of
that. For there were hours in which he imagined that his fate might
have caused her distress — not much, of course, but perhaps an
occasional hour of sympathetic regret. But it was pleasanter not to
think of that. He preferred to remember the hours they had spent
together while she was teaching him the joy of life.
How lovely her gray eyes were! Deep, yet bright, and full of silent
little speeches. The rooms in which he imagined her as moving were
always splendid; the gowns she wore were of rustling silk. He never in
any dream, waking or sleeping, associated her with poverty or sorrow or
pain. Gay and beautiful, she moved from city to city, in these visions
of David's, looking always at wonderful things, and finding laughter in
It was six months after his entrance into his silent abode that a
letter came for him.
"By rights, Culross," said the warden, "I should not give this
letter to you. It isn't the sort we approve of. But you're in for a
good spell, and if there is anything that can make life seem more
tolerable, I don't know but you're entitled to it. At least, I'm not
the man to deny it to you."
This was the letter: — "MY DEAR FRIEND, — I hope you do not
think that all these months, when you have been suffering so terribly,
I have been thinking of other things! But I am sure you know the truth.
You know that I could not send you word or come to see you, or I would
have done it. When I first heard of what you had done, I saw it all as
it happened, — that dreadful scene, I mean, in the saloon. I am sure I
have imagined everything just as it was. I begged papa to help you, but
he was very angry. You see, papa was so peculiar. He thought more of
the appearances of things, perhaps, than of facts. It infuriated him to
think of me as being concerned about you or with you. I did not know he
could be so angry, and his anger did not die, but for days it cast such
a shadow over me that I used to wish I was dead. Only I would not
disobey him, and now I am glad of that. We were in France three months,
and then, coming home, papa died. It was on the voyage. I wish he had
asked me to forgive him, for then I think I could have remembered him
with more tenderness. But he did nothing of the kind. He did not seem
to think he had done wrong in any way, though I feel that some way we
might have saved you. I am back here in Chicago in the old home. But I
shall not stay in this house. It is so large and lonesome, and I always
see you and father facing each other angrily there in the parlor when I
enter it. So I am going to get me some cosey rooms in another part of
the city, and take my aunt, who is a sweet old lady, to live with me;
and I am going to devote my time — all of it — and all of my brains
to getting you out of that terrible place. What is the use of telling
me that you are a murderer? Do I not know you could not be brought to
hurt anything? I suppose you must have killed that poor man, but then
it was not you, it was that dreadful drink — it was Me! That is what
continually haunts me. If I had been a braver girl, and spoken the
words that were in my heart, you would not have gone into that place.
You would be innocent to-day. It was I who was responsible for it all.
I let father kill your heart right there before me, and never said a
word. Yet I knew how it was with you, and — this is what I ought to
have said then, and what I must say now — and all the time I felt just
as you did. I thought I should die when I saw you go away, and knew you
would never come back again. Only I was so selfish, I was so wicked, I
would say nothing.
"I have no right to be comfortable and hopeful, and to have
friends, with you shut up from liberty and happiness. I will not have
those comfortable rooms, after all. I will live as you do. I will live
alone in a bare room. For it is I who am guilty! And then I will feel
that I also am being punished.
"Do you hate me? Perhaps my telling you now all these things, and
that I felt toward you just as you did toward me, will not make you
happy. For it may be that you despise me.
"Anyway, I have told you the truth now. I will go as soon as I hear
from you to a lawyer, and try to find out how you may be liberated. I
am sure it can be done when the facts are known.
"Poor boy! How I do hope you have known in your heart that I was
not forgetting you. Indeed, day or night, I have thought of nothing
else. Now I am free to help you. And be sure, whatever happens, that I
am working for you. "ZOE LE BARON."
That was all. Just a girlish, constrained letter, hardly hinting at
the hot tears that had been shed for many weary nights, coyly telling
of the impatient young love and all the maidenly shame.
David permitted himself to read it only once. Then a sudden
resolution was born — a heroic one. Before he got the letter he was a
crushed and unsophisticated boy; when he had read it, and absorbed its
full significance, he became suddenly a man, capable of a great
"I return your letter," he wrote, without superscription, "and
thank you for your anxiety about me. But the truth is, I had forgotten
all about you in my trouble. You were not in the least to blame for
what happened. I might have known I would come to such an end. You
thought I was good, of course; but it is not easy to find out the life
of a young man. It is rather mortifying to have a private letter sent
here, because the warden reads them all. I hope you will enjoy yourself
this winter, and hasten to forget one who had certainly forgotten you
till reminded by your letter, which I return. "Respectfully, "DAVID
That night some deep lines came into his face which never left it,
and which made him look like a man of middle age.
He never doubted that his plan would succeed; that, piqued and
indignant at his ingratitude, she would hate him, and in a little time
forget he ever lived, or remember him only to blush with shame at her
past association with him. He saw her happy, loved, living the usual
life of women, with all those things that make life rich.
For there in the solitude an understanding of deep things came to
him. He who thought never to have a wife grew to know what the joy of
it must be. He perceived all the subtle rapture of wedded souls. He
learned what the love of children was, the pride of home, the unselfish
ambition for success that spurs men on. All the emotions passed in
procession at night before him, tricked out in palpable forms.
A burst of girlish tears would dissipate whatever lingering pity
Zoe felt for him. How often he said that! With her sensitiveness she
would be sure to hate a man who had mortified her.
So he fell to dreaming of her again as moving among happy and
luxurious scenes, exquisitely clothed, with flowers on her bosom and
jewels on her neck; and he saw men loving her, and was glad, and saw
her at last loving the best of them, and told himself in the silence of
the night that it was as he wished.
Yet always, always, from weary week to weary week, he rehearsed the
scenes. They were his theatre, his opera, his library, his lecture
hall. He rehearsed them again there on the cars. He never wearied of
them. To be sure, other thoughts had come to him at night. Much that to
most men seems complex and puzzling had grown to appear simple to him.
In a way his brain had quickened and deepened through the years of
solitude. He had thought out a great many things. He had read a few
good books and digested them, and the visions in his heart had kept him
from being bitter.
Yet, suddenly confronted with liberty, turned loose like a pastured
colt, without master or rein, he felt only confusion and dismay. He
might be expected to feel exultation. He experienced only fright. It is
precisely the same with the liberated colt.
The train pulled into a bustling station, in which the
multitudinous noises were thrown back again from the arched iron roof.
The relentless haste of all the people was inexpressibly cruel to the
man who looked from the window wondering whither he would go, and if,
among all the thousands that made up that vast and throbbing city, he
would ever find a friend. For a moment David longed even for that
unmaternal mother who had forgotten him in the hour of his distress;
but she had been dead for many years.
The train stopped. Every one got out. David forced himself to his
feet and followed. He had been driven back into the world. It would
have seemed less terrible to have been driven into a desert. He walked
toward the great iron gates, seeing the people and hearing the noises
As he entered the space beyond the grating some one caught him by
the arm. It was a little middle-aged woman in plain clothes, and with
sad gray eyes.
"Is this David?" said she.
He did not speak, but his face answered her.
"I knew you were coming to-day. I've waited all these years, David.
You didn't think I believed what you said in that letter did you? This
way, David, — this is the way home."
IT was the year of the small-pox. The Pawnees had died in their
cold tepees by the fifties, the soldiers lay dead in the trenches
without the fort, and many a gay French voyageur, who had thought to go
singing down the Missouri on his fur-laden raft in the springtime,
would never again see the lights of St. Louis, or the coin of the
mighty Choteau company.
It had been a winter of tragedies. The rigors of the weather and
the scourge of the disease had been fought with Indian charm and with
Catholic prayer. Both were equally unavailing. If a man was taken sick
at the fort they put him in a warm room, brought him a jug of water
once a day, and left him to find out what his constitution was worth.
Generally he recovered; for the surgeon's supplies had been exhausted
early in the year. But the Indians, in their torment, rushed into the
river through the ice, and returned to roll themselves in their
blankets and die in ungroaning stoicism.
Every one had grown bitter and hard. The knives of the trappers
were sharp, and not one whit sharper than their tempers. Some one said
that the friendly Pawnees were conspiring with the Sioux, who were
always treacherous, to sack the settlement. The trappers doubted this.
They and the Pawnees had been friends many years, and they had together
killed the Sioux in four famous battles on the Platte. Yet — who
knows? There was pestilence in the air, and it had somehow got into
men's souls as well as their bodies.
So, at least, Father de Smet said. He alone did not despair. He
alone tried neither charm nor curse. He dressed him an altar in the
wilderness, and he prayed at it — but not for impossible things. When
in a day's journey you come across two lodges of Indians, sixty souls
in each, lying dead and distorted from the plague in their desolate
tepees, you do not pray, if you are a man like Father de Smet. You go
on to the next lodge where the living yet are, and teach them how to
Besides, when you are young, it is much easier to act than to pray.
When the children cried for food, Father de Smet took down the rifle
from the wall and went out with it, coming back only when he could feed
the hungry. There were places where the prairie was black with buffalo,
and the shy deer showed their delicate heads among the leafless willows
of the Papillion. When they — the children — were cold, this young
man brought in baskets of buffalo chips from the prairie and built them
a fire, or he hung more skins up at the entrance to the tepees. If he
wanted to cross a river and had no boat at hand, he leaped the
uncertain ice, or, in clear current, swam, with his clothes on his head
in a bundle.
A wonderful traveller for the time was Father de Smet. Twice he had
gone as far as the land of the Flathead nation, and he could climb
mountain passes as well as any guide of the Rockies. He had built a
dozen missions, lying all the way from the Columbia to the Kaw. He had
always a jest at his tongue's end, and served it out with as much
readiness as a prayer; and he had, withal, an arm trained to do
execution. Every man on the plains understood the art of
self-preservation. Even in Cainsville, over by the council ground of
the western tribes, which was quite the most civilized place for
hundreds of miles, life was uncertain when the boats came from St.
Louis with bad whiskey in their holds. But no one dared take liberties
with the holy father. The thrust from his shoulder was straight and
sure, and his fist was hard.
Yet it was not the sinner that Father de Smet meant to crush. He
always supplemented his acts of physical prowess with that explanation.
It was the sin that he struck at from the shoulder — and may not even
an anointed one strike at sin?
Father de Smet could draw a fine line, too, between the things
which were bad in themselves, and the things which were only
extrinsically bad. For example, there were the soups of Mademoiselle
Ninon. Mam'selle herself was not above reproach, but her soups were.
Mademoiselle Ninon was the only Parisian thing in the settlement. And
she was certainly to be avoided — which was perhaps the reason that no
one avoided her. It was four years since she had seen Paris. She was
sixteen then, and she followed the fortunes of a certain adventurer who
found it advisable to sail for Montreal. Ninon had been bored back in
Paris, it being dull in the mantua-making shop of Madame Guittar. If
she had been a man she would have taken to navigation, and might have
made herself famous by sailing to some unknown part of the New World.
Being a woman, she took a lover who was going to New France, and forgot
to weep when he found an early and violent death. And there were others
at hand, and Ninon sailed around the cold blue lakes, past Sault St.
Marie, and made her way across the portages to the Mississippi, and so
down to the sacred rock of St. Louis. That was a merry place. Ninon had
fault to find neither with the wine nor the dances. They were all that
one could have desired, and there was no limit to either of them. But
still, after a time, even this grew tiresome to one of Ninon's spirit,
and she took the first opportunity to sail up the Missouri with a
certain young trapper connected with the great fur company, and so
found herself at Cainsville, with the blue bluffs rising to the east of
her, and the low white stretches of the river flats undulating down to
where the sluggish stream wound its way southward capriciously.
Ninon soon tired of her trapper. For one thing she found out that
he was a coward. She saw him run once in a buffalo fight. That was when
the Pawnee stood still with a blanket stretched wide in a gaudy square,
and caught the head of the mad animal fairly in the tough fabric; his
mustang's legs trembled under him, but he did not move, — for a
mustang is the soul of an Indian, and obeys each thought; the Indian
himself felt his heart pounding at his ribs; but once with that garment
fast over the baffled eyes of the struggling brute, the rest was only a
matter of judicious knife-thrusts. Ninon saw this. She rode past her
lover, and snatched the twisted bullion cord from his hat that she had
braided and put there, and that night she tied it on the hat of the
Pawnee who had killed the buffalo.
The Pawnees were rather proud of the episode, and as for the
Frenchmen, they did not mind. The French have always been very
adaptable in America. Ninon was universally popular.
And so were her soups.
Every man has his price. Father de Smet's was the soups of
Mademoiselle Ninon. Fancy! If you have an educated palate and are
obliged to eat the strong distillation of buffalo meat, cooked in a pot
which has been wiped out with the greasy petticoat of a squaw! When
Ninon came down from St. Louis she brought with her a great box
containing neither clothes, furniture, nor trinkets, but something much
more wonderful! It was a marvellous compounding of spices and
seasonings. The aromatic liquids she set before the enchanted men of
the settlement bore no more relation to ordinary buffalo soup than
Chateaubrand's Indian maidens did to one of the Pawnee girls, who
slouched about the settlement with noxious tresses and sullen slavish
Father de Smet would not at any time have called Ninon a scarlet
woman. But when he ate the dish of soup or tasted the hot corn-cakes
that she invariably invited him to partake of as he passed her little
house, he refrained with all the charity of a true Christian and an
accomplished epicure from even thinking her such. And he remembered the
words of the Saviour, "Let him who is without sin among you cast the
To Father de Smet's healthy nature nothing seemed more superfluous
than sin. And he was averse to thinking that any committed deeds of
which he need be ashamed. So it was his habit, especially if the day
was pleasant and his own thoughts happy, to say to himself when he saw
one of the wild young trappers leaving the cabin of Mademoiselle Ninon:
"He has been for some of the good woman's hot cakes," till he grew
quite to believe that the only attractions that the adroit Frenchwoman
possessed were of a gastronomic nature. To tell the truth, the
attractions of Mademoiselle Ninon were varied. To begin with, she was
the only thing in that wilderness to suggest home. Ninon had a genius
for home-making. Her cabin, in which she cooked, slept, ate, lived, had
become a boudoir.
The walls were hung with rare and beautiful skins; the very floor
made rich with huge bear robes, their permeating odors subdued by heavy
perfumes brought, like the spices, from St. Louis. The bed, in daytime,
was a couch of beaver-skins; the fireplace had branching antlers above
it, on which were hung some of the evidences of the fair Ninon's
coquetry, such as silken scarves, of the sort the voyageurs from the
far north wore; and necklaces made by the Indians of the Pacific coast
and brought to Ninon by — but it is not polite to inquire into these
matters. There were little moccasins also, much decorated with
porcupine-quills, one pair of which Father de Smet had brought from the
Flathead nation, and presented to Ninon that time when she nursed him
through a frightful run of fever. She would take no money for her
"Father," said she, gravely, when he offered it to her, "I am not
myself virtuous. But I have the distinction of having preserved the
only virtuous creature in the settlement for further usefulness.
Sometimes, perhaps, you will pray for Ninon."
Father de Smet never forgot those prayers.
These were wild times, mind you. No use to keep your skirts coldly
clean if you wished to be of help. These men were subduing a continent.
Their primitive qualities came out. Courage, endurance, sacrifice,
suffering without complaint, friendship to the death, indomitable
hatred, unfaltering hope, deep-seated greed, splendid gayety — it
takes these things to subdue a continent. Vice is also an incidental,
— that is to say, what one calls vice. This is because it is the
custom to measure these men as if they were governed by the laws of
civilization, where there is neither law nor civilization.
This much is certain: gentlemen cannot conquer a country. They
tried gentlemen back in Virginia, and they died, partly from lack of
intellect, but mostly from lack of energy. After the yeomen have fought
the conquering fight, it is well enough to bring in gentlemen, who are
sometimes clever lawmakers, and who look well on thrones or in
But to return to the winter of the small-pox. It was then that the
priest and Ninon grew to know each other well. They became acquainted
first in the cabin where four of the trappers lay tossing in delirium.
The horrible smell of disease weighted the air. Outside wet snow fell
continuously and the clouds seemed to rest only a few feet above the
sullen bluffs. The room was bare of comforts, and very dirty. Ninon
looked about with disgust.
"You pray," said she to the priest, "and I will clean the room."
"Not so," returned the broad-shouldered father, smilingly, "we will
both clean the room." Thus it came that they scrubbed the floor
together, and made the chimney so that it would not smoke, and washed
the blankets on the beds, and kept the wood-pile high. They also
devised ventilators, and let in fresh air without exposing the
patients. They had no medicine, but they continually rubbed the
suffering men with bear's grease.
"It's better than medicine," said Ninon, after the tenth day, as,
wan with watching, she held the cool hand of one of the recovering men
in her own. "If we had had medicines we should have killed these men."
"You are a woman of remarkable sense," said the holy father, who
was eating a dish of corn-meal and milk that Ninon had just prepared,
"and a woman also of Christian courage."
"Christian courage?" echoed Ninon; "do you think that is what you
call it? I am not afraid, no, not I; but it is not Christian courage.
You mistake in calling it that." There were tears in her eyes. The
priest saw them.
"God lead you at last into peaceful ways," said he, softly, lifting
one hand in blessing. "Your vigil is ended. Go to your home and sleep.
You know the value of the temporal life that God has given to man. In
the hours of the night, Ninon, think of the value of eternal life,
which it is also His to give."
Ninon stared at him a moment with a dawning horror in her eyes.
Then she pointed to the table.
"Whatever you do," said she, "don't forget the bear's grease." And
she went out laughing. The priest did not pause to recommend her soul
to further blessing. He obeyed her directions.
March was wearing away tediously. The river was not yet open, and
the belated boats with needed supplies were moored far down the river.
Many of the reduced settlers were dependent on the meat the Indians
brought them for sustenance. The mud made the roads almost impassable;
for the frost lay in a solid bed six inches below the surface, and all
above that was semi-liquid muck. Snow and rain alternated, and the
frightful disease did not cease its ravages.
The priest got little sleep. Now he was at the bed of a little
half-breed child, smoothing the straight black locks from the narrow
brow; now at the cot of some hulking trapper, who wept at the pain, but
died finally with a grin of bravado on his lips; now in a foul tepee,
where some grave Pawnee wrapped his mantle about him, and gazed with
prophetic and unflinching eyes into the land of the hereafter.
The little school that the priest started had been long since
abandoned. It was only the preservation of life that one thought of in
these days. And recklessness had made the men desperate. To the ravages
of disease were added horrible murders. Moral health is always low when
physical health is so.
Give a nation two winters of grippe, and it will have an epidemic
of suicide. Give it starvation and small-pox, and it will have a
contagion of murders. There are subtle laws underlying these things, —
laws which the physicians think they can explain; but they are
mistaken. The reason is not so material as it seems.
But spring was near in spite of falling snow and the dirty ice in
the river. There was not even a flushing of the willow twigs to tell
it by, nor a clearing of the leaden sky, — only the almanac. Yet all
men were looking forward to it. The trappers put in the feeble days of
convalescence, making long rafts on which to pile the skins dried over
winter, — a fine variety, worth all but their weight in gold. Money
was easily got in those days; but there are circumstances under which
money is valueless.
Father de Smet thought of this the day before Easter, as he plunged
through the mud of the winding street in his bearskin gaiters. Stout
were his legs, firm his lungs, as he turned to breathe in the west
wind; clear his sharp and humorous eyes. He was going to the little
chapel where the mission school had previously been held. Here was a
rude pulpit, and back of it a much-disfigured virgin, dressed in
turkey-red calico. Two cheap candles in their tin sticks guarded this
figure, and beneath, on the floor, was spread an otter-skin of perfect
beauty. The seats were of pine, without backs, and the wind whistled
through the chinks between the logs. Moreover, the place was dirty.
Lenten service had been out of the question. The living had neither
time nor strength to come to worship; and the dead were not given the
honor of a burial from church in these times of terror. The priest
looked about him in dismay, the place was so utterly forsaken; yet to
let Easter go by without recognition was not to his liking. He had been
the night before to every house in the settlement, bidding the people
to come to devotions on Sunday morning. He knew that not one of them
would refuse his invitation. There was no hero larger in the eyes of
these unfortunates than the simple priest who walked among them with
his unpretentious piety. The promises were given with whispered
blessings, and there were voices that broke in making them, and hands
that shook with honest gratitude. The priest, remembering these things,
and all the awful suffering of the winter, determined to make the
service symbolic, indeed, of the resurrection and the life, — the
annual resurrection and life that comes each year, a palpable miracle,
to teach the dullest that God reigns. "How are you going to trim the
altar?" cried a voice behind him.
He turned, startled, and in the doorway stood Mademoiselle Ninon,
her short skirt belted with a red silk scarf, — the token of some
trapper, — her ankles protected with fringed leggins, her head covered
with a beribboned hat of felt, such as the voyageurs wore.
"Our devotions will be the only decorations we can hang on it. But
gratitude is better than blossoms, and humanity more beautiful than
green wreaths," said the father, gently.
It was a curious thing, and one that he had often noticed himself;
he gave this woman — unworthy as she was — the best of his simple
Ninon tiptoed toward the priest with one finger coquettishly raised
to insure secrecy.
"You will never believe it," she whispered, "no one would believe
it! But the fact is, father, I have two lilies."
"Lilies," cried the priest, incredulously, "two lilies?"
"That's what I say, father — two marvelously fair lilies with
little sceptres of gold in them, and leaves as white as snow. The bulbs
were brought me last autumn by — ; that is to say, they were brought
from St. Louis. Only now have they blossomed. Heavens, how I have
watched the buds! I have said to myself every morning for a fortnight:
'Will they open in time for the good father's Easter morning service?'
Then I said: 'They will open too soon. Buds,' I have cried to them, 'do
not dare to open yet, or you will be horribly passŽe by Easter. Have
the kindness, will you, to save yourselves for a great event.' And they
did it; yes, father, you may not believe, but no later than this
morning these sensible flowers opened up their leaves boldly, quite
conscious that they were doing the right thing, and to-morrow, if you
please, they will be here. And they will perfume the whole place; yes."
She stopped suddenly, and relaxed her vivacious expression for one
"You are certainly ill," cried the priest. "Rest yourself." He
tried to push her on to one of the seats; but a sort of convulsive
rigidity came over her, very alarming to look at.
"You are worn out," her companion said gravely. "And you are
"Yes, I'm cold," confessed Ninon. "But I had to come to tell you
about the lilies. But, do you see, I never could bring myself to put
them in this room as it is now. It would be too absurd to place them
among this dirt. We must clean the place."
"The place will be cleaned. I will see to it. But as for you, go
home and care for yourself." Ninon started toward the door with an
uncertain step. Suddenly she came back.
"It is too funny," she said, "that red calico there on the Virgin.
Father, I have some laces which were my mother's, who was a good woman,
and which have never been worn by me. They are all I have to remember
France by and the days when I was — different. If I might be permitted
— " she hesitated and looked timidly at the priest.
"'She hath done what she could,'" murmured Father de Smet, softly.
"Bring your laces, Ninon." He would have added: "Thy sins be forgiven
thee." But unfortunately, at this moment, Pierre came lounging down the
street, through the mud, fresh from Fort Laramie. His rifle was slung
across his back, and a full game-bag revealed the fact that he had
amused himself on his way. His curly and wind-bleached hair blew out in
time-torn banners from the edge of his wide hat. His piercing, black
eyes were those of a man who drinks deep, fights hard, and lives always
in the open air. Wild animals have such eyes, only there is this
difference: the viciousness of an animal is natural; at least one-half
of the viciousness of man is artificial and devised.
When Ninon saw the frost-reddened face of this gallant of the
plains, she gave a little cry of delight, and the color rushed back
into her face. The trapper saw her, and gave a rude shout of welcome.
The next moment, he had swung her clear of the chapel steps; and then
the two went down the street together, Pierre pausing only long enough
to doff his hat to the priest.
"The Virgin will wear no fresh laces," said the priest, with some
bitterness; but he was mistaken. An hour later, Ninon was back, not
only with a box of laces, but also with a collection of cosmetics, with
which she proceeded to make startling the scratched and faded face of
the wooden Virgin, who wore, after the completion of Ninon's labors, a
decidedly piquant and saucy expression. The very manner in which the
laces were draped had a suggestion of Ninon's still unforgotten art as
a maker of millinery, and was really a very good presentment of Paris
fashions four years past. Pierre, meantime, amused himself by filling
up the chinks in the logs with fresh mud, — a commodity of which there
was no lack, — and others of the neighbors, incited by these
extraordinary efforts, washed the dirt from seats, floor, and windows,
and brought furs with which to make presentable the floor about the
Father de Smet worked harder than any of them. In his happy
enthusiasm he chose to think this energy on the part of the others was
prompted by piety, though well he knew it was only a refuge from the
insufferable ennui that pervaded the place. Ninon suddenly came up to
him with a white face. "I am not well," she said. Her teeth were
chattering, and her eyes had a little blue glaze over them. "I am going
home. In the morning I will send the lilies."
The priest caught her by the hand.
"Ninon," he whispered, "it is on my soul not to let you go
to-night. Something tells me that the hour of your salvation is come.
Women worse than you, Ninon, have come to lead holy lives. Pray, Ninon,
pray to the Mother of Sorrows, who knows the sufferings and sins of the
heart." He pointed to the befrilled and highly fashionable Virgin with
her rouge-stained cheeks.
Ninon shrank from him, and the same convulsive rigidity he had
noticed before, held her immovable. A moment later, she was on the
street again, and the priest, watching her down the street, saw her
enter her cabin with Pierre. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It was past midnight when the priest was awakened from his sleep by
a knock on the door. He wrapped his great buffalo-coat about him, and
answered the summons. Without in the damp darkness stood Pierre.
"Father," he cried, "Ninon has sent for you. Since she left you, she
has been very ill. I have done what I could; but now she hardly speaks,
but I make out that she wants you." Ten minutes later, they were in
Ninon's cabin. When Father de Smet looked at her he knew she was dying.
He had seen the Indians like that many times during the winter. It was
the plague, but driven in to prey upon the system by the exposure. The
Parisienne's teeth were set, but she managed to smile upon her visitor
as he threw off his coat and bent over her. He poured some whiskey for
her; but she could not get the liquid over her throat.
"Do not," she said fiercely between those set white teeth, "do not
forget the lilies." She sank back and fixed her glazing eyes on the
antlers, and kept them there watching those dangling silken scarves,
while the priest, in haste, spoke the words for the departing soul.
The next morning she lay dead among those half barbaric relics of
her coquetry, and two white lilies with hearts of gold shed perfume
from an altar in a wilderness.
Up the Gulch
"GO West?" sighed Kate. "Why, yes! I'd like to go West."
She looked at the babies, who were playing on the floor with their
father, and sighed again.
"You've got to go somewhere, you know, Kate. It might as well be
west as in any other direction. And this is such a chance! We can't
have mamma lying around on sofas without any roses in her cheeks, can
we?" He put this last to the children, who, being yet at the age when
they talked in "Early English," as their father called it, made a
clamorous but inarticulate reply.
Major Shelly, the grandfather of these very young persons, stroked
his mustache and looked indulgent.
"Show almost human intelligence, don't they?" said their father, as
he lay flat on his back and permitted the babies to climb over him.
"Ya-as," drawled the major. "They do. Don't see how you account for
Jack roared, and the lips of the babies trembled with fear.
Their mother said nothing. She was on the sofa, her hands lying
inert, her eyes fixed on her rosy babies with an expression which her
father-in-law and her husband tried hard not to notice.
It was not easy to tell why Kate was ailing. Of course, the babies
were young, but there were other reasons.
"I believe you're too happy," Jack sometimes said to her. "Try not
to be quite so happy, Kate. At least, try not to take your happiness so
seriously. Please don't adore me so; I'm only a commonplace fellow. And
the babies — they're not going to blow away."
But Kate continued to look with intense eyes at her little world,
and to draw into it with loving and generous hands all who were willing
"Kate is just like a kite," Jack explained to his father, the
major; "she can't keep afloat without just so many bobs."
Kate's "bobs" were the unfortunates she collected around her. These
absorbed her strength. She felt their misery with sympathies that were
abnormal. The very laborer in the streets felt his toil less keenly
than she, as she watched the drops gather on his brow.
"Is life worth keeping at the cost of a lot like that?" she would
ask. She felt ashamed of her own ease. She apologized for her own
serene and perfect happiness. She even felt sorry for those mothers who
had not children as radiantly beautiful as her own.
"Kate must have a change," the major had given out. He was going
West on business and insisted on taking her with him. Jack looked
doubtful. He wasn't sure how he would get along without Kate to look
after everything. Secretly, he had an idea that servants were a kind of
wild animal that had to be fed by an experienced keeper. But when the
time came, he kissed her good-by in as jocular a manner as he could
summon, and refused to see the tears that gathered in her eyes.
Until Chicago was reached, there was nothing very different from
that which Kate had been in the habit of seeing. After that, she set
herself to watch for Western characteristics. She felt that she would
know them as soon as she saw them.
"I expected to be stirred up and shocked," she explained to the
major. But somehow, the Western type did not appear. Commonplace women
with worn faces — browned and seamed, though not aged — were at the
stations, waiting for something or some one. Men with a hurried,
nervous air were everywhere. Kate looked in vain for the gayety and
heartiness which she had always associated with the West.
After they got beyond the timber country and rode hour after hour
on a tract smooth as a becalmed ocean, she gave herself up to the
feeling of immeasurable vastness which took possession of her. The sun
rolled out of the sky into oblivion with a frantic, headlong haste.
Nothing softened the aspect of its wrath. Near, red, familiar, it
seemed to visibly bowl along the heavens. In the morning it rose as
baldly as it had set. And back and forth over the awful plain blew the
winds, — blew from east to west and back again, strong as if fresh
from the chambers of their birth, full of elemental scents and of
"This is the West!" Kate cried, again and again.
The major listened to her unsmilingly. It always seemed to him a
waste of muscular energy to smile. He did not talk much. Conversation
had never appealed to him in the light of an art. He spoke when there
was a direction or a command to be given, or an inquiry to be made. The
major, if the truth must be known, was material. Things that he could
taste, touch, see, appealed to him. He had been a volunteer in the
civil war, — a volunteer with a good record, — which he never
mentioned; and, having acquitted himself decently, let the matter go
without asking reprisal or payment for what he had freely given. He
went into business and sold cereal foods.
"I believe in useful things," the major expressed himself.
"Oatmeal, wheat, — men have to have them. God intended they should.
There's Jack — my son — Jack Shelly — lawyer. What's the use of
litigation? God didn't design litigation. It doesn't do anybody any
good. It isn't justice you get. It's something entirely different, — a
verdict according to law. They say Jack's clever. But I'm mighty glad I
He didn't sell it as a speculator, however. That wasn't his way.
"I earn what I make," he often said; and he had grown rich in the
selling of his wholesome foods. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . .
Helena lies among round, brown hills. Above it is a sky of deep and
illimitable blue. In the streets are crumbs of gold, but it no longer
pays to mine for these; because, as real estate, the property is more
valuable. It is a place of fictitious values. There is excitement in
the air. Men have the faces of speculators. Every laborer is patient at
his task because he cherishes a hope that some day he will be a
millionaire. There is hospitality, and cordiality and good fellowship,
and an undeniable democracy. There is wealth and luxurious living.
There is even culture, — but it is obtruded as a sort of novelty; it
is not accepted as a matter of course.
Kate and the major were driven over two or three miles of dusty,
hard road to a distant hotel, which stands in the midst of greenness,
— in an oasis. Immediately above the green sward that surrounds it the
brown hills rise, the grass scorched by the sun.
Kate yielded herself to the almost absurd luxury of the place with
ease and complacency. She took kindly to the great verandas. She
adapted herself to the elaborate and ill-assorted meals. She bathed in
the marvellous pool, warm with the heat of eternal fires in mid-earth.
This pool was covered with a picturesque Moorish structure, and at one
end a cascade tumbled, over which the sun, coming through colored
windows, made a mimic prism in the white spray. The life was not
unendurable. The major was seldom with her, being obliged to go about
his business; and Kate amused herself by driving over the hills, by
watching the inhabitants, by wondering about the lives in the great,
pretentious, unhomelike houses with their treeless yards and their
closed shutters. The sunlight, white as the glare on Arabian sands,
penetrated everywhere. It seemed to fairly scorch the eye-balls.
"Oh, we're West, now," Kate said, exultantly. "I've seen a thousand
types. But yet — not quite the type — not the impersonation of
simplicity and daring that I was looking for."
The major didn't know quite what she was talking about. But he
acquiesced. All he cared about was to see her grow stronger; and that
she was doing every day. She was growing amazingly lovely, too, — at
least the major thought so. Every one looked at her; but that was,
perhaps, because she was such a sylph of a woman. Beside the stalwart
major, she looked like a fairy princess.
One day she suddenly realized the fact that she had had a companion
on the veranda for several mornings. Of course, there were a great
many persons — invalids, largely — sitting about, but one of them had
been obtruding himself persistently into her consciousness. It was not
that he was rude; it was only that he was thinking about her. A person
with a temperament like Kate's could not long be oblivious to a thing
like that; and she furtively observed the offender with that genius for
psychological perception which was at once her greatest danger and her
The man was dressed with a childish attempt at display. His
shirt-front was decorated with a diamond, and his cuff-buttons were of
onyx with diamond settings. His clothes were expensive and perceptibly
new, and he often changed his costumes, but with a noticeable disregard
for propriety. He was very conscious of his silk hat, and frequently
wiped it with a handkerchief on which his monogram was worked in blue.
When the 'busses brought up their loads, he was always on hand to
watch the newcomers. He took a long time at his dinners, and appeared
to order a great deal and eat very little. There were card-rooms and a
billiard-hall, not to mention a bowling-alley and a tennis-court, where
the other guests of the hotel spent much time. But this man never
visited them. He sat often with one of the late reviews in his hand,
looking as if he intended giving his attention to it at any moment. But
after he had scrupulously cut the leaves with a little carved ivory
paper-cutter, he sat staring straight before him with the book open,
but unread, in his hand.
Kate took more interest in this melancholy, middle-aged man than
she would have done if she had not been on the outlook for her Western
type, — the man who was to combine all the qualities of chivalry,
daring, bombast, and generosity, seasoned with piquant grammar, which
she firmly believed to be the real thing. But notwithstanding this
kindly and somewhat curious interest, she might never have made his
acquaintance if it had not been for a rather unpleasant adventure.
The major was "closing up a deal" and had hurried away after
breakfast, and Kate, in the luxury of convalescence, half-reclined in a
great chair on the veranda and watched the dusky blue mist twining
itself around the brown hills. She was not thinking of the babies; she
was not worrying about home; she was not longing for anything, or even
indulging in a dream. That vacuous content which engrosses the body
after long indisposition, held her imperatively. Suddenly she was
aroused from this happy condition of nothingness by the spectacle of an
enormous bull-dog approaching her with threatening teeth. She had
noticed the monster often in his kennel near the stables, and it was
well understood that he was never to be permitted his freedom. Now he
walked toward her with a solid step and an alarming deliberateness.
Kate sat still and tried to assure herself that he meant no mischief,
but by the time the great body had made itself felt on the skirt of her
gown she could restrain her fear no longer, and gave a nervous cry of
alarm. The brute answered with a growl. If he had lacked provocation
before, he considered that he had it now. He showed his teeth and
flung his detestable body upon her; and Kate felt herself growing dizzy
with fear. But just then an arm was interposed and the dog was flung
back. There was a momentary struggle. Some gentlemen came hurrying out
of the office; and as they beat the dog back to its retreat, Kate
summoned words from her parched throat to thank her benefactor.
It was the melancholy man with the new clothes. This morning he was
dressed in a suit of the lightest gray, with a white marseilles
waistcoat, over which his glittering chain shone ostentatiously. White
tennis-shoes, a white rose in his button-hole, and a white straw hat in
his hand completed a toilet over which much time had evidently been
spent. Kate noted these details as she held out her hand.
"I may have been alarmed without cause," she said; "but I was
horribly frightened. Thank you so much for coming to my rescue. And I
think, if you would add to your kindness by getting me a glass of water
When he came back, his hand was trembling a little; and as Kate
looked up to learn the cause, she saw that his face was flushed. He
was embarrassed. She decided that he was not accustomed to the society
of ladies. "Brutes like that dog ain't no place in th' world — that's
my opinion. There are some bad things we can't help havin' aroun'; but
a bull-dog ain't one of 'em."
"I quite agree with you," Kate acquiesced, as she drank the water.
"But as this is the first unpleasant experience of any kind that I have
had since I came here, I don't feel that I have any right to complain."
"You're here fur yur health?"
"Yes. And I am getting it. You're not an invalid, I imagine?"
"No — no-op. I'm here be — well, I've thought fur a long time I'd
like t' stay at this here hotel."
"Yes. I've been up th' gulch these fifteen years. Bin livin' on a
shelf of black rock. Th' sun got 'round 'bout ten. Couldn't make a
thing grow." The man was looking off toward the hills, with an
expression of deep sadness in his eyes. "Didn't never live in a place
where nothin' 'd grow, did you? I took geraniums up thar time an' time
agin. Red ones. Made me think of mother; she's in Germany. Watered 'em
mornin' an' night. Th' damned things died."
The oath slipped out with an artless unconsciousness, and there was
a little moisture in his eyes. Kate felt she ought to bring the
conversation to a close. She wondered what Jack would say if he saw her
talking with a perfect stranger who used oaths! She would have gone
into the house but for something that caught her eye. It was the hand
of the man; that hand was a bludgeon. All grace and flexibility had
gone out of it, and it had become a mere instrument of toil. It was
seamed and misshapen; yet it had been carefully manicured, and the
pointed nails looked fantastic and animal-like. A great seal-ring bore
an elaborate monogram, while the little finger displayed a collection
of diamonds and emeralds truly dazzling to behold. An impulse of
humanity and a sort of artistic curiosity, much stronger than her
discretion, urged Kate to continue her conversation.
"What were you doing up the gulch?" she said.
The man leaned back in his chair and regarded her a moment before
answering. He realized the significance of her question. He took it as
a sign that she was willing to be friendly. A look of gratitude, almost
tender, sprang into his eyes, — dull gray eyes, they were, with a
kindliness for their only recommendation.
"Makin' my pile," he replied. "I've been in these parts twenty
years. When I come here, I thought I was goin' to make a fortune right
off. I had all th' money that mother could give me, and I lost
everything I had in three months. I went up th' gulch." He paused, and
wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.
There was something in his remark and the intonation which made
Kate say softly:
"I suppose you've had a hard time of it."
"Thar you were!" he cried. "Thar was th' rock — risin', risin',
black! At th' bottom wus th' creek, howlin' day an' night! Lonesome!
Gee! No one t' talk to. Of course, th' men. Had some with me always.
They didn't talk. It's too — too quiet t' talk much. They played
cards. Curious, but I never played cards. Don't think I'd find it
amusin'. No, I worked. Came down here once in six months or three
months. Had t' come — grub-staked th' men, you know. Did you ever eat
salt pork?" He turned to Kate suddenly with this question.
"Why, yes; a few times. Did you have it?"
"Nothin' else, much. I used t' think of th' things mother cooked.
Mother understood cookin', if ever a woman did. I'll never forget th'
dinner she gave me th' day I came away. A woman ought t' cook. I hear
American women don't go in much for cookin'."
"Oh, I think that's a mistake," Kate hastened to interrupt. "All
that I know understand how to serve excellent dinners. Of course, they
may not cook them themselves, but I think they could if it were
"Hum!" He picked up a long glove that had fallen from Kate's lap
and fingered it before returning it.
"I s'pose you cook?"
"I make a specialty of salads and sorbets," smiled Kate. "I guess I
could roast meat and make bread; but circumstances have not yet
compelled me to do it. But I've a theory that an American woman can do
anything she puts her mind to."
The man laughed out loud, — a laugh quite out of proportion to the
mild good humor of the remark; but it was evident that he could no
longer conceal his delight at this companionship.
"How about raisin' flowers?" he asked. "Are you strong on that?"
"I've only to look at a plant to make it grow," Kate cried, with
enthusiasm. "When my friends are in despair over a plant, they bring it
to me, and I just pet it a little, and it brightens up. I've the most
wonderful fernery you ever saw. It's green, summer and winter. Hundreds
of people stop and look up at it, it is so green and enticing, there
above the city streets."
"What city?" "Philadelphia."
"Mother's jest that way. She has a garden of roses. And the
mignonette — "
But he broke off suddenly, and sat once more staring before him.
"But not a damned thing," he added, with poetic pensiveness, "would
grow in that gulch."
"Why did you stay there so long?" asked Kate, after a little pause
in which she managed to regain her waning courage.
"Bad luck. You never see a place with so many false leads. To-day
you'd get a streak that looked big. To-morrow you'd find it a pocket.
One night I'd go t' bed with my heart goin' like a race-horse. Next
night it would be ploddin' along like a winded burro. Don't know what
made me stick t' it. It was hot there, too! And cold! Always roastin'
ur freezin'. It'd been different if I'd had any one t' help me stand
it. But th' men were always findin' fault. They blamed me fur
everythin'. I used t' lie awake at night an' hear 'em talkin' me over.
It made me lonesome, I tell you! Thar wasn't no one! Mother used t'
write. But I never told her th' truth. She ain't a suspicion of what
I've been a-goin' through."
Kate sat and looked at him in silence. His face was seamed, though
far from old. His body was awkward, but impressed her with a sense of
"I couldn't ask no woman t' share my hard times," he resumed after
a time. "I always said when I got a woman, it was goin' t' be t' make
her happy. It wer'n't t' be t' ask her t' drudge."
There was another silence. This man out of the solitude seemed to
be elated past expression at his new companionship. He looked with
appreciation at the little pointed toes of Kate's slippers, as they
glanced from below the skirt of her dainty organdie. He noted the band
of pearls on her finger. His eyes rested long on the daisies at her
waist. The wind tossed up little curls of her warm brown hair. Her eyes
suffused with interest, her tender mouth seemed ready to lend itself to
any emotion, and withal she was so small, so compact, so exquisite. The
man wiped his forehead again, in mere exuberance. "Here's my card," he
said, very solemnly, as he drew an engraved bit of pasteboard from its
leather case. Kate bowed and took it.
"Mr. Peter Roeder," she read. "I've no card," she said. "My name is
Shelly. I'm here for my health, as I told you." She rose at this point,
and held out her hand. "I must thank you once more for your kindness,"
His eyes fastened on hers with an appeal for a less formal word.
There was something almost terrible in their silent eloquence.
"I hope we may meet again," she said.
Mr. Peter Roeder made a very low and awkward bow, and opened the
door into the corridor for her.
That evening the major announced that he was obliged to go to
Seattle. The journey was not an inviting one; Kate was well placed
where she was, and he decided to leave her.
She was well enough now to take longer drives; and she found
strange, lonely canyons, wild and beautiful, where yellow waters burst
through rocky barriers with roar and fury, — tortuous, terrible
places, such as she had never dreamed of. Coming back from one of these
drives, two days after her conversation on the piazza with Peter
Roeder, she met him riding a massive roan. He sat the animal with that
air of perfect unconsciousness which is the attribute of the Western
man, and his attire, even to his English stock, was faultless, —
"I hope you won't object to havin' me ride beside you," he said,
wheeling his horse. To tell the truth, Kate did not object. She was a
little dull, and had been conscious all the morning of that peculiar
physical depression which marks the beginning of a fit of homesickness.
"The wind gits a fine sweep," said Roeder, after having obtained
the permission he desired. "Now in the gulch we either had a dead
stagnation, or else the wind was tearin' up and down like a wild
Kate did not reply, and they went on together, facing the riotous
"You can't guess how queer it seems t' be here," he said,
confidentially. "It seems t' me as if I had come from some other
planet. Thar don't rightly seem t' be no place fur me. I tell you what
it's like. It's as if I'd come down t' enlist in th' ranks, an' found
'em full, — every man marchin' along in his place, an' no place left
Kate could not find a reply.
"I ain't a friend, — not a friend! I ain't complainin'. It ain't
th' fault of any one — but myself. You don' know what a durned fool
I've bin. Someway, up thar in th' gulch I got t' seemin' so sort of
important t' myself, and my makin' my stake seemed such a big thing,
that I thought I had only t' come down here t' Helena t' have folks
want t' know me. I didn't particular want th' money because it wus
money. But out here you work fur it, jest as you work fur other things
in other places, — jest because every one is workin' fur it, and it's
the man who gets th' most that beats. It ain't that they are any more
greedy than men anywhere else. My pile's a pretty good-sized one. An'
it's likely to be bigger; but no one else seems t' care. Th' paper
printed some pieces about it. Some of th' men came round t' see me; but
I saw their game. I said I guessed I'd look further fur my
acquaintances. I ain't spoken to a lady, — not a real lady, you know,
— t' talk with, friendly like, but you, fur — years."
His face flushed in that sudden way again. They were passing some
of those pretentious houses which rise in the midst of Helena's ragged
streets with such an extraneous air, and Kate leaned forward to look at
them. The driver, seeing her interest, drew up the horses for a moment.
"Fine, fine!" ejaculated Roeder. "But they ain't got no garden. A
house don't seem anythin' t' me without a garden. Do you know what I
think would be th' most beautiful thing in th' world? A baby in a
rose-garden! Do you know, I ain't had a baby in my hands, excep' Ned
Ramsey's little kid, once, for ten year!"
Kate's face shone with sympathy.
"How dreadful!" she cried. "I couldn't live without a baby about."
"Like babies, do you? Well, well. Boys? Like boys?"
"Not a bit better than girls," said Kate, stoutly.
"I like boys," responded Roeder, with conviction. "My mother liked
boys. She had three girls, but she liked me a damned sight the best."
Kate laughed outright.
"Why do you swear?" she said. "I never heard a man swear before, —
at least, not one with whom I was talking. That's one of your gulch
habits. You must get over it."
Roeder's blond face turned scarlet.
"You must excuse me," he pleaded. "I'll cure myself of it! Jest
give me a chance."
This was a little more personal than Kate approved of, and she
raised her parasol to conceal her annoyance. It was a brilliant little
fluff of a thing which looked as if it were made of butterflies' wings.
Roeder touched it with awe.
"You have sech beautiful things," he said. "I didn't know women
wore sech nice things. Now that dress — it's like — I don't know
what it's like." It was a simple little taffeta, with warp and woof of
azure and of cream, and gay knots of ribbon about it.
"We have the advantage of men," she said. "I often think one of the
greatest drawbacks to being a man would be the sombre clothes. I like
to wear the prettiest things that can be found."
"Lace?" queried Roeder. "Do you like lace?"
"I should say so! Did you ever see a woman who didn't?"
"Hu — um! These women I've known don't know lace, — these wives
of th' men out here. They're th' only kind I've seen this long time."
"Oh, of course, but I mean — "
"I know what you mean. My mother has a chest full of linen an'
lace. She showed it t' me th' day I left. 'Peter,' she said, 'some day
you bring a wife home with you, an' I'll give you that lace an' that
linen.' An' I'm goin' t' do it, too," he said quietly.
"I hope so," said Kate, with her eyes moist. "I hope you will, and
that your mother will be very happy." . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . .
There was a hop at the hotel that night, and it was almost a matter
of courtesy for Kate to go. Ladies were in demand, for there were not
very many of them at the hotel. Every one was expected to do his best
to make it a success; and Kate, not at all averse to a waltz or two,
dressed herself for the occasion with her habitual striving after
artistic effect. She was one of those women who make a picture of
themselves as naturally as a bird sings. She had an opal necklace which
Jack had given her because, he said, she had as many moods as an opal
had colors; and she wore this with a crŽpe gown, the tint of the green
lights in her necklace. A box of flowers came for her as she was
dressing; they were Puritan roses, and Peter Roeder's card was in the
midst of them. She was used to having flowers given her. It would have
seemed remarkable if some one had not sent her a bouquet when she was
going to a ball.
"I shall dance but twice," she said to those who sought her for a
partner. "Neither more nor less."
"Ain't you goin' t' dance with me at all?" Roeder managed to say to
her in the midst of her laughing altercation with the gentlemen.
"Dance with you!" cried Kate. "How do men learn to dance when they
are up a gulch?"
"I ken dance," he said stubbornly. He was mortified at her
"Then you may have the second waltz, " she said, in quick
contrition. "Now you other gentlemen have been dancing any number of
times these last fifteen years. But Mr. Roeder is just back from a hard
campaign, — a campaign against fate. My second waltz is his. And I
shall dance my best."
It happened to be just the right sort of speech. The women tried
good-naturedly to make Roeder's evening a pleasant one. They were
filled with compassion for a man who had not enjoyed the society of
their sex for fifteen years. They found much amusement in leading him
through the square dances, the forms of which were utterly unknown to
him. But he waltzed with a sort of serious alertness that was not so
bad as it might have been.
Kate danced well. Her slight body seemed as full of the spirit of
the waltz as a thrush's body is of song. Peter Roeder moved along with
her in a maze, only half-answering her questions, his gray eyes full of
Once they stopped for a moment, and he looked down at her, as with
flushed face she stood smiling and waving her gossamer fan, each motion
stirring the frail leaves of the roses he had sent her.
"It's cur'ous," he said softly, "but I keep thinkin' about that
"Forget it," she said. "Why do you think of a gulch when — " She
stopped with a sudden recollection that he was not used to persiflage.
But he anticipated what she was about to say.
"Why think of the gulch when you are here?" he said. "Why, because
it is only th' gulch that seems real. All this, — these pleasant,
polite people, this beautiful room, th' flowers everywhere, and you,
and me as I am, seem as if I was dreamin'. Thar ain't anything in it
all that is like what I thought it would be."
"Not as you thought it would be?"
"No. Different. I thought it would be — well, I thought th' people
would not be quite so high-toned. I hope you don't mind that word."
"Not in the least," she said. " It's a musical term. It applies
very well to people."
They took up the dance again and waltzed breathlessly till the
close. Kate was tired; the exertion had been a little more than she had
bargained for. She sat very still on the veranda under the white glare
of an electric ball, and let Roeder do the talking. Her thoughts, in
spite of the entertainment she was deriving from her present
experiences, would go back to the babies. She saw them tucked well in
bed, each in a little iron crib, with the muslin curtains shielding
their rosy faces from the light. She wondered if Jack were reading
alone in the library or was at the club, or perhaps at the summer
concert, with the swell of the violins in his ears. Jack did so love
music. As she thought how delicate his perceptions were, how he
responded to everything most subtle in nature and in art, of how life
itself was a fine art with him, and joy a thing to be cultivated, she
turned with a sense of deep compassion to the simple man by her side.
His rough face looked a little more unattractive than usual. His
evening clothes were almost grotesque. His face wore a look of
solitude, of hunger.
"What were you saying?" she said, dreamily. "I beg your pardon."
"I was sayin' how I used t' dream of sittin' on the steps of a
hotel like this, and not havin' a thing t' do. When I used t' come down
here out of the gulch, and see men who had had good dinners, an' good
baths, sittin' around smokin', with money t' go over there t' th'
bookstan' an' get anythin' they'd want, it used t' seem t' me about all
a single man could wish fur."
"Well, you've got it all now."
"But I didn't any of th' time suppose that would satisfy a man
long. Only I was so darned tired I couldn't help wantin' t' rest. But
I'm not so selfish ur s' narrow as to be satisfied with that. No, I'm
not goin' t' spend m' pile that way — quite!"
He laughed out loud, and then sat in silence watching Kate as she
lay back wearily in her chair.
"I've got t' have that there garden," he said, laughingly. "Got t'
get them roses. An' I'll have a big bath-house, — plenty of springs in
this country. You ken have a bath here that won't freeze summer nor
winter. An' a baby! I've got t' have a baby. He'll go with th' roses
an' th' bath." He laughed again heartily.
"It's a queer joke, isn't it?" Roeder asked. "Talkin' about my
baby, an' I haven't even a wife." His face flushed and he turned his
"Have I shown you the pictures of my babies?" Kate inquired. "You'd
like my boy, I know. And my girl is just like me, — in miniature."
There was a silence. She looked up after a moment. Roeder appeared
to be examining the monogram on his ring as if he had never seen it
before. "I didn't understand that you were married," he said gently.
"Didn't you? I don't think you ever called me by any name at all,
or I should have noticed your mistake and set you right. Yes, I'm
married. I came out here to get strong for the babies."
"Got a boy an' a girl, eh?"
"How old's th' boy?"
"An' th' girl?"
"She'll soon be four."
"An' yer husband — he's livin'?"
"I should say so! I'm a very happy woman, Mr. Roeder. If only I
"Yer lookin' much better," he said, gravely, "than when you come.
You'll be all right."
The moon began to come up scarlet beyond the eastern hills. The two
watched it in silence. Kate had a feeling of guilt, as if she had been
hurting some helpless thing.
"I was in hopes," he said, suddenly, in a voice that seemed abrupt
and shrill, "thet you'd see fit t' stay here."
"Here in Helena? Oh, no!"
"I was thinkin' I'd offer you that two hundred thousand dollars, if
"Mr. Roeder! You don't mean — surely — "
"Why, yes. Why not?" He spoke rather doggedly. "I'll never see no
other woman like you. You're different from others. How good you've
been t' me!"
"Good! I'm afraid I've been very bad — at least, very stupid."
"I say, now — your husband's good t' you, ain't he?"
"He is the kindest man that ever lived."
"Oh, well, I didn't know."
A rather awkward pause followed which was broken by Roeder.
"I don't see jest what I'm goin' t' do with that thar two hundred
thousand dollars," he said, mournfully.
"Do with it? Why, live with it! Send some to your mother."
"Oh, I've done that. Five thousand dollars. It don't seem much
here; but it'll seem a lot t' her. I'd send her more, only it would've
"Then there is your house, — the house with the bath-room. But I
suppose you'll have other rooms?"
Peter laughed a little in spite of himself.
"I guess I won't have a house," he said. "An' I couldn't make a
"Hire a man to help you." Kate was trembling, but she kept talking
gayly. She was praying that nothing very serious would happen. There
was an undercurrent of sombreness in the man's manner that frightened
"I guess I'll jest have t' keep on dreamin' of that boy playin'
with th' roses."
"No, no," cried Kate; "he will come true some day! I know he'll
Peter got up and stood by her chair.
"You don't know nothin' about it," he said. "You don't know, an'
you can't know what it's bin t' me t' talk with you. Here I come out of
a place where there ain't no sound but the water and the pines. Years
come an' go. Still no sound. Only thinkin', thinkin', thinkin'! Missin'
all th' things men care fur! Dreamin' of a time when I sh'd strike th'
pile. Then I seed home, wife, a boy, flowers, everythin'. You're so
beautiful, an' you're so good. You've a way of pickin' a man's heart
right out of him. First time I set my eyes on you I thought you were
th' nicest thing I ever see! And how little you are! That hand of
yours, — look at it, — it's like a leaf! An' how easy you smile. Up
th' gulch we didn't smile; we laughed, but gen'ly because some one got
in a fix. Then your voice! Ah, I've thought fur years that some day I
might hear a voice like that! Don't you go! Sit still! I'm not blamin'
you fur anythin'; but I may never, 's long's I live, find any one who
will understand things th' way you understand 'em. Here! I tell you
about that gulch an' you see that gulch. You know how th' rain sounded
thar, an' how th' shack looked, an' th' life I led, an' all th'
thoughts I had, an' th' long nights, an' th' times when — but never
mind. I know you know it all. I saw it in yer eyes. I tell you of
mother, an' you see 'er. You know 'er old German face, an' 'er proud
ways, an' her pride in me, an' how she would think I wuz awfully rich.
An' you see how she would give out them linens, all marked fur my wife,
an' how I would sit an' watch her doin' it, an' — you see everything.
I know you do. I could feel you doin' it. Then I say to myself: 'Here
is th' one woman in th' world made fur me. Whatever I have, she shall
have. I'll spend my life waitin' on her. She'll tell me all th' things
I ought t' know, an' hev missed knowin'; she'll read t' me; she'll be
patient when she finds how dull I've grown. And thar'll be th' boy —
He seized her hand and wrung it, and was gone. Kate saw him no more
The next morning the major returned. Kate threw her arms around his
neck and wept.
"I want the babies," she explained when the major showed his
consternation. "Don't mind my crying. You ought to be used to seeing me
cry by this time. I must get home, that's all. I must see Jack."
So that night they started. At the door of the carriage stood
Peter Roeder, waiting.
"I'm going t' ride down with you," he said. The major looked
Kate got in and the major followed.
"Come," she said to Roeder. He sat opposite and looked at her as if
he would fasten her image on his mind.
"You remember," he said after a time, "that I told you I used t'
dream of sittin' on the veranda of th' hotel and havin' nothin' t' do?"
"Well, I don't think I care fur it. I've had a month of it. I'm
goin' back up th' gulch."
"No!" cried Kate, instinctively reaching out her hands toward him.
"Why not? I guess you don't know me. I knew that somewhere I'd find
a friend. I found that friend; an' now I'm alone again. It's pretty
quiet up thar in the gulch; but I'll try it."
"No, no. Go to Europe; go to see your mother."
"I thought about that a good deal, a while ago. But I don't seem
t' have no heart fur it now. I feel as if I'd be safer in th' gulch."
"The world looks pretty big. It's safe and close in th' gulch."
At the station the major went to look after the trunks, and Roeder
put Kate in her seat.
"I wanted t' give you something " he said, seating himself beside
her, "but I didn't dare."
"Oh, my dear friend," she cried, laying her little gloved hand on
his red and knotted one, "don't go back into the shadow. Do not return
to that terrible silence. Wait. Have patience. Fate has brought you
wealth. It will bring you love."
"I've somethin' to ask," he said, paying no attention to her
appeal. "You must answer it. If we 'a' met long ago, an' you hadn't a
husband or — anythin' — do you think you'd've loved me then?"
She felt herself turning white.
"No," she said softly. "I could never have loved you, my dear
friend. We are not the same. Believe me, there is a woman somewhere
who will love you; but I am not that woman — nor could I have ever
The train was starting. The major came bustling in.
"Well, good-by," said Roeder, holding out his hand to Kate.
"Good-by," she cried. "Don't go back up the gulch."
"Oh," he said, reassuringly, "don't you worry about me, my — don't
worry. The gulch is a nice, quiet place. An' you know what I told you
about th' ranks all bein' full. Good-by." The train was well under way.
He sprang off, and stood on the platform waving his handkerchief.
"Well, Kate," said the major, seating himself down comfortably and
adjusting his travelling cap, "did you find the Western type?"
"I don't quite know," said she, slowly. "But I have made the
discovery that a human soul is much the same wherever you meet it."
"Dear me! You haven't been meeting a soul, have you?" the major
said, facetiously, unbuckling his travelling-bag. "I'll tell Jack."
"No, I'll tell Jack. And he'll feel quite as badly as I do to think
that I could do nothing for its proper adjustment."
The major's face took on a look of comprehension.
"Was that the soul," he asked, "that just came down in the carriage
"That was it," assented Kate. "It was born; it has had its mortal
day; and it has gone back up the gulch."
A Michigan Man
A PINE forest is nature's expression of solemnity and solitude.
Sunlight, rivers, cascades, people, music, laughter, or dancing could
not make it gay. With its unceasing reverberations and its eternal
shadows, it is as awful and as holy as a cathedral.
Thirty good fellows working together by day and drinking together
by night can keep up but a moody imitation of jollity. Spend
twenty-five of your forty years, as Luther Dallas did, in this
perennial gloom, and your soul — that which enjoys, aspires, competes
— will be drugged as deep as if you had quaffed the cup of oblivion.
Luther Dallas was counted one of the most experienced axe-men in the
northern camps. He could fell a tree with the swift surety of an
executioner, and in revenge for his many arboral murders the woodland
had taken captive his mind, captured and chained it as Prospero did
Ariel. The resounding footsteps of Progress driven on so mercilessly in
this mad age could not reach his fastness. It did not concern him that
men were thinking, investigating, inventing. His senses responded only
to the sonorous music of the woods; a steadfast wind ringing metallic
melody from the pine-tops contented him as the sound of the sea does
the sailor; and dear as the odors of the ocean to the mariner were the
resinous scents of the forest to him. Like a sailor, too, he had his
superstitions. He had a presentiment that he was to die by one of these
trees, — that some day, in chopping, the tree would fall upon and
crush him as it did his father the day they brought him back to the
camp on a litter of pine boughs.
One day the gang-boss noticed a tree that Dallas had left standing
in a most unwood-manlike manner in the section which was allotted to
"What in thunder is that standing there for?" he asked. Dallas
raised his eyes to the pine, towering in stern dignity a hundred feet
"Well," he said feebly, "I noticed it, but kind-a left it t' the
"Cut it down to-morrow," was the response.
The wind was rising, and the tree muttered savagely. Luther thought
it sounded like a menace, and turned pale. No trouble has yet been
found that will keep a man awake in the keen air of the pineries after
he has been swinging his axe all day, but the sleep of the chopper was
so broken with disturbing dreams that night that the beads gathered on
his brow, and twice he cried aloud. He ate his coarse flap-jacks in the
morning and escaped from the smoky shanty as soon as he could.
"It'll bring bad luck, I'm afraid," he muttered as he went to get
his axe from the rack. He was as fond of his axe as a soldier of his
musket, but to-day he shouldered it with reluctance. He felt like a man
with his destiny before him. The tree stood like a sentinel. He raised
his axe, once, twice, a dozen times, but could not bring himself to
make a cut in the bark. He walked backwards a few steps and looked up.
The funereal green seemed to grow darker and darker till it became
black. It was the embodiment of sorrow. Was it not shaking giant arms
at him? Did it not cry out in angry challenge? Luther did not try to
laugh at his fears; he had never seen any humor in life. A gust of wind
had someway crept through the dense barricade of foliage that flanked
the clearing, and struck him with an icy chill. He looked at the sky;
the day was advancing rapidly. He went at his work with an energy as
determined as despair. The axe in his practised hand made clean
straight cuts in the trunk, now on this side, now on that. His task was
not an easy one, but he finished it with wonderful expedition. After
the chopping was finished, the tree stood firm a moment; then, as the
tensely-strained fibres began a weird moaning, he sprang aside, and
stood waiting. In the distance he saw two men hewing a log. The axe-man
sent them a shout and threw up his arms for them to look. The tree
stood out clear and beautiful against the gray sky; the men ceased
their work and watched it. The vibrations became more violent, and the
sounds they produced grew louder and louder till they reached a shrill
wild cry. There came a pause, then a deep shuddering groan. The topmost
branches began to move slowly, the whole stately bulk swayed, and then
shot towards the ground. The gigantic trunk bounded from the stump,
recoiled like a cannon, crashed down, and lay conquered, with a roar as
of an earthquake, in a cloud of flying twigs and chips.
When the dust had cleared away, the men at the log on the outside
of the clearing could not see Luther. They ran to the spot, and found
him lying on the ground with his chest crushed in. His fearful eyes had
not rightly calculated the distance from the stump to the top of the
pine, nor rightly weighed the power of the massed branches, and so,
standing spell-bound, watching the descending trunk as one might watch
his Nemesis, the rebound came and left him lying worse than dead.
Three months later, when the logs, lopped of their branches, drifted
down the streams, the woodman, a human log lopped of his strength,
drifted to a great city. A change, the doctor said, might prolong his
life. The lumbermen made up a purse, and he started out, not very
definitely knowing his destination. He had a sister, much younger than
himself, who at the age of sixteen had married and gone, he believed,
to Chicago. That was years ago, but he had an idea that he might find
her. He was not troubled by his lack of resources; he did not believe
that any man would want for a meal unless he were "shiftless." He had
always been able to turn his hand to something.
He felt too ill from the jostling of the cars to notice much of
anything on the journey. The dizzy scenes whirling past made him faint,
and he was glad to lie with closed eyes. He imagined that his little
sister in her pink calico frock and bare feet (as he remembered her)
would be at the station to meet him. "Oh, Lu!" she would call from some
hiding-place, and he would go and find her. The conductor stopped by
Luther's seat and said that they were in the city at last; but it
seemed to the sick man as if they went miles after that, with a
multitude of twinkling lights on one side and a blank darkness, that
they told him was the lake, on the other. The conductor again stopped
by his seat.
"Well, my man," said he, "how are you feeling?"
Luther, the possessor of the toughest muscles in the gang, felt a
sick man's irritation at the tone of pity.
"Oh, I'm all right!" he said, gruffly, and shook off the assistance
the conductor tried to offer with his overcoat. "I'm going to my
sister's," he explained, in answer to the inquiry as to where he was
going. The man, somewhat piqued at the spirit in which his overtures
were met, left him, and Luther stepped on to the platform. There was a
long vista of semi-light, down which crowds of people walked and
baggage-men rushed. The building, if it deserved the name, seemed a
ruin, and through the arched doors Luther could see men — hackmen —
dancing and howling like dervishes. Trains were coming and going, and
the whistles and bells kept up a ceaseless clangor. Luther, with his
small satchel and uncouth dress, slouched by the crowd unnoticed, and
reached the street. He walked amid such an illumination as he had never
dreamed of, and paused half blinded in the glare of a broad sheet of
electric light that filled a pillared entrance into which many people
passed. He looked about him. Above on every side rose great,
many-windowed buildings; on the street the cars and carriages thronged,
and jostling crowds dashed headlong among the vehicles. After a time he
turned down a street that seemed to him a pandemonium filled with
madmen. It went to his head like wine, and hardly left him the presence
of mind to sustain a quiet exterior. The wind was laden with a
penetrating moisture that chilled him as the dry icy breezes from Huron
never had done, and the pain in his lungs made him faint and dizzy. He
wondered if his red-cheeked little sister could live in one of those
vast, impregnable buildings. He thought of stopping some of those
serious-looking men and asking them if they knew her; but he could not
muster up the courage. The distressing experience that comes to almost
every one some time in life, of losing all identity in the universal
humanity, was becoming his. The tears began to roll down his wasted
face from loneliness and exhaustion. He grew hungry with longing for
the dirty but familiar cabins of the camp, and staggered along with
eyes half closed, conjuring visions of the warm interiors, the leaping
fires, the groups of laughing men seen dimly through clouds of
A delicious scent of coffee met his hungry sense and made him
really think he was taking the savory black draught from his familiar
tin cup; but the muddy streets, the blinding lights, the cruel, rushing
people, were still there. The buildings, however, now became different.
They were lower and meaner, with dirty windows. Women laughing loudly
crowded about the doors, and the establishments seemed to be equally
divided between saloon-keepers, pawnbrokers, and dealers in
second-hand clothes. Luther wondered where they all drew their support
from. Upon one sign-board he read, "Lodgings 10 cents to 50 cents. A
Square Meal for 15 cents," and, thankful for some haven, entered. Here
he spent his first night and other nights, while his purse dwindled and
his strength waned. At last he got a man in a drug-store to search the
directory for his sister's residence. They found a name he took to be
his brother-in-law's. It was two days later when he found the address,
— a great, many-storied mansion on one of the southern boulevards, —
and found also that his search had been in vain. Sore and faint, he
staggered back to his miserable shelter, only to arise feverish and ill
in the morning. He frequented the great shop doors, thronged with
brilliantly-dressed ladies, and watched to see if his little sister
might not dash up in one of those satin-lined coaches and take him
where he would be warm and safe and would sleep undisturbed by drunken,
ribald songs and loathsome surroundings. There were days when he almost
forgot his name, and, striving to remember, would lose his senses for
a moment and drift back to the harmonious solitudes of the North and
breathe the resin-scented frosty atmosphere. He grew terrified at the
blood he coughed from his lacerated lungs, and wondered bitterly why
the boys did not come to take him home.
One day, as he painfully dragged himself down a residence street,
he tried to collect his thoughts and form some plan for the future. He
had no trade, understood no handiwork; he could fell trees. He looked
at the gaunt, scrawny, transplanted specimens that met his eye, and
gave himself up to the homesickness that filled his soul. He slept that
night in the shelter of a stable, and spent his last money in the
morning for a biscuit.
He travelled many miles that afternoon looking for something to
which he might turn his hand. Once he got permission to carry a hod for
half an hour. At the end of that time he fainted. When he recovered,
the foreman paid him twenty-five cents. "For God's sake, man, go home,"
he said. Luther stared at him with a white face and went on.
There came days when he so forgot his native dignity as to beg. He
seldom received anything; he was referred to various charitable
institutions the existence of which he had never heard.
One morning, when a pall of smoke enveloped the city and the odors
of coal-gas refused to lift their nauseating poison through the heavy
air, Luther, chilled with dew and famished, awoke to a happier life.
The loneliness at his heart was gone. The feeling of hopeless
imprisonment that the miles and miles of streets had terrified him with
gave place to one of freedom and exaltation. Above him he heard the
rasping of pine boughs; his feet trod on a rebounding mat of decay; the
sky was as coldly blue as the bosom of Huron. He walked as if on ether,
singing a senseless jargon the wood-men had aroused the echoes with, —
"Hi yi halloo! The owl sees you! Look what you do! Hi yi
halloo!" Swung over his shoulder was a stick he had used to assist his
limping gait, but now transformed into the beloved axe. He would reach
the clearing soon, he thought, and strode on like a giant, while people
hurried from his path. Suddenly a smooth trunk, stripped of its bark
and bleached by weather, arose before him.
"Hi yi halloo!" High went the wasted arm — crash! — a broken
staff, a jingle of wires, a maddened, shouting man the centre of a
group of amused spectators! A few moments later, four broad-shouldered
men in blue had him in their grasp, pinioned and guarded, clattering
over the noisy streets behind two spirited horses. They drew after them
a troop of noisy, jeering boys, who danced about the wagon like a swirl
of autumn leaves. Then came a halt, and Luther was dragged up the steps
of a square brick building with a belfry on the top. They entered a
large bare room with benches ranged about the walls, and brought him
before a man at a desk.
"What is your name?" asked the man at the desk. "Hi yi halloo!"
"He's drunk, sergeant," said one of the men in blue, and the
axe-man was led into the basement. He was conscious of an involuntary
resistance, a short struggle, and a final shock of pain, — then
The chopper awoke to the realization of three stone walls and an
iron grating in front. Through this he looked out upon a stone flooring
across which was a row of similar apartments. He neither knew nor cared
where he was. The feeling of imprisonment was no greater than he had
felt on the endless, cheerless streets. He laid himself on the bench
that ran along a side wall, and, closing his eyes, listened to the
babble of the clear stream and the thunder of the "drive" on its
journey. How the logs hurried and jostled! crushing, whirling, ducking,
with the merry lads leaping about them with shouts and laughter.
Suddenly he was recalled by a voice. Some one handed a narrow tin cup
full of coffee and a thick slice of bread through the grating. Across
the way he dimly saw a man eating a similar slice of bread. Men in
other compartments were swearing and singing. He knew these now for
the voices he had heard in his dreams. He tried to force some of the
bread down his parched and swollen throat, but failed; the coffee
strangled him, and he threw himself upon the bench.
The forest again, the night-wind, the whistle of the axe through
the air. Once when he opened his eyes he found it dark. It would soon
be time to go to work. He fancied there would be hoar-frost on the
trees in the morning. How close the cabin seemed! Ha! — here came his
little sister. Her voice sounded like the wind on a spring morning. How
loud it swelled now! "Lu! Lu!" she cried.
The next morning the lock-up keeper opened the cell door. Luther
lay with his head in a pool of blood. His soul had escaped from the
thrall of the forest.
"Well, well!" said the little fat police-justice, when he was told
of it. "We ought to have a doctor around to look after such cases."
A Lady of Yesterday
"A LIGHT wind blew from the gates of the sun," the morning she
first walked down the street of the little Iowa town. Not a cloud
flecked the blue; there was a humming of happy insects; a smell of rich
and moist loam perfumed the air, and in the dusk of beeches and of oaks
stood the quiet homes. She paused now and then, looking in the gardens,
or at a group of children, then passed on, smiling in content.
Her accent was so strange, that the agent for real estate, whom she
visited, asked her, twice and once again, what it was she said.
"I want," she had repeated smilingly, "an upland meadow, where
clover will grow, and mignonette."
At the tea-tables that night, there was a mighty chattering. The
brisk village made a mystery of this lady with the slow step, the
foreign trick of speech, the long black gown, and the gentle voice. The
men, concealing their curiosity in presence of the women, gratified it
secretly, by sauntering to the tavern in the evening. There the keeper
and his wife stood ready to convey any neighborly intelligence.
"Elizabeth Astrado" was written in the register, — a name
conveying little, unaccompanied by title or by place of residence.
"She eats alone," the tavern-keeper's wife confided to their eager
ears, "and asks for no service. Oh, she's a curiosity! She's got her
story, — you'll see!"
In a town where every man knew every other man, and whether or not
he paid his taxes on time, and what his standing was in church, and all
the skeletons of his home, a stranger alien to their ways disturbed
their peace of mind.
"An upland meadow where clover and mignonette will grow," she had
said, and such an one she found, and planted thick with fine white
clover and with mignonette. Then, while the carpenters raised her cabin
at the border of the meadow, near the street, she passed among the
villagers, mingling with them gently, winning their good-will, in spite
The cabin was of unbarked maple logs, with four rooms and a rustic
portico. Then all the villagers stared in very truth. They, living in
their trim and ugly little homes, accounted houses of logs as the
misfortune of their pioneer parents. A shed for wood, a barn for the
Jersey cow, a rustic fence, tall, with a high swinging gate, completed
the domain. In the front room of the cabin was a fireplace of rude
brick. In the bedrooms, cots as bare and hard as a nun's, and in the
kitchen the domestic necessaries; that was all. The poorest
house-holder in the town would not have confessed to such scant
furnishing. Yet the richest man might well have hesitated before he
sent to France for hives and hives of bees, as she did, setting them up
along the southern border of her meadow.
Later there came strong boxes, marked with many marks of foreign
transportation lines, and the neighbor-gossips, seeing them, imagined
wealth of curious furniture; but the man who carted them told his
wife, who told her friend, who told her friend, that every box to the
last one was placed in the dry cemented cellar, and left there in the
"An' a mighty ridic'lous expense a cellar like that is, t' put
under a house of that char'cter," said the man to his wife — who
repeated it to her friend.
"But that ain't all," the carpenter's wife had said when she heard
about it all, "Hank says there is one little room, not fit for buttery
nor yet fur closit, with a window high up — well, you ken see yourself
— an' a strong door. Jus' in passin' th' other day, when he was there,
hangin' some shelves, he tried it, an' it was locked!"
"Well!" said the women who listened.
However, they were not unfriendly, these brisk gossips. Two of
them, plucking up tardy courage, did call one afternoon. Their hostess
was out among her bees, crooning to them, as it seemed, while they
lighted all about her, lit on the flower in her dark hair, buzzed
vivaciously about her snow-white linen gown, lighted on her long, dark
hands. She came in brightly when she saw her guests, and placed chairs
for them, courteously, steeped them a cup of pale and fragrant tea, and
served them with little cakes. Though her manner was so quiet and so
kind, the women were shy before her. She, turning to one and then the
other, asked questions in her quaint way.
"You have children, have you not?"
Both of them had.
"Ah," she cried, clasping those slender hands, "but you are very
fortunate! Your little ones, — what are their ages?"
They told her, she listening smilingly.
"And you nurse your little babes — you nurse them at the breast?"
The modest women blushed. They were not used to speaking with such
freedom. But they confessed they did, not liking artficial means.
"No," said the lady, looking at them with a soft light in her eyes,
"as you say, there is nothing like the good mother Nature. The little
ones God sends should lie at the breast. 'Tis not the milk alone that
they imbibe; it is the breath of life, — it is the human magnetism,
the power, — how shall I say? Happy the mother who has a little babe
They wanted to ask a question, but they dared not — wanted to ask
a hundred questions. But back of the gentleness was a hauteur, and they
"Tell me," she said, breaking her reverie, "of what your husbands
do. Are they carpenters? Do they build houses for men, like the blessed
Jesus? Or are they tillers of the soil? Do they bring fruits out of
this bountiful valley?"
They answered, with a reservation of approval. "The blessed Jesus!"
It sounded like popery.
She had gone from these brief personal matters to other things.
"How very strong you people seem," she had remarked. "Both your men
and your women are large and strong. You should be, being appointed to
subdue a continent. Men think they choose their destinies, but indeed,
good neighbors, I think not so. Men are driven by the winds of God's
will. They are as much bidden to build up this valley, this storehouse
for the nations, as coral insects are bidden to make the reefs with
their own little bodies, dying as they build. Is it not so?"
"We are the creatures of God's will, I suppose," said one of her
She had given them little confidences in return.
"I make my bread," she said, with childish pride, "pray see if you
do not think it excellent!" And she cut a flaky loaf to display its
whiteness. One guest summoned the bravado to inquire, —
"Then you are not used to doing house-work?"
"I?" she said, with a slow smile, "I have never got used to
anything, — not even living." And so she baffled them all, yet won
The weeks went by. Elizabeth Astrado attended to her bees, milked
her cow, fed her fowls, baked, washed, and cleaned, like the simple
women about her, saving that as she did it a look of ineffable content
lighted up her face, and she sang for happiness. Sometimes, amid the
ballads that she hummed, a strain slipped in of some great melody,
which she, singing unaware, as it were, corrected, shaking her finger
in self-reproval, and returning again to the ballads and the hymns. Nor
was she remiss in neighborly offices; but if any were ailing, or had a
festivity, she was at hand to assist, condole, or congratulate,
carrying always some simple gift in her hand, appropriate to the
She had her wider charities too, for all she kept close to her
home. When, one day, a story came to her of a laborer struck down with
heat in putting in a culvert on the railroad, and gossip said he could
not speak English, she hastened to him, caught dying words from his
lips, whispered a reply, and then what seemed to be a prayer, while he
held fast her hand, and sank to coma with wistful eyes upon her face.
Moreover 'twas she who buried him, raising a cross above his grave, and
she who planted rose-bushes about the mound.
"He spoke like an Italian," said the physician to her warily.
"And so he was," she had replied. "A fellow-countryman of yours,
"Are not all men our countrymen, my friend?" she said, gently.
"What are little lines drawn in the imagination of men, dividing
territory, that they should divide our sympathies? The world is my
country — and yours, I hope. Is it not so?"
Then there had also been a hapless pair of lovers, shamed before
their community, who, desperate, impoverished, and bewildered at the
war between nature and society, had been helped by her into a new part
of the world. There had been a widow with many children, who had found
baskets of cooked food and bundles of well-made clothing on her step.
And as the days passed, with these pleasant offices, the face of the
strange woman glowed with an ever-increasing content, and her dark,
delicate beauty grew.
John Hartington spent his vacation at Des Moines, having a laudable
desire to see something of the world before returning to his native
town, with his college honors fresh upon him. Swiftest of the college
runners was John Hartington, famed for his leaping too, and measuring
widest at the chest and waist of all the hearty fellows at the
university. His blond curls clustered above a brow almost as innocent
as a child's; his frank and brave blue eyes, his free step, his mellow
laugh, bespoke the perfect animal, unharmed by civilization,
unperplexed by the closing century's fallacies and passions. The
wholesome oak that spreads its roots deep in the generous soil, could
not be more a part of nature than he. Conscientious, unimaginative,
direct, sincere, industrious, he was the ideal man of his kind, and his
return to town caused a flutter among the maidens which they did not
even attempt to conceal. They told him all the chat, of course, and,
among other things, mentioned the great sensation of the year, — the
coming of the woman with her mystery, the purchase of the sunny upland,
the planting it with clover and with mignonette, the building of the
house of logs, the keeping of the bees, the barren rooms, the busy,
silent life, the charities, the never-ending wonder of it all. And then
the woman — kind, yet different from the rest, with the foreign trick
of tongue, the slow, proud walk, the delicate, slight hands, the
beautiful, beautiful smile, the air as of a creature from another
Hartington, strolling beyond the village streets, up where the
sunset died in daffodil above the upland, saw the little cot of logs,
and out before it, among blood-red poppies, the woman of whom he had
heard. Her gown of white gleamed in that eerie radiance, glorified, her
sad great eyes bent on him in magnetic scrutiny. A peace and plenitude
of power came radiating from her, and reached him where he stood,
suddenly, and for the first time in his careless life, struck dumb and
awed. She, too, seemed suddenly abashed at this great bulk of youthful
manhood, innocent and strong. She gazed on him, and he on her, both
chained with some mysterious enchantment. Yet neither spoke, and he,
turning in bewilderment at last, went back to town, while she placed
one hand on her lips to keep from calling him. And neither slept that
night, and in the morning when she went with milking pail and stool
out to the grassy field, there he stood at the bars, waiting. Again
they gazed, like creatures held in thrall by some magician, till she
held out her hand and said, —
"We must be friends, although we have not met. Perhaps we are old
friends. They say there have been worlds before this one. I have not
seen you in these habiliments of flesh and blood, and yet — we may be
John Hartington, used to the thin jests of the village girls, and
all their simple talk, rose, nevertheless, enlightened as he was with
some strange sympathy with her, to understand and answer what she said.
"I think perhaps it may be so. May I come in beside you in the
field? Give me the pail. I'll milk the cow for you."
She threw her head back and laughed like a girl from school, and he
laughed too, and they shook hands. Then she sat near him while he
milked, both keeping silence, save for the p-rring noise he made with
his lips to the patient beast. Being through, she served him with a
cupful of the fragrant milk; but he bade her drink first, then drank
himself, and then they laughed again, as if they both had found
something new and good in life.
Then she, —
"Come see how well my bees are doing." And they went. She served
him with the lucent syrup of the bees, perfumed with the mignonette, —
such honey as there never was before. He sat on the broad doorstep,
near the scarlet poppies, she on the grass, and then they talked — was
it one golden hour — or two? Ah, well, 'twas long enough for her to
learn all of his simple life, long enough for her to know that he was
victor at the races at the school, that he could play the pipe, like
any shepherd of the ancient days, and when he went he asked her if he
"Well," laughed she, "sometimes I am lonely. Come see me — in a
Yet he was there that day at twilight, and he brought his silver
pipe, and piped to her under the stars, and she sung ballads to him, —
songs of Strephon and times when the hills were young, and flocks were
fairer than they ever be these days.
"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow," and still the
intercourse, still her dark loveliness waxing, still the weaving of the
mystic spell, still happiness as primitive and as sweet as ever Eden
Then came a twilight when the sweet rain fell, and on the heavy air
the perfumes of the fields floated. The woman stood by the window of
the cot, looking out. Tall, graceful, full of that subtle power which
drew his soul; clothed in white linen, fragrant from her fields, with
breath freighted with fresh milk, with eyes of flame, she was there to
be adored. And he, being man of manliest type, forgot all that might
have checked the words, and poured his soul out at her feet. She drew
herself up like a queen, but only that she might look queenlier for his
sake, and, bending, kissed his brow, and whispered back his vows.
And they were married.
The villagers pitied Hartington.
"She's more than a match for him in years — an' in some other
ways, as like as not," they said. "Besides, she ain't much inclined to
mention anything about her past. 'Twon't bear the tellin' probably."
As for the lovers, they laughed as they went about their honest
tasks, or sat together arms encircling each at evening, now under the
stars, and now before their fire of wood. They talked together of their
farm, added a field for winter wheat, bought other cattle, and some
horses, which they rode out over the rolling prairies side by side. He
never stopped to chat about the town; she never ventured on the street
without him by her side. Truth to tell, their neighbors envied them,
marvelling how one could extract a heaven out of earth, and what such
perfect joy could mean.
Yet, for all their prosperity, not one addition did they make to
that most simple home. It stood there, with its bare necessities, made
beautiful only with their love. But when the winter was most gone, he
made a little cradle of hard wood, in which she placed pillows of down,
and over which she hung linen curtains embroidered by her hand.
In the long evenings, by the flicker of the fire, they sat
together, cheek to cheek, and looked at this little bed, singing low
"This happiness is terrible, my John," she said to him one night,
— a wondrous night, when the eastern wind had flung the tassels out on
all the budding trees of spring, and the air was throbbing with
awakening life, and balmy puffs of breeze, and odors of the earth. "And
we are growing young. Do you not think that we are very young and
He kissed her on the lips. "I know that you are beautiful," he
"Oh, we have lived at Nature's heart, you see, my love. The cattle
and the fowls, the honey and the wheat, the cot — the cradle, John,
and you and me! These things make happiness. They are nature. But then,
you cannot understand. You have never known the artificial — "
"And you, Elizabeth?"
"John, if you wish, you shall hear all I have to tell. 'Tis a
long, long, weary tale. Will you hear it now? Believe me, it will make
She grasped his arm till he shrank with pain.
"Tell what you will and when you will, Elizabeth. Perhaps, some day
— when — " he pointed to the little crib.
"As you say." And so it dropped.
There came a day when Hartington, sitting upon the portico, where
perfumes of the budding clover came to him, hated the humming of the
happy bees, hated the rustling of the trees, hated the sight of earth.
"The child is dead," the nurse had said, "as for your wife, perhaps
— " but that was all. Finally he heard the nurse's step upon the
"Come, "she said, motioning him. And he had gone, laid cheek
against that dying cheek, whispered his love once more, saw it returned
even then, in those deep eyes, and laid her back upon her pillow, dead.
He buried her among the mignonette, levelled the earth, sowed thick
the seed again. "'Tis as she wished," he said.
With his strong hands he wrenched the little crib, laid it piece by
piece upon their hearth, and scattered then the sacred ashes on the
wind. Then, with hard-coming breath, broke open the locked door of that
room which he had never entered, thinking to find there, perhaps, some
sign of that unguessable life of hers, but found there only an altar,
with votive lamps before the Blessed Virgin, and lilies faded and
fallen from their stems.
Then down into the cellar went he, to those boxes, with the foreign
marks. And then, indeed, he found a hint of that dead life. Gowns of
velvet and of silk, such as princesses might wear, wonders of lace,
yellowed with time, great cloaks of snowy fur, lustrous robes, jewels
of worth, — a vast array of brilliant trumpery. Then there were books
in many tongues, with rich old bindings and illuminated page, and in
them written the dead woman's name, — a name of many parts, with
titles of impress, and in the midst of all the name, "Elizabeth
Astrado," as she said. And that was all, or if there were more he
might have learned, following trails that fell within his way, he never
learned it, being content, and thankful that he had held her for a time
within his arms, and looked in her great soul, which, wearying of
life's sad complexities, had simplified itself, and made his love its