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Title: The Desert and the Sown
Author: Foote, Mary Hallock, 1847-1938
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Desert and the Sown" ***

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THE DESERT AND THE SOWN


By 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 crêpe-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 repousséed 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 cañon 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 consommé."

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 ennuyéd 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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