THE HAPPY END
BY JOSEPH HERGESHEIMER
BOOKS BY JOSEPH HERGESHEIMER
THE HAPPY END JAVA HEAD GOLD AND IRON THE THREE BLACK PENNYS MOUNTAIN BLOOD THE LAY ANTHONY
THE HAPPY END
These stories have but one purpose—to give pleasure; and they have been made into a book at the requests of those I have fortunately pleased. It is, therefore, to such friends of my writing that they are addressed and dedicated. However, this is not an effort to avoid my responsibility: but to whom? Not to critics, not middlemen, nor the Academies of which I am so reprehensibly ignorant; not, certainly, to my neighbor. They brought me, in times of varying difficulty, food; and for that excellent reason I am forced to conclude that, then as now, I am responsible to my grocer.
Lonely Valleys The Egyptian Chariot The Flower of Spain Tol'able David Bread Rosemary Roselle The Thrush in the Hedge
The maid, smartly capped in starched ruffled muslin and black, who admitted them to the somber luxury of the rectory, hesitated in unconcealed sulky disfavor.
"Doctor Goodlowe has hardly started dinner," she asserted.
"Just ask him to come out for a little," the man repeated.
He was past middle age, awkward in harsh ill-fitting and formal clothes and with a gaunt high-boned countenance and clear blue eyes.
His companion, a wistfully pale girl under an absurd and expensive hat, laid her hand in an embroidered white silk glove on his arm and said in a low tone: "We won't bother him, Calvin. There are plenty of ministers in Washington; or we could come back later."
"There are, and we could," he agreed; "but we won't. I'm not going to wait a minute more for you, Lucy. Not now that you are willing. Why, I have been waiting half my life already."
A gaunt young man with clear blue eyes sat on the bank of a mountain road and gazed at the newly-built house opposite. It was the only dwelling visible. Behind, the range rose in a dark wall against the evening sky; on either hand the small green valley was lost in a blue haze of serried peaks. The house was not imposing; in reality small, but a story and a half, it had a length of three rooms with a kitchen forming an angle, invisible from where Calvin Stammark sat; an outside chimney at each end, and a narrow covered portico over the front door.
An expiring clatter of hoofs marked the departure of the neighbor who had helped Calvin set the last flanged course. It seemed incredible that it was finished, ready—when the furniture and bright rag carpet had been placed—for Hannah. "The truck patch will go in there on the right," he told himself; "and gradually I'll get the slope cleared out, corn and buckwheat planted."
He twisted about, facing the valley. It was deep in grass, watered with streams like twisting shining ribbons, and held a sleek slow-grazing herd of cattle.
The care of the latter, a part of Senator Alderwith's wide possessions, was to form Calvin's main occupation—for the present anyhow. Calvin Stammark had larger plans for his future with Hannah. Some day he would own the Alderwith pastures at his back and be grazing his own steers.
His thoughts returned to Hannah, and he rose and proceeded to where a saddled horse was tied beside the road. He ought to go back to Greenstream and fix up before seeing her; but with their home all built, his impatience to be with her was greater than his sense of propriety, and he put his horse at a sharp canter to the left.
Calvin continued down the valley until the road turned toward the range and an opening which he followed into a steeper and narrower rift beyond. Here there were no clearings in the rocky underbrush until he reached Richmond Braley's land. A long upturning sweep ended at the house, directly against the base of the mountain; and without decreasing his gait he passed over the faintly traced way, by the triangular sheep washing and shearing pen, to the stabling shed.
Hannah's mother was bending fretfully over the kitchen stove, and Richmond, her father, was drawing off sodden leather boots. He was a man tall and bowed, stiff but still powerful, with a face masked in an unkempt tangle of beard.
"H'y, Calvin," he cried; "you're just here for spoon licking! Lucy was looking for company." Mrs. Braley's comment was below her breath, but it was plainly no corroboration of her husband's assurance. "You'll find Hannah in the front of the house," Richmond added. Hannah was sitting on the stone steps at the side entrance to the parlor. As usual she had a bright bow in the hair streaming over her back, and her feet were graceful in slippers with thin black stockings. She kissed him willingly and studied him with wide-opened hazel-brown eyes. There wasn't another girl in Greenstream, in Virginia, with Hannah's fetching appearance, he decided with a glow of adoration. She had a—a sort of beauty entirely her own; it was not exactly prettiness, but a quality far more disturbing, something a man could never forget.
"She's done," he told her abruptly.
"What?" Hannah gazed up at him with a dim sweetness in the gathering dusk.
"What!" he mocked her. "You ought to be ashamed to ask. Why, the house —our home. We could move in by a week if we were called to. We can get married any time."
She now looked away from him, her face still and dreaming.
"You don't seem overly anxious," Calvin declared.
"It's just the idea," she replied. "I never thought of it like this before—right on a person." She sighed. "Of course it will be nice, Calvin."
He sat below her with an arm across her slim knees. "I'm going to dig right into the truck patch; there's a parcel of poles cut for the beans. It won't be much the first year; but wait and we'll show people how to live." He repeated his vision in connection with the present Alderwith holdings.
"I wonder will we ever be rich like the senator?"
"Certainly," he answered with calm conviction. "A man couldn't be shiftless with you to do for, Hannah. He'd be obliged to have everything the best."
"It'll take a long while though," she continued.
"We will have to put in some hard licks," he admitted. "But we are young; we've got a life to do it in."
"A man has, but I don't know about girls. It seems like they get old faster; and then things—silk dresses don't do them any good. How would ma look in fashionable clothes!"
"You won't have to wait that long," he assured her. "Your father has never hurt himself about the place, there's no money in sheep; and as for Hosmer—you know well as me that he is nothing outside of the bank and his own comfort. Store clothes is Hosmer all through."
"I wish you were a little like him there," Hannah returned.
He admitted that this evening he was more untidy than need be. "I just couldn't wait to see you," he declared; "with our place and—and all so safe and happy."
The Braley table, spread after the Greenstream custom in the kitchen, was surrounded by Richmond and Calvin—Hosmer had stayed late at the bank—Hannah and Susan, the eldest of the children, prematurely aged and wasted by a perpetual cough, while Lucy Braley moved carelessly between the stove and the table. At rare intervals she was assisted by Hannah, who bore the heavy dishes in a silent but perceptible air of protest.
Calvin Stammark liked this; it was a part of her superiority to the other girls of the locality. He made up his mind that she should never lose her present gentility. Whenever he could afford it Hannah must have help in the house. No greater elegance was imaginable. Senator Alderwith, at his dwelling with its broad porch, had two servants—two servants and a bathtub with hot water running right out of a tap. And he Calvin Stammark, would have the same, before Hannah and he were too old to enjoy it.
He had eleven hundred dollars now, after buying the land about his house. When the right time came he would invest it in more property— grazing, a few herd of cattle and maybe in timber. Calvin had innumerable schemes for their betterment and success. To all this the sheer fact of Hannah was like the haunting refrain of a song. She was never really out of his planning. He might be sitting on his rooftree squaring the shingling; bargaining with Eli Goss, the stone-cutter; renewing the rock salt for Alderwith's steers; but running through every occupation was the memory of Hannah's pale distracting face, the scarlet thread of the lips she was continually biting, her slender solid body.
He had heard that her mother was like that when she was young; but looking at Mrs. Braley's spent being, hearing her thin complaining voice, it seemed impossible. People who had known her in her youth asserted that it was so. Phebe too, they said, was the same—Phebe who had left Greenstream nine years ago, when she was seventeen, to become an actress in the great cities beyond the mountains. This might or might not be a fact. Calvin always doubted that any one else could have Hannah's charm.
However, he had never seen Phebe; he had moved from a distant part of the county to the principal Greenstream settlement after she had gone. But the legend of Phebe's beauty and talent was a part of the Braley household. Mrs. Braley told it as a distinguished trait that Phebe would never set her hand in hot dishwater. Calvin noted that Hannah was often blamed for domestic negligence, but this and far more advanced conduct in Phebe was surrounded by a halo of superiority.
After supper, in view of the fact of their courtship, Calvin and Hannah were permitted to sit undisturbed in the formality of the parlor. The rest of the family congregated with complete normality in the kitchen. The parlor was an uncomfortable chamber with uncomfortable elaborate chairs in orange plush upholstery, a narrow sofa, an organ of highly varnished lightwood ornamented with scrolled fretwork, and a cannon stove with polished brass spires.
Calvin sat on the sofa with an arm about Hannah's waist, while she twisted round her finger the ring he had given her, a ring of warranted gold clasping a large red stone. Her throat was circled by a silver chain supporting a mounted polished Scotch pebble, his gift as well. Their position was conventional; Calvin's arm was cramped from its unusual position, he had to brace his feet to keep firm on the slippery plush, but he was dazed with delight. His heart throbs were evident in his wrists and throat, while a tenderness of pity actually wet his eyes. At times he spoke in a hushed voice, phrases meaningless in word but charged with inarticulate emotion; Hannah replied more coherently; but for the most they were silent. She accepted the situation with evident calm as an inevitable part of life. Drawn against him she rested her head lightly on his shoulder, her gaze speculative and undisturbed.
Once he exclaimed: "I don't believe you love me! I don't believe you're interested in the things for the kitchen or the bedroom suite I saw in a catalogue at Priest's store!"
"Don't be silly!" she murmured. "Why shouldn't I be when it's my own, when it's all I'm going to have."
He cried bravely. "It's only the beginning! Wait till you see our cattle herded over the mountain to the railroad; wait till you see a spur come up the Sugarloaf and haul away our hardwood. Just you wait——"
There was the clip-clip of a horse outside, and the creaking of wheels.
"I believe that's Hosmer." Hannah rose. "It's funny, too, because he said he'd have to stay at the hotel to-night, there was so much settling up at the bank."
It was, however, Hosmer Braley. He paused at the parlor door, a man in the vicinity of thirty, fat in body and carefully clad, with a white starched collar and figured satin tie.
"I didn't want to drive out," he said, at once bland and aggrieved; "but it couldn't be helped. Here's a piece of news for all of you— Phebe is coming home to visit She wrote me to say so, and I only got the letter this evening. Whatever do you suppose took her?"
Hannah at once flushed with excitement—like, Calvin Stammark thought, the parlor lamp with the pink shade, turned up suddenly. An instant vague depression settled over him; Hannah, only the minute before in his arms, seemed to draw away from him, remote and unconcerned by anything but Phebe's extraordinary return. Hosmer made it clear that the event promised nothing but annoyance for him.
"She's coming by to-morrow's stage," he went on, untouched by the sensation his information had wrought in the kitchen; "and it's certain I can't meet her. The bank's sending me into West Virginia about some securities."
Richmond Braley, it developed further, was bound to a day's work on the public roads. They turned to Calvin.
"Take my buggy," Hosmer offered; "I'll have to go from Durban by rail."
There was no reason why he shouldn't meet Phebe Braley, Calvin realized. He lingered, gazing with silent longing at Hannah, but it was evident that she had no intention of returning to the parlor.
Waiting in Hosmer's buggy for the arrival of the Greenstream stage and Phebe Braley, Calvin was conscious of the persistence of the depression that had invaded him at the announcement of her visit. He resented, too, the new element thrust into the Braley household, disrupting the familiar course of his love. Hannah had been unreasonably distracted by the actuality of Phebe's return—the Phebe who had gone away from the mountains and become an actress.
The buggy was drawn to one side of the principal Greenstream road, at the post-office. Before him the way crossed the valley and lifted abruptly to the slope of the eastern range. At his back the village— the brick Methodist church and the white painted Presbyterian church, the courthouse with its dignified columns, the stores at the corners of the single crossroads, and varied dwellings—was settling into the elusive May twilight. The highest peaks in the east were capped with dissolving rose by the lowering sun, and the sky was a dusty blue.
Calvin Stammark heard the approaching stage before he saw it; then the long rigid surrey with its spare horses rapidly rolled up over the open road to the post-office. He got down and moved diffidently forward, seeing and recognizing Phebe immediately. This was made possible by her resemblance to Hannah; and yet, Calvin added, no two women could be more utterly different.
Phebe Braley had a full figure—she was almost stout—a body of the frankest emphasized curves in a long purple coat with a collar of soiled white fur. A straw hat with the brim caught by a short purple- dyed ostrich feather was pinned to a dead-looking crinkled mass of greenish-gold hair, and her face—the memorable features of Hannah—was loaded with pink powder.
Calvin said: "You must be Phebe Braley. Well, I'm Calvin Stammark. Your father or Hosmer couldn't meet the stage and so they had to let me get you. Where's your bag?"
She adopted at once an air of comfortable familiarity. "I don't remember your name," she said, settling beside him in the buggy.
He told her that he had come to this vicinity after she had gone and that he was about to marry her sister.
"The hell you say!" she replied with cheerful surprise. "Who'd thought Hannah was old enough to have a fellow!"
They were out of the village now and she produced a paper pack of cigarettes from a leather hand bag with a florid gilt top. Flooding her being with smoke she gazed with a shudder at the mountain wall on either hand, the unbroken greenery sweeping to the sky.
"It's worse than I remembered," she confided, resting against him. "A person with any life to them would go dippy here. Say, it's fierce! And yet, inside of me, I'm kind of glad to see it. I used to dream about the mountains, and this is like riding in the dream. I'm glad you came for me and let me down easy into things. I suppose they live in the kitchen home and pa'd lose a currycomb in his beard. Does Hosmer still beller if he gets the chicken neck?
"Do you sit in the holy parlor for your courting, and ain't that plush sofa a God-forsaken perch for two little love birds? It's funny how I remember this and that. I reckon ma's temper don't improve with age. They kid me something dreadful about saying 'reckon,' in the talent. But it's all good and a dam' sight better than 'I guess.' That's all they get off me."
Calvin Stammark's vague uneasiness changed to an acute dislike, even a fear of Phebe. Her freedom of discourse and person, the powdered hard fare close to his, the reek of scent—all rasped the delicacy of his love for Hannah. The sisters were utterly different, and yet he would have realized instantly their relationship. Phebe, too, had the disturbing quality that made Hannah so appealing. In the former it was coarsened, almost lost; almost but not quite.
"I'll bet," she continued, "that I'm the only female prodigal on the bills. Not that I've been feeding on husks. Not me. Milwaukee lager and raw beef sandwiches. I have a passion for them after the show. We do two a day and I want solid refreshment. I wonder if you ever saw me. Of course you didn't, but you might have. Ned Higmann's Parisian Dainties. Rose Rayner's what I go by. That's French, but spelled different, and means brightness. And I'm bright, Casper.
"My, what are you so glum about—the dump you live in or matrimony? There was a gentleman in an orchestra in Harrisburg wanted to marry me —he played the oboe—but I declined. Too Bohemian.... This is where we turn," she cried instinctively, and they swung into the valley where the Braleys had their clearing.
Phebe crushed the cigarette in her fingers. Suddenly she was nervous.
"It's natural I have changed a lot," she said. "If you hear me saying anything rough pinch me."
Richmond Braley was standing beside his house in the muddy clothes in which he had labored on the roads, and Mrs. Braley and Hannah came eagerly forward. Behind them sounded Susan's racking cough. Sentimental tears rolled dustily over Phebe's cheeks as she kissed and embraced her mother and sisters.
"H'y," Richmond Braley awkwardly saluted her; and "H'y," she answered in the local manner.
"Well," he commented, "you hain't forgotten that anyway."
Calvin was asked to stay for the supper that had been delayed for Phebe's return, but when he declined uncertainly he wasn't pressed. Putting up Hosmer's rig and saddling his own horse he rode slowly and dejectedly on.
Instead of going directly back to Greenstream he followed the way that led to his new house. The evening was silvery with a full brilliant moon, and the fresh paint and bright woodwork were striking against the dark elevated background of trees. The truck patch would be dug on the right, the clearing widen rod by rod. From Alderwith's meadows came the soft blowing of a steer's nostrils, while the persistent piping of the frogs in the hollows fluctuated in his depressed consciousness.
Calvin had drawn rein and sat on his horse in the road. He was trying to picture Hannah standing in the door waiting for him, to hear her calling him from work; but always Phebe intervened with her travesty of Hannah's clear loveliness.
Again at the Braleys' he found the family—in the kitchen—listening with absorbed interest to Phebe's stories of life and the stage. Richmond Braley sat with an undisguised wonderment and frequent exclamations; there was a faint flush in Mrs. Braley's dun cheeks; Susan tried without success to strangle her coughing. Only Hosmer was unmoved; at times he nodded in recognition of the realities of Phebe's narratives; his attitude was one of complacent understanding.
Calvin, at last succeeding in catching Hannah's attention, made a suggestive gesture toward the front of the house, but she ignored his desire. She, more than any of the others, was intent upon Phebe. And he realized that Phebe paid her a special attention.
"My," she exclaimed, "the healthy life has put you in the front row. Ned Higmann would rave about your shape and airs. It's too bad to bury them here in the mountains. I reckon you love me for that"—she turned cheerfully to Calvin—"but it's the truth. If you could do anything at all, Hannah, you'd lead a chorus and go in the olio. And you would draw at the stage door better than you would on the front. Young and fresh as a daisy spells champagne and diamond garters. I don't believe they'd let you stay in burlesque but sign you for comic opera."
The blood beat angrily in Calvin Stammark's head. Whatever did Phebe mean by talking like that to Hannah just when she was to marry him! He cursed silently at Richmond Braley's fatuous face, at Mrs. Braley's endorsement of all that her eldest daughter related, at Hosmer's assumption of worldly experience. But Hannah's manner filled him with apprehension.
"It's according to how you feel," Phebe continued; "some like to get up of a black winter morning and fight the kitchen fire. I don't. Some women are happy handing plates to their husband while he puts down a square feed. Not in mine."
"The loneliness is what I hate," Hannah added.
"It's hell," the other agreed. "Excuse me, ma."
Hannah went on: "And you get old without ever seeing things. There is all that you tell about going on—those crowds and the jewels and dresses, the parties and elegant times; but there is never a whisper of it in Greenstream; nothing but the frogs that I could fairly scream at —and maybe a church social." As she talked Hannah avoided Celvin Stammark's gaze.
"Me and you'll have a conversation," Phebe promised her recklessly.
Choking with rage Calvin rose. "I might as well move along," he asserted.
"Don't get heated," Phebe advised him. "I wouldn't break up your happy home, only I want Hannah to have an idea of what's what. I don't doubt you'll get her for a wife."
"There's nothing but slaving for a woman round here," Mrs. Braley put in. "I'm right glad Phebe had so much spirit."
Richmond Braley evidently thought it was time for certain reservations. "You mustn't come down so hard on Calvin and me," he said practically. "We're both likely young fellows."
"I'll be here evening after to-morrow," Calvin told Hannah in a low voice.
She nodded without interest. They must be married at once, he decided, his wise horse following unerringly the rocky road, stepping through splashing dark fords. If there was a repetition of the past visit he would have something to say. Hannah was his, she was promised to him. He felt the coolness of her cheeks, her bright mouth against his. A tyranny of misery and desire flooded him at the sudden danger—it was as much as that—threatening his happiness and life.
It was a danger founded on his entire ignorance of what he must combat. He couldn't visualize it, but it never occurred to him that Hannah would actually go away—leave him and Greenstream. No, it was a quality in Hannah herself, a thing that had always lurked below the surface, beyond his knowledge until now. Yet he realized that it formed a part of her appeal, a part of her distinction over the other girls of the county.
Maybe it was because he was never in his heart absolutely certain of her—even when she was closest to him she seemed to slip away beyond his power to follow. His love, he acknowledged for the first time, had never been easy or contented or happy. It had been obscure, like the night about him now; it resembled a fire that he held in his bare hands. Hannah's particularity, too, was allied to this strange newly- awakened peril. In a manner it was that which had carried Phebe out of the mountains. Now the resemblance between them was far stronger than their difference.
There was more than a touch of all this in the girls' mother, in her bitterness and discontent. He felt that he hated the elder as much as he did Phebe. If the latter were a man——
He dressed with the greatest care for his next evening with Hannah. Hosmer wore no stiffer nor whiter collar, and Calvin's necktie was a pure gay silk. He arrived just as the moon detached itself from the fringe of mountain peaks and the frogs started insistently. His heart was heavy but his manner calm, determined, as he entered the Braley kitchen. No one was there but Susan; soon however, Phebe entered in an amazing slovenly wrapper with a lace edge turned back from her ample throat; and Hannah followed.
Phebe made a mocking reference to the sofa in the parlor, and Hannah's expression was distasteful; but she slowly followed Calvin into the conventional chamber.
He made no attempt to embrace her, but said instead: "I came to fix the day for our wedding."
"Phebe wants me to go with her for a little first," she replied indirectly. "She says I can come back whenever I like."
"Your Phebe has no say in it." He spoke harshly. "We're honestly promised to each other and don't need outside advice or interference."
"Don't you go to call Phebe 'outside,'" she retorted. "She's my sister. Perhaps it's a good thing she came when she did, and saved me from being buried. Perhaps I'm not aiming to be married right off."
Hannah was standing, a hand on the table that held the pink-shaded lamp, and the light showed her petulant and antagonistic. A flare of anger threatened to shut all else from Calvin's thoughts; but suddenly he was conscious of the necessity for care—care and patience. He forced back his justified sense of wrong.
"I wasn't referring direct to Phebe," he told her. "I meant that between us nobody else matters, no one in the world is of any importance to me but you. It's all I think about. When I was building the house, our house, I hammered you into it with every nail. It is sort of made out of you," he foundered; "like—like I am."
He could see her relenting in the loss of the rigidity of her pose. Hannah's head drooped and her fingers tapped faintly on the table. He moved closer, urging his advantage.
"We're all but married, Hannah; our carpet is being wove and that suite of furniture ordered through Priest. You've been upset by this talk of theaters and such. You'd get tired of them and that fly-by-night life in a month."
"What suits one doesn't suit all," he said concisely.
"It would suit more girls than you know for," she informed him. "Take it round here, there's nothing to do but get married, and all the change is from one kitchen to another. You don't even have a way to match up fellows. Soon as you're out of short skirts one of them visits with you and the rest stay away like you had the smallpox. Our courting lasted a week and you were here four times."
"We haven't much time, Hannah," he reminded her. "It was right hard for me to see you that often. There was a smart of things you were doing, too."
"The more fool!" she exclaimed.
Again his resentment promised to leap beyond control. He clenched his hands and stared with contracted eyes at the floor.
"Well," he articulated finally, "we're promised anyhow; that can't be denied. I have your word."
"Yes," she admitted, "but chance that I went with Phebe doesn't mean I'd never come back."
"It would mean that you'd never come back," he paraphrased her.
"Maybe I would know better," she answered quickly. "I'm sorry, Calvin. I didn't go to be so sharp. Only I don't know what's right," she went on unhappily.
"It isn't what's right," he corrected her, "but what you want. I wish Phebe had stayed away a little longer."
"There you go again at Phebe!" she protested.
He replied grimly; "Not half what I feel."
In a dangerously calm voice she inquired, "What's the rest then?"
"She's a trouble-maker," he asserted in a shaking tone over which he seemed to have no command; "she came back to Greenstream and for no reason but her own slinked into our happiness. Your whole family—even Hosmer, pretending to be so wise—are blind as bats. You can't even see that Phebe's hair is as dyed as her stories. She says she is on the stage, but it's a pretty stage! I've been to Stanwick and seen those Parisian Dainties and burlesque shows. They're nothing but a lot of half-naked women cavorting and singing fast songs. And the show only begins—with most of them—when the curtain drops. If I even try to think of you in that I get sick."
"Go on," Hannah stammered, scarcely above her breath.
"It's bad," Calvin Stammark went on. "The women are bad; and a bad woman is something awful. I know about that too. I've been to the city as well as Phebe. Oh, Hannah," he cried, "can't you see, can't you!" With a violent effort he regained the greater part of his composure. "But it won't touch you," he added; "we're going to be married right away."
"We are?" Hannah echoed him thinly, in bitter mockery. "I wouldn't have you now if you were the last man on earth with the way you talked about Phebe! I don't see how you can stand there and look at me. If I told pa or Hosmer they would shoot you. You might as well know this as well—I'm going back with her; it'll be some gayer than these lonely old valleys or your house stuck away all by itself with nothing to see but Senator Alderwith's steers."
There flashed into Calvin Stammark's mind the memory of how he had planned to possess just such cattle for Hannah and himself; he saw in the elusive lamplight the house he had built for Hannah. His feeling, that a second before had been so acute, was numb. This, he thought, was strange; a voice within echoed that he was going to lose her, to lose Hannah; but he had no faculty capable of understanding such a calamity.
"Why, Hannah," he said impotently—"Hannah—" His vision blurred so that he couldn't see her clearly; it was as if, indistinct before him, she were already fading from his life. "I never went to hurt you," he continued in a curious detachment from his suffering. "You were everything I had."
Calvin grew awkward, confused in his mind and gestures. At the same time Hannah's desirability increased immeasurably. Never in Greenstream or any place else had he seen another like her; and he was about to lose her, lose Hannah.
Automatically he repeated, "If Phebe were a man——"
He was powerless not only against exterior circumstance but to combat what lay with Hannah. Phebe would never set her hands in hot dishwater. He recalled their mother, fretful and impatient. He shook his head as if to free his mind from so many vain thoughts. She stood, hard and unrelenting.
He tried to mutter a phrase about being here if she should return, but it perished in the conviction of its uselessness. Calvin saw her with green-yellow hair, a cigarette in painted lips; he heard the blurred applause of men at the spectacle of Hannah on the stage, dressed like the women he had seen there. Then pride stiffened him into a semblance of her own remoteness.
"It's in you," he said; "and it will have to come out. I'm what I am too, and that doesn't make it any easier. Kind of a fool about you. Another girl won't do. I'll say good night."
He turned and abruptly quitted the room and all his hope.
When the furniture Calvin had ordered through the catalogue at Priest's store arrived by mountain wagon he placed it in the room beside the kitchen that was to have been Hannah's and his. Hannah had gone three weeks before with Phebe. This done he sat for a long while on the portico of his house, facing the rich bottom pasturage and high verdant range beyond. It was late afternoon and the rift was filling with a golden haze from a sun veiled in watery late-spring vapors. An old apple tree by the road was flushed with pink blossoms and a mocking bird was whistling with piercing sweetness.
Soon it would be evening and the frogs would begin again, the frogs and whippoorwills. The valley, just as Hannah had said, was lonely. He stirred and later found himself some supper—in the kitchen where everything was new.
On the following morning he left the Greenstream settlement; it was Friday, and Monday he returned with Ettie, his sister. She was remarkably like him—tall and angular, with a gaunt face and steady blue eyes. Older than Calvin, she had settled into a complete acquiescence with whatever life brought; no more for her than the keeping of her brother's house. Calvin, noting the efficient manner in which she ordered their material affairs, wondered at the fact that she had not been married. Men were unaccountable, but none more than himself, with his unquenchable longing for Hannah.
This retreated to the back of his being. He never spoke of her. Indeed he tried to put her from his thoughts, and with a measure of success. But it never occurred to him to consider any other girl; that possibility was closed. Those he saw—and they were uniformly kind, even inviting—were dull after Hannah.
Instead he devoted himself to the equivalent, in his undertakings, of Ettie's quiet capability. The following year a small number of the steers grazing beyond the road were his; in two years more Senator Alderwith died, and there was a division of his estate, in which Calvin assumed large liabilities, paying them as he had contracted. The timber in Sugarloaf Valley drew speculators—he sold options and bought a place in the logging development.
It seemed to him that he grew older, in appearance anyhow, with exceptional rapidity; his face grew leaner and his beard, which he continued to shave, was soiled with gray hair.
He avoided the Braleys and their clearing; and when circumstance drew him into conversation with Richmond or Hosmer he studiously spoke of indifferent things. He heard nothing of Hannah. Yet he learned in the various channels of communication common to remote localities that Richmond Braley was doing badly. Hosmer went to bank in one of the newly prosperous towns of West Virginia and apparently left all family obligations behind; Susan died of lung fever; and then, at the post- office, Calvin was told that Richmond himself was dangerously sick.
He left the mail with Ettie at his door and rode on, turning for the first time in nine years into the narrow valley of the Braleys' home. The place had been neglected until it was hardly distinguishable from the surrounding tangled wild. Such sheep as he saw were in wretched condition, wild and massed with filth and burrs.
Mrs. Braley was filling a large glass flask with hot water for her husband; and to Calvin's surprise a child with a quantity of straight pale-brown hair and wide-opened hazel-brown eyes was seated in the kitchen watching her.
"How is Richmond?" he asked, his gaze straying involuntarily to the girl.
"Kingdom Come's how he is," Lucy Braley replied. "Yes, and the poorhouse will end us unless Hosmer has a spark of good feeling. I sent him a postal card to come a long while back, but he hasn't so much as answered. Here, Lucy"—she turned to the child—"run up with this."
"Lucy?" Calvin Stammark asked when they were alone.
"Been here two weeks," Mrs. Braley told him. "What will become of her's beyond me. She is Hannah's daughter, and Hannah is dead."
There was a sharp constriction of Calvin's heart. Hannah's daughter, and Hannah was dead!
"As far as I know," the other continued in a strained metallic voice, "the child's got no father you could fix. Her mother wrote the name was Lucy Vibard, and she'd called her after me. But when I asked her she didn't seem to know anything about it.
"Hannah was alone and dog poor when she died, that's certain. Like everything else I can lay mind on she came to a bad end—Lord reckons where Phebe is. I always thought you were weak fingered to let Hannah go—with that house built and all. I suppose maybe you weren't, though; well out of a slack bargain."
Calvin Stammark scarcely heard her; his being was possessed by the pitiable image of Hannah dying alone and dog poor. He had always pictured her—except in the fleet vision of debasement—as young and graceful and disturbing. Without further speech he left the kitchen and crossed the house to the shut parlor. It was screened against the day, dim and musty and damp. The orange plush of the chairs and the narrow uncomfortable sofa, carefully dusted, was as bright as it had been when he had last seen it—was it ten years ago?
Here she had stood, her fingers tapping on the table, when he had made the unfortunate remark about Phebe; the lamplight had illuminated her right cheek. Here she had proclaimed her impatience with Greenstream, with its loneliness, her hunger for life. Here he had lost her. A sudden need to see Hannah's daughter invaded him and he returned to the kitchen.
The child was present, silent; she had Hannah's eyes, Hannah's hair. Seated by Richmond Braley's bed he realized instantly that the old man was dying; and mentally he composed the urgent message to be sent to Hosmer. But that failed to settle the problem of Lucy's safety— Hannah's Lucy, who might have been his too. The solution of that difficulty slowly took form in his thoughts. There was no need to discuss it with Ettie—his duty, yes, and his desire was clear.
He took her home directly after Richmond's funeral, an erratic wind blowing her soft loose hair against his face as he drove.
There had been additions to Calvin Stammark's house—the half story raised, and the length increased by a room. This was now furnished as the parlor and had an entrance from the porch extended across the face of the dwelling; the middle lower room was his; the chamber designed for his married life was a seldom used dining room; while Ettie and Lucy were above. A number of sheds for stabling and implements, chicken coops and pig pen had accumulated at the back; the corn and buckwheat climbed the mountain; and the truck patch was wide and luxuriant.
A narrow strip, bright, in season, with the petunias and cinnamon pinks which Ettie tended, separated the dwelling from the public road; and the flowers more than anything else attracted Hannah's daughter. Calvin talked with her infrequently, but a great deal of his silent attention was directed at the child.
Already Lucy had a quality of appeal to which he watched Ettie respond. The latter took a special pride in making Lucy as pretty as possible; in the afternoon she would dress her in sheer white with a ribbon in her hair. She spared Lucy many of the details of housework in which the latter could have easily assisted her; and when Calvin protested she replied that she was so accustomed to doing that it was easier for her to go ahead.
Calvin's feelings were mixed. At first he had told himself that Lucy would be, in a way, his daughter; he would bring her up as his own; and in the end what he had would be hers, just as it should have been Hannah's. However, his attitude was never any that might be recognized as that of parenthood. He never grew completely accustomed to her presence, she was always a subject of interest and speculation. He continued to get pleasure from her slender graceful being and the little airs of delicacy she assumed.
He was conscious, certainly, that Lucy was growing older—yet not so fast as he—but he had a shock of surprise when she informed him that she was fifteen. Calvin pinched her cheek, and, sitting on the porch, heard her within issuing a peremptory direction to Ettie. The elder made no reply and, he knew, did as Lucy wished. This disturbed him. There wasn't a finer woman living than Ettie Stammark, and he didn't purpose to have Lucy impudent to her. Lucy, he decided, was getting a little beyond them. She was quick at her lessons, the Greenstream teacher said. Lucy would have considerable property when he died; he'd like her to have all the advantages possible; and—very suddenly— Calvin decided to send her away to school, to Stanwick, the small city to and from which the Greenstream stage drove.
She returned from her first term at Christmas, full of her experiences with teachers and friends, to which Ettie and he listened with absorbed attention. Now she seemed farther from him than before; and he saw that a likeness to Hannah was increasing; not in appearance—though that was not dissimilar—but in the quality that had established Hannah's difference from other girls, the quality for which he had never found a name. The assumptions of Lucy's childhood had become strongly marked preferences for the flowers of existence, the ease of the portico rather than the homely labor of the back of the house.
Neither his sister nor he resented this or felt that Lucy was evading her just duties; rather they enjoyed its difference from their own practical beings and affairs. They could afford to have her in fresh laundered frills and they secretly enjoyed the manner in which she instructed them in social conventions.
At her home-coming for the summer she brought to an end the meals in the kitchen; but when she left once more for Stanwick and school Ettie and Calvin without remark drifted back to the comfortable convenience of the table near the cooking stove.
This period of Lucy's experience at an end she arrived in Greenstream on a hot still June evening. Neither Calvin nor his sister had been able to go to Stanwick for the school commencement, and Calvin had been too late to meet the stage. After the refreshing cold water in the bright tin basin by the kitchen door he went to his room for a presentable necktie and handkerchief—Lucy was very severe about the latter—and then walked into the dining room.
The lamp was not yet lit, the light was elusive, tender, and his heart contracted violently at the youthful yet mature back toward him. She turned slowly, a hand resting on the table, and Calvin Stammark's senses swam. An inner confusion invaded him, pierced by a sharp unutterable longing.
"Hannah," he whispered.
She smiled and advanced; but, his heart pounding, Calvin retreated. He must say something reasonable, tell her that they were glad to have her back—mustn't leave them again. She kissed him, and, his eyes shut, the touch of her lips re-created about him the parlor of the Braleys,—the stiffly arranged furniture with its gay plush, the varnished fretwork of the organ, the pink glow of the lamp.
She was Hannah! The resemblance was so perfect—her cheek's turn, her voice, sweet with a trace of petulance, her fingers—that it was sustained in a flooding illumination through the commonplace revealing act of supper. It was as if the eighteen years since Hannah, his Hannah, was a reality were but momentary, the passage of the valley. His love for her was unchanged—no, here at least, was a difference; it was greater, keener; exactly as if during the progress of their intimacy he had been obliged to go away from her for a while.
She accompanied Ettie to the kitchen and Calvin sat on the porch in a gathering darkness throbbing with frogs and perfumed with drifting locust blooms. Constellation by constellation the stars glimmered into being. Hannah, Lucy! They mingled and in his fiber were forever one. He gave himself up to the beauty of his passion, purified and intense from long patience and wanting, amazed at the miracle that had brought back everything infinitely desirable.
He forgot his age, and, preparing for the night, saw with a sense of personal outrage his seamed countenance reflected in the mirror of the bureau. Yet in reality he wasn't old—forty-something—still, not fifty. He was as hard and nearly as springy as a hickory sapling. There was a saying in which he found vast comfort—the prime, the very prime of life.
His enormous difficulty would be to bring Lucy to the understanding of his new—but it was the old—attitude toward her. If she had never become completely familiar to him association had made him a solid recognized part of her existence; if not exactly a father, an uncle at the very least. Calvin realized that she would be profoundly shocked by any abrupt revelation of his feeling. Yet he was for the time in no hurry to bring about the desired change in their relationship. His life had been so long empty that it was enough to dwell on the great happiness of his repossession.
This, he knew, could not continue, but at present, today, it was almost enough. Before he was aware, the summer had gone, the mountains were sheeted in gold; and he was still dreaming, putting off the actuality before them.
The logging in Sugarloaf Valley had grown to an operation of importance, and a great deal of his time was spent watching the spur of railroad creep forward and the clearing of new sections; sawmills and camps were in course of erection; and what had been a still green cleft in the mountains was filled with human activity. He had secured an advantageous position for a young man from the part of the county inhabited by the Stammark family, Wilmer Deakon, and consulted with him frequently in connection with his interests.
Wilmer was to the last degree dependable; a large grave individual who took a serious interest in the welfare of his fellows and supported established customs and institutions. He sang in a resounding barytone with the Methodist Church choir; his dignified bearing gave weight to the school board; and he accumulated a steadily growing capital at the Greenstream bank. An admirable individual, Calvin thought, and extended to him the wide hospitality of his house.
Lucy apparently had little to say to Wilmer Deakon; indeed, when he was not present, to their great amusement she imitated his deliberate balanced speech. She said that he was too solemn—an opinion with which Calvin privately agreed—and made an irreverent play on his name and the place he should occupy in the church. It seemed that she found a special pleasure in annoying him; and on an occasion when Calvin had determined to reprove her for this he was surprised by Winner's request to speak to him outside.
Wilmer Deakon said abruptly: "Lucy and I are promised to each other."
Calvin stood gazing at him in a lowering complete surprise, at a loss for words, when the other continued with an intimation of his peculiar qualifications for matrimony, the incontrovertible fact that he could and would take care of Lucy. He stopped at the appropriate moment and waited confidently for Calvin Stammark's approval.
The latter, out of a gathering immeasurable rage, almost shouted: "You get to hell off my place!"
Wilmer Deakon was astounded but otherwise unshaken. "That's no way to answer a decent man and a proper question," he replied. "Lucy and I want to be married. There's nothing wrong with that. But you look as if I had offered to disgrace her. Why, Mr. Stammark, you can't keep her forever. I reckon it'll be hard on you to have her go, but you must make up your mind to it some day. She's willing, and you know all about me. Then Lucy won't be far away from you all. I've cleared the brush up and right now the bottom of our house is laid in Sugarloaf."
Calvin's anger sank before a sense of helplessness at this latter fact. Wilmer was building a house for her just as he had built one for Hannah. He remembered his delight and pride as it had approached completion; he remembered the evening, nearly twenty years ago, when he had sat on the bank across the road and seen it finished. Then he had ridden, without waiting to fix up, to the Braleys'; Hannah had scolded him as they sat in the parlor.
"I must talk to Lucy," he said in a different weary tone. Bareheaded he walked over into the pasture, now his. The cattle moved vaguely in the gloom, with softly blowing nostrils, and the streams were like smooth dark ribbons. When he returned to his house the lights were out, Wilmer Deakon was gone and Lucy was in bed.
He again examined his countenance in the mirror, but now he was surprised that it was not haggard with age. It seemed that twenty more years had been added to him since supper. He wondered whether there had ever been another man who had lost his love twice and saw that he had been a blind fool for not speaking in the June dusk when Lucy had come back from school.
Lucy, it developed, had spoken to Ettie, and there was a general discussion of her affair at breakfast.
Calvin carried away from it a persistent feeling of dissatisfaction, but for this he could find no tangible reason. Of course, he silently argued, the girl could not be expected to show her love for Wilmer publicly; it was enough that he had been assured of its strength; the fact of her agreement to marry him was final.
He went about his daily activities with a heavy absent-mindedness, with a dragging spirit. A man was coming from Washington to see him in the interest of a new practically permanent fencing, and he met him at the post-office, listened to a loud cheerful greeting with marked inattention.
The salesman was named Martin Eckles, and he was fashionably dressed in a suit of shepherd's check bound with braid, and had a flashing ring—a broad gold band set with a mystic symbol in rubies and diamonds. After his supper at the hotel he walked, following Calvin's direction, the short distance to the latter's house, where Calvin and Ettie Stammark and Lucy were seated on the porch.
Martin Eckles, it developed, was a fluent and persuasive talker, a man of the broadest worldly experiences and wit. He was younger than Calvin, but older than Wilmer Deakon, and a little fat. He had a small mustache cut above his lip, and closely shaved ruddy cheeks with a tinge of purple about his ears. Drawing out his monologue entertainingly he gazed repeatedly at Lucy. Calvin lost the sense of most that the other said; he was immersed in the past that had been made the present and then denied to him—it was all before him in the presence of Lucy, of Hannah come back with the unforgetable and magic danger of her appeal.
In the extension of his commercial activity Martin Eckles kept his room at the Greenstream hotel and employed a horse and buggy for his excursions throughout the county. It had become his habit to sit through the evenings with the Stammarks where his flood of conversation never lessened. Lucy scarcely added a phrase to the sum of talk. She rocked in her chair with a slight endless motion, her dreaming gaze fixed on the dim valley.
Wilmer Deakon, on the occasion of his first encounter with Eckles at the Stammarks', acknowledged the other's phrase and stood waiting for Lucy to proceed with him to the parlor. But Lucy was apparently unaware of this; she sat calm and remote in her crisp white skirts, while Wilmer fidgeted at the door.
Soon, however, she said: "For goodness' sake, Wilmer, whatever's the matter with you? Can't you find a chair that suits you? You make a person nervous."
At the same time she rose ungraciously and followed him into the house.
Wilmer came out, Calvin thought, in an astonishingly short time. Courting was nothing like it had been in his day. The young man muttered an unintelligible sentence that, from its connection, might be interpreted as a good night, and strode back to the barn and his horse.
Martin Eckles smiled: "The love birds must have been a little ruffled."
And Calvin, with a strong impression of having heard such a thing before, was vaguely uneasy. Eckles sat for a long space; Lucy didn't appear, and at last the visitor rose reluctantly. But Lucy had not gone to bed; she came out on the porch and dropped with a flounce into a chair beside Calvin.
"Wilmer's pestering me to get married right away," she told him; "before ever the house is built. He seems to think I ought to be just crazy to take him and go to that lonely Sugarloaf place."
"It's what you promised for," Calvin reminded her; "nothing's turned up you didn't know about."
"If I did!" she exclaimed irritably. "What else is a girl to do, I'd like to ask? It's just going from one stove to another, here. Only it'll be worse in my case—you and Aunt Ettie have been lovely to me. I hate to cook!" she cried. "And it makes me sick to put my hands in greasy dishwater! I suppose that's wicked but I can't help it. When I told Wilmer that to-night he acted like I'd denied communion. I can't help it if the whippoorwills make me shiver, can I? Or if I want to see a person go by once in a while. I—I don't want to be bad—or to hurt you or Wilmer. Oh, I'll settle down, there's nothing else to do; I'll marry him and get old before my time, like the others."
Calvin Stammark leaned forward, his hands on his knees, and stared at her in shocked amazement—Hannah in every accent and feeling. The old sense of danger and helplessness flooded him. He thought of Phebe with her dyed hair and cigarette-stained lips, her stories of the stage and life; he thought of Hannah dying alone and dog poor. Now Lucy——
"Do you remember anything about your mother," he asked, "and before you came here?"
"Only that we were dreadfully unhappy," she replied. "There was a boarding house with actresses washing their stockings in the rooms and a landlady they were all afraid of. There was beer in the wash-stand pitcher. But that wouldn't happen to me," she asserted; "I'd be different. I might be an actress, but in dramas where my hair would be down and everybody love me."
"You're going to marry Wilmer Deakon and be a proper happy wife!" he declared, bringing his fist down on a hard palm. "Get this other nonsense out of your head!"
Suddenly he was trembling at the old catastrophe reopened by Lucy. His love for her, and his dread, choked him. She added nothing more, but sat rigid and pale and rebellious. Before long she went in, but Calvin stayed facing the darkness, the menace of the lonely valley. Except for the lumbermen it would be worse in the Sugarloaf cutting.
Damn the frogs!
Martin Eckles appeared in the buggy the following evening and offered to carry Lucy for a short drive to a near-by farm; with an air of indifference she accepted. Wilmer didn't call, and Calvin sat in silent perplexity with Ettie. The buggy returned later than they had allowed, and Lucy went up to bed without stopping on the porch.
The next morning Ettie, with something in her hand, came out to Calvin at the stable shed.
"I found this in Lucy's room," she said simply.
It was Martin Eckles' gold ring, set with the insignia in rubies, suspended in a loop of ribbon.
A cold angry certitude formed in his being. What a criminal fool he had been! What a blind booby! His only remark, however, brought a puzzled expression to Ettie's troubled countenance. Calvin Stammark exclaimed, "Phebe Braley." He was silent for a little, his frowning gaze fixed beyond any visible object, then he added: "Put that back where you found it and forget everything."
Ettie laid a hand on his sleeve. "Now, Calvin," she begged, her voice low and strained, "promise me——"
"Forget everything!" he repeated harshly.
His face was dark, forbidding, the lines deeply bitten about a somber mouth, his eyes were like blue ice. He walked into Greenstream, where he saw the proprietor of the small single hotel; then, back in his room, he unwrapped from oiled leather a heavy blued revolver; and soon after he saddled his horse and was clattering in a sharp trot in the opposite direction from the village.
It was dark when, having returned, he dismounted and swung the saddle from the horse to its tree. Familiar details kept him a long while, his hands were steady but slow, automatic in movement. He went in through the kitchen past Ettie to his room, and after a little he re-wrapped the revolver and laid it back in its accustomed place. Supper, in spite of Lucy's sharp comment, was set by the stove, and Ettie was solicitous of his every possible need. He ate methodically what was offered, and afterward filled and lit his pipe. It soon went out. Once, on the porch, he leaned toward Lucy and awkwardly touched her shoulder.
Wilmer came. He was late, and Lucy said wearily, "I've got a headache to-night. Do you mind if we stay out here in the cool?"
He didn't, and his confident familiar planning took the place of Martin Eckles' more exciting narratives.
The next day, past noon, the proprietor of the Greenstream hotel left an excited group of men to stop Calvin as he drove in from Sugarloaf Valley.
He cried: "Eckles has been shot and killed. First they found the horse and buggy by the road, and then Martin Eckles. He had fallen out. One bullet did it."
"That's too bad," Calvin replied evenly. "Lawlessness ought to be put down." He had known Solon Entreken all his life. The level gaze of two men encountered and held.
Then: "I'll never say anything against that," the other pronounced. "It's mighty strange who could have shot Eckles and got clear away. That's what he did, in spite of hell and the sheriff."
Turning, after inevitable exclamations, toward home, Calvin found Lucy sitting moodily on the porch.
"I've got a right ugly piece of news," he told her, masking the painful interest with which he followed her expression. "Martin Eckles was killed yesterday; shot out of the buggy."
She grew pale, her breast rose in a sudden gasp and her hands were clenched.
"Oh!" she whispered, horrified.
But there was nothing in her manner beyond the natural detestation of such brutality; nothing, he saw, hidden.
"He wanted me to go away with him," she swept on; "and get married in Stanwick. Martin wanted me to see the world. He said I ought to, and not stay here all my life."
The misery that settled over her, the hopelessness dulling her youth filled him with a passionate resentment at the fate that made her what she was and seemingly condemned her to eternal denial. His love for her—Lucy, Hannah, Hannah, Lucy—was intolerably keen. He went to her, bending with a riven hand on the arm of her chair.
"Do you want Wilmer?" he demanded. "Do you love him truly? Is he enough?"
"I don't know." Slow tears wet her cheeks. "I can't say. I ought to; he's good and faithful, and with some of me that's enough. But there's another part; I can't explain it except to say it's a kind of excitement for the life Mr. Eckles told us about, all those lights and restaurants and theaters. Sometimes I think I'll die, I want it so much; then it comes over me how ungrateful I am to you and Aunt Ettie, and I hate myself for the way I treat Wilmer." "Do you love him?" he insisted.
"Perhaps not like you mean."
All that had been so long obscured in his mind and heart slowly cleared to understanding—Lucy Braley, Richmond's wife; Phebe; Hannah; and again Lucy, Lucy Vibard had this common hunger for life, for brightness; they were as helpless in its grasp as he had been to hold Hannah. Phebe's return, Martin Eckles—were only incidents in a great inner need. In itself it wasn't wicked; circumstance had made it seem wrong; Phebe's greenish hair, the mark of so much spoiled, Hannah's unhappy death—were the result of aspirations; they fretted and bruised, even killed themselves, like gay young animals, innocent animals, in a dark lonely enclosure.
They were really finer than the satisfied women who faded to ugliness in the solitary homes of the Greenstream mountains; not better, for example, than Ettie—it might be that they weren't so good, not so high in heaven; but they were finer in the manner of blooded horses rebelling against the plow traces. They were more elegant, slimmer, with a greater fire. That too was the secret of their memorable power over him; he wanted a companion different from a kitchen drudge; when he returned home at evening, he wanted a wife cool and sweet in crisp white with a yellow ribbon about her waist, and store slippers. He loved Lucy's superiority—it was above ordinary things. "Like a star," Calvin Stammark told himself.
He, with everything else that had combated their desire, depriving them of the very necessities for his adoration, had been to blame.
"Lucy," he said, bending over her and speaking rapidly, "let's you and me go and learn all this life together. Let's run away from Greenstream and Wilmer Deakon and even Ettie, what we ought to hold by, and see every theater in the country. I've got enough money——"
The radiance of the gesture by which she interrupted his speech filled him with pounding joy.
"Oh, shall we!" she cried; and then hugged him wildly, her warm young arms about his neck.
"Of course we will," he reassured her; "and right away, to-morrow. You and me."
He felt her lips against his, and then more cautiously she took up the immediate planning of their purpose. It would be ridiculously easy; they would drive to Stanwick in the buggy.
"The hotels and all," she continued with shining eyes; "and nobody will think it's queer. I'll be your daughter, like always."
Calvin turned abruptly from her and faced the valley saturated with slumberous sunlight. Lucy hesitated for a moment and then fled lightly into the house. After a little he heard her singing on the upper floor. People wouldn't think it was queer because she would be his daughter, "like always."
Yet he wasn't old beyond hope, past love—as strong and nearly as springy as a hickory sapling. He had waited half his life for this. Calvin slowly smiled in bitterness and self-contempt; a pretty figure for a young girl to admire, he thought, losing the sense of mere physical fitness. Anyhow Lucy was supremely happy and safe, and he had accomplished it. He was glad that he had been so industrious and successful. Lucy could have almost anything she wanted—pretty clothes and rings with real jewels, necklaces hung with better than Scotch pebbles.
Perhaps when she had seen the world—its bigness and noise and confusion—after her longing was answered, she would turn back to him. Already he was oppressed by a feeling of strangeness, of loss at leaving the high valleys of home.
THE EGYPTIAN CHARIOT
Lemuel Doret walked slowly home from the prayer meeting with his being vibrating to the triumphant beat of the last hymn. It was a good hymn, filled with promised joy for every one who conquered sin. The long twilight of early summer showed the surrounding fields still bright green, but the more distant hills were vague, the sky was remote and faintly blue, and shadows thickened under the heavy maples that covered the single street of Nantbrook. The small frame dwellings of the village were higher than the precarious sidewalk; flights of steps mounted to the narrow porches; and though Lemuel Doret realized that his neighbors were sitting outside he did not look up, and no voices called down arresting his deliberate progress.
An instant bitterness, tightening his thin metallic lips and narrowing a cold fixed gaze, destroyed the harmony of the assured salvation. Lemuel Doret silently cursed the pinched stupidity of the country clods. The slow helpless fools! If instead of muttering in groups one of the men would face him with the local hypocrisy he'd sink a heel in his jaw. The bitterness expanded into a hatred like the gleam on a knife blade; his hands, spare and hard, grew rigid with the desire to choke a thick throat.
Then the rage sank before a swift self-horror, an overwhelming conviction of his relapse into unutterable sin. He stopped and in a spiritual agony, forgetful of his surroundings, half lifted quivering arms to the dim sky: "O Christ, lean down from the throne and hold me steady."
He stood for a moment while a monotonous chatter on a porch above dropped to a curious stillness. It seemed to him that his whisper was heard and immediately answered; anyhow peace slowly enveloped him once more, the melody of hope was again uppermost in his mind. He went forward, procuring a cigarette from a mended ragged pocket.
His house, reached by a short steep path and sagging steps, was dark; at first he saw no one, then the creak of a rocking-chair in the open doorway indicated Bella, his wife.
"Give me a cigarette," she demanded, her penetrating voice dissatisfied.
"You know I don't want you to smoke anywhere you can be seen," he answered. "Since we've come here to live we have to mind the customs. The women'll never take to you smoking cigarettes."
"Ah, hell, what do I care! We came here, but it ain't living. It makes me sick, and you make me sick I Can't you sing and pray in the city as well as among these hicks?"
"I'm afraid of it," he said, brief and somber. "And I don't want Flavilla brought up with any of the gang we knew. Where is she?"
"I sent her to bed. She fussed round till she got me nervous."
"Did she feel good?"
"If she didn't a smack would have cured her."
He passed Bella, rocking sharply, into the dank interior.
On the right was the bare room where he had his dilapidated barber's chair and shelf with a few mugs, brushes and other scant necessities. There had been no customers to-day nor yesterday; still, it was the middle of the week and what trade there was generally concentrated on Saturday. Beyond he went upstairs to Flavilla's bed. She was awake, twisting about in a fragmentary nightgown, dark against the disordered sheet.
"It's dreadful hot," she complained shortly; "my head's hot too. The window won't go up."
Lemuel Doret crossed the narrow bare floor and dragged the sash open; then he moved his daughter while he smoothed the bed and freshened a harsh pillow. She whimpered.
"You're too big to cry without any reason," he informed her, leaving to fetch a glass of water from the tap in the kitchen.
Usually she responded to his intimations of her increasing age and wisdom, but to-night she was listless. She turned away from him, her arms flung above her head and wispy hair veiling her damp cheek.
"Keep still, can't you?" and he gathered her hair into a clumsy plait.
The darkness about him seeped within, into his hope and courage and resolution; all that he had determined to do seemed impossibly removed. The whole world resembled Nantbrook—a place of universal condemnation, forgiving nothing. He felt a certainty that even the few dollars he had honestly earned would now be stopped.
The air grew clearer and deeper in color, and stars brightened. Lemuel Doret wondered about God. There was no doubt of His power and glory or of the final triumph of heaven established and earth, sin, destroyed. His mind was secure in these truths; his comprehension of the paths of wickedness was equally plain; it was the ways of the righteous that bewildered him—the conduct of the righteous and, in the face of his supreme recognition, the extreme difficulty of providing life for Flavilla—and Bella.
He consciously added his wife's name. Somehow his daughter was the sole objective measure of his determination to build up, however late, a home here and in eternity.
It was not unreasonable, in view of the past, to suppose that he had no chance of succeeding. Yet religion was explicit upon that particular; it was founded on the very hopes of sinners, on redemption. But he could do nothing without an opportunity to make the small living they required; if the men of Nantbrook, of the world, wouldn't come to him to be barbered, and if he had no money to go anywhere else to begin again, he was helpless. Everything was conspiring to thrust him back into the city, of which he had confessed his fear, back——
He rose and stood above the child's thin exposed body—suddenly frozen into a deathlike sleep—chilled with a vision, a premonition, the insidious possibility of surrender. He saw, too, that it was a solitary struggle; even his devotion to Flavilla, shut in the single space of his own heart, helped to isolate him in what resembled a surrounding blackness rent with blinding flashes of lightning.
The morning sun showed him spare, with a curious appearance of being both wasted and grimly strong; he moved with an alert, a watchful ease, catlike and silent; and his face was pallid with gray shadows. He stood in trousers and undershirt, suspenders hanging down, before the small dim mirror in the room where he had the barber chair, pasting his hair down with an odorous brilliantine. This was his intention, but he saw with sharp discomfort that bristling strands defied his every effort. The hot edge of anger cut at him, but, singing, he dissipated it:
"Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows fall? Why should my heart be lonely, And long for heaven——"
He broke off at the thought of Flavilla, still in bed, her head, if anything, hotter than last night. Lemuel Doret wished again that he had not allowed Bella to call their child by that unsanctified name. Before the birth they had seen a vaudeville, and Bella, fascinated by a golden-and-white creature playing a white accordion that bore her name in ornamental letters, had insisted on calling her daughter, too, Flavilla. In spite of the hymn, dejection fastened on him as he remembered this and a great deal more about his wife.
If she could only be brought to see the light their marriage and life might still be crowned with triumph. But Bella, pointing out the resulting poverty of his own conviction and struggle, said freely that she had no confidence in promises; she demanded fulfillment now. She regarded him as more than a little affected in the brain. Yet there had been no deep change in him—from the very first he had felt a growing uneasiness at the spectacle of the world and the flesh. The throb of the Salvation Army drum at the end of an alley, the echo of the fervent exhortations and holy songs, had always filled him with a surging emotion like homesickness.
Two impulses, he recognized, held a relentless warfare within him; he pictured them as Christ and Satan; but the first would overthrow all else. "Glory!" he cried mechanically aloud. He put down the hairbrush and inspected the razors on their shelf. The bright morning light flashed along the rubbed fine blades; they were beautiful, flawless, without a trace of defilement. He felt the satin smoothness of the steel with an actual thrill of pleasure; his eyes narrowed until they were like the glittering points of knives; he held the razor firmly and easily, with a sinewy poised wrist.
Finally, his suspenders in position over a collarless striped shirt, he moved out to the bare sharp descent before his house and poured water onto the roots of a struggling lilac bush. Its leaves were now coated with dust; but the week before it had borne an actual cluster of scented blossom; and he was still in the wonder of the lavender fragrance on the meager starved stem.
The beat of hoofs approached, and he turned, seeing Doctor Frazee in his yellow cart.
"Oh, doctor!" he called instinctively.
The other stopped, a man with a lean face, heavy curved nose and penetrating gaze behind large spectacles. He was in reality a veterinary, but Lemuel Doret, out of a profound caution, had discovered him to be above the narrow scope of local prejudice.
"I wish you'd look at Flavilla," Doret continued.
The doctor hesitated, and then turned shortly in at the sidewalk. "It will hurt no one if I do that." Above Flavilla's flushed face, a tentative finger on her wrist, Frazee's expression grew serious. "I'll tell you this," he asserted; "she's sick. You had better call Markley to-day. And until he comes don't give her any solids. You can see she's in a fever."
"Can't you tend her? I'd put more on you than any fresh young hospital stiff."
"Certainly not," he responded.
When the latter had gone Lemuel Doret found his wife in the kitchen. She wore a pale-blue wrapper with a soiled scrap of coarse lace at her full throat, her hair was gathered into a disorderly knot, and already there was a dab of paint on either cheek. She had been pretty when he married her, pretty and full of an engaging sparkle, a ready wit; but the charm had gone, the wit had hardened into a habit of sarcasm. They had been married twelve years, and in itself, everything considered, that was remarkable and held a great deal in her favor. She had been faithful. It was only lately, in Nantbrook, that her dissatisfaction had materialized in vague restless hints.
"Frazee says Flavilla is sick," he told her. "He thinks we ought to get Markley."
She made a gesture of skepticism. "All those doctors send you to each other," she proclaimed. "Like as not he'll get half for doing it."
"She don't look right."
Bella's voice and attitude grew exasperated. "Of course you know all about children; you've been where you could study on them. And of course I have no sense; a woman's not the person to say when her child is sick or well. Have a doctor if you can pay one, and buy a lot of medicine too. There's some calomel upstairs, but that's no good. I'd like to know where you have all the money! God knows I need a little, to put inside me and out."
"It's right scarce," he admitted, resolutely ignoring her tone. "Perhaps Flavilla will be better later in the day; I'll wait."
He spoke without conviction, denying the impulse to have her cared for at once, in an effort to content and still Bella. However, he failed in both of these aims. Her voice swept into a shrill complaint and abuse of Nantbrook—a place, she asserted, of one dead street, without even a passing trolley car to watch. She had no intention of being buried here for the rest of her life. Turning to a cigarette and yesterday's paper she drooped into a sulky shape of fat and slovenly blue wrapper beside the neglected dishes of their insufficient breakfast.
He went through the empty house to the front again, where at least the sun was warm and bright. The air held a faint dry fragrance that came from the haymaking of the deep country in which Nantbrook lay. Lemuel Doret could see the hotel at a crossing on the left, a small gray block of stone with a flat portico, a heavy gilt beer sign and whitewashed sheds beyond. The barkeeper stood at a door, a huge girth circled by a soiled apron; nearer a bundle of brooms and glittering stacked paint cans marked the local store. It was, he was forced to admit, far from gay; but he found a great contentment in the sunny peace, in the limitless space of the unenclosed sky; the air, the fields, the birds in the trees were free.
As he stood frowning in thought he saw the figure of a strange man walking over the road; Lemuel knew that he was strange by the formality of the clothes. He wore a hard straw hat, collar and diamond-pinned tie, and a suit with a waistcoat. At first Doret's interest was perfunctory, but as the other drew nearer his inspection changed to a painful absorption. Suddenly his attitude grew tense; he had the appearance of a man gazing at an enthralling but dangerous spectacle, such—for example—as a wall that might topple over, crushing anything human within its sweep.
The object of this scrutiny had a pale countenance with a carefully clipped mustache, baggy eyes and a blue-shaved heavy jaw. An indefinable suggestion of haste sat on a progress not unduly hurried. But as he caught sight of Lemuel Doret he walked more and more slowly, returning his fixed attention. When the two men were opposite each other, only a few feet apart, he almost stopped. For a moment their sharpened visions met, parried, and then the stranger moved on. He made a few steps, hesitated, then directly returned.
"Come inside," he said in a slightly hoarse voice.
"It suits me here," Doret replied.
The other regarded him steadily. "I've made no mistake," he asserted. "I could almost say how long you were up for, and a few other little things too. I don't know what you're doing in this dump, but here we both are."
He waited for nothing more, ascending quickly to the hall. The two made their way into the improvised barber shop.
"You've got me wrong," Doret still insisted.
"Who is it, Lem?" Bella demanded at the door.
As she spoke an expression of geniality overspread her face, daubed with paint and discontent.
"Why, I'll tell you—I'm June Bowman."
"That don't mean anything to us," Lemuel continued. "The best thing you can do is keep right on going."
"Not that Fourth Ward stew?" Bella asked eagerly.
"Lem's kind of died on his feet," she explained in a palpable excuse of her husband's ignorance; "he don't read the papers nor nothing. But of course I've heard of you, Mr. Bowman. We're glad to see you."
"Keep right along," Lemuel Doret repeated. His face was dark and his mouth hardly more than a pinched line.
"Now, who are you?" Bowman inquired.
"I'll tell you," Bella put in, "since his manners have gone with everything else. This is Snow Doret. If you know the live men that name will be familiar to you."
"I seem to remember it," he admitted.
"If Snow went in the city it's Lemuel here," Doret told him. His anger seethed like a kettle beginning to boil.
"Well, if Snow ever went I guess I'm in right. The truth is I got to lay off for a little, and this seems first-rate. I can explain it in a couple of words: Things went bad——"
"Wasn't it the election?" Bella asked politely.
"In a way," he answered with a bow. "You're all right. A certain party, you see, was making some funny cracks—a reform dope; and he got in other certain parties' light, see? Word was sent round, and when a friend and me come on him some talk was passed and this public nuisance got something. It was all regular and paid for——"
"I read about it," Bella interrupted. "He died in the ambulance."
"Then I was slipped the news that they were going to elect me the pretty boy, and I had to make a break. Only temporary, till things are fixed. Thus you see me scattered with hayseed. I was walking through for a lift to Lancaster, where there are some good fellows; but when I saw Snow here taking the air I knew there was one nearer."
"Lemuel; and I'm no good fellow."
"That's the truth," his wife added thinly. "Here is the only one in this house." She touched her abundant self.
"Then I can put up?"
"No," Lemuel Doret told him. "This is a house of God's."
Bella laughed in a rising hysterical key.
"Listen to him," she gasped; "listen to Snow Doret. It's no wonder you might have forgotten him," she proclaimed; "he's been in the pen for ten and a half years with a bunch off for good conduct. But fifteen years ago—say! He went in for knifing a drug store keeper who held out on a 'coke' deal. If this here's a house of God's I'd like to know what he called the one he had then. I couldn't tell you half of what went on, not half, with fixing drinks and frame-ups and skirts. Why, he run a hop joint with the Chinese and took a noseful of snow at every other breath. That was after his gambling room broke up—it got too raw even for the police. It was brandy with him, too, and there ain't a gutter in his district he didn't lay in. The drug store man wasn't the first he cut neither."
She stopped from sheer lack of breath.
Curiously all that filled Lemuel Doret's mind was the thought of the glory of God. Everything Bella said was true; but in the might of the Savior it was less than nothing. He had descended into the pit and brought him, Snow, up, filling his ears with the sweet hymns of redemption, the promise of Paradise for the thieves and murderers who acknowledged His splendor and fought His fight. This marvelous charity, the cleansing hope for his blackened soul, swept over him in a warm rush of humble praise and unutterable gratitude. Nothing of the Lord's was lost: "His eye is on the sparrow."
"Certainly, lay off your coat," Bella was urging; "it's fierce hot. Lem can rush a can of beer from the hotel. Even he wouldn't go to turn out one of the crowd in a hard fix. I'm awful glad you saw him."
With June Bowman in his house, engaged in verbal agreements with Bella and spreading comfortably on a chair, Lemuel was powerless. AH his instinct pressed him to send the other on, to refuse—in the commonest self-preservation—shelter. But both the laws of his old life and the commands of the new were against this act of simple precaution. Bowman eyed him with a shrewd appraisement.
"A clever fellow," he said, nodding; "admire you for coming out here for a while. Well, how about the suds?"
He produced a thick roll of yellow-backed currency and detached a small bill. "I'll finance this campaign."
Lemuel Doret was confused by the rapidity with which the discredited past was re-created by Bowman's mere presence. He was at the point of refusing to fetch the beer when he saw that there was no explanation possible; they would regard him as merely crabbed, and Bella would indulge her habit of shrill abuse. It wasn't the drink itself that disturbed him but the old position of "rushing the can"—a symbol of so much that he had left forever. Forever; he repeated the word with a silent bitter force. The feel of the kettle in his hand, the thin odor of the beer and slopping foam, seemed to him evidences of acute degeneration; he was oppressed by a mounting dejection. God seemed very far away.
His wife was talking while Bowman listened with an air of sympathetic wisdom.
"It wasn't so bad then," she said; "I was kind of glad to get away, and Lem was certain everything would open right out. But he's awful hard to do with; he wouldn't take a dollar from parties who had every right to stake him good, and borrowed five from no more than a stranger to buy that secondhand barber chair. What he needed was chloroform to separate these farmers from their dimes and whiskers." Bowman laughed loudly, and a corresponding color invaded Bella. "Of course no one knew Lem had done time, then. They wouldn't have either, but for the Law and Order. Oh, dear me, no, your child ain't none of your own; they lend it to you like and then sneak up whenever the idea takes them, to see if it's getting a Turkish bath. I guess the people on the street wondered who was our swell automobile friend till they found out."
"I suppose," Bowman put in, "they all came round and offered you the helping hand, wanted to see you happy and successful."
She laughed. "Them?" she demanded. "Them? The man that owns this house said that if he'd known, Lem would never had it; they don't want convicts in this town. This is a moral burg. That's more than the women said to me though—the starved buzzards; if they've spoke a word to me since I never heard it." Her voice rose in sharp mimicry: "You, Katie, come right up on the porch, child! Don't you know—! See, I'm going by."
"I could have warned you of all that," June Bowman asserted; "for the reason they're narrow, don't know anything about living or affairs; hypocritical too; long on churchgoing——"
Doret regarded him solemnly. How blind he was, a mound of corruptible flesh! He put the beer down and turned abruptly away, going up to Flavilla. She seemed better; her face was white but most of the fever had gone. He listened to her harsh breathing with the conviction that she had caught a cold; and immediately after he was back from the store with a bottle of cherry pectoral. She liked the sweet taste of the thick bright-pink sirup and was soon quiet. Lemuel sniffed the mouth of the bottle suspiciously. It was doped, he finally decided, but not enough to hurt her; tasting it, a momentary desire for stinging liquor ran like fire through his nerves. He laughed at it, crushing and throwing aside the longing with a sense of contempt and triumph.
He could hear occasionally Bowman's smooth periods and his wife's eager enjoyment of the discourse. His sense of worldly loneliness deepened; Flavilla seemed far away. All life was inexplicable—yes, and profitless, ending in weariness and death. The hunger for perfection, for God, that had been a constant part of his existence, the longing for peace and security, were almost unbearable. He had had a long struggle; the devil was deeply rooted in him. He could laugh at the broken tyranny of drugs and drink, but the passion for fine steel cutting edges was different, and twisted into every fiber. The rage that even yet threatened to flood him, sweeping away his painfully erected integrity, was different too. These things had made him a murderer.