THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1915
YEARBOOK OF THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY
EDITED BY EDWARD J. O'BRIEN
BOSTON SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1915, 1916, by The Boston Transcript.
Copyright, 1915, by Charles Scribner's Sons, Harper and Brothers, The Century Company, The Masses Publishing Company, P.F. Collier & Son, Incorporated, Margaret C. Anderson, Mitchell Kennerley, The Ridgway Company, Illustrated Sunday Magazine, John T. Frederick, Every Week Corporation, Boston Daily Advertiser, The Bellman Company, The Outlook Company, and The Curtis Publishing Company.
Copyright, 1916, by Maxwell Struthers Burt, Donn Byrne, Will Levington Comfort, William Addison Dwiggins, James Francis Dwyer, Ben Hecht, Arthur Johnson, Virgil Jordan, Harris Merton Lyon, Walter J. Muilenburg, Newbold Noyes, Seumas O'Brien, Katharine Metcalf Roof, Benjamin Rosenblatt, Elsie Singmaster Lewars, Wilbur Daniel Steele, Mary Synon, and Fannie Hurst.
Copyright, 1916, by Small, Maynard and Company, Incorporated.
Second Printing, June, 1916 Third Printing, October, 1916 Fourth Printing, December, 1916 Fifth Printing, May, 1917
THE UNIVERSITY PRESS, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.
* * * * *
TO BENJAMIN ROSENBLATT
* * * * *
BY WAY OF ACKNOWLEDGMENT
Grateful acknowledgment for permission to include the stories in this volume is made to the following authors, editors, publishers, and copyright holders:
To Charles Scribner's Sons and Mr. Maxwell Struthers Burt for permission to reprint "The Water-Hole," first published in Scribner's Magazine; to Harper and Brothers and Mr. Donn Byrne for permission to reprint "The Wake," first published in Harper's Magazine; to The Masses Publishing Company and Mr. Will Levington Comfort for permission to reprint "Chautonville," first published in The Masses; to Mr. William Addison Dwiggins for permission to reprint "La Derniere Mobilisation;" to P.F. Collier & Son, Incorporated, Galbraith Welch, and Mr. James Francis Dwyer for permission to reprint "The Citizen," first published in Collier's Weekly; to Mitchell Kennerley and Mrs. Frances Gregg Wilkinson for permission to reprint "Whose Dog—?" first published in The Forum; to Miss Margaret C. Anderson and Mr. Ben Hecht for permission to reprint "Life," first published in The Little Review; to the Century Company and Mr. Arthur Johnson for permission to reprint "Mr. Eberdeen's House," first published in The Century Magazine; to the Ridgway Company and Mr. Virgil Jordan for permission to include "Vengeance is Mine!" first published in Everybody's Magazine; to The Illustrated Sunday Magazine and Mr. Harris Merton Lyon for permission to reprint "The Weaver Who Clad the Summer," first published in The Illustrated Sunday Magazine; to Mr. John T. Frederick and Mr. Walter J. Muilenburg for permission to reprint "Heart of Youth," first published in The Midland; to the Every Week Corporation and Mr. Newbold Noyes for permission to reprint "The End of the Path," first published in Every Week and The Associated Sunday Magazine; to The Illustrated Sunday Magazine and Mr. Seumas O'Brien for permission to reprint "The Whale and the Grass-Hopper," first published in The Illustrated Sunday Magazine; to The Boston Daily Advertiser, The Boston Evening Record, and the Newspaper Enterprise Association for permission to reprint "In Berlin," by Mary Boyle O'Reilly, first published in The Boston Daily Advertiser; to the Century Company and Miss Katharine Metcalf Roof for permission to reprint "The Waiting Years," first published in The Century Magazine; to The Bellman Company and Mr. Benjamin Rosenblatt for permission to reprint "Zelig," first published in The Bellman; to The Outlook Company and Mrs. Elsie Singmaster Lewars for permission to include "The Survivors," first published in The Outlook; to Harper and Brothers and Mr. Wilbur Daniel Steele for permission to reprint "The Yellow Cat," first published in Harper's Magazine; to Charles Scribner's Sons and Miss Mary Synon for permission to reprint "The Bounty Jumper," first published in Scribner's Magazine; and to The Curtis Publishing Company and Miss Fannie Hurst for permission to reprint "T.B.," first published in The Saturday Evening Post.
Acknowledgments are specially due to The Boston Evening Transcript for permission to reprint the large body of material previously published in the columns of that paper.
I wish to specially express my gratitude to the following who have materially assisted by their efforts in making this year-book of American fiction possible and more complete:
Mr. A.A. Boyden, Mr. Bruce Barton, Mr. Henry A. Bellows, Professor Albert Frederick Wilson, Mr. Barry Benefield, Mr. Douglas Z. Doty, Mr. Karl Edwin Harriman, Mr. Edward Frank Allen, Mr. Carl Hovey, Miss Sonya Levien, Mr. William Griffith, Mr. Arthur T. Vance, Mr. Mitchell Kennerley, Mr. H.M. Greene, Mr. Robert Bridges, Mr. J.B. Carrington, Mr. Hayden Carruth, Mr. Frederic A. Duneka, Mr. Henry J. Forman, Mr. Gilman Hall, Mr. Charles Hanson Towne, Miss Margaret Anderson, Mr. Charles Edison, Mr. Guido Bruno, Mr. William Marion Reedy, Mr. John T. Frederick, Mr. Burton Kline, Miss Dorothea Lawrance Mann, Miss Katharine Butler, Mr. Thomas H. Uzzell, Mr. Virgil Jordan, Mrs. Elsie Singmaster Lewars, Mr. Alfred A. Knopf, Miss Hilda Baker, Mr. William Stanley Braithwaite, and Mr. Francis J. Hannigan, in charge of the Periodical Department of the Boston Public Library. To Mr. Hannigan my special gratitude is due. My ability to find certain back numbers of periodicals which the publishers were unable to supply is due to his personal helpfulness and unsparing pains. In fact, his assistance at certain times almost amounted to collaboration.
I shall be grateful to my readers for corrections and particularly for suggestions leading to the wider usefulness of this annual volume. In particular, I shall welcome the receipt from authors and publishers, of stories published during 1916 which have qualities of distinction, and yet are not printed in periodicals falling under my regular notice. For such assistance I shall make due and grateful acknowledgment in next year's annual.
If I have been guilty of any omissions in these acknowledgments, it is quite unintentional, and I trust that I shall be absolved for my good intentions.
INTRODUCTION. By the Editor
THE WATER-HOLE. By Maxwell Struthers Burt (From Scribner's Magazine)
THE WAKE. By Donn Byrne (From Harper's Magazine)
CHAUTONVILLE. By Will Levington Comfort (From The Masses)
LA DERNIERE MOBILISATION. By W.A. Dwiggins (From The Fabulist)
THE CITIZEN. By James Francis Dwyer (From Collier's Weekly)
WHOSE DOG—? By Frances Gregg (From The Forum)
LIFE. By Ben Hecht (From The Little Review)
T.B. By Fannie Hurst (From The Saturday Evening Post)
MR. EBERDEEN'S HOUSE. By Arthur Johnson (From The Century)
VENGEANCE IS MINE. By Virgil Jordan (From Everybody's Magazine)
THE WEAVER WHO CLAD THE SUMMER. By Harris Merton Lyon (From The Illustrated Sunday Magazine)
HEART OF YOUTH. By Walter J. Muilenburg (From The Midland)
THE END OF THE PATH. By Newbold Noyes (From Every Week)
THE WHALE AND THE GRASSHOPPER. By Seumas O'Brien (From The Illustrated Sunday Magazine)
IN BERLIN. By Mary Boyle O'Reilly (From The Boston Daily Advertiser)
THE WAITING YEARS. By Katharine Metcalf Roof (From The Century Magazine)
ZELIG. By Benjamin Rosenblatt (From The Bellman)
THE SURVIVORS. By Elsie Singmaster (From The Outlook)
THE YELLOW CAT. By Wilbur Daniel Steele (From Harper's Magazine)
THE BOUNTY-JUMPER. By Mary Synon (From Scribner's Magazine)
THE YEARBOOK OF THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY FOR 1914 AND 1915
THE ROLL OF HONOR FOR 1914
THE ROLL OF HONOR FOR 1915
MAGAZINE AVERAGES FOR 1915
INDEX OF SHORT STORIES FOR 1914 AND 1915
In reaffirming the significant position of the American short story as compared with the English short story, I am more impressed than ever with the leadership maintained by American artists in this literary form. Mr. James Stephens has been criticising us for our curiously negative achievement in novel writing. He has compared the American novelist with the English novelist and found him wanting. He is compelled to deny literary distinction to the American novel, and he makes a sweeping indictment of American fiction in consequence. But does he know the American short story?
If you turn to the English magazines, you will find a certain form of conte of narrow range developed to a point of high literary merit in such a paper as the Nation or the New Statesman. But if you look for short stories in the literary periodicals, you will not find them, and if you turn to the popular English magazines, you will be amazed at the cheap and meretricious quality of the English short story.
It would be idle to dispute about the origin of the short story, for several literatures may claim its birth, but the American short story has been developed as an art form to the point where it may fairly claim a sustained superiority, as different in kind as in quality from the tale or conte of other literatures.
It would be difficult to trace the reasons for its specially healthy growth in a soil so idly fertilized as our American reading public, but it is less difficult and far more valuable to trace its development and changing standards from year to year as the field of its interest widens and its technique becomes more and more assured and competent.
Accordingly it seems advisable to undertake a study of the American short story from year to year as it is represented in the American periodicals which care most to develop its art and its audiences, and to appraise so far as may be the relative achievement of author and magazine in the successful fulfilment of this aim.
We have listened to much wailing during the past year about the absence of all literary qualities in our fiction. We have been judged by Englishmen and Irishmen who do not know our work and by Americans who do know it. We have been appraised at our real worth by Mr. Edward Garnett, who is probably the only English critic competent through sufficient acquaintance to discuss us. Mr. Owen Wister and Mr. Henry Sydnor Harrison have discussed us with each other, and bandied names to and fro rather uncritically. And Mr. Robert Herrick has endeavored to reassure us kindly and a little wistfully. Mr. Stephens has scolded us, and Mr. Howells and Mr. Alden have counselled us wisely. And many others have ventured opinions and offered judgment. The general verdict against American literature is Guilty! Is this wise? Is this just?
Twelve years ago, if the public had been sufficiently interested, such a dispute might have arisen about American poetry. If it had arisen, the jury would probably have shouted "Guilty!" with one voice. We had no faith in our poetry, and we were afraid of enthusiasm. It was not good form. One or two poets refused to despair of the situation. They affirmed their faith in our spiritual and imaginative substance persistently and in the face of apathy and discouragement. They made us believe in ourselves, and now American poetry is at the threshold of a new era. It is more vital than contemporary English poetry.
Has the time not come at last to cease lamenting the pitiful gray shabbiness of American fiction? We say that we have no faith in it, and we judge it by the books and stories that we casually read. If we are writers of fiction ourselves, perhaps we judge it by personal and temperamental methods and preferences, just as certain groups of American poets of widely different sympathies judge the poetry of their contemporaries to-day. Let us affirm our faith anyhow in our own spiritual substance. Let us believe in our materials and shape them passionately to a creative purpose. Let us be enthusiastic about life around us and the work that is being done, and in much less than twelve years from now a jury of novelists and critics will pronounce a very different verdict on American fiction from their verdict of to-day.
During the past year I have read over twenty-two hundred short stories in a critical spirit, and they have made me lastingly hopeful of our literary future. A spirit of change is acting on our literature. There is a fresh living current in the air. The new American spirit in fiction is typically voiced by such a man as Mr. Lincoln Colcord in a letter from which I have his permission to quote.
"There are many signs," he writes, "that literature in America stands at a parting of ways. The technical-commercial method has been fully exploited, and, I think, found wanting in essential results, although it is a step toward higher things. The machinery for a great literature stands ready. The public taste is now being created. Add to this, the period in our national life: we are coming to our artistic maturity. Add the profound social transition that was upon us before the war. And add any factor you may choose for what may come after the war; for I think that momentous events stand on the threshold of the world.
"The main trouble with the fellows who are writing in America to-day is that they write too much—or rather, publish too much. A writer should be very glad to accept a small income for many years; he should deliberately keep his fortunes within bounds; and take his time. All this would have been a truism fifty years ago; the machinery for the other thing didn't exist, and something in the way of a natural condition kept him in the simple path. But I don't find fault with the machinery; the wider field and the larger figures are a direct boon to us. They do, however, impose an added strain upon our sincerity."
I like to believe that the American writer is stiffening himself more and more to meet this strain. Commercialization has never affected any literature more than it has affected the American short story in the past. It is affecting our writing more than ever to-day. But here and there in quiet places, usually far from great cities, artists are laboring quietly for a literary ideal, and the leaven of their achievement is becoming more and more impressive every day. It is my faith and hope that this annual volume of mine may do something toward disengaging the honest good from the meretricious mass of writing with which it is mingled. I find that editors are beginning to react from the commercialized fiction that prevails to-day. They are beginning to learn that they are killing the goose which lays the golden eggs. The commercialized short story writer has less enthusiasm in writing for editors nowadays. The "movies" have captured him. Why write stories when scenarios are not only much less exhausting, but actually more remunerative? The literary tradesman is peddling his wares in other and wider markets, and the artistic craftsman is welcomed by the magazines more and more in his place. As Mr. Colcord points out, we have come at last to the parting of the ways.
I have undertaken to examine the short stories published in American magazines during 1914 and 1915 and to report upon my findings. As the most adequate means to this end, I have taken each short story by itself, and examined it impartially. I have done my best to surrender myself to the writer's point of view, and granting his choice of material and interpretation of it in terms of life, have sought to test it by the double standard of substance and form. Substance is something achieved by the artist in every act of creation, rather than something already present, and accordingly a fact or group of facts in a story only obtain substantial embodiment when the artist's power of compelling imaginative persuasion transforms them into a living truth. I assume that such a living truth is the artist's essential object. The first test of a short story, therefore, in any qualitative analysis is to report upon how vitally compelling the writer makes his selected facts or incidents. This test may be known as the test of substance.
But a second test is necessary in this qualitative analysis if a story is to take high rank above other stories. The test of substance is the most vital test, to be sure, and if a story survives it, it has imaginative life. The true artist, however, will seek to shape this living substance into the most beautiful and satisfying form, by skilful selection and arrangement of his material, and by the most direct and appealing presentation of it in portrayal and characterization.
The short stories which I have examined in this study have fallen naturally into four groups. The first group consists of those stories which fail, in my opinion, to survive either the test of substance or the test of form. These stories are listed in the year-book without comment or a qualifying asterisk. The second group consists of those stories which may fairly claim to survive either the test of substance or the test of form. Each of these stories may claim to possess either distinction of technique alone, or more frequently, I am glad to say, a persuasive sense of life in them to which a reader responds with some part of his own experience. Stories included in this group are indicated in the year-book index by a single asterisk prefixed to the title. The third group, which is composed of stories of still greater distinction, includes such narratives as may lay convincing claim to a second reading, because each of them has survived both tests, the test of substance and the test of form. Stories included in this group are indicated in the year-book index by two asterisks prefixed to the title.
Finally, I have recorded the names of a small group of stories which possess, I believe, an even finer distinction—the distinction of uniting genuine substance and artistic form in a closely woven pattern with a spiritual sincerity so earnest, and a creative belief so strong, that each of these stories may fairly claim, in my opinion, a position of some permanence in our literature as a criticism of life. Stories of such quality are indicated in the year-book index by three asterisks prefixed to the title, and are also listed in a special "Roll of Honor." Ninety-three stories published during 1915 are included in this list, and in compiling it I must repeat that I have permitted no personal preference or prejudice to influence my judgment consciously for or against a story. To the titles of certain stories, however, in this list, an asterisk is prefixed, and this asterisk, I must confess, reveals in some measure a personal preference. Stories indicated by this asterisk seem to me not only distinctive, but so highly distinguished as to necessitate their ultimate preservation between book covers. It is from this final short list that the stories reprinted in this volume have been selected.
It has been a point of honor with me not to republish an English story or a short story whose immediate publication in book form elsewhere seems likely. I have also made it a rule not to include more than one story by an individual author in the volume. The general and particular results of my study will be found explained and carefully detailed in the supplementary part of the volume. It only remains now to point out certain passing characteristics of the year for the sake of chronological completeness.
I suppose there can be no doubt that "Zelig" is by all odds the most nobly conceived and finely wrought story of the year. It is a peculiar satisfaction to find again this year, as in 1914, that the best story is the work of an unknown author. Mr. Rosenblatt's story is in my opinion even more satisfying as a report of life than Mr. Conrad Richter's "Brothers of No Kin," which I felt to be the best story published during 1914. The American public is indebted to Professor Albert Frederick Wilson, of the New York University School of Journalism for the discovery and encouragement of Mr. Rosenblatt's literary genius. Professor Wilson's service to American literature in this matter should be adequately acknowledged.
The Bellman, in which "Zelig" appeared, is remarkable for the brilliance and power of its fiction. My averages this year show clearly that its percentage of distinctive stories is nearly double that of the American weekly which most nearly approaches it. The quality of the Bellman's poetry is a matter of national knowledge. It is fully equalled by the Bellman's fiction, which renders it one of the three or four American periodicals necessary to every student of our spiritual history.
One new periodical and one new short story writer claim unique attention this year for their recent achievement and abundant future promise. A year ago a slender little monthly magazine entitled the Midland was first issued in Iowa City. It attracted very little attention, and in the course of the year published but ten short stories. It has been my pleasure and wonder to find in these ten stories the most vital interpretation in fiction of our national life that many years have been able to show. Since the most brilliant days of the New England men of letters, no such group of writers has defined its position with such assurance and modesty.
One new short story writer has appeared this year whose five published stories open a new field to fiction and have a human richness of feeling and imagination rare in our oversophisticated literature. I refer to the fables of Seumas O'Brien. At first one is struck with their utter absence of form, and then one realizes that this is a conscious art that wanders truant over life and imagination. In Seumas O'Brien I believe that America has found a new humorist of popular sympathies, a rare observer and philosopher whose very absurdities have a persuasive philosophy of their own.
The two established writers whose sustained excellence this year is most impressive are Katharine Fullerton Gerould and Wilbur Daniel Steele. Lincoln Colcord's two stories show qualities of artistic conscience reenforcing an imaginative substance so real that another year or two should suffice for him to take his place with the leaders of American fiction. I must affirm once more the genuine literary art of Fannie Hurst. The absolute fidelity of her dialogue to life and its revealing spirit, not despite, but rather because of the vulgarities she accepts, seem to me to assure her permanence in her best work.
A rare literary art, not dissimilar in fundamentals, and quite as marvellously documented, is revealed by Rupert Hughes in his series of stories in the Metropolitan Magazine this year. In "Michaeleen! Michaelawn!" he has succeeded greatly. It is a story which it will be difficult for Americans to forget.
What must have begun as a doubtful experiment and been continued only because it was a triumphantly demonstrated success has been the serial publication for the great average American public of my selection of the best twenty-one stories published in 1914. The Illustrated Sunday Magazine has evidently justified its daring, and the bold pioneering of its editor, Mr. Hiram M. Greene, to judge from the host of letters I have received from readers who have not read the best magazines in the past because, as many of them state, they feared that they were too "high-brow," but who have been convinced, by the introduction to the best contemporary fiction afforded them weekly in the supplement to their Sunday newspaper, that such periodicals as Harper's Magazine and Scribner's Magazine have many qualities to commend them to the untrained reader. All this serves to illustrate my point that the commercial short story is not preferred by that imaginary norm of editors known as "the reading public." If adequate means are employed to allay the average man's suspicions of literature and to introduce him painlessly to the best that our writers are creating, my experience shows absolutely that he will respond heartily and make higher standards possible by his support. We have scarcely begun to build our democracy of letters.
Because an American publisher has been found who shares my faith in the democratic future of the American short story as something by no means ephemeral, this year-book of American fiction is assured of annual publication for several years. It is my wish annually to dedicate whatever there may be of faith and hope in each volume to the writer of short stories whose work during the year has brought to me the most definite message of idealism. It is accordingly my privilege this year to associate the present volume with the name of Benjamin Rosenblatt, who has contributed in "Zelig" a noble addition to American literature.
EDWARD J. O'BRIEN
SOUTH YARMOUTH, MASSACHUSETTS Twelfth Night, 1916
THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1915
BY MAXWELL STRUTHERS BURT
From Scribner's Magazine
 Copyright, 1915, by Charles Scribner's Sons. Copyright, 1916, by Maxwell Struthers Burt.
Some men are like the twang of a bow-string. Hardy was like that—short, lithe, sunburned, vivid. Into the lives of Jarrick, Hill, and myself, old classmates of his, he came and went in the fashion of one of those queer winds that on a sultry day in summer blow unexpectedly up a city street out of nowhere. His comings excited us; his goings left us refreshed and a little vaguely discontented. So many people are gray. Hardy gave one a shock of color, as do the deserts and the mountains he inhabited. It was not particularly what he said—he didn't talk much—it was his appearance, his direct, a trifle fierce, gestures, the sense of mysterious lands that pervaded him. One never knew when he was coming to New York and one never knew how long he was going to stay; he just appeared, was very busy with mining companies for a while, sat about clubs in the late afternoon, and then, one day, he was gone.
Sometimes he came twice in a year; oftener, not for two or three years at a stretch. When he did come we gave him a dinner—that is, Jarrick, Hill, and myself. And it was rather an occasion. We would procure a table in the gayest restaurant we could find, near, but not too near, the music—Hill it was who first suggested this as a dramatic bit of incongruity between Hardy and the frequenters of Broadway—and the most exotic food obtainable, for a good part of his time Hardy, we knew, lived upon camp fare. Then we would try to make him tell about his experiences. Usually he wouldn't. Impersonally, he was entertaining about South Africa, about the Caucasus, about Alaska, Mexico, anywhere you care to think; but concretely he might have been an illustrated lecture for all he mentioned himself. He was passionately fond of abstract argument. "Y' see," he would explain, "I don't get half as much of this sort of thing as I want. Of course, one does run across remarkable people—now, I met a cow-puncher once who knew Keats by heart—but as a rule I deal only with material things, mines and prospects and assays and that sort of thing." Poor chap! I wonder if he thought that we, with our brokering and our writing and our lawyering, dealt much with ideas! I remember one night when we sat up until three discussing the philosophy of prohibition over three bottles of port. I wonder how many other men have done the same thing!
But five years ago—no, it was six—Hardy really told us a real story about himself. Necessarily the occasion is memorable in our recollections. We had dined at Lamb's, and the place was practically empty, for it was long after the theatre hour—only a drowsy waiter here and there, and away over in one corner a young couple who, I suppose, imagined themselves in love. Fancy being in love at Lamb's! We had been discussing, of all things in the world, bravery and conscience and cowardice and original sin, and that sort of business, and there was no question about it that Hardy was enjoying himself hugely. He was leaning upon the table, a coffee-cup between his relaxed brown hands, listening with an eagerness highly complimentary to the banal remarks we had to make upon the subject. "This is talk!" he ejaculated once with a laugh.
Hill, against the combined attack of Jarrick and myself, was maintaining the argument. "There is no such thing as instinctive bravery," he affirmed, for the fifth time at least, "amongst intelligent men. Every one of us is naturally a coward. Of course we are. The more imagination we've got the more we can realize how pleasant life is, after all, and how rotten the adjuncts of sudden death. It's reason that does the trick—reason and tradition. Do you know of any one who is brave when he is alone—except, that is, when it is a case of self-preservation? No! Of course not. Did you ever hear of any one choosing to go along a dangerous road or to ford a dangerous river unless he had to—that is, any one of our class, any man of education or imagination? It's the greater fear of being thought afraid that makes us brave. Take a lawyer in a shipwreck—take myself! Don't you suppose he's frightened? Naturally he is, horribly frightened. It's his reason, his mind, that after a while gets the better of his poor pipe-stem legs and makes them keep pace with the sea-legs about them."
"It's condition," said Jarrick doggedly—"condition entirely. All has to do with your liver and digestion. I know; I fox-hunt, and when I was younger—yes, leave my waist alone!—I rode jumping races. When you're fit there isn't a horse alive that bothers you, or a fence, for that matter, or a bit of water."
"Ever try standing on a ship's deck, in the dark, knowing you're going to drown in about twenty minutes?" asked Hill.
Hardy leaned forward to strike a match for his cigarette. "I don't agree with you," he said.
"Well, but—" began Hill.
"Neither of you."
"Oh, of course, you're outside the argument. You lead an adventurous life. You keep in condition for danger. It isn't fair."
"No." Hardy lit his cigarette and inhaled a puff thoughtfully. "You don't understand. All you have to say does have some bearing upon things, but, when you get down to brass tacks, it's instinct—at the last gasp, it's instinct. You can't get away from it. Look at the difference between a thoroughbred and a cold-blooded horse! There you are! That's true. It's the fashion now to discount instinct, I know; well—but you can't get away from it. I've thought about the thing—a lot. Men are brave against their better reason, against their conscience. It's a mixed-up thing. It's confusing and—and sort of damnable," he concluded lamely.
"Sort of damnable!" ejaculated Hill wonderingly.
I experienced inspiration. "You've got a concrete instance back of that," I ventured.
Hardy removed his gaze from the ceiling. "Er—" he stammered. "Why, yes—yes. That's true."
"You'd better tell it," suggested Hill; "otherwise your argument is not very conclusive."
Hardy fumbled with the spoon of his empty coffee-cup. It was a curious gesture on the part of a man whose franknesses were as clean-cut as his silences. "Well—" he began. "I don't know. Perhaps. I did know a man, though, who saved another man's life when he didn't want to, when there was every excuse for him not to, when he had it all reasoned out that it was wrong, the very wrongest possible thing to do; and he saved him because he couldn't help it, saved him at the risk of his own life, too."
"He did!" murmured Hill incredulously.
"Go on!" I urged. I was aware that we were on the edge of a revelation.
Hardy looked down at the spoon in his hand, then up and into my eyes.
"It's such a queer place to tell it"—he smiled deprecatingly—"here, in this restaurant. It ought to be about a camp-fire, or something like that. Here it seems out of place, like the smell of bacon or sweating mules. Do you know Los Pinos? Well, you wouldn't. It was just a few shacks and a Mexican gambling-house when I saw it. Maybe it isn't there any more, at all. You know—those places! People build them and then go away, and in a year there isn't a thing, just desert again and shifting sand and maybe the little original old ranch by the one spring." He swept the table-cloth with his hand, as if sweeping something into oblivion, and his eyes sought again the spoon. "It's queer, that business. Men and women go out to lonely places and build houses, and for a while everything goes on in miniature, just as it does here—daily bread and hating and laughing—and then something happens, the gold gives out or the fields won't pay, and in no time nature is back again. It's a big fight. You lose track of it in crowded places." He raised his head and settled his arms comfortably on the table.
"I wasn't there for any particular purpose. I was on a holiday. I'd been on a big job up in Colorado and was rather done up, and, as there were some prospects in New Mexico I wanted to see, I hit south, drifting through Santa Fe and Silver City, until I found myself way down on the southern edge of Arizona. It was still hot down there—hot as blazes—it was about the first of September—and the rattlesnakes and the scorpions were still as active as crickets. I knew a chap that had a cattle outfit near the Mexican border, so I dropped in on him one day and stayed two weeks. You see, he was lonely. Had a passion for theatres and hadn't seen a play for five years. My second-hand gossip was rather a godsend. But finally I got tired of talking about Mary Mannering, and decided to start north again. He bade me good-by on a little hill near his place. 'See here!' he said suddenly, looking toward the west. 'If you go a trifle out of your way you'll strike Los Pinos, and I wish you would. It's a little bit of a dump of the United Copper Company's, no good, I'm thinking, but the fellow in charge is a friend of mine. He's got his wife there. They're nice people—or used to be. I haven't seen them for ten years. They say he drinks a little—well, we all do. Maybe you could write me how she—I mean, how he is getting on?' And he turned red. I saw how the land lay, and as a favor to him I said I would.
"It was eighty miles away, and I drifted in there one night on top of a tired cow-horse just at sundown. You know how purple—violet, really—those desert evenings are. There was violet stretching away as far as I could see, from the faint violet at my stirrups to the deep, almost black violet of the horizon. Way off to the north I could make out the shadow of some big hills that had been ahead of me all day. The town, what there was of it, lay in a little gully. Along its single street there were a few lights shining like small yellow flowers. I asked my way of a Mexican, and he showed me up to where the Whitneys—that name will do as well as any—lived, in a decent enough sort of bungalow, it would seem, above the gully. He left me there, and I went forward and rapped at the door. Light shone from between the cracks of a near-by shutter, and I could hear voices inside—a man's voice mostly, hoarse and high-pitched. Then a Chinaman opened the door for me and I had a look inside, into a big living-room beyond. It was civilized all right enough, pleasantly so to a man stepping out of two days of desert and Mexican adobes. At a glance I saw the rugs on the polished floor, and the Navajo blankets about, and a big table in the centre with a shaded lamp and magazines in rows; but the man in riding-clothes standing before the empty fire-place wasn't civilized at all, at least not at that moment. I couldn't see the woman, only the top of her head above the back of a big chair, but as I came in I heard her say, 'Hush!—Jim!—please!' and I noticed that what I could see of her hair was of that fine true gold you so seldom find. The man stopped in the middle of a sentence and swayed on his feet, then he looked over at me and came toward me with a sort of bulldog, inquiring look. He was a big, red-faced, blond chap, about forty, I should say, who might once have been handsome. He wasn't now, and it didn't add to his beauty that he was quite obviously fairly drunk. 'Well?' he said, and blocked my way.
"'I'm a friend of Henry Martin's,' I answered. 'I've got a letter for you.' I was beginning to get pretty angry.
"'Henry Martin?' He laughed unsteadily. 'You'd better give it to my wife over there. She's his friend. I hardly know him.' I don't know when I'd seen a man I disliked as much at first sight.
"There was a rustle from the other side of the room, and Mrs. Whitney came toward us. I avoided her unattractive husband and took her hand, and I understood at once whatever civilizing influences there were about the bungalow we were in. Did you ever do that—ever step out of nowhere, in a wild sort of country, and meet suddenly a man or a woman who might have come straight from a pleasant, well-bred room filled with books and flowers and quiet, nice people? It's a sensation that never loses its freshness. Mrs. Whitney was like that. I wouldn't have called her beautiful; she was better; you knew she was good and clean-cut and a thoroughbred the minute you saw her. She was lovely, too; don't misunderstand me, but you had more important things to think about when you were talking to her. Just at the moment I was wondering how any one who so evidently had been crying could all at once greet a stranger with so cordial a smile. But she was all that—all nerve; I don't think I ever met a woman quite like her—so fine, you understand."
Hardy paused. "Have any of you chaps got a cigarette?" he asked; and I noticed that his hand, usually the steadiest hand imaginable, trembled ever so slightly. "Well," he began again, "there you are! I had tumbled into about as rotten a little, pitiful a little tragedy as you can imagine, there in a God-forsaken desert of Arizona, with not a soul about but a Chinaman, a couple of Scotch stationary engineers, an Irish foreman, two or three young mining men, and a score of Mexicans. Of course, my first impulse was to get out the next morning, to cut it—it was none of my business—although I determined to drop a line to Henry Martin; but I didn't go. I had a talk with Mrs. Whitney that night, after her attractive husband had taken himself off to bed, and somehow I couldn't leave just then. You know how it is, you drop into a place where nothing in the world seems likely to happen, and all of a sudden you realize that something is going to happen, and for the life of you you can't go away. That situation up on top of the hill couldn't last forever, could it? So I stayed on. I hunted out the big Irish foreman and shared his cabin. The Whitneys asked me to visit them, but I didn't exactly feel like doing so. The Irishman was a fine specimen of his race, ten years out from Dublin, and everywhere else since that time; generous, irascible, given to great fits of gayety and equally unexpected fits of gloom. He would sit in the evenings, a short pipe in his mouth, and stare up at the Whitney bungalow on the hill above.
"'That Jim Whitney's a divvle,' he confided to me once. 'Wan of these days I'll hit him over th' head with a pick and be hung for murther. Now, what in hell d'ye suppose a nice girl like that sticks by him for? If it weren't for her I'd 'a' reported him long ago. The scut!' And I remember that he spat gloomily.
"But I got to know the answer to that question sooner than I had expected. You see, I went up to the Whitneys' often, in the afternoon, or for dinner, or in the evening, and I talked to Mrs. Whitney a great deal; although sometimes I just sat and smoked and listened to her play the piano. She played beautifully. It was a treat to a man who hadn't heard music for two years. There was a little thing of Grieg's—a spring song, or something of the sort—and you've no idea how quaint and sad and appealing it was, and incongruous, with all its freshness and murmuring about water-falls and pine-trees, there, in those hot, breathless Arizona nights. Mrs. Whitney didn't talk much; she wasn't what you'd call a particularly communicative woman, but bit by bit I pieced together something continuous. It seems that she had run away with Whitney ten years before—Oh, yes! Henry Martin! That had been a schoolgirl affair. Nothing serious, you understand. But the Whitney matter had been different. She was greatly in love with him. And the family had disapproved. Some rich, stuffy Boston people, I gathered. But she had made up her mind and taken matters in her own hands. That was her way—a clean-cut sort of person—like a gold-and-white arrow; and now she was going to stick by her choice no matter what happened; owed it to Whitney. There was the quirk in her brain; we all have a quirk somewhere, and that was hers. She felt that she had ruined his career; he had been a brilliant young engineer, but her family had kicked up the devil of a row, and, as they were powerful enough, and nasty enough, had more or less hounded him out of the East. Of course, personally, I never thought he showed any of the essentials of brilliancy, but that's neither here nor there; she did, and she was satisfied that she owed him all she had. I suppose, too, there was some trace of a Puritan conscience back of it, some inherent feeling about divorce; and there was pride as well, a desire not to let that disgusting family of hers know into what ways her idol had fallen. Anyway, she was adamant—oh, yes, I made no bones about it, I up and asked her one night why she didn't get rid of the hound. So there she was, that white-and-gold woman, with her love of music, and her love of books, and her love of fine things, and her gentleness, and that sort of fiery, suppressed Northern blood, shut up on top of an Arizona dump with a beast that got drunk every night and twice a day on Sunday. It was worse even than that. One night—we were sitting out on the veranda—her scarf slipped, and I saw a scar on her arm, near her shoulder." Hardy stopped abruptly and began to roll a little pellet of bread between his thumb and his forefinger; then his tense expression faded and he sat back in his chair.
"Let me have another cigarette," he said to Jarrick. "No. Wait a minute! I'll order some."
He called a waiter and gave his instructions. "You see," he continued, "when you run across as few nice women as I do that sort of thing is more than ordinarily disturbing. And then I suppose it was the setting, and her loneliness, and everything. Anyway, I stayed on, I got to be a little bit ashamed of myself. I was afraid that Mrs. Whitney would think me prompted by mere curiosity or a desire to meddle, so after a while I gave out that I was prospecting that part of Arizona, and in the mornings I would take a horse and ride out into the desert. I loved it, too; it was so big and spacious and silent and hot. One day I met Whitney on the edge of town. He was sober, as he always was when he had to be; he was a masterful brute, in his way. He stopped me and asked if I had found anything, and when I laughed he didn't laugh back. 'There's gold here,' he said. 'Lots of gold. Did you ever hear the story of the Ten Strike Mine? Well, it's over there.' He swept with his arm the line of distant hills to the north. 'The crazy Dutchman that found it staggered into Almuda, ten miles down the valley, just before he died; and his pockets were bulging with samples—pure gold, almost. Yes, by thunder! And that's the last they ever heard of it. Lots of men have tried—lots of men. Some day I'll go myself, surer than shooting.' And he let his hands drop to his sides and stared silently toward the north, a queer, dreamy anger in his eyes. I've seen lots of mining men, lots of prospectors, in my time, and it didn't take me long to size up that look of his. 'Aha, my friend!' I said to myself. 'So you've got another vice, have you! It isn't only rum that's got a hold on you!' And I turned my horse into the town.
"But our conversation seemed to have stirred to the surface something in Whitney's brain that had been at work there a long time, for after that he would never let me alone about his Ten Strike Mine and the mountains that hid it. 'Over there!' he would say, and point to the north. From the porch of his bungalow the sleeping hills were plainly visible above the shimmering desert. He would chew on the end of a cigar and consider. 'It isn't very far, you know. Two days—maybe three. All we need's water. No water there—at least, none found. All those fellows who've prospected are fools. I'm an expert; so are you. I tell you, Hardy, let's do it! A couple of little old pack-mules! Eh? How about it? Next week? I can get off. God, I'd like money!' And he would subside into a sullen silence. At first I laughed at him; but I can tell you that sort of thing gets on your nerves sooner or later and either makes you bolt it or else go. At the end of two weeks I actually found myself considering the fool thing seriously. Of course, I didn't want to discover a lost gold-mine, that is, unless I just happened to stumble over it; I wanted to keep away from such things; they're bad; they get into a man's blood like drugs; but I've always had a hankering for a new country, and those hills, shining in the heat, were compelling—very compelling. Besides, I reflected, a trip like that might help to straighten Whitney up a little. I hadn't much hope, to be sure, but drowning men clutch at straws. It's curious what sophistry you use to convince yourself, isn't it? And then—something happened that for two weeks occupied all my mind."
Hardy paused, considered for a moment the glowing end of his cigarette, and finally looked up gravely; there was a slight hesitation, almost an embarrassment, in his manner. "I don't exactly know how to put it," he began. "I don't want you chaps to imagine anything wrong; it was all very nebulous and indefinite, you understand—Mrs. Whitney was a wonderful woman. I wouldn't mention the matter at all if it wasn't necessary for the point of my story; in fact, it is the point of my story. But there was a man there—one of the young engineers—and quite suddenly I discovered that he was in love with Mrs. Whitney, and I think—I never could be quite sure, but I think she was in love with him. It must have been one of those sudden things, a storm out of a clear sky, deluging two people before they were aware. I imagine it was brought to the surface by the chap's illness. He had been out riding on the desert and had got off to look at something, and a rattlesnake had struck him—a big, dust-dirty thing—on the wrist, and, very faint, he had galloped back to the Whitneys'. And what do you suppose she had done—Mrs. Whitney, that is? Flung herself down on him and sucked the wound! Yes, without a moment's hesitation, her gold hair all about his hand and her white dress in the dirt. Of course, it was a foolish thing to do, and not in the least the right way to treat a wound, but she had risked her life to do it; a slight cut on her lip—you understand; a tiny, ragged place. Afterward, she had cut the wound crosswise, so, and had put on a ligature, and then had got the man into the house some way and nursed him until he was quite himself again. I dare say he had been in love with her a long while without knowing it, but that clinched matters. Those things come overpoweringly and take a man, down in places like that—semitropical and lonely and lawless, with long, empty days and moonlit nights. Perhaps he told Mrs. Whitney; he never got very far, I am sure. She was a wonderful woman—but she loved him, I think. You can tell those things, you know; a gesture, an unavoidable look, a silence.
"Anyway, I saw what had happened and I was sorry, and for a fortnight I hung around, loath to go, but hating myself all the while for not doing so. And every day Whitney would come at me with his insane scheme. 'Over there! It isn't very far. Two days—maybe three. How about it? Eh?' and then that tense sweep of the arm to the north. I don't know what it was, weariness, disgust, irritation of the whole sorry plan of things, but finally, and to my own astonishment, I found myself consenting, and within two days Whitney had his crazy pack outfit ready, and on the morning of the third day we set out. Mrs. Whitney had said nothing when we unfolded our intentions to her, nor did she say anything when we departed, but stood on the porch of the bungalow, her hand up to her throat, and watched us out of sight. I wondered what she was thinking about. The Voodoos—that was the name of the mountains we were heading for—had killed a good many men in their time."
Hardy took a long and thoughtful sip from the glass in front of him before he began again. "I've knocked about a good deal in my life," he said; "I've been lost—once in the jungle; I've starved; I've reached the point where I've imagined horrors, heard voices, you understand, and seen great, bearded men mouthing at me—a man's pretty far gone when that happens to him—but that trip across the desert was the worst I've ever taken. By day it was all right, just swaying in your saddle, half asleep a good part of the time, the smell of warm dust in your nose, the three pack-mules plodding along behind; but the nights!—I tell you, I've sat about camp-fires up the Congo and watched big, oily black men eat their food, and I once saw a native village sacked, but I'd rather be tied for life to a West Coast nigger than to a man like Whitney. It isn't good for two people to be alone in a place like that and for one to hate the other as I hated him. God knows why I didn't kill him; I'd have to get up and leave the fire and go out into the night, and, mind you, I'd be shuddering like a man with the ague under that warm, soft air. And he never for a minute suspected it. His mind was scarred with drink as if a worm had bored its slow way in and out of it. I can see him now, cross-legged, beyond the flames, big, unshaven, heavy-jowled, dirty, what he thought dripping from his mouth like the bacon drippings he was too lazy to wipe away. I won't tell you what he talked about; you know, the old thing; but not the way even the most wrong-minded of ordinary men talks; there was a sodden, triumphant deviltry in him that was appalling. He cursed the country for its lack of opportunity of a certain kind; he was like a hound held in leash, gloating over what he would do when he got back to the kennels of civilization again. And all the while, at the back of my mind, was a picture of that white-and-gold woman of his, way back toward the south, waiting his return because she owed him her life for the brilliant career she had ruined. It made you sometimes almost want to laugh—insanely. I used to lie awake at night and pray whatever there was to kill him, and do it quickly. I would have turned back, but I felt that every day I could keep him away from Los Pinos was a day gained for Mrs. Whitney. He was a dangerous maniac, too. The first day he behaved himself fairly well, but the second, after supper, when we had cleaned up, he began to fumble through the packs, and finally produced a bottle of brandy.
"'Fine camping stuff!' he announced. 'Lots of results for very little weight. Have some?'
"'Are you going to drink that?' I asked.
"'Oh, go to the devil!' he snapped. 'I've been out as much as you have.' I didn't argue with him further; I hoped if he drank enough the sun would get him. But the third night he upset the water-kegs, two of them. He had been carrying on some sort of weird celebration by himself, and finally staggered out into the desert, singing at the top of his lungs, and the first thing I knew he was down among the kegs, rolling over and over, and kicking right and left. The one that was open was gone; another he kicked the plug out of, but I managed to save about a quarter of its contents. The next morning I spoke to him about it. He blinked his red eyes and chuckled.
"'Poor sort of stuff, anyway,' he said.
"'Yes,' I agreed; 'but without it you would blow out like a candle in a dust storm.' After that we didn't speak to each other except when it was necessary.
"We were in the foot-hills of the Voodoos by now, and the next day we got into the mountains themselves—great, bare ragged peaks, black and red and dirty yellow, like the cooled-off slake of a furnace. Every now and then a dry gully came down from nowheres; and the only human thing one could see was occasionally, on the sides of one of these, a shivering, miserable, half-dead pinon—nothing but that, and the steel-blue sky overhead, and the desert behind us, shimmering like a lake of salt. It was hot—good Lord! The horn of your saddle burned your hand. That night we camped in a canyon, and the next day went still higher up, following the course of a rutted stream that probably ran water once in a year. Whitney wanted to turn east, and it was all a toss-up to me; the place looked unlikely enough, anyway, although you never can tell. I had settled into the monotony of the trip by now and didn't much care how long we stayed out. One day was like another—hot little swirls of dust, sweat of mules, and great black cliffs; and the nights came and went like the passing of a sponge over a fevered face. On the sixth day the tragedy happened. It was toward dusk, and one of the mules, the one that carried the water, fell over a cliff.
"He wasn't hurt; just lay on his back and smiled crossly; but the kegs and the bags were smashed to bits. I like mules, but I wanted to kill that one. It was quiet down there in the canyon—quiet and hot. I looked at Whitney and he looked at me, and I had the sudden, unpleasant realization that he was a coward, added to his other qualifications. Yes, a coward! I saw it in his blurred eyes and the quivering of his bloated lips—stark dumb funk. That was bad. I'm afraid I lost my nerve, too; I make no excuses; fear is infectious. At all events, we tore down out of that place as if death was after us, the mules clattering and flapping in the rear. After a time I rode more slowly, but in the morning we were nearly down at the desert again; and there it lay before us, shimmering like a lake of salt—three days back to water.
"The next two days were rather a blur, as if a man were walking on a red-hot mirror that tipped up and down and tried to take his legs from under him. There was a water-hole a little to the east of the way we had come, and toward that I tried to head. One of the mules gave out, and staggered and groaned, and tried to get up again. I remember hearing him squeal, once; it was horrible. He lay there, a little black speck on the desert. Whitney and I didn't speak to each other at all, but I thought of those two kegs of water he had upset. Have you ever been thirsty—mortally thirsty, until you feel your tongue black in your mouth? It's queer what it does to you. Do you remember that little place—Zorn's—at college? We used to sit there sometimes on spring afternoons. It was cool and cavern-like, and through the open door one could see the breeze in the maple-trees. Well, I thought about that all the time; it grew to be an obsession, a mirage. I could smell the moss-like smell of bock beer; I even remembered conversations we had had. You fellows were as real to me as you are real to-night. It's strange, and then, when you come to, uncanny; you feel the sweat on you turn cold.
"We had ridden on in that way I don't know how long, snatching a couple of feverish hours of sleep in the night, Whitney groaning and mumbling horribly, when suddenly my horse gave a little snicker—low, the way they do when you give them grain—and I felt his tired body straighten up ever so little. 'Maybe,' I thought, and I looked up. But I didn't much care; I just wanted to crawl into some cool place and forget all about it and die. It was late in the afternoon. My shadow was lengthening. Too late, really, for much mirage; but I no longer put great stock in green vegetation and matters of that kind; I had seen too much of it in the last two days fade away into nothing—nothing but blistering, damned sand. And so I wouldn't believe the cool reeds and the sparkling water until I had dipped down through a little swale and was actually fighting my horse back from the brink. I knew enough to do that, mind you, and to fight back the two mules so that they drank just a little at a time—a little at a time; and all the while I had to wait, with my tongue like sand in my mouth. Over the edge of my horse's neck I could see the water just below; it looked as cool as rain. I was always a little proud of that—that holding back; it made up, in a way, for the funk of two nights earlier. When the mules and my horse were through I dismounted and, lying flat, bathed my hands, and then, a tiny sip at a time, began to drink. That was hard. When I stood up the heat seemed to have gone, and the breeze was moist and sweet with the smell of evening. I think I sang a little and waved my hands above my head, and, at all events, I remember I lay on my back and rolled a cigarette; and quite suddenly and without the slightest reason there were tears in my eyes. Then I began to wonder what had become of Whitney; I hadn't thought of him before. I got to my feet, and just as I did so I saw him come over the little rise of sand, swaying in his saddle, and trying, the fool, to make his horse run. He looked like a great scarecrow blown out from some Indian maize-field into the desert. His clothes were torn and his mask of a face was seamed and black from dust and sweat; he saw the water and let out one queer, hoarse screech and kicked at his horse with wabbling legs.
"'Look out!' I cried, and stepped in his way. I had seen this sort of thing before and knew what to expect; but he rode me down as if I hadn't been there. His horse tried to avoid me, and the next moment the sack of grain on its back was on the sands, creeping like a great, monstrous, four-legged thing toward the water. 'Stay where you are,' I said, 'and I'll bring you some.' But he only crawled the faster. I grabbed his shoulder. 'You fool!' I said. 'You'll kill yourself!'
"'Damn you!' he blubbered. 'Damn you!' And before I knew it, and with all the strength, I imagine, left in him, he was on his feet and I was looking down the barrel of his gun. It looked very round and big and black, too. Beyond it his eyes were regarding me; they were quite mad, there was no doubt about that, but, just the way a dying man achieves some of his old desire to will, there was definite purpose in them. 'You get out of my way,' he said, and began very slowly to circle me. You could hardly hear his words, his lips were so blistered and swollen.
"And now this is the point of what I am telling you." Hardy fumbled again for a match and relit his cigarette. "There we were, we two, in that desert light, about ten feet from the water, he with his gun pointing directly at my heart—and his hand wasn't trembling as much as you would imagine, either—and he was circling me step by step, and I was standing still. I suppose the whole affair took two minutes, maybe three, but in that time—and my brain was still blurred to other impressions—I saw the thing as clearly as I see it now, as clearly as I saw that great, swollen beast of a face. Here was the chance I had longed for, the hope I had lain awake at night and prayed for; between the man and death I alone stood; and I had every reason, every instinct of decency and common sense, to make me step aside. The man was a devil; he was killing the finest woman I had ever met; his presence poisoned the air he walked in; he was an active agent of evil, there was no doubt of that. I hated him as I had never hated anything else in my life, and at the moment I was sure that God wanted him to die. I knew then that to save him would be criminal; I think so still. And I saw other considerations as well; saw them as clearly as I see you sitting here. I saw the man who loved Mrs. Whitney, and I saw Mrs. Whitney herself, and in my keeping, I knew, was all her chance for happiness, the one hope that the future would make up to her for some of the horror of the past. It would have been an easy thing to do; the most ordinary caution was on my side. Whitney was far larger than I, and, even in his weakened condition—I was weak myself—stronger, and he had a gun that in a flash of light could blow me into eternity. And what would happen then? Why, when he got back to Los Pinos they would hang him; they would be only too glad of the chance; and his wife?—she would die; I knew it—just go out like a flame from the unbearableness of it all. And there wasn't one chance in a thousand that he wouldn't kill me if I made a single step toward him. I had only to let him go and in a few minutes he would be dead—as dead as his poor brute of a horse would be within the hour. I felt already the cool relief that would be mine when the black shadow of him was gone. I would ride into town and think no more of it than if I had watched a tarantula die. You see, I had it all reasoned out as clearly as could be; there was morality and common sense, the welfare of other people, the man's own good, really, and yet—well, I didn't do it."
"Didn't?" It was Jarrick who put the question a little breathlessly.
"No. I stepped toward him—so! One step, then another, very slowly, hardly a foot at a time, and all the while I watched the infernal circle of that gun, expecting it every minute to spit fire. I didn't want to go; I went against my will. I was scared, too, mortally scared; my legs were like lead—I had to think every time I lifted a foot—and in a queer, crazy way I seemed to feel two people, a man and a woman, holding me back, plucking at my sleeves. But I went. All the time I kept saying, very steady and quiet: 'Don't shoot, Whitney! D'you hear! Don't shoot or I'll kill you!' Wasn't it silly? Kill him! Why, he had me dead ten times before I got to him. But I suppose some trace of sanity was knocking at his drink-sodden brain, for he didn't shoot—just watched me, his red eyes blinking. So! One step at a time—nearer and nearer—I could feel the sweat on my forehead—and then I jumped. I had him by the legs, and we went down in a heap. He shot then; they always do! But I had him tied up with the rags of his own shirt in a trice. Then I brought him water in my hat and let him drink it, drop by drop. After a while he came to altogether. But he never thanked me; he wasn't that kind of a brute. I got him into town the morning of the second day and turned him over to his wife. So you see"—Hardy hesitated and looked at the circle of our faces with an odd, appealing look—"it is queer, isn't it? All mixed up. One doesn't know." He sank back in his chair and began to scratch, absent-mindedly, at a holder with a match.
The after-theatre crowd was beginning to come in; the sound of laughter and talk grew steadily higher; far off an orchestra wailed inarticulately.
"What became of them?" I asked.
Hardy looked up as if startled. "The Whitneys? Oh—she died—Martin wrote me. Down there, within a year. One would know it would happen. Like a flame, I suppose—suddenly."
"And the man—the fellow who was in love with her?"
Hardy stirred wearily. "I haven't heard," he said. "I suppose he is still alive."
He leaned over to complete the striking of his match, and for an instant his arm touched a glass; it trembled and hung in the balance, and he shot out a sinewy hand to stop it, and as he did so the sleeve of his dinner jacket caught. On the brown flesh of his forearm I saw a queer, ragged white cross—the scar a snake bite leaves when it is cicatrized. I meant to avoid his eyes, but somehow I caught them instead. They were veiled and hurt.
BY DONN BYRNE
From Harper's Magazine
 Copyright, 1915, by Harper and Brothers. Copyright, 1916, by Donn Byrne.
At times the muffled conversation in the kitchen resembled the resonant humming of bees, and again, when it became animated, it sounded like the distant cackling of geese. Then there would come a pause; and it would begin again with sibilant whispers, and end in a chorus of dry laughter that somehow suggested the crackling of burning logs.
Occasionally a figure would open the bedroom door, pass the old man as he sat huddled in his chair, never throwing a glance at him, and go and kneel by the side of the bed where the body was. They usually prayed for two or three minutes, then rose and walked on tiptoe to the kitchen, where they joined the company. Sometimes they came in twos, less often in threes, but they did precisely the same thing—prayed for precisely the same time, and left the room on tiptoe with the same creak of shoe and rustle of clothes that sounded so intensely loud throughout the room. They might have been following instructions laid down in a ritual.
The old man wished to heaven they would stay away. He had been sitting in his chair for hours, thinking, until his head was in a whirl. He wanted to concentrate his thoughts, but somehow he felt that the mourners were preventing him.
The five candles at the head of the bed distracted him. He was glad when the figure of one of the mourners shut off the glare for a few minutes. He was also distracted by the five chairs standing around the room like sentries on post and the little table by the window with its crucifix and holy-water font. He wanted to keep thinking of "herself," as he called her, lost in the immensity of the oaken bed. He had been looking at the pinched face with its faint suspicion of blue since early that morning. He was very much awed by the nun's hood that concealed the back of the head, and the stiffly posed arms and the small hands in their white-cotton gloves moved him to a deep pity.
Somebody touched him on the shoulder. "Michael James."
It was big Dan Murray, a gaunt red farmer, who had been best man at his wedding.
"What is it?"
"I hear young Kennedy's in the village."
"What of that?"
"I thought it was best for you to know."
Murray waited a moment, then he went out, on tiptoe, as everybody did, his movements resembling the stilted gestures of a mechanical toy.
Down the drive Michael heard steps coming. Then a struggle and a shrill giggle. Some young people were coming to the wake, and he knew a boy had tried to kiss a girl in the dark. He felt a dull surge of resentment.
She was nineteen when he married her; he was sixty-three. Because he had over two hundred acres of land and many head of milch and grazing cattle and a huge house that rambled like a barrack, her father had given her to him; and young Kennedy, who had been her father's steward for years, and had been saving to buy a house for her, was thrown over like a bale of mildewed hay.
Kennedy had made several violent scenes. Michael James remembered the morning of the wedding. Kennedy waylaid the bridal-party coming out of the church. He was drunk. "Mark me," he had said, very quietly for a drunken man—"mark me. If anything ever happens to that girl at your side, Michael James, I'll murder you. I'll murder you in cold blood. Do you understand?"
Michael James could be forgiving that morning. "Run away and sober up, lad," he had said, "and come up to the house and dance."
Kennedy had gone around the countryside for weeks, drunk every night, making threats against the old farmer. And then a wily sergeant of the Connaught Rangers had trapped him and taken him off to Aldershot.
Now he was home on furlough, and something had happened to her, and he was coming up to make good his threat.
What had happened to her? Michael James didn't understand. He had given her everything he could. She had taken it all with a demure thanks, but he had never had anything of her but apathy. She had gone around the house apathetically, growing a little thinner every day, and then a few days ago she had lain down, and last night she had died, apathetically.
And young Kennedy was coming up for an accounting to-night. "Well," thought Michael James, "let him come!"
Silence suddenly fell over the company in the kitchen. Then a loud scraping as they stood up, and a harsher grating as chairs were pushed back. The door of the bedroom opened and the red flare from the fire and lamps of the kitchen blended into the sickly yellow candle-light of the bedroom.
The parish priest walked in. His closely cropped white hair, strong, ruddy face, and erect back gave him more the appearance of a soldier than a clergyman. He looked at the bed a moment, and then at Michael James.
"Oh, you mustn't take it like that, man," he said. "You mustn't take it like that. You must bear up." He was the only one who spoke in his natural voice.
He turned to a lumbering farmer's wife who had followed him in, and asked about the hour of the funeral. She answered in a hoarse whisper, dropping a courtesy.
"You ought to go out and take a walk," he told Michael James. "You oughtn't to stay in here all the time." And he left the room.
Michael James paid no attention. His mind was wandering to strange fantasies he could not keep out of his head. Pictures crept in and out of his brain, joined as by some thin filament. He thought somehow of her soul, and then wondered what a soul was like. And then he thought of a dove, and then of a bat fluttering through the dark, and then of a bird lost at twilight. He thought of it as some lonely flying thing with a long journey before it and no place to rest. He could imagine it uttering the vibrant, plaintive cry of a peewit. And then it struck him with a great sense of pity that the night was cold.
In the kitchen they were having tea. The rattle of the crockery sounded very distinctly. He could distinguish the sharp, staccato ring when a cup was laid in a saucer, and the nervous rattle when cup and saucer were passed from one hand to the other. Spoons struck china with a faint metallic tinkle. He felt as if all the sounds were made at the back of his neck, and the crash seemed to burst in his head.
Dan Murray creaked into the room. "Michael James," he whispered, "you ought to take something. Have a bite to eat. Take a cup of tea. I'll bring it in to you."
"Oh, let me alone, Daniel," he answered. He felt he would like to kick him and curse him while doing so.
"You must take something." Murray's voice rose from a whisper to a low, argumentative sing-song. "You know it's not natural. You've got to eat."
"No, thank you, Daniel," he answered. It was as if he were talking to a boy who was good-natured but tiresome. "I don't feel like eating. Maybe afterward I will."
"Michael James," Murray continued.
"Well, what is it, Daniel?"
"Don't you think I'd better go down and see young Kennedy and tell him how foolish it would be of him to come up here and start fighting? You know it isn't right. Hadn't I better go down? He's at home now."
"Let that alone, Daniel, I tell you." The thought of Murray breaking into the matter that was between himself and the young man filled him with a sense of injured delicacy.
"I know he's going to make trouble."
"Let me handle that, like a good fellow, and leave me by myself, Daniel, if you don't mind."
"Ah well, sure. You know best." And Murray crept out of the room.
As the door opened Michael could hear some one singing in a subdued voice and many feet tapping like drums in time with the music. They had to pass the night outside, and it was the custom, but the singing irritated him. He could fancy heads nodding and bodies swaying from side to side with the rhythm. He recognized the tune, and it began to run through his head, and he could not put it out of it. The lilt of it captured him, and suddenly he began thinking of the wonderful brain that musicians must have to compose music. And then his thoughts switched to a picture he had seen of a man in a garret with a fiddle beneath his chin.
He straightened himself up a little, for sitting crouched forward as he was put a strain on his back, and he unconsciously sat upright to ease himself. And as he sat up he caught a glimpse of the cotton gloves on the bed, and it burst in on him that the first time he had seen her she was walking along the road with young Kennedy one Sunday afternoon, and they were holding hands. When they saw him they let go suddenly, and grew very red, giggling in a half-hearted way to hide their embarrassment. And he remembered that he had passed them by without saying anything, but with a good-humored, sly smile on his face, and a mellow feeling within him, and a sage reflection to himself that young folks will be young folks, and what harm was there in courting a little on a Sunday afternoon when the week's work had been done?
And he remembered other days on which he had met her and Kennedy; and then how the conviction had come into his mind that here was a girl for him to marry; and then how, quietly and equably, he had gone about getting her and marrying her, as he would go about buying a team of horses or make arrangements for cutting the hay.
Until the day he married her he felt as a driver feels who has his team under perfect control, and who knows every bend and curve of the road he is taking. But since that day he had been thinking about her and worrying and wondering exactly where he stood, until everything in the day was just the puzzle of her, and he was like a driver with a restive pair of horses who knows his way no farther than the next bend. And then he knew she was the biggest thing in his life.
The situation as it appeared to him he had worked out with difficulty, for he was not a thinking man. What thinking he did dealt with the price of harvest machinery and the best time of the year for buying and selling. He worked it out this way: here was this girl dead, whom he had married, and who should have married another man, who was coming to-night to kill him. To-night sometime the world would stop for him. He felt no longer a personal entity—he was merely part of a situation. It was as if he were a piece in a chess problem—any moment the player might move and solve the play by taking a pawn.
Realities had taken on a dim, unearthly quality. Occasionally a sound from the kitchen would strike him like an unexpected note in a harmony; the whiteness of the bed would flash out like a piece of color in a subdued painting.
There was a shuffling in the kitchen and the sound of feet going toward the door. The latch lifted with a rasp. He could hear the hoarse, deep tones of a few boys, and the high-pitched sing-song intonations of girls. He knew they were going for a few miles' walk along the roads. He went over and raised the blind on the window. Overhead the moon showed like a spot of bright saffron. A sort of misty haze seemed to cling around the bushes and trees. The out-houses stood out white, like buildings in a mysterious city. Somewhere there was the metallic whir of a grasshopper, and in the distance a loon boomed again and again.
The little company passed down the yard. There was the sound of a smothered titter, then a playful resounding slap, and a gurgling laugh from one of the boys.
As he stood by the window he heard some one open the door and stand on the threshold.
"Are you coming, Alice?" some one asked.
Michael James listened for the answer. He was taking in eagerly all outside things. He wanted something to pass the time of waiting, as a traveler in a railway station reads trivial notices carefully while waiting for a train that may take him to the ends of the earth.
"Alice, are you coming?" was asked again.
There was no answer.
"Well, you needn't if you don't want to," he heard in an irritated tone, and the speaker tramped down toward the road in a dudgeon. He recognized the figure of Flanagan, the football-player, who was always having little spats with the girl he was going to marry. He discovered with a sort of shock that he was slightly amused at this incident.
From the road there came the shrill scream of one of the girls who had gone out, and then a chorus of laughter. And against the background of the figure behind him and of young Kennedy he began wondering at the relationship of man and woman. He had no word for it, for "love" was a term he thought should be confined to story-books, a word to be suspicious of as sounding affected, a word to be scoffed at. But of this relationship he had a vague understanding. He thought of it as a criss-cross of threads binding one person to the other, or as a web which might be light and easily broken, or which might have the strength of steel cables and which might work into knots here and there and become a tangle that could crush those caught in it.
It puzzled him how a thing of indefinable grace, of soft words on June nights, of vague stirrings under moonlight, of embarrassing hand-clasps and fearful glances, might become, as it had become in the case of himself, Kennedy, and what was behind him, a thing of blind, malevolent force, a thing of sinister silence, a shadow that crushed.
And then it struck him with a sense of guilt that his mind was wandering from her, and he turned away from the window. He thought how much more peaceful it would be for a body to lie out in the moonlight than on a somber oak bedstead in a shadowy room with yellow, guttering candle-light and five solemn-looking chairs. And he thought again how strange it was that on a night like this Kennedy should come as an avenger seeking to kill rather than as a lover with high hope in his breast.
Murray slipped into the room again. There was a frown on his face and his tone was aggressive.
"I tell you, Michael James, we'll have to do something about it." There was a truculent note in his whisper.
The farmer did not answer.
"Will you let me go down for the police? A few words to the sergeant will keep him quiet."
Michael James felt a pity for Murray. The idea of pitting a sergeant of police against the tragedy that was coming seemed ludicrous to him. It was like pitting a school-boy against a hurricane.
"Listen to me, Dan," he replied. "How do you know Kennedy is coming up at all?"
"Flanagan, the football-player, met him and talked to him. He said that Kennedy was clean mad."
"Do they know about it in the kitchen?"
"Not a word." There was a pause.
"Well, listen here, now. Go right back there and don't say a word about it. Wouldn't it be foolish if you went down to the police and he didn't come at all? And if he does come I can manage him. And if I can't I'll call you. Does that satisfy you?" And he sent Murray out, grumbling.
As the door closed he felt that the last refuge had been abandoned. He was to wrestle with destiny alone. He had no doubt that Kennedy would make good his vow, and he felt a sort of curiosity as to how it would be done. Would it be with hands, or with a gun, or some other weapon? He hoped it would be the gun. The idea of coming to hand-grips with the boy filled him with a strange terror.
The thought that within ten minutes or a half-hour or an hour he would be dead did not come home to him. It was the physical act that frightened him. He felt as if he were terribly alone and a cold wind were blowing about him and penetrating every pore of his body. There was a contraction around his breast-bone and a shiver in his shoulders.
His idea of death was that he would pitch headlong, as from a high tower, into a bottomless dark space.
He went over to the window again and looked out toward the barn. From a chink in one of the shutters there was a thread of yellow candle-light. He knew there were men there playing cards to pass the time.
Then terror came on him. The noise in the kitchen was subdued. Most of the mourners had gone home, and those who were staying the night were drowsy and were dozing over the fire. He felt he wanted to rush among them and to cry to them to protect him, and to cower behind them and to close them around him in a solid circle. He felt that eyes were upon him, looking at his back from the bed, and he was afraid to turn around because he might look into the eyes.
She had always respected him, he remembered, and he did not want to lose her respect now; and the fear that he would lose it set his shoulders back and steadied the grip of his feet on the floor.
And then there flashed before him the thought of people who kill, of lines of soldiery rushing on trenches, of a stealthy, cowering man who slips through a jail door at dawn, and of a figure he had read of in books—a sinister figure with an ax and a red cloak.
As he looked down the yard he saw a figure turn in the gate and come toward the house. It seemed to walk slowly and heavily, as if tired. He knew it was Kennedy. He opened the kitchen door and slipped outside.
The figure coming up the pathway seemed to swim toward him. Then it would blur and disappear and then appear again vaguely. The beating of his heart was like the regular sound of a ticking clock. Space narrowed until he felt he could not breathe. He went forward a few paces. The light from the bedroom window streamed forward in a broad, yellow beam. He stepped into it as into a river.
"She's dead," he heard himself saying. "She's dead." And then he knew that Kennedy was standing in front of him.
The flap of the boy's hat threw a heavy shadow over his face, his shoulders were braced, and his right hand, the farmer could see, was thrust deeply into his coat pocket.
"Aye, she's dead," Michael James repeated. "You knew that, didn't you?" It was all he could think of saying. "You'll come in and see her, won't you?" He had forgotten what Kennedy had come for. He was dazed. He didn't know what to say.
Kennedy moved a little. The light from the window struck him full in the face, and Michael James realized with a shock that it was as grim and thin-lipped as he had pictured it. A prayer rose in his throat, and then fear seemed to leave him all at once. He raised his head. The right hand had left the pocket now. And then suddenly he saw that Kennedy was looking into the room, and he knew he could see, through the little panes of glass, the huge bedstead and the body on it. And he felt a desire to throw himself between Kennedy and it, as he might jump between a child and a threatening danger.
He turned away his head, instinctively—why, he could not understand, but he felt that he should not look at Kennedy's face.
Over in the barn voices rose suddenly. They were disputing over the cards. There was some one complaining feverishly and some one arguing truculently, and another voice striving to make peace. They died away in a dull hum, and Michael James heard the boy sobbing.
"You mustn't do that," he said. "You mustn't do that." And he patted him on the shoulders. He felt as if something unspeakably tense had relaxed and as if life were swinging back into balance. His voice shook and he continued patting. "You'll come in now, and I'll leave you alone there." He took him under the arm.
He felt the pity he had for the body on the bed envelop Kennedy, too, and a sense of peace came over him. It was as though a son of his had been hurt and had come to him for comfort, and he was going to comfort him. In some vague way he thought of Easter-time.
He stopped at the door for a moment.
"It's all right, laddie," he said. "It's all right," and he lifted the latch.
As they went in he felt somehow as if high walls had crumbled and the three of them had stepped into the light of day.
BY WILL LEVINGTON COMFORT
From The Masses
 Copyright, 1915, by The Masses. Copyright, 1916, by Will Levington Comfort.
They said that the Russian line was a hundred miles long. I know nothing about that, but I know that it extended as far as the eye could reach to the east and west, and that this had been so for many weeks. But time, as it is known in the outer world, had stopped for us. It was now November, and we had been without mails since late in August. Three days of hideous cold had come without warning, and before the snows, so that there was a foot of iron frost in the ground. This had to be bitten through in all our trench-making, and though we were on the southern slopes of the Carpathians, timber was scarce. At each of our recent meetings with the Austrian enemy, we had expected to feel the new strike—the different resistance of German reinforcement.
A queer sense had come to us from the Austrians. I had thought of it many times and others had spoken the same: that it didn't matter greatly to them. They gave us fierce fighting, but always when we were exhausted and insane with our dead—they fell away before us. This had happened so often that we came to expect it, our chief puzzle being just how long they would hold out in each battle. Especially when our brigade was engaged, and we had entered into an intensity that was all the human could endure, I would almost stop breathing in the expectancy of the release of tension before us. When it did not come, I invariably found afterward that I was out of perspective with the mainline, on account of the fierceness of our immediate struggle. We were but one snapping loop of the fighting—too localized to affect the main front. The Austrians gave all in a piece, when they drew back.
Days were the same, a steady suffering. I did not know before what men could stand. We had weeks of life that formerly I would have considered fatal to adventure with through one night or day—exposure, fatigue, famine—and over all the passion for home, that slow lasting fire. I began to understand how the field-mice winter—how the northern birds live through, and what a storm, on top of a storm, means to all creatures of the north country that are forced to take what comes, when the earth tilts up into the bleak and icy gray. We forget this as men, until a war comes.
But all measuring of the world had ceased for our eyes. A man must have emotions for this, and we thought our emotions dead. I wonder if it can be understood—this being shaken down to the end, this facing of life and death without a personal relation?... Crawling out of the blanket in the morning, I have met the cold—such a shock throughout, that it centered like a long pin driven in the heart. I have seen my friends go, right and left on the field—those who helped tend the fire the night before—and met their end and my own peril without a quickened pulse. Of course, I knew something was changed for me, because I had not been this way. I had even lost the love of courage—that quality of field-work that used to raise my hair, so high and pure did it seem to my eyes.... But the night came, when I heard a little man mumbling over the fire to the effect that he hated it all—that the Little Father was making monkeys of us all—and a thrill shot over me, so that I knew I was alive. Yes, there was something to that.
"Sh-shh—" said I. Two others drew near, as if a bottle had been opened. And Firthus, my closest friend, gripped my arm, leaving a blue welt where his thumb had pressed.
"It's as bad to say 'sh-sh—' as to say what he said," Firthus whispered.
Yes, even in the coldness, there was a thrill to that. Perhaps we thrill at the first breath of that which is to come and change us over.