THE WORKS OF JOSEPH HERGESHEIMER
THE LAY ANTHONY MOUNTAIN BLOOD THE THREE BLACK PENNYS GOLD AND IRON JAVA HEAD THE HAPPY END LINDA CONDON
ALFRED . A . KNOPF
COPYRIGHT, 1915, 1919, BY ALFRED A. KNOPF, Inc.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
To MY MOTHER
The fiery disk of the sun was just lifting above the shoulder of hills that held the city of Stenton when the Greenstream stage rolled briskly from its depot, a dingy frame tavern, and commenced the long journey to its high destination. The tavern was on the outskirts of town; beyond, a broad, level plain reached to a shimmering blue silhouette of mountains printed on a silvery sky; and the stage immediately left the paved street for the soft, dusty country road. Stenton was not yet astir; except for an occasional maid sleepily removing the milk from gleaming marble steps, or early workmen with swollen, sullen countenances, the streets were deserted. The dewy freshness of morning was already lost in the rapidly mounting heat of the June day. Above the blackened willows that half hid the waterworks an oily column of smoke wavered upward in slow, thick coils, mingling with the acid odor of ammonia from a neighboring ice manufacturing plant; a locomotive whistled harsh and persistent; the heat vibrated in visible fans above the pavement.
From the vantage point of the back porches of Stenton the sluggish maids could see the Greenstream stage fast diminishing. The dust rose and enveloped it, until it appeared to be a ball, gilded by the sun, rolling over the rank grey-green plain. Finally it disappeared from the vision of the awakening city.
It was a mountain surrey, with a top and rolled curtains, three rigid seats, and drawn by ugly, powerful horses in highly simplified harness. At the rear a number of mailbags, already coated with a dun film, were securely strapped.
The driver lounged forward, skilfully picking flies with his whip from the horses' backs. He had a smooth countenance, deeply tanned, and pale, clear blue eyes. At his side sat a priest in black, a man past middle age, with ashen, embittered lips, and a narrowed, chilling gaze. They were silent, contemplative; but, from the seat behind them, flowed a constant, buoyant, youthful chatter. A girl with a shining mass of chestnut hair gathered loosely on a virgin neck was recounting the thrilling incidents of "commencement week" for the benefit of a heavily-built young man with a handsome, masklike countenance. On the last seat a carelessly-garbed male was drawing huge clouds of smoke from a formidable cigar.
Gordon Makimmon, the driver, did not know the latter. He had engaged and paid for his seat the night before, evading such indirect query as Makimmon had addressed to him. It was a fundamental principle of Greenstream conduct that the direct question was inadmissible; at the same time, the inhabitants of that far, isolated valley were, on all occasions, coldly curious about such strangers, their motives and complexions of mind, as reached their self-sufficient territory. This combined restriction and necessity produced a wily type of local inquisitor. But here Gordon's diplomacy had been in vain, his surmising at sea. The others were intimate and familiar figures:
Father Merlier's advent into Greenstream had occurred a number of years before. He had arrived with papers of introduction to one of the few papist families in that rigorously protestant neighborhood; and, immediately, had erected outside the village of Greenstream a small mission school and dwelling, where he addressed himself to the herculean task of gaining converts to his faith. At first he had been regarded with unconcealed distrust—boys, when the priest's back was turned, had thrown stones at him; the turbulent element, on more than one occasion, had discussed the advisability of "running" him from the community. But it was true of both boys and men that, when they had confronted the beady, black glitter of Merlier's unfaltering gaze, encountered the patent contempt of his rigid lips, they had subsided into an unintelligible mutter, and had been glad to escape.
He became an habitual sight, riding a blooded mare through the valley, over lonely trails, and was finally accepted as a recognized local institution. His title and exotic garb, the grim quality of his manhood, his austere disregard for bodily welfare, his unmistakable courage—more than any other human quality extolled throughout Greenstream—became a cause of prideful boasting in the County.
Gordon Makimmon had known Lettice Hollidew, now speaking in little, girlish rushes behind him, since her first appearance in a baby carriage, nineteen or twenty years back. He had watched her without particular interest, the daughter of the richest man in Greenstream, grow out of sturdy, barelegged childhood into the girl he had now for five years been driving, in early summer and fall, to and from the boarding school at Stenton.
She was, he had noted, reserved. Other schoolgirls, in their passages from their scattered upland homes, were eager to share Gordon's seat by the whip; and, with affected giggling, or ringing bursts of merriment, essayed to drive the wise, heedless mountain horses. But Lettice Hollidew had always shrunk from the prominent place on the stage; there was neither banter nor invitation in her tones as she greeted him at the outset of their repeated trips, or as she gravely thanked him at the end of the day's journey.
Her father—he was reputed to possess almost half a million dollars—was a silent man, suspicious and wary in his contact and dealings with the world; and it was probable that those qualities had been softened in Pompey Hollidew's daughter to a habit of diffidence, to a customary, instinctive repression.
No such characteristics laid their restraint on Buckley Simmons, her present companion. His immobile face, with its heavy, good features and slow-kindling comprehension, was at all times expressive of loud self-assertion, insatiable curiosity, facile confidence; from his clean shaven lips fell always satisfied comment, pronouncement, impatient opinion. If Hollidew was the richest man in Greenstream Valentine Simmons was a close second. Indeed, one might be found as wealthy as the other; as a matter of fact, the Simmons holdings in real estate, scattered broadcast over the county, would realize more than Hollidew could readily command—thus Valentine Simmons' son, Buckley.
He was elaborately garbed in grey serge, relentlessly shaped to conform to an exaggerated, passing fashion, a flaring china silk tie with a broadly displayed handkerchief to match, yellow-red shoes with wide ribbands, and a stiff, claret-colored felt hat.
Gordon Makimmon, with secret dissatisfaction, compared himself with this sartorial model. Gordon's attire, purely serviceable, had apparently taken on a protective coloring from the action of time and the elements; his shirt had faded from a bright buff to a nondescript shade which blended with what had once been light corduroy trousers; his heavy shoes, treated only the evening before to a coat of preservative grease, were now covered with muck; and, pulled over his eyes, a shapeless canvas hat completed the list of the visible items of his appearance.
He swore moodily to himself as he considered the picture he must present to the dapper youth and immaculate girl behind him. He should have remembered that Lettice Hollidew would be returning from school to-day, and at least provided an emergency collar. His sister Clare was always scolding him about his clothes ... but Clare's was very gentle scolding.
A species of uncomfortable defiance, a studied contempt for appearance, possessed him: he was as good any day as Buckley Simmons, the clothes on whose back had probably been stripped from the desperate need of some lean mountain inhabitant trading at the parental Simmons' counter. The carefully cherished sense of injury grew within him; he suspected innuendoes, allusions to his garb, in the half-heard conversation behind him; he spoke to his horses in hard, sharp tones, and, without reason, swept the whip across their ears.
Meanwhile, they drew steadily over the plain; the mountains before them gradually lost their aspect of mere silhouette; depths were discernible; the blue dissolved to green, to towering slopes dense with foliage. Directly before them a dark shadow steadily grew darker, until it was resolved into a cleft through the range. They drew nearer and nearer to the pierced barrier, the road mounted perceptibly, the trees thickened by the wayside. A covey of dun partridge fluttered out of the underbrush.
The sun was high in a burning grey vault, and flooded the plain with colorless, bright light. The stage paused before entering the opening in the rocky wall; the stranger in the rear seat turned for a comprehensive, last survey. Simmering in a calorific envelope the distant roofs and stacks of Stenton were visible, isolated in the white heat of the pitiless day. Above the city hung a smudge, a thumbprint of oily black smoke, carrying the suggestion of an intolerable concentration, a focal point of the fiery discomfort. In the foreground a buzzard wheeled, inevitable, depressing.
With a sharp flourish of his whip Gordon urged the stage into the cold humidity of the gorge. Stenton and the plain were lost as it passed between close, dripping rocks, rank verdure, masses of gigantic, paleolithic fern.
The dank, green smell hung in their nostrils after they had left the ravine for a fertile tableland. They trotted through a village strung along the road, a village of deeply-scrolled eaves under the thick foliage of maples, of an incredible number of churches—"Reformed," "Established," qualified Methodist, uncompromising Baptist. They were all built of wood, and in varying states of repair that bore mute witness to the persuasive eloquence of their several pastors.
Beyond, the way rose once more, sunny and dusty and monotonous. The priest was absorbed, muttering unintelligibly over a small, flexible volume. The conversation between Lettice Hollidew and Buckley fell into increasing periods of silence. The stranger lit a fresh cigar, the smoke from which hung out back in such clouds that the power of the stage might well have been mistaken for steam.
The road grew steeper still, and, fastening the reins about the whipstock, Gordon swung out over the wheel and walked. He was a spare man, sinewy and upright, and past the golden age of youth. He lounged over the road in a careless manner that concealed his agile strength, his tireless endurance. This indolent carriage and his seemingly slight build had, on more than one occasion, been disastrously misleading to importunate or beery strangers. He could, and did, fight whenever chance offered, with a cold passion, a destructive abandon, that had won him, throughout the turbulent confines of Greenstream, a flattering measure of peace.
In this manner his father, just such another, had fought before him, and his grandfather before that. Nothing further back was known in Greenstream, It was well known that the first George Gordon Makimmon—the Mac had been speedily debauched by the slurring, local speech—had made his way to Virginia from Scotland, upon the final collapse of a Lost Cause. The instinct of the highlander had led him deep into the rugged ranges, where he had lived to see the town and county of Greenstream crystallize about his log walls and stony patch.
There, finally breaking down the resistance of a heroic constitution, he had succeeded in drinking himself to death. His son had grown up imbued with local tradition and ideas, and was settling seriously to a repetition of the elder's fate, when the Civil War offered him a wide, recognized field for the family belligerent spirit. He was improving this chance to the utmost with Morley's Raiders when a slug ended his activities in the second year of the war.
It was characteristic of the Makimmons that they should each have left their family in precarious circumstances. They were not, they would contemptuously assert, farmers or merchants. When the timber was cut from the valley, the underbrush burned, and the superb cloth of grass started that had formed the foundation of a number of comfortable fortunes, the Makimmons, scornful of the effort, had remained outside the profit.
Such income as they enjoyed had been obtained from renting their acres to transient and indifferent farmers. In the crises of life and death, or under the desire for immediate and more liquor, they sold necessary slices. This continued until nothing remained for the present Gordon Makimmon but the original dwelling—now grotesquely misshapen from the addition of casual sheds and extensions—and a small number of acres on the outskirts of town.
There he lived with Clare, his sister. Their mother, the widow of that Makimmon whose disputatious temper had been dignified by the epitaph of "heroic sacrifice," had died of a complicity of patent medicines the winter before. An older brother had totally disappeared from the cognizance of Greenstream during Gordon's boyhood; and a married sister, completing the tale, lived at the opposite end of the county, held close by poverty and her own large brood.
Summer and winter Gordon Makimmon drove the stage between Greenstream and Stenton. At dawn he left Greenstream, arriving in Stenton at the end of day; the following morning he re-departed for Greenstream. This mechanical, monotonous routine satisfied his need without placing too great a strain on his energy; he enjoyed rolling over the summer roads or in the crisp clear sunlight of winter; he liked the casual converse of the chance passengers, the inevitable deference to his local knowledge, the birdlike chatter and flattery of the young women. He liked, so easily, to play oracle and wiseman; he liked the admiration called forth by a certain theatrical prowess with the reins and whip.
On the occasions when he was too drunk to drive—not over often—a substitute was quietly found until he recovered and little was said. Gordon Makimmon was invaluable in a public charge, a trust—he had never lost a penny of the funds he continually carried for deposit in the Stenton banks; no insult had been successfully offered to any daughter of Greenstream accompanying him without other care in the stage.
They rose steadily, crossing the roof of a ridge, and descended abruptly beyond. Green prospects opened before them—a broad valley was disclosed, with a broad, shallow stream dividing its meadows; scattered farmhouses, orderly, prosperous, commanded their shorn acres. A mailbag was detached and left at a crossroad in charge of two little girls, primly important, smothered in identical, starched pink sunbonnets. The Greenstream stage splashed through the shallow, shining ford; the ascent on the far side of the valley imperceptibly began.
The sun was almost at the zenith; the shadow of the stage fell short and sharp on the dry, loamy road; a brown film covered the horses and vehicle; it sifted through the apparel of the passengers and coated their lips. The rise to the roof of the succeeding range seemed interminable; the road looped fields blue with buckwheat, groves of towering, majestic chestnut, a rocky slope, where, by a crevice, a swollen and sluggish rattlesnake dropped from sight.
At last, in the valley beyond, the half-way house, dinner and a change of horses were reached. The forest swept down in an unbroken tide to the porch of the isolated roadside tavern; a swift stream filled the wooden structure with the ceaseless murmur of water. In the dusty, gold gloom of a spacious stable Gordon unhitched his team. Outside, in a wooden trough, he splashed his hands and face, then entered the dining-room.
A long table was occupied by an industrious company that broke the absorbed silence only by explosive requests for particularized dishes. Above the table hovered the wife of the proprietor, constantly waving a fly brush—streamers of colored paper fastened to a slender stick—above the heads of her husband and guests.
Gordon Makimmon ate largely and rapidly, ably seconded by the strange passenger and Buckley Simmons. The priest, Merlier, ate sparingly, in an absent, perfunctory manner. Lettice Hollidew, at the opposite end of the table, displayed the generous but dainty appetite of girlhood. The coat to her suit, with a piece of lace pinned about the collar, and a new, flat leather bag with a silver initial, hung from the back of her chair.
They again listlessly took their places in the stage. Buckley Simmons emulated the stranger in lighting a mahogany-colored cigar with an ornamental band which Buckley moved toward his lips before the swiftly approaching conflagration. Gordon drove with his mind pleasantly vacant, lulled by the monotonous miles of road flickering through his vision, the shifting forms of distant peaks, virid vistas, nearby trees and bushes, all saturated in the slumberous, yellow, summer heat.
Gradually the aspect of their surroundings changed, the forms of the mountains grew bolder, streams raced whitely over broken, rocky beds; the ranks of the forest closed up, only a rare trail broke the road. The orderly farmhouses, the tilled fields, disappeared; a rare cabin, roughly constructed of unbarked logs, dominated a parched patch, cut from the heart-breaking tangle of the wild, a thread of smoke creeping from a precarious chimney above the far, unbroken canopy of living green. Children with matted hair, beady-eyed like animals, in bag-like slips, filled the doorways; adults, gaunt-jawed and apathetic, straightened momentarily up from their toil with the stubborn earth.
At the sharpest ascent yet encountered Gordon again left the stage. Buckley Simmons recalled a short cut through the wood, and noisily entreated Lettice Hollidew to accompany him.
"It's awfully pretty," he urged, "and easy; no rocks to cut your shoes. I'll go ahead with a stick to look out for snakes."
She shuddered charmingly at the final item, and vowed she would not go a step. But he persisted, and in the end persuaded her. The stranger continued unmoved in his place; Merlier shifted not a pound's weight, but sat with a cold, indifferent face turned upon the straining horses.
Gordon walked ahead, whistling under his breath, and, with a single skilful twist, he rolled a cigarette from a muslin bag of tobacco labeled Green Goose.
The short cut into which Buckley and Lettice Hollidew disappeared refound the road, Gordon knew, over a mile above; and he was surprised, shortly, to see the girl's white waist moving rapidly into the open. She was alone, breathing in excited gasps, which she struggled to subdue. Her face that five minutes before had been so creamily, placidly composed was now hotly red; her eyes shone with angry, unshed tears.
Gordon's lips formed a silent exclamation ... Buckley evidently had made an error in judgment. Lettice stepped out into the road, and, plainly unwilling to encounter the questioning eyes in the stage, walked rigidly beside Gordon. Behind the obvious confusion, the hurt surprise of her countenance, an unexpected, dormant quality had been stirred into being. The crimson flood in her cheeks had stained more than her clear skin—it had colored her gracile and candid girlhood so that it would never again be pellucid; into it had been spilled some of the indelible dye of woman.
Gordon Makimmon gazed with newly-awakened interest at Lettice; for the first time he thought of her as other than a school-girl; for the first time he discovered in her the potent, magnetic, disturbing quality of sex. Buckley Simmons had clumsily forced it into consciousness. A fleeting, unformulated regret enveloped him in the shadow of its melancholy, an intangible, formless sorrow at the swift passage of youth, the inevitable lapse of time. A mounting anger at Buckley possessed him ... she had been in his, Gordon Makimmon's, care. The anger touched his pride, his self-esteem, and grew cold, deliberate: he watched with a contracted jaw for Simmons' appearance.
"Why," he exclaimed, in a lowered voice, "that lown tore your pretty shirtwaist!"
"He had no reason at all," she protested; "it was just horrid." A little shiver ran over her. "He ... he held me and kissed ... hateful."
"I'll teach him to keep his kissing where it's liked," Gordon proclaimed. His instinctively theatrical manner diminished not a jot the menace of the threat.
"Oh! please, please don't fight." She turned a deeply concerned countenance upon him. "That would hurt me very much more—"
"It won't be a fight," he reassured her, "only a little hint, something for Buck to think about. No one will know." He could not resist adding, "Most people go a good length before fighting with me."
"I have heard that you are awfully—" she hesitated, then, "brave."
"It was 'ugly' you heard," he quickly supplied the pause. "But that's not true; I don't fight like some men, just for a good time. Why, in the towns over the West Virginia line they fight all night; they'll fight—kill each other—for two bits, or a drink of liquor.... There's Buckley now, coming in above."
Buckley Simmons entered the road from a narrow trail a number of yards ahead of the stage. He tramped heavily, holding a hickory switch in one hand, cutting savagely at the underbrush. The stage leisurely caught up to him until the horses' heads were opposite his thickset form. Gordon, from the other side of the team, swung himself into his seat. He grasped the whip, and, leaning out, swept the heavy leather thong in a vicious circle. It whistled above the horses, causing them to plunge, and the lash, stopped suddenly, drew across Buckley Simmons' face. For an instant his startled countenance was white, and then it was wet, gleaming and scarlet. He pressed his hands to his mouth, and stumbled confused into the ditch.
Gordon stopped the stage. Merlier gave vent to a sibilant exclamation, and Lattice Hollidew covered her eyes. The stranger sprang to the road, and hurried to the injured man's side. Gordon got down slowly. "Where did it get him?" he inquired, with a shallow show of concern. He regarded with indifferent eyes the gaping cut across Simmons' jaw, while the stranger was converting a large linen handkerchief into a ready bandage.
Buckley, in stammering, shocked rage, began to curse Gordon's clumsiness, and, in his excitement, the wound bled more redly. "You will have to keep quiet," he was told, "for this afternoon anyhow."
"I'm not a 'dam' blind bat," Gordon informed his victim in a rapid undertone; "my eyes are sharper than usual to-day." Above the stained bandage Simmons' gaze was blankly enraged. "That won't danger you none," Gordon continued, in louder, apparently unstudied tones; "but you can't kiss the girls for a couple of weeks."
Buckley Simmons was assisted into the rear seat; Lettice sat alone, her face hidden by the flowery rim of her hat; Merlier was silent, indifferent, bland. The way grew increasingly wilder, and climbed and climbed; at their back dipped and spread mile upon mile of unbroken hemlock; the minute clearings, the solitary cabins, were lost in the still expanse of tree tops; the mountain towered blue, abrupt, before them. The stranger consulted a small map. "This is Buck Mountain," he announced rather than queried; "Greenstream Village is beyond, west from here, with the valley running north and south."
"You have got us laid out right," Gordon assented; "this all's not new to you." It was as close to the direct question as Gordon Makimmon could bring himself. And, in the sequel, it proved the wisdom of his creed; for, obviously, the other avoided the implied query. "The Government prints a good map," he remarked, and turned his shoulder squarely upon any prolongation of the conversation.
They were now at the summit of Buck Mountain, but dense juniper thickets hid from them any extended view. After a turn, over the washed, rocky road, the Greenstream Valley lay outspread below.
The sun was lowering, and the shadow of the western range swept down the great, somber, wooded wall towering against an illimitable vault of rosy light; the lengthening shadows of the groves of trees on the lower slope fell into the dark, cool, emerald cleft. It was scarcely three fields across the shorn, cultivated space to the opposite, precipitous barrier; between, the valley ran narrow and rich into a faint, broken haze of peaks thinly blue on either hand. And, held in the still green heart of that withdrawn, hidden space, the village lay along its white highway.
The stage dropped with short, sharp rushes down the winding road; the houses lost the toy-like aspect of distance; cowbells clashed faintly; a dog's bark quivered, suspended in hushed space. The stage passed the first, scattered houses, and was speedily in the village: each dwelling had, behind a white picket fence, a strip of sod and a tangle of simple, gay flowers—scarlet, white, purple and yellow, now coated with a fine, chalky, summer dust. The dwellings were, for the most part, frame, with a rare structure of brick under mansard slates green with moss. The back yards were fenced from the fields, on which hay had been cut and stood in high ricks, now casting long, mauve shadows over the close, brilliant green. The stage passed the white board structure of the Methodist Church, and stopped before the shallow portico of the post-office.
A small, familiar group awaited the arrival of the mail; and from it several figures detached themselves. The postmaster stepped forward, and assisted Gordon in unfastening the mailbags; a clerk from Valentine Simmons' store, in shirtsleeves elaborately restrained by pink bowed elastics, inquired for a package by express; and Pompey Hollidew pushed impatiently forward, apparently anxious for a speedy view of his daughter. This laudable assumption was, however, immediately upset by the absent nod he bestowed upon Lettice, and the evident interest and relief with which he turned to the stranger descending from the stage.
"Mr. Hollidew?" the latter inquired, with ill-concealed surprise.
Pompey Hollidew, the richest man in Greenstream, wore—as was customary with him—a crumpled yellow shirt, open at his stringy throat, and innocent of tie; his trousers, one time lavender, had faded to a repulsive, colorless hue, and hung frayed about cheap, heavy shoes fastened by copper rivets. An ancient cutaway of broadcloth, spotted and greenish, with an incomplete mustering of buttons, drooped about his heavy, bowed shoulders; while a weather-beaten derby, seemingly unbrushed for countless, grimy years, completed his forlorn adornment.
His face was long, with vertical, pallid folds gathered loosely into a chin frosted with unkempt silver; his mouth was lipless, close, shadowed by an overhanging, swollen nose; and, from beneath deep, troubled brows, pale blue eyes set close together regarded life skeptically, intently, with appalling avidity, veiled yet discernible.
He disappeared, clutching the stranger's sleeve, with an effort at geniality. Simmons' clerk ruefully tested the weight of a small, heavily nailed box.
Lettice Hollidew slowly assembled her traveling effects. It was evident that she wished to say something to Gordon, for she lingered, patently playing with her gloves, directing at him bright, nervous glances from under the straw brim of her hat. But she was forced to depart in silence, for Buckley Simmons, in reply to the queries of the cause of his accident, launched upon a loud, angry explanation of the obvious aspect of the incident.
"The clumsy yap!" he pointedly exclaimed.
Gordon entered the group of which Buckley was the hub. "It was too bad to spoil Buck for the girls," he pronounced coolly; "but he'll be after them again in a couple of weeks."
He gazed with level disdain into the tempest gathering in Simmons' eyes above the dark, spotted handkerchief. He paused, deliberately insolent, challenging a rejoinder, until, none breaking the strained silence, he swung about, and, at the horses' heads, led them to their stabling at Peterman's Hotel. He passed the unpainted, wooden front of the office of the Greenstream Bugle; the house of Senator Themeny in its lindens on a spreading lawn; on the opposite side the mellow brick face of the Courthouse under towering poplars, and Valentine Simmons' store.
Gordon stopped at the latter on his way home. It was a long, shedlike structure with a false facade; before it, elevated a man's height from the road, was the broad platform where the mountain wagons unloaded their merchandise; on the side facing the Courthouse ran a wooden hitching rail. Inside, on the left, Simmons' private office was shut in glass from the main floor of the store; long counters led back into a semi-obscurity, where a clerk was lighting a row of swinging kerosene lamps.
"Chalk them up, Sampson," Gordon carelessly told the clerk who wrapped up his purchases. "How much are those?" he added, indicating a pair of women's low white shoes.
"Four. They're real buck, and a topnotch article. Nothing better comes."
Gordon turned them over in his hand; they would, he thought, just fit Clare; she liked pretty articles of attire; she had not been so well lately. Clare was a faithful sister. "Just add them to the bundle," he directed in a lordly manner.
The clerk hesitated, and glanced toward the private office, where Simmons' head could be seen pinkly bald. "Do you think you'd better, Gordon?" he asked; "the boss has been crabbed lately about some of the old accounts, and yours has waited as long as any. I wouldn't get nothing to catch his eye—"
"Add the shoes to my bundle," Gordon repeated with a narrowing gaze; "I always ask for the advice I need."
Outside he endeavored to recall when he had last paid anything on his account at Simmons' store. This was the last week in June ... had he paid any in April? in November? He was not able to remember the occasion of his last settlement. He must attend to that; he had other obligations, too, small but long overdue. He cursed the fluid quality of his wage, forever flowing through his fingers. He must apportion his expenditures more carefully; or, better yet, give all his money to Clare; the high-power rifle he had purchased in Stenton the year before had crippled their resources; his last Christmas present to Clare had been a heavy drain; he had not yet recovered from the generous funeral he had given their mother.
He was unaccustomed to such considerations. They interfered with the large view he held of himself, of his importance, his deserts; they limited his necessity for a natural indifference to penny matters; and he dismissed them with an uneasy movement of his shoulders.
He passed the discolored, plaster bulk of the Presbyterian Church, the drug store and dwelling of Dr. Pelliter, and was on the outskirts of the village. The shadow of the western range had now slipped across the valley and nearly climbed the opposite wall; lavender scarfs of mist veiled the far, jumbled peaks in the darkling rift; slim, swaying columns of smoke from the clustered chimneys of Greenstream towered dizzily through the shaded air to where, high above, they were transformed to gold by the last, up-flung rays of the sun.
A smooth, conical hill rose sharply to the left, momentarily shutting out the valley; and beyond, at the foot of a steep declivity, stood the Makimmon dwelling. Originally a four-square, log house, the logs had been covered by boards, and to its present, irregular length, one room in width, had been added an uneven roofed porch broadside on a narrow lip of sod by a wide, shallow stream. An indifferent stand of corn held precariously to the sharp slope from the public road; an unkempt cow grazed the dank sod by a primitive well sweep; a heap of tin cans, bright or rusted, their fading paper labels loose and littering the grass, had been untidily accumulated at a back door.
Gordon passed about the end of his dwelling to the side that faced the water. A wave of hot air, a heavy, greasy odor and the sputtering of boiling fat, swept out from the kitchen. He filled a tin basin on the porch from a convenient bucket of water, and made a hasty toilet.
Clare paused at the door, a long handled spoon in her attenuated grasp; she was an emaciated woman of thirty, with prominent cheek bones, a thin, sensitive nose, and a colorless mouth set in a harsh line by excessive physical suffering. There was about her, in spite of her gaunt features and narrow, stooping frame, something appealingly simple, girlish. A blue ribband made a gay note in her faded, scant hair; she had pinned a piece of draggled color about her throat. "I've been looking for you the half hour," she said querulously; "draw up t' the table."
"I stopped at Simmons', and brought you a pretty, too; it's in the bundle."
"Gordon!" she exclaimed, as he unwrapped the shoes, "they are elegant! Had you ought to have got them? We need so much—mosquito bar, the flies are terrible wearing, the roof's crying for tin, and—"
"You're as bad as Sampson," he interrupted her, almost shortly; "we've got to have pleasures as well as profits. And too," he directed, "don't put those shoes away like you did that watered silk shawl I got you in Stenton. Wear them ... to-night."
"Oh, no!" she cried, "not just setting around; they'll get smudged. Not to-night, Gordon; maybe to-morrow, or when I go to church."
"Tonight," he repeated inexorably.
A bare, stained table with spreading legs pinned through the oak board was ranged against a bench on the kitchen wall, where, in the watery light of a small, glass lamp, Gordon and Clare Makimmon ate their supper of flat, dark, salt-raised bread, strips of bacon and dripping greens, and swimming, purplish preserves.
After supper they sat on the narrow porch, facing the dark, whispering stream, the night pouring into the deep, still valley. A cold air rose from the surface of the water, and Clare wrapped a worn piece of blanket about her shoulders. At frequent intervals she gazed with palpable delight at her feet, shod in the "real buck." A deep, melancholy chorus of frogs rose from the creek, mingling with the high, metallic shrilling of crickets, the reiterated calling of whippoorwills from a thicket of pines.
Gordon Makimmon settled into a waking somnolence, lulled by the familiar, profound, withdrawn repose of the valley. He could distinguish Clare's form weaving back and forth in a low rocker; the moonless, summer night embraced, hid, all; there were no lights in the house at his back, no lights visible in the village beyond; only the impenetrable blackness of the opposite range and the abrupt band of stars.
Suddenly Clare's even breathing, the tracking sound of the chair, ceased; she drew two or three sharp, gasping inspirations. Gordon, instantly alert, rose and stood over her. "Is it bad to-night again?" he asked solicitously; "shall I get you the ginger water?"
"None ... in the house," she articulated laboriously; "pretty ... bad."
"No, don't leave me; just set; I'll be better in a spell." He fetched her a glass of water, from which she gulped spasmodically, clutching with cold, wet fingers to his wrist. Then the tension relaxed, her breathing grew more normal. "It's by now," she proclaimed unsteadily.
"I'm going back the road for a little ginger," he told her from the edge of the porch; "we'd best have the bottle filled."
The drug store was dark, closed for the night, and Gordon continued to Simmons' store. The row of swinging, kerosene lamps cast a thick yellow radiance over the long counters, the variously laden shelves. The store was filled with the odor of coffee, the penetrating smell of print muslins.
"Mr. Simmons wants you a minute in the office," the clerk responded indirectly to his request for ginger. Gordon instinctively masked a gathering premonition of trouble. "Fill her up the while," he demanded, pushing forward the empty bottle.
Valentine Simmons was a small man with a pinkly bald head ornamented with fluffs of white hair like cotton wool above his ears, and precise, shaven lips forever awry in the pronouncing of rallying or benevolent sentences; these, with appropriate religious sentiments, formed nine-tenths of his discourse, through which the rare words that revealed his purposes, his desires, flashed like slender and ruthless knives.
He was bending over a tall, narrow ledger when Gordon entered the office; but he immediately closed the book and swung about in his chair. The small enclosure was hot, and filled with the odor of scorching metal, the buzzing of a large, blundering fly.
"Ah!" Valentine Simmons exclaimed pleasantly; "our link with the outer world, our faithful messenger.... I wanted to see you; ah, yes." He turned over the pages of a second, heavier ledger at his hand. "Here it is—Gordon Makimmon, good Scotch Presbyterian name. Five hundred and thirty dollars," he said suddenly, unexpectedly.
Gordon was unable to credit his senses, the fact that this was the sum of his indebtedness; it was an absurd mistake, and he said so.
"Everything listed against its date," the other returned imperturbably, "down to a pair of white buck shoes for a lady to-day—a generous present for some enslaver."
"My sister," Gordon muttered ineptly. Five hundred and thirty dollars, he repeated incredulously to himself. Five hundred.... "How long has it been standing?" he asked.
The other consulted the book. "Two years, a month and four days," he returned exactly.
"But no notice was served on me; nothing was said about my bill."
"Ah, we don't like to annoy old friends; just a little word at necessary intervals."
Old rumors, stories, came to Gordon's memory in regard to the long credit extended by Simmons to "old friends," the absence of any rendered accounts; and, in that connection, the thought of the number of homesteads throughout the county that had come, through forced sales, into the storekeeper's hands. The circumstantial details of these events had been bitten by impassioned oaths into his mind, together with the memory of the dreary ruin that had settled upon the evicted.
"I can give you something day after to-morrow, when I am paid."
"Entirely satisfactory; three hundred—no, for you two hundred and fifty dollars will be sufficient; the rest another time ... whenever you are able."
"I get two dollars and fifty cents a day," Gordon reminded him, with a dry and bitter humor, "and I have a month's pay coming."
Valentine Simmons had not, apparently, heard him. "Two hundred and fifty only," he repeated; "we always like to accommodate old friends, especially Presbyterian friends."
"I can give you fifty dollars," Gordon told him, at once loud and conciliatory; wondering, at the same time, how, if he did, Clare and himself would manage. He had to pay for his board in Stenton; the doctor for Clare had to be met—fifty cents in hand a visit, or the visits ceased.
"Have your little joke, then get out that hidden stocking, pry up that particular fire brick ... only two hundred and fifty now ... but—now."
A hopeless feeling of impotence enveloped Gordon: the small, dry man before him with the pink, bald head shining in the lamplight, the set grin, was as remote from any appeal as an insensate figure cast in metal, a painted iron man in neat, grey alpaca, a stiff, white shirt with a small blue button and an exact, prim muslin bow.
Still, "I'll give you fifty, and thirty the next month. Why, damn it, I'll pay you off in the year. I'm not going to run away. I have steady work; you know what I am getting; you're safe."
"But," Valentine Simmons lifted a hand in a round, glistening cuff, "is anything certain in this human vale? Is anything secure that might hang on the swing of a ... whip?"
With an unaccustomed, violent effort of will Gordon Makimmon suppressed his angry concern at the other's covert allusion: outside his occupation as stage driver he was totally without resources, without the ability to pay for a bag of Green Goose tobacco. The Makimmons had never been thrifty ... in the beginning they had let their wide share of valley holding grow deep in thicket, where they might hunt the deer, their streams course through a woven wild where pheasant might feed and fall to their accurate guns.
"Two hundred and fifty dollars," Valentine Simmons repeated pleasantly.
"I haven't got it, and can't get it, all at once," Gordon reiterated in a conciliatory manner. Then his straining, chafing pride, his assaulted self-esteem, overflowed a little his caution. "And you know it," he declared in a loud, ugly voice; "you know the size of every pocketbook in Greenstream; I'll bet, by God, you and old man Hollidew know personal every copper Indian on the pennies of the County."
Valentine Simmons smiled at this conception. Gordon regarded him with hopeless, growing anger: Why, the old screw took that for a compliment!
"This is Wednesday," the storekeeper pronounced; "say, by Saturday ... the sum I mentioned."
"It can't be done." The last vestiges of Gordon's control were fast melting in the heat of his passion. Simmons turned to the narrow ledger, picking up a pen. "When you bought," he remarked precisely, over his shoulders, "the white shoes and ammunition and silk fishing lines—didn't you intend to pay for them?"
"Yes, I did, and will. And when you said, 'Gordon, help yourself, load up, try those flies'; and 'Never mind the bill now, some other time, old friends pay when they please,' didn't you know I was getting in over my head? didn't you encourage it ... so you could get judgment on me? sell me out? Though what you settled on me for, what you see in my ramshackle house and used up ground, is over me."
Simmons flashed a momentary, crafty glance at the other. "Never overlook a location on good water," he advised.
Gordon Makimmon stood speechless, trembling with rage. For a moment Simmons' pen, scratching over the page, made the only sound in the small enclosure, then, "The provident man," he continued, "is always made a target for the abuse of the—the thoughtless. But he usually comes to the assistance of his unfortunate brother. You might arrange a loan."
"Why, so I might," Gordon assented in a thick voice; "I could get it from your provident friend, Hollidew—three hundred dollars, say, at hell's per cent; a little lien on my property. 'Never overlook a situation on good water.'
"By God!" he exclaimed, suddenly prescient, "but I've done for myself."
And he thought of Clare, of Clare fighting eternally that sharp pain in her side, her face now drawn and glistening with the sweat of suffering, now girlishly gay. He thought of her fragile hands so impotent to cope with the bitter poverty of the mountains. What, with their home, her place of retreat and security, gone, and—it now appeared more than probable—his occupation vanished, would she do?
"I've done for myself, for her," he repeated, subconsciously aloud, in a harsh whisper. He stood rigid, unseeing; a pulse beat visibly in the brown throat by the collarless and faded shirt. Simmons regarded him with a covert gaze, then, catching the attention of the clerk in the store outside, beckoned slightly with his head. The clerk approached, vigorously brushing the counters with a turkey wing.
Gordon Makimmon's gaze concentrated on the storekeeper. "You're almost an old man," he said, in a slow, unnatural voice; "you have been robbing men and women of their homes for a great many years, and you are still alive. It's surprising that some one has not killed you."
"I have been shot at," Valentine Simmons replied; "behind my back. The men who fail are like that as a rule."
"I'm not like that," Gordon informed him; "it's pretty well known that I stand square in front of the man I'm after. Don't you think, this time, you have made a little mistake? Hadn't I better give you that fifty, and something more later?"
Valentine Simmons rose from his chair and turned, facing Gordon. His muslin bow had slipped awry on the polished, immaculate bosom of his shirt, and it gave him a slightly ridiculous, birdlike expression. He gazed coldly, with his thin lips firm and hands still, into the other's threatening, virulent countenance. "Two hundred and fifty dollars," he insisted.
The thought of Clare, betrayed, persisted in Gordon's mind, battling with his surging temper, his unreasoning resentment. Valentine Simmons stood upright, still, against the lamplight. It was plain that he was not to be intimidated. An overwhelming wave of misery, a dim realization of the disastrous possibilities of his folly, inundated Gordon, drowning all other considerations. He turned, and walked abruptly from the office into the store. There the clerk placed on the counter the bottle, filled and wrapped. In a petty gust of rage, like a jet of steam escaping from a defective boiler, he swept the bottle to the floor, where he ground the splintering fragments of glass, the torn and stained paper, into an untidy blot.
Outside, the village, the Greenstream Valley, was folded in still, velvety dark. He crossed the street, and sat on one of the iron benches placed under the trees on the Courthouse lawn. He could see a dull, reddish light shining through the dusty window of the Bugle office. Shining like that, through his egotistical pride, the facts of his failure and impotence tormented him. It hurt him the more that he had been, simply, diddled, no better than a child in Simmons' astute, practised hands. The latter's rascality was patent, but Simmons could not have been successful unabetted by his own blind negligence. The catastrophe that had overtaken him rankled in his most vulnerable spot—his self-esteem.
He suffered inarticulately, an indistinguishable shape in the soft, summer gloom; about his feet, in the lush grass, the greenish-gold sparks of the fireflies quivered; above the deep rift of the valley the stars were like polished silver coins.
Vaguely, and then more strongly, out of a chaos of vain, sick regrets, his combativeness, his deep-lying, indomitable determination, asserted itself—he would not fall like an over ripe apple into Simmons' complacent, waiting grasp. But to get, without resources, two hundred and fifty dollars by Saturday, was a preposterous task. Outside his, Clare's, home, he had nothing to sell; and to sell that now, he realized with a spoken oath, would be to throw it away—the vultures, Hollidew and Co., would have heard of his necessity, and regulate their action, the local supply of available currency, accordingly.
There was no possible way of earning such a sum in four days; there was little more chance, he realized sardonically, of stealing it.... Sometimes large sums of money were won in a night's gambling in the lumber and mining towns over the West Virginia line. But, for that, he would require capital; he would have his wages to-morrow; however, if he gambled with that and lost, Clare and himself would face immediate, irredeemable ruin. He dismissed that consideration from the range of possibilities. But it returned, hovered on the border of his thoughts—he might risk a part of his capital, say thirty dollars. If he lost that they would be little worse off than they were at present; while if he won ... he might easily win.
He mentally arranged the details, assuring himself, the while, that he was only toying with the idea.—He would pay the customary substitute to drive the stage to Stenton, and cross Cheap Mountain on foot; by dark he would be in Sprucesap, play that night, and return the following day, Friday.
With an effort he still put the scheme from his thoughts; but, while he kept it in abeyance, nothing further occurred to him. That gave him a possible reprieve; all else offered sure disaster. He rose, and walked slowly toward his home, revolving, testing, the various aspects of the trip to Sprucesap; at once deciding upon that venture, and repeating to himself the incontestable fact of its utter folly.
The dark was intense, blue-black, about his dwelling. He struck a match at the edge of the porch, a pointed, orange exclamation on the impenetrable gloom. Clare, weary of waiting, had gone to bed; her door was shut, her window tightly closed. The invisible stream gurgled sadly past its banks, the whippoorwills throbbed with ceaseless, insistent passion.
A sudden, jumbled vision of the past woven about this dwelling, his home, wheeled through Gordon's mind, scenes happy and unhappy; prevailing want and slim, momentary plenty; his father dead, in his coffin with a stony, pinched countenance, a jaw still unrelaxed above the bright flag that draped his nondescript uniform. Later events followed—his elder, vanished brother bullying him; the brief romance of his sister's courtship; the high, strident voice of his mother, that had always reminded him of her angry red nose—events familiar, sordid, unlovely, but now they seemed all of a piece of desirable, melancholy happiness; they endowed with a hitherto unsuspected value every board of the rough footing of the Makimmon dwelling, every rood of the poor, rocky soil, the weedy grass. He said aloud, in a subdued, jarring voice, "By God, but Simmons won't get it!" But the dreary whippoorwills, the feverish crickets, offered him no confirmation, no assurance.
At noon, on the day following, he stood on the top of Cheap Mountain, gazing back into the deep, verdant cleft of Greenstream. From Cheap the reason for its name was clear—it flowed now direct, now turning, in a vivid green stream along the bases of its mountainous ranges; it flowed tranquil and dark and smooth between banks of tangled saplings, matted, multifarious underbrush, towering, venerable trees. It slipped like a river, bearing upon its balmy surface the promise of asylum, of sleep, of plenty, through the primitive, ruthless forest, which in turn pressed upon it everywhere the menace of its oblivion, its fierce, strangling life.
He saw below him stretches of the steep, rocky trail by which he had mounted with the mounting sun; both had now reached the zenith of their day's journey; from there he would sink into the shadow, the secretiveness, of night.... Greenstream village lay twenty-eight miles behind; it was seventeen more to Sprucesap: he hurried forward.
In his pocket rested not the thirty dollars, to which he had limited himself in thought, but his entire month's salary,—he might lose all by the lack of a paltry dollar or so.
He was dressed with more care than on the day previous: he wore a dark suit, the coat to which now swung on a stick over his shoulder, a rubber collar, a tie of orange brocade erected on a superstructure of cardboard; his head was covered by a hard, black felt hat, pushed back from his sweating brow, and his trousers hung from a pair of obviously home-knitted, yarn suspenders. He shifted the stick from right to left. His revolver dragged chafing against a leg, and he removed it and thrust it into a pocket of the coat.
He followed by turn an old rutted postroad and faint, forest trails, and shortened distances by breaking through the trackless underbrush, watching subconsciously for rattlesnakes. The sun slowly declined, its rays fell diagonally, lengthening, through the trees; in a glade the air seemed filled with gold dust; the sky burned in a single flame of apricot. The air, rather than grow dark, appeared to thicken with raw color, with mauve and ultramarine, silver and cinnabar.
When he arrived at the little, deeply-grassed plain that held Sprucesap, it was bathed in a flaring after-glow, a magical, floating light. A double row of board structures faced each other across a street of raw clay and narrow, wood sidewalks; they were, for the most part, unpainted, hasty erections of a single story. A building labelled the Steel Spud Hotel was more pretentious. The others were eating houses, stores with small windows filled with a threatening miscellany—revolvers, leather slung shots and brass knuckles, besides lumbering boots, gaudy Mackinaw jackets, gleaming knives and ammunition. Beyond the street a single car track ran precariously over the green, and ended abruptly, without roadbed or visible terminus; at one side was a rude platform, on the other a great pile of bark, rotting from long exposure—the result of some artificial condition of the market, the spite of powerful and vindictive merchants.
A second hotel stood alone, beyond the car tracks, and there Gordon removed the marks of his journey, resettled his collar and the resplendent tie. He felt in his coat for the revolver, in order to transfer it to a more convenient pocket.... Its bulk, apparently, evaded his fingers. His search quickened—it had gone! He had lost it somewhere on his long, devious passage of Cheap Mountain. Without it he would be in the power of any spindling gambler who faced a dishonest ace. It would be necessary to procure another weapon before proceeding with his purpose ... ten dollars, perhaps fifteen; revolvers were highly priced in the turbulent distant wild. Could he afford to lose that amount from his slender store of dollars? Intact it was absurdly inadequate. He debated the choice—on one hand the peril of gambling unarmed, on the other his desperate need for money. Once more he considered Clare: in the end his arrogance of manhood brought a decision—he would preserve the money for play. He was, he thought insolently of himself, quick as a copperhead snake, and as dangerous. After supper he sat on the porch, twisting and consuming cigarettes, waiting for the night.
Large kerosene lamps dilated by tin reflectors lit the front of the Steel Spud. In their radiance he saw the gaily-attired form of a woman. She wore a white hat, with a sweeping, white ostrich plume, which hid her face with the exception of a retreating chin and prominent, carmine lips; while a fat, unwieldy body was covered by a waist of Scotch plaid silk—lines and squares of black and primary colors—and a short, scant skirt of blue broadcloth that, drawn up by her knees, exposed small feet in white kid and heavy ankles.
Gordon Makimmon paused, and she leaned forward to meet his challenging gaze. "Just in from camp?" she inquired, in a voice hoarse, repellent, conciliatory, and with a mechanical grimace which he identified as a smile. He stopped at the invitation in her tones, and nodded. "And looking for a good time," he further informed her; "perhaps a little game."
"Stop right where you are," she declared. "You've found them both." He mounted to the porch, and shook her extended hand, cushioned with fat, and oddly damp and lifeless. He could see her countenance now—it was plaster white with insignificant features and rose like an amorphous column from a swollen throat, a nose like a dab of putty, eyes obscured by drooping, pouchy lids, leaden-hued.
"It's a good thing you seen me," she told him, endeavoring to establish a relationship of easy confidence, "instead of them diseased Mags down the street. Shall we have a little drink upstairs?"
"It's early," he negligently interposed; "how about a turn of the cards first? Do you know any one who would take a hand?"
"I got my friend here, and there's a gentleman at the hotel would accommodate us. They're inside." She rose, and moved toward the door, waving him to follow. Her slow, clumsy body and chinless, full-lidded head reminded him of a turtle; she gave a still deeper amphibious impression—there was something markedly cold-blooded, inhuman, deleted, in her incongruous, gaudy bulk—an impression of a low, primitive organism, the subtle smell of primal mud.
"Jake!" she called at the entrance to the crude hotel office; "Jake! Mr. Ottinger! here's a gentleman wants a little game."
Two men hastily rose and advanced toward the door. The first, Jake, was small, with the narrow, high shoulders, the long, pale face, the long, pale hands, of a cripple. The other, a young man with a sodden countenance discolored by old purplish bruises, wore a misfitting suit that drew across heavy, bowed shoulders, thick, powerful arms. He regarded Gordon Makimmon with no light dawning upon his lowering face; no greeting disturbed the dark, hard line of his mouth. But the other, with an apparently hearty, stereotyped flow of words, applauded Gordon's design, approved his qualities of sportsmanship, courage.
"Give me the man from the woods for an open-handed sport," he vociferated; "he ain't a fool neither, he's wise to the time of night. The city crowd, the wise ones, are the real ringside marks."
"Come up to my room," the woman directed from the foot of a stairway; "where no amateur John Condons will tell us how to play our cards. I got some good liquor, too."
In her room she lit a small lamp, which proved insufficient, and Mr. Ottinger brought a second from his quarters. Gordon found himself in a long, narrow chamber furnished with two wooden beds, two identical, insecure bureaus, stands with wash basins and pitchers, and a table. The floor, the walls, the ceiling, were resinous yellow pine, and gave out a hot, dry smell from which there was no escape but the door, for the room was without other outlet.
A preliminary drink was indispensable; and, served in two glasses and a cracked toothbrush mug—Mr. Ottinger elected to imbibe his "straight" from the bottle—it was drunk with mutual assurances of tender regard. "Happy days," the woman pronounced. Only three chairs were available, and after some shuffling, appropriate references to "honest and plain" country accommodations, the table was ranged by a bed on which Em—"Call me Em," she had invited Gordon, "let's be real homelike,"—seated herself.
The smaller man ostentatiously broke the seal from a new pack of cards, dexterously spreading them across the table. His hands, Gordon saw, were extraordinarily supple, and emanated a sickly odor of glycerine. His companion's were huge and misshapen, but they, too, were surprisingly deft, quick.
"What'll it be?" Jake demanded; "Jackpots; stud; straight draw—"
"Hell, let's throw cold hands," Mr. Ottinger interrupted, "chop the trimmings. We're here for the stuff, ain't we?" He was immediately reprehended for his brusque, unsociable manner.
"He's got the idea, though," Gordon approved; "we're here for the stuff." It was finally arranged that poker hands should be dealt, a draw allowed, and the cards shown, the highest cards to take the visible money. "A dollar a go?" Jake queried, cutting for the deal. On the bed by the woman's side was a tarnished, silver bag, with an ornate, meretricious clasp; her two companions produced casual rolls of paper money; and Gordon detached five dollars from the slender amount of his wage, his paramount capital. On a washstand, within easy reach, stood the bottle of whisky flanked by the motley array of drinking vessels.
Gordon Makimmon's five dollars vanished in as many minutes. Oppressed by consuming anxiety he could scarcely breathe in the close, stale air. Em gambled with an affectation of careless indifference; she asked in an off-hand manner for cards; paid her losses with a loud laugh. Jake invariably gave one rapid glance at his hand, and then threw it down upon the table without separating his discard. Mr. Ottinger, it was plain, was superstitious—he edged his hand open by imperceptible degrees until the denominations of the cards were visible, then hurriedly closed them from sight; often he didn't look at his draw until all the hands were exposed. He wrinkled his face in painful efforts of concentration, protruded a thick and unsavory tongue. At the loose corners of Jake's mouth flecks of saliva gathered whitely; in the fleering light of the kerosene the shadows on his face were cobalt. The woman's face shone with drops of perspiration that formed slowly and rolled like a flash over her plastered skin.
Another round of drinks was negotiated, adding to the fiery discomfort of the sealed room, of the dry, dead atmosphere. Gordon won back his five dollars, and gained five more. "Let's make it two a throw," the woman proposed. The thickset, young man remuttered the period that they were there for the stuff. "Otty will have his little joke," she proclaimed.
"It's not funny," he protested seriously.
"Two?" Jake demanded of Gordon. The latter nodded.
Late in the night they were still playing without a change in their positions. Em still perspired; but Mr. Ottinger no longer protruded his tongue, a sullen anger was evident in his every move; Jake's affable flow of conversation was hushed; Gordon's face set. It was, indisputably, not funny—he had won nearly two hundred dollars. "Make it ten?" Jake queried. The others nodded. Now Gordon had two hundred and twenty dollars; an extraordinary, overwhelming luck presided over his cards, he won more frequently than the other three together. A tense silence enveloped the latter: they shuffled, demanded cards, threw down their hands, in a hurried, disorganized fashion. They glanced, each at the other, swiftly; it was evident that a common idea, other than the game, possessed them. Jake hovered a breath longer than necessary over the bottle, then pressed a drink upon Gordon. He refused; this, he recognized, was not a time for dissipation; he needed every faculty.
Two hundred and sixty dollars. The air of suppression, of tension, increased. Gordon's only concern now was to get away, to take the money with him.
Em shuffled in a slipshod, inattentive manner; Mr. Ottinger opened his hand boldly, faced his bad luck with a stony eye; Jake labored under a painful excitement, obviously not connected with his losses; his long, waxy fingers quivered, a feverish point of fire flickered in either cadaverous cheek; his eyes glowed between hollow, sunken temples. "Four," he demanded, with shaking lips. Mr. Ottinger rapped out a request for one. "I'm satisfied," Gordon said.
"Don't that sucker beat hell!" Em declared, the solicitous manner that, earlier in the evening, had marked her manner toward Gordon, carelessly discarded. "I'm taking three." A sudden, visible boredom fell upon her as she glanced at her filled hand. "Leave us double it," she remarked. Gordon nodded, and she threw her hand upon the table; it held four nines. She reached her fat, chalky arm toward the money, but Gordon was before her. "Four queens," he shot out, grasping the crumpled bills.
Em cursed; then followed a short, awkward silence. It was Ottinger's deal, but he did not pick up the scattered cards. Gordon gathered himself alertly, measuring the distance to the door. "I've got enough," he remarked; "I'm going to quit."
"You got enough, all right," Em agreed. "Now, how'd you like to have a real good time?" She disposed herself upon her elbow, so that the sagging bulk of her body was emphasized through its straining apparel; one leg, incredible, leviathan, was largely visible.
"I've had enough," Gordon repeated; "I'll be moving."
Em rose quickly, losing her air of coquetry. Gordon was facing the men, and was unprepared for the heavy blow she dealt upon the back of his neck. "Hang it on him, Otty!" she cried excitedly.
Mr. Ottinger shoved the card table from his path. It was now evident that it was, precisely, to "hang it on" whoever might be elected for that delicate attention which formed Otty's purpose, profession, preoccupation, in life. He was, for a heavy man, active; and, before Gordon Makimmon could put out a protective arm, he returned the latter to the perpendicular with a jarring blow on the chin. Jake whipped out from a place of concealment on his person a plaited leather weapon with a globular end.
It was Jake, Gordon instinctively knew, who threatened him most; he could easily stop the hulking shape before him. He regained his poise, and returned blow for blow with Mr. Ottinger; neither man guarded, both were solely intent upon marking, crippling, the other. A chair fell, sliding across the floor; a washstand collapsed with a splintering crash of china, a miniature flood. Em stood on the outskirts of the conflict, armed with the whisky bottle; Jake crouched watchful with the leather club. Gordon cut his opponent's face with short, vicious jabs; he was, as customary, cold—he saw clearly where every blow fell; he saw Otty's nose grotesquely shapeless and blackened; he felt Otty's teeth cut the skin of his knuckles and break off; he heard his involuntary gasp as he struck him a hammer-like blow over the heart.
Mr. Ottinger, in return, hit him frequently and with effect. Gordon was conscious of a warm, gummy tide spreading over his face, he saw with difficulty through rapidly closing eyes. "For Cri's sake," Otty gasped, "get to him, the town'll be on us."
Em made an ineffectual lunge with the bottle. Gordon swung the point of his elbow into her side, and she sat on the bed with a "G-G-God!" Jake hit him with the club on the shoulder blade; numbness radiated from the struck point; there was a loss of power in the corresponding arm. Jake hit him again, and a stabbing pain entered his side and stayed apparently tangled in splintered bone. He paused for a moment, and all three fell upon him, beating, clubbing, kicking. He fought on, now rapidly losing power. The woman threw herself on his back, forced him to his knees. "Won't none of you do for him?" she complained hysterically. She pressed his head into her breast, and Mr. Ottinger hit him below and just back of his ear. Gordon slipped out full length on the floor.
He was waveringly conscious, but he had lost all interest, all sense of personal connection, with the proceedings. He dully watched Ottinger draw back, tenderly fingering his damaged features; he saw Em breathing stormily, empurpled. Jake, with the crimson flames in his long, pallid mask, the white saliva flecking his jaw, hung over him with a glassy, intent stare.
"Get the stuff," the practical Ottinger urged; "it's the stuff we're after. Don't go bug again."
"Jake don't hear you," Em told him, "he's off. I'm glad the fella's going to be fixed, he jolted me something fierce."
Jake swung the little, flexuous club softly against his palm, and Gordon suddenly realized that the cripple intended to kill him.—That was the lust which transfigured the gambler's countenance, which lit the fires in the deathly cheeks, set the long fingers shaking. Gordon considered the idea, and, obscurely, it troubled him, moved him a space from his apathy. Instinctively, in response to a sudden movement of the figure above him, he drew his arm up in front of his head; and an intolerable pain shot up through his shoulder and flared, blindingly, in his eyes. It pierced his indifference, set in motion his reason, his memory; he realized the necessity, the danger, of his predicament ... the money!—he must guard it, take it back with him. Above, in a heated, orange mist, the woman's face loomed blank and inhuman; farther back Mr. Ottinger's features were indistinctly visible.
He must rise....
His groping hand caught hold of the rung of the chair, and, with herculean labor, he turned and raised himself a fraction from the floor. Jake directed a hasty blow at his head that missed him altogether. His other hand caught the chair, and he dragged himself dizzily into a kneeling posture. A sudden change swept over the three above him.
"Nail him where he is!" Em cried excitedly; "he's getting up on you." Gordon's hands moved uncertainly upward on the chair; his knees rose from the floor. A shower of blows fell on him; the woman beat him with her pudgy fists; Mr. Ottinger was kicking at him; Jake was weeping, and endeavoring to get room in which to swing his club.
Gordon had one foot on the floor.
"Give me a chance at him," Jake implored; "give me a chance. God, if I had a knife."
If they took away the chair, Gordon knew, he was lost. He clung to it; pressed his breast against it; crept upward by means of it, slowly, slowly, through a storm of battering hands. It seemed to him that, in rising, he was shouldering aside the entire weight, the forces, of a universe, bent on his destruction, and against which he was determined to prevail. It was as though his will, the vitality which animated him, which was his soul, stood aside from his beaten and suffering body, and, with a cold, a cruel, detachment, commanded it upright.
The woman's bulk got in Jake's way, and he struck her across the eyes with the back of his hand, consigning her to eternal hell. Mr. Ottinger, confused by the irregularity of the turmoil, worked inefficiently, swinging at random his hard fists, kicking impartially.
Gordon now had both feet upon the floor; he straightened up. For a breath the three stood motionless, livid; and in that instant his hand fell upon the door knob, he staggered back into the hall, carrying with him a vision of his brocaded tie lying upon the floor.
He stumbled hastily down the stairway, and found the narrow porch, the serene, enveloping night; down the street lamps made blots of brightness, but, beyond, the obscurity was profound, unbroken. Wave after wave of nausea swept over him, he clung to a porch support with cold sweat starting through the blood that smeared his countenance, stiffened in his shirt, that was warm upon his side. The sound of footfalls, sharp, repressed voices from above, stirred him into a fresh realization of his precarious position. The gamblers would follow him, rob him with impunity in the shadows of Sprucesap's lawless street, drag him behind the angle of a building, where Jake would have ample scope for the swinging of his leathered lead....
He lurched down to the street, and silently merged into the awaiting night.
At dawn he appeared from a thicket, a mile beyond Sprucesap on the road to Greenstream, and negotiated successfully a ride on a load of fragrant upland hay to a point within a few miles of his destination. His coat, soiled and torn, was buttoned across a bare throat, for his shirt had been ripped into bandages; his face, apparently, had been harrowed for a red planting; he moved awkwardly, breathed with a gasp from a stabbing pain in the side ... but he moved, breathed. He drank with long delight from a sparkling spring. He had the money, two hundred and eighty dollars, safely in his pocket.
The afternoon was waning when he gazed again into the deep, sombrous rift of Greenstream: from where Gordon stood, on the heights, in the flooding sun, it appeared to be already evening below. As he descended the mountainside the cool shadows rose about him, enveloping him in the quietude, the sense of security, which brooded over the withdrawn valley—the resplendent mirage of nature kind, beneficent, the illusion of Nature as a tender and loving parent ... of Nature, as imminent, as automatic, as a landslip crushing a path to the far, secret resting place of its destiny.
Dr. Pelliter's light carriage with its pair of weedy, young horses stood hitched by the road above the Makimmon dwelling; and, on entering the house, Gordon found Clare in bed and Pelliter seated at her side. A gaily-patched quilt hid all but her head. She smiled at Gordon through her pale mask of suffering; but her greeting turned to swift concern at his battered countenance. "An accident," he explained impatiently.
The doctor greeted him seriously. He had, Gordon knew, a sovereign and inevitable remedy for all the ills of the flesh—pain, he argued, and disease were inseparable, subdue the first and the latter ceased to exist as an active ill, and a dexterously wielded hypodermic needle left behind him a trail of narcotized and relieved sufferers. Bottles of patent medicines, exhilarating or numbing as the purchaser might require, lined the shelves of his drug store.
But now his customary, soothing smile was absent, the small, worn case that contained the glittering syringe and minute bottles filled with white or vivid yellow pellets was not to be seen.
"Clare here's gone and got herself real miserable," he stated, rising and beckoning Gordon to follow him to the porch. "She's bad," he pronounced outside; "that pain's got the best of her, and it's getting the best of me. She ought to be cut, but she's so weak, it's gone so long, that I'm kind of slow about opening her. And the truth is, Gordon, if I was successful she wouldn't have a chance of getting well here—it'll take expert nursing, awful nice food; and then, at the shortest, she would be in bed a couple of months. She ought to go to the hospital in Stenton. That's the real truth. I'm telling you the facts, Gordon; we can't handle her here, she'd die on us."
Gordon only half comprehended the other's words—Clare dangerously ill ... a question of dying, hospitals. She had suffered for so long that, without losing his sympathy for her, it had seemed to him her inevitable condition. It had fallen naturally upon him to care for her, guard her against damp, prevent her from lifting objects beyond her strength. These continuous, small attentions held an important place in his existence—he thought about her in a mind devoted substantially to himself, and it brought him a glow of contentment, a pleasant feeling of ministration and importance. It had not occurred to him that Clare might grow worse, that she might, in fact, die. The idea filled him with sudden dismay. His heart contracted with a sharp hurt. "The hospital," he echoed dully, "Stenton."
"By rights," the doctor iterated; "of course we'll do what we can here, she might last for a couple of years more without cutting; and then, again, her heart might just quit. Still—"
"What would the hospital cost?" Gordon asked, almost unaware of having pronounced the words.
"It'd be dear—two hundred and some dollars anyway, and the money on the nail. The nursing would count up; then there would be something for operating, if it was only a little ... a lot of things you don't allow for would turn up."
Two hundred and more dollars! Gordon had a fleeting vision, against the empurpling banks, the dark, sliding water, and the mountainous wall capped with dissolving gold beyond, of a room filled with the hot glow of kerosene lamps; he saw Jake's twitching, murderous countenance above him.... Two hundred dollars! He had two hundred and eighty dollars in his pocket. He had another vision—of Simmons; it was two hundred and fifty dollars that the latter wanted, must have, to-morrow. But Simmons swiftly faded before Clare's need, the pressure of sickness.
"She couldn't go down in the stage," he muttered, "the shaking would kill her before ever she got there."
"I'll drive her to Stenton, Gordon," the doctor volunteered, "if you've got the money handy."
"I've got her," Gordon Makimmon declared grimly.
"I'll take her right to the hospital and give her to the doctor in charge. Everything will be done for her comfort. She has an elegant chance of pulling through, there. And you can see her when you go down with the stage—" Pelliter suddenly stopped; he appeared disconcerted by what he had said.
"Well," Gordon demanded, his attention held by the other's manner, "can't I?"
"You were away from Greenstream yesterday and to-day," the doctor replied evasively, "you didn't hear ... oh, there's nothing in it if you didn't. I heard that Simmons had had you taken off the stage. Did you have trouble with Buckley, cut him with a whip? Buck has been blowing about showing you a thing or two."
A feeling of angry dismay enveloped Gordon. He had recognized, obscurely, that Simmons and old man Hollidew dominated the community, but he had never before come in actual contact with their arbitrary power, he had never before been faced by the overmastering weapon of their material possessions, the sheer weight of their wealth. It stirred him to revolt, elemental and bitter; every instinct rose against the despotic power which threatened to overwhelm him.
"By God!" he exclaimed, "but they will find that I'm no sheep to drive into their lot and shear!"
"Now, about Clare," the doctor interposed.
"When will you come for her?" Gordon inquired. He took from his pocket the roll of money he had won at Sprucesap, and counted two hundred dollars, which he tended to the doctor.
"To-morrow, about seven. Everything will be done for her, Gordon. I reckon that's only an empty splash about the stage."
The dusk had thickened in Clare's room; he could scarcely distinguish her face white against the darkened squares of the quilt. "Whoever will get your supper," she worried, when he had told her; "and the cow'll need bedding, and those cheeses brought in off the roof, and—"
He closed her mouth with a gentle palm. "I've done 'em all a hundred times," he declared. "We're going to get you right, this spell, Clare," he proclaimed; "you'll get professional, real stylish, care at Stenton."
She rose, trembling, on her arms. "Are they going to cut at me?" she asked.
The lie on his lips perished silently before her grave tones. "It's not rightly a dangerous operation," he protested; "thousands come out of it every year."
"Gordon, I'm afeared of it."
"No, you're not, Clare Makimmon; there's not a drop of fear in you."
"It's not just death I'm afeared of, it's—oh; you will never understand for being a man," her voice lowered instinctively; "somehow I hate the thought of those strange men hacking and spoiling my body. That's just foolishness, I know, and my time's pretty well gone for foolishness. I've always sort of tended my body, Gordon, and kept it white and soft. I thought if a man asked me in spite of—well, my face, he could take pride in me underneath. But that's all done with; I ought to be glad for the ... Gordon!" she exclaimed more energetically, "it will cost a heap of money; how will you get it? don't borrow."
"I got it," he interrupted her tersely, "and I didn't borrow it neither."
He woke at dawn. The whippoorwills, the frogs and crickets, were silent, and the sharp, sweet song of a mocking bird throbbed from a hedge. It was dark in the valley, but, high above, the air was already brightening with the sun; a symmetrical cloud caught the solar rays and flushed rosy against silver space. The valley turned from indistinct blue to grey, to sparkling green. The sun gilded the peaks of the western range, and slipped slowly down, spilling into the depth. It was almost cold, the pump handle, the rough sward, the foliage beyond, were drenched with white dew; a damp, misty veil lifted from the surface of the stream.
Clare declared that she felt stronger; she dressed, insisted upon frying his breakfast. "You ought to have somebody in," she asserted later. They were on the shallow porch, waiting stiffly for the doctor. "But don't get that eldest of your sister's; last time she wore my sateen waist and run the colors."
Just as she was leaving he slipped twenty dollars into her hand. "Write when you want more," he directed; "and I'll be down to see you ... yes, often ... the stage." A leaden depression settled over him as the doctor's carriage took her from sight. The house to which he turned was deserted, lonely. He locked the door to her room.
One of the canvas-covered mountain wagons was unloading on the platform before Simmons' store when Gordon entered the center of the village. A miscellaneous pile of merchandise was growing, presided over by a clerk with a pencil and tally book. Valentine Simmons, without his coat, in an immaculate, starched white waistcoat, stood upon one side.
Gordon, without delay, approached him. "I can give you a hundred dollars," he informed the other, exhibiting that sum.
"Two hundred and fifty will be necessary," Simmons informed him concisely, "to-day."
"Come to reason—"
Valentine Simmons turned his back squarely upon him. A realization of the uselessness of further words possessed Gordon; he returned the money to his pocket. The contemptuous neglect of the other lit the ever-trimmed lamp of his temper. "What's this," he demanded, "I hear about driving stage? about Buck boasting around that he had had me laid off?"
"That's not correct," Simmons informed him smoothly; "Buckley has no power to do that ... the owners of the privilege decided that you were too unreliable."
"Then it's true," Gordon interrupted him, "I'm off?" Simmons nodded. Gordon's temper swelled and flared whitely before his vision; rage possessed him utterly; without balance, check, he was no more than an insensate force in the grip of his mastering passion. He would stop that miserable, black heart forever. Old Valentine Simmons' lips tightened, his fingers twitched; he turned his back deliberately upon Gordon. The metal buckle which held the strap of his waistcoat caught the sun and reflected it into Gordon's eyes. "How many gross pink celluloid rattles?" the storekeeper demanded of the clerk.
Gordon Makimmon's hand crept toward his pocket ... then he remembered—he had lost that which he sought ... on the side of Cheap Mountain. If Simmons would turn, say something further, taunt him, he would kill him with his hands. But Simmons did none of these things; instead he walked slowly, unharmed, into the store.
Gordon had intended to avoid the vicinity of the Courthouse on the day of the sale of his home, but an intangible attraction held him in its neighborhood. He sat by the door to the office of the Greenstream Bugle, diagonally across the street. Within, the week's edition was going to press; a burly young individual was turning the cylinders by hand, while the editor and owner dexterously removed the printed sheets from the press. The office was indescribably grimy, the rude ceiling was hung with dusty cobwebs, the windows obscured by a grey film. A small footpress stood to the left of the entrance, on the right were ranged typesetter's cases with high, precarious stools, a handpress for proof and a table to hold the leaded forms. These, with the larger press, an air-tight sheet iron stove and some nondescript chairs, completed the office furnishings. Over all hung the smell of mingled grease, ink, and damp paper, flat and penetrating.
Without, the sun shone ardently; it cast a rich pattern of light and shade on the Courthouse lawn and the small assemblage of merely idle or interested persons gathered for the sale. The sheriff stood facing them under the towering pillars of the portico; his voice rang clearly through the air. To Gordon the occasion, the loud sing-song of the sheriff, appeared unreal, dreamlike; he listened incredulously to the meager cataloguing of his dwelling, the scant acreage, with an innate sense of outrage, of a shameful violation of his privacy. He was still unable to realize that his home and his father's, the clearing that his grandfather had cut from the wild, was actually passing from his possession. He summoned in vain the emotions which, he told himself, were appropriate. The profound discouragement within him would not be lifted to emotional heights: lassitude settled over him like a fog.
The bidding began in scattered, desultory fashion, mounting slowly by hundreds. Eighteen hundred dollars was offered, and there the price obstinately hung.
The owner of the Bugle appeared at his door, and nodded mysteriously to Gordon, who rose and listlessly obeyed the summons. The former closed the door with great care, and lowered a faded and torn shade over the front window. Then he retired to a small space divided from the body of the office by a curtain suspended from a sagging wire. He brought his face close to Gordon's ear. "Have a nip?" he asked, in a solemn, guarded fashion. Gordon assented.
A bottle was produced from a cupboard, and, together with a tin cup, handed to him.
"Luck," he pronounced half-heartedly, raising the cup to his lips. When the other had gone through a similar proceeding the process was carefully reversed—the bottle was returned to the cupboard, the tin cup suspended upon its hook, the steps retraced and the curtain once more coaxed up, the door thrown open.
The group on the Courthouse lawn were stringing away; on the steps the sheriff was conversing with Valentine Simmons' brother, a drab individual who performed the storekeeper's public services and errands. The sale had been consummated. The long, loose-jointed dwelling accumulated by successive generations of Makimmons had passed out of their possession.
A poignant feeling of loss flashed through Gordon's apathy; suddenly his eyes burned, and an involuntary sharp inspiration resembled a gasp, a sob. A shadow ran over the earth. The owner of the Bugle stepped out and gazed upward. At the sight of the soft, grey clouds assembling above an expression of determined purpose settled upon his dark countenance. He hurried into the office, and reappeared a few minutes later, a peaked corduroy hat drawn over his eyes, a piece of pasteboard in one hand, and, under his arm, a long, slender bundle folded in black muslin. The pasteboard he affixed to the door; it said, "Gone fishing. Back to-morrow."
Minus certain costs and the amount of his indebtedness to Valentine Simmons, Gordon received the sum of one thousand and sixty dollars for the sale of his house. He was still sleeping in it, but the day was near when he must vacate. The greater part of his effects were gathered under a canvas cover on the porch, Clare's personal belongings were still untouched in her room. He must wait for the disposition of those until he had learned the result of the operation.
He heard from Clare on an evening when he was sitting on his lonely porch, twisting his dextrous cigarettes, and brooding darkly on the mischances that had overtaken him of late. It was hot and steamy in the valley, no stars were visible; the known world, muffled in a close and imponderable cloak, was without any sign of life, of motion, of variety. Gordon heard footsteps descending heavily from the road, a bulky shape loomed up before him and disclosed the features of Dr. Pelliter.
He greeted Gordon awkwardly, and then fell momentarily silent. "She sent you a message, Gordon," he pronounced at last.
"Clare's dead," Gordon replied involuntarily. So far away, he thought, and alone.... He must go at once and fetch her home. He rose.
"Clare said," the doctor continued, "if your sister's eldest was to come in to give her the sateen waist." An extended silence fell upon the men; the whippoorwills sobbed and sobbed; the stream gurgled past its banks. Then:
"By God!" Gordon said passionately, "I don't know but I'm not glad Clare's gone—Simmons has got our house, I'm not driving stage ... Clare would have sorrowed herself out of living. Life's no jig tune."
The doctor left. Gordon continued to sit on the porch; at intervals he mechanically rolled and lit cigarettes, which glowed for a moment and went out, unsmoked. The feeling of depression that had cloaked him during the few days past changed imperceptibly to one of callous indifference toward existence in general. The seeds of revolt, of instability, which Clare and a measure of worldly position, of pressure, had held in abeyance, germinated in his disorganized mind, his bitter sense of injustice and injury. He hardened, grew defiant ... the strain of lawlessness brought so many years before from warring Scotch highlands rose bright and troublesome in him.
Clare's body was brought back to Greenstream on the following day. His sister and her numerous brood descended solicitously upon Gordon later; neighbors, kindly and officious, arrived ... Clare was laid out. There were sibilant, whispered conversations about a mislaid petticoat with a mechlin hem; drawers were searched and the missing garment triumphantly unearthed; silk mitts were discussed, discarded; the white shoes—real buck and a topnotch article—forced on. At last Clare was exhibited in the room that had been hers. There was no place in the Makimmon dwelling for general assemblage but the kitchen, and it had been pointed out by certain delicate souls that the body and the preparations for the funeral repast would accord but doubtfully. Besides, the kitchen was too hot.
Clare's peaked, blue-white countenance was withdrawn and strange above a familiar, harsh black silk dress; her hands, folded upon her flat breast, lay in a doubled attitude dreadfully impossible to life. A thin locket of gold hung on a chain about her still throat. The odor of June roses that filled the corners, a subdued, red riot of the summer, the sun without, was overpowering.
As the hour appointed for the funeral approached a gratifying number of people assembled: the women clustered about the porch, hovered about the door which opened upon the remains; while the men gathered in a group above the stream, lingered by the fence. A row of dusty, hooded vehicles, rough-coated, intelligent horses, were hitched above.
The minister took his station by a table on which a glass of water had been placed upon a vivid red cover: he portentously cleared his throat. "The Lord giveth," he began.... It was noon, pellucidly clear, still, hot; the foliage on the mountainsides was like solid walls of greenery rising to a canopy, a veil, of azure. Partridges whistled clear and flutelike from a nearby cover; the stream flashed in the sun, mirroring on its unwrinkled surface the stiff, somber figures gathered for the funeral.
The droning voice of the preacher drew out interminably through the sultry, golden hour. Women sniffed sharply, dabbled with toil-hardened hands at their eyes; the men, standing in the grass, shuffled their feet uneasily. "Let us pray," the speaker dropped upon his knees, and his voice rose, grew more insistent, shrill with a touch of hysteria. From the back of the house a hen clucked in an excited, aggravated manner.
Gordon Makimmon stood at the end of the porch, morosely ill at ease: the memories of Clare as a girl, as a woman going about and performing the duties of their home, the dignity of his sense of loss and sorrow, had vanished before this public ceremony; they had sunk to perfunctory, conventional emotions before the glib flood of the paid eulogist, the facile emotion of the women.
Suddenly he saw, partially hidden by the dull dresses of the older women, a white, ruffled skirt, the turn of a young shoulder, a drooping straw hat. A meager, intervening form moved, and he saw that Lettice Hollidew had come to his sister's funeral. He wondered, in a momentary, instinctive resentment, what had brought her among this largely negligent gathering. She had barely known Clare; Gordon was not certain that she had ever been in their house. He could see her plainly now—she stood clasping white gloves with firm, pink hands; her gaze was lowered upon the uneven flooring of the porch. He could see the soft contour of her chin, a shimmer of warm, brown hair. She was crisply fresh, incredibly young in the group of gaunt, worn forms; her ruffled fairness was an affront to the thin, rigid shoulders in rusty black, the sallow, deeply-bitten faces of the other women.
She looked up, and surprised his intent gaze: she flushed slightly, the gloves were twisted into a knot, but her eyes were unwavering—they held an appeal to his understanding, his sympathy, not to be mistaken. It was evident that that gaze cost her an effort. She was, Gordon remembered, a diffident girl. His resentment evaporated.... He speculated upon her reason for coming; and, speculating, involuntarily stood more erect. With a swift, surreptitious motion he straightened his necktie.
The Greenstream cemetery lay aslant on a rise above the village. From the side of the raw, yellow clay hole into which they lowered the coffin Gordon could see, beyond the black form of the minister, over the rows of uneven roofs, the bulk of the Courthouse, the sweep of the valley, glowing with multifarious vitality.
"Dust to dust," said the minister; "ashes to ashes," in the midst of the warm, the resplendent, the palpitating day. One of Gordon's nephews—a shock of tow hair rising rebellious against an application of soap, stubby, scarred hands, shoes obviously come by in their descent from more mature extremities—who had been audibly snuffling for the past ten minutes, burst into a lugubrious, frightened wail. Through the solemn, appointed periods of the minister cut the sibilant, maternal promise of a famous "whopping."