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Title: Evered
Author: Williams, Ben Ames
Language: English
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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 "Evered" ***

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                                EVERED



                                EVERED

                                  BY
                           BEN AMES WILLIAMS

                               NEW YORK
                        E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
                           681 FIFTH AVENUE


                           Copyright, 1921,
                       By E. P. Dutton & Company

                         _All Rights Reserved_


                         PRINTED IN THE UNITED
                           STATES OF AMERICA



                                EVERED



I


There is romance in the very look of the land of which I write. Beauty
beyond belief, of a sort to make your breath come more quickly; and
drama--comedy or tragedy according to the eye and the mood of the seer.
Loneliness and comradeship, peace and conflict, friendship and enmity,
gayety and somberness, laughter and tears. The bold hills, little
cousins to the mountains, crowd close round each village; the clear
brooks thread wood and meadow; the birches and scrub hardwood are taking
back the abandoned farms. When the sun drops low in the west there is a
strange and moving purple tinge upon the slopes; and the shadows are as
blue as blue can be. When the sun is high there is a greenery about this
northern land which is almost tropical in its richness and variety.

The little villages lie for the most part in sheltered valley spots.
Not all of them. Liberty, for example, climbs up along a steep hill road
on your way to St. George’s Pond, or over the Sheepscot Ridge, for
trout. No spot lovelier anywhere. But you will come upon other little
house clusters, a white church steeple topping every one, at unsuspected
crossroads, with some meadowland round and about, and a brook running
through the village itself, and perhaps a mill sprawled busily across
the brook. It is natural that the villages should thus seek shelter; for
when the winter snows come down this is a harsh land, and bitter cold.
So is it all the more strange that the outlying farms are so often set
high upon the hills, bare to the bleak gales. And the roads, too, like
to seek and keep the heights. From Fraternity itself, for example, there
is a ten-mile ridge southwest to Union, and a road along the whole
length of the ridge’s crest, from which you may look for miles on either
side.

This is not a land of bold emprises; neither is it one of those
localities which are said to be happy because they have no history.
There is history in the very names of the villages hereabouts. Liberty,
and Union, and Freedom; Equality, and Fraternity. And men will tell you
how their fathers’ fathers came here in the train of General Knox, when
that warrior, for Revolutionary services rendered, was given title to
all the countryside; and how he sub-granted to his followers; and how
they cleared farms, and tilled the soil, and lumbered out the forests,
and exterminated deer and moose and bear. Seventy years ago, they will
tell you, there was no big game hereabouts; but since then many farms,
deserted, have been overrun by the forests; and the bear are coming
back, and there are deer tracks along every stream, and moose in the
swamps, and wildcats scream in the night. Twenty or thirty or forty
miles to the north the big woods of Maine begin; so that this land is an
outpost of the wilderness, thrust southward among the closer dwellings
of man.

The people of these towns are of ancient stock. The grandfathers of many
of them came in with General Knox; most of them have been here for fifty
years or more, they or their forbears. A few Frenchmen have drifted down
from Quebec; a few Scotch and Irish have come in here as they come
everywhere. Half a dozen British seamen escaped, once upon a time, from
a man-of-war in Penobscot Bay, and fled inland, and were hidden away
until their ship was gone. Whereupon they married and became part and
parcel of the land, and their stock survives. By the mere reading of the
names of these folk upon the R. F. D. boxes at their doors you may know
their antecedents. Bubier and Saladine, Varney and Motley, McCorrison
and MacLure, Thomas and Davis, Sohier and Brine--a five-breed blend of
French and English, Scotch and Welsh and Irish; in short, as clear a
strain of good Yankee blood as you are like to come upon.

Sturdy folk, and hardy workers. You will find few idlers; and by the
same token you will find few slavish toilers, lacking soul to whip a
trout brook now and then or shoot a woodcock or a deer. Most men
hereabouts would rather catch a trout than plant a potato; most men
would rather shoot a partridge than cut a cord of wood. And they act
upon their inclinations in these matters. The result is that the farms
are perhaps a thought neglected; and no one is very rich in worldly
goods; and a man who inherits a thousand dollars has come into money.
Yet have they all that any man wisely may desire; for they have food and
drink and shelter, and good comradeship, and the woods to take their
sport in, and what books they choose to read, and time for solid
thinking, and beauty ever before their eyes. Whether you envy or scorn
them is in some measure an acid test of your own soul. Best hesitate
before deciding.

Gregarious folk, these, like most people who dwell much alone. So there
are grange halls here and there; and the churches are white-painted and
in good repair; and now and then along the roads you will come to a
picnic grove or a dancing pavilion, set far from any town. Save in
haymaking time the men work solitary in the fields; but in the evening,
when cows have been milked and pigs fed and wood prepared against the
morning, they take their lanterns and tramp or drive half a mile or
twice as far, and drop in at Will Bissell’s store for the mail and for
an hour round Will’s stove.

You will hear tales there, tales worth the hearing, and on the whole
surprisingly true. There is some talk of the price of hay or of feed or
of apples; but there is more likely to be some story of the woods--of a
bull moose seen along the Liberty road or a buck deer in Luke Hills’
pasture or a big catch of trout in the Ruffingham Meadow streams. Now
and then, just about mail time in the evening, fishermen will stop at
the store to weigh their catches; and then everyone crowds round to see
and remark upon the matter.

The store is a clearing-house for local news; and this must be so, for
there is no newspaper in Fraternity. Whatever has happened within a
six-mile radius during the day is fairly sure to be told there before
Will locks up for the night; and there is always something happening in
Fraternity. In which respect it is very much like certain villages of a
larger growth, and better advertised.

There is about the intimacy of life in a little village something that
suggests the intimacy of life upon the sea. There is not the primitive
social organization; the captain as lord of all he surveys. But there is
the same close rubbing of shoulders, the same nakedness of impulse and
passion and longing and sorrow and desire. You may know your neighbor
well enough in the city, but before you lend him money, take him for a
camping trip in the woods or go with him to sea. Thereafter you will
know the man inside and out; and you may, if you choose, make your loan
with a knowledge of what you are about. It is hard to keep a secret in
a little village; and Fraternity is a little village--that and nothing
more.

On weekday nights, as has been said, Will Bissell’s store is the social
center of Fraternity. Men begin to gather soon after supper; they begin
to leave when the stage has come up from Union with the mail. For Will’s
store is post office as well as market-place. The honeycomb of mail
boxes occupies a place just inside the door, next to the candy counter.
Will knows his business. A man less wise might put his candies back
among the farming tools, and his tobacco and pipes and cigars in the
north wing, with the ginghams, but Will puts them by the mail boxes,
because everyone gets mail or hopes for it, and anyone may be moved to
buy a bit of candy while he waits for the mail to come.

This was an evening in early June. Will’s stove had not been lighted for
two weeks or more; but to-night there was for the first time the warm
breath of summer in the air. So those who usually clustered inside were
outside now, upon the high flight of steps which led up from the road.
Perhaps a dozen men, a dog or two, half a dozen boys. Luke Hills had
just come and gone with the season’s best catch of trout--ten of them;
and when they were laid head to tail they covered the length of a
ten-foot board. The men spoke of these trout now, and Judd, who was no
fisherman, suggested that Luke must have snared them; and Jim Saladine,
the best deer hunter in Fraternity and a fair and square man, told Judd
he was witless and unfair. Judd protested, grinning meanly; and Jean
Bubier, the Frenchman from the head of the pond, laughed and exclaimed:
“Now you, m’sieu’, you could never snare those trout if you come upon
them in the road, eh?”

They were laughing in their slow dry way at Judd’s discomfiture when the
hoofs of a horse sounded on the bridge below the store; and every man
looked that way.

It was Lee Motley who said, “It’s Evered.”

The effect was curious. The men no longer laughed. They sat quite still,
as though under a half-fearful restraint, and pretended not to see the
man who was approaching.



II


There were two men in the buggy which came up the little ascent from the
bridge and stopped before the store. The men were Evered, and Evered’s
son, John. Evered lived on a farm that overlooked the Whitcher Swamp on
the farther side. He was a man of some property, a successful farmer. He
was also a butcher; and his services were called in at hog-killing time
as regularly as the services of Doctor Crapo in times of sickness. He
knew his trade; and he knew the anatomy of a steer or a calf or a sheep
as well as Doctor Crapo knew the anatomy of a man. He was an efficient
man; a brutally efficient man. His orchard was regularly trimmed and
grafted and sprayed; his hay was re-seeded year by year; his garden
never knew the blight of weeds; his house was clean, in good repair,
white-painted. A man in whom dwelt power and strength; and a man whom
other men disliked and feared.

He was a short man, broad of shoulder, with a thick neck and a square,
well-shaped head, a heavy brow and a steady burning eye. A somber man,
he never laughed; never was known to laugh. There was a blighting
something in his gaze which discouraged laughter in others. He was known
to have a fierce and ruthless temper; in short, a fearsome man, hard to
understand. He puzzled his neighbors and baffled them; they let him well
alone.

He was driving this evening. His horse, like everything which was his,
was well-groomed and in perfect condition. It pranced a little as it
came up to the store, not from high spirits, but from nervousness. So
much might be known by the white glint of its eye. The nervousness of a
mettled creature too much restrained. It pranced a little, and Evered’s
hand tightened on the rein so harshly that the horse’s lower jaw was
pulled far back against its neck, and the creature was abruptly still,
trembling, and sweating faintly for no cause at all. Evered paid no more
heed to the horse. He looked toward the group of men upon the steps, and
some met his eye, and some looked away.

He looked at them, one by one; and he asked Lee Motley: “Is the mail
come?”

Motley shook his head. He was a farmer of means, a strong man, moved by
no fear of Evered. “No,” he said.

Evered passed the reins to his son. “Hold him still,” he told the young
man, and stepped out over the wheel to the ground, dropping lightly as a
cat. The horse gave a half leap forward and was caught by John Evered’s
steady hand; and the young man spoke gently to the beast to quiet it.

Evered from the ground looked up at his son and said harshly, “I bade
you hold him still.”

The other answered, “I will.”

“You’d best,” said Evered, and turned and strode up the steps into the
store.

The incident had brought out vividly enough the difference between
Evered and his son. They were two characters sharply contrasting; for
where Evered was harsh, John was gentle of speech; and where Evered was
abrupt, John was slow; and where Evered’s eye was hard and angry, John’s
was mild. They contrasted physically. The son was tall, well-formed and
fair; the father was short, almost squat in his broad strength, and
black of hair and eye. Nevertheless, it was plain to the seeing eye
that there was strength in John as there was strength in
Evered--strength of body and soul.

When Evered had gone into the store Motley said to the son, “It’s warm.”

The young man nodded in a wistfully friendly way. “Yes,” he agreed. “So
warm it’s brought up our peas this day.”

“That south slope of yours is good garden land,” Motley told him, and
John said:

“Yes. As good as I ever see.”

Everyone liked John Evered; and someone asked now: “Been fishing any,
over at Wilson’s?”

John shook his head. “Too busy,” he explained. “But I hear how they’re
catching some good strings there.”

“Luke Hills brought in ten to-night that was ten feet long,” Jim
Saladine offered. “Got ’em at Ruffingham.”

The young man in the buggy smiled delightedly, his eyes shining. “Golly,
what a catch!” he exclaimed.

Then Evered came to the door of the store and looked out, and silence
fell upon them all once more. The mail was coming down the hill; the
stage, a rattling, rusted, do-or-die automobile of ancient vintage,
squeaked to a shrill stop before the very nose of Evered’s horse. John
spoke to the horse, and it was still. The stage driver took the mail
sacks in, and Evered left the doorway. The others all got up and turned
toward the door.

Motley said to Saladine, “Did you mark the horse? It was scared of the
stage, but it was still at his word, and he did not tighten rein.”

“I saw,” Saladine agreed. “The boy handles it fine.”

“It’s feared of Evered; but the beast loves the boy.”

“There’s others in that same way o’ thinking,” said Saladine.

Inside the store Will Bissell and Andy Wattles, his lank and loyal
clerk, were stamping and sorting the mail. No great matter, for few
letters come to Fraternity. While this was under way Evered gathered up
the purchases he had made since he came into the store, and took them
out and stowed them under the seat of the buggy. He did not speak to his
son. John sat still in his place, moving his feet out of the other’s
way. When the bundles were all bestowed Evered went back up the steps
and Will gave him his daily paper and a letter addressed to his wife,
and Evered took them without thanks, and left the store without farewell
to any man, and climbed into the buggy and took the reins. He turned the
horse sharply and they moved down the hill, and the bridge sounded for a
moment beneath their passing. In the still evening air the pound of the
horse’s hoofs and the light whirring of the wheels persisted for long
moments before they died down to blend with the hum and murmur of tiny
sounds that filled the whispering dusk.

As they drove away one or two men came to the door to watch them go; and
Judd, a man with a singular capacity for mean and tawdry malice, said
loudly, “That boy’ll break Evered, some day, across his knee.”

There was a moment’s silence; then Jean Bubier said cheerfully that he
would like to see the thing done. “But that Evered, he is one leetle
fighter,” he reminded Judd.

Judd laughed unpleasantly and said Evered had the town bluffed. “That’s
all he is,” he told them. “A black scowl and some cussing. Nothing else.
You’ll see.”

Motley shook his head soberly. “Evered’s no bluff,” he said. “You’re
forgetting that matter of the knife, Judd.”

Motley’s reminder put a momentary silence upon them all. The story of
the knife was well enough known; the knife they had all seen. The thing
had happened fifteen or twenty years before, and was one of the tales
many times told about Will’s stove. One Dave Riggs, drunken and
worthless, farming in a small way in North Fraternity, sent for Evered
to kill a pig. Evered went to Riggs’ farm. Riggs had been drinking; he
was quarrelsome; he sought to interfere with Evered’s procedure. Motley,
a neighbor of Riggs, had been there at the time, and used to tell the
story.

“Riggs wanted him to tie up the pig,” he would explain. “You know Evered
does not do that. He says they will not bleed properly, tied. He did not
argue with the man, but Riggs persisted in his drunken way, and cursed
Evered to his face, till I could see the blood mounting in the butcher’s
cheeks. He is a bad-tempered man, always was.

“He turned on Riggs and told the man to hush; and Riggs damned him.
Evered knocked him flat with a single fist stroke; and while Riggs was
still on the ground Evered turned and got the pig by the ears and
slipped the knife into its throat, in that smooth way he has. When he
drew it out the blood came after; and Evered turned to Riggs, just
getting on his feet.

“‘There’s your pig,’ said Evered. ‘Butchered right. Now, man, be still.’

“Well, Riggs took a look at the pig and another at Evered. He was
standing by the chopping block, and his hand fell on the ax stuck there.
Before I could stir he had lifted it, whirling it, and was sweeping down
on Evered.

“It was all over quick, you’ll mind. Riggs rushing, with the ax
whistling in the air. Then Evered stepped inside its swing, and drove at
Riggs’ head. I think he forgot he had the knife in his hand. But it was
there; his hand drove it with the cunning that it knew--at the forehead
of the other man.

“I mind how Riggs looked, after he had dropped. On his back he was, the
knife sticking straight up from his head. And it still smeared with the
pig’s blood, dripping down on the dead man’s face. Oh, aye, he was dead.
Dead as the pig, when it quit its walking round in a little, and laid
down, and stopped its squeal.”

Someone asked him once, when he had told the tale: “Where was Riggs’
wife? Married, wa’n’t he?”

“In the house,” said Motley. “The boy was there, though. He’d come to
see the pig stuck, and when he saw the blood come out of its throat he
yelled and run. So he didn’t have to see the rest--the knife in his
father’s head.”

There had been no prosecution of Evered for that ancient tragedy.
Motley’s story was clear enough; it had been self-defense at the worst,
and half accident besides. Riggs’ wife went away and took her son, and
Fraternity knew them no more.

They conned over this ancient tale of Evered in Will’s store that night;
and some blamed him, and some found him not to blame. And when they were
done with that story they told others; how when he was called to butcher
sheep he had a trick of breaking their necks across his knee with a
twist and a jerk of his hands. There was no doubt of the man’s strength
nor of his temper.

A West Fraternity man came in while they were talking; one Zeke Pitkin,
a mild man, and timid. He listened to their words, and asked at last,
“Evered?”

They nodded; and Pitkin laughed in an awkward way. “He killed my bull
to-day,” he said.

Will Bissell asked quickly, “Killed your bull? You have him do it?”

Pitkin nodded, gulping at his Adam’s apple. “Getting ugly, the bull
was,” he said. “I didn’t like to handle him. Decided to beef him. So I
sent for Evered, and he came over.”

He looked round at them, laughed uneasily. “He scared me,” he said.

Motley asked slowly. “What happened, Zeke?”

Pitkin rubbed one hand nervously along his leg. “We-ell,” he explained.
“I’m nervous like. Git excited easy. So when he come I told him the bull
was ugly. Told him to look out for it.

“He just only looked at me in that hard way of his. I had the bull in
the barn; and he went in where it was and fetched it out in the barn
floor. Left the bull standing there and begun to fix his tackle to h’ist
it up.

“I didn’t want to stay in there with the bull. I was scared of it--it
loose there, nothing to hold it. And Evered kept working round it, back
to the beast half the time. Nothing to stop it tossing him. I didn’t
like to get out, but I didn’t want to stay. And I guess I talked too
much. Kept telling him to hurry, and asking him why he didn’t kill it
and all. Got him mad, I guess.”

The man shivered a little, his eyes dim with the memory of the moment.
He took off his hat and rubbed his hand across his head, and Motley
said, “He did kill it?”

Pitkin nodded uneasily. “Yeah,” he said. “Evered turned round to me by
and by; and he looked at me under them black eyebrows of his, and he
says: ‘Want I should kill this bull, do you?’ I ’lows that I did. ‘Want
him killed now, do you?’ he says, and I told him I did. And I did too. I
was scared of that bull, I say. But not the way he did kill it.”

He shuddered openly; and Motley asked again, “What did he do?”

“Stepped up aside the bull,” said Pitkin hurriedly. “Yanked out that
knife of his--that same knife--out of his sheath. Up with it, and down,
so quick I never see what he did. Down with the knife right behind the
bull’s horns. Right into the neck bone. And that bull o’ mine went down
like a ton o’ brick. Like two ton o’ brick. Stone dead.”

Will Bissell echoed, “Stabbed it in the neck?”

“Right through the neck bone. With that damned heavy knife o’ his.” He
wiped his forehead again. “We had a hell of a time h’isting that bull,
too,” he said weakly. “A hell of a time.”

No one spoke for a moment. They were digesting this tale of Evered. Then
Judd said: “I’d like to see that red bull of his git after that man.”

One or two nodded, caught themselves, looked sheepishly round to
discover whether they had been seen. Evered’s red bull was as well and
unfavorably known as the man himself. A huge brute, shoulder high to a
tall man, ugly of disposition, forever bellowing challenges across the
hills from Evered’s barn, frightening womenfolk in their homes a mile
away. A creature of terror, ruthlessly curbed and goaded by Evered. It
was known that the butcher took delight in mastering the bull, torturing
the beast with ingenious twists of the nose ring, with blows on the leg
joints, and nose, and the knobs where horns should have been. The red
bull was of a hornless breed. The great head of it was like a buffalo’s
head, like a huge malicious battering ram. It was impossible to look at
the beast without a tremor of alarm.

“It’s ugly business to see Evered handle that bull,” Will Belter said,
half to himself.

And after a little silence Jean Bubier echoed: “Almost as ugly as to see
the man with his wife. When I have see that, sometime, I have think I
might take his own knife to him.”

Judd, the malicious, laughed in an ugly way; and he said, “Guess Evered
would treat her worse if he got an eye on her and that man Semler.”

It was Jim Saladine’s steady voice which put an end to that. “Don’t put
your foul mouth on her, Judd,” he said quietly. “Not if you want to walk
home.”

Judd started to speak, caught Saladine’s quiet eye and was abruptly
still.



III


Evered and his son drove home together through the clotting dusk in a
silence that was habitual with them. The buggy was a light vehicle, the
horse was swift and powerful, and they made good time. Evered, driving,
used the whip now and then; and at each red-hot touch of the light lash
the horse leaped like a stricken thing; and at each whiplash John
Evered’s lips pressed firmly each against the other, as though to hold
back the word he would have said. No good in speaking, he knew. It would
only rouse the lightly slumbering anger in his father, only lead to more
hurts for the horse, and a black scowl or an oath to himself. There were
times when John Evered longed to put his strength against his father’s;
when he was hungry for the feel of flesh beneath his smashing fists. But
these moments were few. He understood the older man; there was a blood
sympathy between them. He knew his father’s heart as no other did or
could; and in the last analysis he loved his father loyally. Thus had he
learned long patience and restraint. It is very easy to damn and hate a
man like Evered, hot and fierce and ruthlessly overbearing. But John
Evered, his son, who had suffered more from Evered than any other man,
neither damned nor hated him.

They drove home together in silence. Evered sat still in his seat, but
there was no relaxation in his attitude. He was still as a tiger is
still before the charge and the leap. John at his side could feel the
other’s shoulder muscles tensing. His father was always so, always a
boiling vessel of emotions. You might call him a powerful man, a
masterful man. John Evered knew him for a slave, for the slave of his
own hot and angry pulse beats. And he loved and pitied him.

Out of Fraternity they took the Liberty road, and came presently to a
turning which led them to the right, and so to the way to Evered’s farm,
a narrow road, leading nowhere except into the farmyard, and traveled by
few men who had no business there.

When they came into the farmyard it was almost dark. Yet there was still
light enough to see, beyond the shadow of the barn, the sloping
hillside that led down to Whitcher Swamp; and the swamp itself, brooding
beneath its gray mists in the thickening night. The farm buildings were
set on a jutting shoulder of the hill, looking out across the valley
where the swamp lay, to Fraternity, and off toward Moody Mountain beyond
the town. By day there was a glory in this valley that was spread below
them; by night it was a place of dark and mystery. Sounds used to come
up the hill from the swamp; the sounds of thrashing brush where the
moose fed, or perhaps the clash of ponderous antlers in the fall, or the
wicked scream of a marauding cat, or the harsh cries of night-hawks, or
the tremolo hoot of an owl.

Built against the barn on the side away from the house there was a stout
roofed stall; and opening from this stall a pen with board walls higher
than a man’s head and cedar posts as thick as a man’s leg, set every
four feet to support the planking of the walls. As the horse stopped in
the farmyard and Evered and his son alighted, a sound came from this
stall--a low, inhuman, monstrous sound, like the rumbling of a storm,
like the complaint of a hungry beast, like the promise of evil things
too dreadful for describing; the muffled roaring of Evered’s great red
bull, disturbed by the sound of the horse. John Evered stood still for
an instant, listening. It was impossible for most men to hear that sound
without an appalling tremor of the heart. But Evered himself gave no
heed to it. He spoke to the horse. He said “Hush, now. Still.”

The horse was as still as stone, yet it trembled as it had trembled at
Will’s store. Evered gathered parcels from beneath the seat; and John
filled his arms with what remained. They turned toward the house
together, the son a little behind the father.

There was a light in the kitchen of the farmhouse; and a woman had come
to the open door and was looking out toward them. She was silhouetted
blackly by the light behind her. It revealed her figure as slim and
pleasantly graven. The lamp’s rays turned her hair into an iridescent
halo about her head. She rested one hand against the frame of the door;
and her lifted arm guided her body into graceful lines.

She called to them in a low voice, “Do you need light?”

Evered answered. “If you were out of the door there’d be light enough,”
he said.

The woman lifted her hand to her lips in a hurt little gesture; and she
stepped aside with no further word. She still stood thus, at one side of
the door, when they came in. The lamplight fell full upon her, full upon
her countenance.

The woman’s face, the face of this woman whose body still bore youthful
lines, was shocking. There were weary contours in it; there were shadows
of pain beneath the eyes; there was anguish in the mobile lips. The hair
which had seemed like a halo showed now like a white garland; snow
white, though it still lay heavy and glossy as a girl’s. She was like a
statue of sorrow; the figure of a sad and tortured life.

The woman was Evered’s second wife; Evered’s wife, Mary Evered. His
wife, whom he had won in a courtship that was like red flowers in
spring; whom he had made to suffer interminably, day by day, till
suffering became routine and death would have been happiness; and
whom--believe it or no--Evered had always and would forever love with a
love that was like torment. There is set perversely in man and woman
alike an impulse to tease and hurt and distress those whom we love. It
is, of this stuff that lovers’ quarrels are made; it is from this that
the heartbreaks of the honeymoon are born. The men and women of the
fairy tales, who marry and live happily ever after, are fairy tales
themselves; or else they never loved. For loving, which is sacrifice and
service and kindness and devotion, is also misunderstanding and
distortion and perversity and unhappiness most profound. It is a part of
love to quarrel; the making-up is often so sweet it justifies the
anguish of the conflict. Mary Evered knew this. But Evered had a stiff
pride in him which would not let him yield; be he ever so deeply wrong
he held his ground; and Mary was sick with much yielding.

Annie Paisley, who lived at the next farm on the North Fraternity road,
had given Mary Evered something to think about when Paisley died, the
year before.

For over Paisley’s very coffin Annie had said in a thoughtful,
reminiscent way: “Yes, Mary; Jim ’uz a good husband to me for nigh on
thirty year. A good pervider, and a kind man, and a good father. He
never drunk, nor ever wasted what little money we got; and we always
had plenty to do with; and the children liked him. Kind to me, he was.
Gentle.” Her eyes had narrowed thoughtfully. “But Mary,” she said, “you
know I never liked him.”

Mary Evered had been a girl of spirit and strength; and if she had not
loved Evered she would never have stayed with him a year. Loving him she
had stayed; and the bitter years rolled over her; stayed because she
loved him, and because she--like her son--understood the heart of the
man, and knew that through all his ruthless strength and hard purpose,
with all his might he loved her.

She said now in the kitchen: “You got the salt pork?”

“Of course I got the salt pork,” Evered told her in a level tone that
was like a whip across her shoulders. He dumped his parcels on the
table, pointed to one; and she took it up in a hurried furtive way and
turned to the stove. John laid down his bundles, and Evered said to him:
“Put the horse away.” The young man nodded, and went out into the
farmyard.

The horse still stood where Evered had bade it stand. John went to the
creature’s head and laid his hand lightly on the velvety nose, and spoke
softly; and after a moment the horse mouthed his hand with its lips. He
took the bridle and led it toward the stable. There was a lantern
hanging by the door, but he did not light it. The young man loved the
still darkness of the night; there was some quality in the damp cool air
which was like wine to him. And he needed no light for what he had to
do; he knew every wooden peg in the barn’s stout frame, blindfolded; for
the barn and the farm had been his world for more than twenty years.

Outside the stable door he stopped the horse and loosed the traces and
led it out of the thills, which he lowered carefully to the ground. The
horse turned, as of habit, to a tub full of water which stood beside the
barn door; and while the creature drank John backed the buggy into the
carriage shed and propped up the thills with a plank. When he came to
the stable door again the horse was waiting for him; and he heard its
breath whir in a soundless whinny of greeting. He stripped away the
harness expertly, hanging it on pegs against the wall, and adjusted the
halter. Once, while he worked, the red bull in its closed stall on the
farther side of the barn bellowed softly; and the young man called to
the beast in a tone that was at once strong and kindly.

He put the horse in its stall, tied the halter rope, and stepped out
into the open floor of the barn to pull down hay for the beast. It was
when he did so that he became conscious that someone was near. He could
not have told how he knew; but there was, of a sudden, a warmth and a
friendliness in the very air about him, so that his breath came a little
more quickly. He stood very still for a moment; and then he looked
toward the stable door. His eyes, accustomed to the dark, discovered
her. She had come inside the barn and was standing against the wall,
watching him. He could see the dim white blur of her face in the
darkness; he could almost see the glow that lay always in her eyes for
him.

He said quietly, “Hello, Ruth.”

And she answered him, “Hello, John.”

“I’ve got to pull down a little hay,” he said. It was as though he
apologized for not coming at once to her side.

“Yes,” she told him, and stood there while he finished tending the
horse.

When he had done he went toward her slowly and stood before her, and she
moved a little nearer to him, so that he put his arms awkwardly round
her shoulders and kissed her. He felt her lips move against his; felt
her womanly and strong. There was no passion in their caress; only an
awkward tenderness on his part, a deep affection on hers.

“I’m glad you came out,” he said; and she nodded against his shoulder.

They went into the barnyard, and his arm was about her waist.

“It’s warm to-night,” she told him. “Summer’s about here.”

He nodded. “We’ll have green peas by the Fourth if we don’t git a
frost.”

Neither of them wanted to get at once to the house. There was youth in
them; the house was no place for youth. She was Ruth MacLure, Mary
Evered’s sister. Not, by that token, John Evered’s aunt; for John
Evered’s mother was dead many years gone, before Evered took Mary
MacLure for wife. A year ago old Bill MacLure had died and Ruth had come
to live with her sister. John had never known her till then; since then
he found it impossible to understand how he had ever lived without
knowing her. She was years younger than her sister, three years younger
than John Evered himself; and he loved her.

They crossed the barnyard to the fence and looked down into the shadowy
pit of blackness where the swamp lay, half a mile below them. They
rested their elbows on the top bar of the fence. Once or twice the bull
muttered in his stall a few rods away. They could hear the champ of the
horse’s teeth as the beast fed before sleeping; they could hear Evered’s
cows stirring in their tie-up. The night was very still and warm, as
though heaven brooded like a mother over the earth.

The girl said at last, “Semler was here while you were gone.”

The young man asked slowly, “What fetched him here?”

“He was on his way home from fishing, down in the swamp stream.”

“Did he do anything down there?”

“Had seventeen. One of them was thirteen inches long. He wanted to leave
some, but Mary wouldn’t let him.”

They were silent for a moment, then John Evered said, “Best not tell my
father.”

The girl cried under her breath, with an impatient gesture of her hand,
“I’m not going to. But I hate it. It isn’t fair. Mary wants him to keep
away. He bothers her.”

“I can keep him away.”

“You did tell him not to come.”

“I can make him not come,” said John Evered; and the girl fell silent,
and said at last, “He’s writing to her. Oh, John, what can she do? More
than she has done?”

“I’ll see to’t he stays away,” the young man promised; and the girl’s
hand fell on his arm.

“Please do,” she said. “He’s so unfair to Mary.”

A little later, when they turned at last toward the house, John said
half to himself, “If my father ever heard, he’d bust that man.”

“I wish he would,” the girl said hotly. “But--I’m afraid he’d find some
way to blame Mary. He mustn’t know.”

“I’ll see Dane Semler,” John promised.

On the doorstep they kissed again. Then they went into the house
together. Evered sitting by the lamp with his paper looked up at them
bleakly, but said no word. Mary Evered smiled at her sister, smiled at
John. She loved her husband’s son, had loved him like a mother since
she came to the house and found him, a boy not four years old, helping
with the chores as a grown man might have done. She had found something
pitiful in the strength and the reserve of the little fellow; and she
had mothered out of him some moments of softness and affection that
would have surprised his father.

There was a certain measure of reassurance in his eyes as he returned
her smile. But when he had sat down across the table from his father,
where she could not see his face, he became sober and very thoughtful.
He was considering the matter of Dane Semler.



IV


First word of the tragedy came to Will Bissell’s store at seven o’clock
in the evening of the next day but one; and the manner of the coming was
this:

The day had been lowering and sultry; such a day as Fraternity was
accustomed to expect in mid-August, when the sun was heavy on the land
and the air was murky with sea fogs blown in from the bay. A day when
there seemed to be a malignant spirit in the very earth itself; a day
when to work was torment, and merely to move about was sore discomfort.
A day when dogs snarled at their masters, and masters cursed at their
dogs; when sullen passions boiled easily to the surface, and tempers
were frayed to the last splitting strand.

No breath of air was stirring as the evening came down. The sun had
scarce shown itself all day; the coming of night was indicated only by a
growing obscurity, by a thickening of the murky shadows in the valleys
and the gray clouds that hid the hills. Men slighted their evening
chores, did them hurriedly or not at all, and made haste to get into the
open air. From the houses of the village they moved toward Will’s store;
and some of them stopped on the bridge above the brook, as though the
sound of running water below them had some cooling power; and some
climbed the little slope and sat on the high steps of the store. They
talked little or none, spoke in monosyllables when they spoke at all.
They were too hot and weary and uncomfortable for talking.

No one seemed to be in any hurry. The men moved slowly; the occasional
wagon or buggy that drove into town came at a walk; even the automobiles
seemed to move with a sullen reluctance. So it was not surprising that
the sound of a horse’s running feet coming along the Liberty road should
quickly attract their ears.

They heard it first when the horse topped the rise above the mill,
almost a mile away. The horse was galloping. The sounds were hushed
while the creature dipped into a hollow, and rang more loudly when it
climbed a nearer knoll and came on across the level meadow road toward
the town. The beat of its hoofs was plainly audible; and men asked each
other whose horse it was, and what the hurry might be; and one or two,
more energetic than the rest, stood up to get a glimpse of the road by
which the beast was coming.

Just before it came into their sight they heard it stop galloping and
come on at a trot; and a moment later horse and rider came in sight, and
every man saw who it was.

Jean Bubier exclaimed, “It is M’sieu’ Semler.”

And Judd echoed, “Dane Semler. In a hell of a hurry, too.”

Then the man pulled his horse to a stand at the foot of the store steps
and swung off. He had been riding bareback; and he was in the garments
which he was accustomed to wear when he went fishing along the brooks.
They all knew him; for though he was a man of the cities he had been
accustomed to come to Fraternity in June for a good many years. They
knew him, but did not particularly like him. There was always something
of patronage in his attitude, and they knew this and resented it.

Nevertheless, one or two of them answered his greeting. For the rest,
they studied him with an acute and painful curiosity. There was some
warrant for their curiosity. Semler, usually an immaculate man, was hot
and dusty and disordered; his face was white; his eyes were red and
shifting, and there was an agonized haste in his bearing which he was
unable to hide.

He asked, almost as his foot touched ground, “Anyone here got a car?”

Two or three of the men had come in automobiles; and one, George Tower,
answered, “Sure.”

Tower was a middle-aged man of the sort that remains perpetually young;
and he had recently acquired a swift and powerful roadster of which he
was mightily proud. It was pride in this car, more than a desire to help
Dane Semler, that prompted his answer.

Semler took a step toward him and lowered his voice a little. “I’ve had
bad news,” he said. “How long will it take you to get me to town?”

That was a drive of ten or a dozen miles, over roads none too good.

Tower answered promptly: “Land you there in twenty minutes.”

“I’ll give you a dollar for every minute you do it under half an hour,”
said Semler swiftly; and Tower got to his feet.

“Where’s your grip?” he asked.

Semler shook his head. “I’m having that sent on. Can’t wait. I’m ready
to start now.” He looked toward the men on the steps. “Some of you take
care of the horse,” he said quickly. “Garvey will send for it.”

Garvey was the farmer at whose house Semler had been staying. Will
Bissell took the horse’s bridle and promised to stable the beast till
Garvey should come. Tower was already in his car; Semler jumped in
beside him. They were down the hill and across the bridge in a
diminuendo roar of noise as the roadster, muffler cut out, rocketed away
toward town. Two or three of the men got to their feet to watch them go,
sat down again when they were out of sight.

There was a moment’s thoughtful silence before someone said, “What do
you make o’ that? Semler in some hurry, I’d say.”

Jean Bubier laughed a little. “One dam’ hurry,” he agreed.

“Like something was after him--or he was after someone.”

Judd the mean cackled to himself. “By Gad,” he cried, “I’ll bet
Evered’s got on to him. I’ll bet Evered’s after that man. No wonder he
run.”

The other men looked at Judd, and they shifted uncomfortably. Will
Bissell had gone round to stable the horse; Lee Motley had not yet come
to the store, nor had Jim Saladine. Lacking these three there was no one
to silence Judd, and the man might have gone on to uglier speech.

But he was silenced, and silenced by so inconsiderable a person as Zeke
Pitkin. Zeke drove up just then, drove hurriedly; and they saw before he
stopped his horse that he was shaking with excitement.

He cried out, “Hain’t you heard?”

Judd answered, “Heard what? What ails you, Zeke?”

Pitkin scarce heard him, he was so intent on crying out his dreadful
news. It came in a stumbling burst of half a dozen words.

“Evered’s red bull’s killed Mis’ Evered,” he stammered.



V


Evered’s red bull was a notorious and dangerous figure in the
countryside. It was like some primordial monster of the forests, and
full as fierce of temper. Evered had bought it two years before, and two
men on horseback, with ropes about the creature’s neck, brought it from
town to his farm. Evered himself, there to receive it, scowled at their
precautions. There was a ring in the monstrous beast’s nose; and to this
ring Evered snapped a six-foot stick of ash, seasoned and strong.
Holding the end of this stick he was able to control the bull; and he
set himself to teach it fear. That he succeeded was well enough
attested. The bull did fear him, and with reason. Nevertheless, Evered
took no chances with the brute, and never entered its stall without
first snapping his ash stick fast to the nose ring. Those who watched at
such times said that the bull’s red eyes burned red and redder so long
as Evered was near; and those who saw were apt to warn the man to take
care. But Evered paid no heed to their warnings; or seemed to pay no
heed.

The bull had never harmed a human being, because it had never found the
opportunity. Men and women and children shunned it, kept well away from
its stout-fenced pasture, its high-boarded pen and its stall. The
creature was forever roaring and bellowing; and when the air was still
its clamor carried far across the countryside and frightened children
and women, and made even men pause to listen and to wonder whether
Evered’s bull was loose at last. Some boys used to come and take a
fearsome joy from watching the brute; and at first they liked to tease
the bull, pelting it with sticks and stones. Till one day they
came--Jimmy Hills, and Will Motley, and Joe Suter, and two or three
besides--with a setter pup of Lee Motley’s at their heels. The pup
watched their game, and wished to take a hand, so slipped through the
fence to nip at the great bull’s heels; and the beast wheeled and pinned
the dog against the fence with its head like a ram, and then trod the
pup into a red pudding in the soft earth, while Will Motley shrieked
with rage and sorrow and fear.

Evered heard them that day, and came down with a whip and drove them
away; and thereafter a boy who teased the bull had trouble on his hands
at home. And the tale of what the brute had done to that setter pup was
told and retold in every farmhouse in the town.

Evered, even while he mastered the bull and held it slave, took pains to
maintain his dominance. The stall which housed it was stout enough to
hold an elephant; the board-walled pen outside the stall was doubly
braced with cedar posts set five feet underground; and even the
half-mile pasture in which, now and then, he allowed the brute to range,
had a double fence of barbed-wire inside and stone wall without.

This pasture ran along the road and bent at right angles to work down to
the edge of the swamp. It was, as has been said, about a half mile long;
but it was narrow, never more than a few rods wide. It formed the
southern boundary of Evered’s farm; and no warning signs were needed to
keep trespassers from crossing this area. When the bull was loose here
it sometimes ranged along the fence that paralleled the road, tossing
its great head and snorting and muttering at people who passed by, so
that they were apt to hurry their pace and leave the brute behind.

It was timid Zeke Pitkin, on his way to North Fraternity, who saw the
bull break its fence on the afternoon that Mary Evered was killed. Zeke
did not usually take the road past Evered’s place, because he did not
like to pass under the eye of the bull. But on this day he was in some
haste; and he thought it likely the bull would be stalled and out of
sight, and on that chance took the short hill road to his destination.

When he approached Evered’s farm he began to hear the bull muttering and
roaring in some growing exasperation. But it was then too late to turn
back without going far out of his way, so he pressed on until he came in
sight of the pasture and saw the beast, head high, tramping up and down
along the fence on the side away from the road. Zeke was glad the bull
was on that side, and hurried his horse, in a furtive way, hoping the
bull would not mark his passing.

When he came up to where the brute was he saw that the bull was watching
something in Evered’s woodlot, beyond the pasture; and Zeke tried to see
what it was. At first he could not see; but after a moment a dog yapped
there, and Zeke caught a glimpse of it; a half-bred terrier from some
adjacent farm, roving the woods.

The dog yapped; and the bull roared; and the dog, its native impudence
impelling it, came running toward the pasture, and began to dance up and
down, just beyond the bull’s reach, barking in a particularly shrill and
tantalizing way.

Zeke yelled to the dog to be off; but the dog took his yell for
encouragement, and barked the harder; and then Zeke saw a thing which
made him turn cold.

He saw the bull swing suddenly, with all its weight, against the high
wire fence; and he saw one of the posts sag and give way, and another
smashed off short. So, quicker than it takes to tell it, the bull was
floundering across the barbed wires, roaring with the pain of them, and
Zeke saw it top the wall, tail high and head down, and charge the little
dog.

Zeke might have tried to drive the bull back into its pasture; but that
was a task for a bold man, and Zeke was not bold. He whipped his horse
and drove on to warn Evered; and when he looked back from the top of the
hill the bull and the dog had disappeared into the scrub growth of
alder and hardwood along a little run that led down to the swamp. He
whipped his horse again, and turned into the road that led to Evered’s
farmhouse.

When he got to the farmhouse there was no one at home; and after he had
convinced himself of this Zeke drove away again, planning to stop at the
first neighboring farm and leave word for Evered. But after a quarter of
a mile or so he met the butcher, and stopped him and told him that the
bull was loose in his woodlot.

Evered asked a question or two; but Zeke’s voluble answers made him
impatient, and he left the other and hurried on. At home he stabled his
horse, got his ash stave with the snap on the end, and as an
afterthought went into the house for his revolver. He had no illusions
about the bull; he knew the beast was dangerous.

While he was in the house he marked that his wife was not there, and
wondered where she was, and called to her, but got no answer. He knew
that John and Ruth MacLure, his wife’s sister, were in the orchard on
the other side of the farm from the pasture and woodlot; and he decided
that his wife must have gone to join them there. So with the revolver in
his pocket and the stave in his hand, Evered went down past the barn and
through the bars into the woodlot. Somewhere in the thickets below him
he expected to find the bull. He could hear nothing, so he understood
that the little dog which had caused the trouble had either fled or been
killed by the beast. He hoped for the latter; for he was an impatient
man, and angered at the whole incident. Also, the sultry heat of the day
had irked him; irked him so that he had cursed to himself because his
wife was not at home when he wished to speak to her.

In this impatient mood he began to work down through the woodlot. He
went carefully, knowing the treacherous temper of the brute he was
hunting. He passed through a growth of birches along a little run, and
across a rocky knoll, and through more birches, and so came out upon the
lower shelf of his farm, a quarter of a mile from the house, and halfway
down to the borders of the swamp.

He remembered, when he had come thus far, that there was a spring in the
hillside a little below him, with two or three old trees above it, and
some clean grass beside it. His wife occasionally came here in the
afternoon, when her work was done, to sit and read or rest or give
herself to her thoughts. Evered knew of this habit of hers; but till
this moment he had forgotten it. The spot was cool; it caught what air
was stirring. He had a sudden conviction that she might be there now;
and the idea angered him. He was angry with her because by coming down
here she had put herself in a dangerous position. He was angry with her
because he was worried about her safety. This was a familiar reaction of
the man’s irascible temperament. Two years before, when Mary Evered took
to her bed for some three weeks’ time with what was near being
pneumonia, Evered had been irritable and morose and sullen until she was
on her feet again. Unwilling to confess his concern for her, he
expressed that concern by harsh words and scowls and bitter taunts, till
his wife wept in silent misery. His wife whom he loved wept in misery
because of him.

Thus it was now with him. He was afraid she had come to the spring; he
was afraid the bull would come upon her there; and because he was
afraid for her he was angry with her for coming.

He went forward across the level rocky ground, eyes and ears alert; and
so came presently atop a little rise from which he could look down to
the spring. And at what he saw the man stopped stock-still, and all the
fires of hell flared up in his heart till he felt his whole body burn
like a flaming ember.

His wife was there; she was sitting on a low smooth rock a little at one
side of the spring. But that was not all; she was not alone. A man sat
below her, a little at one side, looking up at her and talking
earnestly; and Mary Evered’s head was drooping in thought as she
listened.

Evered knew the man. The man was Dane Semler. Dane Semler and his wife,
together here, talking so quietly.

They did not see him. Their backs were toward him, and they were
oblivious and absorbed. Evered stood still for a moment; then he was so
shaken by the fury of his own anger that he could not stand, and he
dropped on one knee and knelt there, watching them. And the blood boiled
in him, and the pulse pounded in his throat, and the breath choked in
his lungs. His veins swelled, his face became purple. One watching him
would have been appalled.

Evered was in that moment a terrible and dreadful spectacle, a man
completely given over to the ugliest of angers, to the black and
tempestuous fury of jealousy.

He did not stop to wonder, to guess the meaning of the scene before him.
He did not wish to know its explanation. If he had thought soberly he
must have known there was no wrong in Mary Evered. But he did not think
soberly; he did not think at all. He gave himself to fury. Accustomed to
yield to anger as a man yields to alcohol, accustomed to debauches of
rage, Evered in this moment loosed all bounds on himself. He hated his
wife as it is possible to hate only those whom we love; he hated Dane
Semler consumingly, appallingly. He was drunk with it, shaking with it;
his lips were so hot it was as though they smoked with rage.

The man and the woman below him did not move. He could catch, through
the pounding in his own ears, the murmur of their voices. Semler spoke
quickly, rapidly, lifting a hand now and then in an appealing gesture;
the woman, when she spoke at all, raised her head a little to look at
the man, and her voice was very low. Evered did not hear their words; he
did not wish to. The very confidence and ease and intimacy of their
bearing damned them unutterably in his eyes.

He was like a figure of stone, there on the knoll just above them. It
seemed impossible that they could remain unconscious of his presence
there. The unleashed demons in the man seemed to cry out, they were
almost audible.

But the two were absorbed; they saw nothing and heard nothing; nothing
save each other. And Evered above them, a concentrated fury, was as
absorbed and oblivious as they. His whole being was so focused in
attention on these two that he did not see the great red bull until it
came ponderously round a shoulder of the hill, not thirty paces from
where the man and woman sat together. He did not see it then until they
turned their heads that way, until they came swiftly to their feet, the
man with a cry, the woman in a proud and courageous silence.

The bull stood still, watching them. And in the black soul of Evered an
awful triumph leaped and screamed. His ash stave was beside him, his
revolver was beneath his hand. There was time and to spare.

He flung one fist high and brought it smashing down. It struck a rock
before him and crushed skin and knuckles till the blood burst forth. But
Evered did not even know. There was a dreadful exultation in him.

He saw the bull’s head drop, saw the vast red bulk lunge forward, quick
as light; saw Semler dodge like a rabbit, and run, shrieking, screaming
like a woman; saw Mary Evered stand proudly still as still.

In the last moment Evered flung himself on the ground; he hid his face
in his arms. And the world rocked and reeled round him so that his very
soul was shaken.

Face in his arms there, the man began presently to weep like a little
child.



VI


After an interval, which seemed like a very long time, but was really
only a matter of seconds, Evered got to his feet, and with eyes half
averted started down the knoll toward the spring.

Yet even with averted eyes he was able to see what lay before him; and a
certain awed wonder fell upon the man, so that he was shaken, and
stopped for a moment still. And there were tremorous movements about his
mouth when he went on.

His wife’s body lay where it had been flung by the first blunt blow of
the red bull’s awful head. But--this was the wonder of it--the red bull
had not trampled her. The beast stood above the woman’s body now, still
and steady; and Evered was able to see that there was no more murder in
him. He had charged the woman blindly; but it was now as though, having
struck her, he knew who she was and was sorrowing. It was easy to
imagine an almost human dejection in the posture of the huge beast.

And it was this which startled and awed Evered; for the bull had always
been, to his eyes, an evil and a murderous force.

A few feet from where the woman’s body lay Evered stopped and looked at
the bull; and the bull stood quite still, watching Evered without
hostility. Evered found it hard to understand.

He turned to one side and knelt beside his wife’s body; but this was
only for an instant. He saw at once that she was dead, beyond chance or
question. There was no blood upon her, no agony of torn flesh; her
garments were a little rumpled, and that was all. The mighty blow of the
bull had been swift enough, and merciful. She lay a little on her side,
and her lips were twisted in a little smile, not unhappily.

Evered at this time was not conscious of feeling anything at all. His
mind was clear enough; his perceptions were never more acute. But his
emotions seemed to be in abeyance. He looked upon his wife’s body and
felt for her neither the awful hate of the last minutes nor the
torturing love of the years that were gone. He looked simply to see if
she were dead; and she was dead. So he took off his coat and made of it
a pillow for her, and laid her head upon it, and composed her where she
lay. And the great red bull stood by, with that unbelievable hint of
sorrow and regret in its bearing; stood still as stone, and watched so
quietly.

Evered did not think of Semler; he had scarce thought of the man at all,
from the beginning. When he was done with his wife he went to where the
bull stood, and snapped his ash stave fast to the creature’s nose. The
bull made no move, neither backed away nor snorted nor jerked aside its
vast head. And Evered, his face like a stone, led the beast to one side
and up the slope and through the woodlot toward the farm.

As he approached the barn he turned to one side and came to the boarded
pen outside the bull’s stall. He led the beast inside this pen, loosed
the stave from the nose ring, and stepped back outside the gate.
Watching for a moment he saw the red bull walk slowly across the pen and
go into its stall; and once inside it turned round and stood with its
head in the doorway of the stall, watching him.

He made fast the gate, then passed through the barn and approached the
kitchen door. Ruth, his wife’s sister, came to the door to meet him. His
face was steady as a rock; there was no emotion in the man. Yet there
was something about him which appalled the girl.

She asked huskily, “Did you get the bull in? I heard him, didn’t I?”

“Yes,” said Evered. “He’s in.”

“I heard him bellowing,” she explained. “And then I saw a man run up
across the side field to the road.”

“That was Semler,” Evered explained coldly. “Dane Semler. He was afraid
of the bull.”

“I was worried,” the girl persisted timidly, not daring to say what was
in her mind. “I was worried--worried about Mary.”

“The bull killed her,” said Evered; and passed her and went into the
kitchen.

Ruth backed against the wall to let him go by; and she pressed her two
hands to her lips in a desperate frightened way; and her eyes were wide
and staring with horror. She stared at the man, and her hands held back
the clamor of her grief. She stared at him as at a monstrous thing,
while Evered washed his hands at the sink and dried them on the roller
towel, and combed his hair before the clean mirror hanging on the wall.
There was a dreadful deliberation about his movements.

After a moment the girl began to move; she went by little sidewise steps
as far as the door, and then she leaped out into the barnyard, and the
screams poured from her in a frenzy of grief that was half madness.
Evered turned at the first sound and watched her run, still screaming,
across the barnyard to the fence; and he saw her fumble fruitlessly with
the topmost bars, and at last scramble awkwardly over the fence itself
in her stricken haste. She was still crying out terribly as she
disappeared from his sight in the direction of the woodlot and the
spring.

Evered watching her said to himself bitterly: “She knew where Mary was;
knew where to look for her.”

He flung out one hand in a weak gesture of despair that came strangely
from so harshly strong a man; and he began to move aimlessly about the
kitchen, not knowing what he did. He took a drink at the pump; he
changed his shoes for barnyard boots; he cut tobacco from a plug and
filled his pipe and forgot to light it; he stood in the door, the cold
pipe in his teeth, and stared out across his farm; and his teeth set on
the pipestem till it cracked and roused him from his own thoughts.

Then he heard someone running, and his son, John Evered, came from the
direction of the orchard, and flung a quick glance at his father, and
another into the kitchen at his father’s back.

Evered looked at him, and the young man, panting from his run, said, “I
heard Ruth cry out. What’s happened, father?”

Evered’s tight lips did not stir for a moment; then he took the pipe in
his hand, and he said stiffly, “The red bull killed Mary.”

They were accustomed to speak of Evered’s second wife as Mary when they
spoke together. John, though he loved her, had never called her mother.
He loved her well; but the blood tie was strong in him, and he loved his
father more. At his father’s word now he stepped nearer the older man,
watching, sensing something of the agony behind Evered’s simple
statement; and their eyes met and held for a little.

Then Evered said, “She was with Dane Semler at the spring.”

The gentler lines of his son’s face slowly hardened into a likeness of
his own. The young man asked, “Where’s Semler?”

“Ran away,” said Evered.

“I had wanted a word with him.”

Evered laughed shortly; and it was almost the first time that John had
ever seen him laugh, so that the sight was shocking and terrible. Then
the older man turned back into the house.

John followed him and asked quickly, “It was at the spring?”

“Yes. The bull broke down his fence to get at a dog.”

“We must bring her home,” the son suggested quietly. “Where is Ruth?”

“Down there,” Evered told him.

John turned to the door again. “We’ll bring her home,” he said; and
Evered saw the young man go swiftly across the farmyard and vault the
fence and start at an easy run in the direction Ruth had gone.

Evered stayed in the house alone for a moment; and when he could bear to
be alone no longer he went out into the farmyard. As he did so Zeke
Pitkin drove in, on his way back from that errand in North Fraternity.

The bleak face of Evered appalled the timid man and frightened him; and
he stammered apologetically: “W-wondered if you got the b-bull in.”

“Yes,” said Evered. “After he had killed Mary.”

Zeke stared at Evered with a face that was a mask of terror for a
moment, and Evered stood still, watching him. Then Pitkin gathered his
reins clumsily, and clumsily turned his horse, so sharply that his wagon
was well-nigh overthrown by the cramped wheel. When it was headed for
the road he lashed out with the whip, and the horse leaped forward.
Evered could hear it galloping out to the main road, and then to the
left, toward Fraternity.

“Town’ll know in half an hour,” he said half to himself.

The man was still in a stupor, his emotions numb. But he did not want to
be alone. After a moment he went out into the stable and harnessed the
horse to his light wagon and started down a wood road toward the spring.
The wagon would serve to bring his wife’s body home.

The vehicles on a Fraternity farm are there for utility, almost without
exception. Evered had a mowing machine, a rake, a harrow, a sledge, a
single-seated buggy and this light wagon. He was accustomed to take the
wagon when he went butchering; and it had served to haul the carcasses
of any number of sheep or calves or pigs or steers from farm to market.
He had no thought that he was piling horror on horror in taking this
wagon to bring home his wife’s body.

He laid a double armful of hay in the bed of the wagon before he
started; and he himself walked by the horse’s head, easing it over the
rough places. The wood road which he followed would take him within two
or three rods of the spring.

John Evered, going before his father, had found Ruth MacLure
passionately sobbing above the body of her sister. And at first he could
not bring himself to draw near to her; he was held by some feeling that
to approach her would be sacrilege. There had been such a love between
the sisters as is not often seen; there was a spiritual intimacy between
them, a sympathy of mind and heart akin to that sometimes marked between
twins. John knew this; he knew all that Ruth’s grief must be. And so he
stood still, a little ways off from her, and waited till the tempest of
her grief should pass.

When she was quieter he spoke to her; and at the sound of his voice the
girl whirled to face him, still kneeling; and there were no more tears
in her. He was frightened at the stare of challenge in her eyes. He said
quickly, “It’s me.”

She shook her head as though something blurred her sight. “I thought it
was your father,” she told him, and there was a bitter condemnation in
her tone.

John said, “You mustn’t blame him.”

“He’s not even sorry,” she explained softly, thoughtfully.

“He is,” John insisted. “You never understood him. He loved her so.”

She flung her head to one side impatiently and got to her feet, brushing
at her eyes with her sleeve, fumbling with her hair, composing her
countenance. “It’s growing dark,” she said. “We must take her home.”

He nodded. “I’ll carry her,” he said; and he crossed and bent above the
dead woman, and looked at her for a moment silently. The girl, watching
him, saw in the still strength of his features a likeness to his father
that was suddenly terrible and appalling.

She shuddered; and when he would have lifted her sister’s body she cried
out in passionate hysterical protest, “Don’t touch her! Don’t touch her!
You shan’t touch her, John Evered!”

John looked at her slowly; and with that rare understanding which was
the birthright of the man he said, “You’re blaming father.”

“Yes, yes,” she cried, “I am.”

“It was never his fault,” he said.

“He kept that red, killing brute about,” she protested. “Oh, he killed
her, he killed Mary, he killed my sister, John.”

“That is not fair,” he told her.

Before she could answer they both hushed to the sound of the approaching
wagon; and Evered came toward them, leading the horse, and he turned it
and backed the wagon in below the spring.

They did not speak to him, nor he to them. But when he was ready he went
toward the dead woman to lift her into the wagon bed; and Ruth pushed
between them and cried: “You shan’t touch her! You shan’t touch her,
ever!”

Evered looked at her steadily; and after a moment he said, “Stand to one
side.”

The girl wished to oppose him; but it was a tribute to his strength that
even in this moment the sheer will of the man overpowered her. She moved
aside; and Evered lifted his wife’s body with infinite gentleness and
disposed it upon the fragrant hay in the wagon bed. He put the folded
coat again beneath his wife’s head as a pillow, as though she were only
sleeping.

Still with no word to them he took the horse’s rein and started to lead
it toward the road and up the hill. And Ruth and John, after a moment,
followed a little behind.

When they came up into the open, out of the scattering trees, a homing
crow flying overhead toward its roost saw them. It may have been that
the wagon roused some memory in the bird, offered it some promise. At
any rate, the black thing circled on silent wing, and lighted in the
road along which they had come, and hopped and flopped behind them as
they went slowly up the hill toward the farm.

Ruth saw the bird and shuddered; and John went back and drove it into
flight; but it took earth again, farther behind them.

It followed them insistently up the hill; and it was still there, a
dozen rods away, as they brought Mary Evered home.



VII


When they came into the farmyard night was falling. In the west the sky
still showed bright and warm; and against this brilliant sky the hills
were purple and deeper purple in the distance. In the valleys mists were
rising and black pools of night were forming beneath these mists; and
while Evered bore his wife’s body into the house and laid it on the bed
in the spare room, these pools rose and rose until they topped the hills
and overflowed the world with darkness. The air was still hot and heavy,
as it had been all day; and the sultry sky which had intensified the
heat of the sun served now to hide the stars. When it grew dark it was
as dark as pitch. The blackness seemed tangible, as though a man might
catch it in his hand.

Ruth stayed beside her sister; but John built a fire in the stove while
Evered sat by in stony calm, and he made coffee and fried salt pork and
boiled potatoes. There were cold biscuits which Mary Evered had made
that morning, and doughnuts from the crock in the cellar. When the
supper was ready he called Ruth; and she came. The most tragic thing
about death is that it accomplishes so little. The dropping of man or
woman into the pool of the infinite is no more than the dropping of a
pebble into a brook. The surface of the pool is as calm, a little after,
as it was before. Thus, now, save that Mary was not at the table, their
supping together was as it had always been.

And after they had eaten they must go with the familiarity of long habit
about their evening chores. Ruth washed the dishes; John and his father
fed the beasts and milked the cows; and when they came in John turned
the separator while Ruth attended to the milk and put away, afterward,
the skim milk and the cream.

By that time two or three neighbors had come in, having heard of that
which had come to pass. There was genuine sorrow in them, for Mary
Evered had been a woman to be loved; but there was also the ugly
curiosity native to the human mind; and there was speculation in each
eye as they watched Evered and John and Ruth. They would discuss, for
days to come, the bearing of each one of the three on that black night.

For Evered, the man was starkly silent, saying no word. He sat by the
table, eyes before him, puffing his pipe. Ruth stayed by her sister as
though some instinct of protection kept her there. John talked with
those who came, told them a little. He did not mention Semler’s part in
the tragedy. He said simply that the bull had broken loose; that Mary
Evered was by the spring, where she liked to go; that the bull came upon
her there.

They asked morbidly whether she was trampled and torn; and they seemed
disappointed when he told them that she was not, that even the terrible
red bull had seemed appalled at the thing which he had done. And through
the evening others came and went, so that he had to say the same things
over and over; and always Evered sat silently by the table, giving no
heed when any man spoke to him; and Ruth, in the other room, kept guard
above the body. The women went in there, some of them; but no men went
in.

John had telephoned to Isaac Gorfinkle, whose business it was to prepare
poor human clay for its return to earth again; and Gorfinkle came about
midnight and put all save Ruth out of the room where the dead woman lay.
Gorfinkle was a little, fussy man; a man who knew his doleful trade.
Before day he and Ruth had done what needed doing; and Mary Evered lay
in the varnished coffin he had brought. Her white hair and the sweet
nobility of her countenance, serenely lying there, made those who looked
forget the ugly splendor of Gorfinkle’s wares.

It was decided that she should be buried on the second day. On the day
after her death many people came to the farm; and some came from
curiosity, and some from sympathy, and some with an uncertain purpose in
their minds.

These were the selectmen of the town--Lee Motley, chairman; and Enoch
Thomas, of North Fraternity; and Old Man Varney. Motley, a sober man and
a man of wisdom, was of Evered’s own generation; Enoch Thomas and Varney
were years older. Old Varney had a son past thirty, whom to this day he
thrashed with an ax stave when the spirit moved him, his big son
good-naturedly accepting the outrage.

Thomas and Varney came to demand that Evered kill his red bull; and
Motley put the case for them.

“We’ve talked it over,” he said. “Seem’s like the bull’s dangerous; like
he ought to be killed. That’s what we’ve--what we’ve voted.”

Evered turned his heavy eyes from man to man; and Old Varney brandished
his cane and called the bull a murdering beast, and bade Evered take his
rifle and do the thing before their eyes. Evered’s countenance changed
no whit; he looked from Varney to Thomas, who was silent, and from
Thomas to Lee Motley.

“I’ll not kill the bull,” he said.

Before Motley could speak, Varney burst into abuse and insistent demand;
and Evered let him talk. When the old man simmered to silence they
waited for Evered to answer, but Evered held his tongue till Lee Motley
asked, “Come, Evered, what do you say?”

“What I have said,” Evered told them.

“The town’ll see,” Old Varney shrilled, and shook his fist in Evered’s
face. “The town’ll see whether a murdering brute like that is to range
abroad. If you’ve not shame enough--your own wife, man--your own----” he
wagged his head. “The town’ll see.”

Said Evered: “I’ll not take rifle to the bull; but if any man comes here
to kill the beast, I’ll have use for that rifle of mine.”

Which fanned Varney to a fresh outbreak, till Evered flung abruptly
toward him, and abruptly said, “Be still.”

So were they still; and Evered looked them in the eye, man by man, till
he came to Motley; and then he said, “Motley, I thought there was more
wisdom in you.”

“Aye,” cried Varney. “He’s as big a fool as you.”

And Motley said, “I voted against this, Evered. The bull’s yours, if
you’re a mind to kill him. I’m not for making you. It’s your own affair,
you mind. And--the ways of a bull are the ways of a bull. The brute’s
not overmuch to be blamed.”

Evered nodded and turned his back on them; and after a time they went
away. But when Evered went into the house he met Ruth, and the girl
stopped him and asked him huskily, “You’re not going to kill that red
beast?”

Evered hesitated; then he said, with something like apology in his
tones, “No, Ruth.”

She began to tremble, and he saw that words were hot on her lips; and he
lifted one hand in a placating gesture. She turned into the other room,
and the door shut harshly at her back. Evered’s eyes rested on the door
for a space, a curious questioning in them, a wistful light that was
strange to see.

All that day Ruth was still, saying little. No word passed between her
and Evered, and few words between her and John. But that night, when
they were alone, John spoke to her in awkward comfort and endearment.

“Please, Ruthie,” he begged. “You’re breaking yourself. You’ll be sick.
You must not be so hard.”

He put an arm about her, as though he would have kissed her; but the
girl’s hands came up against his chest, and the girl’s eyes met his in a
fury of horror and loathing, and she flung him away.

“Don’t! Don’t!” she cried in a voice that was like a scream. “Don’t
ever! You--his son!”

John, inexpressibly hurt, yet understanding, left her alone; he told
himself she was not to be blamed, with the agony of grief still
scourging her.

One of the neighbor women came in that night to sit with Ruth; and Ruth
slept a little through the night. John was early abed; he had had no
sleep the night before, and he was tired. He sank fathoms deep in
slumber; a slumber broken by fitful, unhappy dreams. His own grief for
the woman who had been mother to him had been stifled, given no chance
for expression, because he had fought to comfort Ruth and to ease his
father. The reaction swept over him while he slept; he rested little.

Evered, about nine o’clock, went to the room he and his wife had shared
for so many years. He had not, before this, been in the room since she
was killed. Some reluctance had held him; he had shunned the spot. But
now he was glad to be alone, and when he had shut the door he stood for
a moment, looking all about, studying each familiar object, his nerves
reacting to faint flicks of pain at the memories that were evoked.

He began to think of what the selectmen had said, of their urgency that
he should kill the bull. And he sat down on the edge of the bed and
remained there, not moving, for a long time. Once his eye fell on his
belt hanging against the wall, with the heavy knife that he used in his
butchering in its sheath. He reached out and took down the belt and
drew the knife forth and held it in his hands, the same knife that had
killed drunken Dave Riggs long ago. A powerful weapon, it would strike a
blow like an ax; the handle of bone, the blade heavy and keen and
strong. He balanced it between his fingers, and thought of how he had
struck it into the neck of Zeke Pitkin’s bull, and how the bull had
dropped in midlife and never stirred more. The knife fascinated him; he
could not for a long time take his eyes away from it. At the last he
reached out and thrust it into its sheath with something like a shudder,
strange to see in so strong a man.

Then he undressed and got into bed, the bed he had shared with Mary
Evered. He had blown out the lamp; the room was dark. There was a little
current of air from the open window. And after a little Evered began to
be as lonely as a boy for the first time away from home.

There is in every man, no matter how stern his exterior, a softer side.
Sometimes he hides it from all the world; more often his wife gets now
and then a glimpse of it. There was a side of Evered which only Mary
Evered had known. And she had loved it. When they had come to bed
together it always seemed to her that Evered was somehow gentler,
kinder. He put away his harshness, as though it were a part he had felt
called upon to play before men. The child in him, strong in most men,
came to the surface. He was never a man overgiven to caresses, but when
they were alone at night together, and he was weary, he would sometimes
draw her arm beneath his head as a pillow or take her hand and lift it
to rest upon his forehead, while she twined her fingers gently through
his hair.

They used to talk together, sometimes far into the night; and though he
might have used her bitterly through the day, with caustic tongue and
hard, condemning eye, he was never unkind in these moments before they
slept. A man the world outside had never seen. It was these nights
together which had made life bearable for Mary Evered; and they had been
dear to Evered too. How dreadful and appalling, then, was this, his
first night alone.

Her shoulder was not there to cradle his sick and weary head; her gentle
hand was not there to cool his brow. When he flung an arm across her
pillow, where she used to lie, it embraced a gulf of emptiness that
seemed immeasurably deep and terrible. After a little, faint
perspiration came out upon the man’s forehead. He turned on his right
side, in the posture that invited sleep; but at first sleep would not
come. His limbs jerked and twitched; his eyelids would not close. He
stared sightlessly into the dark. Outside in the night there were faint
stirrings and scratchings and movings to and fro; and each one brought
him more wide awake than the last. He got up and closed the window to
shut them out, and it seemed to him the closed room was filled with her
presence. When he lay down again he half fancied he felt her hand upon
his hair, and he reached his own hand up to clasp and hold hers, as he
had sometimes used to do; but his groping fingers found nothing, and
came sickly away again.

How long he lay awake he could not know. When at last he dropped asleep
the very act of surrender to sleep seemed to fetch him wide awake again.
Waking thus he thought that he held his wife in his arms; he had often
wakened in the past to find her there. But as his senses cleared he
found that the thing which he held so tenderly against his side was only
the pillow on which her head was used to lie.

The man’s nerves jangled and clashed; and he threw the pillow
desperately away from him as though he were afraid of it. He sat up in
bed; and his pulses pounded and beat till they hurt him like the blows
of a hammer. There was no sleep in Evered.

He was still sitting thus, bolt upright, sick and torn and weary, when
the gray dawn crept in at last through the window panes.



VIII


The day of Mary Evered’s burial was such a day as comes most often
immediately after a storm, when the green of the trees is washed to such
a tropical brightness that the very leaves radiate color and the air is
filled with glancing rays of light. There were white clouds in the blue
sky; clouds not dense and thick, but lightly frayed and torn by the
winds of the upper reaches, and scudding this way and that according to
the current which had grip of them. Now and then these gliding clouds
obscured the sun; and the sudden gloom made men look skyward, half
expecting a burst of rain. But for the most part the sun shone steadily
enough; and there was an indescribable brilliance in the light with
which it bathed the earth. Along the borders of the trees, round the
gray hulks of the bowlders, and fringing the white blurs of the houses
there seemed to shimmer a halo of colors so faint and fine they could be
sensed but not seen by the eye. The trees and the fields were an
unearthly gaudy green; the shadows deep amid the branches were
trembling, changing pools of color. A day fit to bewitch the eye, with a
soft cool wind stirring everywhere.

Evered himself was early about, attending to the morning chores. Ruth
MacLure had fallen asleep toward morning, and the woman with her let the
girl rest. John woke when he heard his father stirring; and it was he
who made breakfast ready, when he had done his work about the barn. He
and his father ate together, and Ruth did not join them.

Evered, John saw, was more silent than his usual silent custom; and the
young man was not surprised, expecting this. John himself, concerned for
Ruth, and wishing he might ease the agony of her grief, had few words to
say. When they were done eating he cleared away the dishes and washed
them and put them away; and then he swept the floor, not because it
needed sweeping, but because he could not bear to sit idle, doing
nothing at all. He could hear the women stirring in the other room; and
once he heard Ruth’s voice.

John’s grief was more for the living than for the dead; he had loved
Mary Evered truly enough, but there was a full measure of philosophy in
the young man. She was dead; and according to the simple trust which was
a part of him she was happy. But Ruth was unhappy, and his father was
unhappy. He wished he might comfort them.

Evered at this time was soberly miserable; his mind was still numb, his
emotions were just beginning to assert themselves. He could not think
clearly, could scarce think at all. What passed for thought with him was
merely a jumble of exclamations, passionate outcries, curses and
laments. Mary was dead; and he knew that dimly, without full
comprehension of the knowledge. More clearly he remembered Mary and Dane
Semler, sitting so intimately side by side; and the memory was
compounded of anguish and of satisfaction--anguish because she was
false, satisfaction because her frailty in some small measure justified
the monstrous thing he had permitted, and in permitting had done. Evered
did not seek to deceive himself; he knew that he had killed Mary Evered
as truly as he had killed Dave Riggs many a year ago. He did not put the
knowledge into words; nevertheless, it was there, in the recesses of his
mind, concrete and ever insistent. And when sorrow and remorse began to
prick at him with little pins of fire he told himself, over and over,
that she had been frail, and so got eased of the worst edge of pain.

A little after breakfast people began to come to the house. Isaac
Gorfinkle was first of them all, and he busied himself with his last
ugly preparations. Later the minister came--a boy, or little more; fresh
from theological school. His name was Mattice, and he was as prim and
meticulous as the traditional maiden lady who is so seldom found in
life. He tried to speak unctuous comfort to Evered, but the man’s scowl
withered him; he turned to John, and John had to listen to him with what
patience could be mustered. And more men came, and stood in groups about
the farmyard, smoking, spitting, shaving tiny curls of wood from
splinters of pine; and their women went indoors and herded in the front
room together, and whispered and sobbed in a hissing chorus
indescribably horrible. There is no creation of mankind so hideous as a
funeral; there is nothing that should be more beautiful. The hushed
voices, the damp scent of flowers, the stifling closeness of
tight-windowed rooms, the shuffling of feet, the raw snuffles of those
who wept--these sounds filled the house and came out through the open
doors to the men, whispering in little groups outside.

Ruth MacLure was not weeping; nor Evered; nor John. And the mourning,
sobbing women kissed Ruth and called her brave; and they whispered to
each other that Evered was hard, and that John was like his father. And
the lugubrious debauch of tears went on interminably, as though
Gorfinkle--whose duty it would be to give the word when the time should
come--thought these preliminaries were requisites to a successful
funeral.

But at last it was impossible to wait longer without going home for
dinner, and Gorfinkle, who was accustomed to act as organist on such
occasions, took his seat, pumped the treadles and began to play. Then
everyone crowded into the front room or stood in the hall; and a woman
sang, and young Mattice spoke for a little while, dragging forth verse
after verse of sounding phrase which rang nobly even in his shrill and
uncertain tones. More singing, more tears. A blur of pictures
photographed themselves on Ruth’s eyes; words that she would never
forget struck her ears in broken phrases. She sat still, steady and
quiet. But her nerves were jangling; and it seemed to the girl she must
have screamed aloud if the thing had not ended when it did.

Then the mile-long drive to the hilltop above Fraternity, with its iron
fence round about, and the white stones within; and there the brief and
solemn words, gentle with grief and glorious with triumphant hope, were
spoken above the open grave. And the first clod fell. And by and by the
last; and those who had come began to drift away to their homes, to
their dinners, to the round of their daily lives.

Evered and John and Ruth drove home together in their light buggy, and
Ruth sat on John’s knee. But there was no yielding in her, there was no
softness about the girl. And no word was spoken by any one of them upon
the way.

At home, alighting, she went forthwith into the house; and John put the
horse up, while his father fed the pigs and the red bull in his stall.
When they were done Ruth called them to dinner, appearing for an instant
at the kitchen door. John reached the kitchen before his father; and
the pain in him made him speak to the girl before Evered came.

“Ruthie,” he said softly. “Please don’t be too unhappy.”

She looked at him with steady eyes, a little sorrowful. “I’m not
unhappy, John,” she said. “Because Mary is not unhappy, now. Don’t think
about me.”

“I can’t help thinking about you,” he told her; and she knew what was
behind his words, and shook her head.

“You’ll have to help it,” she said.

“Why, Ruthie,” he protested, “you know how I feel about you.”

Her eyes shone somberly. “It’s no good, John,” she answered. “You’re too
much Evered. I can see clearer now.”

They had not, till then, marked Evered himself in the doorway. Ruth saw
him and fell silent; and Evered asked her in a low steady voice, “You’re
blaming me?”

“I’m cursing you,” said the girl.

Evered held still for a little, as though it were hard for him to muster
words. Then he asked huskily, “What was my fault?”

She flung up her hand. “Everything!” she cried. “I’ve lived here with
you. I’ve seen you--breaking Mary by inches, and nagging and teasing
and pestering her. Till she was sick with it. And she kept loving you,
so you could hurt her more. And you did. You loved to hurt her. Hard and
cruel and mean and small--you’d have beat her as you do your beasts, if
you’d dared. Coward too. Oh!”

She flung away, began to move dishes aimlessly about upon the table.
Evered was gripped by a desire to placate her, to appease her; he
thought of Dane Semler, wished to cry out that accusation against his
wife. But he held his tongue. He had seen Semler with Mary; he had told
John; Ruth knew that Semler had been upon the farm. But neither of them
spoke of the man, then or thereafter. They told no one; and though
Fraternity might wonder and conjecture, might guess at the meaning of
Semler’s swift flight on the day of the tragedy, the town would never
know.

Evered did not name Semler now; and it was not any sense of shame that
held his tongue. He believed wholly in that which his eyes had seen, and
all that it implied. Himself scarce knew why he did not speak; and he
would never have acknowledged that it was desire to shield his wife,
even from her own sister, which kept him silent. After a moment he sat
down and they began to eat.

Toward the end of the meal he said to Ruth uneasily: “Feeling so, you’ll
not be like to stay here with John and me.”

Ruth looked at him with a quick flash of eyes; she was silent,
thoughtfully. She had not considered this; had not considered what she
was to do. But instantly she knew.

“Yes, I’m going to stay,” she told Evered. “This thing isn’t done.
There’s more to come. It must be so. For all you did there’s something
that will come to you. I want to be here, to see.” Her hands clenched on
the table edge. “I want to see you when it comes--see you squirm and
crawl.”

There was such certainty in her tone that Evered, spite of himself, was
shaken. He answered nothing; and the girl said again, “Yes; I am going
to stay.”

The red bull in his stall bellowed aloud; a long, rumbling, terrible
blare of challenge. It set the dishes dancing on the table before them;
and when they listened they could hear the monstrous beast snorting in
his stall.



IX


After the death of Mary Evered the days slipped away, and June passed to
July, and July to August. Gardens prospered; the hay ripened in the
fields; summer was busy with the land. But winter is never far away in
these northern hills; and once in July and twice in August the men of
the farms awoke in early morning to find frost faintly lying, so that
there were blackened leaves in the gardens, and the beans had once to be
replanted. Customary hazards of their arduous life.

The trout left quick water and moved into the deep pools; and a careful
fisherman, not scorning the humble worm, might strip a pool if he were
murderously inclined. The summer was dry; and as the brooks fell low and
lower little fingerlings were left gasping and flopping upon the gravel
of the shallows here and there. Nick Westley, the game warden for the
district, and a Fraternity man, went about with dip net and pail,
bailing penned trout from tiny shallows and carrying them to the larger
pools where they might have a chance for life. Some of the more ardent
fishermen imitated him; and some took advantage of the trout’s extremity
to bring home catches they could never have made in normal times.

John Evered loved fishing; and he knew the little brook along the hither
border of Whitcher Swamp, below the farm, as well as he knew his own
hand. But this year had been busy; he found no opportunity to try the
stream until the first week of July. One morning then, with steel rod
and tiny hooks, and a can of bait at his belt, he struck down through
the woodlot, past the spring where Mary had been killed, into the timber
below, and so came to the wall that was the border of his father’s farm,
and crossed into the swamp.

Whitcher Swamp is on the whole no pleasant place for a stroll; yet it
has its charms for the wild things, and for this reason John loved it.
Where he struck the marshy ground it was relatively easy going; and he
took a way he knew and came to the brook and moved along it a little
ways to a certain broad and open pool.

He thought the brook was lower than he had ever seen it at this season;
and once he knelt and felt the water, and found it warm. He smiled at
this with a certain gratification for the pool he sought was a spring
hole, water bubbling up through pin gravel in the brook’s very bed, and
the trout would be there to dwell in that cooler stream. When he came
near the place, screened behind alders so that he could not be seen, he
uttered an exclamation, and became as still as the trees about him while
he watched.

There were trout in the pool, a very swarm of them, lying close on the
yellow gravel bottom. The water, clear as crystal, was no more than
three feet deep; and he could see them ever so plainly. Big fat fish,
monsters, if one considered the brook in which he found them. He judged
them all to be over nine inches, several above a foot, one perhaps
fourteen inches long; and his eyes were shining. They were so utterly
beautiful, every line of their graceful bodies, and every dappled spot
upon their backs and sides as clear as though he held them in his hands.

He rigged line and hook, nicked a long worm upon the point, and without
so much as shaking an alder branch thrust his rod through and swung the
baited hook and dropped it lightly in the very center of the pool, full
fifteen feet from shore. Then he swung upward with a strong steady
movement, for he had seen a great trout strike as the worm touched the
water, had seen the chewing jaws of the fish mouthing its titbit. And as
he swung, the gleaming body came into the air, through an arc above his
head, into the brush behind him, where he dropped on his knees beside it
and gave it merciful death with the haft of his heavy knife, and dropped
it into his basket.

Fly fishermen will laugh with a certain scorn; or they will call John
Evered a murderer. Nevertheless, it is none so easy to take trout even
in this crude fashion of his. A shadow on the water, a stirring of the
bushes, a too-heavy tread along the bank--and they are gone. Nor must
they be hurried. The capture of one fish alarms the rest; the capture of
two disturbs them; the taking of three too quickly will send them flying
every whither.

John, after his first fish, filled and lighted his pipe, then caught a
second; and after another interval, a third--fat, heavy trout, all of
them; as much as three people would care to eat; and John was not minded
to kill more than he could use. He covered the three with wet moss in
his basket, and then he crept back through the alders and lay for a long
time watching the trout in the pool, absorbing the beauty of their
lines, watching how they held themselves motionless with faintest
quivers of fin, watching how they fed.

A twelve-inch trout rose and struck at a leaf upon the pool’s surface,
and John told himself, “They’re hungry.” He laughed a little, and got an
inch-long twig and tied it to the end of his line in place of hook. This
he cast out upon the pool, moving it to and fro erratically. Presently a
trout swirled up and took it under, and spat it out before John could
twitch the fish to the surface. John laughed aloud, and cast again. He
stayed there for a long hour at this sport, and when the trout sulked he
teased them with bits of leaf or grass. Once he caught a cricket and
noosed it lightly and dropped it on the water. When the fish took it
down John waited for an instant, then tugged and swung the trout half a
dozen feet into the air before he could disgorge the bait.

“Hungry as sin,” John told himself at last; and his eyes became sober as
he considered thoughtfully. There were other men about, as good
fishermen as he, and not half so scrupulous. If they should come upon
this pool on such a day----

He did a thing that might seem profanation to the fisherman who likes a
goodly bag. He gathered brush and threw it into the pool; he piled it
end to end and over and over; he found two small pines; dead in their
places among their older brethren; and he pushed them from their rotting
roots and dragged them to the brook and threw them in. When he was done
the pool was a jungle, a wilderness of stubs and branches; a sure haven
for trout, a spot almost impossible to fish successfully. While he
watched, when his task was finished, he saw brown darting shadows in the
stream as the trout shot back into the covert he had made; and he smiled
with a certain satisfaction.

“They’ll have to fish for them now,” he told himself.

He decided to try and see whether a man might take a trout from the
pool in its ambushed state. It meant an hour of waiting, a snagged hook
or two, a temper-trying ordeal with mosquitoes and flies. But in the end
he landed another fish, and was content. He went back through the swamp
and up to the farm, well pleased.

Moving along the brook he saw other pools where smaller fish were lying;
and that night he told Ruth what he had seen. “You can see all the trout
you’re minded to, down there now,” he said.

The girl nodded unsmilingly. She had not yet learned to laugh again,
since her sister’s death. They were a somber household, these
three--Evered steadily silent, the girl sober and stern, John striving
in his awkward fashion to win mirth from her and speech from Evered.

The early summer was to pass thus. And what was in Evered’s mind as the
weeks dragged by no man could surely know. His eye was as hard as ever,
his voice as harsh; yet to Ruth it seemed that new lines were forming in
his cheeks, and his hair, that had been black as coal, she saw one
afternoon was streaked with gray. Watching, thereafter, she marked how
the white hairs increased in number. Once she spoke of it to John,
constrainedly, for there was no such pleasant confidence between these
two as there had been.

John nodded. “Yes,” he said, “he’s aging. He loved her, Ruth; loved her
hard.”

Ruth made no comment, but there was no yielding in her eyes. She was in
these days implacable; and Evered watched her now and then with
something almost pleading in his gaze. He began to pay her small
attentions, which came absurdly from the man. She tried to hate him for
them.

Once John sought to comfort his father, spoke to him gently of the dead
woman; and Evered cried out, as though to assure himself as well as
silence John: “She was tricking me, John! Leaving me. With Semler, that
very day.”

He would not let John reply, silenced him with a fierce oath and flung
away. It might have been guessed that his belief in his wife’s treachery
was like an anchor to which Evered’s racked soul clung; as though he
found comfort and solace in the ugly thought, a justifying consolation.



X


John went no more to the brooks that summer; but what he had told Ruth
led her that way more than once. Westley, the game warden, stopped at
the house one day, and found her alone, and asked her whether John was
fishing. She told him of John’s one catch.

“Swamp Brook is full of trout,” she said; “penned in the holes and the
shallows.”

Westley nodded. “It’s so everywhere,” he agreed. “I’m dipping and
shifting them. Tell John to do that down in the swamp if he can find the
time.”

She asked how it should be done; and when Westley had gone she decided
that she would herself go down and try the trick of it if the drought
still held.

The drought held. No rain came; and once in early August she spent an
afternoon along the stream, and transported scores of tiny trout to
feeding grounds more deep and more secure. Again a week later; and
still again as the month drew to a close.

It was on this third occasion that the girl came upon Darrin. Working
along the brook with dip net and pail she had marked the footprints of a
man in the soft earth here and there. The swamp was still, no air
stirring, the humming of insects ringing in her ears. A certain gloom
dwelt in these woods even on the brightest day; and the black mold bore
countless traces and tracks of the animals and the small vermin which
haunted the place at night. Ruth might have been forgiven for feeling a
certain disquietude at sight of those man tracks in the wild; but she
had no such thought. She had never learned to be afraid.

She came upon Darrin at last with an abruptness that startled her. The
soft earth muffled her footsteps; she was within two or three rods of
him before she saw him, and even then the man had not heard her. He was
kneeling by the brook and at first she thought he had been drinking the
water. Then she saw that he was studying something there upon the
ground; and a moment later he got up and turned and saw her standing
there. At first he was so surprised that he could not speak, and they
were still, looking at each other. The girl, bareheaded, in simple waist
and heavy short skirt, with rubber boots upon her feet so that she might
wade at will, was worth looking at. The man himself was no mean
figure--khaki flannel shirt, knickerbockers, leather putties over stout
waterproof shoes. She carried pail in one hand, dip net in the other;
and she saw that he had a revolver slung in one hip, a camera looped
over his shoulder.

He said at last, “Hello, there!” And Ruth nodded in the sober fashion
that was become her habit. The man asked, “What have you got? Milk, in
that pail? Is this your pasture land?”

“Trout,” she told him; and he came to see the fish in a close-packed
mass; and he exclaimed at them, and watched while she put them into the
stream below where he had been kneeling. He asked her why she did it,
and she told him. At the same time she looked toward where he had knelt,
wondering what he saw there. She could see only some deep-imprinted
moose tracks; and moose tracks were so common in the swamp that it was
not worth while to kneel to study them.

He saw her glance, and said, “I was looking at those tracks. Moose,
aren’t they?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“They told me there were moose in here,” he said. “I doubted it, though.
So far south as this.”

“There are many moose in the swamp,” she declared.

He asked, “Have you ever seen them?”

She smiled a little. “Once in a while. A cow moose wintered in our barn
two years ago.”

He slapped his thigh lightly. “Then this is the place I’m looking for,”
he exclaimed.

She asked softly, “Why?” She was interested in the man. He was not like
John, not like anyone whom she had known; except, perhaps, Dane Semler.
A man of the city, obviously. “Why?” she asked.

“I want to get some pictures of them,” he explained. “Photographs. In
their natural surroundings. Wild. In the swamp.”

“John took a snapshot of the cow that wintered with us,” she said. “I
guess he’d give you one.”

The man laughed. “I’d like it,” he told her; “but I want to get a great
many.” He hesitated. “Where is your farm?”

She pointed out of the swamp toward the hill.

“Near?” he asked.

And she said, “It’s right over the swamp.”

“Listen,” he said eagerly. “My name’s Darrin--Fred Darrin. What’s
yours?”

“Ruth MacLure.”

“Why you’re Evered’s sister-in-law, aren’t you?”

She nodded, her cheeks paling a little. “Yes.”

“I was coming to see Evered to-night,” he said. “I want to board at the
farm while I work on these pictures--that is, I want permission to camp
down here by the swamp somewhere, and get milk and eggs and things from
you. Do you think I can?”

“Camp?” she echoed.

“Yes.”

She looked round curiously, as though she expected to see his equipment
there. “Haven’t you a tent?”

He laughed. “No. I’ve a tarp for a shelter; and I can cut some hemlock
boughs and build a shack; if you’ll let me trespass.”

“You could sleep in the barn I guess,” she said. “Or maybe in the
house.”

He shook his head. “No roof for mine. This is my vacation, you
understand. I can sleep under a roof at home.”

“You’ll be getting wet all the time.”

“I’ll dry when the sun comes out.”

She asked, “Who’s going to cook for you?”

“I’m a famous cook,” he told her.

She had the rooted distrust of the open air which is common among the
people of the farms. She could not see why a man should sleep on the
ground when he might have hay or a bed; and she could not believe in the
practicality of cooking over an open fire; especially when there was a
stove at hand.

“You’ll have to see Mr. Evered,” she said uneasily.

So it happened that they two went back through the swamp together and up
the hill; and they came side by side to meet Evered and John in the
barnyard by the kitchen door.

They had their colloquy there in the open barnyard, while the slanting
rays of the sun drew lengthening shadows from where they stood. Darrin
spoke to Evered. John went into the house after a moment and built a
fire for Ruth; and then he came out again while the girl went about the
business of supper.

Darrin was a good talker; and Evered’s silence made him seem like a good
listener. When John came out he was able to tell Darrin something of the
moose in the swamp, their haunts and their habits. Darrin listened as
eagerly as he had talked. He told them at last what he had come to do;
he explained how by trigger strings and hidden cameras and flash-light
powders he hoped to capture the images of the shy giants of the forest.
John listened with shining eyes. The project was of a sort to appeal to
him. As for Evered, he had little to say, smoked stolidly, stared out
across his fields. The sunlight on his hair accentuated the white
streaks in it, and John looking toward him once thought he had never
seen his father look so old.

When Darrin put forward his request for permission to camp in the
woodlot near the swamp, Evered swung his heavy head round and gave the
other man his whole attention for a space. It was John’s turn for
silence now. He expected Evered to refuse, perhaps abusively. Evered had
never liked trespassers. He said they scared his cows, trampled his
hay, stole his garden stuff or his apples. But Evered listened now with
a certain patience, watching Darrin; and Darrin with a nimble tongue
talked on and made explanations and promises.

In the end Evered asked, “Where is it your mind to camp?”

“I’ve picked no place. I’ll find a likely spot.”

“You could sleep in the barn,” said Evered, as Ruth had said before him;
and Darrin laughed.

“As a matter of fact,” he explained, “half the sport of this for me is
in sleeping out of doors on the ground. I’m on vacation, you know. Other
men like hunting, and so do I; but mine is a somewhat different kind,
that’s all. I won’t bother you; you’ll not see much of me, for I’ll be
about the swamp at all hours of the night, and I’ll sleep a good deal in
the day. You’ll hardly know I’m there. Of course, I don’t want to urge
you against your will.”

Evered’s lips flickered into what might have passed for a smile. “I’m
not often moved against my will,” he said. “But I’ve no objection to
your sleeping in my ground. If you keep out of the uncut hay.”

“I will.”

“And put out your fires. I don’t want to be burned up.”

Darrin laughed. “I’m not a novice at this, Mr. Evered,” he said. “You’ll
not have to kick me off.”

Evered nodded; and John said, “You want to keep out of the bull’s
pasture too. You’ll know it. There’s a high wire fence round.”

Darrin said soberly, “I’ve heard of the red bull.”

“He killed my wife,” said Evered; and there was something so stark in
the bald statement that it shocked and silenced them. Evered himself
flushed when he had spoken, as though his utterance had been
unconsidered, had burst from his overfull heart.

“I know,” Darrin told him.

John said after a moment’s silence, “If there’s any way I can help--I
know the swamp. As much as any man. And I’ve seen the moose in there.”

There was a certain eagerness in his voice; and Darrin said readily, “Of
course. I’d like it.”

He said he would tramp to town and come with his gear next morning. John
offered to drive him over, but he shook his head. As he started away
Ruth came to the kitchen door, and he looked toward her, and she said
hesitantly, “Don’t you want to stay to supper?”

He thanked her, shook his head. Evered and John in the barnyard watched
him go; and Evered saw Ruth leave the kitchen door and move to a window
from which she could see him go up the lane toward the main road.

Evered asked John: “What do you make of him?”

“I like him,” said John. “I’m--glad you let him stay.”

“Know why I let him stay?”

“Why--no.”

“See him and Ruth together? See her watching him?”

“I didn’t notice.”

Evered’s lips twitched in the nearest approach to mirth he ever
permitted himself. “Ought to have better eyes, John; if you’re minded to
keep hold o’ Ruth. She likes him. If I’d swore at him, shipped him off,
she’d have been all on his side from the start.”

John, a little troubled, shook his head. “Ruth’s all right,” he said.
“Give her time.”

Evered said, that wistful note in his voice plain for any man to hear,
“I don’t want Ruth leaving us. So I let Darrin stay.”



XI


Darrin came to the farm. He made his camp by the spring where Mary
Evered had loved to sit, and where she had been killed. John knew this
at the time, was on the spot when Darrin built his fireplace in a bank
of earth, waist high, and watched the other shape hemlock boughs into a
rain-shedding shelter.

He did not remonstrate; but he did say, “Shouldn’t think you’d want to
sleep here.”

Darrin looked at him curiously; and he laughed a little.

“You mean--the red bull?” he asked. And when John nodded he said, “Oh,
I’m not afraid of ghosts. The world’s full of ghosts.” There was a
sudden hardness in his eye. “I’m a sort of a ghost myself, in a way.”

John wondered what he meant; but he was not given to much questioning,
and did not ask. Nevertheless, Darrin’s word stayed hauntingly in his
mind.

He told Ruth where Darrin was camping; and the girl listened
thoughtfully, but made no comment. John knew that Ruth was accustomed to
go to the spring now and then, as her sister had done. He wondered
whether she would go there now. There was no jealousy in John; his heart
was not built for it. Nevertheless, there was a deep concern for Ruth,
deeper than he had any way of expressing. The matter worried him a
little.

They did not speak of Darrin’s camping place to Evered, and Evered asked
no questions. Darrin came to the house occasionally for supplies, but it
happened that he did not encounter Evered at such times. He was always
careful to ask for the man, to leave some word of greeting for him; and
once he bade them tell Evered to come down and see his camp. They did
not do so. Some instinct, unspoken and unacknowledged, impelled both
Ruth and John to keep Evered and Darrin apart. Neither was conscious of
this feeling, yet both were moved by it.

John, prompted to some extent by his father’s warning, had begun in an
awkward fashion to seek to please Ruth and to win back favor in her
eyes. He felt himself uneasy and at a loss in the presence of Darrin,
felt himself at a disadvantage in any contest with the other. John was a
man of the country, of the farm, and he had grace to know it. Darrin had
the ease of one who has rubbed shoulders with many men in many places;
he was not confused in Ruth’s presence; he was rather at his best when
she was near, while John was ill at ease and words came hard to him.
Darrin took care to be friendly with them both; and he and John on more
than one night drove deep into the swamp together on Darrin’s quest.
John, busy about the farm, was unable to join Darrin in the daytime; but
the other scoured through the marsh for tracks and traces, and then
enlisted John to help him move cameras into position, lay flash-powder
traps, or stalk the moose at their feeding in desperate attempts at
camera snap-shooting.

Sometimes, in the afternoons, John knew that Ruth went down to the
spring and talked with Darrin. Darrin told her of his ventures in the
swamp; and she told Darrin in her turn the story of the tragedy that had
been enacted here by the spring where he was camping. John, crossing the
woodlot on some errand, came upon them there one afternoon, and passed
by on the knoll above them without having been seen. The picture they
made remained with him and troubled him.

When Darrin had been some ten days on the farm and September was coming
in with a full moon in the skies it happened one night that Evered drove
to Fraternity for the mail and left John and Ruth alone together. When
she had done with the dishes she came out to find him on the door-step,
smoking in the moonlight; and she stood above him for a moment, till he
looked up at her with some question in his eyes.

She asked then, “Are you going into the swamp with Mr. Darrin to-night?”

He said, “No. He’s out of plates. There’s some due to-morrow; and he’s
waiting.”

She was silent a moment longer, then said swiftly, as though anxious to
be rid of the words, “Let’s go down and see him.”

If John was hurt or sorry he made no sign. He got to his feet. “Why, all
right,” he said. “It’s bright. We’ll not need a lantern.”

As they moved across the barnyard to the bars and entered the woodlot
the girl began to talk, in a swift low voice, as though to cover some
unadmitted embarrassment. A wiser man might have been disturbed; but
John was not analytical, and so he enjoyed it. It was the first time
they had talked together at any length since Mary died. It was, he
thought, like the old happy times. He felt warmed and comforted and
happier than he had been for many weeks past. She was like the old Ruth
again, he told himself.

Darrin was glad to see them. He built up his fire and made a place for
Ruth to sit upon his blankets, leaning against a bowlder, and offered
John cigars. The man knew how to play host, knew how to be interesting.
John saw Ruth laugh wholeheartedly for the first time in months. He
thought she was never so lovely as laughing.

When they went back up the hill together she fell silent and sober
again; and he looked down and saw her eyes, clear in the moonlight.
Abruptly, without knowing what he did, he put his arm round her; and for
an instant she seemed to yield to him, so that he drew her toward him as
he was used to do. He would have kissed her.

She broke away and cried out: “No, no, no! I told you no, John.”

He said gently, “I think a lot of you, Ruth.”

She shook her head, backing away from him; and he heard the angry note
creep back into her voice. “You mustn’t, ever,” she told him. “Oh, can’t
you understand?”

Some hot strain in the man came to the surface; he cried with an
eloquence that was strange on his slow lips, “I love you. That’s all I
understand. I always will. You’ve got to know that too. You----”

She said, “Hush! I won’t listen. You--you’re your father over. He’s not
content but he master everyone and every thing; master everyone about
him. Break them. Master his beasts and his wife. You’re his own son.
You’re an Evered.” Her hands were tightening into fists at her side.
“Oh, you would want to boss me the way he---- I won’t, I won’t! You
shan’t--shan’t ever do it.”

“I’ll be kind to you,” he said.

There was a softer note in her voice. “John, John,” she told him. “I’m
sorry. I did love you. I tried to shut my eyes. I tried to pretend that
Mary was happy with him. You’re like him. I thought I’d be happy with
you. She told me one day how he used be. It frightened me, because he
was like you. But I did love you, John. Till Mary died. Then I knew.
He’d killed her. He made her want to die. And he had driven that great
bull into a killing thing--by the way he treated it.

“Oh, I’ve seen your father clear, John. I know what he is. You’re like
him. I couldn’t ever love you.”

He said in a hot quick tone--because she was very lovely--that she would
love him, must, some day; and she shook her head.

“Don’t you see?” she told him. “You’re trying already to make me do what
you want. Oh, John, can’t you Evereds see any living thing without
crushing it? Mr. Darrin----” She caught herself, went on. “See how
different he is. He goes into the swamp, and he has to be a thousand
times more careful, more crafty than you when you hunt. But you come
home with a bloody ugly thing across your shoulders; and he comes with a
lovely picture, that will always be beautiful, and that so many people
will see. He outwits the animals; he proves himself against them. But he
doesn’t kill them to do it, John. You--your father---- Oh, can’t you
ever see?”

His thoughts were not quick enough to cope with her; but he said
awkwardly, “I’m not--always killing things. I’ve left many a trout go
that I might have killed. And deer too.”

“Because it’s the law,” she said harshly. “But it’s in you to
kill--crush and bruise and destroy. Don’t you see the difference? You
don’t have to beat a thing, a beast, to make it yield to you. You
Evereds.”

“I’m not a horse beater,” he said.

“It’s the blood of you,” she told him. “You will be.”

“There’s some times,” he suggested, “when you’ve got to be hard.”

“I’ve heard your father say that very thing.”

They were moving slowly homeward now, speaking brokenly, with longer
silences between. The night was almost as bright as day, the moon in
midheavens above them. Ahead the barn and the house bulked large,
casting dark shadows narrowly along their foundation walls. There was a
fragrance of the hayfields in the air. The rake itself lay a little at
one side as they came into the barnyard, its spindling curved tines
making it look not unlike a spider crouching there. The bars rattled
when John lowered them for her to pass through; and the red bull in the
barn heard the sound and snorted sullenly at them.

John said to her, “You’d be having a man handle that bull by kindness,
maybe.”

She swung about and said quickly, “I’d be having a man take an ax and
chop that red bull to little bits.”

He stood still and she looked up at him; and after an instant she hotly
asked, “Are you laughing? Why are you laughing at me?”

He said gently, “You that were so strong against any killing--talking so
of the red bull.”

She cried furiously, “Oh, you---- John Evered, you! I hate you! I’ll
always hate you. You and your father--both of you. Don’t you laugh at
me!”

A little frightened at the storm he had evoked he touched her arm. She
wrenched violently away, was near falling, recovered herself. “Don’t
touch me!” she bade him.

He watched her run into the house.



XII


One day in the first week of September, a day when there was a touch of
frost in the air, and a hurrying and scurrying of the clouds overhead as
though they would escape the grip of coming winter, Evered took down his
double-bitted ax from its place in the woodshed and went to the
grindstone and worked the two blades to razor edge. John was in the
orchard picking those apples which were already fit for harvesting. Ruth
was helping him.

There was not much of the fruit, and Evered had said to them, “I’ll go
down into the woodlot and get out some wood.”

When he was gone Ruth and John looked at each other; and John asked,
“Does he know Darrin is there, I wonder? Know where he is?”

Ruth said, “I don’t know. He sees more than you think. Anyway, it won’t
hurt him to know.”

Evered shaped the ax to his liking, slung it across his shoulder, and
walked down the wood road till he came to a growth of birch which was
ready for the ax. The trees would be felled and cut into lengths where
they lay, then hauled to the farm and piled in the shed to season under
cover for a full twelve months before it was time to use the wood.
Evered’s purpose now was simply to cut down the trees, leaving the later
processes for another day.

He had chosen the task in response to some inner uneasiness which
demanded an outlet. The man’s overflowing energy had always been his
master; it drove him now, drove him with a new spur--the spur of his own
thoughts. He could never escape from them; he scarce wished to escape,
for he was never one to dodge an issue. But if he had wished to forget,
Fraternity would not have permitted it. The men of the town, he saw,
were watching him with furtive eyes; the women looked upon him
spitefully. He knew that most people thought he should have killed the
red bull before this; but Evered would not kill the bull, partly from
native stubbornness, partly from an unformed feeling that he, not the
bull, was actually responsible. He was growing old through much thought
upon the matter; and it is probable that only his own honest certainty
of his wife’s misdoing kept him from going mad. He slept little. His
nerves tortured him.

He struck the ax into the first tree with a hot energy that made him
breathe deep with satisfaction. He sank the blade on one side of the
tree, and then on the other, and the four-inch birch swayed and toppled
and fell. The man went furiously to the next, and to the next
thereafter. The sweat began to bead his forehead and his pulses began to
pound.

He worked at a relentless pace for perhaps half an hour, drunk with his
own labors. At the end of that time, pausing to draw breath, he knew
that he was thirsty. It was this which first brought the spring to his
mind, the spring where his wife had died.

He had not been near the spot since the day he found her there. The
avoidance had been instinctive rather than conscious. He hated the place
and in some measure he feared it, as much as it was in the man to fear
anything. He could see it all too vividly without bringing the actual
surroundings before his eyes. The thought of it tormented him. And when
his thirst made him remember the spring now his first impulse was to
avoid it. His second--because it was ever the nature of the man to meet
danger or misfortune or unpleasantness face to face--was to go to the
place and drink his fill. He stuck his ax into a stump and started down
the hill. This was not like that other day when he had gone along this
way. That day his wife had been killed was sultry and lowering and
oppressive; there was death in the very air. To-day was bright, crisp,
cool; the air like wine, the earth a vivid panorama of brilliant
coloring, the sky a vast blue canvas with white clouds limned lightly
here and there. A day when life quickened in the veins; a day to make a
man sing if there was song in him.

There was no song in Evered; nevertheless, he felt the influence of the
glory all about him. It made him, somehow, lonely; and this was strange
in a man so used to loneliness. It made him unhappy and a little sorry
for himself, a little wistful. He wanted, without knowing it, someone to
give him comradeship and sympathy and friendliness. He had never
realized before how terribly alone he was.

His feet took unconsciously the way they had taken on that other day;
but his thoughts were not on the matter, and so he came at last to the
knoll above the spring with something like a shock of surprise, for he
saw a man sitting below; and for a moment it seemed to him this man was
Semler, that Mary sat beside him. He brushed a rough hand across his
eyes, and saw that what he had taken for his wife’s figure was just a
roll of blanket laid across a rock; and he saw that the man was not
Semler but Darrin.

He had never thought of the possibility that Darrin might have camped
beside the spring. Yet it was natural enough. This was the best water
anywhere along the swamp’s edge. A man might drink from the brook, but
not with satisfaction in a summer of such drought as this had seen. But
the spring had a steady flow of cool clear water in the driest seasons.
This was the best place for a camp. Darrin was here.

Evered stood still, looking down on Darrin’s camp, until the other man
felt his eyes and looked up and saw him.

When he saw Evered, Darrin got to his feet and laid aside his book and
called cheerfully, “Come aboard, sir. Time you paid me a call.”

Evered hesitated; then he went, stumbling a little, down to where Darrin
was. “I’m getting out some wood,” he said. “I just came down for a
drink.”

“Sit down,” said Darrin in a friendly way. “Fill your pipe.”

The old Evered, the normal Evered even now would have shaken his head,
bent for his drink from the spring and gone back to his work. But Evered
was in want of company this day; and Darrin had a cheerful voice, a
comradely eye. Darrin seemed glad to see him. Also the little hollow
about the spring had a fascination for Evered. Having come to the spot
he was unwilling to leave it, not because he wished to stay, but because
he wished to go. He stayed because he dreaded to stay. He took Darrin’s
cup and dipped it in the spring and drank; and then at Darrin’s
insistence he sat down against the bowlder and whittled a fill for his
pipe and set it going.

Darrin during this time had been talking with the nimble wit which was
characteristic of the man. He made Evered feel more assured, more
comfortable than he had felt for a long time. And while Darrin talked
Evered’s slow eyes were moving all about, marking each spot in the
tragedy that was forever engraved upon his mind--there had sat his wife,
there Semler, yonder stood the bull--terribly vivid, terribly real, so
that the sweat burst out upon his forehead again.

Darrin, watching, asked, “What’s wrong? You look troubled.”

And Evered hesitated, then said huskily, “It’s the first time I’ve been
here.”

He did not explain; but Darrin understood. “Since your wife was killed?”

“Yes.”

Darrin nodded. “It was here by the spring, wasn’t it?”

Evered answered slowly, “Yes. She was--lying over there when I found
her.” He pointed to the spot.

Darrin looked that way; and after a moment, eyes upon the curling smoke
of his pipe, he asked casually, “Where was Semler?”

His tone was easy, mildly interested and that was all; nevertheless, his
word came to Evered with an abrupt and startling force. Semler? He had
told no one save John that Semler was here that day; he knew John would
never have told. Ruth knew; but she too was close-mouthed. Fraternity
did not know. Yet Darrin knew.

“Where was Semler?” Darrin had asked, so casually.

And Evered cried, “Semler? Who said he was here?”

Darrin looked surprised. “Why, I did not know it was a secret. He told
me--himself.”

Evered was tense and still where he sat. “He--you know him?”

Darrin laughed a little. “I wouldn’t say that. I don’t care for the man.
I met him a little before I came up here, and told him where I was
coming; and he advised me not to come. Told me of this--tragedy.”

“Told you he was here?”

Darrin nodded. “Yes; how he tried to fight off the bull.”

Evered came to his feet, half crouching. “The black liar and coward ran
like a rabbit,” he said under his breath; and his face was an ugly thing
to see.

Darrin cried, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to--waken old sorrows. It
doesn’t matter. Forget it.” He sought, palpably, to change to another
topic. “Are you getting in your apples yet?”

Evered would not be put off. “See here,” he said. “What did Dane Semler
tell you?”

“I’ve forgotten,” said Darrin. He smiled cheerfully. “That is to say, I
mean to forget. It’s not my affair. Let’s not talk about it.”

Over Evered swept then one of those impulses to speech, akin to the
impulses of confession. He exclaimed with a tragic and miserable note in
his voice. “By God, if I don’t talk about it sometime it’ll kill me.”

Darrin looked up at him, gently offered; “I’ll listen, then. It may ease
you to--tell the story over. Go ahead, Mr. Evered. Sit down.”

Evered did not sit down. But the story burst from him. Something,
Darrin’s sympathy or the anger Darrin’s reference to Semler had roused,
touched hidden springs within the man. He spoke swiftly, eagerly, as
though with a pathetic desire to justify himself. He moved to and fro,
pointing, illustrating.

He told how Zeke Pitkin had brought word that the red bull was loose in
the woodlot. “I stopped at the house,” he said. “There was no one there;
and that scared me. When I came down this way I thought of this spring.
My wife used to like to come here. And I was scared, Darrin. I loved
Mary Evered, Darrin.”

He caught himself, as though his words sounded strangely even in his own
ears. When he went on his voice was harsh and hard.

“I came to the knoll up there”--he pointed to the spot--“and saw Mary
and Semler here, sitting together, talking together. Damn him! Like
sweethearts!” The red floods swept across the man’s face as the tide of
that old rage overwhelmed him. “Damn Semler!” he cried. “Let him come
hereabouts again!”

He went on after a moment: “I was too late to do anything but shout to
them. The bull was coming at them from over there, head down. When I
shouted they heard me, and forgot each other; and then they saw the red
bull. Semler could have stopped him or turned him if he’d been a man. If
I had been nearer I could have killed the beast with my hands, in time.
But I was too far away; and Semler ran. I tell you, Darrin, he ran! He
turned tail, and squawked, and ran along the hillside there. But Mary
did not run. She could not; or she wouldn’t. And the red bull hit her
here; and tossed her there. One blow and toss. He has no horns, you’ll
mind. Semler running, all the time. Tell him, when you go back--tell him
he lied.”

He was abruptly silent, his old habit of reticence upon him. And he was
instantly sorry that he had spoken at all. To speak had been relief, had
somehow eased him. Yet who was Darrin? Why should he tell this man?

Darrin said gently, “The bull did not trample her?”

Evered answered curtly, “No. I reached him.”

Darrin nodded. “You could handle him?”

“The beast knows me,” said Evered.

And even while he spoke he remembered how the great bull, as though
regretting that which he had done, had stood quietly by until he was led
away. He did not tell Darrin this; there were no more words in him. He
had spoken too much already. Darrin was watching him now, he saw; and it
seemed to Evered that there was a hard and hostile light of calculation
in the other’s eye.

He turned away his head, and Darrin asked, “How came she here with
Semler?”

Evered swung toward the man so hotly that for a moment Darrin was
afraid; and then the older man’s eyes misted and his lips twisted weakly
and he brushed them with the back of his hand.

He did not answer Darrin at all; and after a moment Darrin said,
“Forgive me. It must hurt you to remember; to look round here. You must
see the whole thing over again.”

Evered stood still for a moment; then he said abruptly: “I’ve sat too
long. I’ll be back at work.”

He went stiffly up the knoll. Darrin called after him, “Come down again.
You know the way.”

Evered did not turn, he made no reply. When he was beyond the other’s
sight he stopped once and looked back, and his eyes were faintly
furtive. He muttered something under his breath. He was cursing his
folly in having talked with Darrin.

Back at his work Evered was uneasy; but his disquiet would have been
increased if he could have seen how Darrin busied himself when he was
left alone. The man sat still where he was till Evered had passed out of
sight above the knoll; sat still with thoughtful eyes, studying the
ground about him and considering the things which Evered had said. And
once while he sat with his eyes straight before him, thinking on
Evered’s words, he said to himself: “The man did love his wife.” And
again: “There’s something hurting him.”

After a little he got up and climbed the knoll cautiously, till he could
look in the direction Evered had taken. Evered was not in sight; and
when he could be sure of this Darrin went along the shelf above the
spring, toward the wood road that came down from the farm. At the road
he turned round and retraced his steps, trying to guess the path Evered
would have taken to come in sight of the spring itself.

When he came to the edge of the knoll he noted the spot, and cast back
and tried again, and still again. He seemed to seek the farthest spot
from which the spring was visible. When he had chosen this spot he stood
still, surveying the land below, picturing to himself the tragedy that
had been enacted there.

He seemed to come to some conclusion in the end, for he paced with
careful steps the distance from where he stood to the rock where Mary
Evered had been sitting. From that spot again he paced the distance to
the alder growth through which the bull had come. Returning, eyes
thoughtful, he took pencil and paper and plotted the scene round him,
and set dots upon it to mark where Evered must have stood, and where
Mary and Semler had sat, and the way by which the bull had come.

The man sat for a long hour that afternoon with this rude map before
him, considering it; and he set down distances upon it, and marked the
trees. Once he took pebbles and moved them upon his map as the bull and
Semler and Evered must have moved upon this ground.

In the end, indecision in his eyes, he folded the paper and put it
carefully into his pocket. Then he made a little cooking fire and
prepared his supper and ate it. When he had cleaned up his camp he put
on coat and cap and started along the hillside below the bull pasture to
the road that led toward Fraternity.

This was not unusual with Darrin. He was accustomed to go to the village
three or four times a week for his mail or to sit round the stove in
Will Bissel’s store and listen to the talk of the country. He had got
some profit from this: Jim Saladine, for example, told him one night of
a fox den, and took him next day to the spot; and by a week’s patience
Darrin had been able to get good pictures of the little foxes at their
play. And Jean Bubier had taken him up to the head of the pond to see a
cow moose pasturing with Jean’s own cows. Besides these tangible pieces
of fortune he had acquired a fund of tales of the woods. He liked the
talk about the stove, and took his own share in it so modestly that the
men liked him.

Once or twice during his stay in the town there had been talk of Evered;
and Darrin had led them to tell the man’s deeds. Great store of these
tales, for Evered’s daily life had an epic quality about it. From the
murdering red bull the stories went back and back to that old matter of
the knife and Dave Riggs, now years agone. Telling this story Lee Motley
told Darrin one night that it had made a change in Evered.

Darrin had asked, “What did he do?”

And Motley said: “First off, he didn’t seem bothered much. But it
changed him. He’d been wild and strong and hard before, but there was
some laughing in him. I’ve always figured he took the thing hard. I’ve
not seen the man laugh, right out, since then.”

Darrin said, “You can’t blame him. It’s no joke to kill a man.”

Motley nodded his agreement. “It made a big change in Evered,” he
repeated.

Darrin’s interest in Evered had not been sufficiently marked to attract
attention, for Evered was a figure of interest to all the countryside.
Furthermore, there was talk that Darrin and Ruth MacLure liked each
other well; and the town thought it natural that Darrin should be
curious as to the man who might be his brother-in-law. Everyone knew
that Ruth and John Evered had been more than friends. There was a
friendly and curious interest in what looked like a contest between
Darrin and John.

This night at Will’s store Darrin had little to say. He bought paper and
envelopes from Will and wrote two letters at the desk in Will’s office;
and he mailed them, with a special-delivery stamp upon each one. That
was a thing not often done in Fraternity; and Will noticed the addresses
upon the letters. To Boston men, both of them.

Afterward, Darrin sat about the store for a while, and then set off
along the road toward Evered’s farm. Zeke Pitkin gave him a lift for a
way; and Darrin remembered that Evered had named this man, and he said
to Zeke: “You saw Evered’s bull break out, that day the beast killed
Mary Evered, didn’t you?”

Zeke said yes; and he told the tale, coloring it with the glamor of
tragedy which it would always have in his eyes. And he told
Darrin--though Darrin had heard this more than once before--how Evered
had killed his, Zeke’s, bull with a knife thrust in the neck, a day or
two before the tragedy. “That same heavy knife of his,” he said. “The
one he killed Dave Riggs with.”

Darrin asked, “Still uses it--to butcher with?”

“Yes, sir,” said Zeke. “I’ve seen him stick more’n one pig with that old
knife in the last ten year.”

Darrin laughed a little harshly. “Not very sentimental, is he?”

“There ain’t a human feeling in the man,” Pitkin declared.

When Zeke stopped to let Darrin down at the fork of the road Darrin
asked another question. “Funny that Semler should skip out so sudden
that day, wasn’t it?”

“You bet it uz funny,” Zeke agreed. “I’ve allus said it was.”

“Did you see him the day he left?”

Pitkin shook his head. “Huh-uh. I was busy all day, and over in North
Fraternity in the aft’noon. Got to the store right after he lit out.”

Darrin walked to his camp, lighting his steps with an electric torch,
and made a little fire for cheerfulness’ sake, and wrapped in his
blankets for sleep. He had set a camera in the swamp that day, with a
string attached to the shutter in a fashion that should give results if
a moose came by. He wondered whether luck would be with him. His
thoughts as sleep crept on him shifted back to Evered again. A puzzle
there--a question of character, of reaction to emotional stimulus. He
asked himself: “Now if I were an emotional, hot-tempered man and came
upon my wife with another man, and saw her in swift peril of her
life--what would I do?”

He was still wondering, still questioning, still trying to put himself
in Evered’s shoes when at last he dropped asleep.



XIII


Darrin and Ruth had come to that point in friendship where they could
sit silently together, each busy with his or her own thoughts, without
embarrassment. The girl liked to come down the hill of an afternoon for
an hour with the man; and sometimes he read to her from one of the books
of which he had a store. And sometimes he showed her the pictures he had
made--strange glimpses of the life of the swamp. His camera trap caught
curious scenes. Now and then a deer, occasionally a moose, once a
wildcat screeching in the night. And again they had to look closely to
see what it was that had tugged the trigger string; and sometimes it was
a rabbit, and sometimes it was a mink; and at other times it was nothing
at all that they could discover in the finished photograph. Once a great
owl dropped on some prey upon the ground and touched the string; and the
plate caught him, wings flying, talons reaching--a picture of the wild
things that prey.

Most of the pictures were imperfect--blurred or shadowed or ill-focused.
Out of them all there were only four or five that Darrin counted worth
the saving; but he and Ruth found fascination in the study of even the
worthless ones.

It was inevitable that the confidence between them should develop
swiftly in these afternoons together. It was not surprising that Ruth
one afternoon dared ask Darrin a question. She had been curiously
silent, studying him, until he noticed it, and laughed at her for it;
and she told him then, “I’m wondering--whether we really know you here.”

He looked at her with a quick intentness, smiled a little. “Why?” he
asked. “What are you thinking?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know, exactly. Just that sometimes I felt
you’re hiding something; that you’re not thinking about the things
you--seem to think about.”

He said good-naturedly, “You’re making a mystery out of me.”

“A little,” she admitted.

“There’s no mystery,” he said; and he added softly: “There’s a deal more
mystery about you, to me.”

He had never, as they say, made love to her. Yet there was that in his
tone now which made her flush softly and look away from him. Watching
her he hesitated. His hand touched hers. She drew her hand away and rose
abruptly.

“I must go back to the house,” she said. “It’s time I was starting
supper.”

He was on his feet, facing her; but there was only cheerful friendliness
in his eyes. He would not alarm her. “Come again,” he said. “I like to
have you come.”

“You never come to the house, except for eggs and things. You ought to
come and see us.”

“Perhaps I will,” he said; and he watched her as she climbed the knoll
and disappeared. His eyes were very gentle; there would have been in
them an exultant light if he could have seen the girl, once out of his
sight, stop and look back to where the smoke of his little fire rose
above the trees.

Darrin was much in her thoughts during these days. She would have
thought of him more if she had been able to think less of John.



XIV


Darrin’s departure came abruptly. He had gone to the village one night
for his mail, and found a letter waiting, which he read with avid eyes.
Having read it he put it away in his pocket, and came to Will Bissell
and asked how he might most quickly reach Boston.

Will told him there was a morning train from town; and Darrin nodded and
left the store. He decided to walk the ten miles through the night. It
was cool and clear; the walk would be good for him. It would give him
time for thinking.

He went back to his camp and slept till three in the morning. Then he
made a little breakfast and ate it and packed his camp belongings under
his tarpaulin for cover. To the tarp he fastened a note, addressed to
Ruth. He wrote simply:


     “_Dear Ruth_: I have to go away for four or five days, hurriedly. I
     would have said goodby if there were time. If it rains will you
     ask John to put my things under shelter somewhere? In the barn will
     do. There is a camera set at the crossing of the brook where the
     old pine is down. Perhaps he will find that and take care of it for
     me. My other things in the box here are safe enough. The box is
     waterproof.

     “I will not be long gone. I’m taking the morning train from town.
     Please remember me to Mr. Evered.

                                   “Yours,          FRED.”


At a little after four, dressed in tramping clothes, but with other
garments in a bundle under his arm, he started for town. He had time to
change his garments there, and cash a check at the bank, and have a more
substantial breakfast before he boarded the morning train.

Ruth discovered that Darrin had gone on the afternoon of his going. She
went down to his camp by the spring with an eagerness of anticipation
which she did not admit even to herself; and when she saw that he was
not there she was at once relieved and unhappy.

The girl had stopped on the knoll above the camp; and she stood there
for a moment looking all about, thinking Darrin might be somewhere
near. Then she marked the careful order of the spot, and saw that all
the camp gear was stowed away; and abruptly she guessed what had
happened. She ran then down the knoll, and so came almost at once upon
the note he had left for her.

She read this through, frowning and puzzling a little over the
intricacies of his handwriting; and she did not know whether to be
unhappy over his going or happy that he had remembered to leave this
word for her. She did not press the scribbled note against her bosom,
but she did read it through a second time, and then refold it carefully,
and then take it out and read it yet again. In the end it was still in
her hand when she turned reluctantly back up the hill. She put it in the
top drawer of her bureau in her room.

She told John and Evered at suppertime that Darrin was gone. Evered
seemed like a man relieved of a burden, till she added, “He’s coming
back again, though.”

John asked, “How do you know?”

“He left a note for me,” she said.

John bent over his plate, hiding the hurt in his eyes. The girl told him
of the camera set in the swamp, and John promised to go and fetch it,
and to bring Darrin’s other belongings under shelter in the woodshed or
the barn.

He managed this the next day; and Ruth made occasion to go to the barn
more than once for the sheer happiness of looking upon them. John caught
her at it once; but he did not let her know that he had seen. The young
man was in these days woefully unhappy.

It is fair to say that he had reason to be. Ruth was kind to him, never
spoke harshly or in an unfriendly fashion; in fact, she was almost too
friendly. There was a finality about her friendliness which baffled him
and erected a barrier between him and her. The man tried awkwardly to
bring matters back to the old sweet footing between them; but the girl
was of nimbler wit than he. She put him off without seeming to do so;
she erected an impassable defense about herself.

On the surface they were as they had always been. Evered could see no
difference in their bearing. Neighbors who occasionally stopped at the
house decided that John and Ruth were going to be married when the time
should come; and they told each other they had always said so. Before
others the relations between the two were pleasantly friendly; but there
were no longer the sweet stolen moments when their arms entwined and
their lips met. When they were alone together Ruth treated John as
though others were about; and John knew no way to break through her
barriers.

About the fifth day after Darrin’s going Ruth began to expect his
return. He did not come on that day, nor on the next, nor on the next
thereafter. She became a little wistful, a little lonely. Toward the
middle of the second week she found herself clinging with a desperate
earnestness to a despairing hope. He had promised to come back; she
thought he would come back. There had never been any word of more than
friendliness between them; yet the girl felt that such a word must come,
and that he would return to speak it.

One night she dreamed that he would never come again, and woke to find
tears streaming across her cheeks. She lay awake for a long time, eyes
wide and staring, wondering if she loved him.

During this interval of Darrin’s absence there manifested itself in
Evered a curious wistful desire to placate Ruth; to win her good will.

She noticed it first one day when the man had been very still, sitting
all day in the kitchen with his eyes before him, brooding over unguessed
matters. It was a day of blustering, blowing rain, a day when the wind
lashed about the house and there was little that could be done out of
doors. Ruth, busy about the room, watched Evered covertly; her eyes
strayed toward him now and again.

She had not fully realized till that day how much the man was aging. The
change had come gradually, but it had been marked. His hair, that had
been black as coal six months before, was iron gray now; it showed
glints that were snow white, here and there. The skin of his cheeks had
lost its bronze luster; it seemed to have grown loose, as though the man
were shrinking inside. It hung in little folds about his mouth and jaw.

His head, too, was bowing forward; his head that had always been so
erect, so firm, so hard and sternly poised. His neck seemed to be
weakening beneath the load it bore; and his shoulders were less square.
They hung forward, as though the man were cold and were guarding his
chest with his arms.

The fullness of the change came to Ruth with something of a shock, came
when she was thinking it strange that Evered should be content to remain
all day indoors. He was by nature an active man, of overflowing bodily
energy; he was used to go out in all weathers to his tasks. She had seen
him come in, dripping, in the past; his cheeks ruddy from the wet and
cold, his eyes glowing with the fire of health, his chest heaving to
great deep breaths of air. More and more often of late, she remembered,
he had stayed near the stove and the fire, as though it comforted him.

Ruth had not John’s sympathetic understanding of the heart of Evered;
nevertheless, she knew, as John did, that the man had--in his harsh
fashion--loved his dead wife well. She had always known this, even
though she had never been able to understand how a man might hurt the
woman he loved. If she had not known, she would not have blamed Evered
so bitterly for all the bitter past. It was one of the counts of her
indictment of him that he had indeed loved Mary; and that even so he
had made the dead woman unhappy through so many years.

Watching him this day Ruth thought that sorrow was breaking him; and the
thought somewhat modified, without her knowing it, the strength of her
condemnation of the man. When in mid afternoon he took from her the
shovel and broom with which she was preparing to clean out the ashes of
the stove, and did the task himself, she was amazed and angry with
herself to find in her heart a spark of pity for him.

“Let me do that, Ruthie,” he had said. “It’s hard for you.”

He had never been a man given to small chores about the house; he was
awkward at it. His very awkwardness, the earnestness of his clumsy
efforts--warmed the girl’s heart; she found her eyes wet as she watched
him, and took recourse in an abrupt protest.

“You’re spilling the ashes,” she said. “Here, let me.”

She would have taken the broom from him, but Evered would not let it go.
He looked toward her as they held the broom between them, and there was
in his eyes such an agony of desire to please her that the girl had to
turn away.

What was moving in Evered’s mind it is hard to say, hard to put in
words. He had not yet surrendered to regret for the thing he had done;
he was still able to bolster his courage, to strengthen himself by the
reflection that his wife had wronged him. He was still able to fan to
life the embers of his rage against her and against Semler. Yet the man
was finding it hard to endure the hatred in Ruth’s eyes, the silent
glances which met him when he went abroad, the ostracism of the village.
He wanted comradeship in these days as he had never wanted it before. He
desired the friendship of mankind; he desired, in an unformed way, the
affection of Ruth. The girl had come to symbolize in his thoughts
something like his own conscience. He was uncertainly conscious that if
she forgave him, looked kindly upon him, bore him no more malice, he
might altogether forgive himself for that which he had done.

Yet when he put this thought in words it evoked a revolt in his own
heart; and he would cry out to himself, “I need no forgiveness! I’ve
nothing to forgive! I was right to let the bull.... She was false as a
witch; false as hell!”

He found poor comfort in this thought. So long as he believed his wife
was guilty he could endure the torment of his own remorse, could relieve
the pain of it. And if Ruth would only smile upon him, be her old
friendly self to him again....

The man’s attentions to her were almost like an uncouth wooing. He began
to study the girl’s wants, to find little ways to help her, to
anticipate her desires, to ease her work about the house. He sought
opportunities to talk with her, and drove himself to speak gently and
ingratiatingly. He called her Ruthie, though she had always been Ruth to
him before.

The man was pitiful; the girl could not wholly harden her heart against
him. Naturally generous and kindly she caught herself thinking that
after all he had loved Mary well; that he missed her terribly. Once or
twice hearing him move about his room in the night she guessed his
loneliness. She was more and more sorry for Evered.

Ruth was not the only one who saw that the man was growing old too
swiftly. They marked the fact at Will Bissell’s store. Will saw it, and
Lee Motley saw it, and Jim Saladine; these three with a certain
sympathy. Jean Bubier saw it with sardonic amusement, tinged with
understanding. Old Man Varney saw it with malice; and Judd in the
meanness of his soul saw it with malignant delight.

“Looking for friends now, he is,” Judd exclaimed one night. “Him that
was so bold before. Tried to start talk with me to-day. I turned my back
on the man. I’d a mind to tell him why.”

Motley and Saladine spoke of the thing together. Motley said, “I think
he--thought a deal of Mary--in the man’s way.”

And Saladine nodded and said: “Yes. But--there’s more to it than that,
Lee. More than we know, I figure. Something hidden behind it all. A
black thing, if the whole truth was to come out. Or so it looks to me.”

Saladine was a steady, thoughtful man, and Motley respected his opinion,
and thought upon the matter much thereafter; but he was to come to no
conclusion.

On his farm the change in Evered manifested itself in more than one way;
in no way more markedly than in his lack of energy. He left most of the
chores to John; and, what was more significant, he gave over to John
full care of the huge red bull. It had been Evered’s delight to master
that brute and bend it to his will. John and Ruth both marked that he
avoided it in these later days. John had the feeding of it; he cleaned
its stall; he tossed in straw for the creature’s bed. The bull was
beginning to know him, to know that it need not fear him. He was
accustomed to go into its stall and move about the beast without
precautions, speaking gently when he spoke at all.

Ruth never saw this. She seldom went near the red bull’s stall. She
hated the animal and dreaded it. On one occasion she did go near its
pen. It was suppertime and the food was hot upon the table. She called
John from the woodshed, and then came to the kitchen door to summon
Evered. He was leaning against the high gate of the bull’s plank-walled
yard looking in at the animal. Ruth called to him to come to supper, but
he did not turn. She called again, and still the man did not move.

A little alarmed, for fear he might have been suddenly stricken sick,
she went swiftly across the barnyard to where he stood, and looked at
him, and looked into the pen.

Evered was watching the bull; and the bull stood a dozen feet away,
watching the man. There was a stillness about them both which frightened
the girl; a still intentness. Neither moved; their eyes met steadily
without shifting. There was no emotion in either of them. It was as
though the man were probing the bull’s mind, as though the bull would
read the man’s thoughts. They were like persons hypnotized. Ruth
shivered and touched Evered’s arm and shook it a little.

“Supper’s ready,” she said.

He turned to her with eyes still glazed from the intensity of their
stare.

“Supper?” he echoed. Then remembrance came to him; and he nodded heavily
and said with that wistfully ingratiating note in his voice, “Yes,
Ruthie, I’m coming. Come; let’s go together.”

He took her arm, and she had not the hardness of heart to break away
from him. They went into the house side by side.



XV


In mid-October Darrin returned afoot, as he had departed; and there was
no warning of his coming. He reached the farm in the afternoon. John was
in the woodlot at the time, cutting the wood into cord lengths in
preparation for hauling. Evered had worked in the morning, but after
dinner he sat down by the kitchen stove and remained there, in the dull
apathy of thought which was becoming habitual to him. He was still there
and Ruth was busy about the room when Darrin came to the door. Ruth had
caught sight of him through the window; she was at the door to meet him
and opened it before he knocked. She wanted to tell him how glad she was
to see him; but all she could do was stand very still, her right hand at
her throat, her eyes on his.

He said gently, “Well, I’ve come back. But it has been longer than I
thought it would be.”

She nodded. “Yes, it has been a long time.”

There was so much of confession in her tone that the man’s heart pounded
and he stepped quickly toward her. But when she moved back he saw Evered
within the room, watching him with dull eyes; and he caught himself and
his face sobered and hardened.

“My things are here?” he asked.

“In the shed,” she said. “John brought them up. I’ll show you.”

She stepped away and he followed her into the kitchen, toward the door
that opened at one side into the shed.

She had already opened the door when Evered asked huskily, “Back, are
you?”

Darrin said, “Yes.” There was an indescribable note of hostility in his
voice which he could not disguise.

“Won’t be here long now, I figure,” Evered suggested.

“I don’t know,” said Darrin. “I’ll be here till I’ve done what I came to
do.”

Evered did not speak for a minute; then he asked, “Get them moose
pictures, you mean?”

Ruth looked from one man to the other in a bewildered way, half sensing
the fact that both were wary and alert.

Darrin said, “Of course.”

Evered shook his head. “Dangerous business, this time o’ year. The old
bulls have got other things on their mind besides having their pictures
took.”

“I’ll risk it,” said Darrin.

“You’ve a right to,” Evered told him, and turned away.

Darrin watched the man for an instant; then he followed Ruth into the
shed. She showed him his dunnage, packed in a stout roll; and he lifted
it by the lashing and slung it across his shoulder.

“Mr. Evered is right,” she said. “The moose are dangerous--in the fall.”

He touched his roll with his left hand affectionately. “I’ve a gun here.
My pistol, you know. I’ll be careful.”

She urged softly, “Please do.”

There was so much solicitude in her voice that Darrin was shaken by it;
he slid the roll to the floor.

Then Evered came to the door that led into the shed; and he said, “I’ll
help you down with that stuff.”

Darrin shook his head. “No need,” he replied. “I can handle it.”

He swung it up again across his shoulder; and Ruth opened the outer door
for him. She and Evered stood together watching him cross the barnyard
and lower the bars and pass through and go on his way.

When he was out of sight Ruth looked up at Evered; and the man said
gently, “Glad to see him, Ruthie?”

She nodded, “I like him.”

“More than you like John?” the man asked.

And she said steadily, “I like them both. But Darrin is gentle, and
strong too. And you Evereds are only cruelly strong.”

“I wouldn’t say John was cruel,” the man urged wistfully.

“He’s your son,” she said, the old bitterness in her voice.

And Evered nodded, as though in confession. He looked in the direction
Darrin had taken.

“I wonder what he’s back for,” he said half to himself.

Ruth did not answer, and after a little she went back into the kitchen.
She heard Evered working with his ax for a while, splitting up wood for
the stove; and presently he brought in an armful and dumped it in the
woodbox. It was a thing he had done before, though John was accustomed
to carry her wood for her. As he dropped the wood now Evered looked
toward her, as though to make sure she had seen; he smiled in a
pleading, broken way. She thanked him, a certain sympathy in her voice
in spite of herself. The man was so broken; he had grown so old in so
short a time.

Darrin, bound toward his old camping ground at the spring, heard John’s
ax in the birch growth at his left, but he did not turn aside. There was
a new purpose in the man; his old pleasantly amiable demeanor had
altered; his eyes were steady and hard. He reached the spring and
disposed his goods, with a packet of provisions which he had brought
from the village.

A little later he went back up the hill to get milk and eggs from the
farm. It chanced that he found Evered in the barnyard; and Evered saw
him coming, and watched him approach. They came face to face at the
bars, and when Darrin had passed through he stood still, eying the other
man and waiting for Evered to speak. There was a steady scrutiny in
Evered’s eyes, a questioning; Darrin met this questioning glance with
one that told nothing. His lips set a little grimly.

Evered asked at last, “You say you came back for more pictures?”

“Yes.”

“I’m wondering if you’ll get what you come for.”

Darrin said, “I intend to.”

Evered nodded quietly. “All right,” he agreed. “I don’t aim to hinder.”

He turned toward the barn; and as he turned Darrin saw that he had his
knife slung in its leather sheath upon his hip. The sheath was deep;
only the tip of the knife’s haft showed. Yet Darrin’s eyes fastened on
this with a strange intentness, as though he were moved by a morbid
curiosity at sight of the thing. The heavy knife had taken so many
lives.

Darrin did not move till Evered had gone into the barn and out of sight;
then the younger man turned toward the house, and knocked, and Ruth
opened the door.

He asked, “Can I get milk to-night, and eggs; and have you made butter?”

She had been surprised to see him so soon again; she was a little
startled, could not find words at once. But she nodded and he came into
the kitchen and she shut the door behind him, for the day was cold.

“We haven’t milked,” she said. “It will be a little while.”

Darrin, whose thoughts had been on other things, found himself suddenly
swept by a sense of her loveliness. He had always known that she was
beautiful, but he had held back the thought, had fought against it. Now
seeing her again after so long a time he forgot everything but her. She
saw the slow change in his eyes; and though she had longed for it, it
frightened her.

She began to tremble, and tried to speak, but all she could say was,
“Oh!”

Darrin came toward her then slowly. He had not meant to speak, yet the
words came before he knew. “Ah, Ruth, I have missed you so,” he said.

Her eyes were dim and soft. She was miserably happy, an anguish of
happiness.

He said, “I love you so, Ruth. I love you so.” And he kissed her.

The girl was swept as by a tempest. She had dreamed of this man for
weeks, idealizing him, thinking him all that was fine and gentle and
good. She gave herself to his kisses as though she were hungry for them.
She was crying, tears were flowing down her cheeks; and at first she
thought this was because she was so happy, while Darrin, half alarmed,
half laughing, whispered to comfort her.

Then slowly the girl knew that she was not crying because she was so
happy. She could not tell why she cried; she could not put her heart in
words. It was as though she were lonely, terribly lonely. And she was
angry with herself at that. How could she be lonely in his arms? In
Darrin’s arms, his kisses on her wet cheeks?

She could not put the thought away. While he still held her she wept for
very loneliness. He could not soothe her. She scarce heard him; she put
her hands against him and tried to push him away, feebly at first. She
did not want to push him away; yet something made her. He held her
still; his arms were like bands of iron. He was so strong, so hard. Thus
close against him she seemed to feel a rigor of spirit in the man. It
was as though she were pressed against a wall. He freed her. “Please,”
he said.

And she cried, as though to persuade herself, “Oh, I do love you! I do!”

But when he would have put his arms round her again she shrank away from
him, so that he forbore. She turned quickly away to her tasks. She had
time to compose herself before Evered came in, and later John. Then
Darrin left with the things he had come to secure, and went down the
hill in the early dusk of fall.

Ruth was thoughtful that evening; she went early to her room. She was
trying desperately to understand herself. She had been drawn so strongly
toward Darrin, she had found him all that she wanted a man to be. She
had been miserable at his going, had longed for his return. She had
wanted that which had come to pass this day. The girl was honest with
herself, had always been honest with herself. She had known she loved
him, longed for him.

Yet now he was returned, he loved her and his kisses only served to make
her miserably lonely. She could not understand; slept, still without
comprehending.

Darrin, next day, did not go into the swamp. He busied himself about the
spring, producing again that sketch which he had made on the day Evered
told him the story of the tragedy. He was groping for something, groping
for understanding, his forehead wrinkled and his eyes were sober with
thought.

After he had cooked his dinner and eaten it the man sat for a long time
by the fire, tending it with little sticks, watching the flames as
though he expected to find in them the answer to his riddle. Once he
took from his pocket a letter, and read it soberly enough, then put it
back again. And once he took fresh paper and made a new sketch of the
locality about him.

He seemed at last to come to some decision. The aspect of his
countenance changed subtly. He got to his feet, pacing back and forth.
At about four o’clock in the afternoon he put on his coat and started up
the knoll toward the farm. When he had gone some fifty yards he stopped,
hesitated, and came back to his camp fire. From his kit he selected the
automatic pistol, saw that it held a loaded clip, belted it on. It hung
under his coat inconspicuously.

He went on his way this time without hesitation; went steadily up the
hill, reached the bars about the farmyard, passed through and knocked
on the kitchen door.

Ruth came to the door; he asked her abstractedly, as though she were a
stranger, where Evered was. She said he was in the shed; and Darrin went
there and found Evered grinding an ax. The man looked up at his coming
with sober eyes. Ruth had stayed in the kitchen.

Darrin said quietly, “Evered, I want to talk to you.”

Evered hesitated, studying the other. He asked, “What about?”

“A good many things,” Darrin told him.

Evered laid aside the ax. “All right,” he said.

“Come away from the house,” Darrin suggested.

There was a certain dominant note in his voice. The old Evered would
have stayed where he was; but the old Evered was dead. “Come,” said
Darrin; and he stepped out into the yard and Evered followed him. Darrin
crossed to the bars and let them down. He and Evered passed silently
through.

The men went, Darrin a little in the lead, down the hill toward the
spring.



XVI


The day was cold and damp and chill, with a promise of snow in the air;
one of those ugly October days when coming winter seems to sulk upon the
northern hills, awaiting summer’s tardy going. Clouds obscured the sky,
though now and then during the morning the sun had broken through,
laying a patch of light upon the earth and bringing out the nearer hills
in bold relief against those that were farthest off. The wind was
northeasterly, always a storm sign hereabouts. There was haste in it,
and haste in the air, and haste in all the wild things that were abroad.
The crows overhead flew swiftly, tumbling headlong in the racking air
currents. A flock of geese passed once, high in the murk, their honking
drifting faintly down to earth. The few ground birds darted from cover
to cover; the late-pasturing cows had gone early to the barn. Night was
coming early; an ominous blackness seemed about to shut down upon the
world. The very air held threats and whispers of harm.

Evered and Darrin walked in silence down along the old wood road,
through a birch clump, past some dwarfed oaks, and out into the open on
the shelf above the spring.

Halfway across this shelf Darrin said “I’ve got some questions to ask
you, Evered.”

Evered did not answer. Darrin had not stopped and Evered kept pace with
him.

The younger man said, “This was the way you came that day your wife was
killed, wasn’t it?”

Evered turned his head as though to speak, hesitated. Darrin stopped and
caught his eye.

“Look here,” he demanded. “You’ve nothing to hide in that business, have
you?”

“No,” said Evered mildly. He wondered why he answered the other at all;
yet there was something in the younger man’s bearing which he did not
care to meet, something dominant and commanding, as though Darrin had a
right to ask, and knew that he had this right. “No,” said Evered;
“nothing to hide.”

And Darrin repeated his question: “Was this the way you came?”

Evered nodded. As they went on nearer the spring Darrin touched his arm.
“I want you to show me where you were when you first saw them--your
wife, and Semler, and the bull.”

Evered made no response; but a moment later he stopped. “Here,” he said.
Darrin looked down toward the spring and all about them. And Evered
repeated, “Here, by this rock.”

The younger man nodded and passed down to the spring, with Evered beside
him. Darrin sat down and motioned Evered to sit.

“What did you think, when you saw them?” he asked.

Evered’s cheeks colored slowly; they turned from bronze to red, from red
to purple.

Darrin prompted him: “When you saw your wife and Semler here together.”

“What would you have thought?” Evered asked, his voice held steady.

Darrin nodded understanding. “You were angry?” he suggested.

Evered flung his head on one side with a fierce gesture, as though to
shut out some unwelcome sight that assaulted his eyes.

Darrin, watching him acutely, waited for a little before he asked:
“Where was the bull, when you saw him first?”

Evered jerked his hand toward the right. “There,” he said.

Darrin got up and went in that direction, and moved to and fro, asking
directions, till Evered told him he was near the spot. Darrin came back
then and sat down.

“You thought she loved him?” he asked under his breath.

Evered shook his head, not in negation but as though to brush the
question aside. Darrin filled his pipe and lighted it, and puffed at it
in silence for a while.

“Pitkin told you the bull was loose, didn’t he?” he asked at last.

“Yes.”

“So you came down to get the beast?”

“Yes, I came for that.”

“Expect any trouble?”

“You can always look for trouble with the red bull.”

“How did you plan to handle him?”

“Brad, and nose ring.”

Darrin eyed the other sharply. “Wouldn’t have had much time to get hold
of his nose ring if he’d charged, would you?”

“I had a gun,” said Evered. “A forty-five.”

“Oh,” said Darrin. “You had a gun?”

Evered, a little restive, cried, “Yes, damn it, I had a gun!”

“You must have felt like shooting Semler,” Darrin suggested; and Evered
looked at him sidewise, a little alarmed. He seemed to put himself on
guard.

Darrin got to his feet. “They were sitting by these rocks, weren’t
they?”

“Yes.”

The younger man bent above the other. “Evered,” he said, “why didn’t you
turn the bull from its charge?”

He saw Evered’s face go white, his eyes flickering to and fro. The man
came to his feet.

“There was no time!” he exclaimed.

His voice was husky and unsteady; Darrin dominated him, seemed to tower
above him. There was about Evered the air of a broken man.

Darrin pointed to the knoll. “You were within half a dozen strides of
them. The bull was full thirty yards away.”

Evered cried, “Damn you!”

He turned abruptly, climbed the knoll. Darrin stood still till Evered
was almost gone from his sight, then he shouted, “Evered!” Evered went
on; and Darrin with a low exclamation leaped after him. Evered must have
heard his pounding steps, but he did not turn. Darrin came up with him;
he tugged his pistol from its holster and jammed it against Evered’s
side.

“Turn round,” he said, “or I’ll blow you in two.”

Evered did not turn; he did not stop. Dusk had fallen upon them before
this; their figures were black in the growing darkness. A pelting spray
of rain swept over them, the drops like ice. Above them the hill was
black against the gray western sky. Behind them and below the swamp
brooded, dark and still. Surrounded by gloom and wind and rain the two
moved thus a dozen paces--Evered looking straight ahead, Darrin pressing
the pistol against the other’s ribs.

Then Darrin leaped past the other, into Evered’s path, his weapon
leveled. “Stop!” he said, harshly. “You wife killer, stop, and listen to
me!”

Evered came on; and Darrin in a voice that was like a scream warned him:
“I’ll shoot!”

Evered did not stop. There was a certain dignity about the man, a
certain strength. Against it Darrin seemed to rebound helplessly. Their
rôles were reversed. Where Darrin had been dominant he was now weak;
where Evered had been weak he was strong. The older man came on; he was
within two paces. Darrin’s finger pressed the trigger--indecisively.
Then Evered’s great fist whipped round like light and struck Darrin’s
hand, and the pistol flew from his grip, end over end, and struck
against a bowlder with a flash of sparks in the darkness. Darrin’s hand
and wrist and arm were numbed by the blow; he hugged them against his
body. Evered watched him, still as still. And Darrin screamed at him in
a hoarse unsteady voice his black accusation.

“You killed her!” he cried. “In that black temper of yours you let the
bull have her. You’re a devil on earth. Evered! You’re a devil among
men!”

Evered lifted his hand, silencing the man. Darrin wished to speak and
dared not. There was something terrible in the other’s demeanor,
something terrible in his calm strength and purpose.

He said at last in set tones: “It was my right. She was guilty as hell!”

Darrin found courage to laugh. “You lie,” he said. “And that’s what I’m
here to tell you, man. I ought to take you and give you to other men, to
hang by the thick neck that holds up your evil head. But this is better,
Evered. This is better. I tell you your wife, whom you killed, was as
clean as snow.”

When he had spoken he was afraid, for the light in Evered’s eyes was the
father of fear. He began to fumble in his coat in a desperate haste, not
daring to look away, not daring to take his eyes from Evered’s. He
fumbled there, and found the letter he had read beside his fire so
carefully; found it and drew it, crumpled, forth. He held it toward
Evered.

“Read,” he cried. “Read that, and see.”

Evered took the letter quietly; and before Darrin’s eyes the fury died
in the other man. Over his face there crept a mask of sorrow irrevocable
and profound. He said no word, but took the letter and opened it. The
light was dim; he could not read till Darrin flashed his electric torch
upon the page. A strange picture, in that moment, these two--Evered,
the old and breaking man; Darrin, young and vigorous; Evered dominant,
Darrin tremulously exultant; Evered, his great head bent, his
unaccustomed eyes scanning the written lines; Darrin holding the light
beside him.

Evered was slow in reading the letter, for in the first place it was
written in his wife’s hand, and he had loved her; so that his eyes were
dimmed. He was not conscious of the words he read, though they were not
important. It was the message of the lines that came home to him; the
unmistakable truth that lay behind them. The letter of an unhappy woman
to a man whom she had found friendly and kind. She told Semler that she
loved Evered; told him this so simply there could be no questioning.
Would always love Evered. Bade Semler forget her, be gone, never return.
Nothing but friendliness for him. Bade him not make her unhappy. And at
the end, again, she wrote that she loved Evered.

The man who had killed her did not so much read this letter as absorb
it, let it sink home into his heart and carry its own conviction there.

It was not curiosity that moved him, not doubt that made him ask Darrin
quietly: “How got you this?”

“From Semler,” Darrin told him. “I found him--followed him half across
the country--told him what I guessed. That was the only letter he ever
had from her. Written the day you killed her. Damn you, do you see!”

“How came they together?”

“He knew she liked to come to the spring; he found her there, argued
with her. She told him she loved you; there was no moving her. She loved
you, who killed her. You devil of a man!”

Evered folded the letter carefully and put it into his coat. “Why do you
tell me?” he asked.

“Because I know you cared for her!” Darrin cried. “Because I know this
will hurt you worse than death itself.”

Evered standing very still shook his head slowly. “That was not my
meaning,” he explained patiently. “That is my concern. Why did you tell
me? Why so much trouble for this? How did the matter touch you, Darrin?”

The younger man had waited for this moment, waited for it through the
years of his manhood. He had planned toward it for months past, shaping
it to his fancy. He had looked forward to it as a moment of triumph; he
had seen himself towering in just condemnation above one who trembled
before him. He had been drunk with this anticipation.

But the reality was not like his dreams. He knew that Evered was broken;
that his soul must be shattered. Yet he could not exult. There was such
a strength of honest sorrow in the old man before him, there was so much
dignity and power that Darrin in spite of himself was shamed and shaken.
He felt something that was like regret. He felt himself mean and small;
like a malicious, mud-slinging, inconsiderable fragment of a man. His
voice was low, it was almost apologetic when he answered the other’s
question.

“How did the matter touch you, Darrin?” Evered asked; and the rain swept
over them in a more tempestuous fusilade.

Darrin said in a husky choking voice: “I’m Dave Riggs’ son. You killed
my father.”

Evered, silent a moment, slowly nodded as though not greatly surprised.
“Dave Riggs’ boy,” he echoed. “Aye, I might have known.” And he added:
“I lost you, years agone. I tried to make matters easier for you, for
Dave’s sake. I was sorry for that matter, Darrin.”

Darrin tried to flog his anger to white heat again. “You killed my
father,” he exclaimed. “When I was still a boy I swore that I’d pay you
for that. And when I grew up I planned and planned. And when I heard
about your wife, I came up here, to watch you--find out. I felt there
was something. I told you I’d seen Semler, trapped you. You told me more
than you meant to tell. And then I got trace of him, followed him. I did
it to blast you, Evered; pay you for what you did to me. That’s why.”

He ended lamely; his anger was dead; his voice was like a plea.

Evered said gently and without anger. “It was your right.” And a moment
later he turned slowly and went away, up the hill and toward his home.

Darrin, left behind, labored again to wake the exultation he had counted
on; but he could not. He had hungered for this revenge of his, but there
is no substance in raw and naked vengeance. You cannot set your teeth
in it. Darrin found that it left him empty, that he was sick of himself
and of his own deeds.

“It was coming to him,” he cried half aloud.

But he could not put away from his thoughts the memory of Evered’s proud
dignity of sorrow; he was abashed before the man.

He stumbled back to his rain-swept camp like one who has done a crime.



XVII


When Evered reached the farm, dark had fully fallen; and the cold rain
was splattering against the buildings, driven by fierce little gusts of
wind from the northwest as the direction of the storm shifted. The man
walked steadily enough, his head held high. What torment was hidden
behind his proud bearing no man could guess. He went to the kitchen, and
Ruth told him that John must be near done with the milking. Evered
nodded, as though he were tired. Ruth saw that he was wet, and when he
took off his coat and hat she brought him a cup of steaming tea and made
him drink it. He said, “Thanks, Ruthie!” And he took the cup from her
hands and sipped it slowly, the hot liquid bringing back his strength.

His trousers were soaked through at the knees. She bade him go in and
change them; and he went to his room. When John came from the barn
Evered had not yet come out into the kitchen again. Supper was ready
and Ruth went to his door and called to him.

He came out; and both Ruth and John saw the strange light in the man’s
eyes. He did not speak and they did not speak to him. There was that
about him which held them silent. He ate a little, then went to his room
again and shut the door. They could hear him for a little while, walking
to and fro. Then the sound of his footsteps ceased.

Only one door lay between his room and the kitchen; and unconsciously
the two hushed their voices, so that they might not disturb him. John
got into dry clothes, then helped Ruth with the dishes, brought fresh
water from the pump to fill the tank at the end of the stove, brought
wood for the morning, turned the separator, and finally sat smoking
while she cleaned the parts of that instrument. They spoke now and then;
but there was some constraint between them. Both of them were thinking
of Evered.

Ruth, her work finished, came and sat down by the stove with a basket of
socks to be darned, and her needle began to move carefully to and fro in
the gaping holes she stretched across her darning egg.

John asked her in a low voice, “Did you mark trouble in my father this
night?”

She looked at him, concern in her eyes. “Yes. There was something. He
seemed happier, somehow; yet very sad too.”

He said, “His eyes were shining, like.”

“I saw,” she agreed.

John smoked for a little while. Then: “I’m wondering what it is,” he
murmured. “Something has happened to him.”

Ruth, head bent above her work, remembered Darrin’s coming, his summons.
But she said nothing till John asked: “Do you know what it was?”

“He was talking with Fred,” she said; and slowly, cheeks rosy, amended
herself: “With Mr. Darrin.”

John nodded. “I knew they were away together.”

“Mr. Darrin came for him,” said Ruth. “He took your father away.”

They said no more of the matter, for there was nothing more to say; but
they thought a great deal. Now and then they spoke of other things.
Outside the house the wind was whistling and lashing the weatherboards
with rain; and after a while the sharp sound of the raindrops was
intensified to a clatter and John said, “It’s turned to hail. There’ll
be snow by morning.”

The girl thought of Darrin. “He’ll be wet and cold out in this. He ought
to come up to the barn.”

John smiled. “He can care for himself. His shelter will turn this, easy.
He’d come if he wanted to come.”

His tone was friendly and Ruth asked, watching him, “You like Mr.
Darrin, don’t you?”

“Yes,” John told her. “Yes,” he said slowly; “I like the man.”

What pain the words cost him he hid from her eyes altogether. She was,
vaguely, a little disappointed. She had not wanted John to like Darrin;
and yet she--loved the man. She must love him; she had longed for him
so. Thinking of him as she sat here with her mending in her lap she felt
again that unaccountable pang of loneliness. And the girl looked
sidewise at John. John was watching the little flames that showed
through the grate in the front of the stove. He seemed to pay no heed to
her.

After a while Ruth said she would go to bed; and she put away her
basket of mending, set her chair in place by the table and went to the
door that led toward her own room. John, still sitting by the stove, had
not turned. She stood in the doorway for a moment, watching him. There
was a curious yearning in her eyes.

By and by she said softly, “Good night, John.”

He got up from his chair, and turned toward her and stood there. “Good
night, Ruth,” he answered.

She did not close the door between them; and after a moment, as though
without his own volition, his feet moved. He came toward her, came
nearer where she stood.

She did not know whether to stay or to go. The girl was shaken, unsure
of herself, afraid of her own impulses. And then she remembered that she
loved Darrin, must love him. And she stepped back and shut the door
slowly between them. Even with the door shut she stood still, listening;
and she heard John turn and go back to his chair and sit down.

She was swept by an unaccountable wave of angry disappointment. And the
girl turned into her room and with quick sharp movements loosed her
garments and put them aside and made herself ready for bed. She blew out
the light and lay down. But her eyes were wide, and she was wholly
without desire to sleep. And by and by she began to cry, for no reason
she could name. She was oppressed by a terrible weight of sorrow,
indefinable. It was as though this great sorrow were in the very air
about her. It was, she thought once gropingly, as though someone near
her were dying in the night. Once before she slept she heard Evered
moving to and fro in his room, adjoining hers.

John had no heart for sleep that night. He sat in the kitchen alone for
a long time; and he went to bed at last, not because he was sleepy, but
because there was nothing else to do. He put wood in the stove and shut
it tightly; there would be some fire there in the morning. He put the
cats into the shed and locked the outer door, and so went at last to his
room. The man undressed slowly and blew out his light. When once he was
abed the healthy habit of his lusty youth put him quickly to sleep. He
slept with scarce a dream till an hour before dawn, and woke then, and
rose to dress for the morning’s chores.

From his window, even before the light came, he saw that some wet snow
had fallen during the night. When he had made the fire in the kitchen
and filled the kettle he put on his boots and went to the barn. There
were inches of snow and half-frozen mud in the barnyard. It was cold and
dreary in the open. A little snow fell fitfully now and then.

Within the barn the sweet odors that he loved greeted him. The place
steamed pleasantly with the body warmth of the cattle and the horse
stabled there; and he heard the pigs squealing softly, as though in
their sleep, in their winter pen at the farther end of the barn floor.
He lighted his lantern and hung it to a peg and fed the stock--a little
grain to the horse, hay to the cows, some cut-up squash and a basketful
of beets to the pigs. As an afterthought he gave beets to the cows as
well. John worked swiftly, cleaned up the horse’s stall and the tie-up
where the line of cows was secured. After he was done here he fed the
bull, the red bull in its strong stall; and while the creature ate he
cleaned the place and put fresh bedding in upon the floor. The bull
seemed undisturbed by his presence; it turned its great head now and
then to look at him with steady eyes, but there was no ugliness in its
movements. When he had finished his work John stroked the great
creature’s flank and shoulder and neck for a moment.

He said under his breath, “You’re all right, old boy. You’re all right.
You’re clever, by golly. Clever as a cow.”

When Fraternity says a beast is clever it means gentle and kind rather
than shrewd. The bull seemed to understand what John said; or what lay
in his tone. The great head turned and pressed against him, not roughly.
John stroked it a minute more, then left the stall and took a last look
round to be sure he had forgotten nothing, and then went to the house.
Day was coming now; there was a ghostly gray light in the farmyard. And
the snow had turned, for the time, to a drizzling, sleeting sprinkle of
rain.

In the kitchen he found Ruth moving about; and she gave him the milk
pails and he went out to milk. There were only three cows giving milk at
that time. Two would come in in December; but for the present milking
was a small chore. John was not long about it, but by the time he had
finished and returned to the kitchen breakfast was almost ready. Evered
had not yet come from his room.

Ruth half whispered: “He was up in the night. I think he’s asleep. I’m
going to let him sleep a while.”

John nodded. “All right,” he agreed.

“He’s so tired,” said Ruth; and there was a gentleness in her tone which
made John look at her with some surprise. She had not spoken gently of
Evered for months past.

They separated the milk and gave the cats their morning ration and then
they sat themselves down and breakfasted. When they were half done Ruth
saw that day was fully come, and blew out the lamp upon the table
between them. It left the kitchen so bleak and cheerless, however, that
she lighted it again.

“I don’t like a day like this,” she said. “It’s ugly. Everything is
ugly. It makes me nervous, somehow.”

She shivered a little and looked about her as though she felt some
fearful thing at her very shoulder. John, more phlegmatic, watched her
in some bewilderment. Ruth was not usually nervous.

They had not heard Evered stirring; and all that morning they moved on
tiptoe about their work. John forebore to split wood in the shed, his
usual task on stormy days, lest he waken his father. Ruth handled the
dishes gently, careful not to rattle them; she swept the floor with easy
strokes that made but little sound. When Evered came into the kitchen, a
little before noon, she and John looked at the man with quick curiosity,
not knowing what they would see.

They saw only that Evered’s head was held a little higher than was his
custom of late; they saw that his eyes were sober and clear and
thoughtful; they marked that his voice was gentle. He had dinner with
them, speaking little, then went back to his room.

Soon after dinner Darrin came to the door. Ruth asked him in, but the
man would not come. John was in the barn; and Ruth, a little uneasy and
afraid before this man, wished John were here.

She asked Darrin, “Were you all right, last night?”

He said he had been comfortable; that he had been able to keep dry. He
had come on no definite errand.

“I just--wanted to see you,” he said.

Ruth made no reply, because she did not know what to say.

Darrin asked, “Are you all all right here?”

“Why, yes,” she told him.

He looked to right and left, his eyes unable to meet hers. “Is Evered
all right?” he asked.

She felt the tension in his voice without understanding it. “Yes,” she
said uncertainly; and then: “Why?”

He tried to laugh. “Why, nothing. Where’s John?”

Ruth told him John was in the barn and Darrin went out there. Ruth was
left alone in the house. Once or twice during the afternoon she saw John
and Darrin in the barn door. They seemed to be doing nothing, sitting in
the shelter there, whittling, smoking, talking slowly.

She felt the presence of Evered in his room, a presence like a brooding
sorrow. It oppressed her. She became nervous, restless, moving aimlessly
to and fro, and once she went to her room for something and found
herself crying. She brushed away the tears impatiently, unable to
understand. But she was afraid. There was something dreadful in the very
air of the house.

At noon the wind had turned colder and for a time the sleet and rain
altogether ceased. The temperature was dropping; crystals of ice formed
on the puddles in the barnyard, and the patches of old snow which lay
here and there stiffened like hot metal hardening in a mold. Then with
the abrupt and surprising effect of a stage transformation snow began to
come down from the lowering, driving clouds. This was in its way a
whole-hearted snowstorm, in some contrast to the miserable drizzle of
the night. It was fine and wet, and hard-driven by the wind. There were
times when the barn, a little way from the house, was obscured by the
flying flakes; and the trees beyond were wholly hidden behind a veil of
white.

Ruth went about the house making sure that the windows were snug. From a
front window she saw that the storm had thinned in that direction. She
was able to look down into the orchard, which lay a little below the
house, sloping away toward North Fraternity. The nearer trees were
plain, the others were hidden from sight.

The driving wind plastered this wet snow against everything it touched.
One side of every tree, one side of every twig assumed a garment of
white. The windows which the wind struck were opaque with it. When Ruth
went back to the kitchen she saw that a whole side of the barn was so
completely covered by the snow blanket that the dark shingling was
altogether hidden. Against the white background of the storm it was as
though this side of the barn had ceased to exist. The illusion was so
abrupt that for a moment it startled her.

The snow continued to fall for much of the afternoon; then the storm
drifted past them and the hills all about were lighted up, not by the
sun itself, but by an eerie blue light, which may have been the sun
refracted and reflected by the snow that was still in the air above. The
storm had left a snowy covering upon the world; and even this white
blanket had a bluish tinge. Snow clung to windward of every tree and
rock and building. Even the clothesline in the yard beside the house was
hung with it.

At first, when the storm had but just passed, the scene was very
beautiful; but in the blue light it was pitilessly, bleakly cold. Then
distantly the sun appeared. Ruth saw it first indirectly. Down the
valley to the southward, a valley like a groove between two hills, the
low scurrying clouds began to lift; and so presently the end of the
valley was revealed, and Ruth was able to look through beneath the
screen of clouds, and she could see the slopes of a distant hill where
the snow had fallen lightly, brilliantly illumined by the golden
sun--gold on the white of the snow and the brown and the green of grass
and of trees. Mystically beautiful--blue sky in the distance there; and,
between, the sun-dappled hills. The scene was made more gorgeous by the
somber light which still lay about the farm.

Then the clouds lifted farther and the sun came nearer. A little before
sunset blue skies showed overhead, the sun streamed across the farm, the
snow that had stuck against everything it touched began to sag and drop
away; and the dripping of melting snow sounded cheerfully in the
stillness of the late afternoon.

Ruth saw John and Darrin in the farmyard talking together, watching the
skies. They came toward the house and John bade her come out to see.
The three of them walked round to the front, where the eye might reach
for miles into infinite vistas of beauty. They stood there for a little
time.

The dropping sun bathed all the land in splendor; the winds had passed,
the air was still as honey. Earth was become a thing of glory beyond
compare.

They were still standing here when they heard the hoarse and furious
bellow of the great red bull.



XVIII


Evered had not slept the night before. There was no sleep in the man.
And this was not because he was torn and agonized; it was because he had
never been so fully alive, so alert of mind and body.

Darrin’s accusation had come to him as no shock; Darrin’s proof that his
wife was loyal had come as no surprise. He had expected neither; yet
when they came it seemed to the man that he must have known they would
come. It seemed to him that all the world must know what he had done;
and it seemed to him that he must always have known his wife was--his
wife forever.

His principal reaction was a great relief of spirit. He was unhappy,
sorrowful; yet there was a pleasant ease and solace in his very
unhappiness. For he was rid now, at last, of doubts and of
uncertainties; his mind was no more beclouded; there were no more
shadows of mystery and questioning. All was clear before him; all that
there was to know he knew. And--his secret need no longer be borne
alone. Darrin knew; it was as though the whole world knew. He was
indescribably relieved by this certainty.

He did not at first look into the future at all. He let himself breathe
the present. He came back to the farm and ate his supper and went to his
room; and there was something that sang softly within him. It was almost
as though his wife waited for him, comfortingly, there. Physically a
little restless, he moved about for a time; but his mind was steady, his
thoughts were calm.

His thoughts were memories, harking backward through the years.

Evered was at this time almost fifty years old. He was born in North
Fraternity, in the house of his mother’s father, to which she had gone
when her time came near. Evered’s own father had died weeks before, in
the quiet fashion of the countryside. That had been on this hillside
farm above the swamp, which Evered’s father had owned. His mother stayed
upon the farm for a little, and when the time came she went to her home,
and when Evered was a month old she had brought him back to the farm
again.

She died, Evered remembered, when he was still a boy, nine or ten years
old. She had not married a second time, but her brother had come to live
with her, and he survived her and kept the farm alive and producing. He
taught Evered the work that lay before him. He had been a butcher, and
it was from him Evered learned the trade. A kind man, Evered remembered,
but not over wise; and he had lacked understanding of the boy.

Evered had been a brilliant boy, active and wholly alive, his mind alert
and keen, his muscles quick, his temper sharp. Yet his anger was
accustomed to pass quickly, so that he had in him the stuff that makes
friends; and he had friends in those days. Still in his teens he won the
friendship of the older men, even as he dominated the boys of his own
age. He and Lee Motley had grown up together. There had always been
close sympathy between these two.

When he was nineteen he married, in the adventurous spirit of youth, a
girl of the hills; a simple lovely child, not so old as he. Married her
gaily, brought her home gaily. There had been affection between them, he
knew now, but nothing more. He had thought himself heartbroken when,
their boy child still a baby, she had died. But a year later he met Mary
MacLure, and there had never been any other woman in the world for him
thereafter.

Evered’s memories were very vivid; it needed no effort to bring back to
him Mary’s face as he first saw her. A dance in the big hall halfway
from North Fraternity to Montville. She came late, two men with her; and
Evered saw her come into the door. He had come alone to the dance; he
was free to devote himself to her, and within the half hour he had swept
all others aside, and he and Mary MacLure danced and danced together,
while their pulses sang in the soft air of the night, and their eyes,
meeting, glowed and glowed.

Fraternity still talked of that swift, hot courtship. Evered had fought
two men for her, and that fight was well remembered. He had fought for a
clear field, and won it, though Mary MacLure scolded him for the
winning, as long as she had heart to scold this man. From his first
moment with her Evered had been lifted out of himself by the emotions
she awoke in him. He loved her hotly and jealously and passionately;
and in due course he won her.

Not too quickly, for Mary MacLure knew her worth and knew how to make
herself dear to him. She humbled him, and at first he suffered this,
till one night he came to her house when the flowers were abloom and the
air was warm as a caress. And at first, seated on the steps of her porch
with the man at her feet, she teased him lightly and provokingly, till
he rose and stood above her. Something made her rise too; and then she
was in his arms, lips yielding to his, trembling to his ardent whispers.
For long minutes they stood so, conscious only of each other, drunk with
the mutual ecstasy of conquest and of surrender, tempestuously
embracing.

They were married, and he brought her home to the farm above the swamp,
and because he loved her so well, because he loved her too well, he had
watched over her with jealous eyes, had guarded her. She became a
recluse. An isolation grew up about them. Evered wanted no human being
in his life but her; and when the ardor of his love could find no other
vent, it showed itself in cruel gibes at her, in reckless words.

Youth was still hot in the man. He and Mary might have weathered this
hard period of adjustment, might have come to a quiet happiness
together; but it was in these years that Evered killed Dave Riggs, a
thing half accident. He had gone forth that day with bitterness in his
heart; he had quarreled with Mary, and hated himself for it; and hated
by proxy all the world besides. Riggs irritated him profoundly, roused
the quick anger in the man. And when the hot clouds cleared from before
his eyes Riggs was dead.

A thing that could not be undone, it had molded Evered’s soul into harsh
and rugged lines. It was true, as he had told Darrin, that he had sought
to make some amends; had offered help to the dead man’s wife, first
openly, and then--when she cursed him from her door--in secret, hidden
ways. But she left Fraternity and took her child, and they lost
themselves in the outer world.

So Evered could not ease his conscience by the reparation he longed to
make; and the thing lay with him always through the years thereafter. A
thing fit to change a man in unpleasant fashion, the killing had shaped
Evered’s whole life--to this black end that lay before him.

The man during this long night alone in his room thought back through
all the years; and it was as though he sat in judgment on himself. There
was, there had always been a native justice in him; he never deceived
his own heart, never palliated even to himself his own ill deeds. There
was no question in his mind now. He knew the thing he had done in all
its ugly lights. And as he thought of it, sitting beside his bed, he
played with the heavy knife which he had carried all these years. He
fondled the thing in his hand, eyes half closed as he stared at it. He
was not conscious that he held it. Yet it had become almost a part of
him through long habit; and it was as much a part of him now as his own
hand that held it. The heavy haft balanced so familiarly.

The night, and then the day. A steady calm possessed him. His memories
flowed smoothly past, like the eternal cycle of the days. The man’s face
did not change; he was expressionless. He was sunk so deep in his own
thoughts that the turmoil there did not disturb his outward aspect. His
countenance was grave and still. No tears flowed; this was no time for
tears. It was an hour too deep for tears, a sorrow beyond weeping.

During the storm that day he went to the window now and then. And once
in the morning he heard the red bull bellow in its pen; and once or
twice thereafter, as the afternoon drove slowly on. Each time he heard
this sound it was as though the man’s attention was caught and held. He
stood still in a listening attitude, as though waiting for the bellow to
be repeated; and it would be minutes on end before his eyes clouded with
his own thoughts again.

It would be easy to say that Evered during this solitary night and day
went mad with grief and self-condemning, but it would not be true. The
man was never more sane. His thoughts were profound, but they were quiet
and slow and unperturbed. They were almost impersonal. There is in most
men--though in few women--this power to withdraw out of oneself or into
an inner deeper self; this power to stand as spectator of one’s own
actions. It is a manifestation of a deeper, more remote consciousness.
It is as though there were a man within a man. And this inner soul has
no emotions. It is unmoved by love or passion, by anger or hatred, by
sorrow or grief, by hunger or by thirst. It watches warm caresses, it
hears ardent words, it sees fierce blows, and listens to curses and
lamentations with the same inscrutable and immutable calm. It can
approve, it can condemn; but it neither rejoices nor bemoans. It is
always conscious that the moment is nothing, eternity everything; that
the whole alone has portent and importance. This inner self has a depth
beyond plumbing; it has a strength unshakable; it has understanding
beyond belief. It is not conscience, for it sets itself up as no arbiter
of acts or deeds. It is simply a consciousness that that which is done
is good or evil, kind or harsh, wise or foolish. This calm inner soul of
souls might be called God in man.

Evered this day lived in this inner consciousness. As though he sat
remote above the stream he watched the years of his memories flow by. He
was, after the first moments, torn by no racking grief and wrenched by
no remorseful torments and burned by no agonizing fires. He was without
emotion, but not without judgment and not without decision. He moved
through his thoughts as though to a definitely appointed and
pre-determined end. A strange numbness possessed him, in which only his
mind was alive.

He did not pity himself; neither did he damn himself. He did not pray
that he might cancel all the past, for this inner consciousness knew the
past could never be canceled. He simply thought upon it, with grave and
sober consideration.

When his thoughts evidenced themselves in actions it was done slowly,
and as though he did know not what he did. He got up from where he had
been sitting and went to the window and looked out. The snow had ceased;
the sun was breaking through. The world was never more beautiful, never
more gloriously white and clean.

The man had held in his hands for most of the day that heavy knife of
his. He put it now back in its sheath. Then he took off his shirt and
washed himself. There was no fire of purpose in his eye; he was utterly
calm and unhurried.

He put on a clean shirt. It was checked blue and white. Mary Evered had
made it for him, as she was accustomed to make most of his clothes.
When it was buttoned he drew his belt about him and buckled it snug.
Then he sat down and took off his slippers--old, faded, rundown things
that had eased his tired feet night by night for years. He took off
these slippers and put on hobnailed shoes, lacing them securely.

When this was done the man stood for a little in the room, and he looked
steadily before him. His eyes did not move to this side and that; there
was no suggestion that he was taking farewell of the familiar things
about him. It was more as though he looked upon something which other
eyes could never see. And his face lighted a little; it was near
smiling. There was peace in it.

I do not believe that there was any deadly purpose in Evered’s heart
when he left his room. Fraternity thinks so; Fraternity has never
thought anything else about the matter. He took his knife, in its
sheath. That is proof enough for Fraternity. “He went to do the bull,
and the bull done him.” That is what they say, have always said.

It does not occur to them that the man took the knife because he was a
man; because it was not in him to lay down his life supinely; because
battle had always been in his blood and was his instinct. It does not
occur to them that there was in Evered’s mind this day the purpose of
atonement, and nothing more. For Fraternity had never plumbed the man,
had never understood him.

No matter. No need to dig for hidden things. Enough to know what Evered
did.

He went from his room into the kitchen. No one was there. Ruth and John
and Darrin were outside in front of the house. Thus they did not see him
come out into the barnyard and go steadily and surely across and past
the corner of the barn, till he came to the high-boarded walls of the
red bull’s pen.

He put his hand against these board walls for a moment, with a gesture
not unlike that of a blind man. One watching would have supposed that he
walked unseeingly or that his eyes were closed. He went along the wall
of the pen until he came to the narrow gate, set between two of the
cedar posts, through which it was possible to enter.

Evered opened this gate, stepped inside the pen and shut the gate behind
him. He took half a dozen paces forward, into the center of the
inclosure, and stood still.

The red bull had heard the gate open; and the creature turned in its
stall and came to the door between stall and pen. It saw Evered standing
there; and after a moment the beast came slowly out, moving one foot at
a time, carefully, like a watchful antagonist--came out till it was
clear of the stall; till it and the man faced each other, not twenty
feet apart.

After a moment the bull lowered its great head and emitted a harsh and
angry bellow that was like a roar.



XIX


The beauty of the whole world in this hour should be remembered. Houses,
trees, walls, shrubs, knolls--all were overlaid with the snow blanket
inches deep. It had been faintly blue, this carpet of snow, in the first
moments after the storm passed, and before the sun had broken through.
When the sun illumined the hill about the farm the snow was dazzling
white, blinding the eye with a thousand gleams, as though it were
diamond dust spread all about them. Afterward, when John and Darrin and
Ruth had passed to the front of the house to look across the valley and
away, the sun descending lost its white glare; its rays took on a
crimson hue. Where they struck the snow fairly it was rose pink; where
shadows lay the blue was coming back again. The air was so clear that it
seemed not to exist, yet did exist as a living, pulsing color which was
all about--faint, hardly to be seen.

The three stood silent, watching all this. Ruth could not have spoken
if she had wished to do so; she could scarce breathe. Darrin watched
unseeingly, automatically, his thoughts busy elsewhere. John stood
still, and his eyes were narrowed and his face was faintly flushed,
either by the sun’s light or by the intoxication of beauty which was
spread before him. And they were standing thus when there came to them
through the still, liquid air the bellow of the bull.

John and Ruth reacted automatically to that sound. They were accustomed
to the beast; they could to some extent distinguish between its
outcries, guess at its moods from them. Its roaring was always frightful
to an unaccustomed ear; but they were used to it, were disturbed only by
some foreign note in the sound. They both knew now that the bull was
murderously angry. They did not know, had no way of knowing what had
roused it. It might be a dog, a cat; it might be that one of the cows
had broken loose and was near its stall; it might be a pig; it might be
a hen; it might be merely a rat running in awkward loping bounds across
its pen. They did not stop to wonder; but John turned and ran toward the
pen, and Ruth followed him, stumbling through the soft snow. Darrin, to
whom the bull’s bellow had always been a frightful sound, was startled
by it, would have asked a question. When he saw them run round the house
he followed them.

John was in the lead, but Ruth was swift footed and was at his shoulder
when he reached the gate of the pen. The walls of the inclosure and the
gate itself were so high that they could not look over the top. But just
beside the main gate there was a smaller one, like a door; too narrow
and too low for the bull to pass, but large enough for a man. John
fumbled with the latch of this gate; and his moment’s delay gave the
others time to come up with him. When he opened the way and stepped into
the pen Ruth and Darrin were at his shoulder. Thus that which was in the
pen broke upon them all three at once--a picture never to be forgotten,
indelibly imprinted on their minds.

The snow that had fallen in the inclosure was trampled here and there by
the tracks of the bull and by the tracks of the man, and in one spot it
was torn and tossed and crushed into mud, as though the two had come
together there in some strange matching of strength. At this spot too
there was a dark patch upon the snow; a patch that looked almost black.
Yet Ruth knew what had made this patch, and clutched at her throat to
stifle her scream; and John knew, and Darrin knew. And the two men were
sick and shaken.

At the other side of the pen, perhaps a dozen long paces from where they
stood, Evered and the bull faced each other. Neither had heard their
coming, neither had seen them. They were, for the fraction of a second,
motionless. The great bull’s head was lowered; its red neck was streaked
with darker red where a long gash lay. From this gash dripped and
dripped and spurted a little stream, a dark and ugly stream.

The man, Evered, stood erect and still, facing the bull. They saw that
he bore the knife in his left hand; and they saw that his right arm was
helpless, hanging in a curiously twisted way, bent backward below the
elbow. The sleeve of his checked shirt was stained there, and his hand
was red. His shoulder seemed somehow distorted. Yet he was erect and
strong, and his face was steady and curiously peaceful, and he made no
move to escape or to flee.

An eternity that was much less than a second passed while no man moved,
while the bull stood still. Then its short legs seemed to bend under it;
its great body hurtled forward. The vast bulk moved quick as light. It
was upon the man.

They saw Evered strike, lightly, with his left hand; and there was no
purpose behind the blow. It had not the strength to drive it home. At
the same time the man leaped to one side, sliding his blade down the
bull’s shoulder; leaped lightly and surely to one side. The bull swept
almost past the man, the great head showed beyond him.

Then the head swung back and struck Evered in the side, and he fell,
over and over, rolling like a rabbit taken in midleap by the gunner’s
charge of shot. And the red bull turned as a hound might have turned,
with a speed that was unbelievable. Its head, its forequarters rose;
they saw its feet come down with a curious chopping stroke--apparently
not so desperately hard--saw its feet come down once, and twice upon the
prostrate man.

It must be remembered that all this had passed quickly. It was no more
than a fifth of a second that John Evered stopped within the gate of
the pen. Then he was leaping toward the bull, and Ruth followed him.
Darrin crouched in the gate, and his face was white as death. He cried,
“Come back, Ruth!” And even as she ran after John she had time to look
back toward Darrin and see him cowering there.

John took off his coat as he ran, took it off with a quick whipping
motion. He swung it back behind him, round his head. And then as the
bull’s body rose for another deadly downward hoofstroke John struck it
in the flank with all his weight. He caught the beast faintly off
balance, so that the bull pivoted on its hind feet, away from the fallen
man; and before the great creature could turn John whipped his coat into
its face, lashing it again and again. The bull shook its great head,
turning away from the blinding blows; and John caught the coat about its
head and held it there, his arms fairly round the bull’s neck. He was
shouting, shouting into its very ear. Ruth even in that moment heard
him. And she marked that his tone was gentle, quieting, kind. There was
no harshness in it.

She needed no telling what to do. John had swung the bull away from
Evered; he had the creature blinded. She bent beside the prostrate man
and tried to drag him to his feet, but Evered bent weakly in the middle.
He was conscious, he looked up at her, his face quite calm and happy;
and he shook his head. He said, “Go.”

The girl caught him beneath the shoulders and tried to drag him backward
through the soft snow across the pen. It was hard work. John still
blinding the bull, still calling out to the beast, was working it away
from her.

She could not call on him for help; she turned and cried to Darrin,
“Help me--carry him.”

Darrin came cautiously into the pen and approached her and took her arm.
“Come away,” he said.

Her eyes blazed at him; and she cried again, “Carry him out.”

He said huskily, “Leave him. Leave him here. Come away.”

She had never released Evered’s shoulders, never ceased to tug at him.
But Darrin took her arm now as though to pull her away; and she swung
toward him so fiercely that he fell back from her. The girl began
abruptly to cry; half with anger at Darrin, half with pity for the
broken man in her arms. And she tugged and tugged, sliding the limp body
inch by inch toward safety.

Then she saw John beside her. He had guided the bull, half forcing, half
persuading, to the entrance into the stall; he had worked the creature
in, prodding it, urging; and shut and made secure the door. Now he was
at her side. He knelt with her.

“He’s terribly hurt,” she said through her tears.

John nodded. “I’ll take him,” he told her.

So he gathered Evered into his arms, gathered him up so tenderly, and
held the man against his breast, and Ruth supported Evered’s drooping
head as she walked beside John. They came to the gate and it was too
narrow for them to pass through. So Ruth went through alone, to open the
wider gate from the outside.

She found Darrin there, standing uncertainly. She looked at him as she
might have looked at a stranger. She was hardly conscious that he was
there at all. When he saw what she meant to do he would have helped her.
She turned to him then, and she seemed to bring her thoughts back from a
great distance; she looked at him for a moment and then she said, “Go
away!”

He cried, “Ruth! Please----”

She repeated, “I want you to go away. Oh,” she cried, “go away! Don’t
ever come here again!”

Darrin moved back a step, and she swung the gate open so that John could
come through, and closed it behind him, and walked with him to the
kitchen door, supporting Evered’s head. Darrin hesitated, then followed
them uncertainly.

When they came to the door Ruth opened it, and John--moving sidewise so
that his burden should not brush against the door frame--went into the
kitchen, and across. Ruth passed round him to open the door into
Evered’s own room; and John went through.

When he reached the bedside and turned to lay Evered there he missed
Ruth. He looked toward the kitchen; and he saw her standing in the outer
doorway. Darrin was on the steps before her. John heard Darrin say
something pleadingly. Ruth stood still for a moment. Then John saw her
slowly shut the door, shutting out the other man. And he saw her turn
the key and shoot the bolt.

She came toward him, running; and her eyes were full of tears.

They laid Evered on his own bed, the bed he and Mary Evered had shared.
Ruth put the pillow under his head; and because it was cold in the room
she would have drawn a blanket across him. John shook his head. He was
loosening the other’s garments, making swift examination of his father’s
hurts, pressing and probing firmly here and there.

Evered had drifted out of consciousness on the way to the house; but his
eyes opened now and there was sweat on his forehead. He looked up at
them steadily and soberly enough.

“You hurt me, John,” he said.

Ruth whispered, “I’ll telephone the doctor.”

Evered turned his head a little on the pillow, and looked toward her.
“No,” he said, “no need.”

“Oh, there must be!” she cried. “There must be! He can----”

Evered interrupted her. “Don’t go, Ruthie. I want to talk to you.”

She was crying; she came slowly back to the bedside. The sun was ready
to dip behind the hills. Its last rays coming through the window fell
across her face. She was somehow glorified. She put her hand on Evered’s
head, and he--the native strength still alive within him--reached up and
caught it in his and held it firmly thereafter for a space.

“You’re crying,” he said.

“I can’t help it,” she told him.

“Why are you crying?” he asked.

“Because I’m so sorry for you.”

A slow wave of happiness crept into his eyes. “You’re a good girl,
Ruthie. You mustn’t cry for me.”

She brushed her sleeve across her eyes. “Why did you do it?” she asked
almost fiercely. “Why did you let him get at you?”

“You’ve been hating me, Ruthie,” he told her gently. “Why do you cry for
me?”

“Oh,” she told him, “I don’t hate you now. I don’t hate you now.”

He said weakly, “You’ve reason to hate me.”

“No, no!” she said. “Don’t be unhappy. You never meant--you loved Mary.”

“Aye,” he agreed, “I loved Mary. I loved Mary, and John loves you.”

She was sitting on the edge of the bed, John standing beside her; but
she did not look up at him. Her eyes were all for Evered.

“Please,” she said. “Rest. Let me get the doctor.”

His head moved slowly in negation. “Something to tell you, Ruth,
first--before the doctor comes.”

She looked toward John then, for decision or for reassurance. His eyes
answered her; they bade her listen; they told her there was no work for
the doctor here. So she turned back to Evered again. He was speaking
slowly; she caught his words bending above him.

It was thus that the man told the story at last, without heat or
passion, neither sparing himself nor condemning himself, but as though
he spoke of another man. And he spoke of little things that he had not
been conscious of noticing at the time--how when he took down his
revolver to go after the bull the cats were frightened and ran from him;
how as he passed through the barnyard the horse whinnied from its stall;
how he was near stumbling over a ground sparrow’s nest in the open land
above the woodlot; how a red squirrel mocked at him from a hemlock as
he went on his way. It was as though he lived the day over while they
listened. He told how he had come out above the spring; how he saw Mary
and Dane Semler there.

“I believed she loved him,” he said.

And Ruth cried, “Oh, she never loved anyone but you.” She was not
condemning, she was reassuring him; and he understood, his hand
tightening on hers.

“I know,” he said. “And my unbelief was my great wrong to Mary; worse
than the other.”

He went on steadily enough. “There was time,” he told her. “I could have
turned him, stopped him, shot him. But I hated her; I let the bull come
on.”

The girl scarce heard him. His words meant little to her; her sympathy
for him was so profound that her only concern was to ease the man and
make him happier.

She cried, “Don’t, don’t torment yourself! Please, I understand.”

“I killed her,” he said.

And as one would soothe a child, while the tears ran down her cheeks she
bade him never mind.

“There, there. Never mind,” she pleaded.

“I killed her, but I loved her,” he went on implacably.

And he told them something of his sorrow afterward, and told them how he
had stifled his remorse by telling himself that Mary was false; how he
had kept his soul alive with that poor unction. He was weakening fast;
the terrific battering which he had endured was having its effect upon
even his great strength; but his voice went steadily on.

He came to Darrin, came to that scene with Darrin the night before, by
the spring; and so told how Darrin had proved to him that Mary
was--Mary. And at last, as though they must understand, he added, “So
then I knew.”

They did not ask what he knew; these two did understand. They knew the
man as no others would ever know him--knew his heart, knew his
unhappiness. There was no need of his telling them how he had passed the
night, and then the day. He did not try.

Ruth was comforting him; and he watched her with a strange and wistful
light in his eyes.

“You’ve hated me, Ruthie,” he reminded her. “Do you hate me now?”

There was no hate in her, nothing but a flooding sympathy and sorrow for
the broken man. She cried, “No, no!”

“You’re forgiving----”

“Yes. Please--please know.”

“Then Mary will,” he murmured half to himself.

Ruth nodded, and told him, “Yes, yes; she will. Please, never fear.”

For a little while he was silent, while she spoke to him hungrily and
tenderly, as a mother might have spoken; and her arms round him seemed
to feel the man slipping away. She was weeping terribly; and he put up
one hand and brushed her eyes.

“Don’t cry,” he bade her. “It’s all right, don’t cry.”

“I can’t help it. I don’t want to help it. Oh, if there was only
anything I could do.”

He smiled faintly; and his words were so husky she could scarcely hear.

“Go to John,” he said.

She held him closer. “Please----”

“Please go to John,” he urged again.

She still held him, but her arms relaxed a little. She looked up at
John, and saw the young man standing there beside her. And a picture
came back to her--the picture of John throwing himself against the red
bull’s flank, blinding it, urging it away. His voice had been so gentle,
and sure, and strong. She herself in that moment had burned with hate of
the bull. Yet there had been no hate in John, nothing but gentleness and
strength.

She had coupled him with Evered in her thoughts for so long that there
was a strange illumination in her memories now; she saw John as though
she had never seen him before; and almost without knowing it she rose
and stood before him.

John made no move to take her; but she put her arms round his neck and
drew his head down. Only then did his arms go about her and hold her
close. There was infinite comfort in them. He bent and kissed her. And
strangely she thought of Darrin. There had been something hard and cruel
in his embrace, there had been loneliness in his arms. There was only
gentleness in John’s; and she was not lonely here. She looked up,
smiling through her tears.

“Oh, John, John!” she whispered.

As they kissed so closely, the warm light from the west came through the
window and enfolded them. And Evered, upon the bed, wearily turned his
head till he could see them, watch them. While he watched, his eyes
lighted with a slow contentment. And after a little a smile crept across
his face, such a smile as comes only with supreme happiness and peace. A
kindly, loving smile.

He was still smiling when they turned toward him again; but they
understood at once that Evered himself had gone away.


THE END.



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