The Desert and The Sown
MARY HALLOCK FOOTE
I. A COUNCIL OF THE ELDERS
II. INTRODUCING A SON-IN-LAW
III. THE INITIAL LOVE
IV. "A MAN THAT HAD A WELL IN HIS OWN COURT"
VI. AN APPEAL TO NATURE
VII. MARKING TIME
VIII. A HUNTER'S DIARY
IX. THE POWER OF WEAKNESS
X. THE WHITE PERIL
XI. A SEARCHING OF HEARTS
XII. THE BLOOD-WITE
XIV. KIND INQUIRIES
XV. A BRIDEGROOM OF SNOW
XVI. THE NATURE OF AN OATH
XVII. THE HIDDEN TRAIL
XVIII.THE STAR IN THE EAST
XIX. PILGRIMS AND STRANGERS
XX. A STATION IN THE DESERT
XXI. INJURIOUS REPORTS CONCERNING AN OLD HOUSE
XXII. THE CASE STRIKES IN
XXIV. INDIAN SUMMER
XXV. THE FELL FROST
XXVI. PEACE TO THIS HOUSE
A COUNCIL OF THE ELDERS
It was an evening of sudden mildness following a dry October gale. The colonel had miscalculated the temperature by one log—only one, he declared, but that had proved a pitchy one, and the chimney bellowed with flame. From end to end the room was alight with it, as if the stored-up energies of a whole pine-tree had been sacrificed in the consumption of that four-foot stick.
The young persons of the house had escaped, laughing, into the fresh night air, but the colonel was hemmed in on every side; deserted by his daughter, mocked by the work of his own hands, and torn between the duties of a host and the host's helpless craving for his after-dinner cigar.
Across the hearth, filling with her silks all the visible room in his own favorite settle corner, sat the one woman on earth it most behooved him to be civil to,—the future mother-in-law of his only child. That Moya was a willing, nay, a reckless hostage, did not lessen her father's awe of the situation.
Mrs. Bogardus, according to her wont at this hour, was composedly doing nothing. The colonel could not make his retreat under cover of her real or feigned absorption in any of the small scattering pursuits which distract the female mind. When she read she read—she never "looked at books." When she sewed she sewed—presumably, but no one ever saw her do it. Her mind was economic and practical, and she saved it whole, like many men of force, for whatever she deemed her best paying sphere of action.
It was a silence that crackled with heat! The colonel, wrathfully perspiring in the glow of that impenitent stick, frowned at it like an inquisitor. Presently Mrs. Bogardus looked up, and her expression softened as she saw the energetic despair upon his face.
"Colonel, don't you always smoke after dinner?"
"That is my bad habit, madam. I belong to the generation that smokes—after dinner and most other times—more than is good for us." Colonel Middleton belonged also to the generation that can carry a sentence through to the finish in handsome style, and he did it with a suave Virginian accent as easy as his seat in the saddle. Mrs. Bogardus always gave him her respectful attention during his best performances, though she was a woman of short sentences herself.
"Don't you smoke in this room sometimes?" she asked, with a barely perceptible sniff the merest contraction of her housewifely nostrils.
"Ah—h! Those rascally curtains and cushions! You ladies—women, I should say—Moya won't let me say ladies—you bolster us up with comforts on purpose to betray us!"
"You can say 'ladies' to me," smiled the very handsome one before him. "That's the generation I belong to."
The colonel bowed playfully. "Well, you know, I don't detect myself, but there's no doubt I have infected the premises."
"Open fires are good ventilators. I wish you would smoke now. If you don't, I shall have to go away, and I'm exceedingly comfortable."
"You are exceedingly charming to say so—on top of that last stick, too!" The colonel had Irish as well as Virginian progenitors. "Well," he sighed, proceeding to make himself conditionally happy, "Moya will never forgive me! We spoil each other shamefully when we're alone, but of course we try to jack each other up when company comes. It's a great comfort to have some one to spoil, isn't it, now? I needn't ask which it is in your family!"
"The spoiled one?" Mrs. Bogardus smiled rather coldly. "A woman we had for governess, when Christine was a little thing, used to say: 'That child is the stuff that tyrants are made of!' Tyrants are made by the will of their subjects, don't you think, generally speaking?"
"Well, you couldn't have made a tyrant of your son, Mrs. Bogardus. He's the Universal Spoiler! He'll ruin my striker, Jephson. I shall have to send the fellow back to the ranks. I don't know how you keep a servant good for anything with Paul around."
"Paul thinks he doesn't like to be waited on," Paul's mother observed shrewdly. "He says that only invalids, old people, and children have any claim on the personal service of others."
"By George! I found him blacking his own boots!"
Mrs. Bogardus laughed.
"But I'm paying a man to do it for him. It upsets my contract with that other fellow for Paul to do his work. We have a claim on what we pay for in this world."
"I suppose we have. But Paul thinks that nothing can pay the price of those artificial relations between man and man. I think that's the way he puts it."
"Good Heavens! Has the boy read history? It's a relation that began when the world was made, and will last while men are in it."
"I am not defending Paul's ideas, Colonel. I have a great sympathy with tyrants myself. You must talk to him. He will amuse you."
"My word! It's a ticklish kind of amusement when we get talking. Why, the boy wants to turn the poor old world upside down—make us all stand on our heads to give our feet a rest. Now, I respect my feet,"—the colonel drew them in a little as the lady's eyes involuntarily took the direction of his allusion,—"I take the best care I can of them; but I propose to keep my head, such as it is, on top, till I go under altogether. These young philanthropists! They assume that the Hands and the Feet of the world, the class that serves in that capacity, have got the same nerves as the Brain."
"There's a sort of connection," said Mrs. Bogardus carelessly. "Some of our Heads have come from the class that you call the Hands and Feet, haven't they?"
The colonel admitted the fact, but the fact was the exception. "Why, that's just the matter with us now! We've got no class of legislators. I don't wish to plume myself, but, upon my word, the two services are about all we have left to show what selection and training can do. And we're only just getting the army into shape, after the raw material that was dumped into it by the civil war."
"Weren't you in the civil war yourself?"
"I was—a West Pointer, madam; and I was true to my salt and false to my blood. But, the flag over all!—at the cost of everything I held dear on earth." After this speech the colonel looked hotter than ever and a trifle ashamed of himself.
Mrs. Bogardus's face wore its most unobservant expression. "I don't agree with Paul," she said. "I wish in some ways he were more like other young men—exercise, for instance. It's a pity for young men not to love activity and leadership. Besides, it's the fashion. A young man might as well be out of the world as out of the fashion. Blood is a strange thing," she mused.
The colonel looked at her curiously. In a woman so unfrank, her occasional bursts of frankness were surprising and, as he thought, not altogether complimentary. It was as if she felt herself so far removed from his conception of her that she might say anything she pleased, sure of his miscomprehension.
"He is not lazy intellectually," said the colonel, aiming to comfort her.
"I did not say he was lazy—only he won't do things except to what he calls some 'purpose.' At his age amusement ought to be purpose enough. He ought to take his pleasures seriously—this hunting-trip, for instance. I believe, on the very least encouragement, he would give it all up!"
"You mustn't let him do that," said the colonel, warming. "All that country above Yankee Fork, for a hundred miles, after you've gone fifty north from Bonanza, is practically virgin forest. Wonderful flora and fauna! It's late for the weeds and things, but if Paul wants game trophies for your country-house, he can load a pack-train."
Mrs. Bogardus continued to be amused, in a quiet way. "He calls them relics of barbarism! He would as soon festoon his walls with scalps, as decorate them with the heads of beautiful animals,—nearer the Creator's design than most men, he would say."
"He's right there! But that doesn't change the distinction between men and animals. He is your son, madam—and he's going to be mine. But, fine boy as he is, I call him a crank of the first water."
"You'll find him quite good to Moya," Mrs. Bogardus remarked dispassionately. "And he's not quite twenty-four."
"Very true. Well, I should send him into the woods for the sake of getting a little sense into him, of an every-day sort. He 'll take in sanity with every breath."
"And you don't think it's too late in the season for them to go out?"
There was no change in Mrs. Bogardus's voice, unconcerned as it was; yet the colonel felt at once that this simple question lay at the root of all her previous skirmishing.
"The guide will decide as to that," he said definitely. "If it is, he won't go out with them. They have got a good man, you say?"
"They are waiting for a good man; they have waited too long, I think. He is expected in with another party on Monday, perhaps, Paul is to meet the Bowens at Challis, where they buy their outfit. I do believe"—she laughed constrainedly—"that he is going up there more to head them off than for any other reason."
"How do you mean?"
"Oh, it's very stupid of them! They seem to think an army post is part of the public domain. They have been threatening, if Paul gives up the trip, to come down here on a gratuitous visit."
"Why, let them come by all means! The more the merrier! We will quarter them on the garrison at large."
"Wherever they were quartered, they would be here all the time. They are not intimate friends of Paul's. Mrs. Bowen is—a very great friend. He is her right-hand in all that Hartley House work. The boys are just fashionable young men."
"Can't they go hunting without Paul?"
"Wheels within wheels!" Mrs. Bogardus sighed impatiently. "Hunting trips are expensive, and—when young men are living on their fathers, it is convenient sometimes to have a third. However, Paul goes, I half believe, to prevent their making a descent upon us here."
"Well; I should ask them to come, or make it plain they were not expected."
"Oh, would you?—if their mother was one of the nicest women, and your friend? Besides, the reservation does not cover the whole valley. Banks Bowen talks of a mine he wants to look at—I don't think it will make much difference to the mine! This is simply to say that I wish Paul cared more about the trip for its own sake."
"Well, frankly, I think he's better out of the way for the next fortnight. The girls ought to go to bed early, and keep the roses in their cheeks for the wedding. Moya's head is full of her frocks and fripperies. She is trying to run a brace of sewing women; and all those boxes are coming from the East to be 'inspected, and condemned' mostly. The child seems to make a great many mistakes, doesn't she? About every other day I see a box as big as a coffin in the hall, addressed to some dry-goods house, 'returned by ——'"
"Moya should have sent to me for her things," said Mrs. Bogardus. "I am the one who makes her return them. She can do much better when she is in town herself. It doesn't matter, for the few weeks they will be away, what she wears. I shall take her measures home with me and set the people to work. She has never been fitted in her life."
The colonel looked rather aghast. He had seldom heard Mrs. Bogardus speak with so much animation. He wondered if really his household was so very far behind the times.
"It's very kind of you, I'm sure, if Moya will let you. Most girls think they can manage these matters for themselves."
"It's impossible to shop by mail," Mrs. Bogardus said decidedly. "They always keep a certain style of things for the Western and Southern trade."
The colonel was crushed. Mrs. Bogardus rose, and he picked up her handkerchief, breathing a little hard after the exertion. She passed out, thanking him with a smile as he opened the door. In the hall she stopped to choose a wrap from a collection of unconventional garments hanging on a rack of moose horns.
"I think I shall go out," she said. "The air is quite soft to-night. Do you know which way the children went?" By the "children," as the colonel had noted, Mrs. Bogardus usually meant her daughter, the budding tyrant, Christine.
"Fine woman!" he mused, alone with himself in his study. "Splendid character head. Regular Dutch beauty. But hard—eh?—a trifle hard in the grain. Eyes that tell you nothing. Mouth set like a stone. Never rambles in her talk. Never speculates or exaggerates for fun. Never runs into hyperbole—the more fool some other folks! Speaks to the point or keeps still."
INTRODUCING A SON-IN-LAW
The colonel's papers failed to hold him somehow. He rose and paced the room with his short, stiff-kneed tread. He stopped and stared into the fire; his face began to get red.
"So! Moya's clothes are not good enough. Going to set the people to work, is she? Wants an outfit worthy of her son. And who's to pay for it, by gad? Post-nuptial bills for wedding finery are going to hurt poor little Moya like the deuce. Confound the woman! Dressing my daughter for me, right in my own house. Takes it in her hands as if it were her right, by ——!" The colonel let slip another expletive. "Well," he sighed, half amused at his own violence, "I'll write to Annie. I promised Moya, and it's high time I did."
Annie was the colonel's sister, the wife of an infantry captain, stationed at Fort Sherman. She was a very understanding woman; at least she understood her brother. But she was not solely dependent upon his laggard letters for information concerning his private affairs. The approaching wedding at Bisuka Barracks was the topic of most of the military families in the Department of the Columbia. Moya herself had written some time before, in the self-conscious manner of the newly engaged. Her aunt knew of course that Moya and Christine Bogardus had been room-mates at Miss Howard's, that the girls had fallen in love with each other first, and with visits at holidays and vacations, when the army girl could not go to her father, it was easily seen how the rest had followed. And well for Moya that it had, was Mrs. Creve's indorsement. As a family they were quite sufficiently represented in the army; and if one should ever get an Eastern detail it would be very pleasant to have a young niece charmingly settled in New York.
The colonel drew a match across the top bar of the grate and set it to his pipe. His big nostrils whitened as he took a deep in-breath. He reseated himself and began his duty letter in the tone of a judicious parent; but, warming as he wrote, under the influence of Annie's imagined sympathy, he presently broke forth with his usual arrogant colloquialism.
"She might have had her pick of the junior officers in both branches. And there was a captain of engineers at the Presidio, a widower, but an awfully good fellow. And she has chosen a boy, full of transcendental moonshine, who climbs upon a horse as if it were a stone fence, and has mixed ideas which side of himself to hang a pistol on.
"I have no particular quarrel with the lad, barring his great burly mouthful of a name, Bo—gardus! To call a child Moya and have her fetch up with her soft, Irish vowels against such a name as that! She had a fond idea that it was from Beauregard. But she has had to give that up. It's Dutch—Hudson River Dutch—for something horticultural—a tree, or an orchard, or a brush-pile; and she says it's a good name where it belongs. Pity it couldn't have stayed where it belongs.
"However, you won't find him quite so scrubby as he sounds. He's very proper and clean-shaven, with a good pair of dark, Dutch eyes, which he gets from his mother; and I wish he had got her business ability with them, and her horse sense, if the lady will excuse me. She runs the property and he spends it, as far as she'll let him, on the newest reforms. And there's another hitch!—To belong to the Truly Good at twenty-four! But beggars can't be choosers. He's going to settle something handsome on Moya out of the portion Madame gives him on his marriage. My poor little girl, as you know, will get nothing from me but a few old bits and trinkets and a father's blessing,—the same doesn't go for much in these days. I have been a better dispenser than accumulator, like others of our name.
"I do assure you, Annie, it bores me down to the ground, this humanitarian racket from children with ugly names who have just chipped the shell. This one owns his surprise that we work in the army! That our junior officers teach, and study a bit perforce themselves. His own idea is that every West Pointer, before he gets his commission, should serve a year or two in the ranks, to raise the type of the enlisted man, and chiefly, mark you, to get his point of view, the which he is to bear in mind when he comes to his command. Oh, we've had some pretty arguments! But I suspect the rascal of drawing it mild, at this stage, for the old dragon who guards his Golden Apple. He doesn't want to poke me up. How far he'd go if he were not hampered in his principles by the fact that he is in love, I cannot say. And I'd rather not imagine."
The commandant's house at Bisuka Barracks is the nearest one to the flag-pole as you go up a flight of wooden steps from the parade ground. These steps, and their landings, flanked by the dry grass terrace of the line, are a favorite gathering place for young persons of leisure at the Post. They face the valley and the mountains; they lead past the adjutant's office to the main road to town; they command the daily pageant of garrison duty as performed at such distant, unvisited posts, with only the ladies and the mountains looking on.
Retreat had sounded at half after five, for the autumn days grew short. The colonel's orderly had been dismissed to his quarters. There was no excuse, at this hour, for two young persons lingering in sentimental corners of the steps, beyond a flagrant satisfaction in the shadow thereof which covered them since the lighting of lamps on Officers' Row.
The colonel stood at his study window keeping his pipe alive with slow and dreamy puffs. The moon was just clearing the roof of the men's quarters. His eye caught a shape, or a commingling of shapes, ensconced in an angle of the steps; the which he made out to be his daughter, in her light evening frock with one of his own old army capes over her shoulders, seated in close formation beside the only man at the Post who wore civilian black.
The colonel had the feelings of a man as well as a father. He went back to his letter with a softened look in his face. He had said too much; he always did—to Annie; and now he must hedge a little or she would think there was trouble brewing, and that he was going to be nasty about Moya's choice.
THE INITIAL LOVE
"Let us be simple! Not every one can be, but we can. We can afford to be, and we know how!"
Moya was speaking rapidly, in her singularly articulate tones. A reader of voices would have pronounced hers the physical record of unbroken health and constant, joyous poise.
"Hear the word of your prophet Emerson!" she brought a little fist down upon her knee for emphasis, a hand several sizes larger closed upon it and held it fast. "Hear the word—are you listening? 'Only two in the Garden walked and with Snake and Seraph talked.'"
The young man's answer was an instant's impassioned silence. Too close it touched him, that vital image of the Garden. Then, with an effect of sternness, he said,—
"Have we the right to do as we please? Have we the courage that comes of right to cut ourselves off from all those calls and cries for help?"
"I have," said the girl; "I have just that right—of one who knows exactly what she wants, and is going to get it if she can!"
He laughed at her happy insolence, with which all the youth and nature in him made common cause.
"I shouldn't mind thinking about your Poor Man," she tripped along, "if he liked being poor, or if it seemed to improve him any; or if it were only now and then. But there is so dreadfully much of him! Once we begin, how should we ever think about anything else? He'd rise up and sit down with us, and eat and drink with us, and tell us what to wear. Every pleasure of our lives would be spoiled with his eternal 'Where do I come in?' It was simple enough in that garden, with only those two and nobody outside to feel injured. But we are those two, aren't we? Isn't everybody—once in a life, and once only?" She turned her face aside, slighting by her manner the excessive meaning of her words. "I ask for myself only what I think I have a right to give you—my absolute undivided attention for those first few years. They say it never lasts!" she hastened to add with playful cynicism.
Young Bogardus seemed incapable under the circumstances of any adequate reply. Free as they were in words, there was an extreme personal shyness between these proud young persons, undeveloped on the side of passion and better versed in theories of life than in life itself. They had separated the day after their sudden engagement, and their nearest approaches to intimacy had been through letters. Naturally the girl was the bolder, having less in herself to fear.
"That is what I call being simple," she went on briskly. "If you think we can be that in New York, let us live there. I could be simple there, but not with you, sir! That terrible East Side would be shaking its gory locks at us. We should feel that we did it—or you would! Then good-by to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!"
"You are my life, liberty, and happiness, and I will be your almoner," said Paul, "and dispense you"—
"Dispense with me!" laughed the girl. "And what shall I be doing while you are dispensing me on the East Side? New York has other sides. While you go slumming with the Seraph, I shall be talking to the Snake! Now, do laugh!" she entreated childishly, turning her sparkling face to his.
"Am I expected to laugh at that?"
"Well, what shall we do? Don't make me harden my heart before it has had time to soften naturally. Give my poor pagan sympathies a little time to ripen."
"But you have lived in New York. Did you find it such a strain on your sympathies?"
"I was a visitor; and a girl is not expected to have sympathies. But to begin our home there: we should have to strike a note of some sort. How if my note should jar with yours? Paul, dear, it isn't nice to have convictions when one is young and going to be married. You know it isn't. It's not poetic, and it's not polite, and it's a dreadful bore!"
The altruist and lover winced at this. Allowing for exaggeration, which was the life of speech with her, he knew that Moya was giving him a bit of her true self, that changeful, changeless self which goes behind all law and "follows joy and only joy." Her voice dropped into its sweetest tones of intimacy.
"Why need we live in a crowd? Why must we be pressed upon with all this fuss and doing? Doing, doing! We are not ready to do anything yet. Every day must have its dawn;—and I don't see my way yet; I'm hardly awake!"
"Darling, hush! You must not say such things to me. For you only to look at me like that is the most terrible temptation of my life. You make me forget everything a man is bound—that I of all men am bound to remember."
"Then I will keep on looking! Behold, I am Happiness, Selfishness, if you like! I have come to stay. No, really, it's not nice of you to act as if you were under higher orders. You are under my orders. What right have we to choose each other if we are not to be better to each other than to any one else?—if our lives belong to any one who needs us, or our time and money, more than we need it ourselves? Why did you choose me? Why not somebody pathetic—one of your Poor Things; or else save yourself whole for all the Poor Things?"
"Now you are 'talking for victory,'" he smiled. "You don't believe we must be as consistent as all that. Hearts don't have to be coddled like pears picked for market. But I'm not preaching to you. The heavens forbid! I'm trying to explain. You don't think this whole thing with me is a pose? I know I'm a bore with my convictions; but how do we come by such things?"
"Ah! How do I come not to have any, or to want any?" she rejoined.
"Once for all, let me tell you how I came by mine. Then you will know just where and how those cries for help take hold on me."
"I don't wish to know. Preserve me from knowing! Why didn't you choose somebody different?"
He looked at her with all his passion in his eyes. "I did not choose. Did you?"
"It isn't too late," she whispered. Her face grew hot in the darkness.
"Yes; it is too late—for anything but the truth. Will you listen, sweet? Will you let the nonsense wait?"
"Deeper and deeper! Haven't we reached the bottom yet?"
"Go on! It's the dearest nonsense," she heard him say; but she detected pain in his voice and a new constraint.
"What is it? What is the 'truth'?"
"Oh, it's not so dreadful. Only, you always put me in quite a different class from where I belong, and I haven't had the courage to set you right."
"Children, children!" a young voice called, from the lighted walk above. Two figures were going down the line, one in uniform keeping step beside a girl in white who reefed back her skirts with one hand, the other was raised to her hair which was blowing across her forehead in bewitching disorder. Every gesture and turn of her shape announced that she was pretty and gay in the knowledge of her power. It was Chrissy, walking with Lieutenant Lane.
"Where are you—ridiculous ones? Don't you want to come with us?"
"'Now who were they?'" Paul quoted derisively out of the dark.
"We are going to Captain Dawson's to play Hearts. Come! Don't be stupid!"
"We are not stupid, we are busy!" Moya called back.
"Busy! Doing what?"
"Oh, deciding things. We are talking about the Poor Man."
"The poor men, she means." Christine's high laugh followed the lieutenant's speech, as the pair went on.
"He is a bore!" Moya declared. "We can't even use him for a joke."
"Speaking of Lane, dear?"
"The Poor Man. Are you sure that you've got a sense of humor, Paul? Can't we have charity for jokes among the other poor things?"
Paul had raised himself to the step beside her. "You are shivering," he said, "I must let you go in."
"I'm not shivering—I'm chattering," she mocked. "Why should I go in when we are going to be really serious?"
Paul waited a moment; his breath came short, as if he were facing a postponed dread. "Moya, dear," he began in a forced tone, "I can't help my constraints and convictions that bore you so, any more than you can help your light heart—God bless it—and your theory of class which to me seems mediaeval. I have cringed to it, like the coward a man is when he is in love. But now I want you to know me."
He took her hand and kissed it repeatedly, as if impressing upon her the one important fact back of all hypothesis and perilous efforts at statement.
"Well, are you bidding me good-by?"
"You must give me time," he said. "It takes courage in these days for a good American to tell the girl he loves that his father was a hired man."
He smiled, but there was little mirth and less color in his face.
"What absurdity!" cried Moya. Then glancing at him she added quickly, "My father is a hired man. Most fathers who are worth anything are!"
"My father was because he came of that class. His father was one before him. His mother took in tailoring in the village where he was born. He had only the commonest common-school education and not much of that. At eleven he worked for his board and clothes at my Grandfather Van Elten's, and from that time he earned his bread with his hands. Don't imagine that I'm apologizing," Paul went on rapidly. "The apology belongs on the other side. In New York, for instance, the Bogardus blood is quite as good as the Bevier or the Broderick or the Van Elten; but up the Hudson, owing to those chances or mischances that selected our farming aristocracy for us, my father's people had slipped out of their holdings and sunk to the poor artisan class which the old Dutch landowners held in contempt."
"We are not landowners," said Moya. "What does it matter? What does any of it matter?"
"It matters to be honest and not sail under false colors. I thought you would not speak of the Poor Man as you do if you knew that I am his son."
"Money has nothing to do with position in the army. I am a poor man's daughter."
"Ah, child! Your father gives orders—mine took them, all his life."
"My father has to take what he gives. There is no escaping 'orders.' Even I know that!" said Moya. A slight shiver passed over her as she spoke, laughing off as usual the touch of seriousness in her words.
"Why did you do that?" Paul touched her shoulder. "Is it the wind? There is a wind creeping down these steps." He improved the formation slightly in respect to the wind.
"Listen!" said Moya. "Isn't that your mother walking on the porch? Father, I know, is writing. She will be lonely."
"She is never lonely, more or less. It is always the same loneliness—of a woman widowed for years."
"How very much she must have cared for him!" Moya sighed incredulously. What a pity, she thought, that among the humbler vocations Paul's father should have been just a plain "hired man." Cowboy, miner, man-o'-war's man, even enlisted man, though that were bad enough—any of these he might have been in an accidental way, that at least would have been picturesque; but it is only the possession of land, by whatsoever means or title, that can dignify an habitual personal contact with it in the form of soil. That is one of the accepted prejudices which one does not meddle with at nineteen. "Youth is conservative because it is afraid." Moya, for all her fighting blood, was traditionally and in social ways much more in bonds than Paul, who had inherited his father's dreamy speculative habit of thought, with something of the farm-hand's distrust of society and its forms and shibboleth.
Paul's voice took a narrative tone, and Moya gave herself up to listening—to him rather more, perhaps, than to his story.
Few young men of twenty-four can go very deeply into questions of heredity. Of what follows here much was not known to Paul. Much that he did know he would have interpreted differently. The old well at Stone Ridge, for instance, had no place in his recital; and yet out of it sprang the history of his shorn generation. Had Paul's mother grown up in a houseful of brothers and sisters, governed by her mother instead of an old ignorant servant, in all likelihood she would have married differently—more wisely but not perhaps so well, her son would loyally have maintained. The sons of the rich farmers who would have been her suitors were men inferior to their fathers. They inherited the vigor and coarseness of constitution, the unabashed materialism of that earlier generation that spent its energies coping with Nature on its stony farms, but the sons were spared the need of that hard labor which their blood required. They supplied an element of force, but one of great corruption later, in the state politics of their time.
A MAN THAT HAD A WELL IN HIS OWN COURT
In the kitchen court called the "Airy" at Abraham Van Elten's, there was one of those old family wells which our ancestors used to locate so artlessly. And when it tapped the kitchen drain, and typhoid took the elder children, and the mother followed the children, it was called the will of God. A gloomy distinction rested on the house. Abraham felt the importance attaching to any supreme experience in a community where life runs on in the middle key.
A young doctor who had been called in at the close of the last case went prying about the premises, asking foolish questions that angered Abraham. It is easier for some natures to suffer than to change. If the farmer had ever drunk water himself, except as tea or coffee, or mixed with something stronger, he must have been an early victim, to his own crass ignorance. He was a vigorous, heavy-set man, a grand field for typhoid. But he prospered, and the young doctor was turned down with the full weight and breadth of the Van Elten thumb, or the Broderick; Abraham's build was that of his maternal grandmother, Hillotje Broderick.
On the Ridge, which later developed into a valuable slate quarry, there was a spring of water, cold and perpetual, flowing out of the trap-formation. Abraham had piped this water down to his barns and cattle-sheds; it furnished power for the farm-work. But to bring it to the house, in obedience to the doctor's meddlesome advice, would be an acknowledgment of fatal mistakes in the past; would raise talk and blame among the neighbors, and do away with the honor of a special visitation; would cost no trifle of money; would justify the doctor's interference, and insult the old well of his father and his father's father, the fountain of generations. To seal its mouth and bid its usefulness cease in the house where it had ministered for upwards of a hundred years was an act of desecration impossible to the man who in his stolid way loved the very stones that lined its slimy sides. The few sentiments that had taken hold on Abraham's arid nature went as deep as his obstinacy and clung as fast as his distrust of new opinions and new men. The question of water supply was closed in his house; but the well remained open and kept up its illicit connection with the drain.
Old Becky, keeper of the widower's keys, had followed closely the history of those unhappy "cases;" she had listened to discussions, violent or suppressed, she had heard much talk that went on behind her master's back.
Employers of that day and generation were masters; and masters are meant to be outwitted. Emily, the youngest and last of the flock, was now a child of four, dark like her mother, sturdy and strong like her father. On an August day soon after the mother's funeral, Becky took her little charge to the well and showed her a tumbler filled, with water not freshly drawn.
"See them little specks and squirmy things?" Emmy saw them. She followed their wavering motion in the glass as the stern forefinger pointed. "Those are little baby snakes," said Becky mysteriously. "The well is full of 'em. Sometimes you can see 'em, sometimes you can't, but they're always there. They never grow big down the well; it's too dark 'n' cold. But you drink that water and the snakes will grow and wriggle and work all through ye, and eat your insides out, and you'll die. Your mother"—in a whisper—"she drunk that water, and she died. Your sister Ruth, and Dirck, and Jimmy, they drunk it, and they died. Now if Emmy wants to die"—Large eyes of horror fastened on the speaker's face. "No—o, she don't want to die, the Loveums! She don't want Becky to have no little girl left at all! No; we mustn't ever drink any of that bad water—all full of snakes, ugh! But if Emmy's thirsty, see here! Here's good nice water. It's going to be always here in this pail—same water the little lambs drink up in the fields. Becky 'll take Emmy up on the hill sometime and show where the little lambs drink."
Grief had not clouded the farmer's oversight in petty things. He noticed the innocent pail on the area bench, never empty, always specklessly clean.
"What is this water?" he asked.
Becky was surly. "Drinking water. Want some?"
"What's it doing here all the time?"
"I set it there for Emmy. She can't reach up to the bucket."
Abraham tasted the water suspiciously. The well-water was hard, with a tang of iron. The spring soft, and less cold for its journey to the barn.
"Where did you get this water?"
"Help yourself. There's plenty more."
"Becky, where did this water come from? Out o' the well?"
Becky gave a snort of exasperation. "Sam Lewis brought it from the barn! I'm too lame to be histin' buckets. I've got the rheumatiz' awful in my back and shoulders, if ye want to know!"
"Becky, you're lying to me. You've been listening to what don't concern you. Now, see here. You are not going to ask the men to carry water for you. They've got something else to do. There's your water, as handy as ever a woman had it; use that or go without."
Abraham caught up the pail and flung its contents out upon the grass, scattering the hens that came sidling back with squawks of inquiring temerity.
When next Emmy came for water, the old woman took her by the hand in silence and led her into the dim meat-cellar, a half-basement with one low window level with the grass. There was the pail, safe hidden behind the soft-soap barrel.
"I had to hide it from your pa," Becky whispered. "Don't you never let him know you're afraid o' the well-water. He drunk it when he was a little boy. He don't believe in the snakes. But there wa'n't none then. It's when water gets old and rotten. You can believe what Becky says. She knows! But you mustn't ever tell. Your father 'd be as mad as fire if he knowed I said anything about snakes. He'd send me right away, and some strange woman would come, and maybe she'd whip Emmy. Emmy want Becky to go?" Sobs, and little arms clinging wildly to Becky's aproned skirts. "No, no! Well, she ain't goin'. But Emmy mustn't tell tales or she might have to. Tattlers are wicked anyway. 'Telltale tit! Your tongue shall be slit, and all the little dogs'—There! run now! There's your poppy. Don't you never,—never!"
Emmy let her eyes be wiped, and with one long, solemn, secret look of awed intelligence she ran out to meet her father. She did not love him, and the smile with which she met him was no new lesson in diplomacy. But her first secret from him lay deep in the beautiful eyes, her mother's eyes, as she raised them to his.
"Ain't that wonderful!" said Becky, with a satisfied sigh, watching her. "Safe as a jug! An' she not five years old!" For vital reasons she had taught the child an ugly lesson. Such lessons were common enough in her experience of family discipline. She never thought of it again.
That year which took Emmy's mother from her brought to the child her first young companion and friend. Adam Bogardus came as chore-boy to the farm,—an only child himself, and sensitive through the clashing of gentle instincts with rough and inferior surroundings; brought up in that depressed God-fearing attitude in which a widow not strong, and earning her bread, would do her duty by an only son. Not a natural fighter, she took what little combativeness he had out of him, and made his school-days miserable—a record of humiliations that sunk deep and drove him from his kind. He was a big, clumsy, sagacious boy, grave as an old man, always snubbed and condescended to, yet always trusted. Little Emmy made him her bondslave at sight. His whole soul blossomed in adoration of the beautiful, masterful child who ordered him about as her vassal, while slipping a soft little trustful hand in his. She trotted at his heels like one of the lambs or chickens that he fed. She brought him into perpetual disgrace with Becky, for wasting his time through her imperious demands. She was the burden, the delight, the handicap, the incentive, and the reward of his humble apprenticeship. And when he was promoted to be one of the regular hands she followed him still, and got her pleasure out of his day's work. No one had such patience to tell her things, to wait for her and help her over places where her tagging powers fell short. But though she bullied him, she looked up to him as well. His occupations commanded her respect. He was the god of the orchards and of the cider-making; he presided at all the functions of the farm year. He was a perfect calendar besides of country sports in their season. He swept the ice pools in the meadow for winter sliding, after his day's work was done. He saved up paper and string for kite-making in March. He knew when willow bark would slip for April's whistles. In the first heats of June he climbed the tall locust-trees to put up a swing in which she could dream away the perfumed hours. At harvest she waited in the meadow for him to toss her up on the hay-loads, and his great arms received her when she slid off in the barn. She knelt at his feet on the bumping boards of the farm-wagon while he braced himself like a charioteer, holding the reins above her head. He threshed the nut-trees and routed marauding boys from her preserves, and carved pumpkin lanterns to light her to her attic chamber on cold November nights, where she would lie awake watching strange shadows on the sloping roof, half worshiping, half afraid of her idol's ugliness in the dark.
These were some of Paul's illustrations of that pastoral beginning, and no doubt they were sympathetically close to the truth. He lingered over them, dressing up his mother's choice instinctively to the little aristocrat beside him.
When Emmy grew big enough to go to the Academy, three miles from the farm, it was all in the day's work that Adam should take her and fetch her home. He combined her with the mail, the blacksmith, and other village errands. Whoever met her father's team on those long stony hills of Saugerties would see his little daughter seated beside his hired man, her face turned up to his in endless confiding talk. It was a face, as we say, to dream of. But there were few dreamers in that little world. The farmers would nod gravely to Adam. "Abraham's girl takes after her mother; heartier lookin', though. Guess he'll need a set o' new tires before spring." The comments went no deeper.
Abraham was now well on in years; he made no visits, and he never drove his own team at night. When his daughter began to let down her frocks and be asked to evening parties, it was still Adam who escorted her. He sat in the kitchen while she was amusing herself in the parlor. She discussed her young acquaintances with him on their way home. The time for distinctions had come, but she was too innocent to feel them herself, and too proud to accept the standards of others. He was absolutely honest and unworldly. He thought it no treachery to love her for herself, and he believed, as most of us do, that his family was as good as hers or any other.
It would be hard to explain the old man's obliviousness. Perhaps he had forgotten his own youth; or class prejudice had gone so deep with him as to preclude the bare thought of a child of his falling in love with one of his "men." His imagination could not so insult his own blood. But when the awakening came, his passion of anger and resentment knew no bounds. To discharge his faithless employee out of hand would be the cripple throwing away his crutch. Though he called Adam one of his men, and though his pay was that of a common laborer, his duties had long been of a much higher order. Abraham had made a very good bargain out of the widow's son. Adam knew well that he could not be spared, and pitied the old man's helpless rage. He took his frantic insults as part of his senility, and felt it no unmanliness to appease it by giving his promise that he would speak no more of love to Emmy while he was taking her father's wages. But Emmy did not indorse this promise fully. To her it looked like weakness, and implied a sort of patience which did not become a lover such as she wished hers to be. The winter wore on uncomfortably for all. Towards spring, Becky's last illness and passing away brought the younger ones together again, and closer than before. Adam kept his promise through days and nights of sickroom intimacy; but though no word of love was spoken, each bore silent witness to what was loveliest in the other, and the bond between them deepened.
Then spring came, and its restlessness was strong upon them both. But it was Emmy to whom it meant action and rebellion.
They stood on the orchard hill one Sunday afternoon at the pause of the year. Buds were swelling and the edges of the woods wore a soft blush against the vaporous sky. The bare brown slopes were streaked with snow. A floe of winter ice, grinding upon itself with the tide, glared yellow as an old man's teeth in the setting sun. From across the river came the thunder of a train, bound north, two engines dragging forty cars of freight piled up by some recent traffic-jam; it plunged into a tunnel, and they waited, listening to the monster's smothered roar. Out it burst, its breath packed into clouds, the engines whooped, and round the curve where a point of cedars cut the sky the huge creature unwound itself, the hills echoing to its tread.
Emmy watched it out of sight, and breathed again. "Hundreds, hundreds going every day! It seems easy enough for everybody else. Oh, if I were a man!"
"What do you want I should do, Emmy?" Adam knew well what man she was thinking of.
"I want? Don't you ever want things yourself?"
"When I want a thing bad, I gen'ly think it's worth waiting for."
"People don't get things by waiting. I don't know how you can stand it,—to stay here year after year. And now you've tied yourself up with a promise, and you know you cannot keep it!"
"I'm trying to keep it."
"You couldn't keep it if you cared—really and truly—as some do!" She dropped her voice hurriedly. "To live here and eat your meals day after day and pass me like a stick or a stone!"
The slow blood burned in Adam's face and hammered in his pulses. His blue eyes were bashful through its heat. "I don't feel like a stick nor a stone. You know it, Emmy. You want to be careful," he added gently. "Would going away look as if I cared?"
"Why—why don't you ask me to go with you?" The girl tried to meet his eyes. She turned off her question with a proud laugh.
"Be—careful, child! You know why I can't take you up on that. Would you want we should leave him here alone—without even Becky? You're only trying me for fun."
"No; I am not!" Emmy was pale now. Her breast was rising in strong excitement. "If we were gone, he would know then what you are worth to him. Now, you're only Adam! He thinks he can put you down like a boy. He won't believe I care for you. There's only one way to show him—that is, if we do care. In one month he would be sending for us back. Then we could come, and you would take your right place here, and be somebody. You would not eat in the kitchen, then. Haven't you been like a son to him? And why shouldn't he own it?"
"But if he won't? Suppose he don't send for us to come back?"
"Then you could strike out for yourself. What was Tom Madden, before he went away to Colorado, or somewhere—where was it? And now everybody stops to shake hands with him;—he's as much of a man as anybody. If you could make a little money. That's the proof he wants. If you were rich, you'd be all right with him. You know that!"
"I'd hate to think it. But I'll never be rich. Put that out of your mind, Emmy. It don't run in the blood. I don't come of a money-making breed."
"What a silly thing to say! Of course, if you don't believe you can, you can't. Who has made the money here for the last ten years?"
"It was his capital done it. It ain't hard to make money after you've scraped the first few thousands together. But it's the first thousand that costs."
"How much have you got ahead?"
Adam answered awkwardly, "Eleven hundred and sixty odd." He did not like to talk of money to the girl who was the prayer, the inspiration, of his life. It hurt him to be questioned by her in this sordid way.
"You earned it all, didn't you?"
"I've took no risks. Here was my home. He give me the chance and he showed me how. And—he's your father. I don't like to talk about his money, nor about my own, to you."
"Oh, you are good, good! Nobody knows! But it's all wasted if you haven't got any push—anything inside of yourself that makes people know what you are. I wish I could put into you some of my fury that I feel when things get in my way! You have held yourself in too long. You can't—can't love a girl, and be so careful—like a mother. Don't you understand?"
"Stop right there, Emmy! You needn't push no harder. I can let go whenever you say so. But—do you understand, little girl? Man and wife it will have to be."
Emmy did not shrink at the words. Her face grew set, her dark eyes full of mystery fixed themselves on the slow-moving ice-floe grinding along the shore.
"I know," she assented slowly.
"I can't give you no farm, nor horses and carriages, nor help in the kitchen. It's bucklin' right down with our bare hands—me outside and you in? And you only eighteen. See what little hands—If I could do it all!"
"Your promise is broken," she whispered. "I made you break it. You will have to tell him now, or—we must go."
"So be!" said Adam solemnly. "And God do so to me and more also, if I have to hurt my little girl,—Emmy—wife!"
He folded her in his great arms clumsily—the man she had said was like a mother. He was almost as ignorant as she, and more hopeful than he had dared to seem, as to their worldly chances. But the love he had for her told him it was not love that made her so bold. The first touch of such love as his would have made her fear him as he feared her. And the subtle pain of this instinctive knowledge, together with that broken promise, shackled the wings of his great joy. It was not as he had hoped to win the crown of life.
Paul, it may be supposed, had never liked to think of his mother's elopement. It had been the one hard point to get over in his conception of his father, but he could never have explained it by such a scene as this. It would have hampered him terribly in his tale had he dreamed of it. He passed over the unfortunate incident with a romancer's touch, and dwelt upon his grandfather's bitter resentment which he resented as the son of his mother's choice. The Van Eltens and Brodericks all fared hardly at the hands of their legatee.
It was not only in the person of a hireling who had abused his trust that Abraham had felt himself outraged. There were old neighborhood spites and feuds going back, dividing blood from blood—even brothers of the same blood. There was trouble between him and his brother Jacob, of New York, dating from the settlement of their father's, Broderick Van Elten's, estate; and no one knows what besides that was private and personal may have entered into it. It was years since they had met, but Jacob kept well abreast of his brother's misfortunes. A bachelor himself, with no children to lose or to quarrel with, it was not displeasing to him to hear of the breaks in his brother's household.
"What, what, what! The last one left him,—run off with one of his men! What a fool the man must be. Can't he look after his women folks better than that? Better have lost her with the others. Two boys, and Chrissy, and the girl—and now the last girl gone off with his hired man. Poor Chrissy! Guess she had about enough of it. Things have come out pretty much even, after all! There was more love and lickin's wasted on Abe. Father was proudest of him, but he couldn't break him. Hi! but I've crawled under the woodshed to hear him yell, and father would tan him with a raw-hide, but he couldn't break him; couldn't get a sound out of him. Big, and hard, and tough—Chrissy thought she knew a man; she thought she took the best one."
With slow, cold spite Jacob had tracked his brother's path in life through its failures. Jacob had no failures, and no life.
Proud little Emmy, heiress no longer, had put her spirit into her farm-hand and incited him to the first rebellion of his life. They crossed the river at night, poling through floating ice, and climbed aboard one of those great through trains whose rushing thunder had made the girlish heart so often beat. This was long before the West Shore Line was built. Neither of them had ever seen the inside of a Pullman sleeper. Emmy could count the purchased meals she had eaten in her life; she had never slept in a hotel or hired lodging till after her marriage. Hardly any one could be so provincial in these days.
Adam Bogardus was a plodder in the West as he had been in the East. He was an honest man, and he was wise enough not to try to be a shrewd one. He tried none of the short-cuts to a fortune. Hard work suited him best, and no work was too hard for his iron strength and patient resolution. But it broke the spirit of a man in him to see his young wife's despair. Poverty frightened and quelled her. The deep-rooted security of her old home was something she missed every day of her makeshift existence. It was degradation to live in "rooms," or a room; to move for want of means to pay the rent. She pined for the good food she had been used to. Her health suffered through anxiety and hard work. She was too proud to complain, but the sight of her dumb unacceptance of what had come to her through him undoubtedly added the last straw to her husband's mental strain.
* * * * *
"It is hard for me to realize it as I once did," said Paul, as the story paused. "You make tragedy a dream. But there is a deep vein of tragedy in our blood. And my theory is that it always crops out in families where it's the keynote, as it were."
"Never mind, you old care-taker! We Middletons carry sail enough to need a ton or two of lead in our keel."
"But, you understand?"—
"I understand the distinction between what I call your good blood, and the sort of blood I thought you had. It explains a certain funny way you have with arms—weapons. Do you mind?"
"Not at all," said Paul coldly. "I hate a weapon. I am always ashamed of myself when I get one in my hand."
"You act that way, dear!"
"God made tools and the Devil made weapons."
"You are civil to my father's profession."
"Your father is what he is aside from his profession."
"You are quite mistaken, Paul. My father and his profession are one. His sword is a symbol of healing. The army is the great surgeon of the nation when the time comes for a capital operation."
"It grows harder to tell my story," said Paul gloomily;—"the short and simple annals of the poor."
"Now come! Have I been a snob about my father's profession?"
"No; but you love it, naturally. You have grown up with its pomp and circumstance around you. You are the history makers when history is most exciting."
"Go on with your story, you proud little Dutchman! When I despise you for your farming relatives, you can taunt me with my history making."
Paul was about two years old when his parents broke up in the Wood River country and came south by wagon on the old stage-road to Felton. Whenever he saw a "string-bean freighter's" outfit moving into Bisuka, if there was a woman on the driver's seat, he wanted to take off his hat to her. For so his mother sat beside his father and held him in her arms two hundred miles across the Snake River desert. The stages have been laid off since the Oregon Short Line went through, but there were stations then all along the road.
One night they made camp at a lonely place between Soul's Rest and Mountain Home. Oneman Station it was called; afterwards Deadman Station, when the keeper's body was found one morning stiff and cold in his bunk. He died in the night alone. Emily Bogardus had cause to hate the man when he was living, and his dreary end was long a shuddering remembrance to her, like the answer to an unforgiving prayer.
The station was in a hollow with bare hills around, rising to the highest point of that rolling plain country. The mountains sink below the plain, only their white tops showing. It was October. All the wild grass had been eaten close for miles on both sides of the road, but over a gap in the Western divide was the Bruneau Valley, where the bell-mare of the team had been raised. In the night she broke her hopples and struck out across the summit with the four mules at her heels. Towards morning a light snow fell and covered their tracks. Adam was compelled to hunt his stock on foot; the keeper refusing him a horse, saying he had got himself into trouble before through being friendly with the company's horses. He started out across the hills, expecting that the same night would see him back, and his wife was left in the wagon camp alone.
* * * * *
"I know this story very well," said Paul, "and yet I never heard it but once, when mother decided I was old enough to know all. But every word was bitten into me—especially this ugly part I am coming to. I wish it need not be told, yet all the rest depends on it; and that such an experience could come to a woman like my mother shows what exposure and humiliation lie in the straightest path if there is no money to smooth the way. You hear it said that in the West the toughest men will be chivalrous to a woman if she is the right sort of a woman. I'm afraid that is a romantic theory of the Western man.
"That night, before his team stampeded, as he sat by the keeper's fire, father had made up his mind that the less they had to do with that man the better. He may have warned mother; and she, left alone with the brute, did not know the wisdom of hiding her fear and loathing of him. He may have meant no more than a low kind of teasing, but her suffering was the same.
"Father did not come. She dared not leave the camp. She knew no place to go to, and in his haste, believing he would soon be with her again, he had taken all their little stock of funds. But he had left her his gun, and with this within reach of her hand in the shelter of the wagon hood, without fire and without cooked food, she kept a sleepless watch.
"The stages came and went; help was within sound of her voice, but she dared make no sign. The passengers were few at that season, always men, on the best of terms with the keeper. He had threatened—well, no matter—such a threat as a more sophisticated woman would have smiled at. She was simple, but she was not weak. It was a moral battle between them. There were hours when she held him by the power of her eye alone; she conquered, but it nearly killed her.
"One morning a man jumped down from the stage whose face she knew. He had recognized my father's outfit and he came to speak to her, amazed to find her in that place alone. There was no need to put her worst fear into words; he knew the keeper. He made the best he could of father's detention, but he assured her, as she knew too well, that she could not wait for him there. He was on his way East, and he took us with him as far as Mountain Home. To this day she believes that if Bud Granger had led the search, my father would have been found; but he went East to sell his cattle, the snows set in, and the search party came straggling home. The man, Granger, had left a letter of explanation, inclosing one from mother to father, with the keeper. He bribed and frightened him, but for years she used to agonize over a fear that father had come back and the keeper had withheld the letter and belied her to him with some devilish story that maddened him and drove him from her. Such a fancy might have come out of her mental state at that time. I believe that Granger left the letter simply to satisfy her. He must have believed my father was dead. He could not have conceived of a man's being lost in that broad country at that season; but my father was a man of hills and farms, all small, compact. The plains were another planet to him.
"The letter was found in the keeper's clothing after his death; no one ever came to claim it of his successor. Somewhere in this great wilderness a tired man found rest. What would we not give if we knew where!
"And she worked in a hotel in Mountain Home. Can you imagine it! Then Christine was born and the multiplied strain overcame her. Strangers took care of her children while she lay between life and death. She had been silent about herself and her past, but they found a letter from one of her old schoolmates asking about teachers' salaries in the West, and they wrote to her begging her to make known my mother's condition to her relatives if any were living. At length came a letter from grandfather—characteristic to the last. The old home was there, for her and for her children, but no home for the traitor, as he called father. She must give him up even to his name. No Bogardus could inherit of a Van Elten.
"She had not then lost all hope of father's return, and she never forgave her father for trying to buy her back for the price of what she considered her birthright. She settled down miserably to earn bread for her children. Then, when hope and pride were crushed in her, and faith had nothing left to cling to, there came a letter from Uncle Jacob, the bachelor, who had bided his time. Out of the division in his brother's house he proposed to build up his own; just as he would step in and buy depreciated bonds to hold them for a rise. He offered her a home and maintenance during his lifetime, and his estate for herself and her children when he was through. There were no conditions referring to our father, but it was understood that she should give up her own. This, mainly, to spite his brother, yet under all there was an old man's plea. She felt she could make the obligation good, though there might not be much love on either side. Perhaps it came later; but I remember enough of that time to believe that her children's future was dearly paid for. Grandfather died alone, in the old rat-ridden house up the Hudson. He left no will, to every one's surprise. It might have been his negative way of owning his debt to nature at the last.
"That is how we came to be rich; and no one detects in us now the crime of those early struggles. But my father was a hired man; and my mother has done every menial thing with those soft hands of hers." A softer one was folded in his own. Its answering clasp was loyal and strong.
"Is this the story you had not the courage to tell me?"
"This is the story I had the courage to tell you—not any too soon, perhaps you think?"
"And do you think it needed courage?"
"The question is what you think. What are we to do with Uncle Jacob's money? Go off by ourselves and have a good time with it?"
"We will not decide to-night," said Moya, tenderly subdued. But, though the story had interested and touched her, as accounting for her lover's saddened, conscience-ridden youth, it was no argument against teaching him what youth meant in her philosophy. The differences were explained, but not abolished.
"It was spite money, remember, not love money," he continued, reverting to his story. "It purchased my mother's compliance to one who hated her father, who forced her to listen, year after year, to bitter, unnatural words against him. I am not sure but it kept her from him at the last; for if Uncle Jacob had not stepped in and made her his, I can't help thinking she would have found somehow a way to the soft place in his heart. Something good ought to be done with that money to redeem its history."
"You must not be morbid, Paul."
"That sounds like mother," said Paul, smiling. "She is always jealous for our happiness; because she lost her own, I think, and paid so heavily for ours. She prizes pleasure and success, even worldly success, for us."
"I don't blame her!" cried Moya.
"No; of course not. But you mustn't both be against me, and Chrissy, too. She is so, unconsciously; she does not know the pull there is on me, through knowing things she doesn't dream of, and that I can never forget."
"No," said Moya. "I am sure she is perfectly unconscious. We exchanged biographies at school, and there was nothing at all like this in hers. Why was she never told?"
"She has always been too strained, too excitable. Every least incident is an emotion with her. When she laughs, her laugh is like a cry. Haven't you noticed that? Startle her, and her eyes are the very eyes of fear. Mother was wise, I think, not to pour those old sorrows into her little fragile cup."
"So she emptied them all into yours!"
"That was my right, of the elder and stronger. I wouldn't have missed the knowledge of our beginnings for the world. What a prosperous fool and ass I might have made of myself!"
"Morbid again," said Moya. "You belong to your own day and generation. You might as well wear country shoes and clothes because your father wore them."
"Still, if we have such a thing in this country as class, then you and I do not belong to the same class except by virtue of Uncle Jacob's money. Confess you are glad I am a Bevier and a Broderick and a Van Elten, as well as a Bogardus."
"I shall confess nothing of the kind. Now you do talk like a nouveau Paul, dear," said Moya, with her caressing eyes on his—they had paused under the lamp at the top of the steps—"I think your father must have been a very good man."
"All our fathers were," Paul averred, smiling at her earnestness.
"Yes, but yours in particular; because you are an angel; and your mother is quite human, is she not?—almost as human as I am? That carriage of the head,—if that does not mean the world!"—
"She has needed all her pride."
"I don't object to pride, myself," said the girl, "but you dwell so upon her humiliations. I see no such record in her face."
"She has had much to hide, you must remember."
"Well, she can hide things; but one's self must escape sometimes. What has become of little Emily Van Elten who ran away with her father's hired man? What has become of the freighter's wife?"
"She is all mother now. She brought us back to the world, and for our sakes she has learned to take her place in it. Herself she has buried."
"Yes; but which is—was herself?"
"And you cannot see her story in her face?"
"Not that story."
"Not the crushing reserve, the long suspense, the silence of a sorrow that even her children could not share?"
"I know her silence. Your mother is a most reticent woman. But is she now the woman of that story?"
"I don't understand you quite," said Paul. "How much are we ourselves after we have passed through fires of grief, and been recast under the pressure of circumstances! She was that woman once."
"The saddest part of the story to me is, that your father, who loved her so, and worked so hard for his family, should have served you all the better by his death."
"Oh, don't say that, dear! Who knows what is best? But one thing we do know. The sorrow that cut my mother's life in two brought you and me together. It rent the stratum on which I was born and raised it to the level of yours, my lady!"
"I shall not forget," whispered Moya with blissful irony, "that you are the Poor Man's son!"
AN APPEAL TO NATURE
The autumn days were shortening imperceptibly and the sunsets had gained an almost articulate splendor: cloud calling unto cloud, the west horizon signaling to the east, and answering again, while the mute dark circle of hills sat like a council of chiefs with their blankets drawn over their heads. Soon those blankets would be white with snow.
Behind the Post where the hills climb toward the Cottonwood Creek divide, there is a little canon which at sunset is especially inviting. It hastens twilight by at least an hour during midsummer, and in autumn it leads up a stairway of shadow to the great spectacle of the day—the day's departure from the hills.
The canon has its companion rivulet always coming down to meet the stage-road going up. As this road is the only outlet hillward for all the life of the plain, and as the tendency of every valley population is to climb, one thinks of it as a way out rather than a way in. Higher up, the stage-road becomes a pass cut through a wall of splintered cliffs; and here it leads its companion, the brook, a wild dance over boulders, and under culverts of fallen rock. At last it emerges on what is called The Summit; and between are green, deep valleys where the little ranches, fields and fences and houses, seem to have slid down to the bottom and lie there at rest.
A party of young riders from the post had gone up this road one evening, and two had come down, laughing and talking; but the other two remained in the circle of light that rested on the summit. Prom where they sat in the dry grass they could hear a hollow sound of moving feet as the cattle wandered down through folds of the hills, seeking the willow copses by the water. On the breast of her habit Moya wore the blossoms of the wild evening primrose, which in this region flowers till the coming of frost. They had been gathered for her on the way up, and as she had waited for them, sitting her horse in silence, the brown owls gurgled and hooted overhead from nest to nest in the crannies of the rocks.
"You need not hold the horses," she commanded, in her fresh voice. "Throw my bridle over your saddle pommel and yours over mine.—There!" she said, watching the horses as they shuffled about interlinked. "That is like half the marriages in this world. They don't separate and they don't go astray, but they don't get anywhere!"
"I have been thinking of those 'two in the Garden,'" mused Paul, resting his dark, abstracted eyes on her. "Whether or no your humble servant has a claim to unchallenged bliss in this world, there's no doubt about your claim. If my plans interfere, I must take myself out of the way."
"Oh, you funny old croaker!" laughed the girl. "Take yourself out of the way, indeed! Haven't you chosen me to show you the way?"
"Moya, Moya!" said Paul in a smothered voice.
"I know what you are thinking. But stop it!" she held one of her crushed blossoms to his lips. "What was this made for? Why hasn't it some work to do? Isn't it a skulker—blooming here for only a night?"
"'Ripen, fall, and cease!'" Paul murmured.
"How much more am I—are you, then? The sum of us may amount to something, if we mind our own business and keep step with each other, and finish one thing before we begin the next. I will not be in a hurry about being good. Goodness can take care of itself. What you need is to be happy! And it's my first duty to make you so."
"God knows what bliss it would be."
"Don't say 'would be.'"
"God knows it is!"
"Then hush and be thankful!" There was a long hush. They heard the far, faint notes of a bugle sounding from the Post.
"Lights out," said Moya. "We must go."
"You haven't told me yet where our Garden is to be," he said.
"I will tell you on the way home."
When they had come down into the neighborhood of ranches, and Bisuka's lights were twinkling below them, she asked: "Who lives now in the grandfather's house on the Hudson?"
"The farmer, Chauncey Dunlop."
"Is there any other house on the place?"
"Yes. Mother built a new one on the Ridge some years ago."
"What sort of a house is it?"
"It was called a good house once; but now it's rather everything it shouldn't be. It was one of the few rash things mother ever did; build a house for her children while they were children. Now she will not change it. She says we shall build for ourselves, how and where we please. Stone Ridge is her shop. Of course, if Chrissy liked it—But Chrissy considers it a 'hole.' Mother goes up there and indulges in secret orgies of economy; one man in the stable, one in the garden—'Economy has its pleasures for all healthy minds.'"
"Economy is as delicious as bread and butter after too much candy. I should love to go up to Stone Ridge and wear out my old clothes. Did any one tell me that place would some day be yours?"
"It will be my wife's on the day we are married."
"That is where your wife, sir, would like to live."
"It is a stony Garden, dear! The summer people have their places nearer the river. Our land lies back, with no view but hills. For one who has the world before her where to choose, it strikes me she has picked out a very humble Paradise."
"Did you think my idea was to travel—a poor army girl who spends her life in trunks? Do we ever buy a book or frame a picture without thinking of our next move? As for houses, who am I that I should be particular? In the Army's House are many mansions, but none that we can call our own. Oh, I'm very primitive; I have the savage instinct to gather sticks and stones, and get a roof over my head before winter sets in."
To such a speech as this there was but one obvious answer, as she rode at his side, her appealing slenderness within reach of his arm. It did not matter what thousands he proposed to spend upon the roof that should cover her; it was the same as if they were planning a hut of tules or a burrow in the snow.
"It is a poor man's country," he said; "stony hillsides, stony roads lined with stone fences. The chief crop of the country is ice and stone. In one of my grandfather's fields there is a great cairn which Adam Bogardus, they say, picked up, stone by stone, with his bare hands, and carted there when he was fourteen years old. We will build them into the walls of our new house for a blessing."
"No," said Moya. "We will let sleeping stones lie!"
There was impatience at the garrison for news that the hunters had started. Every day's delay at Challis meant an abridgment of the bridegroom's leave, and the wedding was now but a fortnight away. It began to seem preposterous that he should go at all, and the colonel was annoyed with himself for his enthusiasm over the plan in the first place. Mrs. Bogardus's watchfulness of dates told the story of her thoughts, but she said nothing.
"Mamsie is restless," said Christine, putting an arm around her mother's solid waist and giving her a tight little hug apropos of nothing. "I believe it's another case of 'mail-time fever.' The colonel says it comes on with Moya every afternoon about First Sergeant's call. But Moya is cunning. She goes off and pretends she isn't listening for the bugle."
"'First Sergeant or Second,' it's all one to me," said Mrs. Bogardus. "I never know one call from another, except when the gun goes off."
"Mamsie! 'When the gun goes off!' What a civilian way of talking. You are not getting on at all with your military training. Now let me give you some useful information. In two seconds the bugle will call the first sergeant—of each company—to the adjutant's office, and there he'll get the mail for his men. The orderly trumpeter will bring it to the houses on the line, and the colonel's orderly—beautiful creature! There he goes! How I wish we could take him home with us and have him in our front hall. Fancy the feelings of the maids! And the rage on the noble brow of Parkins—awful Parkins. I should like to give his pride a bump."
Mother and daughter were pacing the colonel's veranda, behind a partial screen of rose vines—October vines fast shedding their leaves. Every breeze shook a handful down, which the women's skirts swept with them as they walked. Mrs. Bogardus turned and clasped Christine's arm above the elbow; through the thin sleeve she could feel its cool roundness. It was a soft, small, unmuscular arm, that had never borne its own burdens, to say nothing of a share in the burdens of others.
"Get your jacket," said the mother. "There is a chill in the air."
"There is no chill in me," laughed Christine. "You know, mamsie, you aren't a girl. I should simply die in those awful things that you wear. Did you ever know such a hot house as the colonel keeps!"
"The rooms are small, and the colonel is—impulsive," Mrs. Bogardus added with a smile.
"There is something very like him about his fire-making. I should know by the way he puts on wood that he never would have "—Mrs. Bogardus checked herself.
"A large bank account?" Christine supplied, with her quick wit, which was not of a highly sensitive order.
"He has a large heart," said her mother.
"And plenty of room for it, bless him! The slope of his chest is like the roof of a house. The only time I envy Moya is when she lays her head down on it and tries to meet her arms around him as if he were a tree, and he strokes her hair as if his hand was a bough! If ever I marry a soldier he shall be a colonel with a white mustache and a burnt-sienna complexion, and a sword-belt that measures—what is the colonel's waist-measure, do you suppose?"
Mrs. Bogardus listened to this nonsense with the smile of a silent woman who has borne a child that can talk. Moya had often noticed how uncritical she was of Christine's "unruly member."
"It isn't polite to speak of waist-measures to middle-aged persons like your mother and the colonel," she said placidly. "You like it very much out here?"
"Fascinating! Never had such a good time in my whole life."
"And you like the West altogether? Would you like to live here?"
"Oh, if it came to living, I should want to be sure there was a way out."
"There generally is a way out of most things. But it costs something." Mrs. Bogardus was so concise in her speech as at times to be almost oracular.
"Army people are sure of their way out," said Christine, "and I guess they find it costs something."
"Why do they buy so many books, I wonder? If I moved as often as they do, I'd have only paper covers and leave them behind."
"You are not a reader, mummy. You're a business woman. You look at everything from the practical side."
"And if I didn't, who would?" Mrs. Bogardus spoke with earnestness. "We can't all be dreamers like Paul or privileged persons like you. There has to be one in every family to say the things no one likes to hear and do the things nobody likes to do."
"We are the rich repiners and you are the household drudge!" Christine shouted, laughing at her own wit.
"Hush, hush!" her mother smiled. "Don't make so much noise."
"I should like to know who's to be the drudge in Paul's privileged family. It doesn't strike me it's going to be Moya. And Paul only drudges for people he doesn't know."
"Moya is a girl you can expect anything of. She is a wonderful mixture of opposites. She has the Irish quickness, and yet she has learned to obey. She has had the freedom and the discipline of these little lordly army posts. She is one of the few girls of her age who does not measure everything from her own point of view."
"Is that a dig at me, ma'am?"
At that moment Moya came out upon the porch.
She was very striking with the high color and brilliant eyes that mail-time fever breeds. Christine looked at her with freshly aroused curiosity, moved by her mother's unwonted burst of praise. The faintest tinge of jealousy made her feel naughty. As Moya went down the board walk, the colonel's orderly came springing up the steps to meet her with the mail-bag. He saluted and turned off at an angle down the embankment not to present his back to the ladies.
"Did you see that! He never raised his eyes. They are like priests. You can't make them look at you." Moya looked at Christine in amazement. The man himself might have heard her. It was not the first time this privileged guest had rubbed against garrison customs in certain directions hardly worth mentioning. Moya hesitated. Then she laughed a little, and said: "Only a raw recruity would look at an officer's daughter, or any lady of the line."
"Oh, you horrid little aristocrat! Well, I look at them, when they are as pretty as that one, and I forgive them if they look at me."
Moya turned and hovered over the contents of the mail-bag. In the exercise of one of her prerogatives, it was her habit to sort its contents before delivering it at the official door.
"All, all for you!" she offered a huge packet of letters, smiling, to Mrs. Bogardus. It was faced with one on top in Paul's handwriting. "All but one," she added, and proceeded to open her own much fatter one in the same hand. She stood reading it in the hall.
Mrs. Bogardus presently followed and remained beside her. "Could I speak to your father a moment?" she asked.
"Certainly, I will call him," said Moya.
"Wait: I hear him now." The study door opened and Colonel Middleton joined them. Mrs. Bogardus leading the way into the sitting-room, the colonel followed her, and Moya, not having been invited, lingered in the hall.
"Well, have the hunters started yet?" the colonel inquired in his breezy voice, which made you want to open the doors and windows to give it room." Be seated! Be seated! I hope you have got a long letter to read me."
Mrs. Bogardus stood reflecting. "The day this letter was mailed they got off—only two days ago," she said. "Could I reach them, Colonel, with a telegram?"
"Two days ago," the colonel considered. "They must have made Yankee Fork by yesterday. Today they are deep in the woods. No; I should say a man on horseback would be your surest telegram. Is it anything important?"
"Colonel, I wish we could call them back! They have gone off, it seems to me, in a most crazy way—against the judgment of every one who knows. The guide, this man whom they waited for, refused, it appears, to go out again with another party so late in the fall. But the Bowens were determined. They insisted on making arrangements with another man. Then, when 'Packer John,' they call him, heard of this, he went to Paul and urged him, if he could not prevent the others from going, to give up the trip himself. The Bowens were very much annoyed at his interference, and with Paul for listening to him. And Paul, rather than make things unpleasant, gave in. You know how young men are! What silly grounds are enough for the most serious decisions when it is a question of pride or good faith. The Bowens had bought their outfit on Paul's assurance that he would go. He felt he could not leave them in the lurch. On that, the guide suddenly changed his mind and said he would go with them sooner than see them fall into worse hands. They were, in a way, committed to the other man, so they took him along as cook—the whole thing done in haste, you see, and unpleasant feelings all around. Do you call that a good start for a pleasure trip?"
"It's very much the way with young troops when they start out—everything wrong end foremost, everybody mad with everybody else. A day in the saddle will set their little tempers all right."
"That isn't the point," Mrs. Bogardus persisted gloomily. As she spoke, the two girls came into the room and stood listening.
"What is the point, then?" Christine demanded. "Moya has no news; all those pages and pages, and nothing for anybody or about anybody!"
"'Such an intolerable deal of sack to such a poor pennyworth of bread,'" the colonel quoted, smiling at Moya's bloated envelope.
"But what do you think?" Mrs. Bogardus recalled him. "Don't you think it's a mistake all around?"
"Not at all, if they have a good man. This flat-footed fellow, John, will take command, as he should. There is no danger in the woods at any season unless the party gets rattled and goes to pieces for want of a head."
"Father!" exclaimed Moya. "You know there is danger. Often, things have happened!"
"Why, what could happen?" asked Christine, with wide eyes.
"Many things very interesting could happen," the colonel boasted cheerfully. "That is the object of the trip. You want things to happen. It is the emergency that makes the man—sifts him, and takes the chaff out of him."
"Take the chaff out of Banks Bowen," Moya imprudently struck in, "and what would you have left?" She had met Banks Bowen in New York.
"Tut, tut!" said the colonel. "Silence, or a good word for the absent—same as the"—The colonel stopped short.
"You are so scornful about the other men, now you have chosen one!" Christine's face turned red.
"Why, Chrissy! You would not compare your brother to those men! Papa, I beg your pardon; this is only for argument."
"I don't compare him; but that's not to say all the other men are chaff!" Christine joined constrainedly in the laugh that followed her speech.
"You need not go fancying things, Moya," she cried, in answer to a quizzical look. "As if I hadn't known the Bowen boys since I was so high!"
"You might know them from the cradle to the grave, my dear young lady, and not know them as Paul will, after a week in the woods with them."
The colonel had missed the drift of the girls' discussion. He was considering, privately, whether he had not better send a special messenger on the young men's trail. His assurances to the women left a wide margin for personal doubt as to the prudence of the trip. Aside from the lateness of the start, it was, undoubtedly, an ill-assorted company for the woods. There was a wide margin also for suspense, as all mail facilities ceased at Challis.
A HUNTER'S DIARY
Early in November, about a week before the hunters were expected home, a packet came addressed to Moya. It was a journal letter from Paul, mailed by some returning prospector chance encountered in the forest as the party were going in. Moya read it aloud, with asterisks, to a family audience which did not include her father.
"To-day," one of the first entries read, "we halt at Twelve-Mile Cabin, the last roof we shall sleep under. There are pine-trees near the cabin cut off fifteen feet above the ground, felled in winter, John tells us, at the level of the snow!
"These cabins are all deserted now; the tide of prospecting has turned another way. The great hills that crowd one another up against the sky are so infested and overridden by this enormous forest-growth, and the underbrush is so dense, it would be impossible for a 'tenderfoot' to gain any clear idea of his direction. I should be a lost man the moment I ventured out of call. Woodcraft must be a sixth sense which we lost with the rest of our Eden birthright when we strayed from innocence, when we ceased to sleep with one ear on the ground, and to spell our way by the moss on tree-trunks. In these solitudes, as we call them, ranks and clouds of witnesses rise up to prove us deaf and blind. Busy couriers are passing every moment of the day; and we do not see, nor hear, nor understand. We are the stocks and stones. Packer John is our only wood-sharp;—yet the last half of the name doesn't altogether fit him. He is a one-sided character, handicapped, I should say, by some experience that has humbled and perplexed him. Two and two perhaps refused to make four in his account with men, and he gave up the proposition. And now he consorts with trees, and hunts to live, not to kill. He has an impersonal, out-door odor about him, such as the cleanest animals have. I would as soon eat out of his dry, hard, cool hand, as from a chunk of pine-bark.