Infomotions, Inc.The Desert and the Sown / Foote, Mary Hallock, 1847-1938



Author: Foote, Mary Hallock, 1847-1938
Title: The Desert and the Sown
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): bogardus; moya; paul; colonel
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Title: The Desert and The Sown

Author: Mary Hallock Foote

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The Desert and The Sown




MARY HALLOCK FOOTE




CONTENTS


I.    A COUNCIL OF THE ELDERS

II.   INTRODUCING A SON-IN-LAW

III.  THE INITIAL LOVE

IV.   "A MAN THAT HAD A WELL IN HIS OWN COURT"

V.    DISINHERITED

VI.   AN APPEAL TO NATURE

VII.  MARKING TIME

VIII. A HUNTER'S DIARY

IX.   THE POWER OF WEAKNESS

X.    THE WHITE PERIL

XI.   A SEARCHING OF HEARTS

XII.  THE BLOOD-WITE

XIII. CURTAIN

XIV.  KIND INQUIRIES

XV.   A BRIDEGROOM OF SNOW

XVI.  THE NATURE OF AN OATH

XVII. THE HIDDEN TRAIL

XVIII.THE STAR IN THE EAST

XIX.  PILGRIMS AND STRANGERS

XX.   A STATION IN THE DESERT

XXI.  INJURIOUS REPORTS CONCERNING AN OLD HOUSE

XXII. THE CASE STRIKES IN

XXIII.RESTIVENESS

XXIV. INDIAN SUMMER

XXV.  THE FELL FROST

XXVI. PEACE TO THIS HOUSE




I


A COUNCIL OF THE ELDERS

It was an evening of sudden mildness following a dry October gale. The
colonel had miscalculated the temperature by one log--only one, he
declared, but that had proved a pitchy one, and the chimney bellowed with
flame. From end to end the room was alight with it, as if the stored-up
energies of a whole pine-tree had been sacrificed in the consumption of
that four-foot stick.

The young persons of the house had escaped, laughing, into the fresh night
air, but the colonel was hemmed in on every side; deserted by his
daughter, mocked by the work of his own hands, and torn between the duties
of a host and the host's helpless craving for his after-dinner cigar.

Across the hearth, filling with her silks all the visible room in his own
favorite settle corner, sat the one woman on earth it most behooved him to
be civil to,--the future mother-in-law of his only child. That Moya was a
willing, nay, a reckless hostage, did not lessen her father's awe of the
situation.

Mrs. Bogardus, according to her wont at this hour, was composedly doing
nothing. The colonel could not make his retreat under cover of her real or
feigned absorption in any of the small scattering pursuits which distract
the female mind. When she read she read--she never "looked at books." When
she sewed she sewed--presumably, but no one ever saw her do it. Her mind
was economic and practical, and she saved it whole, like many men of
force, for whatever she deemed her best paying sphere of action.

It was a silence that crackled with heat! The colonel, wrathfully
perspiring in the glow of that impenitent stick, frowned at it like an
inquisitor. Presently Mrs. Bogardus looked up, and her expression softened
as she saw the energetic despair upon his face.

"Colonel, don't you always smoke after dinner?"

"That is my bad habit, madam. I belong to the generation that
smokes--after dinner and most other times--more than is good for us."
Colonel Middleton belonged also to the generation that can carry a
sentence through to the finish in handsome style, and he did it with a
suave Virginian accent as easy as his seat in the saddle. Mrs. Bogardus
always gave him her respectful attention during his best performances,
though she was a woman of short sentences herself.

"Don't you smoke in this room sometimes?" she asked, with a barely
perceptible sniff the merest contraction of her housewifely nostrils.

"Ah--h! Those rascally curtains and cushions! You ladies--women, I should
say--Moya won't let me say ladies--you bolster us up with comforts on
purpose to betray us!"

"You can say 'ladies' to me," smiled the very handsome one before him.
"That's the generation _I_ belong to."

The colonel bowed playfully. "Well, you know, I don't detect myself, but
there's no doubt I have infected the premises."

"Open fires are good ventilators. I wish you would smoke now. If you
don't, I shall have to go away, and I'm exceedingly comfortable."

"You are exceedingly charming to say so--on top of that last stick, too!"
The colonel had Irish as well as Virginian progenitors. "Well," he sighed,
proceeding to make himself conditionally happy, "Moya will never forgive
me! We spoil each other shamefully when we're alone, but of course we try
to jack each other up when company comes. It's a great comfort to have
some one to spoil, isn't it, now? I needn't ask which it is in your
family!"

"The spoiled one?" Mrs. Bogardus smiled rather coldly. "A woman we had for
governess, when Christine was a little thing, used to say: 'That child is
the stuff that tyrants are made of!' Tyrants are made by the will of their
subjects, don't you think, generally speaking?"

"Well, you couldn't have made a tyrant of your son, Mrs. Bogardus. He's
the Universal Spoiler! He'll ruin my striker, Jephson. I shall have to
send the fellow back to the ranks. I don't know how you keep a servant
good for anything with Paul around."

"Paul thinks he doesn't like to be waited on," Paul's mother observed
shrewdly. "He says that only invalids, old people, and children have any
claim on the personal service of others."

"By George! I found him blacking his own boots!"

Mrs. Bogardus laughed.

"But I'm paying a man to do it for him. It upsets my contract with that
other fellow for Paul to do his work. We have a claim on what we pay for
in this world."

"I suppose we have. But Paul thinks that nothing can pay the price of
those artificial relations between man and man. I think that's the way he
puts it."

"Good Heavens! Has the boy read history? It's a relation that began when
the world was made, and will last while men are in it."

"I am not defending Paul's ideas, Colonel. I have a great sympathy with
tyrants myself. You must talk to him. He will amuse you."

"My word! It's a ticklish kind of amusement when _we_ get talking. Why,
the boy wants to turn the poor old world upside down--make us all stand on
our heads to give our feet a rest. Now, I respect my feet,"--the colonel
drew them in a little as the lady's eyes involuntarily took the direction
of his allusion,--"I take the best care I can of them; but I propose to
keep my head, such as it is, on top, till I go under altogether. These
young philanthropists! They assume that the Hands and the Feet of the
world, the class that serves in that capacity, have got the same nerves as
the Brain."

"There's a sort of connection," said Mrs. Bogardus carelessly. "Some of
our Heads have come from the class that you call the Hands and Feet,
haven't they?"

The colonel admitted the fact, but the fact was the exception. "Why,
that's just the matter with us now! We've got no class of legislators. I
don't wish to plume myself, but, upon my word, the two services are about
all we have left to show what selection and training can do. And we're
only just getting the army into shape, after the raw material that was
dumped into it by the civil war."

"Weren't you in the civil war yourself?"

"I was--a West Pointer, madam; and I was true to my salt and false to my
blood. But, the flag over all!--at the cost of everything I held dear on
earth." After this speech the colonel looked hotter than ever and a trifle
ashamed of himself.

Mrs. Bogardus's face wore its most unobservant expression. "I don't agree
with Paul," she said. "I wish in some ways he were more like other young
men--exercise, for instance. It's a pity for young men not to love
activity and leadership. Besides, it's the fashion. A young man might as
well be out of the world as out of the fashion. Blood is a strange thing,"
she mused.

The colonel looked at her curiously. In a woman so unfrank, her occasional
bursts of frankness were surprising and, as he thought, not altogether
complimentary. It was as if she felt herself so far removed from his
conception of her that she might say anything she pleased, sure of his
miscomprehension.

"He is not lazy intellectually," said the colonel, aiming to comfort her.

"I did not say he was lazy--only he won't do things except to what he
calls some 'purpose.' At his age amusement ought to be purpose enough. He
ought to take his pleasures seriously--this hunting-trip, for instance. I
believe, on the very least encouragement, he would give it all up!"

"You mustn't let him do that," said the colonel, warming. "All that
country above Yankee Fork, for a hundred miles, after you've gone fifty
north from Bonanza, is practically virgin forest. Wonderful flora and
fauna! It's late for the weeds and things, but if Paul wants game trophies
for your country-house, he can load a pack-train."

Mrs. Bogardus continued to be amused, in a quiet way. "He calls them
relics of barbarism! He would as soon festoon his walls with scalps, as
decorate them with the heads of beautiful animals,--nearer the Creator's
design than most men, he would say."

"He's right there! But that doesn't change the distinction between men and
animals. He is your son, madam--and he's going to be mine. But, fine boy
as he is, I call him a crank of the first water."

"You'll find him quite good to Moya," Mrs. Bogardus remarked
dispassionately. "And he's not quite twenty-four."

"Very true. Well, _I_ should send him into the woods for the sake of
getting a little sense into him, of an every-day sort. He 'll take in
sanity with every breath."

"And you don't think it's too late in the season for them to go out?"

There was no change in Mrs. Bogardus's voice, unconcerned as it was; yet
the colonel felt at once that this simple question lay at the root of all
her previous skirmishing.

"The guide will decide as to that," he said definitely. "If it is, he
won't go out with them. They have got a good man, you say?"

"They are waiting for a good man; they have waited too long, I think. He
is expected in with another party on Monday, perhaps, Paul is to meet the
Bowens at Challis, where they buy their outfit. I do believe"--she laughed
constrainedly--"that he is going up there more to head them off than for
any other reason."

"How do you mean?"

"Oh, it's very stupid of them! They seem to think an army post is part of
the public domain. They have been threatening, if Paul gives up the trip,
to come down here on a gratuitous visit."

"Why, let them come by all means! The more the merrier! We will quarter
them on the garrison at large."

"Wherever they were quartered, they would be here all the time. They are
not intimate friends of Paul's. _Mrs._ Bowen is--a very great friend. He
is her right-hand in all that Hartley House work. The boys are just
fashionable young men."

"Can't they go hunting without Paul?"

"Wheels within wheels!" Mrs. Bogardus sighed impatiently. "Hunting trips
are expensive, and--when young men are living on their fathers, it is
convenient sometimes to have a third. However, Paul goes, I half believe,
to prevent their making a descent upon us here."

"Well; I should ask them to come, or make it plain they were not
expected."

"Oh, would you?--if their mother was one of the nicest women, and your
friend? Besides, the reservation does not cover the whole valley. Banks
Bowen talks of a mine he wants to look at--I don't think it will make much
difference to the mine! This is simply to say that I wish Paul cared more
about the trip for its own sake."

"Well, frankly, I think he's better out of the way for the next fortnight.
The girls ought to go to bed early, and keep the roses in their cheeks for
the wedding. Moya's head is full of her frocks and fripperies. She is
trying to run a brace of sewing women; and all those boxes are coming from
the East to be 'inspected, and condemned' mostly. The child seems to make
a great many mistakes, doesn't she? About every other day I see a box as
big as a coffin in the hall, addressed to some dry-goods house, 'returned
by ----'"

"Moya should have sent to me for her things," said Mrs. Bogardus. "I am
the one who makes her return them. She can do much better when she is in
town herself. It doesn't matter, for the few weeks they will be away, what
she wears. I shall take her measures home with me and set the people to
work. She has never been _fitted_ in her life."

The colonel looked rather aghast. He had seldom heard Mrs. Bogardus speak
with so much animation. He wondered if really his household was so very
far behind the times.

"It's very kind of you, I'm sure, if Moya will let you. Most girls think
they can manage these matters for themselves."

"It's impossible to shop by mail," Mrs. Bogardus said decidedly. "They
always keep a certain style of things for the Western and Southern trade."

The colonel was crushed. Mrs. Bogardus rose, and he picked up her
handkerchief, breathing a little hard after the exertion. She passed out,
thanking him with a smile as he opened the door. In the hall she stopped
to choose a wrap from a collection of unconventional garments hanging on a
rack of moose horns.

"I think I shall go out," she said. "The air is quite soft to-night. Do
you know which way the children went?" By the "children," as the colonel
had noted, Mrs. Bogardus usually meant her daughter, the budding tyrant,
Christine.

"Fine woman!" he mused, alone with himself in his study. "Splendid
character head. Regular Dutch beauty. But hard--eh?--a trifle hard in the
grain. Eyes that tell you nothing. Mouth set like a stone. Never rambles
in her talk. Never speculates or exaggerates for fun. Never runs into
hyperbole--the more fool some other folks! Speaks to the point or keeps
still."




II


INTRODUCING A SON-IN-LAW

The colonel's papers failed to hold him somehow. He rose and paced the
room with his short, stiff-kneed tread. He stopped and stared into the
fire; his face began to get red.

"So! Moya's clothes are not good enough. Going to set the people to work,
is she? Wants an outfit worthy of her son. And who's to pay for it, by
gad? Post-nuptial bills for wedding finery are going to hurt poor little
Moya like the deuce. Confound the woman! Dressing my daughter for me,
right in my own house. Takes it in her hands as if it were her right, by
----!" The colonel let slip another expletive. "Well," he sighed, half
amused at his own violence, "I'll write to Annie. I promised Moya, and
it's high time I did."

Annie was the colonel's sister, the wife of an infantry captain, stationed
at Fort Sherman. She was a very understanding woman; at least she
understood her brother. But she was not solely dependent upon his laggard
letters for information concerning his private affairs. The approaching
wedding at Bisuka Barracks was the topic of most of the military families
in the Department of the Columbia. Moya herself had written some time
before, in the self-conscious manner of the newly engaged. Her aunt knew
of course that Moya and Christine Bogardus had been room-mates at Miss
Howard's, that the girls had fallen in love with each other first, and
with visits at holidays and vacations, when the army girl could not go to
her father, it was easily seen how the rest had followed. And well for
Moya that it had, was Mrs. Creve's indorsement. As a family they were
quite sufficiently represented in the army; and if one should ever get an
Eastern detail it would be very pleasant to have a young niece charmingly
settled in New York.

The colonel drew a match across the top bar of the grate and set it to his
pipe. His big nostrils whitened as he took a deep in-breath. He reseated
himself and began his duty letter in the tone of a judicious parent; but,
warming as he wrote, under the influence of Annie's imagined sympathy, he
presently broke forth with his usual arrogant colloquialism.

"She might have had her pick of the junior officers in both branches. And
there was a captain of engineers at the Presidio, a widower, but an
awfully good fellow. And she has chosen a boy, full of transcendental
moonshine, who climbs upon a horse as if it were a stone fence, and has
mixed ideas which side of himself to hang a pistol on.

"I have no particular quarrel with the lad, barring his great burly
mouthful of a name, Bo--gardus! To call a child Moya and have her fetch up
with her soft, Irish vowels against such a name as that! She had a fond
idea that it was from Beauregard. But she has had to give that up. It's
Dutch--Hudson River Dutch--for something horticultural--a tree, or an
orchard, or a brush-pile; and she says it's a good name where it belongs.
Pity it couldn't have stayed where it belongs.

"However, you won't find him quite so scrubby as he sounds. He's very
proper and clean-shaven, with a good pair of dark, Dutch eyes, which he
gets from his mother; and I wish he had got her business ability with
them, and her horse sense, if the lady will excuse me. She runs the
property and he spends it, as far as she'll let him, on the newest
reforms. And there's another hitch!--To belong to the Truly Good at
twenty-four! But beggars can't be choosers. He's going to settle something
handsome on Moya out of the portion Madame gives him on his marriage. My
poor little girl, as you know, will get nothing from me but a few old bits
and trinkets and a father's blessing,--the same doesn't go for much in
these days. I have been a better dispenser than accumulator, like others
of our name.

"I do assure you, Annie, it bores me down to the ground, this humanitarian
racket from children with ugly names who have just chipped the shell. This
one owns his surprise that we _work_ in the army! That our junior officers
teach, and study a bit perforce themselves. His own idea is that every
West Pointer, before he gets his commission, should serve a year or two in
the ranks, to raise the type of the enlisted man, and chiefly, mark you,
to get his point of view, the which he is to bear in mind when he comes to
his command. Oh, we've had some pretty arguments! But I suspect the rascal
of drawing it mild, at this stage, for the old dragon who guards his
Golden Apple. He doesn't want to poke me up. How far he'd go if he were
not hampered in his principles by the fact that he is in love, I cannot
say. And I'd rather not imagine."

The commandant's house at Bisuka Barracks is the nearest one to the
flag-pole as you go up a flight of wooden steps from the parade ground.
These steps, and their landings, flanked by the dry grass terrace of the
line, are a favorite gathering place for young persons of leisure at the
Post. They face the valley and the mountains; they lead past the
adjutant's office to the main road to town; they command the daily pageant
of garrison duty as performed at such distant, unvisited posts, with only
the ladies and the mountains looking on.

Retreat had sounded at half after five, for the autumn days grew short.
The colonel's orderly had been dismissed to his quarters. There was no
excuse, at this hour, for two young persons lingering in sentimental
corners of the steps, beyond a flagrant satisfaction in the shadow thereof
which covered them since the lighting of lamps on Officers' Row.

The colonel stood at his study window keeping his pipe alive with slow and
dreamy puffs. The moon was just clearing the roof of the men's quarters.
His eye caught a shape, or a commingling of shapes, ensconced in an angle
of the steps; the which he made out to be his daughter, in her light
evening frock with one of his own old army capes over her shoulders,
seated in close formation beside the only man at the Post who wore
civilian black.

The colonel had the feelings of a man as well as a father. He went back to
his letter with a softened look in his face. He had said too much; he
always did--to Annie; and now he must hedge a little or she would think
there was trouble brewing, and that he was going to be nasty about Moya's
choice.




III


THE INITIAL LOVE

"Let us be simple! Not every one can be, but we can. We can afford to be,
and we know how!"

Moya was speaking rapidly, in her singularly articulate tones. A reader of
voices would have pronounced hers the physical record of unbroken health
and constant, joyous poise.

"Hear the word of your prophet Emerson!" she brought a little fist down
upon her knee for emphasis, a hand several sizes larger closed upon it and
held it fast. "Hear the word--are you listening? 'Only _two_ in the Garden
walked and with Snake and Seraph talked.'"

The young man's answer was an instant's impassioned silence. Too close it
touched him, that vital image of the Garden. Then, with an effect of
sternness, he said,--

"Have we the right to do as we please? Have we the courage that comes of
right to cut ourselves off from all those calls and cries for help?"

"_I_ have," said the girl; "I have just that right--of one who knows
exactly what she wants, and is going to get it if she can!"

He laughed at her happy insolence, with which all the youth and nature in
him made common cause.

"I shouldn't mind thinking about your Poor Man," she tripped along, "if he
liked being poor, or if it seemed to improve him any; or if it were only
now and then. But there is so dreadfully much of him! Once we begin, how
should we ever think about anything else? He'd rise up and sit down with
us, and eat and drink with us, and tell us what to wear. Every pleasure of
our lives would be spoiled with his eternal 'Where do _I_ come in?' It was
simple enough in _that_ garden, with only those two and nobody outside to
feel injured. But we are those two, aren't we? Isn't everybody--once in a
life, and once only?" She turned her face aside, slighting by her manner
the excessive meaning of her words. "I ask for myself only what I think I
have a right to give you--my absolute undivided attention for those first
few years. They say it never lasts!" she hastened to add with playful
cynicism.

Young Bogardus seemed incapable under the circumstances of any adequate
reply. Free as they were in words, there was an extreme personal shyness
between these proud young persons, undeveloped on the side of passion and
better versed in theories of life than in life itself. They had separated
the day after their sudden engagement, and their nearest approaches to
intimacy had been through letters. Naturally the girl was the bolder,
having less in herself to fear.

"That is what _I_ call being simple," she went on briskly. "If you think
we can be that in New York, let us live there. _I_ could be simple there,
but not with you, sir! That terrible East Side would be shaking its gory
locks at us. We should feel that we did it--or you would! Then good-by to
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!"

"You are my life, liberty, and happiness, and I will be your almoner,"
said Paul, "and dispense you"--

"Dispense _with_ me!" laughed the girl. "And what shall I be doing while
you are dispensing me on the East Side? New York has other sides. While
you go slumming with the Seraph, I shall be talking to the Snake! Now,
_do_ laugh!" she entreated childishly, turning her sparkling face to his.

"Am I expected to laugh at that?"

"Well, what shall we do? Don't make me harden my heart before it has had
time to soften naturally. Give my poor pagan sympathies a little time to
ripen."

"But you have lived in New York. Did you find it such a strain on your
sympathies?"

"I was a visitor; and a girl is not expected to have sympathies. But to
begin our home there: we should have to strike a note of some sort. How if
my note should jar with yours? Paul, dear, it isn't nice to have
convictions when one is young and going to be married. You know it isn't.
It's not poetic, and it's not polite, and it's a dreadful bore!"

The altruist and lover winced at this. Allowing for exaggeration, which
was the life of speech with her, he knew that Moya was giving him a bit of
her true self, that changeful, changeless self which goes behind all law
and "follows joy and only joy." Her voice dropped into its sweetest tones
of intimacy.

"Why need we live in a crowd? Why must we be pressed upon with all this
fuss and doing? Doing, doing! We are not ready to do anything yet. Every
day must have its dawn;--and I don't see my way yet; I'm hardly awake!"

"Darling, hush! You must not say such things to me. For you only to look
at me like that is the most terrible temptation of my life. You make me
forget everything a man is bound--that I of all men am bound to remember."

"Then I will keep on looking! Behold, I am Happiness, Selfishness, if you
like! I have come to stay. No, really, it's not nice of you to act as if
you were under higher orders. You are under my orders. What right have we
to choose each other if we are not to be better to each other than to any
one else?--if our lives belong to any one who needs us, or our time and
money, more than we need it ourselves? Why did you choose me? Why not
somebody pathetic--one of your Poor Things; or else save yourself whole
for all the Poor Things?"

"Now you are 'talking for victory,'" he smiled. "You don't believe we must
be as consistent as all that. Hearts don't have to be coddled like pears
picked for market. But I'm not preaching to you. The heavens forbid! I'm
trying to explain. You don't think this whole thing with me is a pose? I
know I'm a bore with my convictions; but how do we come by such things?"

"Ah! How do I come not to have any, or to want any?" she rejoined.

"Once for all, let me tell you how I came by mine. Then you will know just
where and how those cries for help take hold on me."

"I don't wish to know. Preserve me from knowing! Why didn't you choose
somebody different?"

He looked at her with all his passion in his eyes. "I did not choose. Did
you?"

"It isn't too late," she whispered. Her face grew hot in the darkness.

"Yes; it is too late--for anything but the truth. Will you listen, sweet?
Will you let the nonsense wait?"

"Deeper and deeper! Haven't we reached the bottom yet?"

"Go on! It's the dearest nonsense," she heard him say; but she detected
pain in his voice and a new constraint.

"What is it? What is the 'truth'?"

"Oh, it's not so dreadful. Only, you always put me in quite a different
class from where I belong, and I haven't had the courage to set you
right."

"Children, children!" a young voice called, from the lighted walk above.
Two figures were going down the line, one in uniform keeping step beside a
girl in white who reefed back her skirts with one hand, the other was
raised to her hair which was blowing across her forehead in bewitching
disorder. Every gesture and turn of her shape announced that she was
pretty and gay in the knowledge of her power. It was Chrissy, walking with
Lieutenant Lane.

"Where are you--ridiculous ones? Don't you want to come with us?"

"'Now who were they?'" Paul quoted derisively out of the dark.

"We are going to Captain Dawson's to play Hearts. Come! Don't be stupid!"

"We are not stupid, we are busy!" Moya called back.

"Busy! Doing what?"

"Oh, deciding things. We are talking about the Poor Man."

"The poor men, she means." Christine's high laugh followed the
lieutenant's speech, as the pair went on.

"He _is_ a bore!" Moya declared. "We can't even use him for a joke."

"Speaking of Lane, dear?"

"The Poor Man. Are you sure that you've got a sense of humor, Paul? Can't
we have charity for jokes among the other poor things?"

Paul had raised himself to the step beside her. "You are shivering," he
said, "I must let you go in."

"I'm not shivering--I'm chattering," she mocked. "Why should I go in when
we are going to be really serious?"

Paul waited a moment; his breath came short, as if he were facing a
postponed dread. "Moya, dear," he began in a forced tone, "I can't help my
constraints and convictions that bore you so, any more than you can help
your light heart--God bless it--and your theory of class which to me seems
mediaeval. I have cringed to it, like the coward a man is when he is in
love. But now I want you to know me."

He took her hand and kissed it repeatedly, as if impressing upon her the
one important fact back of all hypothesis and perilous efforts at
statement.

"Well, are you bidding me good-by?"

"You must give me time," he said. "It takes courage in these days for a
good American to tell the girl he loves that his father was a hired man."

He smiled, but there was little mirth and less color in his face.

"What absurdity!" cried Moya. Then glancing at him she added quickly,
"_My_ father is a hired man. Most fathers who are worth anything are!"

"My father was because he came of that class. His father was one before
him. His mother took in tailoring in the village where he was born. He had
only the commonest common-school education and not much of that. At eleven
he worked for his board and clothes at my Grandfather Van Elten's, and
from that time he earned his bread with his hands. Don't imagine that I'm
apologizing," Paul went on rapidly. "The apology belongs on the other
side. In New York, for instance, the Bogardus blood is quite as good as
the Bevier or the Broderick or the Van Elten; but up the Hudson, owing to
those chances or mischances that selected our farming aristocracy for us,
my father's people had slipped out of their holdings and sunk to the poor
artisan class which the old Dutch landowners held in contempt."

"We are not landowners," said Moya. "What does it matter? What does any of
it matter?"

"It matters to be honest and not sail under false colors. I thought you
would not speak of the Poor Man as you do if you knew that I am his son."

"Money has nothing to do with position in the army. I am a poor man's
daughter."

"Ah, child! Your father gives orders--mine took them, all his life."

"My father has to take what he gives. There is no escaping 'orders.' Even
I know that!" said Moya. A slight shiver passed over her as she spoke,
laughing off as usual the touch of seriousness in her words.

"Why did you do that?" Paul touched her shoulder. "Is it the wind? There
is a wind creeping down these steps." He improved the formation slightly
in respect to the wind.

"Listen!" said Moya. "Isn't that your mother walking on the porch? Father,
I know, is writing. She will be lonely."

"She is never lonely, more or less. It is always the same loneliness--of a
woman widowed for years."

"How very much she must have cared for him!" Moya sighed incredulously.
What a pity, she thought, that among the humbler vocations Paul's father
should have been just a plain "hired man." Cowboy, miner, man-o'-war's
man, even enlisted man, though that were bad enough--any of these he might
have been in an accidental way, that at least would have been picturesque;
but it is only the possession of land, by whatsoever means or title, that
can dignify an habitual personal contact with it in the form of soil. That
is one of the accepted prejudices which one does not meddle with at
nineteen. "Youth is conservative because it is afraid." Moya, for all her
fighting blood, was traditionally and in social ways much more in bonds
than Paul, who had inherited his father's dreamy speculative habit of
thought, with something of the farm-hand's distrust of society and its
forms and shibboleth.

Paul's voice took a narrative tone, and Moya gave herself up to
listening--to him rather more, perhaps, than to his story.

Few young men of twenty-four can go very deeply into questions of
heredity. Of what follows here much was not known to Paul. Much that he
did know he would have interpreted differently. The old well at Stone
Ridge, for instance, had no place in his recital; and yet out of it sprang
the history of his shorn generation. Had Paul's mother grown up in a
houseful of brothers and sisters, governed by her mother instead of an old
ignorant servant, in all likelihood she would have married
differently--more wisely but not perhaps so well, her son would loyally
have maintained. The sons of the rich farmers who would have been her
suitors were men inferior to their fathers. They inherited the vigor and
coarseness of constitution, the unabashed materialism of that earlier
generation that spent its energies coping with Nature on its stony farms,
but the sons were spared the need of that hard labor which their blood
required. They supplied an element of force, but one of great corruption
later, in the state politics of their time.




IV


A MAN THAT HAD A WELL IN HIS OWN COURT

In the kitchen court called the "Airy" at Abraham Van Elten's, there was
one of those old family wells which our ancestors used to locate so
artlessly. And when it tapped the kitchen drain, and typhoid took the
elder children, and the mother followed the children, it was called the
will of God. A gloomy distinction rested on the house. Abraham felt the
importance attaching to any supreme experience in a community where life
runs on in the middle key.

A young doctor who had been called in at the close of the last case went
prying about the premises, asking foolish questions that angered Abraham.
It is easier for some natures to suffer than to change. If the farmer had
ever drunk water himself, except as tea or coffee, or mixed with something
stronger, he must have been an early victim, to his own crass ignorance.
He was a vigorous, heavy-set man, a grand field for typhoid. But he
prospered, and the young doctor was turned down with the full weight and
breadth of the Van Elten thumb, or the Broderick; Abraham's build was that
of his maternal grandmother, Hillotje Broderick.

On the Ridge, which later developed into a valuable slate quarry, there
was a spring of water, cold and perpetual, flowing out of the
trap-formation. Abraham had piped this water down to his barns and
cattle-sheds; it furnished power for the farm-work. But to bring it to the
house, in obedience to the doctor's meddlesome advice, would be an
acknowledgment of fatal mistakes in the past; would raise talk and blame
among the neighbors, and do away with the honor of a special visitation;
would cost no trifle of money; would justify the doctor's interference,
and insult the old well of his father and his father's father, the
fountain of generations. To seal its mouth and bid its usefulness cease in
the house where it had ministered for upwards of a hundred years was an
act of desecration impossible to the man who in his stolid way loved the
very stones that lined its slimy sides. The few sentiments that had taken
hold on Abraham's arid nature went as deep as his obstinacy and clung as
fast as his distrust of new opinions and new men. The question of water
supply was closed in his house; but the well remained open and kept up its
illicit connection with the drain.

Old Becky, keeper of the widower's keys, had followed closely the history
of those unhappy "cases;" she had listened to discussions, violent or
suppressed, she had heard much talk that went on behind her master's back.

Employers of that day and generation were masters; and masters are meant
to be outwitted. Emily, the youngest and last of the flock, was now a
child of four, dark like her mother, sturdy and strong like her father. On
an August day soon after the mother's funeral, Becky took her little
charge to the well and showed her a tumbler filled, with water not freshly
drawn.

"See them little specks and squirmy things?" Emmy saw them. She followed
their wavering motion in the glass as the stern forefinger pointed. "Those
are little baby snakes," said Becky mysteriously. "The well is full of
'em. Sometimes you can see 'em, sometimes you can't, but they're always
there. They never grow big down the well; it's too dark 'n' cold. But you
drink that water and the snakes will grow and wriggle and work all through
ye, and eat your insides out, and you'll die. Your mother"--in a
whisper--"she drunk that water, and she died. Your sister Ruth, and Dirck,
and Jimmy, they drunk it, and they died. Now if Emmy wants to die"--Large
eyes of horror fastened on the speaker's face. "No--o, she don't want to
die, the Loveums! She don't want Becky to have no little girl left at all!
No; we mustn't ever drink any of that bad water--all full of snakes, ugh!
But if Emmy's thirsty, see here! Here's good nice water. It's going to be
always here in this pail--same water the little lambs drink up in the
fields. Becky 'll take Emmy up on the hill sometime and show where the
little lambs drink."

Grief had not clouded the farmer's oversight in petty things. He noticed
the innocent pail on the area bench, never empty, always specklessly
clean.

"What is this water?" he asked.

Becky was surly. "Drinking water. Want some?"

"What's it doing here all the time?"

"I set it there for Emmy. She can't reach up to the bucket."

Abraham tasted the water suspiciously. The well-water was hard, with a
tang of iron. The spring soft, and less cold for its journey to the barn.

"Where did you get this water?"

"Help yourself. There's plenty more."

"Becky, where did this water come from? Out o' the well?"

Becky gave a snort of exasperation. "Sam Lewis brought it from the barn!
I'm too lame to be histin' buckets. I've got the rheumatiz' awful in my
back and shoulders, if ye want to know!"

"Becky, you're lying to me. You've been listening to what don't concern
you. Now, see here. You are not going to ask the men to carry water for
you. They've got something else to do. _There's_ your water, as handy as
ever a woman had it; use that or go without."

Abraham caught up the pail and flung its contents out upon the grass,
scattering the hens that came sidling back with squawks of inquiring
temerity.

When next Emmy came for water, the old woman took her by the hand in
silence and led her into the dim meat-cellar, a half-basement with one low
window level with the grass. There was the pail, safe hidden behind the
soft-soap barrel.

"I had to hide it from your pa," Becky whispered. "Don't you never let him
know you're afraid o' the well-water. He drunk it when he was a little
boy. He don't believe in the snakes. But _there wa'n't none then_. It's
when water gets old and rotten. You can believe what Becky says. _She_
knows! But you mustn't ever tell. Your father 'd be as mad as fire if he
knowed I said anything about snakes. He'd send me right away, and some
strange woman would come, and maybe she'd whip Emmy. Emmy want Becky to
go?" Sobs, and little arms clinging wildly to Becky's aproned skirts. "No,
no! Well, she ain't goin'. But Emmy mustn't tell tales or she might have
to. Tattlers are wicked anyway. 'Telltale tit! Your tongue shall be slit,
and all the little dogs'--There! run now! There's your poppy. Don't you
never,--never!"

Emmy let her eyes be wiped, and with one long, solemn, secret look of awed
intelligence she ran out to meet her father. She did not love him, and the
smile with which she met him was no new lesson in diplomacy. But her first
secret from him lay deep in the beautiful eyes, her mother's eyes, as she
raised them to his.

"Ain't that wonderful!" said Becky, with a satisfied sigh, watching her.
"Safe as a jug! An' she not five years old!" For vital reasons she had
taught the child an ugly lesson. Such lessons were common enough in her
experience of family discipline. She never thought of it again.

That year which took Emmy's mother from her brought to the child her first
young companion and friend. Adam Bogardus came as chore-boy to the
farm,--an only child himself, and sensitive through the clashing of gentle
instincts with rough and inferior surroundings; brought up in that
depressed God-fearing attitude in which a widow not strong, and earning
her bread, would do her duty by an only son. Not a natural fighter, she
took what little combativeness he had out of him, and made his school-days
miserable--a record of humiliations that sunk deep and drove him from his
kind. He was a big, clumsy, sagacious boy, grave as an old man, always
snubbed and condescended to, yet always trusted. Little Emmy made him her
bondslave at sight. His whole soul blossomed in adoration of the
beautiful, masterful child who ordered him about as her vassal, while
slipping a soft little trustful hand in his. She trotted at his heels like
one of the lambs or chickens that he fed. She brought him into perpetual
disgrace with Becky, for wasting his time through her imperious demands.
She was the burden, the delight, the handicap, the incentive, and the
reward of his humble apprenticeship. And when he was promoted to be one of
the regular hands she followed him still, and got her pleasure out of his
day's work. No one had such patience to tell her things, to wait for her
and help her over places where her tagging powers fell short. But though
she bullied him, she looked up to him as well. His occupations commanded
her respect. He was the god of the orchards and of the cider-making; he
presided at all the functions of the farm year. He was a perfect calendar
besides of country sports in their season. He swept the ice pools in the
meadow for winter sliding, after his day's work was done. He saved up
paper and string for kite-making in March. He knew when willow bark would
slip for April's whistles. In the first heats of June he climbed the tall
locust-trees to put up a swing in which she could dream away the perfumed
hours. At harvest she waited in the meadow for him to toss her up on the
hay-loads, and his great arms received her when she slid off in the barn.
She knelt at his feet on the bumping boards of the farm-wagon while he
braced himself like a charioteer, holding the reins above her head. He
threshed the nut-trees and routed marauding boys from her preserves, and
carved pumpkin lanterns to light her to her attic chamber on cold November
nights, where she would lie awake watching strange shadows on the sloping
roof, half worshiping, half afraid of her idol's ugliness in the dark.

These were some of Paul's illustrations of that pastoral beginning, and no
doubt they were sympathetically close to the truth. He lingered over them,
dressing up his mother's choice instinctively to the little aristocrat
beside him.

When Emmy grew big enough to go to the Academy, three miles from the farm,
it was all in the day's work that Adam should take her and fetch her home.
He combined her with the mail, the blacksmith, and other village errands.
Whoever met her father's team on those long stony hills of Saugerties
would see his little daughter seated beside his hired man, her face turned
up to his in endless confiding talk. It was a face, as we say, to dream
of. But there were few dreamers in that little world. The farmers would
nod gravely to Adam. "Abraham's girl takes after her mother; heartier
lookin', though. Guess he'll need a set o' new tires before spring." The
comments went no deeper.

Abraham was now well on in years; he made no visits, and he never drove
his own team at night. When his daughter began to let down her frocks and
be asked to evening parties, it was still Adam who escorted her. He sat in
the kitchen while she was amusing herself in the parlor. She discussed her
young acquaintances with him on their way home. The time for distinctions
had come, but she was too innocent to feel them herself, and too proud to
accept the standards of others. He was absolutely honest and unworldly. He
thought it no treachery to love her for herself, and he believed, as most
of us do, that his family was as good as hers or any other.

It would be hard to explain the old man's obliviousness. Perhaps he had
forgotten his own youth; or class prejudice had gone so deep with him as
to preclude the bare thought of a child of his falling in love with one of
his "men." His imagination could not so insult his own blood. But when the
awakening came, his passion of anger and resentment knew no bounds. To
discharge his faithless employee out of hand would be the cripple throwing
away his crutch. Though he called Adam _one_ of his men, and though his
pay was that of a common laborer, his duties had long been of a much
higher order. Abraham had made a very good bargain out of the widow's son.
Adam knew well that he could not be spared, and pitied the old man's
helpless rage. He took his frantic insults as part of his senility, and
felt it no unmanliness to appease it by giving his promise that he would
speak no more of love to Emmy while he was taking her father's wages. But
Emmy did not indorse this promise fully. To her it looked like weakness,
and implied a sort of patience which did not become a lover such as she
wished hers to be. The winter wore on uncomfortably for all. Towards
spring, Becky's last illness and passing away brought the younger ones
together again, and closer than before. Adam kept his promise through days
and nights of sickroom intimacy; but though no word of love was spoken,
each bore silent witness to what was loveliest in the other, and the bond
between them deepened.

Then spring came, and its restlessness was strong upon them both. But it
was Emmy to whom it meant action and rebellion.

They stood on the orchard hill one Sunday afternoon at the pause of the
year. Buds were swelling and the edges of the woods wore a soft blush
against the vaporous sky. The bare brown slopes were streaked with snow. A
floe of winter ice, grinding upon itself with the tide, glared yellow as
an old man's teeth in the setting sun. From across the river came the
thunder of a train, bound north, two engines dragging forty cars of
freight piled up by some recent traffic-jam; it plunged into a tunnel, and
they waited, listening to the monster's smothered roar. Out it burst, its
breath packed into clouds, the engines whooped, and round the curve where
a point of cedars cut the sky the huge creature unwound itself, the hills
echoing to its tread.

Emmy watched it out of sight, and breathed again. "Hundreds, hundreds
going every day! It seems easy enough for everybody else. Oh, if I were a
man!"

"What do you want I should do, Emmy?" Adam knew well what man she was
thinking of.

"_I_ want? Don't you ever want things yourself?"

"When I want a thing bad, I gen'ly think it's worth waiting for."

"People don't get things by waiting. I don't know how you can stand
it,--to stay here year after year. And now you've tied yourself up with a
promise, and you know you cannot keep it!"

"I'm trying to keep it."

"You couldn't keep it if you cared--really and truly--as some do!" She
dropped her voice hurriedly. "To live here and eat your meals day after
day and pass me like a stick or a stone!"

The slow blood burned in Adam's face and hammered in his pulses. His blue
eyes were bashful through its heat. "I don't feel like a stick nor a
stone. You know it, Emmy. You want to be careful," he added gently. "Would
going away look as if I cared?"

"Why--why don't you ask me to go with you?" The girl tried to meet his
eyes. She turned off her question with a proud laugh.

"Be--careful, child! You know why I can't take you up on that. Would you
want we should leave him here alone--without even Becky? You're only
trying me for fun."

"No; I am not!" Emmy was pale now. Her breast was rising in strong
excitement. "If we were gone, he would know then what you are worth to
him. Now, you're only Adam! He thinks he can put you down like a boy. He
won't believe I care for you. There's only one way to show him--that is,
if we do care. In one month he would be sending for us back. Then we could
come, and you would take your right place here, and be somebody. You would
not eat in the kitchen, then. Haven't you been like a son to him? And why
shouldn't he own it?"

"But if he won't? Suppose he don't send for us to come back?"

"Then you could strike out for yourself. What was Tom Madden, before he
went away to Colorado, or somewhere--where was it? And now everybody stops
to shake hands with him;--he's as much of a man as anybody. If you could
make a little money. That's the proof he wants. If you were rich, you'd be
all right with him. You know that!"

"I'd hate to think it. But I'll never be rich. Put that out of your mind,
Emmy. It don't run in the blood. I don't come of a money-making breed."

"What a silly thing to say! Of course, if you don't believe you can, you
can't. Who has made the money here for the last ten years?"

"It was his capital done it. It ain't hard to make money after you've
scraped the first few thousands together. But it's the first thousand that
costs."

"How much have you got ahead?"

Adam answered awkwardly, "Eleven hundred and sixty odd." He did not like
to talk of money to the girl who was the prayer, the inspiration, of his
life. It hurt him to be questioned by her in this sordid way.

"You earned it all, didn't you?"

"I've took no risks. Here was my home. He give me the chance and he showed
me how. And--he's your father. I don't like to talk about his money, nor
about my own, to you."

"Oh, you are good, good! Nobody knows! But it's all wasted if you haven't
got any push--anything inside of yourself that makes people know what you
are. I wish I could put into you some of my _fury_ that I feel when things
get in my way! You have held yourself in too long. You can't--_can't_ love
a girl, and be so careful--like a mother. Don't you understand?"

"Stop right there, Emmy! You needn't push no harder. I can let go whenever
you say so. But--do _you_ understand, little girl? Man and wife it will
have to be."

Emmy did not shrink at the words. Her face grew set, her dark eyes full of
mystery fixed themselves on the slow-moving ice-floe grinding along the
shore.

"I know," she assented slowly.

"I can't give you no farm, nor horses and carriages, nor help in the
kitchen. It's bucklin' right down with our bare hands--me outside and you
in? And you only eighteen. See what little hands--If I could do it all!"

"Your promise is broken," she whispered. "I made you break it. You will
have to tell him now, or--we must go."

"So be!" said Adam solemnly. "And God do so to me and more also, if I have
to hurt my little girl,--Emmy--wife!"

He folded her in his great arms clumsily--the man she had said was like a
mother. He was almost as ignorant as she, and more hopeful than he had
dared to seem, as to their worldly chances. But the love he had for her
told him it was not love that made her so bold. The first touch of such
love as his would have made her fear him as he feared her. And the subtle
pain of this instinctive knowledge, together with that broken promise,
shackled the wings of his great joy. It was not as he had hoped to win the
crown of life.

Paul, it may be supposed, had never liked to think of his mother's
elopement. It had been the one hard point to get over in his conception of
his father, but he could never have explained it by such a scene as this.
It would have hampered him terribly in his tale had he dreamed of it. He
passed over the unfortunate incident with a romancer's touch, and dwelt
upon his grandfather's bitter resentment which he resented as the son of
his mother's choice. The Van Eltens and Brodericks all fared hardly at the
hands of their legatee.

It was not only in the person of a hireling who had abused his trust that
Abraham had felt himself outraged. There were old neighborhood spites and
feuds going back, dividing blood from blood--even brothers of the same
blood. There was trouble between him and his brother Jacob, of New York,
dating from the settlement of their father's, Broderick Van Elten's,
estate; and no one knows what besides that was private and personal may
have entered into it. It was years since they had met, but Jacob kept well
abreast of his brother's misfortunes. A bachelor himself, with no children
to lose or to quarrel with, it was not displeasing to him to hear of the
breaks in his brother's household.

"What, what, what! The last one left him,--run off with one of his men!
What a fool the man must be. Can't he look after his women folks better
than that? Better have lost her with the others. Two boys, and Chrissy,
and the girl--and now the last girl gone off with his hired man. Poor
Chrissy! Guess she had about enough of it. Things have come out pretty
much even, after all! There was more love and lickin's wasted on Abe.
Father was proudest of him, but he couldn't break him. Hi! but I've
crawled under the woodshed to hear him yell, and father would tan him with
a raw-hide, but he couldn't break him; couldn't get a sound out of him.
Big, and hard, and tough--Chrissy thought she knew a man; she thought she
took the best one."

With slow, cold spite Jacob had tracked his brother's path in life through
its failures. Jacob had no failures, and no life.




V


DISINHERITED

Proud little Emmy, heiress no longer, had put her spirit into her
farm-hand and incited him to the first rebellion of his life. They crossed
the river at night, poling through floating ice, and climbed aboard one of
those great through trains whose rushing thunder had made the girlish
heart so often beat. This was long before the West Shore Line was built.
Neither of them had ever seen the inside of a Pullman sleeper. Emmy could
count the purchased meals she had eaten in her life; she had never slept
in a hotel or hired lodging till after her marriage. Hardly any one could
be so provincial in these days.

Adam Bogardus was a plodder in the West as he had been in the East. He was
an honest man, and he was wise enough not to try to be a shrewd one. He
tried none of the short-cuts to a fortune. Hard work suited him best, and
no work was too hard for his iron strength and patient resolution. But it
broke the spirit of a man in him to see his young wife's despair. Poverty
frightened and quelled her. The deep-rooted security of her old home was
something she missed every day of her makeshift existence. It was
degradation to live in "rooms," or a room; to move for want of means to
pay the rent. She pined for the good food she had been used to. Her health
suffered through anxiety and hard work. She was too proud to complain, but
the sight of her dumb unacceptance of what had come to her through him
undoubtedly added the last straw to her husband's mental strain.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It is hard for me to realize it as I once did," said Paul, as the story
paused. "You make tragedy a dream. But there is a deep vein of tragedy in
our blood. And my theory is that it always crops out in families where
it's the keynote, as it were."

"Never mind, you old care-taker! We Middletons carry sail enough to need a
ton or two of lead in our keel."

"But, you understand?"--

"I understand the distinction between what I call your good blood, and the
sort of blood I thought you had. It explains a certain funny way you have
with arms--weapons. Do you mind?"

"Not at all," said Paul coldly. "I hate a weapon. I am always ashamed of
myself when I get one in my hand."

"You act that way, dear!"

"God made tools and the Devil made weapons."

"You are civil to my father's profession."

"Your father is what he is aside from his profession."

"You are quite mistaken, Paul. My father and his profession are one. His
sword is a symbol of healing. The army is the great surgeon of the nation
when the time comes for a capital operation."

"It grows harder to tell my story," said Paul gloomily;--"the short and
simple annals of the poor."

"Now come! Have I been a snob about my father's profession?"

"No; but you love it, naturally. You have grown up with its pomp and
circumstance around you. You are the history makers when history is most
exciting."

"Go on with your story, you proud little Dutchman! When I despise you for
your farming relatives, you can taunt me with my history making."

Paul was about two years old when his parents broke up in the Wood River
country and came south by wagon on the old stage-road to Felton. Whenever
he saw a "string-bean freighter's" outfit moving into Bisuka, if there was
a woman on the driver's seat, he wanted to take off his hat to her. For so
his mother sat beside his father and held him in her arms two hundred
miles across the Snake River desert. The stages have been laid off since
the Oregon Short Line went through, but there were stations then all along
the road.

One night they made camp at a lonely place between Soul's Rest and
Mountain Home. Oneman Station it was called; afterwards Deadman Station,
when the keeper's body was found one morning stiff and cold in his bunk.
He died in the night alone. Emily Bogardus had cause to hate the man when
he was living, and his dreary end was long a shuddering remembrance to
her, like the answer to an unforgiving prayer.

The station was in a hollow with bare hills around, rising to the highest
point of that rolling plain country. The mountains sink below the plain,
only their white tops showing. It was October. All the wild grass had been
eaten close for miles on both sides of the road, but over a gap in the
Western divide was the Bruneau Valley, where the bell-mare of the team had
been raised. In the night she broke her hopples and struck out across the
summit with the four mules at her heels. Towards morning a light snow fell
and covered their tracks. Adam was compelled to hunt his stock on foot;
the keeper refusing him a horse, saying he had got himself into trouble
before through being friendly with the company's horses. He started out
across the hills, expecting that the same night would see him back, and
his wife was left in the wagon camp alone.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I know this story very well," said Paul, "and yet I never heard it but
once, when mother decided I was old enough to know all. But every word was
bitten into me--especially this ugly part I am coming to. I wish it need
not be told, yet all the rest depends on it; and that such an experience
could come to a woman like my mother shows what exposure and humiliation
lie in the straightest path if there is no money to smooth the way. You
hear it said that in the West the toughest men will be chivalrous to a
woman if she is the right sort of a woman. I'm afraid that is a romantic
theory of the Western man.

"That night, before his team stampeded, as he sat by the keeper's fire,
father had made up his mind that the less they had to do with that man the
better. He may have warned mother; and she, left alone with the brute, did
not know the wisdom of hiding her fear and loathing of him. He may have
meant no more than a low kind of teasing, but her suffering was the same.

"Father did not come. She dared not leave the camp. She knew no place to
go to, and in his haste, believing he would soon be with her again, he had
taken all their little stock of funds. But he had left her his gun, and
with this within reach of her hand in the shelter of the wagon hood,
without fire and without cooked food, she kept a sleepless watch.

"The stages came and went; help was within sound of her voice, but she
dared make no sign. The passengers were few at that season, always men, on
the best of terms with the keeper. He had threatened--well, no
matter--such a threat as a more sophisticated woman would have smiled at.
She was simple, but she was not weak. It was a moral battle between them.
There were hours when she held him by the power of her eye alone; she
conquered, but it nearly killed her.

"One morning a man jumped down from the stage whose face she knew. He had
recognized my father's outfit and he came to speak to her, amazed to find
her in that place alone. There was no need to put her worst fear into
words; he knew the keeper. He made the best he could of father's
detention, but he assured her, as she knew too well, that she could not
wait for him there. He was on his way East, and he took us with him as far
as Mountain Home. To this day she believes that if Bud Granger had led the
search, my father would have been found; but he went East to sell his
cattle, the snows set in, and the search party came straggling home. The
man, Granger, had left a letter of explanation, inclosing one from mother
to father, with the keeper. He bribed and frightened him, but for years
she used to agonize over a fear that father had come back and the keeper
had withheld the letter and belied her to him with some devilish story
that maddened him and drove him from her. Such a fancy might have come out
of her mental state at that time. I believe that Granger left the letter
simply to satisfy her. He must have believed my father was dead. He could
not have conceived of a man's being lost in that broad country at that
season; but my father was a man of hills and farms, all small, compact.
The plains were another planet to him.

"The letter was found in the keeper's clothing after his death; no one
ever came to claim it of his successor. Somewhere in this great wilderness
a tired man found rest. What would we not give if we knew where!

"And she worked in a hotel in Mountain Home. Can you imagine it! Then
Christine was born and the multiplied strain overcame her. Strangers took
care of her children while she lay between life and death. She had been
silent about herself and her past, but they found a letter from one of her
old schoolmates asking about teachers' salaries in the West, and they
wrote to her begging her to make known my mother's condition to her
relatives if any were living. At length came a letter from
grandfather--characteristic to the last. The old home was there, for her
and for her children, but no home for the traitor, as he called father.
She must give him up even to his name. No Bogardus could inherit of a Van
Elten.

"She had not then lost all hope of father's return, and she never forgave
her father for trying to buy her back for the price of what she considered
her birthright. She settled down miserably to earn bread for her children.
Then, when hope and pride were crushed in her, and faith had nothing left
to cling to, there came a letter from Uncle Jacob, the bachelor, who had
bided his time. Out of the division in his brother's house he proposed to
build up his own; just as he would step in and buy depreciated bonds to
hold them for a rise. He offered her a home and maintenance during his
lifetime, and his estate for herself and her children when he was through.
There were no conditions referring to our father, but it was understood
that she should give up her own. This, mainly, to spite his brother, yet
under all there was an old man's plea. She felt she could make the
obligation good, though there might not be much love on either side.
Perhaps it came later; but I remember enough of that time to believe that
her children's future was dearly paid for. Grandfather died alone, in the
old rat-ridden house up the Hudson. He left no will, to every one's
surprise. It might have been his negative way of owning his debt to nature
at the last.

"That is how we came to be rich; and no one detects in us now the crime of
those early struggles. But my father was a hired man; and my mother has
done every menial thing with those soft hands of hers." A softer one was
folded in his own. Its answering clasp was loyal and strong.

"Is _this_ the story you had not the courage to tell me?"

"This is the story I had the courage to tell you--not any too soon,
perhaps you think?"

"And do you think it needed courage?"

"The question is what you think. What are we to do with Uncle Jacob's
money? Go off by ourselves and have a good time with it?"

"We will not decide to-night," said Moya, tenderly subdued. But, though
the story had interested and touched her, as accounting for her lover's
saddened, conscience-ridden youth, it was no argument against teaching him
what youth meant in her philosophy. The differences were explained, but
not abolished.

"It was spite money, remember, not love money," he continued, reverting to
his story. "It purchased my mother's compliance to one who hated her
father, who forced her to listen, year after year, to bitter, unnatural
words against him. I am not sure but it kept her from him at the last; for
if Uncle Jacob had not stepped in and made her his, I can't help thinking
she would have found somehow a way to the soft place in his heart.
Something good ought to be done with that money to redeem its history."

"You must not be morbid, Paul."

"That sounds like mother," said Paul, smiling. "She is always jealous for
our happiness; because she lost her own, I think, and paid so heavily for
ours. She prizes pleasure and success, even worldly success, for us."

"I don't blame her!" cried Moya.

"No; of course not. But you mustn't both be against me, and Chrissy, too.
She is so, unconsciously; she does not know the pull there is on me,
through knowing things she doesn't dream of, and that I can never forget."

"No," said Moya. "I am sure she is perfectly unconscious. We exchanged
biographies at school, and there was nothing at all like this in hers. Why
was she never told?"

"She has always been too strained, too excitable. Every least incident is
an emotion with her. When she laughs, her laugh is like a cry. Haven't you
noticed that? Startle her, and her eyes are the very eyes of fear. Mother
was wise, I think, not to pour those old sorrows into her little fragile
cup."

"So she emptied them all into yours!"

"That was my right, of the elder and stronger. I wouldn't have missed the
knowledge of our beginnings for the world. What a prosperous fool and ass
I might have made of myself!"

"Morbid again," said Moya. "You belong to your own day and generation. You
might as well wear country shoes and clothes because your father wore
them."

"Still, if we have such a thing in this country as class, then you and I
do not belong to the same class except by virtue of Uncle Jacob's money.
Confess you are glad I am a Bevier and a Broderick and a Van Elten, as
well as a Bogardus."

"I shall confess nothing of the kind. Now you do talk like a _nouveau_
Paul, dear," said Moya, with her caressing eyes on his--they had paused
under the lamp at the top of the steps--"I think your father must have
been a very good man."

"All our fathers were," Paul averred, smiling at her earnestness.

"Yes, but yours in particular; because _you_ are an angel; and your mother
is quite human, is she not?--almost as human as I am? That carriage of the
head,--if that does not mean the world!"--

"She has needed all her pride."

"I don't object to pride, myself," said the girl, "but you dwell so upon
her humiliations. I see no such record in her face."

"She has had much to hide, you must remember."

"Well, she can hide things; but one's self must escape sometimes. What has
become of little Emily Van Elten who ran away with her father's hired man?
What has become of the freighter's wife?"

"She is all mother now. She brought us back to the world, and for our
sakes she has learned to take her place in it. Herself she has buried."

"Yes; but which is--was herself?"

"And you cannot see her story in her face?"

"Not that story."

"Not the crushing reserve, the long suspense, the silence of a sorrow that
even her children could not share?"

"I know her silence. Your mother is a most reticent woman. But is she now
the woman of that story?"

"I don't understand you quite," said Paul. "How much are we ourselves
after we have passed through fires of grief, and been recast under the
pressure of circumstances! She was that woman once."

"The saddest part of the story to me is, that your father, who loved her
so, and worked so hard for his family, should have served you all the
better by his death."

"Oh, don't say that, dear! Who knows what is best? But one thing we do
know. The sorrow that cut my mother's life in two brought you and me
together. It rent the stratum on which I was born and raised it to the
level of yours, my lady!"

"I shall not forget," whispered Moya with blissful irony, "that you are
the Poor Man's son!"




VI


AN APPEAL TO NATURE

The autumn days were shortening imperceptibly and the sunsets had gained
an almost articulate splendor: cloud calling unto cloud, the west horizon
signaling to the east, and answering again, while the mute dark circle of
hills sat like a council of chiefs with their blankets drawn over their
heads. Soon those blankets would be white with snow.

Behind the Post where the hills climb toward the Cottonwood Creek divide,
there is a little canon which at sunset is especially inviting. It hastens
twilight by at least an hour during midsummer, and in autumn it leads up a
stairway of shadow to the great spectacle of the day--the day's departure
from the hills.

The canon has its companion rivulet always coming down to meet the
stage-road going up. As this road is the only outlet hillward for all the
life of the plain, and as the tendency of every valley population is to
climb, one thinks of it as a way out rather than a way in. Higher up, the
stage-road becomes a pass cut through a wall of splintered cliffs; and
here it leads its companion, the brook, a wild dance over boulders, and
under culverts of fallen rock. At last it emerges on what is called The
Summit; and between are green, deep valleys where the little ranches,
fields and fences and houses, seem to have slid down to the bottom and lie
there at rest.

A party of young riders from the post had gone up this road one evening,
and two had come down, laughing and talking; but the other two remained in
the circle of light that rested on the summit. Prom where they sat in the
dry grass they could hear a hollow sound of moving feet as the cattle
wandered down through folds of the hills, seeking the willow copses by the
water. On the breast of her habit Moya wore the blossoms of the wild
evening primrose, which in this region flowers till the coming of frost.
They had been gathered for her on the way up, and as she had waited for
them, sitting her horse in silence, the brown owls gurgled and hooted
overhead from nest to nest in the crannies of the rocks.

"You need not hold the horses," she commanded, in her fresh voice. "Throw
my bridle over your saddle pommel and yours over mine.--There!" she said,
watching the horses as they shuffled about interlinked. "That is like half
the marriages in this world. They don't separate and they don't go astray,
but they don't _get_ anywhere!"

"I have been thinking of those 'two in the Garden,'" mused Paul, resting
his dark, abstracted eyes on her. "Whether or no your humble servant has a
claim to unchallenged bliss in this world, there's no doubt about your
claim. If my plans interfere, I must take myself out of the way."

"Oh, you funny old croaker!" laughed the girl. "Take yourself out of the
way, indeed! Haven't you chosen me to show you the way?"

"Moya, Moya!" said Paul in a smothered voice.

"I know what you are thinking. But stop it!" she held one of her crushed
blossoms to his lips. "What was this made for? Why hasn't it some work to
do? Isn't it a skulker--blooming here for only a night?"

"'Ripen, fall, and cease!'" Paul murmured.

"How much more am I--are you, then? The sum of us may amount to something,
if we mind our own business and keep step with each other, and finish one
thing before we begin the next. I will not be in a hurry about being good.
Goodness can take care of itself. What you need is to be happy! And it's
my first duty to make you so."

"God knows what bliss it would be."

"Don't say 'would be.'"

"God knows it is!"

"Then hush and be thankful!" There was a long hush. They heard the far,
faint notes of a bugle sounding from the Post.

"Lights out," said Moya. "We must go."

"You haven't told me yet where our Garden is to be," he said.

"I will tell you on the way home."

When they had come down into the neighborhood of ranches, and Bisuka's
lights were twinkling below them, she asked: "Who lives now in the
grandfather's house on the Hudson?"

"The farmer, Chauncey Dunlop."

"Is there any other house on the place?"

"Yes. Mother built a new one on the Ridge some years ago."

"What sort of a house is it?"

"It was called a good house once; but now it's rather everything it
shouldn't be. It was one of the few rash things mother ever did; build a
house for her children while they were children. Now she will not change
it. She says we shall build for ourselves, how and where we please. Stone
Ridge is her shop. Of course, if Chrissy liked it--But Chrissy considers
it a 'hole.' Mother goes up there and indulges in secret orgies of
economy; one man in the stable, one in the garden--'Economy has its
pleasures for all healthy minds.'"

"Economy is as delicious as bread and butter after too much candy. I
should love to go up to Stone Ridge and wear out my old clothes. Did any
one tell me that place would some day be yours?"

"It will be my wife's on the day we are married."

"That is where your wife, sir, would like to live."

"It is a stony Garden, dear! The summer people have their places nearer
the river. Our land lies back, with no view but hills. For one who has the
world before her where to choose, it strikes me she has picked out a very
humble Paradise."

"Did you think my idea was to travel--a poor army girl who spends her life
in trunks? Do we ever buy a book or frame a picture without thinking of
our next move? As for houses, who am I that I should be particular? In the
Army's House are many mansions, but none that we can call our own. Oh, I'm
very primitive; I have the savage instinct to gather sticks and stones,
and get a roof over my head before winter sets in."

To such a speech as this there was but one obvious answer, as she rode at
his side, her appealing slenderness within reach of his arm. It did not
matter what thousands he proposed to spend upon the roof that should cover
her; it was the same as if they were planning a hut of tules or a burrow
in the snow.

"It is a poor man's country," he said; "stony hillsides, stony roads lined
with stone fences. The chief crop of the country is ice and stone. In one
of my grandfather's fields there is a great cairn which Adam Bogardus,
they say, picked up, stone by stone, with his bare hands, and carted there
when he was fourteen years old. We will build them into the walls of our
new house for a blessing."

"No," said Moya. "We will let sleeping stones lie!"




VII


MARKING TIME

There was impatience at the garrison for news that the hunters had
started. Every day's delay at Challis meant an abridgment of the
bridegroom's leave, and the wedding was now but a fortnight away. It began
to seem preposterous that he should go at all, and the colonel was annoyed
with himself for his enthusiasm over the plan in the first place. Mrs.
Bogardus's watchfulness of dates told the story of her thoughts, but she
said nothing.

"Mamsie is restless," said Christine, putting an arm around her mother's
solid waist and giving her a tight little hug apropos of nothing. "I
believe it's another case of 'mail-time fever.' The colonel says it comes
on with Moya every afternoon about First Sergeant's call. But Moya is
cunning. She goes off and pretends she isn't listening for the bugle."

"'First Sergeant or Second,' it's all one to me," said Mrs. Bogardus. "I
never know one call from another, except when the gun goes off."

"Mamsie! 'When the gun goes off!' What a civilian way of talking. You are
not getting on at all with your military training. Now let me give you
some useful information. In two seconds the bugle will call the first
sergeant--of each company--to the adjutant's office, and there he'll get
the mail for his men. The orderly trumpeter will bring it to the houses on
the line, and the colonel's orderly--beautiful creature! There he goes!
How I wish we could take him home with us and have him in our front hall.
Fancy the feelings of the maids! And the rage on the noble brow of
Parkins--awful Parkins. I should like to give his pride a bump."

Mother and daughter were pacing the colonel's veranda, behind a partial
screen of rose vines--October vines fast shedding their leaves. Every
breeze shook a handful down, which the women's skirts swept with them as
they walked. Mrs. Bogardus turned and clasped Christine's arm above the
elbow; through the thin sleeve she could feel its cool roundness. It was a
soft, small, unmuscular arm, that had never borne its own burdens, to say
nothing of a share in the burdens of others.

"Get your jacket," said the mother. "There is a chill in the air."

"There is no chill in me," laughed Christine. "You know, mamsie, you
aren't a girl. I should simply die in those awful things that you wear.
Did you ever know such a hot house as the colonel keeps!"

"The rooms are small, and the colonel is--impulsive," Mrs. Bogardus added
with a smile.

"There is something very like him about his fire-making. I should know by
the way he puts on wood that he never would have "--Mrs. Bogardus checked
herself.

"A large bank account?" Christine supplied, with her quick wit, which was
not of a highly sensitive order.

"He has a large heart," said her mother.

"And plenty of room for it, bless him! The slope of his chest is like the
roof of a house. The only time I envy Moya is when she lays her head down
on it and tries to meet her arms around him as if he were a tree, and he
strokes her hair as if his hand was a bough! If ever I marry a soldier he
shall be a colonel with a white mustache and a burnt-sienna complexion,
and a sword-belt that measures--what is the colonel's waist-measure, do
you suppose?"

Mrs. Bogardus listened to this nonsense with the smile of a silent woman
who has borne a child that can talk. Moya had often noticed how uncritical
she was of Christine's "unruly member."

"It isn't polite to speak of waist-measures to middle-aged persons like
your mother and the colonel," she said placidly. "You like it very much
out here?"

"Fascinating! Never had such a good time in my whole life."

"And you like the West altogether? Would you like to live here?"

"Oh, if it came to living, I should want to be sure there was a way out."

"There generally is a way out of most things. But it costs something."
Mrs. Bogardus was so concise in her speech as at times to be almost
oracular.

"Army people are sure of their way out," said Christine, "and I guess they
find it costs something."

"Why do they buy so many books, I wonder? If I moved as often as they do,
I'd have only paper covers and leave them behind."

"You are not a reader, mummy. You're a business woman. You look at
everything from the practical side."

"And if I didn't, who would?" Mrs. Bogardus spoke with earnestness. "We
can't all be dreamers like Paul or privileged persons like you. There has
to be one in every family to say the things no one likes to hear and do
the things nobody likes to do."

"We are the rich repiners and you are the household drudge!" Christine
shouted, laughing at her own wit.

"Hush, hush!" her mother smiled. "Don't make so much noise."

"I should like to know who's to be the drudge in Paul's privileged family.
It doesn't strike me it's going to be Moya. And Paul only drudges for
people he doesn't know."

"Moya is a girl you can expect anything of. She is a wonderful mixture of
opposites. She has the Irish quickness, and yet she has learned to obey.
She has had the freedom and the discipline of these little lordly army
posts. She is one of the few girls of her age who does not measure
everything from her own point of view."

"Is that a dig at me, ma'am?"

At that moment Moya came out upon the porch.

She was very striking with the high color and brilliant eyes that
mail-time fever breeds. Christine looked at her with freshly aroused
curiosity, moved by her mother's unwonted burst of praise. The faintest
tinge of jealousy made her feel naughty. As Moya went down the board walk,
the colonel's orderly came springing up the steps to meet her with the
mail-bag. He saluted and turned off at an angle down the embankment not to
present his back to the ladies.

"Did you see that! He never raised his eyes. They are like priests. You
can't make them look at you." Moya looked at Christine in amazement. The
man himself might have heard her. It was not the first time this
privileged guest had rubbed against garrison customs in certain directions
hardly worth mentioning. Moya hesitated. Then she laughed a little, and
said: "Only a raw recruity would look at an officer's daughter, or any
lady of the line."

"Oh, you horrid little aristocrat! Well, I look at them, when they are as
pretty as that one, and I forgive them if they look at me."

Moya turned and hovered over the contents of the mail-bag. In the exercise
of one of her prerogatives, it was her habit to sort its contents before
delivering it at the official door.

"All, all for you!" she offered a huge packet of letters, smiling, to Mrs.
Bogardus. It was faced with one on top in Paul's handwriting. "All but
one," she added, and proceeded to open her own much fatter one in the same
hand. She stood reading it in the hall.

Mrs. Bogardus presently followed and remained beside her. "Could I speak
to your father a moment?" she asked.

"Certainly, I will call him," said Moya.

"Wait: I hear him now." The study door opened and Colonel Middleton joined
them. Mrs. Bogardus leading the way into the sitting-room, the colonel
followed her, and Moya, not having been invited, lingered in the hall.

"Well, have the hunters started yet?" the colonel inquired in his breezy
voice, which made you want to open the doors and windows to give it room."
Be seated! Be seated! I hope you have got a long letter to read me."

Mrs. Bogardus stood reflecting. "The day this letter was mailed they got
off--only two days ago," she said. "Could I reach them, Colonel, with a
telegram?"

"Two days ago," the colonel considered. "They must have made Yankee Fork
by yesterday. Today they are deep in the woods. No; I should say a man on
horseback would be your surest telegram. Is it anything important?"

"Colonel, I wish we could call them back! They have gone off, it seems to
me, in a most crazy way--against the judgment of every one who knows. The
guide, this man whom they waited for, refused, it appears, to go out again
with another party so late in the fall. But the Bowens were determined.
They insisted on making arrangements with another man. Then, when 'Packer
John,' they call him, heard of this, he went to Paul and urged him, if he
could not prevent the others from going, to give up the trip himself. The
Bowens were very much annoyed at his interference, and with Paul for
listening to him. And Paul, rather than make things unpleasant, gave in.
You know how young men are! What silly grounds are enough for the most
serious decisions when it is a question of pride or good faith. The Bowens
had bought their outfit on Paul's assurance that he would go. He felt he
could not leave them in the lurch. On that, the guide suddenly changed his
mind and said he would go with them sooner than see them fall into worse
hands. They were, in a way, committed to the other man, so they took _him_
along as cook--the whole thing done in haste, you see, and unpleasant
feelings all around. Do you call that a good start for a pleasure trip?"

"It's very much the way with young troops when they start out--everything
wrong end foremost, everybody mad with everybody else. A day in the saddle
will set their little tempers all right."

"That isn't the point," Mrs. Bogardus persisted gloomily. As she spoke,
the two girls came into the room and stood listening.

"What is the point, then?" Christine demanded. "Moya has no news; all
those pages and pages, and nothing for anybody or about anybody!"

"'Such an intolerable deal of sack to such a poor pennyworth of bread,'"
the colonel quoted, smiling at Moya's bloated envelope.

"But what do you think?" Mrs. Bogardus recalled him. "Don't you think it's
a mistake all around?"

"Not at all, if they have a good man. This flat-footed fellow, John, will
take command, as he should. There is no danger in the woods at any season
unless the party gets rattled and goes to pieces for want of a head."

"Father!" exclaimed Moya. "You know there is danger. Often, things have
happened!"

"Why, what could happen?" asked Christine, with wide eyes.

"Many things very interesting could happen," the colonel boasted
cheerfully. "That is the object of the trip. You want things to happen. It
is the emergency that makes the man--sifts him, and takes the chaff out of
him."

"Take the chaff out of Banks Bowen," Moya imprudently struck in, "and what
would you have left?" She had met Banks Bowen in New York.

"Tut, tut!" said the colonel. "Silence, or a good word for the
absent--same as the"--The colonel stopped short.

"You are so scornful about the other men, now you have chosen one!"
Christine's face turned red.

"Why, Chrissy! You would not compare your brother to those men! Papa, I
beg your pardon; this is only for argument."

"I don't compare him; but that's not to say all the other men are chaff!"
Christine joined constrainedly in the laugh that followed her speech.

"You need not go fancying things, Moya," she cried, in answer to a
quizzical look. "As if I hadn't known the Bowen boys since I was so high!"

"You might know them from the cradle to the grave, my dear young lady, and
not know them as Paul will, after a week in the woods with them."

The colonel had missed the drift of the girls' discussion. He was
considering, privately, whether he had not better send a special messenger
on the young men's trail. His assurances to the women left a wide margin
for personal doubt as to the prudence of the trip. Aside from the lateness
of the start, it was, undoubtedly, an ill-assorted company for the woods.
There was a wide margin also for suspense, as all mail facilities ceased
at Challis.




VIII


A HUNTER'S DIARY

Early in November, about a week before the hunters were expected home, a
packet came addressed to Moya. It was a journal letter from Paul, mailed
by some returning prospector chance encountered in the forest as the party
were going in. Moya read it aloud, with asterisks, to a family audience
which did not include her father.

"To-day," one of the first entries read, "we halt at Twelve-Mile Cabin,
the last roof we shall sleep under. There are pine-trees near the cabin
cut off fifteen feet above the ground, felled in winter, John tells us,
_at the level of the snow!_

"These cabins are all deserted now; the tide of prospecting has turned
another way. The great hills that crowd one another up against the sky are
so infested and overridden by this enormous forest-growth, and the
underbrush is so dense, it would be impossible for a 'tenderfoot' to gain
any clear idea of his direction. I should be a lost man the moment I
ventured out of call. Woodcraft must be a sixth sense which we lost with
the rest of our Eden birthright when we strayed from innocence, when we
ceased to sleep with one ear on the ground, and to spell our way by the
moss on tree-trunks. In these solitudes, as we call them, ranks and clouds
of witnesses rise up to prove us deaf and blind. Busy couriers are passing
every moment of the day; and we do not see, nor hear, nor understand. We
are the stocks and stones. Packer John is our only wood-sharp;--yet the
last half of the name doesn't altogether fit him. He is a one-sided
character, handicapped, I should say, by some experience that has humbled
and perplexed him. Two and two perhaps refused to make four in his account
with men, and he gave up the proposition. And now he consorts with trees,
and hunts to live, not to kill. He has an impersonal, out-door odor about
him, such as the cleanest animals have. I would as soon eat out of his
dry, hard, cool hand, as from a chunk of pine-bark.

"It is amusing to see him with a certain member of the party who tries to
be fresh with him. He has a disconcerting eye when he fixes it on a man,
or turns it away from one who has said a coarse or a foolish thing.

"'The jungle is large,' he seems to say, 'and the cub he is small. Let him
think and be still!'"

"Who is this 'certain member' who tries to be 'fresh'?" Christine inquired
with perceptible warmth.

"The cook, perhaps," said Moya prudently.

"The cook isn't a 'member'!--Well, can't you go on, Moya? Paul seems to
need a lot of editing." Moya had paused and was glancing ahead, smiling to
herself constrainedly.

"Is there more disparagement of his comrades?" Christine persisted.

"Christine, be still!" Mrs. Bogardus interfered. "Moya ought to have the
first reading of her own letter. It's very good of her to let us hear it
at all."

"Oh dear, there's no disparagement. Quite the contrary! I'll go on with
pleasure if you don't mind." Moya read hurriedly, laughing through her
words:--

"'If you were here,
(Ah, _if_ you were here!)
You should lend me an ear--
One at the least
Of a pair the prettiest'--

which is, within a foot or two, the rhythm of 'Wood Notes.' Of course you
don't know it!"

"This is a gibe at me," Moya explained, "because I don't read Emerson. 'It
is the very measure of a marching chorus,' he goes on to say, 'where the
step is broken by rocks and tree-roots;'--and he is chanting it to himself
(to her it was in the original) as they go in single file through these
'haughty solitudes, the twilight of the gods!'"

"'Haughty solitudes'!" Christine derided.

Mrs. Bogardus sighed with impatience, and Moya's face became set. "Well,
here he quotes again," she haughtily resumed. "Anybody who is tired of
this can be excused. Emerson won't mind, and I'm sure Paul won't!" She
looked a mute apology to Paul's mother, who smiled and said, "Go on, dear.
I don't read Emerson either, but I like him when Paul reads him for me."

"Well, I warn you there is an awful lot of him here!" Moya's voice was a
trifle husky as she read on.

"Old as Jove,
Old as Love'"

"I thought Love was young!"--Christine in a whisper aside.

"'Who of me
Tells the pedigree?
Only the mountains old,
Only the waters cold,
Only the moon and stars,
My coevals are.'"

Moya sighed, and sank into prose again. "There is a gaudy yellow moss in
these woods that flecks the straight and mournful tree-trunks like a
wandering glint of sunlight; and there is a crepe-like black moss that
hangs funeral scarfs upon the boughs, as if there had been a death in the
forest, and the trees were in line for the burial procession. The grating
of our voices on this supreme silence reminds one of 'Why will you still
be talking, Monsieur Benedick?--nobody marks you.'

"There are silences, and again there are whole symphonies of sound. The
winds smites the tree-tops over our heads, a surf-like roar comes up the
slope, and the yellow pine-needles fall across the deepest darks as motes
sail down a sunbeam. One wearies of the constant perpendicular, always
these stiff, columnar lines, varied only by the melancholy incline where
some great pine-chieftain is leaning to his fall supported in the arms of
his comrades, or by the tragic prostration of the 'down timber'--beautiful
straight-cut English these woodsmen talk.

"Last evening John and I sat by the stove in the men's tent, while the
others were in the cabin playing penny-ante with the cook (a sodden brute
who toadies to the Bowens, and sulks with John because he objected to our
hiring the fellow--an objection which I sustained, hence his logical spite
includes me). John was melting pine gum and elk tallow into a dressing for
our boots. I took a mean advantage of him, his hands being in the tallow
and the tent-flap down, and tried on him a little of--now, don't deride
me!--'Wood Notes.' It is seldom one can get the comment of a genuine
woodsman on Nature according to the poets.'"

Moya read on perfunctorily, feeling that she was not carrying her audience
with her, and longing for the time when she could take her letter away and
have it all to herself. If she stopped now, Christine, in this sudden new
freak of distrustfulness, would be sure to misunderstand.

    "'For Nature ever faithful is
    To such as trust her faithfulness.
    When the forest shall mislead me,
    When the night and morning lie,
    When sea and land refuse to feed me,
    Will be time enough to die.

    Then will yet my Mother yield
    A pillow in her greenest field;
    Nor the June flowers scorn to cover
    The clay of their departed lover.'"

"That is beautiful," Mrs. Bogardus murmured hastily. "Even I can
understand that." Moya thanked her with a glance.

"And what did the infallible John say?" Christine inquired.

"John looked at me and smiled, as at a babbling infant"--

"Good for John!"

"Christine, be still!"

"John looked at me and smiled," Moya repeated steadily. Nothing could have
stopped her now. She only hoped for some further scattering mention of
that "certain member" who had set them all at odds and spoiled what should
have been an hour's pure happiness. "'You'll get the pillow all right,' he
said. 'It might not be a green one, nor I wouldn't bank much on the
flowers; but you'll be tired enough to sleep without rocking about the
time you trust to Nature's tuckin' you in and puttin' victuals in your
mouth. I never _see_ nature till I came out here. I'd seen pretty woods
and views, that a young lady could take down with her paints; but how are
you going to paint that?'--he waved his tallow-stick towards the night
outside. 'Ears can't reach the bottom of that stillness. That's creation
before God ever thought of man. Long as I've been in the woods, I never
get over the feeling that there's _something behind me_. If you go towards
the trees, they come to meet you; if you go backwards, they go back; but
you can't sit down and sit still without they'll come a-creeping up and
creeping up, and crowding in'--

"He stirred his 'dope' awhile, and then he struck another note. 'I've
wintered alone in these mountains,' he said, 'and I've seen snowslides
pounce out of a clear sky--a puff and a flash and a roar; an' trees four
foot across snappin' like kindlin' wood--not because it hit 'em; only the
breath of it struck them; and maybe a man lying dead somewheres under his
cabin timbers. That's no mother's love-tap. Pillows and flowers ain't in
it. But it's good poetry,' he added condescendingly.

"I have not quoted him right, not being much of a snap-shot at dialect;
and his is an undefined, unclassifiable mixture. Eastern farm-hand and
Western ranchman, prospector, who knows what? His real language is in his
eye and his rare, pure smile. And just as his countenance expresses his
thoughts without circumlocution or attempt at effect, so his body informs
his clothing. Wind and rain have moulded his hat to his head, his shoes
grip the ground like paws; his buckskins have a surface like a cast after
Rodin. They are repousseed by the hard bones and sinews underneath. I can
think of nothing but the clothing of Millet's peasants to compare with
this exterior of John's. He is himself a peasant of the woods. He has not
the predatory instincts. If he could have his way, not a shot would be
fired by any of us for the mere idle sport of killing. Shooting these
innocent, fearless creatures, who have not learned that we are here for
their destruction, is too like murder and treachery combined. Hunger
should be our only excuse. My forbearance, or weakness, is a sort of
unspoken bond between us. But I am a peasant, too, you know. I do not come
of the lordly, arms-bearing blood. I shoot at a live mark always under
protest; and when I fairly catch the look in the great eye of a dying elk
or black-tail, it knocks me out for that day's hunt."

"Paul is perfectly happy!" Christine broke in. "He has got one of his
beloved People to grovel to. They can sleep in the same tent and eat from
the same plate, if you like. Why, it's better than the East Side! He'll be
blood brother to Packer John before they leave the woods."

Moya blushed with anger.

"You have said enough on that subject, Christine." Mrs. Bogardus bent her
dark, keen gaze upon her daughter's face. "Come"--she rose. "Come with
me!"

Christine sat still. "Come!" her mother repeated sternly. "Moya,"--in a
different voice,--"your letter was lovely. Shall you read it to your
father?"

"Hardly," said Moya, flushing. "Father does not care for descriptions, and
the woods are an old story to him."

Mrs. Bogardus placed her hands on the girl's shoulders and gave her one of
her infrequent, ceremonious kisses, which, like her finest smile, she kept
for occasions too nice for words.




IX


THE POWER OF WEAKNESS

Christine followed her mother to their room, and the two faced each other
a moment in pale silence.

Mrs. Bogardus spoke first. "What does this mean?"--her breath came short,
perhaps from climbing the stairs. She was a large woman.

"What does what mean? I don't understand you, mother."

"Ah, child, don't repulse me! Twice you and Moya have nearly quarreled
about those men. Why were you so rude to her? Why did you behave so about
her letter?"

"Paul is so intolerant! And the airs he puts on! If he is my own brother I
must say he's an awful prig about other men."

"We are not discussing Paul. That is not the question now. Have you
anything to tell me, Christine?"

"To tell you?--about what, mother?" Christine spoke lower.

"You know what I mean. Which of them is it? Is it Banks?--don't say it is
Banks!"

"Mother, how can I say anything when you begin like that?"

"Have you any idea what sort of a man Banks Bowen really is? His father
supports him entirely--six years now, ever since he left the law school.
He does nothing, never will do anything. He has no will or purpose in
life, except about trifles like this hunting-trip. As far as I can see he
is without common sense."

Christine stood by the dressing-table pleating the cover-frilling with her
small fingers that were loaded with rings. She pinched the folds hard and
let them go. "Why did no one ever say these things before?"

"We don't say things about the sons of our friends, unless we are
compelled to. They were implied in every way possible. When have I asked
Banks Bowen to the house except when everybody was asked! I would never in
the world have come out in Mr. Borland's car if I had known the Bowens
were to be of the party."

"That made no difference," said Christine loftily.

"It was all settled before then, was it?"

"Have I said it was settled, mother? He asked me if I could ever care for
him; and I said that I did--a little. Why shouldn't I? He does what I like
a man to do. I don't enjoy people who have wills and purposes. It may be
very horrid of me, but I wouldn't be in Moya's place for worlds."

"You poor child! You poor, unhappy child!"

"Why am I unhappy? Has Paul added so much to our income since he left
college?"

"Paul does not make money; neither does he selfishly waste it. He has a
conscience in his use of what he has."

"I don't see what conscience has to do with it. When it is gone it's
gone."

"You will learn what conscience has to do with a man's spending if ever
you try to make both ends meet with Banks Bowen. I suppose he will go
through the form of speaking to me?"

"Mother dear! He has only just spoken to me. How fast you go!"

"Not fast enough to keep up with my children, it seems. Was it you,
Christine, who asked them to come here?"

Christine was silent.

"Where did you learn such ways?--such want of frankness, of delicacy, of
the commonest consideration for others? To be looking out for your own
little schemes at a time like this!" Mrs. Bogardus saw now what must have
been Paul's reason for doing what, with all her forced explanations of the
hunting-trip, she had never until now understood. He had taken the alarm
before she had, and done what he could to postpone this family
catastrophe.

Christine retreated to a deep-cushioned chair, and threw herself into it,
her slender hands, palm upwards, extended upon its arms. Total surrender
under pressure of cruel odds was the expression of her pointed eyebrows
and drooping mouth. She looked exasperatingly pretty and irresponsibly
fragile. Her blue-veined eyelids quivered, her breath came in distinct
pants.

"Perhaps you will not be troubled with my 'ways' for very many years,
mother. If you could feel my heart now! It jumps like something trying to
get out. It will get out some day. Have patience!"

"That is a poor way to retaliate upon your mother, Christine. Your health
is too serious a matter to trifle with. If you choose to make it a shield
against everything I say that doesn't please you, you can cut yourself off
from me entirely. I cannot beat down such a defense as that. Anger me you
never can, but you can make me helpless to help you."

"I dare say it's better that I should never marry at all," said Christine,
her eyes closed in resignation. "You never would like anybody I like."

"I shall say no more. You are a woman. I have protected you as far as I
was able on account of your weakness. I cannot protect you from the
weakness itself."

Mrs. Bogardus rose. She did not offer to comfort her child with caresses,
but in her eyes as she looked at her there was a profound, inalienable,
sorrowing tenderness, a depth of understanding beyond words.

"I know so well," the dark eyes seemed to say, "how you came to be the
poor thing that you are!"

The constraint which she felt towards her mother threw Chrissy back upon
Moya. Being a lesser power, she was always seeking alliances. Moya had put
aside their foolish tiff as unworthy of another thought; she was
embarrassed when at bedtime Christine came humbly to her door, and putting
her arms around her neck implored her not to be cross with her "poor
pussy." It was always the other person who was "cross" with Christine.

"Nobody is cross with anybody, so far as I know," said Moya briskly. A
certain sort of sentimentality always made her feel like whistling or
singing or asserting the commonplace side of life in some way.




X


THE WHITE PERIL

Mrs. Bogardus received many letters, chiefly on business, and these she
answered with manlike brevity, in a strong, provincial hand. They took up
much of her time, and mercifully, for it was now the last week in November
and the young men did not return.

The range cattle had been driven down into the valleys, deer-tracks
multiplied by lonely mountain fords; War Eagle and his brethren of the
Owyhees were taking council under their winter blankets. The nights were
still, the mornings rimy with hoarfrost. Fogs arose from the river and cut
off the bases of the mountains, converting the valley before sunrise into
the likeness of a polar sea.

"You have let your fire go out," said the colonel briskly. He had invaded
the sitting-room at an unaccustomed hour, finding the lady at her letters
as usual. She turned and held her pen poised above her paper as she looked
at him.

"You did not come to see about the fire?" she said.

"No; I have had letters from the north. Would you step into my study a
moment?"

Moya was in her father's room when they entered. She had been weeping, but
at sight of Paul's mother she rose and stood picking at the handkerchief
she held, without raising her eyes.

"Don't be alarmed at Moya's face," said the colonel stoutly. "Paul was all
right at last accounts. We will have a merry Christmas yet."

"This is not from Paul!" Mrs. Bogardus fixed her eyes upon a letter which
she held at arm's length, feeling for her glasses. "It's not for
me--'_Miss_ Bogardus.'"

"Ah, well. I saw it was postmarked Lemhi--Fort Lemhi, you know. Sit down,
madam. Suppose I give you Mr. Winslow's report first--Lieutenant Winslow.
You heard of his going to Lemhi?"

"She doesn't know," whispered Moya.

"True. Well, two weeks ago I gave Mr. Winslow a hunter's leave, as we call
it in the army, to beat up the trail of those boys. I thought it was time
we heard from them, but it wasn't worth while to raise a hue and cry. He
started out with a few picked men from Lemhi, the Indian Reservation, you
know. I couldn't have sent a better man; the thing hasn't got into the
local papers even. My object, of course, has been to save unnecessary
alarm. Mr. Winslow has just got back to Challis. He rounded up the Bowen
youths and the cook and the helper, in bad shape, all of them, but able to
tell a story. The details we shall get later, but I have Mr. Winslow's
report to me. It is short and probably correct."

"Was Paul not with them?" his mother questioned in a hard, dry voice.
"Where is he then?"

"He is in camp, madam, in charge of the wounded."

"Dear father! if you would speak plain!" Moya whispered nervously.

"Certainly. There is nothing whatever to hide. We know now that on their
last day's hunt they met with an accident which resulted in a division of
the party. A fall of snow had covered the ice on the trails, and the
guide's horse fell and rolled on him--nature of his injuries not
described. This happened a day's journey from their camp at Ten-Mile
cabin, and the retreat with the wounded man was slow and of course
difficult over such a trail. They put together a sort of horse-litter made
of pine poles and carried him on that, slung between two mules tandem. A
beastly business, winding and twisting over fallen timber, hugging the
canon wall, near a thousand feet down--'Impassable' the trail is marked,
on the government military maps. This first day's march was so
discouraging that at Ten Mile they called a council, and the packer spoke
up like a man. He disposed of his own case in this way. If he were to
live, they could send back help to fetch him out. If not, no help would be
needed. The snows were upon them; there was danger in every hour's delay.
It was insane to sacrifice four sound men for one, badly hurt, with not
many hours perhaps to suffer."

A murmur from the mother announced her appreciation of the packer's
argument.

"It was no more than a man should do; but as to taking him at his word,
why, that's another question." The colonel paused and gustily cleared his
throat. "They were up against it right then and there, and the party split
upon it. Three of them went on,--for help, as they put it,--and Paul
stayed behind with the wounded man."

"Paul stayed--alone?" Mrs. Bogardus uttered with hoarse emphasis. "Was not
that a very strange way to divide? Among them all, I should think they
might have brought the man out with them."

"Their story is that his injuries were such that he could not have borne
the pain of the journey. Rather an unusual case," the colonel added dryly.
"In my experience, a wounded man will stand anything sooner than be left
on the field."

"I cannot understand it," Mrs. Bogardus repeated, in a voice of indignant
pain. "Such a strange division! One man left alone--to nurse, and hunt,
and cook, and keep up fires! Suppose the guide should die!"

"Paul was not _left_, you know," the colonel said emphatically. "He
_stayed_. And I should be thankful in your place, madam, that my son was
the man who made that choice. But setting conduct aside, for we are not
prepared to judge, it is merely a matter of time our getting in there, now
that we know where he is."

"How much time?" Mrs. Bogardus opened her ashen lips to say.

The colonel's face fell. "Mr. Winslow reports heavy snows for the past
week,--soft, clogging snow,--too deep to wade through and too soft to
bear. A little later, when the cold has formed a crust, our men can get in
on snowshoes. There is nothing for it but patience, Mrs. Bogardus, and
faith in the boy's endurance. The pluck that made him stay behind will
help him to hold out."

Moya gave a hurt sob; the colonel stepped to the desk and stood there a
moment turning over his papers. Behind his back the mother sent a glance
to Moya expressive of despair.

"Do you know what happened to his father? Did he ever tell you?" she
whispered.

Moya assented; she could not speak.

"Twice, twice in a lifetime!" said the older woman.

With a gesture, Moya protested against this wild prophecy; but as Paul's
mother left the room she rushed upon her father, crying: "Tell _me_ the
truth! What do you think of it? Did you ever hear of such a dastardly
thing?"

"It was a rout," said the colonel coolly. "They were in full flight before
the enemy."

"What enemy? They deserted a wounded comrade, and a servant at that!"

"The enemy was panic,--panic, my dear. In these woods I've seen strong men
go half beside themselves with fear of something--the Lord knows what!
Then, add the winter and what they had seen and heard of that. Anyway, you
can afford to be easy on the other boys. The honors of the day are with
Paul--and the old packer, though it's all in the day's work to him."

"And you are satisfied with Paul, father?"

"He didn't desert his command to save his own skin." The colonel smiled
grimly.

"When the men of the Fourth discovered those other fellows they had
literally sat down in the snow to die. Not a man of them knew how to pack
a mule. Their meat pack slipped, going along one of those high trails, and
scared the mule, and in trying to kick himself free the beast fell off the
trail--mule and meat both gone. They got tired of carrying their stuff and
made a raft to float it down the river, and lost that! Paul has been much
better off in camp than he would have been with them. So cheer up, my
girl, and think how you'd like to have your bridegroom out on an Indian
campaign!"

"Ah, but that would be orders! It's the uselessness that hurts. There was
nothing to do or to gain. He didn't want to go. Oh, daddy dear, I made fun
of his shooting,--I did! I laughed at his way with firearms. Wretched fool
and snob that I was! As if I cared! I thought of what other people would
say. You remember,--he went shooting up the gulch with Mr. Lane, and when
he hit but didn't kill he wouldn't--couldn't put the birds out of pain.
Jephson had to do it for him, and he told it in barracks and the men
laughed."

"How did you know that! And what does it all amount to! Blame yourself all
you like, dear, if it does you any good, but don't make him out a fool!
There's not much that comes to us straight in this world--not even orders,
you'll find. But we have to take it straight and leave the muddles and the
blunders as they are. That's the brave man's courage and the brave
woman's. Orders are mixed, but duty is clear. And the boy out there in the
woods has found his duty and done it like a man. That should be enough for
any soldier's daughter."

An hour passed in suspense. Moya was disappointed in her expectation of
sharing in whatever the letter from Fort Lemhi might contain. Christine
was in bed with a headache, her mother dully gave out, with no apparent
expectation that any one would accept this excuse for the girl's complete
withdrawal. The letter, she told Moya, was from Banks Bowen. "There was
nothing in it of consequence--to us," she added, and Moya took the words
to mean "you and me" to the unhappy exclusion of Christine.

Mrs. Bogardus's face had settled into lines of anxiety printed years
before, as the creases in an old garment, smoothed and laid away, will
reappear with fresh wear. Her plan was to go back to New York with
Christine, who was plainly unfit to bear a long siege of suspense. There
she could leave the girl with friends and learn what particulars could be
gathered from the Bowens, who would have arrived. She would then return
alone and wait for news at the garrison. That night, with Moya's help, she
completed her packing, and on the following day the wedding party broke
up.




XI


A SEARCHING OF HEARTS

Fine, dry snowflakes were drifting past the upper square of a window set
in a wall of logs. The lower half was obscured by a white bulk that
shouldered up against the sash in the likeness of a muffled figure
stooping to peer in.

Lying in his bunk against the wall, the packer watched this sentinel
snowdrift grow and become human and bold and familiar. His deep-lined
visage was reduced to its bony structure. The hand was a claw with which
he plucked at the ancient fever-crust shredding from his lips: an
occupation at once so absorbing and so exhausting that often the hand
would drop and the blankets rise upon the arch of the chest in a sigh of
retarded respiration. The sigh would be followed by a cough, controlled,
as in dread of the shock to a sore and shattered frame. The snow came
faster and faster until the dim, wintry pane was a blur. Millions of atoms
crossed the watcher's weary vision, whirling, wavering, driven with an
aimless persistence, unable to pause or to stop. And the blind white
snowdrift climbed, fed, like human circumstance, from disconnected atoms
impelled by a common law.

There were sounds in the cabin: wet wood sweating on hot coals; a step
that went to and fro. Outside, a snow-weighted bough let go its load and
sprang up, scraping against the logs. Some heavy soft thing slid off the
roof and dropped with a _chug_. Then the door, that hung awry like a
drooping eyelid, gave a disreputable wink, and the whole front gable of
the cabin loomed a giant countenance with a silly forehead and an evil
leer. Now it seemed that a hand was hurling snow against the door, as a
sower scatters grain,--snow that lay like beach sand on the floor, or
melted into a crawling pool--red in the firelight, red as blood!

These and other phantasms had now for an unmeasured time been tenants of
the packer's brain, sharing and often overpowering the reality of the
human step that went to and fro. To-day the shapes and relations of things
were more natural, and the step aroused a querulous curiosity.

"Who's there?" the sick man imagined himself to have said. A croaking
sound in his throat, which was all he could do by way of speech, brought
the step to his bedside. A young face, lightly bearded, and gaunt almost
as his own, bent over him. Large, black eyes rested on his; a hand with
womanish nails placed its fingers on his wrist.

"You are better to-day. Your pulse is down. I wouldn't try to talk."

"Who's that--outside?"

"There is no one outside," Paul answered, following the direction of his
patient's eyes. "That? That is only a snowdrift. It grows faster than I
can shovel it away."

The packer had forgotten his own question. He dozed off, and presently
roused again as suddenly as he had slept. His utterance was clearer, but
not his meaning.

"What--you want to fetch me back for?"

"Back?" Paul repeated.

"I was most gone, wa'n't I?"

"Back to life, you mean? You came back of yourself. I hadn't much to do
with it."

"What's been the matter--gen'ly speaking?"

"You were hurt, don't you remember? Something like wound fever set in. The
altitude is bad for fevers. You have had a pretty close call."

"Been here all the time?"

"Have I been here?--yes."

"'Lone?"

"With you. How is your chest? Does it hurt you still when you breathe?"

The sick man filled his lungs experimentally. "Something busted inside, I
guess," he panted. "'Tain't no killing matter, though."

Nourishment, in a tin cup, warm from the fire was offered him, refused
with a gesture, and firmly urged upon him. This necessitated another rest.
It was long before he spoke again--out of some remoter train of thought
apparently.

"Family all in New York?"

"My family? They were at Bisuka when I left them."

"You don't _live_ West!"

"No. I was born in the West, though. Idaho is my native state."

The patient fell to whimpering suddenly like a hurt child. He drew up the
blanket to cover his face. Paul, interpreting this as a signal for more
nourishment, brought the sad decoction,--rinds of dried beef cooked with
rice in snow water.

"Guess that'll do, thank ye. My tongue feels like an old buckskin glove."

"When I was a little fellow," said the nurse, beguiling the patient while
he tucked the spoonfuls down, "I was like you: I wouldn't take what the
doctor ordered, and they used to pretend I must take it for the others of
the family,--a kind of vicarious milk diet, or gruel, or whatever it was.
'Here's a spoonful for mother, poor mother,' they would say; and of course
it couldn't be refused when mother needed it so much. 'And now one for
Chrissy'"--

"Who?"

"My sister, Christine. And then I'd take one for 'uncle' and one for each
of the servants; and the cupful would go down to the health of the
household, and I the dupe of my sympathies! Now you are taking this for
me, because it's nicer to be shut up here with a live man than a dead one;
and we haven't the conveniences for a first-class funeral."

"You never took a spoonful for 'father,'--eh?"

Paul answered the question with gravity. "No. We never used that name in
common."

"Dead was he?"

"I will tell you some time. Better try to sleep now."

Paul returned the saucepan to the fire, after piecing out its contents
with water, and retired out of his patient's sight.

Again came a murmur, chiefly unintelligible, from the bunk.

"Did you ask for anything?"

The sick man heaved a worried sigh. "See what a mis'rable presumptuous
piece of work!" he muttered, addressing the logs overhead. "But that
Clauson--he wa'n't no more fit to guide ye than to go to heaven! Couldn't
'a' done much worse than this, though!"

"He has done worse!" Paul came over to the bunk-side to reason on this
matter. "They started back from here, four strong men with all the animals
and all the food they needed for a six weeks' trip. We came in in one. If
they got through at all, where is the help they were to send us?"

"Help!" The packer roused. "They helped themselves, and pretty frequent. I
said to them more than once--they didn't like it any too well: 'We can't
drink up here like they do down to the coast. The air is too light. What a
man would take with his dinner down there would fit him out with a
first-class jag up here, 'leven thousand above the sea!'"

"It's a waste of breath to talk about them--breath burns up food and we
haven't much to spare. We rushed into this trouble and we dragged you in
after us. We have hurt you a good deal more than you have us."

The sick man groaned. He flung one hand back against the logs, dislodging
ancient dust that fell upon his corpse-like forehead. It was carefully
wiped away. Helpless tears stole down the rigid face.

"John," said Paul with animation, "your general appearance just now
reminds me of those worked-out placer claims we passed in Ruby Gulch, the
first day out. The fever and my cooking have ground-sluiced you to the
bone."

John smiled faintly. "Don't look very fat yourself. Where'd you git all
that baird on your face?"

"We have been here some time, you know--or you don't know; you have been
living in places far away from here. I used to envy you sometimes. And
other times I didn't."

"You mean I was off my head?"

"At times. But more of the time you were dreaming and talking in your
dreams; seeing things out loud by the flash-light of fever."

"Talking, was I? Guess there wa'n't much sense in any of it?" The hazard
was a question.

"A kind of sense,--out of focus, distorted. Some of it was opium. Didn't
you coax a little of his favorite medicine out of the cook?"

Packer John apologized sheepishly, "I cal'lated I was going to be left.
You put it up on me--making out you were off with the rest. _That_ was all
right. But I wa'n't going to suffer it out; why should I? A gunshot would
have cured me quicker, perhaps. Then some critter might 'a' found me and
called it murder. A word like that set going can hang a man. No, I just
took a little to deaden the pain."

"The whole discussion was rather nasty, right before the man we were
talking about," said Paul. "I wanted to get them off and out of hearing.
Then we had a few words."

At intervals during that day and the next, Paul's patient expended his
strength in questions, apparently trivial. His eyes, whenever they were
open, followed his nurse with a shrinking intelligence. Paul was on his
guard.

"What day of the month do you make it out to be?"

"The second of December."

"December!" The packer lay still considering. "Game all gone down?"

"I am not much of a pot-hunter," said Paul. "There may be game, but I
can't seem to get it. The snow is pretty deep."

"Wouldn't bear a man on snowshoes?"

"He would go out of sight."

"Snowing a little every day?"

"Right along, quietly, for I don't know how many days! I think the sky is
packed with it a mile deep."

"How much grub have we got?"

Paul gave a flattering estimate of their resources. The patient was not
deceived.

"Where's it all gone to? You ain't eat anything."

"I've eaten a good deal more than you have."

"I was livin' on fever."

"You can't live on fever any longer. The fever has left you, and you'll go
with it if you don't obey your doctor."

"But where's all the stuff _gone_ to?"

"There were four of them, and they allowed for some delay in getting out,"
Paul explained, with a sickly smile.

"Well, they was hogs! I knew how they'd pan out! That was why"--He wearied
of speech and left the point unfinished.

On the evening following, when the two could no longer see each other's
faces in the dusk, Paul spoke, controlling his voice:--

"I need not ask you, John, what you think of our chances?"

"I guess they ain't much worth thinking about." The fire hissed and
crackled; the soft subsidence of the snow could be heard outside.

"We are 'free among the dead,' how does it go? 'Like unto them that are
wounded and lie in the grave.' What we say to each other here will stop
here with our breath. Let us put our memories in order for the last
reckoning. I think, John, you must, at some time in your life, have known
my father, Adam Bogardus? He was lost on the Snake River plains,
twenty-one years ago this autumn."

Receiving no answer, the pale young inquisitor went on, choosing his words
with intense deliberation as one feeling his way in the dark.

"Most of us believe in some form of communication that we can't explain,
between those who are separated in body, in this world, but closely united
in thought. Do I make myself clear?"

There was a sound of deep breathing from the bunk; it produced a similar
conscious excitement in the speaker. He halted, recovered himself, and
continued:--

"After my father's disappearance, my mother had a distinct
presentiment--it haunted her for years--that something had happened to him
at a place called One Man Station. Did you ever know the place?"

"I might have." The words came huskily.

"Father had left her at this place, and to her knowledge he never came
back. But she had this intimation--and suffered from it--that he did come
back and was foully dealt with there--wronged in body or mind. The place
had most evil associations for her; it was not strange she should have
connected it with the great disaster of her life. As you lay talking to
yourself in your fever, you took me back on that lost trail that ended, as
we thought, in the grave. But we might have been mistaken. Is there
anything it would not be safe for you and me to speak of now? Do you know
any tie between men that should be closer than the tie between us? Any
safer place where a man could lay off the secret burdens of his life and
be himself for a little while--before the end answers all? I know you have
a secret. I believe that a share of it belongs to me."

"We are better off sometimes if we don't get all that belongs to us," said
John gratingly.

"It doesn't seem to be a matter of choice, does it? If you were not meant
to tell me--what you have partly told me already--where is there any
meaning in our being here at all? Let us have some excuse for this
senseless accident. Do you believe much in accidents? How foolish"--Paul
sighed--"for you and me to be afraid of each other! Two men who have
parted with everything but the privilege of speaking the truth!"

The packer raised himself in his bunk slowly, like one in pain. He looked
long at the listless figure crouching by the fire; then he sank back again
with a low groan. "What was it you heared me say? Come!"

"I can't give you the exact words. The words were nothing. Haven't you
watched the sparks blow up, at night, when the wind goes searching over
the ashes of an old camp-fire? It was the fever made you talk, and your
words were the sparks that showed where there had been fire once. Perhaps
I had no right to track you by your own words when you lay helpless, but I
couldn't always leave you. Now I'd like to have my share of that--whatever
it was--that hurt you so, at One Man Station."

"You ought to been a lawyer," said the packer, releasing his breath. There
was less strain in his voice. It broke with feeling. "You put up a mighty
strong case for your way of looking at it. I don't say it's best. There,
if you will have it! Sonny--my son! It--it's like startin' a snow-slide."

The sick man broke down and sobbed childishly.

"Take it quietly! Oh, take it quietly!" Paul shivered. "I have known it a
long time."

Hours later they were still awake, the packer in his bunk, Paul in his
blankets by the winking brands. The pines were moving, and in pauses of
the wind they could hear the incessant soft crowding of the snow.

"When they find us here in the spring," said the packer humbly, "it won't
matter much which on us was 'Mister' and which was 'John.'"

"Are you thinking of that!" Paul answered with nervous irritation. "I
thought you had lived in the woods long enough to have got rid of all that
nonsense!"

"I guess there was some of it where you've been living."

"We are done with all that now. Go to sleep,--Father." He pronounced the
word conscientiously to punish himself for dreading it. The darkness
seemed to ring with it and give it back to him ironically. "Father!"
muttered the pines outside, and the snow, listening, let fall the word in
elfin whispers. Paul turned over desperately in his blankets. "Father!" he
repeated out loud. "Do _you_ believe it? Does it do you any good?"

"I wouldn't distress myself, one way or t' other, if it don't come
natural," the packer spoke, out of his corner in the darkness. "Wait till
you can feel to say it. The word ain't nothing."

"But do you feel it? Is it any comfort to you at all?"

"I ain't in any hurry to feel it. We'll get there. Don't worry. And s'pose
we don't! We're men. Man to man is good enough for me."

Paul spent some wakeful hours after that, trying not to think of Moya, of
his mother and Christine. They were of another world,--a world that dies
hard at twenty-four. Towards morning he slept, but not without dreams.

He was in the pent-road at Stone Ridge. It was sunset and long shadows
striped the lane. A man stood, back towards him, leaning both arms on the
stone fence that bounds the lane to the eastward,--a plain farmer figure,
gazing down across the misty fields as he might have stood a hundred times
in that place at that hour. Paul could not see his face, but something
told him who it must be. His heart stood still, for he saw his mother
coming up the lane. She carried something in her hand covered with a
napkin, and she smiled, walking carefully as if carrying a treat to a sick
child. She passed the man at the fence, not appearing to have seen him.

"Won't you speak to him, mother? Won't you speak to"--He could not utter
the name. She looked at him bewildered. "Speak? who shall I speak to?" The
man at the fence had turned and he watched her, or so Paul imagined. He
felt himself choking, faint, with the effort to speak that one word. Too
late! The moment passed. The man whom he knew was his father, the solemn,
quiet figure, moved away up the road unquestioned. He never looked back.
Paul grew dizzy with the lines of shadow; they stretched on and on, they
became the ties of a railroad--interminable. He awoke, very faint and
tired, with a lost feeling and the sense upon him of some great
catastrophe. The old man was sleeping deeply in his bunk, a ray of white
sunlight falling on his yellow features. He looked like one who would
never wake again. But as Paul gazed at him he smiled, and sighed heavily.
His lips formed a name; and all the blood in Paul's body dyed his face
crimson. The name was his mother's.




XII


THE BLOOD-WITE

A few hours seemed days, after the great disclosure. Both men had recoiled
from it and were feeling the strain of the new relation. Three times since
their first meeting the elder had adjusted himself quietly to a change in
the younger's manner to him. First there had been respectful curiosity in
the presence of a new type, combined with the deference due a leader and
an expert in strange fields. Then indignant partisanship, pity, and the
slight condescension of the nurse. This had hurt the packer, but he took
it as he accepted his physical downfall. The last change was hardest to
bear; for now the time was short, and, as Paul himself had said, they were
in the presence of the final unveiling.

So when Paul made artificial remarks to break the pauses, avoiding his
father's eye and giving him neither name nor title, the latter became
silent and lay staring at the logs and picking at his hands.

"If I was hunting up a father," he said to himself aloud one day, "I'd try
to find a better lookin' one. I wouldn't pa'm off on myself no such old
warped stick as I be." The remark seemed a tentative one.

"I had the choice, to take or leave you," Paul responded. "You were an
unconscious witness. Why should I have opened the subject at all?"

Both knew that this answer was an evasion. By forcing the tie they had
merely marked the want of ease and confidence between them. As "Packer
John" Paul could have enjoyed, nay, loved this man; as his father, the sum
and finality of his filial dreams, the supplanter of that imaginary
husband of his mother's youth, the thing was impossible. And the father
knew it and did not resent it in the least, only pitied the boy for his
needless struggle. He was curious about him, too. He wanted to understand
him and the life he had come out of: his roundabout way of reaching the
simplest conclusions; his courage in argument, and his personal shying
away from the truth when found. More than all he longed for a little plain
talk, the exile's hunger for news from home. It pleased him when Paul,
rousing at this deliberate challenge, spoke up with animation, as if he
had come to some conclusion in his own mind. It could not be expected he
would express it simply. The packer had become used to his oddly elaborate
way of putting things.

"If we had food enough and time, we might afford to waste them discussing
each other's personal appearance. _I_ propose we talk to some purpose."

"Talking sure burns up the food." The packer waited.

"I wish I knew what my father was doing with himself, all those years when
his family were giving him the honors of the dead."

"I warned ye about this pumping out old shafts. You can't tell what you'll
find in the bottom. I suppose you know there are things in this world,
Boy, a good deal worse than death?"

"Desertion is worse. It is not my father's death I want explained, it is
his life, your life, in secret, these twenty years! Can you explain that?"

The packer doubled his bony fist and brought it down on the bunk-side.
"Now you talk like a man! I been waiting to hear you say that. Yes, I can
answer that question, if you ain't afeard of the answer!"

"I am keeping alive to hear it!" said Paul in a guarded voice.

"You might say you're keeping me alive to tell it. It's a good thing to
git off of one's mind; but it's a poor thing to hand over to a son. All
I've got to leave ye, though: the truth if you can stand it! Where do you
want I should begin?"

"At the night when you came back to One Man Station."

"How'd you know I come back?"

"You were back there in your fever, living over something that happened in
that place. There was a wind blowing and the door wouldn't shut. And
something had to be lifted,"--the old man's eyes, fixed upon his son, took
a look of awful comprehensions,--"something heavy."

"Yes; great Lord, it was heavy! And I been carrying it ever since!" His
chest rose as if the weight of that load lay on it still, and his breath
expired with a hoarse "haugh." "I got out of the way because it was _my_
load. I didn't want no help from them." He paused and sat picking at his
hands. "It's a dreadful ugly story. I'd most as soon live it over again as
have to tell it in cold blood. I feel sometimes it _can't be!_"

"You need not go back beyond that night. I know how my mother was left,
and what sort of a man you were forced to leave her with. Was it--the
keeper?"

"That's what it was. That was the hard knot in my thread. Nothing wouldn't
go past that. Some, when they git things in a tangle, they just reach for
the shears an' cut the thread. I wa'n't brought up that way. I was taught
to leave the shears alone. So I went on stringin' one year after another.
But they wouldn't join on to them that went before. There was the knot."

"It was between you and him--and the law?" said Paul.

"You've got it! I was there alone with it,--witness an' judge an' jury; I
worked up my own case. Manslaughter with extenuatin' circumstances, I made
it--though he was more beast than man. I give myself the outside
penalty,--imprisonment for life. And I been working out my sentence ever
since. The Western country wa'n't home to me then--more like a big prison.
It's been my prison these twenty-odd years, while your mother was enjoying
what belonged to her, and making a splendid job of your education. If I
had let things alone I might have finished my time out: but I didn't, and
now the rest of it's commuted--for the life of my son!"

"Don't put it that way! I am no lamb of sacrifice. Why, how can we let
things alone in this world! Should I have stood off from this secret and
never asked my father for his defense?"

"Do you mean to say a boy like you can take hold of this thing and
understand it?"

"I can," said Paul. "I could almost tell the story myself."

"Put it up then!" said the packer. The fascination of confession was
strong upon him.

"You had been out in the mountains--how long?"

"Two days and three nights, just as I left camp."

"You were crazed with anxiety for us. You came back to find your camp
empty, the wife and baby gone. You had reason to distrust the keeper. Not
for what he did--for what you knew he meant to do."

"For what he meant and tried to do. I seen it in his eye. The devil that
wanted him incited him to play with me and tell me lies about my wife. She
scorned the brute and he took his mean revenge. He kep' back her letter,
and he says to me, leerin' at me out of his wicked eyes, 'Your livestock
seems to be the strayin' kind. The man she went off with give me
that,'--he lugged a gold piece out of his clothes and showed me,--'give me
that,' he says, 'to keep it quiet.' He kep' it quiet! Half starved and
sick's I was, the strength was in me. But vengeance in the hand of a man,
it cuts both ways, my son! His bunk had a sharp edge to it like this. He
fell acrost it with my weight on top of him and he never raised up again.
There wasn't a mark on him. His back was broke. He died slow, his eyes
mocking me.

"'You fool,' he says. 'Go look in that coat hangin' on the wall.' I found
her letter there inside of one from Granger. He watched me read it and he
laughed. 'Now, go tell her you've killed a man!' He knew I didn't come of
a killin' breed. There was four hours to think it over. Four hours! I
thought hard, I tell you! 'T was six of one and half a dozen of t' other
'twixt him and me, but I worked it back 'n' forth a good long while about
her. First, taking her away from her father, an old man whose bread I'd
eat. She was like a child of my own raising. I always had felt mean about
that. We'd had bad luck from the start,--my luck,--and now disgrace to cap
it all. Whether I hid it or told her and stood my trial, I'd never be a
free man again. There he lay! And a sin done in secret, it's like a drop
of nitric acid: it's going to eat its way out--and in!

"I knew she'd have friends enough, once she was quit of me. That was the
case between us. The thing that hurt me most was to put her letter back
where I found it, and leave it, there with him. Her little cry to me--and
I couldn't come! I read the words over and over, I've said 'em to myself
ever since. I've lived on them. But I had to leave the letter there to
show I'd never come back. I put it back after he was dead.

"The sins of the parents shall be visited,--when it's in the blood! But I
declare to the Almighty, murder wa'n't in my blood! It come on me like a
stroke of lightning hits a tree, and I had a clear show to fall alone.

"That's the answer. Maybe I didn't see all sides of it, but there never
was no opening to do different, after that night. Now, you've had an
education. I should be glad to hear your way of looking at it?"

"I should think you might stand your trial, now, before any judge or jury,
in this world or the next," Paul answered.

"There is only one Judge." The packer smiled a beautiful quiet smile that
covered a world of meanings. "What a man re'ly wants, if he'd own up it,
is a leetle shade of partiality. Maybe that's what we're all going to
need, before we git through."

Paul was glad to be saved the necessity of speech, and he felt the swift
discernment with which the packer resumed his usual manner. "Got any more
of that stuff you call soup? Divide even! I won't be made no baby of."

"We might as well finish it up. It's hardly worth making two bites of a
cherry."

"Call this 'cherry'! It's been a good while on the bough. What's it mostly
made of?"

"Rind of bacon, snow water,--plenty of water,--and a tablespoonful of
rice."

"Good work! Hungry folks can live on what the full bellies throw away."

"Oh, I can save. But there comes a time when you can't live by saving what
you haven't got."

"That's right! Well, let's talk, then, before the bacon-rind fades out of
us."

The packer's face and voice, his whole manner, showed the joy of a soul
that has found relief. Paul was not trying now to behave dutifully; they
were man to man once more. The quaint, subdued humor asserted itself, and
the narrator's speech flowed on in the homely dialect which expressed the
man.

"I stayed out all that winter, workin' towards the coast. One day, along
in March, I fetched a charcoal burner's camp, and the critter took me in
and nursed my frost-bites and didn't ask no questions, nor I of him. We
struck up a trade, my drivin' stock, mostly skin and bone, for a show in
his business. He wa'n't gettin' rich at it, that was as plain as the hip
bones on my mules. I kep' in the woods, cuttin' timber and tendin' kiln,
and he hauled and did the sellin'. Next year he went below to Portland and
brought home smallpox with him. It broke out on him on the road. He was a
terrible sick man. I buried him, and waited for my turn. It didn't come. I
seemed kind o' insured. I've been in lots of trouble since then, but
nothing ever touched me till now. I banked on it too strong, though. I
sure did! My pardner was just such another lone bird like me. If he had
any folks of his own he kep' still about them. So I took his name--whether
it was his name there's no knowing. Guess I've took full as good care of
it as he would. 'Hagar?' folk would say, sort o' lookin' me over. 'You
ain't Jim Hagar.' No, but I was John, and they let it go at that.

"I heard of your mother that summer, from a prospector who came up past my
camp. He'd wintered in Mountain Home. He told me my own story, the way
they had it down there, and what straits your mother was in. I had scraped
up quite a few dollars by then, and was thinking how I'd shove it into a
bank like an old debt coming to Adam Bogardus. I was studying how I was
going to rig it. There wasn't any one who knew me down there, so I felt
safe to ventur' a few inquiries. What I heard was that she'd gone home to
her folks and was as well off as anybody need be. That broke me all up at
first. I must have had a sneakin' notion that maybe some day I could see
my way to go back to her, but that let me out completely. I quit then, and
I've stayed quit. The only break I made was showin' up here at the
'leventh hour, thinking I could be some use to my son!"

"It was to be," said Paul. "For years our lives have been shaping towards
this meeting. There were a thousand chances against it. Yet here we are!"

"Here we are!" the packer repeated soberly. "But don't think that I lay
any of my foolishness on the Almighty! Maybe it was meant my son should
close my eyes, but it's too dear at the price. Anybody would say so, I
don't care who."

"But aside from the 'price,' is it something to you?"

"More--more than I've got words to say. And yet it grinds me, every breath
I take! Not that I wish you'd done different--you couldn't and be a man. I
knew it even when I was kickin' against it. Oh, well! It ain't no use to
kick. I thought I'd learned something, but I ain't--learned--a thing!"




XIII


CURTAIN

A greater freedom followed this confession, as was natural. It became the
basis for lighter confidences and bits of autobiography that came to the
surface easily after this tremendous effort at sincerity. Paul found that
he could speak even of the family past, into which by degrees he began to
fit the real man in place of that bucolic abstraction which had walked the
fields of fancy. He had never dared to actuate the "hired man," his
father, on a basis of fact. He knew the speech and manners of the class
from which he came,--knew men of that class, and talked with them every
summer at Stone Ridge; but he had brooded so deeply over the tragic and
sentimental side of his father's fate as to have lost sight of the fact
that he was a man.

Reality has its own convincing charm, not inconsistent with plainness or
even with commonness. To know it is to lose one's taste for toys of the
imagination. Paul, at last, could look back almost with, a sense of humor
at the doll-like progenitor he had played with so long. But when it came
to placing the real man, Adam Bogardus, beside that real woman, once his
wife, their son could but own with awe that there is mercy in extinction,
after all; in the chance, however it may come to us, for slipping off
those cruel disguises that life weaves around us.

In the strange, wakeful nights, full of starvation dreams, he saw his
mother as she would look on state occasions in the hostess's place at her
luxurious table; the odor of flowers, the smell of meats and wines,
tantalized and sickened him. Christine would come in her dancing frocks,
always laughing, greedy in her mirth; but Moya, face to face, he could
never see. It was torture to feel her near him, a disembodied embrace.
Passionate panegyrics and hopeless adjurations he would pour out to that
hovering loveliness just beyond his reach. The agony of frustration would
waken him, if indeed it were sleep that dissolved his consciousness, and
he would be irritable if spoken to.

The packer broke in, one morning, on these unnerving dreams. "You wouldn't
happen to have a picture of her along with you?"

Paul stared at him.

"No, of course you wouldn't! And I'd be 'most afeard to look at it, if you
had. She must have changed considerable. Time hasn't stood still with her
any more than the rest of us."

"I have no picture of my mother," Paul replied.

The packer saw that his question had jarred; he had waited weeks to ask
it. He passed it off now with one of his homely similes. "If you was to
break a cup clean in two, and put the halves together again while the
break was fresh, they'd knit so you wouldn't hardly see a crack. But you
take one half and set it in the chainy closet and chuck the other half out
on the ash-heap,--them halves won't look much like pieces of the same cup,
come a year or two. The edges won't jine no more than the lips of an old
cut that's healed without stitches. No; married folks they grow together
or they grow apart, and they're a-doing of the one or the other every
minute of the time, breaks or no breaks. Does she go up to the old place
summers?"

"Not lately, except on business," said Paul. "A company was formed to open
slate quarries on the upper farm, a good many years ago. They are worth
more than all the land forty times over."

"I always said so; always told the old man he had a gold mine in that
ridge. Was this before he died?"

"Long after. It was my mother's scheme mainly. She controls it now. She is
a very strong business woman."

"She got her training, likely, from that uncle in New York. He had the
business head. The old man had no more contrivance than one of the bulls
in his pastures. He could lock horns and stay there, but it wa'nt no
trouble to outflank him. More than once his brother Jacob got to the
windward of him in a bargain. He was made a good deal like his own land.
Winters of frost it took to break up that ground, and sun and rain to
meller it, and then't was a hatful of soil to a cartful of stone. The
plough would jump the furrows if you drew it deep. My arms used to ache as
if they'd been pounded, with the jar of them stones. They used to tell us
children a story how Satan, he flew over the earth a-sowing it with rocks
and stones, and as he was passing over our county a hole bu'st through his
leather apron and he lost his whole load right slam there. I could 'a'
p'inted out the very spot where the heft on it fell. Ten Stone meadow,
so-called. Ten million stone! I was pickin' stone in that field all of one
summer when I was fifteen year old. We built a mile of fence with it.

"Them quarries must have brought a mint of money into the country.
Different sort of labor, too. Well, the world grows richer and poorer
every year. More difference every year between the way rich folks and poor
folks live. I wouldn't know where I belonged, 't ain't likely, if I was to
go back there. I'd be way off! One while I used to think a good deal about
going back, just to take a look around. It comes over me lately like
hunger and thirst. I think about the most curious things when I'm
asleep--foolish, like a child! I can smell all the good home smells of a
frosty morning: apple pomace, steaming in the barnyard; sausage frying;
Becky scouring the brass furnace-kittle with salt and vinegar. Killin'
time, you know--makes you think of boiling souse and head-cheese. You ever
eat souse?" The packer sucked in his breath with a lean smile. "It ain't
best to dwell on it. But you can't help yourself, at night. I can smell
Becky's fresh bread, in my dreams, just out of the brick oven. Never eat
bread cooked in a stove till I came out here. I never drunk any water like
that spring on the ridge. Last night I was back there, and the maples were
all yellow like sunshine. Once it was spring, and apple-blooms up in the
hill orchard. And little Emmy, a-setting on the fence, with her bunnit
throwed back on her neck. 'Addy!' she called, way across the lot; 'Addy,
come, help me down!' She was a master hand for venturin' up on places, but
she didn't like the gettin' down.

"Well, she 'a learned the ups and downs by this time. She don't need Addy
to help her. I'd have helped a big sight more if I had kep' my distance.
It's a thing so con-demned foolish and unnecessary--I can't be reconciled
to it noway!"

"You see only one side of it," said Paul. Unspeakable thoughts had kept
pace with his father's words. "Nothing that happens, happens through
us--or to us--alone. There was a girl I knew, outside. She was as happy,
when I knew her first, as you say my mother used to be. Then she met some
one--a man--and the shadow of his life crossed hers. He would have wrapped
her up in it and put out her sunshine if he had stayed in the same world.
Now she can be herself again, after a while. It cannot take long to forget
a person you have known only a little over a year."

The packer rose on one elbow. He reached across and shook his son.

"Where is that girl? Answer me! Take your face out of your hands!"

"At Bisuka Barracks. She is the commandant's daughter. I came out to marry
her."

"What possessed ye not to tell me?"

"Why should I tell you? We buried the wedding-day months back, in the
snow."

"Boy, boy!" the packer groaned.

"What difference can it make now?"

"_All_ the difference--all the difference there is! I thought you were out
here touring it with them fool boys and they were all the chance you had
for help outside. You suppose her father is going to see her git left?
_They_'ll get in here, if they have to crawl on their bellies or climb
through the tree-limbs. They know how! And we've wasted the grub and
talked like a couple of women!"

"Oh, don't--don't torment me!" Paul groaned. "It was all over. Can't you
leave the dead in peace!"

"We are not the dead! I 'most wish we were. Boy, I've got a big word to
say to you about that. Come closer!" The packer's speech hoarsened and
failed. They could only hear each other breathe. Then it seemed to the
packer that his was the only breath in the darkness. He listened. A faint
cheer arose in the forest and a crashing of the dead underlimbs of the
pines.

He turned frantically upon his son, but no pledge could be extorted now.
Paul's lips were closed. He had lost consciousness.




XIV


KIND INQUIRIES

The colonel's drawing-room was as hot as usual the first hour after
dinner, and as usual it was full of kindly participant neighbors who had
dropped in to repeat their congratulations on the good news, now almost a
week old. Mrs. Bogardus had not come down, and, though asked after by all,
the talk was noticeably freer for her absence.

Mrs. Creve, in response to a telegram from her brother, had arrived from
Fort Sherman on the day before, prepared for anything, from frozen feet to
a wedding. She had spent the afternoon in town doing errands for Moya, and
being late for dinner had not changed her dress. There never was such a
"natural" person as aunt Annie. At present she was addressing the company
at large, as if they were all her promising children.

"Nobody talks about their star in these days. I used to have a star. I
forget which it was. I know it was a pretty lucky one. Now I trust in
Providence and the major and wear thick shoes." She exhibited the shoes, a
particularly large and sensible kind which she imported from the East.
Everybody laughed and longed to embrace her. "Has Moya got a star?" she
asked seriously.

"The whole galaxy!" a male voice replied. "Doesn't the luck prove it?"

"Moya has got a 'temperament,'" said Doctor Fleming, the Post surgeon.
"That's as good as having a star. You know there are persons who attract
misfortune just as sickly children catch all the diseases that are going.
I knew that boy was sure to be found. Anything of Moya's would be."

"So you think it was Moya's 'temperament' that pulled him out of the
snow?" said the colonel, wheeling his chair into the discussion.

"How about Mr. Winslow's temperament? I prefer to leave a little of the
credit to him," said Moya sweetly.

A young officer, who had been suffering in the corner by the fire, jumped
to his feet and bowed, then blushed and sat down again, regretting his
rashness. Moya continued to look at him with steadfast friendliness.
Winslow had led the rescue that brought her lover home. A glow of sympathy
united these friends and neighbors; the air was electrical and full of
emotion.

"I suppose no date has been fixed for the wedding?" Mrs. Dawson, on the
divan, murmured to Mrs. Creve. The latter smiled a non-committal assent.

"I should think they would just put the doctor aside and be married
anyhow. My husband says he ought to go to a warmer climate at once."

"My dear, a young man can't be married in his dressing-gown and slippers!"

"No! It's not as bad as that?"

"Well, not quite. He's up and dressed and walks about, but he doesn't come
down to his meals,--he can eat so very little at a time, and it tires him
to sit through a dinner. It isn't one of those ravenous recoveries. It
went too far with him for that."

"His mother was perfectly magnificent through it all, they say."

"Have you seen much of Mrs. Bogardus?"

"No; we left them alone, poor things, when the pinch came. But I used to
see her walking the porch, up and down, up and down. Moya would go off on
the hills. They couldn't walk together! That was after Miss Chrissy went
home. Her mother took her back, you know, and then returned alone.
Perfectly heroic! They say she dressed every evening for dinner as
carefully as if she were in New York, and led the conversation. She used
to make Moya read aloud to her--history, novels--anything to pretend they
were not thinking. The strain must have begun before any of us knew. The
colonel kept it so quiet. What is the dear man doing with your bonnet?"

The colonel had plucked his sister's walking-hat, a pert piece of
millinery froward in feathers, from the trunk of the headless Victory,
where she had reposed it in her haste before dinner.

"Mustn't be disrespectful to the household Lar," he kindly reminded her.

"Where am I to put my hats, then? I shall wear them on my head and come
down to breakfast in them. Moya, dear, will you please rescue my hat? Put
it anywhere, dear,--under your chair. There is not really a place in this
house to put a thing. A wedding that goes off on time is bad enough, but
one that hangs on from month to month--and doesn't even take care of its
clothes! Forgive me, dear! The clothes are very pretty. I open a
bureau-drawer to put away my middle-aged bonnet--a puff of violets! A pile
of something white, and, behold, a wedding veil! There isn't a hook in the
closet that doesn't say, 'Standing-room only,' and the standing-room is
all stood on by a regiment of new shoes."

"My dear woman, go light on our sore spots. We are only just out of the
woods."

"Isn't it bad to coddle your sore spots, Doctor? Like a saddle-gall, ride
them down!" Mrs. Creve and Dr. Fleming exchanged a friendly smile on the
strength of this nonsense. On the doctor's side it covered a suspicion:
"'The lady, methinks, protests too much'!" The colonel, too, was restless,
and Moya's sweet color came and went. She appeared to be listening for
steps or sounds from some other part of the house.

The men all rose now as Mrs. Bogardus entered; one or two of the ladies
rose also, compelled by something in her look certainly not intended. She
was careful to greet everybody; she even crossed the room and gave her
hand to Lieutenant Winslow, whom she had not seen since the night of his
return. The doctor she casually passed over with a bow; they had met
before that day. It was in the mind of each person present not of the
family, and excepting the doctor, to ask her: 'How is your son this
evening?' But for some reason the inquiry did not come off.

The company began suddenly to feel itself _de trop_. Mrs. Dawson, who had
come under the doctor's escort, glanced at him, awaiting the moment when
it would do to make the first move.

"I hear you lost a patient from the hospital yesterday?" said Lieutenant
Winslow, at the doctor's side.

"_From_, did you say? That's right! He was to have been operated on
to-day." The doctor shrugged his shoulders.

"What!"

"Two broken ribs. One grown fast to the lung."

"Wh-ew!"

"He just walked out. Said I had ordered him to have fresh air. There was a
new hall-boy, a greenhorn."

"He can't go far in that shape, can he?"

"Oh, there's no telling. The constitution of those men is beyond anything.
You can't kill him. He'll suffer of course, suffer like an animal, and die
like one--away from the herd. Maybe not this time, though."

"Was he afraid of the operation?"

"I can't say. He did not seem to be either afraid or anxious for help. Not
used to being helped. He would be taken to the Sisters' Hospital. Wouldn't
come up here as the guest of the Post, not a bit! I believe from the first
he meant to give us the slip, and take his chance in his own way."

"Did you hear,"--Mrs. Creve spoke up from the opposite side of the room
under that hypnotic influence by which a dangerous topic spreads,--"did
you hear about the poor guide who ran away from the hospital to escape
from our wicked doctor here? What a reputation you must have, Doctor!"

"All talk, my dear; town gossip," said the colonel. "You gave him his
discharge, didn't you, Doctor?" The colonel looked hard at the medical
officer; he had prepared the way for a statement suited to a mixed
company, including ladies. But Doctor Fleming stated things usually to
suit himself.

"There was a man who left the Sisters' Hospital rather informally
yesterday. I won't say he is not just as well off to-day as if he had
stayed."

"Who was it? Was it our man, father?"

"The doctor has more than one patient at the hospital." Colonel Middleton
looked reproachfully at the doctor, who continued to put aside as childish
these clumsy subterfuges. "I think you ladies frightened him away with
your attentions. He knew he was under heavy liabilities for all your
flowers and fancy cookery."

"Attentions! Are we going to let him die on the road somewhere?" cried
Moya.

"Miss Moya?" Lieutenant Winslow spoke up with a mixture of embarrassment
and resolution to be heard, though every voice in the room conspired
against him. "Those men are a big fraternity. They have their outfitting
places where they put in for repairs. Packer John had his blankets sent to
the Green Meadow corral. They know him there. They say he had money at one
of the stores. They all have a little money cached here and there. And
they _can't_ get lost, you know!"

Moya's eyes shone with a suspicious brightness.

    "'When the forest shall mislead me;
    When the night and morning lie.'"

She turned her swimming eyes upon Paul's mother, who would be sure to
remember the quotation.

Mrs. Bogardus remained perfectly still, her lips slightly parted. She grew
very pale. Then she rose and walked quickly to the door.

"Just a breath of cold air!" she panted. The doctor, Moya, and Mrs. Creve
had followed her into the hall. Moya placed herself on the settle beside
her and leaned to support her, but she sat back rigidly with her eyes
closed. Mrs. Creve looked on in quiet concern. "Let me take you into the
study, Mrs. Bogardus!" the doctor commanded. "A glass of water, Moya,
please."

"How is she? What is it? Can we do anything?" The company crowded around
Mrs. Creve on her return to the drawing-room. She glanced at her brother.
There was no clue there. He stood looking embarrassed and mystified. "It
is only the warm welcome we give our friends," she said aloud, smiling
calmly. "Mrs. Bogardus found the room too hot. I think I should have
succumbed myself but for that little recess in the hall."

The colonel attacked his fire. He thought he was being played with. Things
were not right in the house, and no one, not the doctor, or even Annie,
was frank with him. His kind face flushed as he straightened up to bid his
guests good-night.

"Well, if it's not anything serious, you think. But you'll be sure to let
us know?" said Mrs. Dawson. "Well, good-night, Mrs. Creve. _Good_-night,
Colonel! You'll say good-night to Moya? Do let us know if there is
anything we can do."

Dr. Fleming was in the hall looking for his cape. The colonel touched him
on the shoulder. "Don't be in a hurry, Doctor. Mrs. Dawson will excuse
you."

"I don't think you need me any more to-night. Moya is with Mrs. Bogardus.
She is not ill. The room was a little close."

"Never mind the _room_! Come in here. I want a word with you."

The doctor laughed oddly, and obeyed.

"Annie, you needn't leave us."

"Why, thank you, dear boy! It's awfully good of you," Annie mocked him.
"But I must go and relieve Moya."

"I don't believe you are wanted in there," said Doctor Fleming.

"It's more than obvious that I'm not in here."

"Oh, do sit down," said the teased colonel.

The fire sulked and smoked a trifle with its brands apart. Doctor Fleming
leaned forward upon his knees and regarded it thoughtfully. The colonel
sat fondling the tongs. In a deep chair Mrs. Creve lay back and shaded her
face with the end of her lace scarf. By her manner she might have been
alone in the room, yet she was keenly observant of the men, for she felt
that developments were taking place.

"What is the matter with your patient upstairs, Doctor?" the colonel began
his cross-examination. Doctor Fleming raised his eyebrows.

"He's had nothing to eat to speak of for six weeks, at an altitude"--

"Yes; we know all that. But he's twenty-four years old. They made an easy
trip back, and he has been here a week, nearly. He's not as strong as he
was when they brought him in, is he?"

"That was excitement. You have to allow for the reaction. He has had a
shock to the entire system,--nerves, digestion,--must give him time. Very
nervous temperament too much controlled."

"Make it as you like. But I'm disappointed in his rallying powers, unless
you are keeping something back. A boy with the grit to do what he did, and
stand it as he did--why isn't he standing it better now?"

"We are all suffering from reaction, I think," said Mrs. Creve
diplomatically; "and we show it by making too much of little things. Tom,
we oughtn't to keep the doctor up here talking nonsense. He wants to go to
bed."

"_I_'m not talking nonsense," said the doctor. "I should be if I pretended
there was anything mysterious about that boy's case upstairs. He has had a
tremendous experience, say what you will; and it's pulled him down
nervously, and every other way. He isn't ready or able to talk of it yet.
And he knows as soon as he comes down there'll be forty people waiting to
congratulate him and ask him how it was. I don't wonder he fights shy. If
he could take his bride by the hand and walk out of the house with her I
believe he could start to-morrow; but if there must be a wedding and a lot
of fuss"--

Mrs. Creve nodded her head approvingly. The three had risen and stood
around the hearth, while the colonel put the brands delicately together
with the skill of an old campaigner. The flames breathed again.

"I don't offer this as a professional opinion," said the doctor. "But a
case like his is not a disease, it's a condition"--

"Of the mind, perhaps?" the colonel added significantly. He glanced at
Mrs. Creve. "You've thought about that, Doctor? The letter his mother
consulted you about?"

"Have you been worrying about that, Colonel? Why didn't you say so? There
is nothing in it whatever. Why, it's so plain a case the other way--any
one can see where the animus comes from!"

"Now you _are_ getting mysterious, and I'm going to bed!" said Mrs. Creve.

"No; we're coming to the point now," said the colonel.

"What is it you want Bogardus to do?" asked Doctor Fleming. "Want him to
get up and walk out of the house as my patient did at the hospital? Dare
say he could do it, but what then? Will you let me speak out, Colonel? No
regard to anybody's feelings? Now, this may be gossip, but I think it has
a bearing on the case upstairs. I'm going to have it off my mind anyhow!
When Mrs. Bogardus came to see the guide,--Packer John,--day before
yesterday, was it?--he asked to see her alone. Said he had something
particular to say to her about her son. We thought it a queer start, but
she was willing to humor him. Well, she wasn't in there above ten minutes,
but in that time something passed between them that hit her very hard, no
doubt of that! Now, Bogardus holds his tongue like a gentleman as to what
happened in the woods. He doesn't mention his comrades' names. And the
packer has disappeared; so he can't be questioned. Seems to me a little
bird told me there was an attachment between one of those Bowen boys and
Miss Christine?

"Now we, who know what brutes brute fear will make of men, are not going
to deny that those boys behaved badly. There are some things that can't be
acknowledged among men, you know, if there is a hole to crawl out of.
Cowardice is one of them. Well then, they lied, that's the whole of it.
The little boys lied. They wrote Mrs. Bogardus a long letter from
Lemhi,"--the doctor was reviewing now for Mrs. Creve's benefit,--"when
they first got out. They probably judged, by the time they had had, that
Paul and the packer would never tell their own story. Very well: it
couldn't hurt Paul, it might be the saving of them, if they could show
that something had queered him in the woods. They asked his mother if she
had heard of the effects of altitude upon highly sensitive organizations.
They recounted some instances--I will mention them later. One of the boys
is a lawyer, isn't he? They are a pair of ingenious youths. Bogardus, they
claim, avoided them almost from the time they entered the woods,--almost
lived with the packer, behaved like a crank about the shooting. Whereas
they had gone there to kill things, he made it a personal matter whenever
they pursued this intention in a natural and undisguised manner. He had
pangs, like a girl, when the creatures expired. He hated the carcases, the
blood--forgive me, Mrs. Creve. In short, he called the whole business
butchery."

"Do you make _that_ a sign of lunacy?" Mrs. Creve flung in.

"I am quoting, you know." The doctor smiled indulgently. "They declare
that they offered--even begged--to stay behind with him, one of them, at
least, but he rejected their company in a manner so unpleasant that they
saw it would only be courting a quarrel to remain. And so, treating him
perforce like a child _or_ a lunatic _pro tem._, and having but little
time to decide in, they cut loose and hurried back for help. This is the
tale, composed on reflection. They said nothing of this to Winslow--to
save publicity, of course! Mrs. Bogardus's lips are doubly sealed, for her
son's sake and for the sake of the young scamp who is to be her son, by
and by! I saw she winced at my opinion, which I gave her
plainly--brutally, perhaps. And she asked me particularly to say nothing,
which I am particularly not doing.

"This, I think, you will find is the bitter drop in the cup of rejoicing
upstairs. And they are swallowing it in silence, those two, for the sake
of the little girl and the old friends in New York. Of course she has kept
from Paul that last shot in the back from those sweet boys! The packer had
some unruly testimony he was bursting with, which he had sense enough to
keep for her alone, and she doesn't want the case to spread. It is
singular how a man in his condition could get out of the way as suddenly
as he did. You might think he'd been taken up in a cloud."

"Doctor, what do you mean by such an insinuation as that?"

"Colonel, have I insinuated anything? Did I say she had oiled the wheels
of his departure?"

"Come, come! You go too far!"

"Not at all. That's your own construction. I merely say that I am not
concerned about that man's disappearance. I think he'll be looked after,
as a valuable witness should be."

"Well," the colonel grumbled uneasily, "I don't like mysteries myself, and
I don't like family quarrels nor skeletons at the feasts of old friends.
But I suppose there must be a drop in every cup. What were your altitude
cases, Doctor?"

"The same old ones; poor Addison, you know. All those stories they tell an
Easterner. As I pointed out to Mrs. Bogardus, in every case there was some
predisposing cause. Addison had been too long in the mountains, and he was
frightfully overworked; short of company officers. He came to me about an
insect he said had got into his ear; buzzed, and bothered him day and
night. The story got to the men's quarters. They joked about the colonel's
'bug.' I knew it was no joke. I condemned him for duty, but the Sioux were
out. They thought at Washington no one but Addison could handle an Indian
campaign. He was on the ground, too. So they sent him up higher where it
was dry, with a thousand men in his hands. I knew he'd be a madman or a
dead man in a month! There were a good many of the dead! By Jove! The boys
who took his orders and loved the old fellow and knew he was sending them
to their death! Well for him that he'll never know."

"The 'altitude of heartbreak,'" sighed Mrs. Creve. The phrase was her own,
for many a reason deeply known unto herself, but she gave it the effect of
a quotation before the men.

"Then you think there is no 'altitude' in ours?"

"No; nor 'heartbreak' either," said the doctor, helping himself to one of
the colonel's cigars. "But I don't say there isn't enough to keep a woman
awake nights, and to make those young men avoid the sight of each other
for a time. Thanks, I won't smoke now. I'm going to take a look at Mrs.
Bogardus as I go out."




XV


A BRIDEGROOM OF SNOW

The doctor had taken his look, feeling a trifle guilty under his patient's
counter gaze, yet glad to have relieved the good colonel's anxiety. If he
loved to gossip, at least he was particular as to whom he gossiped with.

Moya closed the door after him and silently resumed her seat. Mrs.
Bogardus helped herself to a sip of water. She was struggling with a dry
constriction of the throat, and Moya protested a little, seeing the effort
that it cost her to speak, even in the hoarse, unnatural tone which was
all the voice she had left.

"I want to finish now," she said, "and never speak of this again. It was I
who accused them first--and then I asked him:--if there was anything he
could say in their defense, to say it, for Chrissy's sake! 'I will never
break bread with them again,' said he,--'either Banks or Horace. I will
not eat with them, or drink with them, or speak with them again!' Think of
it! How are we to live? How are they to inhabit the same city? He thinks I
have been weak. I am weak! The only power I have is through--the property.
Banks will never marry a poor girl. But that would be a dear-bought
victory. Let her keep what faith in him she can. No; in families, the ones
who can control themselves have to give in--to those who can't. If you
argue with Christine she simply gives way, and then she gets hysterical,
and then she is ill. It's a disease. Mothers know how their
children--Christine was marked--marked with trouble! I am thankful she has
any mind at all. She needs me more than Paul does. I cannot be parted from
my power to help her--such as it is."

"When she is Banks Bowen's wife she will need you more than ever!" said
Moya.

"She will. I could prevent the marriage, but I am afraid to. I am afraid!
So, as the family is cut in two--in three, for I"--Mrs. Bogardus stopped
and moistened her lips again. "So--I think you and Paul had better make
your arrangements and go as soon as you can wherever it suits you, without
minding about the rest of us."

Moya gave a little sobbing laugh. "You don't expect me to make the first
move!"

"Doesn't he say anything to you--anything at all?"

"He is too ill."

"He is not ill!" Mrs. Bogardus denied it fiercely. "Who says he is ill? He
is starved and frozen. He is just out of the grave. You must be good to
him, Moya. Warm him, comfort him! You can give him the life he needs. Your
hands are as soft as little birds. They comfort even me. Oh, don't you
understand!"

"Of course I understand!" Moya answered, her face aflame. "But I cannot
marry Paul. He has got to marry me."

"What nonsense that is! People say to a girl: 'You can't be too cold
before you are married or too kind after!' That does not mean you and
Paul. If you are not kind to him _now_, you will make a great mistake."

"He is not thinking of marriage," said Moya. "Something weighs on him all
the time. I cannot ask him questions. If he wanted to tell me he would.
That is why I come downstairs and leave him. But he won't come down! Is it
not strange? If we could believe such things I would say a Presence came
with, him out of that place. It is with him when I find him alone. It is
in his eyes when he looks at me. It is not something past and done with,
it is here--now--in this house! _What_ is it? What do _you_ believe?"

The eyes she sought to question hardened under her gaze. Here, too, was a
veil. Mrs. Bogardus sat with her hands clasped in her lap. She was
motionless, but the creaking of her silks could be heard as her bosom rose
and fell. After a moment she said: "Paul's tray is on the table in the
dining-room. Will you take it when you go up?"

Moya altered her own manner instantly. "But you?" she hesitated. "I must
not crowd you out of all your mother privileges. You have handed over
everything to me."

"A mother's privilege is to see herself no longer needed. I can do nothing
more for my son"--her smile was hard--"except take care of his money."

"Paul's mother!"

"My dear, do you suppose we mind? It is a very great privilege to be
allowed to step aside when your work is done."

"Paul's _mother!_" Moya insisted.

Mrs. Bogardus rose. "You don't remember your own mother, my dear. You have
an exaggerated idea of the--the importance of mothers. They are only a
temporary arrangement." She put out her hands and the girl's cheek touched
hers for an instant; then she straightened herself and walked calmly out
of the room. Moya remained a little longer, afraid to follow her. "If she
would not smile! If she would do anything but smile!"

Paul was walking about his room, half an hour later, when Moya stopped
outside his door. She placed the tray on a table in the hall. The door was
opened from within. Paul had heard his mother go up before, heard her
pause at the stairs, and, after a silence, enter her own room.

"She knows that I know," he said to himself. "That knowledge will be
always between us; we can never look each other in the face again." To
Moya he endeavored to speak lightly.

"It sounded very gay downstairs to-night. You must have had a houseful."

"I have been with your mother the last hour," answered Moya, vaguely on
the defensive. Since Paul's return there had been little of the old free
intercourse in words between them, and without this outlet their mutual
consciousness became acute. Often as they saw each other during the day,
the keenest emotion attached to the first meeting of their eyes.

Paul was unnerved by his sudden recall from death to life. Its contrasts
were overwhelming to his starved senses: from the dirt and dearth and
grimy despair of his burial hutch in the snow to this softly lighted,
close-curtained room, warm and sweet with flowers; from the gaunt,
unshaven spectre of the packer and his ghostly revelations, to Moya,
meekly beautiful, her bright eyes lowered as she trailed her soft skirts
across the carpet; Moya seated opposite, silent, conscious of him in every
look and movement. Her lovely hands lay in her lap, and the thought of
holding them in his made him tremble; and when he recalled the last time
he had kissed her he grew faint. He longed to throw off this exhausting
self-restraint, but feared to betray his helpless passion which he deemed
an insult to his soul's worship of her.

And she was thinking: "Is this all it is going to mean--his coming
home--our being together? And I was almost his wife!"

"So it was my mother you were talking to in the study? I thought I heard a
man's voice."

"It was the doctor. Your mother was not quite herself this evening. He
came in to see her, but he does not think she is ill. 'Rest and change,'
he says she needs."

Paul gave the words a certain depth of consideration. "Are you as well as
usual, Moya?"

"Oh, I am always well," she answered cheerlessly. "I seem to thrive on
anything--everything," she corrected herself, and blushed.

The blush made him gasp. "You are more beautiful than ever. I had
forgotten that beauty is a physical fact. The sight of you confuses me."

"I always told you you were morbid." Moya's happy audacity returned. "Now,
how long are you going to sit and think about that?"

"Do I sit and think about things?" His reluctant, boyish smile, which all
women loved, captured his features for a moment. "It is very rude of me."

"Suppose I should ask you what you are thinking about?"

"Ah! I am afraid you would say 'morbid' again."

"Try me! You ought to let me know at once if you are going to break out in
any new form of morbidness."

"I wish it might amuse you, but it wouldn't. Let me put you a
case--seriously."

Moya smiled. "Once we were serious--ages ago. Do you remember?"

"Do I remember!"

"Well? You are you, and I am I, still."

"Yes; and as full of fateful surprises for each other."

"I bar 'fateful'! That word has the true taint of morbidness."

"But you can't 'bar' fate. Listen: this is a supposing, you know. Suppose
that an accident had happened to our leader on the way home--to your
Lieutenant Winslow, we'll say"--

"_My_ lieutenant!"

"Your father's--the regiment's--Lieutenant Winslow 'of ours.' Suppose we
had brought him back in a state to need a surgeon's help; and without a
word to any one he should get up and walk out of the hospital with his
hurts not healed, and no one knew why, or where he had gone? There would
be a stir about it, would there not? And if such a poor spectre of a
bridegroom as I were allowed to join the search, no one would think it
strange, or call it a slight to his bride if the fellow went?"

"I take your case," said Moya with a beaming look. "You want to go after
that poor man who suffered with you."

"Who went with us to save us from our own headstrong folly, and would have
died there alone"--

"Yes; oh, yes!--before you begin to think about yourself, or me. Because
he is nobody 'of ours,' and no one seems to feel responsible, and we go on
talking and laughing just the same!"

"Do they talk of this downstairs?"

"To-night they were talking--oh, with such philosophy! But how came you to
know it?"

Paul did not answer this question. "Then"--he drew a long breath,--"then
you could bear it, dear?--the comment, even if they called it a slight to
you and a piece of quixotic lunacy? Others will not take my case,
remember."

"What others?"

"They will say: 'Why doesn't he send a better man? He is no trailer.' It
is true. Money might find him and bring him back, but all the money in the
world could not teach him to trust his friends. There is a
misunderstanding here which is too bitter to be borne. It is hard to
explain,--the intimacy that grows up between men placed as we were. But as
soon as help reached us, the old lines were drawn. I belonged with the
officers, he with the men. We could starve together, but we could not eat
together. He accepted it--put himself on that basis at once. He would not
come up here as the guest of the Post. He is done with us because he
thinks we are done with him. And he knows that I must know his occupation
is gone. He will never guide nor pack a mule again."

"Your mother and my father, they will understand. What do the others
matter?"

"I must tell you, dear, that I do not propose to tell them--especially
them--why I go. For I am going. I must go! There are reasons I cannot
explain." He sighed, and looked wildly at Moya, whose smile was becoming
mechanical. "I hate the excuse, but it will have to be said that I go for
a change--for my health. My health! Great God! But it's 'orders,' dear."

"Your orders are my orders. You are never going anywhere again without
me," said Moya slowly. Her smile was gone. She stood up and faced him,
pale and beautiful. He rose, too, and stooped above her, taking her hands
and gazing into her full blue eyes arched like the eyes of angels.

"I thought she was a girl! But she is a woman," he said in a voice of
caressing wonder. "A woman, and not afraid!"

"I am afraid. I will not be left--I will not be left again! Oh, you won't
take me, even when I offer myself to you!"

"Don't--don't tempt me!" Paul caught her to him with a groan. "You don't
know me well enough to be afraid of _me!_"

"You! You will not let me know you."

"Oh, hush, dear--hush, my darling! This isn't thinking. We must think for
our lives. I must take care of you, precious. We don't know where this
search may take us, or where it will end, or what the end will be." He
kissed the sleeve of her dress, and put her gently from him, so that he
could look her in the eyes. She gave him her full pure gaze.

"It is the poor man again. You said he would spoil our lives."

"He is _our_ poor man. You didn't go out of your way to find him. And your
way is mine."

"It is so heavenly to be convinced! Who taught you to see things at a
glance,--things I have toiled and bungled over and don't know now if I am
right! _Who_ taught you?"

"Do you think I stood still while you were away! Oh, my heart was sifted
out by little pieces."

"You shall sift mine. You shall tell me what to do. For I know nothing!
Not even if I may dare to take this angel at her word!"

"I knew you would not take me!" the girl whispered wildly. "But I shall
go."




XVI


THE NATURE OF AN OATH

"Your tray! It is after ten o'clock. Your 'angel' is a bad nurse." Moya
brought the tray and set it on a little stand beside Paul's chair. He
watched her shy, excited preparations as she moved about, conscious of his
eyes. The saucepan staggered upon the coals and they both sprang to save
the broth, and pouring it she burnt her thumb a little, and he behaved
quite like any ordinary young man. They were ecstatic to find themselves
at ease with each other once more. Moya became disrespectful to her
charge; such sweet daring looked from her eyes into his as made him
riotous with joy.

"Won't you take some with me?" He turned the cup towards her and watched
her as she sipped.

"'It was roast with fire,'" he pronounced softly and dreamily, 'because of
the dreadful pains. It was to be eaten with bitter herbs'"--

"What _are_ you saying?"--

"'To remind them of their bondage.'"

"I object to your talking about bondage and bitter herbs when you are
eating aunt Annie's delicious consomme."

He gravely sipped in turn, still with his eyes in hers. "Can you remember
what you were doing on the second of November?"

"Can I remember!"

"Yes; tell me. I have a reason for asking."

"Tell _me_ the reason first."

"May we have a little more fire, darling? It gives me chills to think of
that day. It was the last of my wretched pot-hunting. There was nothing to
hunt for--the game had all gone down, but I did not know that. Somewhere
in the woods, a long way from the cabin, it began to occur to me that I
should not make shelter that night. A fool and his strength are soon
parted. It was a little hollow with trees all around so deep that in the
distance their trunks closed in like a wall. Snow can make a wonderful
silence in the woods. I seemed to hear the thoughts of everybody I loved
in the world outside. There had been a dullness over me for weeks. I could
not make it true that I had ever been happy--that you really loved me. All
that part of my life was a dream. Now, in that silence suddenly I felt
you! I knew that you cared. It was cruel to die so if you did love me! It
brought the 'pang and spur'! I fought the drowsiness that was taking away
my pain. I had begun to lean on it as a comfortable breast. I woke up and
tore myself away from that siren sleep. It was my darling,--her love that
saved me. Without that thought of you, I never would have stirred again.
Where were you, what were you thinking that brought you so close to me?"

"Ah," said Moya in a whisper. "I was in that room across the hall, alone.
They were good to me that day; they made excuses and left me to myself. In
the afternoon a box came,--from poor father,--white roses, oh, sweet and
cold as snow! I took them up to that room and forced myself to go in. It
was where my things were kept, the trunks half packed, all the drawers and
closets full. And my wedding dress laid out on the bed. We girls used to
go up there at first and look at the things, and there was laughing and
joking. Sometimes I went up alone and tried on my hats before the glass,
and thought where I should be when I wore them, and--Well! all that
stopped. I dreaded to pass the door. Everything was left just as it was;
the shutters open, the poor dress covered with a sheet on the bed. The
room was a death-chamber. I went in. I carried the roses to my dead. I
drew down the sheet and put my face in that empty dress. It was my selfish
self laid out there--the girl who knew just what she wanted and was going
to get it if she could. Happiness I dared not even pray for--only
remembrance--everlasting remembrance. That we might know each other again
when no more life was left to part us--_my_ life. It seemed long to wait,
but that was my--marriage vow. I gave you all I could, remembrance, faith
till death."

"Then you are my own!" said Paul, his face transformed. "God was our
witness. Life of my life--for life and death!" Solemnly he took a
bridegroom's kiss from her lips.

"How do _you_ know that it is life that parts?"

"Speak so I can understand you!" Moya cried. "Ah, if I might! A man must
not have secrets from his wife. Secrets are destruction, don't you think?"

Moya waited in silence.

"Now we come to this bondage!" He let the words fall like a load from his
breast. "This is a hideous thing to tell you, but it will cut us apart
unless you know it. It compels me to do things." He paused, and they heard
a door down the passage open,--the door of his mother's room. A step came
forward a few paces. Silence; it retreated, and the door closed again
stealthily.

"She has not slept," Paul murmured. "Poor soul, poor soul! Now, in what I
am going to say, please listen to the facts, Moya dear. Try not to infer
anything from my way of putting things. I shall contradict myself, but the
facts do that.

"The--the guide--John, we will call him, had a long fever in the woods. It
would come on worse at night, and then--he talked--words, of a shocking
intimacy. They say that nothing the mind has come in contact with under
strong emotion is ever lost, no matter how long in the past. It will
return under similar excitement. This man had kept stored away in his
mind, under some such pressure, the words of a woman's message, a woman in
great distress. Over and over, as his pulse rose, countless times he would
repeat that message. I went out of the hut at night and stood outside in
the snow not to hear it, but I knew it as well as he did before we got
through. Now, this was what he said, word for word.

"'Do not blame me, my dear husband. I have held out in this place as long
as I can. Don't wait for anything. Don't worry about anything. Come back
to me with your bare hands. Come!--to your loving Emmy!'

"'Come, come!' he would shout out loud. Then in another voice he would
whisper, 'Come back to me with your bare hands!' And he would stare at his
hands and his face would grow awful."

Moya drew a long sigh of scared attention.

"Those words were all over the cabin walls. I heard them and saw them
everywhere. There was no rest from them. I could have torn the roof down
to stop his talking, but the words it was not possible to forget. And
where was the horror of it? Was not this what we had asked, for years, to
know?"

"You need not explain to me," said Moya, shuddering.

"Yes; but all one's meanest motives were unearthed in a place like that.
Would I have felt so with a different man? Some one less uncouth? Was it
the man himself, or his"--

"Paul, if anything could make you a snob, it would be your deadly fear of
being one!"

"Well, if they had found us then, God knows how that fight would have
ended. But I won it--when there was nothing left to fight for. I owned
him--in the grave. We owned each other and took a bashful sort of comfort
in it, after we had shuffled off the 'Mister' and 'John.' I grew quite
fond of him, when we were so near death that his English didn't matter, or
his way of eating. I thought him a very remarkable man, you remember, when
he was just material for description. He was, he is remarkable. Most
remarkable in this, he was not ashamed of his son."

"Do please let that part alone. I want to know what he was doing, hiding
away by himself all these years? I believe he is an impostor!"

"We came to that, of course; though somehow I forgave him before he could
answer the question. In the long watch beside him I got very close to him.
It was not possible to believe him a deserter, a sneak. Can you take my
word for his answer? It was given as a death-bed confession and he is
living."

"I would take your word for anything except yourself!" Moya did not smile,
or think what she was saying.

"That answer cleared him, in my mind, with something over to the credit of
blind, stupid heroism. He is not a clever man. But, speaking as one who
has teen face to face with the end of things, I can say that I know of no
act of his that should prevent his returning to his family--if he had a
family--not even his deserting them for twenty years. _If_, I say!

"When the soldiers found us we were too far gone to realize the issue that
was upon us. He was the first to take it in. It was on the march home, at
night, he touched me and began speaking low in our corner of the tent. 'As
we came in here, so we go out again, and so we stay,' he said. I told him
it could not be. To suppress what I had learned would make the whole of
life a lie, a coward's lie. That knowledge belonged to my mother. I must
render it up to her. To do otherwise would be to treat her like a child
and to meddle with the purposes of God. 'No honest man robs another of his
secrets,' he said. He was very much excited. She was the only one now to
be considered--and what did I know about God's purposes? He refused to
take my scruples into consideration, except such as concerned her. But,
after a long argument, very painful, weak as we were and whispering in the
dark, he yielded this much. If I were bent on digging up the dead, as he
called it, it must be done in such a way as to leave her free. Free she
was in law, and she must be given a chance to claim her freedom without
talk or publicity. Absolute secrecy he demanded of me in the mean time. I
begged him to see how unfair it was to her to bring her face to face with
such a discovery without one word of preparation, of excuse for him. She
would condemn him on the very fact of his being alive. So she would, he
said, if she were going to judge him; not if she felt towards him as--as a
wife feels to her husband. It was that he wanted to know. It was that or
nothing he would have from her. 'Bring me face to face with her alone, and
as sudden as you like. If she knows me, I am the man. And if she wants me
back, she will know me--and that way I'll come and no other way.' Was not
that wonderful? A gentleman could hardly have improved on that. Whatever
feeling he might be supposed to have towards her in the matter we could
never touch upon. But I think he had his hopes. That decision was hanging
over us--and I trembled for her. Day before yesterday, was it, I persuaded
her to see the sick guide. She wondered why I was faint as she kissed me
good-by. I ought to have prepared her. It was a horrible snare. And yet he
meant it all in delicacy, a passionate consideration for her. Poor fool.
How could I prepare _him!_ How could he keep pace with the changes in her!
After all, it is externals that make us,--habits, clothes. Great God!
Things you could not speak of to a naked soul like him. But he would have
it 'straight,' he said--and straight he got it. And he is gone; broke away
like an animal out of a trap. And I am going to find him, to see at least
that he has a roof over his head. God knows, he may not die for years!"

"She has got years before her too."

"She!--What am I saying! We have plunged into those damnable inferences
and I haven't given you the facts. Wait. I shall contradict all this in a
moment. I thought, she must have done this for her children. She must be
given another chance. And I approached the thing on my very knees--not to
let her know that I knew, only to hint that I was not unprepared, had
guessed--could meet it, and help her to meet the problems it would bring
into our lives. Help her! She stood and faced me as if I had insulted her.
'I have been your father's widow for twenty-two years. If that fact is not
sacred to you, it is to me. Never dare to speak of this to me again!'"

"Ah," said Moya in a long-drawn sigh, "then she did not"--

"Oh, she did, explicitly! For I went on to speak of it. It was my last
chance. I asked her how she--we--could possibly go through with it; how
with this knowledge between us we could look each other in the face--and
go on living.

"'Put this hallucination out of your mind,' she said. 'That man and I are
strangers.'"

"Was that--would you call that a lie?" asked Moya fearfully.

"You can see your answer in her face. I do not say that hers was the first
lie. It must always be foolish, I think, to evade the facts of life as we
make them for ourselves. He refused to meet his facts, from the noblest
motives;--but now I'm tangling you all up again! Rest your head here,
darling. This is such a business! It is a pity I cannot tell you his whole
story. Half the meaning of all this is lost. But--here is a solemn
declaration in writing, signed John Hagar, in which this man we are
speaking of says that Adam Bogardus was his partner, who died in the woods
and was buried by his hand; that he knew his story, all the scenes and
circumstances of his life in many a long talk they had together, as well
as he knew his own. In his delirium he must have confused himself with his
old partner, and half in dreams, he said, half in the crazy satisfaction
of pretending to himself he had a son, he allowed the delusion to go on;
saw it work upon me, and half feared it, half encouraged it. Afterwards he
was frightened at the thought of meeting my mother, who would know him for
an impostor. His seeming scruples were fear of exposure, not consideration
for her. This was why he guarded their interview so carefully. 'No harm's
been done,' he says, 'if you'll act now like a sensible man. I'll be
disappointed in you if you make your mother any trouble about this. You've
treated me as square as any man could treat another. Remember, I say so,
and think as kindly as you can of a harmless, loony old impostor'--and he
signs himself 'John Hagar,'--which shows again how one lie leads to
another. We go to find 'John Hagar.'"

"Have you shown your mother this letter? You have not? Paul, you will not
rob her of her just defense!"

"I will not heap coals of fire on her head! This letter simply completes
his renunciation, and he meant it for her defense. But when a man signs
himself 'John Hagar' in the handwriting of my father, it shows that
somebody is not telling the truth. I used to pore over the old farm
records in my father's hand at Stone Ridge in the old account books stowed
away in places where a boy loves to poke and pry. I know it as well as I
know yours. Do you suppose she would not know it? When a man writes as few
letters as he does, the handwriting does not change." Paul laid the letter
upon the coals. "It is the only witness against her, but it loses the
case."

"She never could have loved him. I never believed she did!" said Moya.

"She thinks she can live out this deep-down, deliberate--But it will kill
her, Moya. Her life is ended from this on. How could I have driven her to
that excruciating choice! I ought to have listened to him altogether or
not at all. There is a hell for meddlers, and the ones who meddle for
conscience' sake are the deepest damned, I think."

Moya came and wreathed her arm in his, and they paced the room in silence.
At length she said, "If we go to find John Hagar, shall we not be meddling
again? A man who respects a woman's freedom must love his own. It is the
last thing left him. Don't hunt him down. I believe nothing could hurt him
now like seeing you again."

"He shall not see me unless he wants to, but he shall know where I stand
on this question of the Impostor. It shall be managed so that even he can
see I am protecting her. No, call himself what he will, the tie between
him and me is another of those facts."

"But do you love him, Paul?"

"Oh--I cannot forget him! He is--just as he used to be--'poor father out
there in the cold.' We must find him and comfort him somehow."

"For our own peace of mind? Forgive me for arguing when everything is so
difficult. But he is a man--a brave man who would rather be forever out in
the cold than be a burden. Do not rob him of his right to _be_ John Hagar
if he wants to, for the sake of those he loves. You do not tell me it was
love, but I am sure it was, in some mistaken way, that drove him into
exile. Only love as pure as his can be our excuse for dragging him back.
He did not want shelter and comfort from her. Only one thing. Have we got
that to give him?"

"Well then, I go for my own sake--it is a physical necessity; and I go for
hers. She has put it out of her own power to help him. It will ease her a
little to know I am trying to reach him in his forlorn disguise."

"But you were not going to tell her?"

"In words, no. But she will understand. There is a strange clairvoyance
between us, as if we were accomplices in a crime!"

Moya reflected silently. This search which Paul had set his heart upon
would equally work his own cure, she saw. Nor could she now imagine for
themselves any lover's paradise inseparable from this moral tragedy, which
she saw would be fibre of their fibre, life of their life. A family is an
organism; one part may think to deny or defy another, but with strange
pains the subtle union exerts itself; distance cannot break the thread.

They kissed each other solemnly like little children on the eve of a long
journey full of awed expectancy.

Mrs. Bogardus stood holding her door ajar as Moya passed on her way
downstairs. "You are very late," she uttered hoarsely. "Is nothing settled
yet?"

"Everything!" Moya hesitated and forced a smile, "everything but where we
shall go. We will start--and decide afterwards."

"You go together? That is right. Moya, you have a genius for happiness!"

"I wish I had a genius for making people sleep who lie awake hours in the
night thinking about other people!"

"If you mean me, people of my age need very little sleep."

"May I kiss you good-night, Paul's mother?"

"You may kiss me because I am Paul's mother, not because I do not sleep."

Moya's lips touched a cheek as white and almost as cold as the frosted
window-panes through which the moon was glimmering. She thought of the icy
roses on her wedding dress.

Downstairs her father was smoking his bedtime cigar. Mrs. Creve, very
sleepy and cosy and flushed, leaned over the smouldering bed of coals. She
held out her plump, soft hand to Moya.

"Come here and be scolded! We have been scolding you steadily for the last
hour."

"If you want that young man to get his strength back, you'd better not
keep him up talking half the night," the colonel growled softly. "Do you
see what time it is?"

Moya knelt and leaned her head against her father. She reached one hand to
Mrs. Creve. They did not speak again till her weak moment had passed. "It
will be very soon," she said, pressing the warm hand that stroked her own.
"You will help me pack, aunt Annie; and then you'll stay--with father? I
know you are glad to have me out of the way at last!"




XVII


THE HIDDEN TRAIL

Because they had set forth on a grim and sorrowful quest, it need not be
supposed that Paul and Moya were a pair of sorrowful pilgrims. It was
their wedding journey. At the outset Moya had said: "We are doing the best
we know. For what we don't know, let us leave it and not brood."

They did not enter at once upon the more eccentric stages of the search.
They went by way of the Great Northern to Portland, descending from snow
to roses and drenching rains. At Pendleton, which is at the junction of
three great roads, Paul sent tracers out through express agents and train
officials along the remotest slender feeders of these lines. Through the
same agents it was made known that for any service rendered or expense
incurred on behalf of the person described, his friends would hold
themselves gratefully responsible.

At Portland, Paul searched the steamer lists and left confidential orders
in the different transportation offices; and Moya wrote to his mother--a
woman's letter, every page shining with happiness and as free from
apparent forethought as a running brook.

They returned by the Great Northern and Lake Coeur d'Alene, stopping over
at Fort Sherman to visit Mrs. Creve, who was giddy with joy over the
wholesome change in Paul. She, too, wrote a woman's letter concerning that
visit, to the colonel, which cleared a crowd of shadows from his lonely
hearth.

Thence again to Pendleton came the seekers, and Paul gathered in his
lines, but found nothing; so cast them forth again. But through all these
distant elaborations of the search, in his own mind he saw the old man
creeping away by some near, familiar trail and lying hid in some warm
valley in the hills, his prison and his home.

It was now the last week in March. The travelers' bags were in the office,
the carriage at the door, when a letter--pigeon-holed and forgotten since
received some three weeks before--was put into Paul's hand.

I run up against your ad. in the Silver City Times [the communication
began]. If you haven't found your man yet, maybe I can put you onto the
right lead. I'm driving a jerky on the road from Mountain Home to Oriana,
but me and the old man we don't jibe any too well. I've got a sort of
disgust on me. Think I'll quit soon and go to mining. Jimmy Breen he runs
the Ferry, he can tell you all I know. Fifty miles from Mountain Home good
road can make it in one day. Yours Respecfully,

J. STRATTON.

It was in following up this belated clue that the pilgrims had come to the
Ferry inn, crossing by team from valley to valley, cutting off a great
bend of the Oregon Short Line as it traverses the Snake River desert;
those bare high plains escarped with basalt bluffs that open every fifty
miles or so to let a road crawl down to some little rope-ferry supported
by sheep-herders, ditch contractors, miners, emigrants, ranchmen, all the
wild industries of a country in the dawn of enterprise.

Business at the Ferry had shrunk since the railroad went through. The
house-staff consisted of Jimmy Breen, a Chinese cook of the bony, tartar
breed, sundry dogs, and a large bachelor cat that mooned about the empty
piazzas. In a young farming country, hungry for capital, Jimmy could not
do a cash business, but everything was grist that came to his mill; and he
was quick to distinguish the perennial dead beat from a genuine case of
hard luck.

"That's a good axe ye have there," pointing suggestively to a new one
sticking out of the rear baggage of an emigrant outfit. "Ye better l'ave
that with me for the dollar that's owing me. If ye have money to buy new
axes ye can't be broke entirely." Or: "Slip the halter on that calf behind
there. The mother hasn't enough to keep it alive. There's har'ly a
dollar's wort' of hide on its bones, but I'll take it to save it droppin'
on the road." Or, he would try sarcasm: "Well, we'll be shuttin' her down
in the spring. Then ye can go round be Walter's Ferry and see if they'll
trust ye there." Or: "Why wasn't ye workin' on the Ditch last winter?
Settin' smokin' your poipe in the tules, the wife and young ones packin'
sagebrush to kape ye warm!"

On the morning after their distinguished arrival, Jimmy's guests came down
late to a devastated breakfast-table. Little heaps of crumbs here and
there showed where earlier appetites had had their destined hour and gone
their way. At an impartial distance from the top and the foot of the table
stood the familiar group of sauce and pickle bottles, every brand dear to
the cowboy, including the "surrup-jug" adhering to its saucer. There was a
fresh-gathered bunch of wild phlox by Moya's plate in a tumbler printed
round the edge with impressions of a large moist male thumb.

"Catchee plenty," the Chinaman grinned, pointing to the plain outside
where the pale sage-brush quivered stiffly in the wind. "Bymbye plenty
come. Pretty col' now."

"You'll be getting a large hump on yourself, Han, me boy. 'T is a cash
crowd we have here--and a lady, by me sowl!" Thus Jimmy exhorted his
household. Times were looking up. They would be a summer resort before the
Ditch went through; it should be mentioned in the Ditch company's
prospectus. Jimmy had put his savings into land-office fees and had a
hopeful interest in the Ditch.

A spur in the head is worth two in the heel. Without a word from "the
boss" Han had found time to shave and powder and polish his brown forehead
and put on his whitest raiment over his baggiest trousers. There was loud
panic among the fowls in the corral. The cat had disappeared; the jealous
dogs hung about the doors and were pushed out of the way by friends of
other days.

Seated by the office fire, Paul was conferring with Jimmy, who was happy
with a fresh pipe and a long story to tell to a patient and paying
listener. He rubbed the red curls back from his shining forehead, took the
pipe from his teeth, and guided a puff of smoke away from his auditor.

"I seen him settin' over there on his blankets,"--he pointed with his pipe
to the opposite shore plainly visible through the office windows,--"but he
niver hailed me, so I knowed he was broke. Some, whin they're broke, they
holler all the louder. Ye would think they had an appointment wit' the
Governor and he sint his car'iage to meet them. But he was as humble, he
was, as a yaller dog.--Out! Git out from here--the pack of yez! Han, shut
the dure an' drive thim bloody curs off the piazzy. They're trackin' up
the whole place.--As I was sayin', sor, there he stayed hunched up in the
wind, waitin' on the chanst of a team comin', and I seen he was an ould
daddy. I stud the sight of him as long as I cud, me comin' and goin'. He
fair wore me out. So I tuk the boat over for 'im. One of his arrums he
couldn't lift from the shoulder, and I give him a h'ist wit' his bundle.
Faith, it was light! 'Twinty years a-getherin',' he cackles, slappin' it.
'Ye've had harrud luck,' I says. ''T is not much of a sheaf ye are packin'
home.' 'That's as ye look at it,' he says.

"I axed him what way was he goin'. He was thinking to get a lift as far as
Oriana, if the stages was runnin' on that road. 'Then ye 'll have to bide
here till morning,' I says, 'for ye must have met the stage goin' the
other way.' 'I met nothing,' says he; 'I come be way of the
bluffs,'--which is a strange way for one man travelin' afoot.

"The grub was on the table, and I says, 'Sit by and fill yourself up.' His
cheeks was fallin' in wit' the hunger. With that his poor ould eye begun
to water. 'Twas one weak eye he had that was weepin' all the time. 'I've
got out of the habit of reg'lar aitin',' he says. 'It don't take much to
kape me goin'.' 'Niver desave yourself, sor! 'T is betther feed three
hungry men than wan "no occasion."' His appetite it grew on him wit' every
mouthful. There was a boundless emptiness to him. He lay there on the
bench and slep' the rest of the evening, and I left him there wit' a big
fire at night. And the next day at noon we h'isted him up beside of Joe
Stratton. A rip-snorter of a wind was blowin' off the Silver City peaks.
His face was drawed like a winter apple, but he wint off happy. I think he
was warm inside of himself."

"Did you ask him his name?"

"Sure. Why not? John Treagar he called himself."

"Treagar? Hagar, you mean!"

"It was Treagar he said."

"John Hagar is the man I am looking for."

"Treagar--Hagar? 'T is comin' pretty close to it."

"About what height and build was he?"

"He was not to say a tall man; and he wasn't so turrible short neither.
His back was as round as a Bible. A kind of pepper and saltish beard he
had, and his hair was blacker than his beard but white in streaks."

"A _dark_ man, was he?"

"He would be a _dark_ man if he was younger."

"The man I want is blue-eyed."

"His eyes was blue--a kind of washed-out gray that maybe was blue wanst;
and one of them always weepin' wit' the cold."

"And light brown hair mixed with gray, like sand and ashes--mostly ashes;
and a thin straggling beard, thinner on the cheeks? A high head and a tall
stooping figure--six feet at least; hands with large joints and a habit of
picking at them when"--

"Ye are goin' too fast for me now, sor. He was not that description of a
man, nayther the height nor the hair of him. Sure't is a pity for ye
comin' this far, and him not the man at all. Faith, I wish I was the man
meself! I wonder at Joe Stratton anyhow! He's a very hasty man, is Joe. He
jumps in wit' both feet, so he does. I could have told ye that."

       *       *       *       *       *

Moya, always helplessly natural, and now very tired as well, when Paul
described with his usual gravity this anti-climax, fell below all the
dignities at once in a burst of childish giggling. Paul looked on with an
embarrassed smile, like a puzzled affectionate dog at the incomprehensible
mirth of humans. Paul was certainly deficient in humor and therefore in
breadth. But what woman ever loved her lover the less for having
discovered his limitations? Humor runs in families of the intenser
cultivation. The son of the soil remains serious in the face of life's and
nature's ironies.




XVIII


THE STAR IN THE EAST

So the search paused, while the searchers rested and revised their plans.
Spring opened in the valley as if for them alone. There were mornings
"proud and sweet," when the humblest imagination could have pictured
Aurora and her train in the jocund clouds that trooped along the
sky,--wind-built processions which the wind dispersed. Wild flowers spread
so fast they might have been spilled from the rainbow scarf of Iris
fleeting overhead. The river was in flood, digging its elbows into its
muddy banks. The willow and wild-rose thickets stooped and washed their
spring garments in its tide.

Primeval life and love were all around them. Meadow larks flung their
brief jets of song into the sunlight; the copses rustled with wings;
wood-doves cooed from the warm sunny hollows, and the soft booming of
their throaty call was like a beating in the air,--the pulse of spring.
They had found their Garden. Humanity in the valley passed before them in
forms as interesting and as alien as the brother beasts to Adam: the
handsome driver of the jerky, Joe Stratton's successor, who sat at dinner
opposite and combed his flowing mustache with his fork in a lazy,
dandified way; the darkened faces of sheep-herders enameled by sun and
wind, their hair like the winter coats of animals; the slow-eyed farmers
with the appetites of horses; the spring recruits for the ranks of labor
footing it to distant ranches, each with his back-load of bedding, and the
dust of three counties on his garments.

The sweet forces of Nature shut out, for a season, Paul's _cri du coeur_.
One may keep a chamber sacred to one's sadder obligations and yet the
house be filled with joy. Further ramifications of the search were mapped
out with Jimmy's indifferent assistance. For good reasons of his own,
Jimmy did little to encourage an early start. He would explain that his
maps were of ancient date and full of misinformation as to stage routes.
"See that now! The stages was pulled off that line five year ago, on
account of the railroad cuttin' in on them. Ye couldn't make it wid'out ye
took a camp outfit. There's ne'er a station left, and when ye come to it,
it's ruins ye'll find. A chimbly and a few rails, if the mule-skinners
hasn't burned them. 'Tis a country very devoid of fuel; sagebrush and
grease-wood, and a wind, bedad! that blows the grass-seeds into the next
county."

When these camping-trips were proposed to Moya, she hesitated and
responded languidly; but when Paul suggested leaving her even for a day,
her fears fluttered across his path and wiled him another way. Vaguely he
felt that she was unlike herself--less buoyant, though often restless; and
sometimes he fancied she was pale underneath her sun-burned color like
that of rose-hips in October. Various causes kept him inert, while
strength mounted in his veins, and life seemed made for the pure joy of
living.

The moon of May in that valley is the moon of roses, for the heats once
due come on apace. The young people gave up their all-day horseback rides
and took morning walks instead, following the shore-paths lazily to shaded
coverts dedicated to those happy silences which it takes two to make. Or,
they climbed the bluffs and gazed at the impenetrable vast horizon, and
thought perhaps of their errand with that pang of self-reproach which,
when shared, becomes a subtler form of self-indulgence.

But at night, all the teeming life of the plain rushed up into the sky and
blazed there in a million friendly stars. After the languor of the sleepy
afternoons, it was like a fresh awakening--the dawn of those white May
nights. The wide plain stirred softly through all its miles of sage. The
river's cadenced roar paused beyond the bend and outbroke again. All that
was eerie and furtive in the wild dark found a curdling voice in the
coyote's hunting-call.

In a hollow concealed by sage, not ten minutes' walk from the Ferry inn,
unknown to the map-maker and innocent of all use, lay a perfect floor for
evening pacing with one's eyes upon the stars. It was the death mask of an
ancient lake, done in purest alkali silt, and needing only the shadows
cast by a low moon to make the illusion almost unbelievable. Slow
precipitation, season after season, as the water dried, had left the lake
bed smooth as a cast in plaster. Subsequent warpings had lifted the alkali
crust into thin-lipped wavelets. But once upon the floor itself the
resemblance to water vanished. The warpings and Grumblings took the shape
of earth as made by water and baked by fire. Moya compared it to a bit of
the dead moon fallen to show us what we are coming to. They paced it
soft-footed in tennis shoes lest they should crumble its talc-like
whiteness. But they read no horoscopes, for they were shy of the future in
speaking to each other,--and they made no plans.

One evening Moya had said to Paul: "I can understand your mother so much
better now that I am a wife. I think most women have a tendency towards
the state of being _un_married. And if one had--children, it would
increase upon one very fast. A widow and a mother--for twenty years. How
could she be a wife again?"

Paul made no reply to this speech which long continued to haunt him;
especially as Moya wrote more frequently to his mother and did not offer
to show him her letters. In their evening walks she seemed distrait, and
during the day more restless.

One night of their nightly pacings she stopped and stood long, her head
thrown back, her eyes fixed upon the dizzy star-deeps. Paul waited a step
behind her, touching her shoulders with his hands. Suddenly she reeled and
sank backwards into his arms. He held her, watching her lovely face grow
whiter; her eyelids closed. She breathed slowly, leaning her whole weight
upon him.

Coming to herself, she smiled and said it was nothing. She had been that
way before. "But--we must go home. We must have a home--somewhere. I want
to see your mother. Paul, be good to her--forgive her--for my sake!"




XIX


PILGRIMS AND STRANGERS

Aunt Polly Lewis was disappointed in the latest of her beneficiaries. It
was nine years since her husband had locked up his savings in the Mud
Springs ranch, a neglected little health-plant at the mouth of the
Bruneau. If you were troubled with rheumatism, or a crick in the back, or
your "pancrees" didn't act or your blood was "out o' fix, why, you'd
better go up to Looanders' for a spell and soak yourself in that blue mud
and let aunt Polly diet ye and dost ye with yerb tea."

When Leander courted aunt Polly in the interests of his sanitarium, she
was reputed the best nurse in Ada County. The widow--by desertion--of a
notorious quack doctor of those parts: it was an open question whether his
medicine had killed or her nursing had cured the greater number of
confiding sick folk. Leander drove fifty miles to catechise this notable
woman, and finding her sound on the theory of packs hot and cold, and
skilled in the practice of rubbing,--and having made the incidental
discovery that she was a person not without magnetism,--he decided on the
spot to add her to the other attractions of Mud Springs ranch; and she
drove home with him next day, her trunk in the back of his wagon.

The place was no sinecure. Bricks without straw were a child's pastime to
the cures aunt Polly and the Springs effected without a pretense to the
comforts of life in health, to say nothing of sickness. Modern
conveniences are costly, and how are you to get the facilities for "pay
patients" when you have no patients that pay! Prosperity had overlooked
the Bruneau, or had made false starts there, through detrimental schemes
that gave the valley a bad name with investors. The railroad was still
fifty miles away, and the invalid public would not seek life itself, in
these days of luxurious travel, at the cost of a twelve hours' stage-ride.
However, as long as the couple had a roof over their heads and the Springs
continued to plop and vomit their strange, chameleon-colored slime,
Leander would continue to bring home the sick and the suffering for Polly
and the Springs to practice on. Health became his hobby, and in time, with
isolation thrown in, it began to invade his common sense. He tried in
succession all the diet fads of the day and wound up a convert to the
"Ralston" school of eating. Aunt Polly had clung a little longer to the
flesh-pots, but the charms of a system that abolished half the labor of
cooking prevailed with her at last, and in the end she kept a sharper eye
upon Leander at mealtime than ever he had upon her.

The ignorant gorgings of their neighbors were a head-shaking and a warning
to them, and more than once Leander's person was in jeopardy through his
zealous but unappreciated concern for the brother who eats in darkness.

He had started out one winter morning from Bisuka, a virtuous man. His
team had breakfasted, but not he. A Ralstonite does not load up his
stomach at dawn after the manner of cattle, and such pious substitutes for
a cup of coffee as are permitted the faithful cannot always be had for a
price. At Indian Creek he hauled up to water his team, and to make for
himself a cinnamon-colored decoction by boiling in hot water a preparation
of parched grains which he carried with him. This he accomplished in an
angle of the old corral fence out of the wind. There is no comfort nor
even virtue in eating cold dust with one's sandwiches. Leander sunk his
great white tushes through the thick slices of whole-wheat bread and
tasted the paste of peanut meal with which they were spread. He ate
standing and slapped his leg to warm his driving hand.

A flutter of something colored, as a garment, caught his eye, directing it
to the shape of a man, rolled in an old blue blanket, lying motionless in
a corner of the tumble-down wall. "Drunk, drunk as a hog!" pronounced
Leander. For no man in command of himself would lie down to sleep in such
a place. As if to refute this accusation, the wind turned a corner of the
blanket quietly off a white face with closed eyelids,--an old, worn,
gentle face, appealing in its homeliness, though stamped now with the
dignity of death. Leander knelt and handled the body tenderly. It was long
before he satisfied himself that life was still there. Another case for
Polly and the Springs. A man worth saving, if Leander knew a man; one of
the trustful, trustworthy sort. His heart went out to him on the instant
as to a friend from home.

It was closing in for dusk when he reached the Ferry. Jimmy was away, and
Han, in high dudgeon, brought the boat over in answer to Leander's hail.
He had grouse to dress for supper, inconsiderately flung in upon him at
the last moment by the stage, four hours late.

"Huh! Why you no come one hour ago? All time 'Hullo, hullo'! Je' Cli'! me
no dam felly-man--me dam cook! Too much man say 'Hullo'!"

The prospect was not good for help at the Ferry inn, so, putting his trust
in Polly and the Springs, Leander pushed on up the valley.

When Aunt Polly's patients were of the right sort, they stayed on after
their recovery and helped Leander with the ranch work. But for the most
part they "hit the trail" again as soon as their ills were healed, not
forgetting to advertise the Springs to other patients of their own class.
The only limit to this unenviable popularity was the size of the house.
Leander saw no present advantage in building.

But in case they ever did build--and the time was surely coming!--here was
the very person they had been looking for. Cast your bread upon the
waters. The winter's bread and care and shelter so ungrudgingly bestowed
had returned to them many-fold in the comfortable sense of dependence and
unity they felt in this last beneficiary, the old man of Indian Creek whom
they called "Uncle John."

"The kindest old creetur' ever lived! Some forgitful, but everybody's
liable to forgit. Only tell him one thing at once, and don't confuse him,
and he'll git through an amazin' sight of chores in a day."

"Just the very one we'll want to wait on the men patients," Aunt Polly
chimed in. "He can carry up meals and keep the bathrooms clean, and wash
out the towels, and he's the best hand with poultry. He takes such good
care of the old hens they're re'lly ashamed not to lay!"

It was spring again; old hopes were putting forth new leaves. Leander had
heard of a capitalist in the valley; a young one, too, more prone to
enthusiasm if shown the right thing.

"I'm going down to Jimmy's to fetch them up here!" Leander announced.

"Are there two of them?"

"He has brought his wife out with him. They are a young couple. He's the
only son of a rich widow in New York, and Jimmy says they've got money to
burn. Jimmy don't take much stock in this 'ere 'wounded guide'
story--thinks it's more or less of a blind. He's feeling around for a good
investment--desert land or mining claims. Jimmy thinks he represents big
interests back East."

Aunt Polly considered, and the corners of her mouth moistened as she
thought of the dinner she would snatch from the jaws of the system on the
day these young strangers should visit the ranch.

"By Gum!" Leander shouted. "I wonder if Uncle John wouldn't know something
about the party they're advertising for. That'd be the way to find out if
they're really on the scent. I'll take him down with me--that's what I'll
_do_--and let him have a talk with the young man himself. It'll make a
good opening. Are you listening, Polly?" She was not. "I wish you'd git
him to fix himself up a little. Layout one o' my clean shirts for him, and
I'll take him down with me day after to-morrow."

"I'll have a fresh churning to-morrow," Aunt Polly mused. "You can take a
little pat of it with you. I won't put no salt in it, and I'll send along
a glass or two of my wild strawberry jam. It takes an awful time to pick
the berries, but I guess it'll be appreciated after the table Jimmy sets.
I don't believe Jimmy'll be offended?"

"Bogardus is their name," continued Leander. "Mr. and Mrs. Bogardus, from
New York. Jimmy's got it down in his hotel book and he's showing it to
everybody. Jimmy's reel childish about it. I tell him one swallow don't
make a summer."

Uncle John had come into the room and sat listening, while a yellow pallor
crept over his forehead and cheeks. He moved to get up once, and then sat
down again weakly.

"What's the matter, Uncle?" Aunt Polly eyed him sharply. "You been out
there chopping wood too long in this hot sun. What did I tell you?"

She cleared the decks for action. Paler and paler the old man grew. He was
not able to withstand her vigorous sympathies. She had him tucked up on
the calico lounge and his shoes off and a hot iron at his feet; but while
she was hurrying up the kettle to make him a drink of something hot, he
rose and slipped up the outside stairs to his bedroom in the attic. There
he seated himself on the side of his neat bed which he always made himself
camp fashion,--the blankets folded lengthwise with just room for one quiet
sleeper to crawl inside; and there he sat, opening and clinching his
hands, a deep perplexity upon his features.

Aunt Polly called to him and began to read the riot act, but Leander said:
"Let him be! He gits tired o' being fussed over. You're at him about
something or other the whole blessed time."

"Well, I have to! My gracious! He'd forgit to come in to his meals if I
didn't keep him on my mind."

"It just strikes me--what am I going to call him when I introduce him to
those folks? Did he ever tell you what his last name is?"

"I wouldn't be surprised," Aunt Polly lowered her voice, "if he couldn't
remember it himself! I've heard of such cases. Whenever I try to draw him
out to talk about himself and what happened to him before you found him,
it breaks him all up; seemingly gives him a back-set every time. He sort
of slinks into himself in that queer, lost way--just like he was when he
first come to."

"He's had a powerful jar to his constitution, and his mind is taking a
rest." Leander was fond of a diagnosis. "There wasn't enough life left in
him to keep his faculties and his bod'ly organs all a-going at once. The
upper story's to let."

"I wish you'd go upstairs, and see what he is doing up there."

"Aw, no! Let him be. He likes to go off by himself and do his thinking. I
notice it rattles him to be talked to much. He sets out there on the
choppin'-block, looking at the bluffs--ever notice? He looks and don't see
nothin', and his lips keep moving like he was learning a spellin'-lesson.
If I speak to him sharp, he hauls himself together and smiles uneasy, but
he don't know what I said. I tell you he's waking up; coming to his
memories, and trying to sort 'em out."

"That's just what _I_ say," Aunt Polly retorted, "but he's got to eat his
meals. He can't live on memories."

Uncle John was restless that evening, and appeared to be excited. He
waited upon Aunt Polly after supper with a feverish eagerness to be of
use. When all was in order for bedtime, and Leander rose to wind the
clock, he spoke. It was getting about time to roll up his blankets and
pull out, he said. Leander felt for the ledge where the clock-key
belonged, and made no answer.

"I was saying--I guess it's about time for me to be moving on. The grass
is starting"--

"Are you cal'latin' to live on grass?" Leander drawled with cutting irony.
"Gettin' tired of the old woman's cooking? Well, she ain't much of a
cook!"

Uncle John remained silent, working at his hands. His mouth, trembled
under his thin straggling beard. "I never was better treated in my life,
and you know it. It ain't handsome of you, Lewis, to talk that way!"

"He don't mean nothing, Uncle John! What makes you so foolish, Looander!
He just wants you to know there's no begrudgers around here. You're
welcome, and more than welcome, to settle down and camp right along with
us."

"Winter and summer!" Leander put in, "if you're satisfied. There's nobody
in a hurry to see the last of ye."

Uncle John's mild but determined resistance was a keen disappointment to
his friends. Leander thought himself offended. "What fly's stung you,
anyhow! Heard from any of your folks lately?"

The old man smiled.

"Got any money salted down that needs turning?"

"Looander! Quit teasing of him!"

"Let him have his fun, ma'am. It's all he's likely to get out of me. I
have got a little money," he pursued. "'T would be an insult to name it in
the same breath with what you've done for me. I'd like to leave it here,
though. You could pass it on. You'll have chances enough. 'T ain't likely
I'll be the last one you'll take in and do for, and never git nothing out
of it in return."

There was a mild sensation, as the speaker, fumbling in his loose trousers,
appeared to be seeking for that money. Aunt Polly's eyes flamed indignation
behind her tears. She was a foolish, warm-hearted creature, and her eyes
watered on the least excuse.

"Looander, you shouldn't have taunted him," she admonished her husband,
who felt he had been a little rough.

"Look here, Uncle John, d'you ever know anybody who wasn't by way of
needing help some time in their lives? We don't ask any one who comes
here"--

"He didn't come!" Aunt Polly corrected.

"Well, who was brought, then! We don't ask for their character, nor their
private history, nor their bank account. I don't know but you're the first
one for years I've ever took a real personal shine to, and we've h'isted a
good many up them stairs that wasn't able to walk much further. I'd like
you to stay as a favor to us, dang it!"

Leander delivered this invitation as if it were a threat. His straight-cut
mustache stiffened and projected itself by the pressure of his big lips;
his dark red throat showed as many obstinate creases as an old
snapping-turtle's.

"I'm much obliged to you both. I want you to remember that. We--I--I'll
talk with ye in the morning."

"That means he's going all the same," said Leander, after Uncle John had
closed the outside door.

Sure enough, next morning he had made up his little pack, oiled his boots,
and by breakfast-time was ready for the road. They argued the point long
and fiercely with him whether he should set out on foot or wait a day and
ride with Leander to the Ferry. It was not supposed he could be thinking
of any other road. By to-morrow, if he would but wait, Aunt Polly would
have comfortably outfitted him after the custom of the house; given his
clothes a final "going over" to see everything taut for the journey,
shoved a week's rations into a corn-sack, choosing such condensed forms of
nourishment as the system allowed--nay, straining a point and smuggling in
a nefarious pound or two of real miner's coffee.

Aunt Polly's distress so weighed with her patient that he consented to
remain overnight and ride with Leander as far as the dam across the
Bruneau, at its junction with the Snake. There he would cross and take the
trail down the river, cutting off several miles of the road to the Ferry.
As for going on to see Jimmy or Jimmy's "folks," the nervous resistance
which this plan excited warned the good couple not to press the old man
too far, or he might give them the slip altogether.

A strangeness in his manner which this last discussion had brought out,
lay heavy on aunt Polly's mind all day after the departure of the team for
the Ferry. She watched the two men drive off in silence, Leander's bush
beard reddening in the sun, his big body filling more than his half of the
seat.

"Well, by Gum! If he ain't the blamedest, most per-sistent old fool!" he
complained to his wife that night. Their first words were of the old man,
already missed like one of the family from the humble place he had made
for himself. Leander was still irritable over his loss. "I set him down
with his grub and blankets, and I watched him footing it acrost the dam.
He done it real handsome, steady on his pins. Then he set down and waited,
kind o' dreaming, like he used to, settin' on the choppin'-block. I hailed
him. 'What's the matter?' I says. 'Left anything?' No: every time I hailed
he took off his hat and waved to me real pleasant. Nothing the matter.
There he set. Well, thinks I, I can't stay here all day watching ye take
root. So I drove on a piece. And, by Gum! when I looked back going around
the bend, there he went a-pikin' off up the bluffs--just a-humping himself
for all he was worth. I wouldn't like to think he was cunning, but it
looked that way for sure,--turning me off the scent and then taking to the
bluffs like he was sent for! Where in thunder is he making for? He knows
just as well as I do--you have heard me tell him a dozen times--the stages
were hauled off that Wood River road five year and more ago. He won't git
nowhere! And he won't meet up with a team in a week's walking."

"His food will last him a week if he's careful; he's no great eater. I
ain't afraid his feet will get lost; he's to home out of doors almost
anywhere;--it's his head I'm afraid of. He's got some sort of a skew on
him. I used to notice if he went out for a little walk anywhere, he'd
always slope for the East."




XX


A STATION IN THE DESERT

That forsworn identity which Adam Bogardus had submitted to be clothed in
as a burial garment was now become a thing for the living to flee from. He
had seen a woman in full health whiten and cower before it;--she who stood
beside his bed and looked at him with dreadful eyes, eyes of his girl-wife
growing old in the likeness of her father. Hard, reluctant eyes forced to
own the truth which the ashen lips denied. Are we responsible for our
silences? He had not spoken to her. Nay, the living must speak first, or
the ghostly dead depart unquestioned. He asked only that he might forget
her and be himself forgotten. If it were that woman's right to call
herself Emily Bogardus, then was there no Adam her husband. Better the old
disguise which left him free to work out his own sentence and pay his
forfeit to the law. He had never desired that one breath of it should be
commuted, or wished to accept an enslaving pardon from those for whose
sake he had put himself out of the way. If he could have taken his own
comparative spiritual measurement, he might have smiled at the humor of
that forgiveness promised him in the name of the Highest by his son.

For many peaceful years solitude had been the habit of his soul. Gently as
he bore with human obligations, he escaped from them with a sense of
relief which shamed him somewhat when he thought of the good friends to
whom he owed this very blessed power to flee. It was quite as Leander had
surmised. He could not command his faculties--memory especially--when a
noise of many words and questions bruised his brain.

The stillness of the desert closed about him with delicious healing. He
was a world-weary child returned to the womb of Nature. His old camp-craft
came back; his eye for distance, his sense of the trail, his little pet
economies with food and fire. There was no one to tell him what to eat and
when to eat it. He was invisible to men. Each day's march built up his
muscle, and every night's deep sleep under the great high stars steadied
his nerves and tightened his resolve.

He thought of the young man--his son--with a mixture of pain and
tenderness. But Paul was not the baby-boy he had put out of his arms
with a father's smile at One Man station. Paul was himself a man now; he
had coerced him at the last, neither did he understand.

The blind instinct of flight began after a while to shape its own
direction. It was no new leaning with the packer. As many times as he
had crossed this trail he never had failed to experience the same pull.
He resisted no longer. He gave way to strange fancies and made them his
guides.

At some time during his flight from the hospital, in one of those blanks
that overtook him, he knew not how, he had met with a great loss. The
words had slipped from his memory--of that message which had kept him in
fancied touch with his wife all these many deluding years. Without them he
was like a drunkard deprived of his habitual stimulant. The craving to
connect and hold them--for they came to him sometimes in tantalizing
freaks of memory, and slipped away again like beads rolling off a broken
thread--was almost the only form of mental suffering he was now conscious
of. What had become of the message itself? Had they left it exposed to
every heartless desecration in that abandoned spot?--a scrap of paper
driven like a bit of tumble-weed before the wind, snatched at by spikes of
sage, trampled into the mire of cattle, nuzzled by wild beasts? Or, had
they put it away with that other beast where he lay with the scoff on his
dead face? Out of dreams and visions of the night that place of the
parting ways called to him, and the time was now come when he must go.

He approached it by one of those desert trails that circle for miles on
the track of water and pounce as a bird drops upon its prey into the
trampled hollow at One Man station--a place for the gathering of hoofs in
the midst of the plain.

He could trace what might have been the foundation of a house, a few
blackened stones, a hearthstone showing where a chimney perhaps had stood,
but these evidences of habitation would never have been marked except by
one who knew where to look. He searched the ground over for signs of the
tragedy that bound him to that spot--a smiling desolation, a sunny
nothingness. The effect of this careless obliteration was quieting. Nature
had played here once with two men and a woman. One of the toy men was
lost, the other broken. She had forgotten where she put the broken one.
There were mounds which looked like graves, but the seeker knew that
artificial mounds in a place like this soon sink into hollows; and there
were hollows like open graves, filled with unsightly human rubbish, washed
in by the yearly rains.

He spent three days in the hollow, doing nothing, steeped in sunshine,
lying down to rest broad awake in the tender twilight, making his peace
with this place of bitter memory before bidding it good-by. His thoughts
turned eastward as the planets rose. Time he was working back towards
home. He would hardly get there if he started now, before his day was
done. He saw his mother's grave beside his father's, in the southeast
corner of the burying-ground, where the trees were thin. All who drove in
through the big gate of funerals could see the tall white shafts of the
Beviers and Brodericks and Van Eltens, but only those who came on foot
could approach his people in the gravelly side-hill plots. "I'd like to be
put there alongside the old folks in that warm south corner." He could see
their names on the plain gray slate stones, rain-stained and green with
moss.

On the third May evening of his stay the horizon became a dust-cloud, the
setting sun a ball of fire. Loomed the figure of a rider topping the
heaving backs of his herd. All together they came lumbering down the
slopes, all heading fiercely for the water. The rider plunged down a
side-draw out of the main cloud. Clanking bells, shuffling hoofs, the
"Whoop-ee-youp!" came fainter up the gulch. The cowboy was not pleased as
he dashed by to see an earlier camp-fire smoking in the hollow. But he was
less displeased, being half French, than if he had been pure-bred
American.

The old man, squatting by his cooking-fire, gave him a civil nod, and he
responded with a flourish of his quirt. The reek of sage smoke, the smell
of dust and cattle rose rank on the cooling air. It was good to Boniface,
son of the desert; it meant supper and bed, or supper and talk, for
"Bonny" Maupin ("Bonny Moppin," it went in the vernacular) would talk
every other man to sleep, full or empty, with songs thrown in. To-night,
however, he must talk on an empty stomach, for his chuck wagon was not in
sight.

"W'ich way you travelin'?" he began, lighting up after a long pull at his
flask. The old man had declined, though he looked as if he needed a drink.

"East about," was the answer.

"Goin' far?"

"Well; summer's before us. I cal'late to keep moving till snow falls."

"Shucks! You ain' pressed for time. Maybe you got some friend back there.
Goin' back to git married?" He winked genially to point the jest and the
old man smiled indulgently.

"Won't you set up and take a bite with me? You don't look to have much of
a show for supper along."

"Thanks, very much! I had bully breakfast at Rock Spring middlin' late
this morning. They butcherin' at that place. Five fat hog. My chuck wagon
he stay behin' for chunk of fresh pig. I won' spoil my appetide for that
tenderloin. Hol' on yourself an' take supper wis me. No?--That fellah be
'long 'bout Chris'mas if he don' git los'! He always behin', pig or no
pig!"

Bonny strolled away collecting fire-wood. Presently he called back,
pointing dramatically with his small-toed boot. "Who's been coyotin' round
here?" The hard ground was freshly disturbed in spots as by the paws of
some small inquisitive animal. There was no answer.

"What you say? Whose surface diggin's is these? I never know anybody do
some mining here."

"That was me"--Bonny backed a little nearer to catch the old man's words.
"I was looking round here for something I lost."

"What luck you have? You fin' him?"

"Well, now, doos it reely matter to you, sonny?"

"Pardner, it don' matter to me a d--n, if you say so! I was jus' askin'
myself what a man _would_ look for if he los' it here. Since I strike this
'ell of a place the very groun' been chewed up and spit out reg'lar, one
hundred times a year. 'T'is a gris' mill!"

"I didn't gretly expect to find what I was lookin' for. I was just foolin'
around to satisfy myself."

"That satisfy me!" said Bonny pleasantly; and yet he was a trifle
discomfited. He strolled away again and began to sing with a boyish show
of indifference to having been called "sonny."

"Oh, Sally is the gal for me!
Oh, Sally's the gal for me!
On moonlight night when the star is bright--
Oh"--

"Halloa! This some more your work, oncle? You ain' got no chicken wing for
arm if you lif' this.--Ah, be dam! I see what you lif' him with. All same
stove-lid." Talking and swearing to himself cheerfully, Bonny applied the
end of a broken whiffletree to the blunt lip of the old hearthstone which
marked the stage-house chimney. He had tried a step-dance on it and found
it hollow. More fresh digging, and marks upon the stone where some prying
tool had taken hold and slipped, showed he was not the first who had been
curious.

"There you go, over on you' back, like snap' turtle; I see where you lay
there before. What the dev'! I say!" Bonny, much excited with his find,
extracted a rusty tin tobacco-box from the hole, pried open the spring lid
and drew forth its contents: a discolored canvas bag bulging with coin and
whipped around the neck with a leather whang. The canvas was rotten; Bonny
supported its contents tenderly as he brought it over to the old man.

"Oncle, I ask you' pardon for tappin' that safe. Pretty good lil'
nest-egg, eh? But now you got to find her some other place."

"That don't belong to me," said the old man indifferently.

"Aw--don't be bashful! I onderstan' now what you los'. You dig
here--there--migs up the scent. I just happen to step on that stone--ring
him, so, with my boot-heel!"

"That ain't my pile," the other persisted. "I started to build a fire on
that stone two nights ago. It rung hollow like you say. I looked and found
what you found."

--"And put her back! My soul to God! An' you here all by you'self!"

"Why not? The stuff ain't mine."

"Who _is_ she? How long since anybody live here?"

"I don't know,--good while, I guess."

"Well, sar! Look here! I open that bag. I count two hondre' thirteen
dolla'--make it twelve for luck, an' call it you' divvee! You strike her
first. What you say: we go snac'?"

"I haven't got any use for that money. You needn't talk to me about it."

"Got no h'use!--are you a reech man? Got you' private car waitin' for you
out in d' sagebrush? Sol' a mine lately?"

"I don't know why it strikes you so funny. It's no concern of mine if a
man puts his money in the ground and goes off and leaves it."

"Goes off and die! There was one man live here by himself--he die, they
say, 'with his boots on.' He, I think, mus' be that man belong to this
money. What an old stiff want with two hondre' thirteen dolla'? That money
goin' into a live man's clothes." Bonny slapped his chappereros, and the
dust flew.

"I've no objection to its going into _your_ clothes," said the old man.

"You thing I ain' particular, me? Well, eef the party underground was my
frien', and I knew his fam'ly, and was sure the money was belong to
him--I'd do differend--perhaps. Mais,--it is going--going--gone! You won'
go snac'?"

The old man smiled and looked steadily away.

"Blas' me to h--l! but you aire the firs' man ever I strike that jib at
the sight of col' coin. She don' frighten me!"

Bonny always swore when he felt embarrassed.

"Well, sar! Look here! You fin' you'self so blame indifferend--s'pose you
_so_ indifferend not to say nothing 'bout this, when my swamper fellah git
in. I don' wish to go snac' wis him. I don' feel oblige'. See?"

"What you want to pester me about this money for!" The old man was weary.
"I didn't come here, lookin' for money, and I don't expect to take none
away with me. So I'll say good-night to ye."

"Hol' on, hol' on! Don' git mad. What time you goin' off in the morning?"

"Before you do, I shouldn't wonder."

"But hol'! One fine idea--blazin' good idea--just hit me now in the head!
Wan' to come on to Chicago wis me? I drop this fellah at Felton. He take
the team back, and I get some one to help me on the treep. Why not you?
Ever tek' care of stock?"

"Some consid'able years ago I used to look after stock. Guess I'd know an
ox from a heifer."

"Ever handle 'em on cattle-car?"

"Never."

"Well, all there is, you feed 'em, and water 'em, and keep 'em on their
feets. If one fall down, all the others they have too much play. They
rock"--Bonny exhibited--"and fall over and pile up in heap. I like to do
one turn for you. We goin' the same way--you bring me the good luck, like
a bird in the han'. This is my clean-up, you understand. You bring me the
beautiful luck. You turn me up right bower first slap. Now it's goin' be
my deal. I like to do by you!"

The packer turned over and looked up at the cool sky, pricked through with
early stars. He was silent a long time. His pale old face was like a fine
bit of carving in the dusk.

"What you think?" asked Moppin, almost tenderly. "I thing you better come
wis me. You too hold a man to go like so--alone."

"I'll have to think about it first;--let you know in the morning."




XXI


INJURIOUS REPORTS CONCERNING AN OLD HOUSE

A Rush of wheels and a spatter of hoofs coming up the drive sent Mrs.
Dunlop to the sitting-room window. She tried to see out through streaming
showers that darkened the panes.

"Isn't that Mrs. Bogardus? Why, it is! Put on your shoes, Chauncey, quick!
Help her in 'n' take her horse to the shed. Take an umbrella with you."
Chauncey the younger, meekly drying his shoes by the kitchen fire, put
them on, not stopping to lace them, and slumped down the porch steps,
pursued by his mother's orders. She watched him a moment struggling with a
cranky umbrella, and then turned her attention to herself and the room.

Mrs. Bogardus made her calls in the morning, and always plainly on
business. She had not seen the inside of Cerissa's parlor for ten years.
This was a grievance which Cerissa referred to spasmodically, being seized
with it when she was otherwise low in her mind.

"My sakes! Can't I remember my mother telling how _her_ mother used to
drive over and spend the afternoon, and bring her sewing and the
baby--whichever one was the baby. They called each other Chrissy and
Angevine, and now she don't even speak of her own children to us by their
first names. It's 'Mrs. Bowen' and 'Mr. Paul;' just as if she was talking
to her servants."

"What's that to us? We've got a good home here for as long as we want to
stay. She's easy to work for, if you do what she says."

Chauncey respected Mrs. Bogardus's judgment and her straightforward
business habits. Other matters he left alone. But Cerissa was ambitious
and emotional, and she stayed indoors, doing little things and thinking
small thoughts. She resented her commanding neighbor's casual manners.
There was something puzzling and difficult to meet in her plainness of
speech, which excluded the personal relation. It was like the cut and
finish of her clothes--mysterious in their simplicity, and not to be
imitated cheaply.

When the two met, Cerissa was immediately reduced to a state of flimsy
apology which she made up for by being particularly hot and self-assertive
in speaking of the lady afterward.

"There is the parlor, in perfect order," she fretted, as she stood waiting
to open the front door; "but of course she wouldn't let me take her in
there--that would be too much like visiting."

The next moment she had corrected her facial expression, and was offering
smiling condolences to Mrs. Bogardus on the state of her attire.

"It is only my jacket. You might put that somewhere to dry," said the lady
curtly. Raindrops sparkled on the wave of thick iron-gray hair that lifted
itself, with a slight turn to one side, from her square low brow. Her eyes
shone dark against the fresh wind color in her cheeks. She had the
straight, hard, ophidian line concealing the eyelid, which gives such a
peculiar strength to the direct gaze of a pair of dark eyes. If one
suspects the least touch of tenderness, possibly of pain, behind that iron
fold, it lends a fascination equal to the strength. There was some
excitement in Mrs. Bogardus's manner, but Cerissa did not know her well
enough to perceive it. She merely thought her looking handsomer, and, if
possible, more formidable than usual.

She sat by the fire, folding her skirts across her knees, and showing the
edges of the most discouragingly beautiful petticoats,--a taste perhaps
inherited from her wide-hipped Dutch progenitresses. Mrs. Bogardus reveled
in costly petticoats, and had an unnecessary number of them.

"How nice it is in here!" she said, looking about her. Cerissa, with the
usual apologies, had taken her into the kitchen to dry her skirts. There
was a slight taint of steaming shoe leather, left by Chauncey when driven
forth. Otherwise the kitchen was perfection,--the family room of an old
Dutch farmhouse, built when stone and hardwood lumber were cheap,--thick
walls; deep, low window-seats; beams showing on the ceiling; a modern
cooking-stove, where Emily Bogardus could remember the wrought brass
andirons and iron backlog, for this room had been her father's
dining-room. The brick tiled hearth remained, and the color of those
century and a half old bricks made a pitiful thing of Cerissa's new
oil-cloth. The woodwork had been painted--by Mrs. Bogardus's orders, and
much to Cerissa's disgust--a dark kitchen green,--not that she liked the
color herself, but it was the artistic demand of the moment,--and the
place was filled with a green golden light from the cherry-trees close to
the window, which a break in the clouds had suddenly illumined.

"You keep it beautifully," said Mrs. Bogardus, her eyes shedding
compliments as she looked around. "I should not dare go in my own kitchen
at this time of day. There are no women nowadays who know how to work in
the way ladies used to work. If I could have such a housekeeper as you,
Cerissa."

Cerissa flushed and bridled. "What would Chauncey do!"

"I don't expect you to be my housekeeper," Mrs. Bogardus smiled. "But I
envy Chauncey."

"She has come to ask a favor," thought Cerissa. "I never knew her so
pleasant, for nothing. She wants me to do up her fruit, I guess." Cerissa
was mistaken. Mrs. Bogardus simply was happy--or almost happy--and deeply
stirred over a piece of news which had come to her in that morning's mail.

"I have telephoned Bradley not to send his men over on Monday. My son is
bringing his wife home. They may be here all summer. The place belongs to
them now. Did Chauncey tell you? Mr. Paul writes that he has some building
plans of his own, and he wishes everything left as it is for the present,
especially this house. He wants his wife to see it first just as it is."

"Well, to be sure! They've been traveling a long time, haven't they? And
how is his health now?"

"Oh, he is very well indeed. You will be glad not to have the trouble of
those carpenters, Cerissa? Pulling down old houses is dirty work."

"Oh, dear! I wouldn't mind the dirt. Anything to get rid of that old rat's
nest on top of the kitchen chamber. I hate to have such out of the way
places on my mind. I can't get around to do every single thing, and it's
years--years, Mrs. Bogardus, since I could get a woman to do a half-day's
cleaning up there in broad daylight!"

Mrs. Bogardus stared. What was the woman talking about!

"I call it a regular eyesore on the looks of the house besides. And it
keeps all the old stories alive."

"What stories?"

"Why, of course your father wasn't out of his head--we all know that--when
he built that upstairs room and slep' there and locked himself in every
night of his life. It was only on one point he was a little warped: the
fear of bein' robbed. A natural fear, too,--an old man over eighty livin'
in such a lonesome place and known to be well off. But--you'll excuse my
repeating the talk--but the story goes now that he re'ly went insane and
was confined up there all the last years of his life. And that's why the
windows have got bars acrost them. Everybody notices it, and they ask
questions. It's real embarrassin', for of course I don't want to discuss
the family."

"Who asks questions?" Mrs. Bogardus's eyes were hard to meet when her
voice took that tone.

"Why, the city folks out driving. They often drive in the big gate and
make the circle through the grounds, and they're always struck when they
see that tower bedroom with windows like a prison. They say, 'What's the
story about that room, up there?'"

"When people ask you questions about the house, you can say you did not
live here in the owner's time and you don't know. That's perfectly simple,
isn't it?"

"But I do know! Everybody knows," said Cerissa hotly. "It was the talk of
the whole neighborhood when that room was put up; and I remember how
scared I used to be when mother sent me over here of an errand."

Mrs. Bogardus rose and shook out her skirts. "Will Chauncey bring my horse
when it stops raining? By the way, did you get the furniture down that was
in that room, Cerissa?--the old secretary? I am going to have it put in
order for Mr. Paul's room. Old furniture is the fashion now, you know."

Cerissa caught her breath nervously. "Mrs. Bogardus--I couldn't do a thing
about it! I wanted Chauncey to tell you. All last week I tried to get a
woman, or a man, to come and help me clear out that place, but just as
soon as they find out what's wanted--'You'll have to get somebody else for
that job,' they say."

"What is the matter with them?"

"It's the room, Mrs. Bogardus; if I was you--I'm doing now just as I'd be
done by--I would not take Mrs. Paul Bogardus up into that room--not even
in broad daylight; not if it was my son's wife, in the third month of her
being a wife."

"Well, upon my word!" said Mrs. Bogardus, smiling coldly. "Do you mean to
say these women are afraid to go up there?"

"It was old Mary Hornbeck who started the talk. She got what she called
her 'warning' up there. And the fact is, she was a corpse within six
months from that day. Chauncey and me, we used to hear noises, but old
houses are full of noises. We never thought much about it; only, I must
say I never had any use for that part of the house. Chauncey keeps his
seeds and tools in the lower room, and some of the winter vegetables, and
we store the parlor stove in there in summer."

"Well, about this 'warning'?" Mrs. Bogardus interrupted.

"Yes! It was three years ago in May, and I remember it was some such a day
as this--showery and broken overhead, and Mary disappointed me; but she
came about noon, and said she'd put in half a day anyhow. She got her pail
and house-cloths; but she wasn't gone not half an hour when down she come
white as a sheet, and her mouth as dry as chalk. She set down all of a
shake, and I give her a drink of tea, and she said: 'I wouldn't go up
there again, not for a thousand dollars.' She unlocked the door, she said,
and stepped inside without thinkin'. Your father's old rocker with the
green moreen cushions stood over by the east window, where he used to sit.
She heard a creak like a heavy step on the floor, and that empty chair
across the room, as far as from here to the window, begun to rock as if
somebody had just rose up from them cushions. She watched it till it
stopped. Then she took another step, and the step she couldn't see
answered her, and the chair begun to rock again."

"Was that all?"

"No, ma'am; that wasn't all. I don't know if you remember an old wall
clock with a brass ball on top and brass scrolls down the sides and a
painted glass door in front of the pendulum with a picture of a castle and
a lake? The paint's been wore off the glass with cleaning, so the pendulum
shows plain. That clock has not been wound since we come to live here. I
don't believe a hand has touched it since the night he was carried feet
foremost out of that room. But Mary said she could count the strokes go
tick, tick, tick! She listened till she could have counted fifty, for she
was struck dumb, and just as plain as the clock before her face she could
see the minute-hand and the pendulum, both of 'em dead still. Now, how do
you account for that!

"I told Chauncey about it, and he said it was all foolishness. Do all I
could he would go up there himself, that same evening. But he come down
again after a while, and he was almost as white as Mary. 'Did you see
anything?' I says. 'I saw what Mary said she saw,' says he, 'and I heard
what she heard.' But no one can make Chauncey own up that he believes it
was anything supernatural. 'There is a reason for everything,' he says.
'The miracles and ghosts of one generation are just school-book learning
to the next; and more of a miracle than the miracles themselves.'"

"Chauncey shows his sense," Mrs. Bogardus observed.

"He was real disturbed, though, I could see; and he told me particular not
to make any talk about it. I never have opened the subject to a living
soul. But when Mary died, within six months, folks repeated what she had
been saying about her 'warning.' The 'death watch' she called it. We can't
all of us control our feelings about such things, and she was a lonely
widow woman."

"Well, do you believe that ticking is going on up there now?" asked Mrs.
Bogardus.

Cerissa looked uneasy.

"Is the door locked?"

"I re'ly couldn't say," she confessed.

"Do you mean to say that all you sensible people in this house have
avoided that room for three years? And you don't even know if the door is
locked?"

"I--I don't use that part for anything, and cleaning is wasted on a place
that's never used, and I can't _get_ anybody"--

"I am not criticising your housekeeping. Will you go up there with me now,
Cerissa? I want to understand about this."

"What, just now, do you mean? I'm afraid I haven't got the time this
morning, Mrs. Bogardus. Dinner's at half-past twelve. It's a quarter to
eleven"--

"Very well. You think the door is not locked?"

"If it is, the key must be in the door. Oh, don't go, please, Mrs.
Bogardus. Wait till Chauncey conies in"--

"I wish you'd send Chauncey up when he does come in. Ask him to bring a
screw-driver." Mrs. Bogardus rose and examined her jacket. It was still
damp. She asked for a cape, or some sort of wrap, as her waist was thin,
and the rain had chilled the morning air.

For the sake of decency, Cerissa escorted her visitor across the hall
passage into the loom-room--a loom-room in name only for upwards of three
generations. Becky had devoted it to the rough work of the house, and to
certain special uses, such as the care of the butchering products, the
making of soft soap and root beer. Here the churning was done, by hand,
with a wooden dasher, which spread a circle of white drops, later to
become grease-spots. The floor of the loom-room was laid in large brick
tiles, more or less loose in their sockets, with an occasional earthy
depression marking the grave of a missing tile. Becky's method of cleaning
was to sluice it out and scrub it with an old broom. The seepage of
generations before her time had thus added their constant quota to the old
well's sum of iniquity.

Mrs. Bogardus had not visited this part of the old house for many years.
After her father's death she had shrunk from its painful associations.
Later she grew indifferent; but as she passed now into the gloomy
place--doubly dark with the deep foliage of June on a rainy morning--she
was afraid of her own thoughts. Henceforth she was a woman with a diseased
consciousness. "What can't be cured must be _seared_," flashed over her as
she set her face to the stairway.

These stairs, leading up into the back attic or "kitchen chamber," being
somewhat crowded for space, advanced two steps into the room below. As the
stair door opened outward, and the stairs were exceedingly steep and dark,
every child of the house, in turn, had suffered a bad fall in consequence;
but the arrangement remained in all its natural depravity, for "children
must learn."

Little Emmy of the old days had loved to sit upon these steps, a trifle
raised above the kitchen traffic, yet cognizant of all that was going on,
and ready to descend promptly if she smelled fresh crullers frying, or
baked sweet apples steaming hot from the oven. If Becky's foot were heard
upon the stairs above, she would jump quick enough; but if the step had a
clumping, boyish precipitancy, she sat still and laughed, and planted her
back against the door. Often she had teased Adam in this way, keeping him
prisoner from his duties, helpless in his good nature either to scold her
or push her off. But once he circumvented her, slipping off his shoes and
creeping up the stairs again, and making his escape by the roof and the
boughs of the old maple. Then it was Emmy who was teased, who sat a
foolish half hour on the stairs alone and missed a beautiful ride to the
wood lot; but she would not speak to Adam for two days afterward.

Becky's had been the larger of the two bedrooms in the attic, Adam's the
smaller--tucked low under the eaves, and entered by crawling around the
big chimney that came bulking up to the light like a great tree caught
between house walls. The stairs hugged the chimney and made use of its
support. Adam would warm his hands upon it coming down on bitter mornings.
From force of habit, Emily Bogardus laid her smooth white hand upon the
clammy bricks. No tombstone could be colder than that heart of house
warmth now.

The roof of the kitchen chamber had been raised a story higher, and the
chimney as it went up contracted to quite a modern size. This elevation
gave room for the incongruous tower bedroom that had hurt the symmetry of
the old house, spoiled its noble sweep of roof, and given rise to so much
unpleasant conjecture as to its use. It was this excrescence, the record
of those last unloved and unloving years of her father's life, which Mrs.
Bogardus would have removed, but was prevented by her son.

"You go back now, Cerissa," she said to the panting woman behind her. "I
see the key is in the lock. You may send Chauncey after a while; there is
no hurry."

"Oh!" gasped Cerissa. "Do you see _that!_"

"What?"

"I thought there was something--something behind that slit."

"There isn't. Step this way. There, can't you see the light?"

Mrs. Bogardus grasped Cerissa by the shoulders and held her firmly in
front of a narrow loophole that pierced the partition close beside the
door. Light from the room within showed plainly; but it gave an
unpleasantly human expression to the entrance, like a furtive eye on the
watch.

"He would always be there," Cerissa whispered.

"Who?"

"Your father. If anybody wanted to see him after he shut himself in there
for the night, they had to stand to be questioned through that wall-slit
before he opened the door. Yes, ma'am! He was on the watch in there the
whole time like a thing in a trap."

"Are you afraid to go back alone?" Mrs. Bogardus spoke with chilling
irony.

Cerissa backed away in silence, her heart thumping. "She's putting it on,"
she said to herself. "I never see her turn so pale. Don't tell _me_ she
ain't afraid!"

There was a hanging shelf against the chimney on which a bundle of dry
herbs had been left to turn into dust. Old Becky might have put them there
the autumn before she died; or some successor of hers in the years that
were blank to the daughter of the house. As she pushed open the door a
sighing draught swept past her and seemed to draw her inward. It shook the
sere bundle. Its skeleton leaves, dissolving into motes, flickered an
instant athwart the light. They sifted down like ashes on the woman's dark
head as she passed in. Her color had faded, but not through fear of ghost
clocks. It was the searing process she had to face. And any room where she
sat alone with certain memories of her youth was to her a torture chamber.

       *       *       *       *       *

"She's been up there an awful long time. I wouldn't wonder if she's
fainted away."

"What would she faint at? I guess it's pretty cold, though. Give me some
more tea; put plenty of milk so I can drink it quick."

Chauncey's matter of fact tone always comforted Cerissa when she was
nervous. She did not mind that he jeered or that his words were often
rude; no man of her acquaintance could say things nicely to women, or ever
tried. A certain amount of roughness passed for household wit. Chauncey
put the screw-driver in his pocket, his wife and son watching him with
respectful anxiety. He thought rather well of his own courage privately.
But the familiar details of the loom-room cheered him on his way, the
homely tools of his every-day work were like friendly faces nodding at
him. He knocked loudly on the door above, and was answered by Mrs.
Bogardus in her natural voice.

"Bosh--every bit of it bosh!" he repeated courageously.

She was seated by the window in the chair with the green cushions. Her
face was turned towards the view outside. "What a pity those cherries were
not picked before the rain," she observed. "The fruit is bursting ripe;
I'm afraid you'll lose the crop."

Chauncey moved forward awkwardly without answering.

"Stop there one moment, will you?" Mrs. Bogardus rose and demonstrated.
"You notice those two boards are loose. Now, I put this chair here,"--she
laid her hand on the back to still its motion. "Step this way. You see?
The chair rocks of itself. So would any chair with a spring board under
it. That accounts for _that_, I think. Now come over here." Chauncey
placed himself as she directed in front of the high mantel with the clock
above it. She stood at his side and they listened in silence to that sound
which Mary Hornbeck, deceased, had deemed a spiritual warning.

"Would you call that a 'ticking'? Is that like any sound an insect could
make?" the mistress asked.

"I should call it more like a 'ting,'" said Chauncey. "It comes kind o'
muffled like through the chimbly--a person might be mistaken if they was
upset in their nerves considerable."

"What old people call the 'death-watch' is supposed to be an insect that
lives in the walls of old houses, isn't it? and gives warning with a
ticking sound when somebody is going to be called away? Now to me that
sounds like a soft blow struck regularly on a piece of hollow iron--say
the end of a stove-pipe sticking in the chimney. When I first came up
here, there was only a steady murmur of wind and rain. Then the clouds
thinned and the sun came out and drops began to fall--distinctly. Your
wife says the ticking was heard on a day like this, broken and showery.
Now, if you will unscrew that clock, I think you will find there's a
stove-pipe hole behind it; and a piece of pipe shoved into the chimney
just far enough to catch the drops as they gather and fall."

Chauncey went to work. He sweated in the airless room. The powerful screws
blunted the lips of his tool but would not start.

"I guess I'll have to give it up for to-day. The screws are rusted in
solid. Want I should pry her out of the woodwork?"

"No, don't do that," said Mrs. Bogardus. "Why should we spoil the panel?
This seems a very comfortable room. My son is right. It would be foolish
to tear it down. Such a place as this might be very useful if you people
would get over your notions about it."

"I never had no notions," Chauncey asserted. "When the women git talkin'
they like to make out a good story, and whichever one sees the most and
hears the most makes the biggest sensation."

Mrs. Bogardus waited till he had finished without appearing to have heard
what he was saying.

"Where is the key to this door?" she laid her hand over a knob to the
right of the stairs.

"I guess if there is one it's on the other side. Yes, it's in the
key-hole." Chauncey turned the knob and shoved and lifted. The door
yielded to his full strength, and he allowed Mrs. Bogardus to precede him.
She stepped into a room hardly bigger than a closet with one window,
barred like those in the outer room. It was fitted up with toilet
conveniences according to the best advices of its day. Over all the neat
personal arrangements there was the slur of neglect, a sad squalor which
even a king's palace wears with time.

Chauncey tested the plumbing with a noise that was plainly offensive to
his companion, but she bore with it--also with his reminiscences gathered
from neighborhood gossip. "He wa'n't fond of spending money, but he didn't
spare it here: this was his ship cabin when he started on his last voyage.
It looked funny--a man with all his land and houses cooped up in a place
like this; but he wanted to be independent of the women. He hated to have
'em fussin' around him. He had a woman to come and cook up stuff for him
to help himself to; but she wouldn't stay here overnight, nor he wouldn't
let her. As for a man in the house,--most men were thieves, he thought, or
waiting their chance to be. It was real pitiful the way he made his end."

"Open that window and shut the door when you come out," said Mrs.
Bogardus. "I will send some one to help you down with that secretary.
Cerissa knows about it. It is to be sent up on the Hill."




XXII


THE CASE STRIKES IN

Christine's marriage took place while Paul and Moya were lingering in the
Bruneau, for Paul's health ostensibly. Banks and Horace had been left to
the smiling irony of justice. They never had a straight chance to define
their conduct in the woods; for no one accused them. No awkward questions
were asked in the city drawing-rooms or at the clubs. For a tough half
hour or so at Fort Lemhi they had realized how they stood in the eyes of
those unbiased military judges. The shock had a bracing effect for a time.
Both boys were said to be much improved by their Western trip and by the
hardships of that frightful homeward march.

Mrs. Bogardus had matched her gift of Stone Ridge to her son, which was a
gift of sentiment, with one of more substantial value to her
daughter,--the income from certain securities settled upon her and her
heirs. Banks was carefully unprovided for. The big house in town was full
of ghosts--the ghosts that haunt such homes, made desolate by a breach of
hearts. The city itself was crowded with opportunities for giving and
receiving pain between mother and daughter. Christine had developed all
the latent hardness of her mother's race with a sickly frivolity of her
own. She made a great show of faith in her marriage venture. She boomed it
in her occasional letters, which were full of scarce concealed bravado as
graceful as snapping her fingers in her mother's face.

Mrs. Bogardus leased her house in town, and retired before the ghosts, but
not escaping them; Stone Ridge must be put in order for its new master and
mistress, and Stone Ridge had its own ghosts. She informed her absentees
that, before their return, she should have left for Southern California to
look after some investments which she had neglected there of late. It was
then she spoke of her plan for restoring the old house by pulling down
that addition which disfigured it; and Paul had objected to this erasure.
It would take from the house's veracity, he said. The words carried their
unintentional sting.

But it was Moya's six lines at the bottom of his page that changed and
softened everything. Moya--always blessed when she took the
initiative--contrived, as swiftly as she could set them down, to say the
very words that made the home-coming a coming home indeed.

"Will Madam Bogardus be pleased to keep her place as the head of her son's
house?" she wrote. "This foolish person he has married wants to be
anything rather than the mistress of Stone Ridge. She wants to be always
out of doors, and she needs to be. Oh, must you go away now--now when we
need you so much? It cannot be said here on paper how much _I_ need you!
Am I not your motherless daughter? Please be there when we come, and
please stay there!"

"For a little while then," said the lonely woman, smiling at the image of
that sweet, foolish person in her thoughts. "For a little while, till she
learns her mistake." Such mistakes are the cornerstone of family
friendship.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was an uneventful summer on the Hill, but one of rather wearing
intensity in the inner relations of the household, one with another; for
nothing could be quite natural with a pit of concealment to be avoided by
all, and an air of unconsciousness to be carefully preserved in avoiding
it. Moya's success in this way was so remarkable that Paul half hated it.
How was it possible for her to speak to his mother so lightly; never the
least apparent premeditation or fear of tripping; how look at her with
such sweet surface looks that never questioned or saw beneath? He could
not meet his mother's eyes at all when they were alone together, or endure
a silence in her company.

Both women were of the type called elemental. They understood each other
without knowing why. Moya felt the desperate truth contained in the
mother's falsehood, and broke forth into passionate defense of her as
against her husband's silence.

He answered her one day by looking up a little green book of fairy tales
and reading aloud this fragment of "The Golden Key."

"'I never tell lies, even in fun.' (The mysterious Grandmother speaks.)

"'How good of you!' (says the Child in the Wood.)

"'I couldn't if I tried. It would come true if I said it, and then I
should be punished enough.'"

Moya's eyes narrowed reflectively.

"How constantly you are thinking of this! I think of it only when I am
with you. As if a woman like your mother, who has done _one thing_, should
be all that thing, and nothing more to us, her children!"

Moya was giving herself up, almost immorally, Paul sometimes thought, to
the fascination Mrs. Bogardus's personality had for her. In a keenly
susceptible state herself, at that time, there was something calming and
strengthening in the older woman's perfected beauty, her physical poise,
and the fitness of everything she did and said and wore to the given
occasion. As a dark woman she was particularly striking in summer
clothing. Her white effects were tremendous. She did not pretend to study
these matters herself, but in years of experience, with money to spend,
she had learned well in whom to confide. When women are shut up together
in country houses for the summer, they can irritate each other in the most
foolish ways. Mrs. Bogardus never got upon your nerves.

But, for Paul, there was a poison in his mother's beauty, a dread in her
influence over his impressionable young wife, thrilled with the awakening
forces of her consonant being. Moya would drink deep of every cup that
life presented. Motherhood was her lesson for the day. "She is a queen of
mothers!" she would exclaim with an abandon that was painful to Paul; he
saw deformity where Moya was ready to kneel. "I love her perfect love for
you--for me, even! She is above all jealousy. She doesn't even ask to be
understood."

Paul was silent.

"And oh, she knows, she knows! She has been through it all--in such
despair and misery--all that is before me, with everything in the world to
make it easy and all the beautiful care she gives me. She is the supreme
mother. And I never had a mother to speak to before. Don't, don't, please,
keep putting that dreadful thing between us now!"

So Paul took the dreadful thing away with him and was alone with it, and
knew that his mother saw it in his eyes when their eyes met and avoided.
When, after a brief household absence, he would see her again he wondered,
"Has she been alone with it? Has it passed into another phase?"--as of an
incurable disease that must take its time and course.

Mrs. Bogardus did not spare her conscience in social ways all this time.
It was a part of her life to remember that she had neighbors--certain
neighbors. She included Paul without particularly consulting him whenever
it was proper for him to support her in her introduction of his wife to
the country-house folk, many of whom they knew in town.

All his mother's friends liked Paul and supposed him to be very clever,
but they had never taken him seriously. "Now, at last," they said, "he has
done something like other people. He is coming out." Experienced matrons
were pleased to flatter him on his choice of a bride. The daughters
studied Moya, and decided that she was "different," but "all right." She
had a careless distinction of her own. Some of her "things" were
surprisingly lovely--probably heirlooms; and army women are so clever
about clothes.

Would they spend the winter in town?

Paul replied absently: they had not decided. Probably they would not go
down till after the holidays.

What an attractive plan? What an ideal family Christmas they would have
all together in the country! Christine had not been up all summer, had
she? Here Moya came to her husband's relief, through a wife's dual
consciousness in company, and covered his want of spirits with a flood of
foolish chatter.

The smiling way in which women the most sincere can posture and prance on
the brink of dissimulation was particularly sickening to Paul at this
time. Why need they put themselves in situations where it was required?
The situations were of his mother's creation. He imagined she must suffer,
but had little sympathy with that side of her martyrdom. Moya seemed a
trifle feverish in her acceptance of these affairs of which she was
naturally the life and centre. A day of entertaining often faded into an
evening of subtle sadness.

Paul would take her out into the moonlight of that deep inland country.
The trees were dark with leaves and brooded close above them; old
water-fences and milldams cast inky shadows on the still, shallow ponds
clasped in wooded hills. No region could have offered a more striking
contrast to the empty plains. Moya felt shut in with old histories. The
very ground was but moulding sand in which generations of human lives had
been poured, and the sand swept over to be reshaped for them.

"We are not living our own life yet," Paul would say; not adding, "We are
protecting her." Here was the beginning of punishment helplessly meted out
to this proud woman whose sole desire was towards her children--to give,
and not to receive.

"But this is our Garden?" Moya would muse. "We are as nearly two alone as
any two could be."

"If you include the Snake. We can't leave out the Snake, you know."

"Snake or Seraph--I don't believe I know the difference. Paul, I cannot
have you thinking things."

"I?--what do I think?"

"You are thinking it is bad for me to be so much with her. You, as a man
and a husband, resent what she, as a woman and a wife, has dared to do.
And I, as another woman and wife, I say she could do nothing else and be
true. For, don't you see? She never loved him. The wifehood in her has
never been reached. She was a girl, then a mother, then a widow. How could
she"--

"Do you think he would have claimed her as his wife? Oh, you do not know
him;--she has never known him. If we could be brave and face our duty to
the whole truth, and leave the rest to those sequences, never dreamed of,
that wait upon great acts. Such surprises come straight from God. Now we
can never know how he would have risen to meet a nobler choice in her. He
had not far to rise! Well, we have our share of blessings, including
piazza teas; but as a family we have missed one of the greatest spiritual
opportunities,--such as come but once in a lifetime."

"Ah, if she was not ready for it, it was not _her_ opportunity. God is
very patient with us, I believe."




XXIII


RESTIVENESS

Mothers and sons are rarely very personal in their intimacy after the son
has taken to himself a wife. Apart from certain moments not appropriate to
piazza teas, Paul and his mother were perhaps as comfortable together as
the relation averages. It was much that they never talked emotionally.
Private judgments which we have refrained from putting into words may die
unfruitful and many a bitter crop be spared.

"This is Paul's apology for being happy in spite of himself--and of us!"
Moya teased, as she admired the beautifully drawn plans for the
quarrymen's club-house.

"It doesn't need any apology; it's a very good thing," said Mrs. Bogardus,
ignoring double meanings. No caps that were flying around ever fitted her
head. Paul's dreams and his mother's practical experience had met once
more on a common ground of philanthropy. This time it was a workingmen's
club in which the interests of social and mental improvement were
conjoined with facilities for outdoor sport. Up to date philanthropy is an
expensive toy. Paul, though now a landowner, was far from rich in his own
right. His mother financed this as she had many another scheme for him.
She was more openhanded than heretofore, but all was done with that
ennuyed air which she ever wore as of an older child who has outgrown the
game. It was in Moya and Moya's prospective maternity that her pride
reinstated itself. Her own history and generation she trod underfoot.
Mistakes, humiliations, whichever way she turned. Paul had never satisfied
her entirely in anything he did until he chose this girl for the mother of
his children. Now their house might come to something. Moya moved before
her eyes crowned in the light of the future. And that this noble and
innocent girl, with her perfect intuitions, should turn to _her_ now with
such impetuous affection was perhaps the sweetest pain the blighted woman
had ever known. She lay awake many a night thinking mute blessings on the
mother and the child to be. Yet she resisted that generous initiative so
dear to herself, aware with a subtle agony of the pain it gave her son.

One day she said to Paul (they were driving home together through a bit of
woodland, the horses stepping softly on the mould of fallen leaves)--"I
don't expect you to account for every dollar of mine you spend in helping
those who can be helped that way. You have a free hand."

"I understand," said Paul. "I have used your money freely--for a purpose
that I never have accounted for."

"Don't you need more?"

"No; there is no need now."

"Why is there not?"

Paul was silent. "I cannot go into particulars. It is a long story."

"Does the purpose still exist?" his mother asked sharply.

"It does; but not as a claim--for that sort of help."

"Let me know if such a claim should ever return."

"I will, mother," said Paul.

       *       *       *       *       *

There came a day when mother and son reaped the reward of their mutual
forbearance. There was a night and a day when Paul became a boy again in
his mother's hands, and she took the place that was hers in Nature. She
was the priestess acquainted with mysteries. He followed her, and hung
upon her words. The expression of her face meant life and death to him.
The dreadful consciousness passed out of his eyes; tears washed it out as
he rose from his knees by Moya's bed, and his mother kissed him, and laid
his son in his arms.

The following summer saw the club-house and all its affiliations in
working order. The beneficiaries took to it most kindly, but were disposed
to manage it in their own way: not in all respects the way of the
founder's intention.

"To make a gift complete, you must keep yourself out of it," Mrs. Bogardus
advised. "You have done your part; now let them have it and run it
themselves."

Paul was not hungry for leadership, but he had hoped that his interest in
the men's amusements would bring him closer to them and equalize the
difference between the Hill and the quarry.

"You have never worked with them; how can you expect to play with them?"
was another of his mother's cool aphorisms. Alas! Paul, the son of the
poor man, had no work, and hence no play.

It was time to be making winter plans again. Mrs. Bogardus knew that her
son's young family was now complete without her presence. Moya had gained
confidence in the care of her child; she no longer brought every new
symptom to the grandmother. Yet Mrs. Bogardus put off discussing the
change, dreading to expose her own isolation, a point on which she was as
sensitive as if it were a crime. Paul was never entirely frank with her:
she knew he would not be frank in this. They never expressed their wills
or their won'ts to each other with the careless rudeness of a sound family
faith, and always she felt the burden of his unrelenting pity. She began
to take long drives alone, coming in late and excusing herself for dinner.
At such times she would send for her grandson in his nurse's arms to bid
him good-night. The mother would put off her own good-night, not to
intrude at these sessions. One evening, going up later to kiss her little
son, she found his crib empty, the nurse gone to her dinner. He was fast
asleep in his grandmother's arms, where she had held him for an hour in
front of the open fire in her bedroom. She looked up guiltily. "He was so
comfortable! And his crib is cold. Will he take cold when Ellen puts him
back?"

"I am sure he won't," Moya whispered, gathering up the rosy sleeper. But
she was disturbed by the breach of bedtime rules.

In the drawing-room a few nights later she said energetically to Paul.

"One might as well be dead as to live with a grudge."

"A good grudge?"

"There are no good grudges."

"There are some honest ones--honestly come by."

"I don't care how they are come by. Grudges 'is p'ison.'" She laughed, but
her cheeks were hot.

"Do you know that Christine has been at death's door? Your mother heard of
it--through Mrs. Bowen! Was that why you didn't show me her letter?"

"It was not in my letter from Mrs. Bowen."

"I think she has known it some time," said Moya, "and kept it to herself."

"Mrs. Bowen!"

"Your mother. Isn't it terrible? Think how Chrissy must have needed her.
They need each other so! Christine was her constant thought. How can all
that change in one year! But she cannot go to Banks Bowen's house without
an invitation. We must go to New York and make her come with us--we must
open the way."

"Yes," said Paul, "I have seen it was coming. In the end we always do the
thing we have forsworn."

"_I_ was the one. I take it back. Your work is there. I know it calls you.
Was not Mrs. Bowen's letter an appeal?"

Paul was silent.

"She must think you a deserter. And there is bigger work for you, too!
Here is a great political fight on, and my husband is not in it. Every man
must slay his dragon. There is a whole city of dragons!"

"Yes," smiled Paul; "I see. You want me to put my legs under the same
cloth with Banks and ask him about his golf score."

"If you want to fight him, have it out on public grounds; fight him in
politics."

"We are on the same side!"

Moya laughed, but she looked a little dashed.

"Banks comes of gentlemen. He inherited his opinions," said Paul.

"He may have inherited a few other things, if we could have patience with
him."

"Are you sorry for Banks?"

"I shall be sorry for him--when he meets you. He has been spared that too
long."

"Dispenser of destinies, I bow as I always do!"

"You will speak to your mother at once?"

"I will."

"And do it beautifully?"

"As well as I know how."

"Ah, you have had such practice! How good it would be if we could only
dare to quarrel in this family! You and I--of course!"

"_We_ quarrel, of course!" laughed Paul.

"I _love_ to quarrel with you!"

"You do it beautifully. You have had such practice!"

"I am so happy! It is clear to me now that we shall live down this misery.
Christine will love to see me again; I know she will. A wife is a very
different thing from a girl--a haughty girl!"

"I should think the wife of Banks Bowen might be."

"And we'll part with our ancient and honorable grudge! We are getting too
big for it. _We_ are parents!"

Paul made the proposition to his mother and she agreed to it in every
particular save the one. She would remain at Stone Ridge. It was
impossible to move her. Moya was in despair. She had cultivated an
overweening conscience in her relations with Mrs. Bogardus. It turned upon
her now and showed her the true state of her own mind at the thought of
being Two once more and alone with the child God had given them. Mrs.
Bogardus appeared to see nothing but her own interests in the matter. She
had made up her mind. And in spite of the conscientious scruples on all
sides, the hedging and pleading and explaining, all were happier in the
end for her decision. She herself was softened by it, and she yielded one
point in return. Paul had steadily opposed his mother's plan of
housekeeping, alone with one maid and a man who slept at the stables. The
Dunlops, as it happened, were childless for the winter, young Chauncey
attending a "commercial college" in a neighboring town. After many
interviews and a good deal of self-importance on Cerissa's part, the pair
were persuaded to close the old house and occupy the servants' wing on the
Hill, as a distinct family, yet at hand in case of need. It was late
autumn before all these arrangements could be made. Paul and Moya, leaving
the young scion aged nineteen months in the care of his nurse and his
grandmother, went down the river to open the New York house.




XXIV


INDIAN SUMMER

The upper fields of Stone Ridge, so the farmers said, were infested that
autumn by a shy and solitary vagrant, who never could be met with face to
face, but numbers of times had been seen across the width of a lot,
climbing the bars, or closing a gate, or vanishing up some crooked lane
that quickly shut him from view.

"I would look after that old chap if I was you, Chauncey. He'll be smoking
in your hay barns, and burn you out some o' these cold nights."

Chauncey took these neighborly warnings with good-humored indifference. "I
haven't seen no signs of his doin' any harm," he said. "Anybody's at
liberty to walk in the fields if there ain't a 'No Trespass' posted. I
rather guess he makes his bed among the corn stouks. I see prints of
someone's feet, goin' and comin'."

Mrs. Bogardus was more herself in those days than she had been at any time
since the great North-western wilderness sent her its second message of
fear. Old memories were losing their sting. She could bear to review her
decision with a certain shrinking hardihood. Had the choice been given her
to repeat, her action had been the same. In so far as she had perjured
herself for the sake of peace in the family, she owned the sacrifice was
vain; but her own personality was the true reason for what she had done.
She was free in her unimpeachable widowhood--a mother who had never been
at heart a wife. She feared no ghosts this keen autumn weather, at the
summit of her conscious powers. Her dark eye unsheathed its glance of
authority. It was an eye that went everywhere, and everywhere was met with
signs that praised its oversight. Here was an out-worn inheritance which
one woman, in less than a third of her lifetime, had developed into a
competence for her son. He could afford to dream dreams of beneficence
with his mother to make them good. Yes, he needed her still. His child was
in her keeping; and, though brief the lease, that trust was no accident.
It was the surest proof he could have given her of his vital allegiance.
In the step which Paul and Moya were taking, she saw the first promise of
that wisdom she had despaired of in her son. In the course of years he
would understand her. And Christine? She rested bitterly secure in her
daughter's inevitable physical need of her. Christine was a born parasite.
She had no true pride; she was capable merely of pique which would wear
itself out and pass into other forms of selfishness.

This woman had been governed all her life by a habit of decision, and a
strong personality rooted in the powers of nature. Therefore she was
seldom mistaken in her conclusions when they dealt with material results.
Occasionally she left out the spirit; but the spirit leaves out no one.

Her long dark skirts were sweeping the autumn grass at sunset as she paced
back and forth under the red-gold tents of the maples. It was a row of
young trees she had planted to grace a certain turf walk at the top of the
low wall that divided, by a drop of a few feet, the west lawn at Stone
Ridge from the meadow where the beautiful Alderneys were pastured. The
maples turned purple as the light faded out of their tops and struck flat
across the meadow, making the grass vivid as in spring. Two spots of color
moved across it slowly--a young woman capped and aproned, urging along a
little trotting child. Down the path of their united shadows they came,
and the shadows had reached already the dividing wall. The waiting smile
was sweet upon the grandmother's features; her face was transformed like
the meadow into a memory of spring. The child saw her, and waved to her
with something scarlet which he held in his free hand. She admired the
stride of his brown legs above their crumpled socks, the imperishable look
of health on his broad, sweet glowing face. She lifted him high in her
embrace and bore him up the hill, his dusty shoes dangling against her
silk front breadths, his knees pressed tight against her waist, and over
her shoulder he flourished the scarlet cardinal flower.

"Where have you been with him so long?" she asked the nursemaid.

"Only up in the lane, as far as the three gates, ma'am."

"Then where did he get this flower?"

"Oh," said the pretty Irish girl, half scared by her tone, and tempted to
prevaricate. "Why--he must have picked it, I guess."

"Not in the lane. It's a swamp-flower. It doesn't grow anywhere within
four miles of the lane!"

"It must have been the old man gev it him then," said the maid. "Is it
unhealthy, ma'am? I tried to get it from him, but he screamed and fussed
so."

"What old man do you mean?"

"Why, him that was passin' up the lane. I didn't see him till he was clean
by--and Middy had the flower. I don't know where in the world he could
have got it, else, for we wasn't one step out of the lane, was we, Middy!
That's the very truth."

"But where were you when strangers were giving him flowers?"

"Why, sure, ma'am, I was only just a step away be the fence, having a word
with one o' the boys. I was lookin' in the field, speakin' to him and he
was lookin' at me with me back to the lane. 'There's the old man again,'
he says, shiftin' his eye. I turned me round and there, so he was, but he
was by and walkin' on up the lane. And Middy had the flower. He wouldn't
be parted from it and squeezed it so tight I thought the juice might be
bad on his hands, and he promised he'd not put it to his mouth. I kep' my
eye on him. Ah, the nasty, na-asty flower! Give it here to Katy till I
throw it!"

"There's no harm in the flower. But there is harm in strangers making up
to him when your back is turned. Don't you know the dreadful things we
read in the papers?"

Mrs. Bogardus said no more. It was Middy's supper-time. But later she
questioned Katy particularly concerning this old man who was spoken of
quite as if his appearance were taken for granted in the heart of the
farm. Katy recalled one other day when she had seen him asleep as she
thought in a corner of the fence by the big chestnut tree when she and the
boy were nutting. They had moved away to the other side of the tree, but
while she was busy hunting for nuts Middy had strayed off a bit and
foregathered with the old man, who was not asleep at all, but stood with
his back to her pouring a handful of big fat chestnuts into the child's
little skirt, which he held up. She called to him and the old man had
stepped back, and the nuts were spilled. Middy had cried and made her pick
them up, and when that was done the stranger was gone quite out of sight.

Chauncey, too, was questioned, and testified that the old man of the
fields was no myth. But he deprecated all this exaggerated alarm. The
stranger was some simple-minded old work-house candidate putting off the
evil day. In a few weeks he would have to make for shelter in one of the
neighboring towns. Chauncey could not see what legal hold they had upon
him even if they could catch him. He hardly came under the vagrancy law,
since he had neither begged, nor helped himself appreciably to the means
of subsistence.

"That is just the point," Mrs. Bogardus insisted. "He has the means--from
somewhere--to lurk around here and make friends with that child. There may
be a gang of kidnappers behind him. He is the harmless looking decoy. I
insist that you keep a sharp lookout, Chauncey. There shall be a hold upon
him, law or no law, if we catch him on our ground."

A cold rain set in. Paul and Moya wrote of delays in the house
preparations, and hoped the grandmother was not growing tired of her
charge. On the last of the rainy days, in a burst of dubious sunshine,
came a young girl on horseback to have tea with Mrs. Bogardus. She was one
of that lady's discoverers, so she claimed, Miss Sallie Remsen, very
pretty and full of fantastic little affectations founded on her intense
appreciation of the picturesque. She called Mrs. Bogardus "Madam," and
likened her to various female personages in history more celebrated for
strength of purpose than for the Christian virtues. Mrs. Bogardus, in her
restful ignorance of such futilities, went no deeper into these allusions
than their intention, which she took to be complimentary. Miss Sallie
hugged herself with joy when the rain came down in torrents for a clear-up
shower. Her groom was sent home with a note to inform her mother that Mrs.
Bogardus wished to keep her overnight. All the mothers were flattered when
Mrs. Bogardus took notice of their daughters,--even much grander dames
than she herself could pretend to be.

They had a charming little dinner by themselves to the tune of the rain
outside, and were having their coffee by the drawing-room fire; and Miss
Sallie was thinking by what phrase one could do justice to the massive,
crass ugliness of that self-satisfied apartment, furnished in the hideous
sixties, when the word was sent in that Mrs. Dunlop wished to speak with
Mrs. Bogardus. Something of Cerissa's injured importance survived the
transmission of the message, causing Mrs. Bogardus to smile to herself as
she rose. Cerissa was waiting in the dining-room. She kept her seat as
Mrs. Bogardus entered. Her eyes did not rise higher than the lady's dress,
which she examined with a fierce intentness of comparison while she opened
her errand.

"I thought you'd like to know you've got a strange lodger down to the old
house. I don't seem to ever get moved!" she enlarged. "I'm always runnin'
down there after first one thing 'n' another we've forgot. This morning 't
was my stone batter-pot. Chauncey said he thought it was getting cold
enough for buckwheat cakes. I don't suppose you want to have stray tramps
in there in the old house, building fires in the loom-room, where, if a
spark got loose, it would blaze up them draughty stairs, and the whole
house would go in a minute." Cerissa stopped to gain breath.

"Making fires? Are you sure of that? Has any smoke been seen coming out of
that chimney?"

"Why, it's been raining so! And the trees have got so tall! But I could
show you the shucks an' shells he's left there. I know how we left it!"

"You had better speak--No; I will see Chauncey in the morning." Mrs.
Bogardus never, if she could avoid it, gave an order through a third
person.

"Well, I thought I'd just step in. Chauncey said 't was no use disturbing
you to-night, but he's just that way--so easy about everything! I thought
you wouldn't want to be harboring tramps this wet weather when most
anybody would be tempted to build a fire. I'm more concerned about what
goes on down there now we're _out_ of the house! I seem to have it on my
mind the whole time. A house is just like a child: the more you don't see
it the more you worry about it."

"I'm glad you have such a home feeling about the place," said Mrs.
Bogardus, avoiding the onset of words. "Well, good-evening, Cerissa. Thank
you for your trouble. I will see about it in the morning."

Mrs. Bogardus mentioned what she had just heard to Miss Sallie, who
remarked, with her keen sense of antithesis, what a contrast _that_
fireside must be to _this_.

"Which fireside?"

"Oh, your lodger upon the cold ground,--making his little bit of a stolen
blaze in that cavern of a chimney in the midst of the wet trees! What a
nice thing to have an unwatched place like that where a poor bird of
passage can creep in and make his nest, and not trouble any one. Think
what Jean Valjeans one might shelter"--

"Who?"

"What 'angels unawares.'"

"It will be unawares, my dear,--very much unawares,--when I shelter any
angels of that sort."

"Oh, you wouldn't turn him out, such weather as this?"

"The house is not mine, in the first place," Mrs. Bogardus explained as to
a child. "I can't entertain tramps or even angels on my son's premises,
when he's away."

"Oh, he! He would build the fires himself, and make up their beds,"
laughed Miss Sallie. "If he were here, I believe he would start down there
now, and stock the place with everything you've got in the house to eat."

"I hope he'd leave us a little something for breakfast," said Mrs.
Bogardus a trifle coldly. But she did not mention the cause of her
uneasiness about this particular visitor. She never defended herself.

Miss Sallie was delighted with her callousness to the sentimental rebuke
which had been rather rubbed in. It was so unmodern; one got so weary of
fashionable philanthropy, women who talked of their social sympathies and
their principles in life. She almost hoped that Mrs. Bogardus had neither.
Certainly she never mentioned them.

"What did she say? Did she tell you what I said to her last night?"
Cerissa questioned her husband feverishly after his interview with Mrs.
Bogardus.

"She didn't mention your name," Chauncey took some pleasure in stating.
"If you hadn't told me yourself, I shouldn't have known you'd meddled in
it at all."

"What's she going to do about it?"

"How crazy you women are! 'Cause some poor old Sooner-die-than-work warms
his bones by a bit of fire that wouldn't scare a chimbly swaller out of
its nest! Don't you s'pose if there'd been any fire there to speak of, I'd
'a' seen it? What am I here for? Now I've got to drop everything, and git
a padlock on that door, and lock it up every night, and search the whole
place from top to bottom for fear there's some one in there hidin' in a
rathole!"

"Chauncey! If you've got to do that I don't want you to go in there alone.
You take one of the men with you; and you better have a pistol or one of
the dogs anyhow. Suppose you was to ketch some one in there, and corner
him! He might turn on you, and shoot you!"

"I wish you wouldn't work yourself up so about nothin' at all! Want me to
make a blame jackass of myself raisin' the whole place about a potato-peel
or a bacon-rind!"

"I think you might have some little regard for my feelings," Cerissa
whimpered. "If you ain't afraid, I'm afraid for you; and I don't see
anything to be ashamed of either. I wish you _wouldn't_ go _alone_
searching through that spooky old place. It just puts me beside myself to
think of it!"

"Well, well! That's enough about it anyhow. I ain't going to do anything
foolish, and you needn't think no more about it."

Whether it was the effect of his wife's fears, or his promise to her, or
the inhospitable nature of his errand founded on suspicion, certainly
Chauncey showed no spirit of rashness in conducting his search. He knocked
the mud off his boots loudly on the doorsill before proceeding to attach
the padlock to the outer door. He searched the loom-room, lighting a
candle and peering into all its cobwebbed corners. He examined the rooms
lately inhabited, unlocking and locking doors behind him noisily with
increasing confidence in the good old house's emptiness. Still, in the
fireplace in the loom-room there were signs of furtive cooking which a
housekeeper's eye would infallibly detect. He saw that the search must
proceed. It was not all a question of his wife's fears, as he opened the
stair-door cautiously and tramped slowly up towards the tower bedroom. He
could not remember who had gone out last, on the day the old secretary was
moved down. There had been four men up there, and--yes, the key was still
in the lock outside. He clutched it and it fell rattling on the steps. He
swung the door open and stared into the further darkness beyond his range
of vision. He waved his candle as far as his arm would reach. "Anybody
_in_ here?" he shouted. The silence made his flesh prick. "I'm goin' to
lock up now. Better show up. It's the last chance." He waited while one
could count ten. "Anybody in here that wants to be let free? Nobody's
goin' to hurt ye."

To his anxious relief there was no reply. But as he listened, he heard the
loud, measured tick, tick, of the old clock, appalling in the darkness, on
the silence of that empty room. Chauncey could not have told just how he
got the door to, nor where he found strength to lock it and drag his feet
downstairs, but the hand that held the key was moist with cold
perspiration as he reached the open air.

"Well, if that's rain I'd like to know where it comes from!" He looked up
at the moon breaking through drifting clouds. The night was keen and
clear.

"If I was to tell that to Cerissa she'd never go within a mile o' that
house again! Maybe I was mistaken--but I ain't goin' back to see!"

Next morning on calmer reflection he changed his mind about removing the
lawn-mower and other hand-tools from the loom-room as he had determined
overnight should be done. The place continued to be used as a storeroom,
open by day.

At night it was Chauncey's business to lock it up, and he was careful to
repeat his search--as far as the stair-door. Never did the silent room
above give forth a protest, a sound of human restraint or occupation. He
reported to the mistress that all was snug at the old house, and nobody
anywhere about the place.




XXV


THE FELL FROST

After the rain came milder days. The still white mornings slowly
brightened into hazy afternoons. The old moon like a sleep walker stood
exposed in the morning sky. The roads to Stone Ridge were deep in fallen
leaves. Soft-tired wheels rustled up the avenue and horses' feet fell
light, as the last of the summer neighbors came to say good-by.

It was a party of four--Miss Sallie and a good-looking youth of the
football cult on horseback, her mother and an elder sister, the delicate
Miss Remsen, in a hired carriage. Their own traps had been sent to town.

Tea was served promptly, as the visitors had a long road home before their
dinner-hour. In the reduced state of the establishment it was Katy who
brought the tea while Cerissa looked after her little charge. Cerissa sat
on the kitchen porch sewing and expanding under the deep attention of the
cook; they could see Middy a little way off on the tennis-court wiping the
mud gravely from a truant ball he had found among the nasturtiums. All was
as peaceful as the time of day and the season of the year.

"Yes," said Cerissa solemnly. "Old Abraham Van Elten was too much cumbered
up with this world to get quit of it as easy as some. If his spirit is
burdened with a message to anybody it's to _her_. He died unreconciled to
her, and she inherited all this place in spite of him, as you may say.
I've come as near believin' in such things since the goings on up there in
that room"--

"She wants Middy fetched in to see the comp'ny," cried Katy, bursting into
the sentence. "Where is he, till I clean him? And she wants some more
bread and butter as quick as ye can spread it."

"Well, Katy!" said Cerissa slowly, with severe emphasis. "When I was a
girl, my mother used to tell me it wasn't manners to"--

"I haven't got time to hear about yer mother," said Katy rudely. "What
have ye done with me boy?" The tennis-court lay vacant on the terrace in
the sun; the steep lawn sloped away and dipped into the trees.

"Don't call," said the cook warily. "It'll only scare her. He was there
only a minute ago. Run, Katy, and see if he's at the stables."

It was not noticed, except by Mrs. Bogardus, that no Katy, and no boy, and
no bread and butter, had appeared. Possibly the last deficiency had
attracted a little playful attention from the young horseback riders, who
were accusing each other of eating more than their respective shares.

At length Miss Sallie perceived there was something on her hostess's mind.
"Where is John Middleton?" she whispered. "Katy is dressing him all over,
from head to foot, isn't she? I hope she isn't curling his hair. John
Middleton has such wonderful hair! I refuse to go back to New York till I
have introduced you to John Middleton Bogardus," she announced to the
young man, who laughed at everything she said. Mrs. Bogardus smiled
vacantly and glanced at the door.

"Let me go find Katy," cried Miss Sally. Katy entered as she spoke, and
said a few words to the mistress. "Excuse me." Mrs. Bogardus rose hastily.
She asked Miss Sallie to take her place at the tea-tray.

"What is it?"

"The boy--they cannot find him. Don't say anything." She had turned ashy
white, and Katy's pretty flushed face had a wild expression.

In five minutes the search had begun. Mrs. Bogardus was at the telephone,
calling up the quarry, for she was short of men. One order followed
another quickly. Her voice was harsh and deep. She had frankly forgotten
her guests. Embarrassed by their own uselessness, yet unable to take
leave, they lingered and discussed the mystery of this sudden, acute
alarm.

"It is the sore spot," said Miss Sally sentimentally. "You know her
husband was missing for years before she gave him up; and then that
dreadful time, three years ago, when they were so frightened about Paul."

Having spread the alarm, Mrs. Bogardus took the field in person. Her head
was bare in the keen, sunset light. She moved with strong, fleet steps,
but a look of sudden age stamped her face.

"Go back, all of you!" she said to the women, who crowded on her heels.
"There are plenty of places to look." Her stern eyes resisted their
frightened sympathy. She was not ready to yield to the consciousness of
her own fears.

To the old house she went, by some sure instinct that told her the road to
trouble. But her trouble stood off from her, and spared her for one moment
of exquisite relief; as if the child of Paul and Moya had no part in what
was waiting for her. The door at the foot of the stairs stood open. She
heard a soft, repeated thud. Panting, she climbed the stairs; and as she
rounded the shoulder of the chimney, there, on the top step above her,
stood the fair-haired child, making the only light in the place. He was
knocking, with his foolish ball, on the door of the chamber of fear. Three
generations of the living and the dead were brought together in this coil
of fate, and the child, in his happy innocence, had joined the knot.

The woman crouching on the stairs could barely whisper, "Middy!" lest if
she startled him he might turn and fall. He looked down at her,
unsurprised, and paused in his knocking. "Man--in there--won't 'peak to
Middy!" he said.

She crept towards him and sat below him, coaxing him into her lap. The
strange motions of her breast, as she pressed his head against her, kept
the boy quiet, and in that silence she heard an inner sound--the awful
pulse of the old clock beating steadily, calling her, demanding the
evidence of her senses,--she who feared no ghosts,--beating out the hours
of an agony she was there to witness. And she was yet in time. The hapless
creature entrapped within that room dragged its weight slowly across the
floor. The clock, sole witness and companion of its sufferings, ticked on
impartially. Neither is this any new thing, it seemed to say. A life was
starved in here before--not for lack of food, but love,--love,--love!

She carried the child out into the air, and he ran before her like a
breeze. The women who met them stared at her sick and desperate face. She
made herself quickly understood, and as each listener drained her meaning
the horror spread. There was but one man left on the place, within call,
he with the boyish face and clean brown hands, who had ridden across the
fields for an afternoon's idle pleasure. He stepped to her side and took
the key out of her hand. "You ought not to do this," he said gently, as
their eyes met.

"Wednesday, Thursday, Friday," she counted mechanically. "He has been in
there six days and seven nights by my orders." She looked straight before
her, seeing no one, as she gave her commands to the women: fire and hot
water and stimulants, in the kitchen of the old house at once, and another
man, if one could be found to follow her.

The two figures moving across the grass might have stepped out of an
illustration in the pages of some current magazine. In their thoughts they
had already unlocked the door of that living death and were face to face
with the insupportable facts of nature.

The morbid, sickening, prison odor met them at the door--humanity's
helpless protest against bolts and bars. Again the young man begged his
companion not to enter. She took one deep breath of the pure outside air
and stepped before him. They searched the emptiness of the barely
furnished room. The clock ticked on to itself. Mrs. Bogardus's companion
stood irresolute, not knowing the place. The fetid air confused his
senses. But she went past him through the inner door, guided by
remembrance of the sounds she had heard.

She had seen it. She approached it cautiously, stooping for a better view,
and closing in upon it warily, as one cuts off the retreat of a creature
in the last agonies of flight. Her companion heard her say: "Show me your
face!--Uncover his face," she repeated, not moving her eyes as he stepped
behind her. "He will not let me near him. Uncover it."

The thing in the corner had some time been a man. There was still enough
manhood left to feel her eyes and to shrink as an earthworm from the
spade. He had crawled close to the baseboard of the room. An old man's
ashen beard straggled through the brown claws wrapped about the face. As
the dust of the threshing floor to the summer grain, so was his likeness
to one she remembered.

"I must see that man's face!" she panted. "He will die if I touch him.
Take away his hands." It was done, with set teeth, and the face of the
football hero was bathed in sweat. He breathed through tense nostrils, and
a sickly whiteness spread backward from his lips. Suddenly he loosed his
burden. It fell, doubling in a ghastly heap, and he rushed for the open
air.

Mrs. Bogardus groaned. She raised herself up slowly, stretching back her
head. Her face was like the terrible tortured mask of the Medusa. She had
but a moment in which to recover herself. Deliberately she spoke when her
companion returned and stood beside her.

"That was my husband. If he lives I am still his wife. You are not to
forget this. It is no secret. Are you able to help me now? Get a blanket
from the women. I hear some one coming."

She waited, with head erect and eyes closed and rigid tortured lips apart,
till the feet were heard at the door.




XXVI


PEACE TO THIS HOUSE

Mrs. Remsen and her delicate daughter had driven away to avoid excitement
and the night air.

Chauncey hovered round the piazza steps, talking, with but little
encouragement, to Miss Sallie and the young man who had become the centre
of all eyes.

"I don't see how anybody on the face of the earth could blame her, nor me
either!" Chauncey protested. "If the critter wanted to git out, why
couldn't he say so? I stood there holdin' the door open much as five
minutes. 'Who's in there?' I says. I called it loud enough to wake the
dead. 'Nobody wants to hurt ye,' says I. There want nothing to be afraid
of. He hadn't done nothing anyway. It's the strangest case ever I heard
tell of. And the doctor don't think he was much crazy either."

"Can he live?" asked Miss Sallie.

"He's alive now, but doctor don't know how long he'll last. There he comes
now. I must go and git his horse."

The doctor, who seemed nervous,--he was a young local practitioner,--asked
to speak with Miss Sallie's hero apart.

"Did Mrs. Bogardus say anything when she first saw that man? Did you
notice what she said?--how she took it?"

The hero, who was also a gentleman, looked at the doctor coolly.

"It was not a nice thing," he said. "I saw just as little as I could."

"You don't understand me," said the doctor. "I want to know if Mrs.
Bogardus appeared to you to have made any discovery--received any shock
not to be accounted for by--by what you both saw?"

"I shouldn't attempt to answer such a question," said the youngster
bluntly. "I never saw Mrs. Bogardus in my life before to-day."

The doctor colored. "Mrs. Bogardus has given me a telegram to send, and I
don't know whether to send it or not. It's going to make a whole lot of
talk. I am not much acquainted with Mrs. Bogardus myself, except by
hearsay. That's partly what surprises me. It looks a little reckless to
send out such a message as that, by the first hand that comes along.
Hadn't we better give her time to think it over?" He opened the telegram
for the other to read. "The man himself can't speak. But he just pants for
breath every time she comes near him: he tries to hide his face. He acts
like a criminal afraid of being caught."

"He didn't look that way to me--what was left of him. Not in the least
like a criminal."

"Well, no; that's a fact, too. Now they've got him laid out clean and
neat, he looks as if he might have been a very decent sort of man. But
_that_, you know--that's incredible. If she knows him, why doesn't he know
her? Why won't he own her? He's afraid of her. His eyes are ready to burst
out of his head whenever she comes near him."

"Did Mrs. Bogardus write that telegram herself?"

"She did."

"And what did she tell you to do with it?"

"Send it to her son."

"Then why don't you send it?"

This was the disputed message: "Come. Your father has been found. Bring
Doctor Gainsworth."

In the local man's opinion, the writer of that dispatch was Doctor
Gainsworth's true patient. What could induce a woman in Mrs. Bogardus's
position to give such hasty publicity to this shocking disclosure,
allowing it were true? The more he dwelt on it the less he liked the
responsibility he was taking. He discussed it openly; and, with the best
intentions, this much-impressed young man gave out his own counter-theory
of the case, hoping to forestall whatever mischief might have been done.
He put himself in the place of Mr. Paul Bogardus, whom he liked extremely,
and tried to imagine that young gentleman's state of mind when he should
look upon this new-found parent, and learn the manner of his resurrection.

This was the explanation he boldly set forth in behalf of those most
nearly concerned. [He was getting up his diagnosis for an interesting half
hour with the great doctor who had been called in consultation.] The shock
of that awful discovery in the locked chamber, he attested, had put Mrs.
Bogardus temporarily beside herself. Outwardly composed, her nerves were
ripped and torn by the terrible sight that met her eyes. She was the prey
of an hallucination founded on memories of former suffering, which had
worn a channel for every fresh fear to seek. There was something truly
noble and loyal and pathetic in the nature of her possession. It threw a
softened light upon her past. How must she have brooded, all these years,
for that one thought to have ploughed so deep! It was quite commonly known
in the neighborhood that she had come back from the West years ago without
her husband, yet with no proof of his death. But who could have believed
she would cling for half a lifetime to this forlorn expectancy, depicting
her own loss in every sad hulk of humanity cast upon her prosperous
shores!

Every one believed she was deceiving herself, but great honor was hers
among the neighbors for the plain truth and courage of her astonishing
avowal. They had thought her proud, exclusive, hard in the security of
wealth. Here she stood by a pauper's bed in the name of simple constancy,
stripping herself of all earthly surplusage, exposing her deepest wound,
proclaiming the bond--herself its only witness--between her and this
speechless wreck, drifting out on the tide of death. She had but to let
him go. It was the wild word she had spoken in the name of truth and
deathless love that fired the imagination of that slow countryside. It was
the touch beyond nature that appeals to the higher sense of a community,
and there is no community without a soul.

The straight demands of justice are frequently hard to meet, but its
ironies are crushing. Mrs. Bogardus had fallen back on the line of a
mother's duty since that moment of personal accountability. She read the
unspoken reverence in the eyes of all around her, but she put in no
disclaimer. Her past was not her own. She could not sin alone. Only those
who have been honest are privileged under all conditions to remain so.

On his arrival with the doctor, Paul endeavored first to see his mother
alone. For some reason she would not have it so. She took the unspeakable
situation as it came. He was shown into the room where she sat, and by her
orders Doctor Gainsworth was with him.

She rose quietly and came to meet them. Placing her hand in her son's arm,
and looking towards the bed, she said:--

"Doctor--my husband."

"Madam!" said Doctor Gainsworth. He had been Mrs. Bogardus's family
physician for many years.

"My husband," she repeated.

The doctor appeared to accept the statement. As the three approached the
bed Mrs. Bogardus leaned heavily upon her son. Paul released his arm and
placed it firmly around her. He felt her shudder. "Mother," he said to her
with an indescribable accent that tore her heart.

The doctor began his examination. He addressed his patient as "Mr.
Bogardus."

"Mistake," said a low, husky voice from the bed. "This ain't the man."

Doctor Gainsworth pursued his investigations. "What is your name?" he
asked the patient suddenly.

The hunted eyes turned with ghastly appeal upon the faces around him.

"Paul, speak to him! Own your father," Mrs. Bogardus whispered
passionately.

"It is for him to speak now," said Paul. "When he is well, Doctor," he
added aloud, "he will know his own name."

"This man will never be well," the doctor answered. "If there is anything
to prove, for or against the identity you claim for him, it will have to
be done within a very few days."

Doctor Gainsworth rose and held out his hand. He was a man of delicate
perceptions. His respect at that moment for Mrs. Bogardus, though founded
on blindest conjecture, was an emotion which the mask of his professional
manner could barely conceal. "As a friend, Mrs. Bogardus, I hope you will
command me--but you need no doctor here."

"As a friend I ask you to believe me," she said. "This man _is_ my
husband. He came back here because this was his home. I cannot tell you
any more, but this we expect you and every one who knows"--

The dissenting voice from the bed closed her assertion with a hoarse "No!
Not the man."

"Good-by, Mrs. Bogardus," said the doctor. "Don't trouble to explain. You
and I have lived too long and seen too much of life not to recognize its
fatalities: the mysterious trend in the actions of men and women that
cannot be comprised in--in the locking of a door."

"It is of little consequence--what was done, compared to what was not
done." This was all the room for truth she could give herself to turn in.
The doctor did not try to understand her: yet she had snatched a little
comfort from merely uttering the words.

Paul and the doctor dined together, Mrs. Bogardus excusing herself.

"There seems to be an impression here," said the doctor, examining the
initials on his fish-fork, "that your mother is indulging an overstrained
fancy in this melancholy resemblance she has traced. It does not appear to
have made much headway as a fact, which rather surprises me in a country
neighborhood. Possibly your doctor here, who seems a very good fellow, has
wished to spare the family any unnecessary explanations. If you'll let me
advise you, Paul, I would leave it as it is,--open to conjecture. But, in
whatever shape this impression may reach you from outside, I hope you
won't let it disturb you in the least, so far as it describes your
mother's condition. She is one of the few well-balanced women I have had
the honor to know."

Paul did not take advantage of the doctor's period. He went on.

"Not that I do know her. Possibly you may not yourself feel that you
altogether understand your mother? She has had many demands upon her
powers of adaptation. I should imagine her not one who would adapt herself
easily, yet, once she had recognized a necessity of that sort, I believe
she would fit herself to its conditions with an exacting thoroughness
which in time would become almost, one might say, a second, an external
self. The 'lendings' we must all of us wear."

"There will be no explanations," said Paul, not coldly, but helplessly.

"Much the best way," said the doctor relieved, and glad to be done with a
difficult undertaking. "If we are ever understood in this world, it is not
through our own explanations, but in spite of them. My daughters hope to
see a good deal of your charming wife this winter. I hear great pleasure
expressed at your coming back to town."

"Thank you, Doctor. She will be up this evening. We shall stay here with
my mother for a time. It will be her desire to carry out
this--recognition--to the end. We must honor her wishes in the matter."

The talk then fell upon the patient's condition. The doctor left certain
directions and took shelter in professional platitudes, but his eyes
rested with candid kindness upon the young man, and his farewell
hand-clasp was a second prolonged.

He went away in a state of simple wonderment, deeply marveling at Paul's
serenity.

"Extraordinary poise! Where does it come from? No: the boy is happy! He
hides it; but it is the one change in him. He has experienced a great
relief. Is it possible"--

On his way down the river the doctor continued to muse upon the dignity,
the amazingly beautiful behavior of this rising family in whose somewhat
commonplace city fortunes he had taken a friendly interest for years. He
owned that he had sounded them with too short a line.

       *       *       *       *       *

Watching with the dying man hours when she was with him alone, Emily
Bogardus continued to test his resolution. He never retracted by a
look--faithful to the word she had spoken which made them strangers.

It was the slightest shell of mortality that ever detained a soul on
earth. The face, small like the face of an old, old child, waxed finer and
more spiritual, yet ever more startlingly did it bear the stamp of that
individuality which the spirit had held so cheap--the earthly so
impenetrated with the spiritual part that the face had become a
sublimation. As one sees a sheet of paper covered with writing wither in
flame and become a quivering ash, yet to the last attenuation of its fibre
the human characters will stand forth, till all is blown up chimney to the
stars.

Still, peaceful, implacable in its peace, settling down for the silence of
eternity. Still no sign.

The younger ones came and went. The little boy stole in alone and pushed
against his grandmother's knee,--she seated always by the bed,--gazed,
puzzled, at the strange, still face, and whispered obediently,
"Gran'faver." There was no response. Once she took the boy and drew him
close and placed his little tender hand within the dry, crumpled husk
extended on the bedclothes. The eyes unclosed and rested long and
earnestly on the face of the child, who yawned as if hypnotized and flung
his head back on the grandmother's breast. She bent suddenly and laid her
own hand where the child's had been. The eyes turned inward and shut
again, but a sigh, so deep it seemed that another breath might never come,
was all her answer.

Past midnight of the fourth night's watch Paul was awakened by a light in
his room. His mother stood beside him, white and worn. "He is going," she
said. It was the final rally of the body's resistance. A few moments'
expenditure, and that stubborn vitality would loose its hold.--The
strength of the soil!

The wife stood aside and gave up her place to the children. Her expression
was noble, like a queen rebuked before her people. There was comfort in
that, too. A great, solemn, mutual understanding drew this death-bed group
together. Within the sickle's compass so they stood: the woman God gave
this man to found a home; the son who inherited his father's gentleness
and purity of purpose; the fair flower of the generations that father's
sacrifice had helped him win; the bud of promise on the topmost bough.
Those astonished eyes shed their last earthly light on this human group,
turned and rested in the eyes of the woman, faded, and the light went out.
He died, blessing her in one whispered word. Her name.

Before daybreak on the morning of the funeral, Paul awoke under pressure
of disturbing dreams. There were sounds of hushed movements in the house.
He traced them to the door of the room below stairs where his father lay.
Some one had softly unlocked that door, and entered. He knew who that one
must be. His place was there alone with his mother, before they were
called together as a family, and the mask of decency resumed for those
ironic rites in the presence of the unaccusing dead.

The windows had been lowered behind closed curtains, and the air of the
death chamber, as he entered, was like the touch of chilled iron to the
warm pulse of sleep. Without, a still dark night of November had frosted
the dead grass.

The unappeasable curiosity of the living concerning the Great Transition,
for the moment appeared to have swept all that was personal out of the
watcher's gaze, as she bent above the straightened body. And something of
the peace there dawning on the cold, still face was reflected in her own.

"You have never seen your father before. There he is." She drew a deep
sigh, as if she had been too intent to breathe naturally. All her
self-consciousness suddenly was gone. And Paul remembered his dream, that
had goaded him out of sleep, and vanished with the shock of waking. It
gave him the key to this long-expected moment of confidence.

"The old likeness has come back," his mother repeated, with that new
quietness which restored her to herself.

"I dreamed of that likeness," said Paul, "only it was much
stronger--startling--so that the room was full of whispers and
exclamations as the neighbors--there were hundreds of them--filed past.
And you stood there, mother, flushed, and talking to each person who
passed and looked at him and then at you; you said--you"--

Mrs. Bogardus raised her head. "I know! I have been thinking all night. Am
I to do that? Is that what you wish me to do? Don't hesitate--to spare
me."

"Mother! I could not imagine you doing such a thing. It was like insanity.
I wanted to tell you how horrible, how unseemly it was, because I was sure
you had been dwelling on some form--some outward"--

"No," she said. "I know how I should face this if it were left to me. But
you are my only earthly judge, my son. Judge now between us two. Ask of me
anything you think is due to him. As to outsiders, what do they matter! I
will do anything you say."

"_I_ say! Oh, mother! Every hand he loved was against him--bruising his
gentle will. Each one of us has cast a stone upon his grave. But you took
the brunt of it. You spoke out plain the denial that was in my coward's
heart from the first. And I judged you! I--who uncovered my father's soul
to ease my own conscience, and put him to shame and torture, and you to a
trial worse than death. Now let us think of the whole of his life. I have
much to tell you. You could not listen before; but now he is listening. I
speak for him. This is how he loved us!"

In hard, brief words Paul told the story of his father's sin and
self-judgment; his abdication in the flesh; what he esteemed the rights to
be of a woman placed as he had placed his wife; how carefully he had
guarded her in those rights, and perjured himself at the last to leave her
free in peace and honor with her children. She listened, not weeping, but
with her great eyes shining in her pallid face.

"All that came after," said Paul, taking her cold hands in his--"after his
last solemn recantation does not touch the true spirit of his sacrifice.
It was finished. My father died to us then as he meant to die. The body
remained--to serve out its time, as he said. But his brain was tired. I do
not think he connected the past very clearly with the present. I think you
should forget what has happened here. It was a hideous net of circumstance
that did it."

"There is no such thing as circumstance," said Mrs. Bogardus with
loftiness. Her face was calm and sweet in its exaltation. "I cannot say
things as you can, but this is what I mean. I was the wife of his
body--sworn flesh of his flesh. In the flesh that made us one I denied
him, and caused his death. And if I could believe as I used to about
punishment, I would lock myself in that room, and for every hour he
suffered there, I would suffer two. And no one should prevent me, or
hasten the end. And the feet of the young men that carried out my husband
who lied to save me, should wait there for me who lied to save myself. All
lies are death. But what is a made-up punishment to me! I shall take it as
it comes--drop by drop--slowly."

"Mother--my mother! The fashion of this world does not last; but one thing
does. Is it nothing to you, mother?"

"Have I my son--after all?" she said as one dreaming.

The night lamp expired in smoke that tainted the cold air. Paul drew back
the curtains one by one, and let in the new-born day.

"'Peace to this house,'" he said; "'not as the world giveth,'" his thought
concluded.





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