THE MASTER-KNOT OF HUMAN FATE
Up from Earth's Centre through the Seventh Gate I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate, And many a Knot unravel'd by the Road; But not the Master-knot of Human Fate.
Boston Little, Brown, and Company 1901 Copyright, 1901, By Little, Brown, and Company. All rights reserved. University Press John Wilson and Son Cambridge, U. S. A.
Up from Earth's Centre through the Seventh Gate I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate, And many a Knot unravel'd by the Road; But not the Master-knot of Human Fate.
* * * * *
Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire, Would not we shatter it to bits—and then Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
To-night God knows what things shall tide, The Earth is racked and faint— Expectant, sleepless, open-eyed; And we, who from the Earth were made. Thrill with our Mother's pain.
Along one of the most precipitous of the many Rocky Mountain trails a man and a woman climbed slowly one spring morning. The air was cold, and farther up the mountains little patches of snow lay here and there in the hollows. Two or three miles below them nestled one of the most famous pleasure resorts of the entire region. Three or four times as distant lay the nearest town of any importance. Over the plain and through the clear atmosphere it looked like a bird's-eye-view map rather than an actual town. Far away to the left, gorgeous in coloring and grotesque in outline, could be seen the odd figures of many strangely piled rocks.
The two pedestrians stopped now and then to rest and look away over the matchless scene and take in its wonderful beauty. The woman was tall and slender, with a superb carriage. Even on that steep ascent she moved with the grace and freedom of one who has entire command of her body. She was well gowned also for such an excursion. Her short, green cloth skirt did not impede her movements, and high, stout shoes gave her firm footing. She had removed her jacket, and in her bright pink silk blouse and abbreviated petticoat, with the glow of the morning on her usually pale face, she looked almost girlish; but her face was not that of girlhood. It was without lines, and the heavy masses of her golden-brown hair were quite unstreaked with silver; but her white forehead was serene with the calmness that follows overcoming, and her dark gray eyes saw the world shorn of its illusions. In her there were, or had been, unrealized capacities for life in all its height and depth and breadth. In studying her one became vaguely aware that, having missed these things, she had found a fourth dimension which supplied the loss.
Her companion was younger by several years, and so much taller that she seemed almost small in comparison. In his eyes there danced and shone the light of truth and courage and hope, and he walked with the buoyancy of joy and youth. Israfil, Antinous, Apollo,—he might have stood as the model for any of them, or for a fit representation of the words of the wise man, "Rejoice, oh, young man, in thy youth, and let thine heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart."
The relation between the two was problematic. Certainly there was no question of love on either side. Equally certainly there existed between them a rare and exquisite camaraderie, a perfect comprehension that often made words superfluous. A look sufficed.
They toiled up the steep, narrow path until they reached a wide trail, a carriage road that had been laid out and abandoned. It swept around the mountain-side, miles above the little city on the plain, and terminated suddenly at an immense gateway of stone. Here the mountain had been torn asunder, and two palisades of gray-green rock rose grim and terrible for hundreds of feet, while between them, dashing over boulders and trees and the impedimenta of ages, a little stream rushed along in the eternal night at their base. Far away to the west, range upon range piled themselves against the intense blue sky. Beyond a rustic gate, standing across the path that narrowed to a few feet before the wall of stone, a park, sparkling and green in the sunlight, was visible. They stopped and regarded the two gateways,—one the work of nature, the other the feeble counterfeit of man,—and then swinging open the creaking wooden affair, passed into the peaceful valley. A few yards away stood a small log cabin, but the chimney was smokeless, and though the chickens clucked in the yard, and a collie lay on the doorstep, it seemed desolate and deserted.
Passing along an almost invisible trail, they found themselves in the wildest and most remote part of that wild and remote region. They saw a few stray animals, but no human beings. This was one of the few places where mining was not a universal pursuit, and it was too early to do much in the few mines that did exist. There are entire sections in the Rockies that are deserted for more than half the year, and this was one of them. That day there was no one at the signal station. The keeper had gone down to the valley for fresh stores, and to learn something of the terrific disturbances that were said to be threatening the entire Eastern coast with annihilation. Perhaps the owners of the log cabin had made a similar pilgrimage.
The scene was flooded with moonlight when the travellers passed the gate on their homeward way, and sat down on a boulder a few yards without the frowning portal. The night was cold, and the woman had put on her jacket, and sunk her numbed fingers in its pockets. In spite of her weariness she was troubled and restless, and turning looked first at the beetling crags back of them, then away over the plain at the twinkling lights of the town below. They heard indistinctly the sounds of bells ringing wildly, and overhead flocks of birds circled and called with shrill, uncanny voices. Yet the moonlight was so bright that they saw each other as plainly as if it were day, and its placid radiance seemed strangely at variance with the disturbed wild-fowl, and certain weird and fitful sounds that seemed to be sighed forth from the bosom of the earth.
"It is a pity," she said, "that we cannot pass through this gateway into paradise without descending to earth again."
"I don't believe you are half as tired of life as you say," he answered with an impatient movement of his head. "You may not shrink from death as I do, or enjoy life so keenly, but isn't it a good thing to be alive to-night? Isn't it fine to be a mile or so above the rest of humanity and the deadly conventionalities? Aren't you glad you came?"
She did not answer, but presently said dreamily, "Suppose that plain was the sea."
"It isn't hard to suppose," he answered. "I have seen the Pacific when it looked just so."
"Oh, no," she said quickly. "Nothing is like the sea but itself. You will never persuade me that I love the mountains so well. And the plains,—just imagine if all that gray green silver were gray blue, with here and there a gathering crest of foam, racing to break in spray about these mountains—"
"Why, look," he said, drawing her a little to one side, "there is your liquid blue, with its white crest moving toward us. Could the real sea look more wonderful than that? It is blotting out everything. Now it recedes,—was it not real?"
She started to her feet. "This is a very strange night," she said irrelevantly, in a rather strained voice. "Listen,—and see how many birds are flying about us; I never saw them fly so at night. What does it mean?"
They stood together, looking at each other with startled faces. The whole mountain, all the mountains, seemed to be alive and trembling under them. Overhead thousands of birds wheeled and screamed with terror in their mingled outcries. The little creeping things scuttled away up the mountain. The silver-blue wave widened and spread over the plain from north to south, and the air was full of a dull, terrible roar, as if the fountains of the great deep had broken up, and a thousand white-crested waves rushed toward the hapless city before them. They covered it, and with a wild jangle of bells, faintly audible over the tumult, it sank out of sight, all the gleaming, dancing lights disappearing in an instant. The white crests came on and broke about the mountains, and receded and came on again with a deafening roar. Then the crust of the earth between the mountain range and the spot where the city had been, seemed to crack like a bit of dried orange peel, and the flood rushed over the abyss, and there arose a blinding steam that hid the whole scene below, and ascending circled the mountain peaks in mist.
All about them on the mountain-side rose the cries of terrified wild things, and along the narrow pathway into the park a herd of cattle and horses rushed and disappeared among the aspens that trembled as never before. The collie, scenting their presence, came and crouched whining at their feet, and a bird fell exhausted into the woman's arms. She closed her hands over it, unconsciously giving it the protection none could give them, and in the fog moved toward the figure of her companion. His arm closed about her convulsively.
"Shall we go farther up the mountain?" he asked.
"'If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now,'" she answered, insensibly finding it easier to use another's words than to coin phrases while holding death-watch over a continent.
They sat down on the boulder. After what seemed like countless hours, she said, "I wonder how long we have been here. Perhaps it is years."
He looked at his watch. "I do not know whether we are in time or eternity," he answered simply. "It is nearly four o'clock by this watch."
Through the dense vapor they saw the sun rise, red and sullen, but the mist was so impenetrable that they dared not move about. The day and night passed, almost without their knowledge, and the second morning found them, as the first, by the great boulder. The wind rose with the sun, and when it blew aside the veil of mist, far as the eye could reach, there rolled a sea, white-capped, turbulent, fretful, as if unwilling to leave a single peak to tower above its lordly dominion.
The man and woman followed the collie to the cabin, and there found some food, then they retraced their way until they could look down over the valley where the town had slept. Nothing was left. There was not even a prospector's cabin. The shock which had succeeded the first wild dash had been volcanic. The very canons looked strange, and though they called again and again there came no answer.
"Come," the man said imperiously. "Let us go to the Peak. There must be some one there."
They reached the signal station late in the afternoon; no one was there. Looking down from that awful eminence, they saw on the other side of the range the same desolation, the same watery waste. They seemed to be on an island, alone on a wide, wide sea. Nowhere curled a friendly wreath of smoke; nowhere was there sound of any human thing.
They went wearily back. There was nowhere else to go. If the gateway had been awful in its solitude, the Peak was still more desolate. There was nothing living there, except themselves and the dog that followed closely at their heels, making no excursions of its own. The hour was wearing toward midnight when they sank down by the boulder once more to watch the darkness disappear, and wait for they knew not what. The man built a huge fire, so that if any other waifs had been left by this wreck of a world they might see the beacon, and reply in some fashion. They did not talk, except now and then, in a half whisper, they gave monosyllabic queries and replies. The shock that had obliterated a continent seemed to deprive them of all active use of their senses. They moved only in circles, returning always to the place from which they had watched the cataclysm.
It was almost sundown when, with a superhuman effort, they again entered the sunny, beautiful park. The air was balmy, and there all remained quite as before. In front of the cabin stood an Alderney; as they approached her, she lowed uneasily. The woman looked up, and then spoke aloud with the quick sympathy that had always been her greatest attraction. She seemed to understand so readily, whether it was a man's head, a woman's heart, or an animal's wants.
"She needs to be milked," she said, and pushing open the door she entered the cabin. There were two rooms, the farther of which was evidently a bedroom. There was a large fireplace at one end of the main room. At one side of it was a primitive dresser, with such utensils and china as the place afforded; on the other were some miner's implements and a shovel. There was a small table and beside it were placed two chairs. There was a rocker by the one window, and a pot of geraniums on the sill; forming a kind of window seat was a long seaman's chest. At the other end of the room there was a desk covered with green oilcloth, and above it was a shelf containing some books and a clock.
The woman took off her hat and jacket and brushed back her hair, then turning back her sleeves went outdoors again. Under the rude porch on a slab table stood a number of buckets, and there was a stool by the door. She took a bucket and the stool and walked away a few paces, the Alderney following. As she began milking she looked over her shoulder at the man watching her and said, "Won't you build a fire?"
He gathered some wood and went into the cabin. She threw out the first pint or so of milk, then finished milking and strained the foaming contents of her pail into some crocks left sunning by the door, and went into the house. She found some cornmeal and salt, and deftly mixed the dough, and arranging the shovel in the hot ashes, set her hoe-cake to bake. In the mean time the man had brought water from the brook, and as the woman swung the crane over the blaze, he filled the iron kettle hanging therefrom. There was some sour milk, and by a mysterious process she converted it into Dutch cheese. There was some butter and a few eggs, and she found a white cloth and spread the table with the few poor dishes, placing the geranium in the centre. As the water steamed and boiled, she caught up a tin canister.
"See," she said with forced gayety; "let us eat, drink, and be merry, for there is just enough tea in the world for two people to drink once!"
She made the beverage and poured it into the thick cups, and breaking the yellow pone and piling it on a platter, they sat down to the strangest meal they had ever known.
The man watched her with fascinated eyes. He had never before seen her do anything for herself, yet she presided over the simple meal she had prepared as graciously as over the course dinners of her chef. How should she know how to make hoe-cake?
All through the singular feast the sparkle and play of her fancy kept them in hysterical laughter. Afterwards, as she cleared away, the same wild mood possessed her. The man wondered if her mind was going with all else; but as she hung up the towel, her humor changed, and she ran out of the cabin into the dusk as if she could not bear the simple, homely tasks in a homeless world, the firelight and the bounds of a dwelling when doom must be at hand. The man put a fresh log on the fire, and covered the coals with ashes. He would have preferred to remain there, but he knew why she was hurrying back to the mountain-side, and he took her coat and followed her. She was standing by the boulder, looking out over the waters with a despair on her face that made him groan. It was so like what he felt in his heart. She pointed weakly toward the water, but her lips formed no words.
"Yes," he answered, "it was not a dream."
Dawn found them still sitting by the boulder. The man shook her half roughly.
"Come," he said, "let us go back to the cabin."
"No," she answered. "I cannot believe it; we are both mad. We are dreaming the same mad dream; let us go down, and when we feel the spray on our faces, and taste the brine, it will be time enough to believe."
She began the descent with reckless rapidity, and he followed, checking and holding her back. The roar of the surf grew momentarily louder, but though she looked at him with wild, grieved eyes, she went on. A monster wave dashed up over the rocks and wet them to the skin. She flung out her arms, and would have fallen headlong into the greedy, crawling water, but he caught her and made his way back. The hot, bitter tears on her face brought her to herself, and with one great sob she broke down, clinging to him and crying till from sheer exhaustion she fell asleep.
He carried her back to the cottage and laid her gently on the bed in the tiny room. Her hair was falling about her, and he removed her dusty shoes, and covered her over as if she had been a child. Then he went out into the sunlight and sat down on the doorstep and tried to grasp the situation.
He had been a very ambitious man, and she had been as ambitious for him as he was for himself; that had been the main bond of union. He was to have made a great place in the world: the applause of listening senates was to have been his; wealth, fame, position, all the possibilities of life were gone; nothing but barely life itself remained. A living might be wrung from nature, but for ambition,—what? Surely somewhere on earth there were other human beings; the destruction, if irreparable, was not universal. Sooner or later some hardy sailor would find the surviving peaks of this new Atlantis. At least, if the woman within was not his world, he was thankful that no one else was; and having looked the grim truth in the face, he too slept.
It was long past noon when the dog wakened him, and he started to his feet, determined that, having lost all else, they should keep their sound, clear brains. He walked about the park, which contained perhaps five hundred acres. There were half a dozen cows, as many horses, some burros, and a few chickens. There was a rude stable and a few farm implements. There was a large tunnel in the mountain-side, and some mining machinery lying about its entrance. The dog, seeming to realize some of the responsibilities of life, herded the cattle and drove them toward the cabin. When they reached it, she was standing in the doorway. She had made her toilet, and looked fresh and calm.
"These are our flocks and our herds," he said in greeting. "What shall we call them?"
She smiled rather wanly. "Wasn't it Adam who named the animals? You shall have that honor."
"Very well," he answered; "but if this is the garden, there is an angel with a flaming sword at the gateway. Do not pass it again. Our life is here, here,—do you understand? We must give ourselves time to get used to it, time to realize that we are alive. We must be very patient, for whatever has befallen us, whether we are in the body or out of it, this through which we have passed is a miracle, and only time can tell if it is more. Do not look upon the change again, at least not now. You will stay here, and we will work together, and be content for awhile?"
"Content?" she said, "content? We will be happy."
There is always work, And tools to work withal, for those who will; And blessed are the horny hands of toil!
"Do you remember Gabriel Betteredge?" asked Adam, a day or so later, as he watched her set the house in order after their breakfast. "You know in times of great mental perturbation he always sought comfort and counsel from the pages of 'Robinson Crusoe.' When in doubt he waited until to-morrow, as Robinson advised; and no matter what his perplexities, he always found just what he wanted in that infallible book. If I remember correctly, but it's years since I read it, Robinson goes on a voyage of discovery the first thing."
"He built a raft to get away from the wreck first, I think," she said reflectively. "Or did he build the raft to get to the wreck? I can't remember. And then he built a house. Somewhere along there he wrote down his situation in a deadly parallel; I have sometimes wondered if he was the inventor of that style. But he offset the debit of being cast away with gratitude for having escaped with his life. We're not, at least I'm not, sure that belongs on the credit side."
"We don't want to do much exploring yet," he answered. "If we have no wreck to supply us with all sorts of things, we have a house ready to hand, not exactly as we would either of us have ordered it, I fancy, but better than we could build. Do you know what there is in it? We might begin our investigations here."
"'With lamp in hand we will explore,'" she hummed, "but two rooms and a cellar do not promise much. There is nothing to see in this room, except what we do see, and the contents of that chest, which is locked."
Adam tried the lock, then shook the chest. "There's nothing in it, anyhow," he said.
"As to the other room," she went on, "there is a bedroom set,—a better one than I should have expected to find in a place like this,—and a closet with some clothes in it. The man was about your size, but the feminine garments—well—they are all about the length of my bicycle skirt, and on the shelf there is a pile of bedding. There is no trap door leading into either subterranean or overhead apartments. In fact, there is nothing else, except a chair. It's very uninteresting."
Adam had been moving about the room, and stopped before the bookshelf. He wound the clock mechanically, and read the titles of the books aloud. A chemistry, a book on electricity, a Bible, a worn copy of Tennyson, the "Yankee at King Arthur's Court," and a patent medicine almanac made up the list.
"There is one mysterious thing," he said, "and that is the packing cases out under the shed. I can't make up my mind what they contain, and I don't quite feel that we ought to open them; I should like to; they look as if they might hold—"
"Canned goods?" she said interrogatively.
"I was going to say books, but I suppose we need canned lobster more," he assented. "If you are sure they contain oats, peas, beans, or barley, or anything that the farmer knows, that would justify me in opening them." He took up a hatchet, and they went out and inspected the boxes, which were very large and strong.
"Let's not open them yet," she said. "There is one other treasure in one of the bureau drawers; it is a box with seeds of almost every kind. They ought to have known most of those things wouldn't grow up this close to timber-line."
"Probably they were sent by the congressman from this district," Adam said dryly. "But I'm not so sure they won't grow. Have you noticed how warm it is, how very unlike what it has always been? Let us go to the stables, and see what we can find there."
They went up a path, past a garden, fenced with woven wire, through which the chickens looked longingly. Under some sashes forming a primitive greenhouse, lettuce and radishes were making good headway. Nothing else had come up, though there were many beds, with small slips of board, like miniature tombstones, showing what had been planted. The stables and cow-barn were all under one roof, and would accommodate several horses and a few cows. There was hay and fodder in a lot adjoining, and a few ordinary farm implements, a plow, a harrow, and a cultivator in a shed addition.
"Do you know what it is for?" she asked mischievously, as he pulled out the plow.
"Do you think I never remembered the granger vote in my ambitions?" he answered. "I can plow, and I have planted and snapped corn, and cut fodder, and dug potatoes—I wonder if there are any here?"
"Yes," she answered; "in the cellar, at least a bushel, mostly gone to eyes, but I forget how thick to cut them. If we were only 'The Swiss Family Robinson,'" she went on, "we should find yams and pineapples and oranges and sugar-cane and bananas coming up between the rocks. As it is, I am thankful to the congressman who sent the peas and morning-glories."
"There is only about enough wheat and corn to plant fifteen acres," Adam said, making a rough calculation in his mind. "I will plow a little over that, so as to have a patch for the potatoes, and get it ready as soon as possible."
"I know how to plant corn and potatoes," she said eagerly. "Just as soon as you get part of the land ready, I will begin. You didn't know I was brought up on a ranch, did you? I never was very fond of recalling it. It is a perpetual round of conditions unlike any theory ever heard of." She shrugged her shoulders, and stopped at the rude table under the porch to crumb some slices of what looked like a kind of cornbread.
"What is it?" he asked curiously.
"That is to enable us to make light of our troubles," she replied solemnly. "Or, for thy more sweet understanding it is, or at least I hope it will be, yeast. I found a Twin Brothers yeast cake, and from it, behold the brethren! I know that raised bread is unhealthy, and that to get the worth of your money you ought to eat the bran also, and that the best bread, from the hygienic standpoint, is made from wheat-paste, and is about the consistency of sole leather; but even if yeast does shorten our lives, I don't know that I shall give it up on that account."
The planting of their crops took several weeks, and was very hard work, for neither of them was an expert farmer. When the corn and wheat came up there were almost no weeds, and the stand was better than usual for sod land; but they were kept busy warding off the horses and cattle that preferred the fresh young corn and wheat to the indifferent natural grass.
"I thought," she said wearily, after driving away the intruders for the third time,—"I thought fences were a sign of civilization, but they seem to be the first necessity of the wilderness."
She was sitting on a rock, fanning her flushed face with her sombrero, when Adam came to her assistance.
"You should have waited," he said. "I was coming, but I had to hitch the team." He turned and looked at her, and laughed boyishly. "The run hasn't hurt you," he said; "you look like a wild rose. I believe I shall call you so; may I? I can't call you by the old name."
She colored hotly, then turned quite pale, and there was a touch of reserve in her voice as she answered rather too indifferently, "If you choose, still I think, O Adam Crusoe, that Friday or Robinson would be a better name."
"We'll compromise on Robin," he said. "A rose by any other name is just as sweet."
"I wish we had a fence," she said turning the subject hastily.
"We have," he answered. "If we were to build one ourselves, it would have to be of rocks, but Nature has provided a magnificent stone barrier. We have only to drive the animals we are not using through the gateway, and fasten that little wooden concern after them. There is good pasture outside, and if we need them we can go after them. Lassie will look after Daisy and Lily, won't you, little dog? I will go and open the gate and drive them through. You help Lassie keep those two back."
She stood undecidedly, and he turned and said gently, "I will come back without passing through the gateway. I will never pass it without you. I wouldn't dare. Now see how nicely Lassie will conduct this round-up."
As he went toward the gateway, her eyes followed him with a look he would hardly have comprehended, it was so full of relief and gratitude. He understood and reassured her without noticing her fears or smiling at her weakness. Every day and many times she thanked God that, of all the men who might have been left by this modern deluge, it was Adam who had been with her and was with her in this terrible experience.
It might be months, or years, or days, I kept no count,—I took no note.
They had been on the island nearly four months. The corn was waving in the soft breeze, and the sun shone down hotly. Indoors sweet corn was boiling in the same pot with new potatoes, while in an improvised milk-boiler on coals, at one side of the fireplace, peas were simmering. The table was spread, and there was white bread and jersey butter and raspberries. Adam, with Lassie's puppies crawling over him, sat in the doorway, and watched Robin put the finishing touches to their Sunday dinner.
His apparel was somewhat picturesque, and he had a brown and thoroughly healthy look. Robin was dressed in a costume of blue denims. The skirt was rather short, and the waist was a blouse, finished at the throat with a broad collar that turned away from a neck still white in spite of much sunlight. Their months of roughing it had not harmed them, and only the intense sadness in Adam's eyes, the pathetic droop of Robin's mouth, when they thought themselves unobserved, told a story different from that of pastoral content.
Their meal was unusually silent. Sometimes they fell into long lapses of silence; there was so much not to say. In all the weeks of the past they had worked, almost feverishly, allowing as little time as possible for thought, and never speaking of what was oftenest in their minds. Much of the time Adam seemed to be in a dream, only half realizing the flight of time, that made hope more and more hopeless. Robin said nothing. One would not seek to console the sky with phrases if all the stars were wiped out. She half reproached herself at times for the peace, the something akin to happiness, that had crept into her life. She had long before grown very weary of the world and all it had to offer.
She was stung at the sight of Adam's quiet face, with the repressed suffering that had somehow touched it with a beauty it had not possessed, and she said impetuously, "Let us go out, Adam; let us go quite away somewhere, and talk. There is so much I want to ask you, but I have not dared."
He looked up with such a hurt expression that she went on quickly, "Not that; I mean I couldn't. I have been afraid to put things in words. They grow so much more real then. But now I am afraid to keep my thoughts longer."
They went past the wheat and corn fields, through a narrow canon that led them to a valley they had never seen before. It was very beautiful, and the play of the sunlight on the high walls of rock, the murmur of the stream below them, the trembling aspens, the white peaks in the distance, made a scene worthy their attention, but they were blind to it.
They sat down on a broad stone seat; presently Adam said, "Now, tell me; tell me how it seems to you."
"No," she answered, "you must tell me. What has happened to us, Adam? Where are we, and why were we left?"
"God knows," he said reverently.
"Do you think it possible," she said slowly, "that we are dead?"
"Oh, I don't know!" he broke out, with a return to something of his old childlike impatience. "Sometimes I think it is all a dream, and directly I shall wake up and find myself in my dingy old law office. But you are not a dream. These mountains are not a dream. Lassie barking down below there is not a dream; and these callous spots on my hands are real enough in all conscience, and no dream could last so long. Sometimes I think we have been hypnotized and carried off and left on an island somewhere. Sometimes—do you remember the man who computed the vast number of 'mysterious disappearances,' and formed a theory that the earth was being sorted out before the opening of the last vial, or some such stuff? Do you think we can be simply another disappearance?"
"I don't know," she said. "It seems easier to believe that, easier to believe anything than that the whole world has disappeared."
"Then I think sometimes," he went on, "that there are evil powers,—I know this sounds as if I had lost my mind, and maybe I have, I'm not sure of anything,—but it seems as if there might be an explanation if we believed in genii who have power over us. Perhaps you and I, who so often found fault with the poor old earth, are being punished by banishment from it. Perhaps we are being prepared for some great work. I haven't very much religion, and yet I suppose I do believe in a divine purpose back of things, a directing power that wastes nothing. I have tried to think why this thing should come upon us, you and me, of all the world; and while it seems an evil thing, a terrible and overwhelming disaster, when I realize that it might have befallen me alone, then just the fact that you are here makes it seem almost good. Do you understand?"
"Yes," she said quickly. "I have felt just so. When, at first, I felt as if I should curse God and die, I had only to remember you to fall on my knees for thankfulness. Even if a dozen other people had been left instead, no one would have understood as you have. Oh, I would infinitely rather be alone with you than in the utter loneliness of the society of a lot of men and women who would drive me mad with their complaints and inefficiency. I don't know whether it is a dream, or heaven or hell, or the work of some black magic; I only know that if it is a punishment it has been commuted, in that you share it. And yet how selfish that sounds, as selfish as love itself. I ought to wish you were in a better, happier place, where you could carry out your ambitions—" She stopped, and her eyes filled.
"Don't mind," he said grimly. "If that is selfishness, I am selfish to the core. I have gone over the whole list, and I don't know any one I would rather sacrifice to companionship with me in this exile than you. My parents were old; they could never have borne the shock. My sisters would be unhappy without their families; my women friends could none of them have met the exigencies of such an existence as you have; and as for men, by this we would all have been barbarians together. You have kept me sane and alive, for that matter."
"But are we sane?" she said slowly, "I think I could stand it if I only knew we were sane and alive. It is the feeling that I don't know anything, that this valley, these mountains, may fade like the baseless fabric of a dream. And sometimes I think that it may be real, all real but you, and that I shall find myself here all alone, dead or alive, sane or mad. God! how horrible it is!"
"That thought has never troubled me," he said. "Whatever has put us in this dream together will keep us together to the end. You have not wanted me to go far away from you, so we have worked together; I have even let you do work that was unfit for you because I knew you would prefer it. You were more frank about it, but you didn't feel any more strongly than I did. I couldn't, I can't bear to have you out of my sight."
"Have you ever thought that it may be so?" she asked hesitatingly.
"What? That it isn't a dream, and that we are sane and alive? Yes, I have thought of that too. If it be true, how universal is the destruction? We know now, pretty well, from the time that has passed,—by the way, how long is it?" He stopped with a sudden dazed look, and turned to her.
"It was the first of May," she said softly. "Now it is nearly the last of August."
"Four months!" he said in a shocked tone. "I did not realize it; I must have been worse stunned than I thought. In that case it seems as if there can't be anything left of this continent, unless it be detached peaks here and there, where other mountain ranges have been. There may be other men and women waiting as we wait for a sail, a sign, a message, and they do not know any more than we do whence it is to come. The alteration in the climate has convinced me that the waters on our West are those of the Pacific; it has been so warm and pleasant. I have tried to imagine what kind of a winter we may expect, or will the winter of our discontent be made glorious summer—"
"By three crops of strawberries, like California?" she interrupted.
"Perhaps," he said, smiling. "As to the East, that may be the Atlantic, or the Gulf; it seems more probable that it is the latter. The St. Lawrence district was said to be the oldest section of this continent, and it is reasonable to suppose the earth's crust thickest there, and along the mountain ranges. I suppose the continent has gone to make another layer, a stratum, on top of the pliocene, and after awhile the waters will subside, or some volcanic action will raise up a new continent. If there are any ships anywhere, on any seas, they will search every degree of latitude and longitude. Our flag floats, did float, all over this globe; if it still flies anywhere, we shall see it again."
"If I did," she said irreverently, "I should feel sure we were in heaven. It was beautiful before, but what wouldn't it mean now, Adam? But have you any one left on earth; if this continent is all gone, who would look for you? There are people of my blood, or there were, but they did not even know of my existence."
"There is not a soul," he answered. "Indeed, in this country it would have been one chance in ten million. You might have done it," he said, half jestingly, "but you are here."
"Yes," she echoed; "I am here. Adam, how long will it be before you are satisfied that no one is left, no one in the sense of any civilized people, with a country and means of circumnavigation?"
"A year," he answered, "perhaps more, but a year anyhow. I shall not give up hope until then."
How gladly would I meet Mortality my sentence, and be earth Insensible! How glad would lay me down As in my mother's lap!
The corn hardened, and the wheat ripened, and was harvested in truly primeval fashion. Adam cut the wheat with a scythe, and Robin followed him, binding it as best she could. They shocked it together, and then began hauling it to the barn with the horses and bob-sleds, their only vehicle. The stacking was weary work and progressed slowly. Adam watched his co-worker toil over the sheaves, and then took them from her and pitched them on the stack haphazard.
"You shall not bother over it any more," he said, "not if we live on hominy all winter. Have you ever been in Mexico? Well, Hawaii was called the land of poco tempo, but Mexico was the land of manana. There isn't any work there for the work's sake. I mean there wasn't, and we can take a lesson from them. We need not hurry; the legislature will not meet this winter, and there will be no grand opera before spring. Daisy and Lily shall do our work for us. We will find a bit of hard, smooth ground, and then we will not muzzle the cows that tread out the grain."
"Willingly," gasped Robin, climbing down from her slippery eminence on top of the load of grain; "but do you think we are going to have any winter?"
"That is pre-eminently one of the things that no fellow can find out," he answered. "In a dream you are likely to have any kind of weather, and on a submerged planet we have no precedents at hand to tell us what to expect. By replanting the vegetables right along we have had a perpetual crop. As long as we have this kind of weather things will grow, and I suppose we would better let them. Shut in as we are, it doesn't seem likely that any very fearful winds are apt to trouble us; and if there is a wet season, on this slope we shall have good drainage. If the worst comes to the worst, there's the tunnel. Could you make that cheerful and homelike?"
Robin smiled rather sadly. "It will do to put the grain in," she said, and they walked on silently.
The spot finally selected for the threshing floor was brushed as clean as twig brooms would make it, and the wheat spread out upon it. Adam and Lassie drove the cows over it leisurely, and between times Adam experimented on a flail. When he finally had one that answered the purpose, and found he could use it without fracturing his skull, the cows were released, and he went on with the work. Seated on a boulder close by, her sombrero tipped well over her eyes, Robin fanned the grain, and converted it into a coarse cracked wheat with a venerable coffee-mill.
"I will make you a Mexican mill, when I get through with this," said Adam, "but you cannot use it, because it is too hard work; I shall have to be the miller. It is a rather simple affair, and dates from before the days of Noah; it is made with two stones, sandstone preferred, the lower of which is hollowed out bowl-fashion, with a hole in the centre; the upper stone is rounding, and fits in the bowl, and has a hole in it about four inches from the edge, in which a stout wooden handle is inserted, with which to turn it. The two stones are ground together until they become smooth. Then they are placed on four other stones as rests, and a blanket or cloth is spread underneath to catch the meal. The grain is poured around the edge of the upper stone, and works down. It makes a very tolerable flour."
"How handy you are!" she said. "Isn't it a good thing we hadn't civilized the whole world to such a degree that only patent high-grade flour was used? Where should we be now without the simple devices of the good people of the Stone Age, and their survivors on whom we looked down with so much scorn?"
The snapping of the corn was an easier matter, and it was piled in the tunnel till they should be ready to shell it. Then Adam did what he called his "fall plowing," and left the bare brown sod to lie fallow.
So far as possible, they had retained the manners and customs of the world that had left them. There was a tolerable supply of clothing, and a good deal more household linen than could have been expected. Robin concluded that the owners of the cabin had not been long married, and the bride, knowing to what kind of a place she was coming, had thought more of her house than of herself. All the feminine garments had to be re-fashioned. Robin made her skirts short enough for mountain climbing, and dreading the time when her one pair of shoes should give out, she wore sandals fashioned from yucca leaves by Adam's clever fingers. As the hair-pins lost themselves, she braided her hair in a long queue, the curling ends of which fell far below her waist.
The little house was kept as neat and clean as if it were headquarters for all the labor-saving inventions in the world, and their meals were as well served as if a corps of servants had been in attendance. They were simple, and often a little monotonous, as meals must be where there is nothing save what grows on one's own plantation. They had no tea, coffee, sugar, spices, or foreign fruits. However, the hardship of manual labor and plain food would cure most cases of dyspepsia, and they did not suffer.
One day early in December, Robin woke to the consciousness of a steady drip, drip of rain, accompanied by an indescribably mournful wind. In the other room she heard Adam piling on the logs, and shivered. Perhaps the winter had come. It had been hard enough when there was plenty of work, and the free outdoor life; if they should become prisoners, how should they, how would he endure it? She dressed quickly, and met his cheery "good-morning" in kind, and over their breakfast they discussed the possibility of this storm being the first of many. They decided that they must get the corn into such shape that the tunnel would be available for the hapless cattle, or even for themselves, if need be.
"We will go up there and shell corn all day," said Adam. "It isn't really cold, and you can wrap up a bit. I wish I had thought to take a lot of stone into the tunnel to build a bin at the end to put the corn in. I don't know how we are to manage it."
She disappeared into the bedroom and came back presently with a few grain sacks. When Adam opened the door he was nearly ready to abandon his plan.
"You will be wet through," he said; "I cannot let you go."
"Then you cannot go either," she answered.
"But I must," he said. She was standing by him, hardly reaching his shoulder, the sacks over her head. Catching her up in his arms, he banged the door behind them, and ran up the slope to the tunnel, where he deposited her laughing, and shaking the water from her curly hair. As he had said, it was not cold, and they sat down near the mouth of the tunnel, turned the tops of their sacks back over corncobs, and shelled the corn in silence. At last a little sigh from Robin made Adam look up quickly. Her hands were bleeding.
"Robin," he cried angrily, "how can you be so cruel! I don't want you to do this work; there is no need. I forgot to watch you; besides, I know you are tired. You did not sleep last night; I heard you moving about."
"Then you did not sleep either," she responded quickly.
He flushed through the tan, and scooping some dry leaves together into a bed, took off his coat and folded it for a pillow.
"Lie down and rest a little now," he said, "while I go down to the house and see what I can find for lunch. Then you can have a good sleep this afternoon."
He was gone several minutes, and when he came back with some sandwiches in a tin bucket, and a dozen scarlet radishes dripping in his hand, he stopped appalled. Robin was at the extreme end of the tunnel, sitting on the ground, laughing and crying and talking extravagant nonsense. Had she really gone mad, at last? Adam put down the bucket, and walked toward her unsteadily. She did not stir, but went on chattering in the same absurd way, until she saw him; then she cried excitedly, "Oh, look! it's kittens, real little tame kittens, though their mother won't come near me yet. She is over in that corner."
Adam saw her green eyes, and though distrustful she was not unfriendly. Emptying the bucket, he ran down to the sheds, and came back with some milk which he poured into the top of the pail, and set down before the kittens. They lapped it eagerly, and as the two human beings withdrew discreetly, the cat crept out of her corner and joined in the feast. When it was over, Robin took possession of one tiny ball of fur, and Adam of another, while they made their own meal. Then Robin curled up among the dead leaves, and slept like a child.
It was growing dusk when Adam awoke from his day-dreams. The tunnel looked like a small grain elevator. On one side Robin still slept, but the old cat was nestled contentedly at her feet, and the kittens were playing sleepily over her.
"What is she dreaming?" Adam asked wearily. "All day I have sat here and dreamed dreams that can never come true. I know it; I feel it. I told her a year, but I am as sure now as I shall be in six years, that there is no hope. The watch-fire is out to-night,—the first night in eight months. I shall re-light it for her sake; not that she is any more deceived than I, but she will be happier to believe me still hopeful. What will be the end of it all? How can it end?"
"The same old way," came a sleepy voice from the leaves, "with the 'got married and lived happily ever after' formula." She sat up and rubbed her eyes, and stretched lazily, to the discomfort of the kittens, who retreated hastily. As she struggled to her feet and a knowledge of her surroundings, her face changed pitifully, and she sat down again and cried miserably.
"Oh, it was so real!" she sobbed. "I can see it now. We were back in the old house, in the library, don't you remember it? and Walter was at the piano, and Louis had just asked me how to finish his last story. Did I answer out loud? Oh, which is the dream, for that was as real as this!"
Adam stood and watched her. He tried not to think of that apropos answer. He heard the beating, steady patter of the rain, and the lowing of the cows, and there was not even a star in heaven to look at him from its accustomed place with a friendly, twinkling promise for the future. There was nothing left. So far as he was concerned, the earth was without form and void. There was nothing to wait or hope for. There was nothing to live for, neither cheerful yesterdays nor confident to-morrows. What was the use in living? He looked down at the slender creature lying outstretched almost at his feet, shaken with the agony of long-repressed grief, and then at his long, muscular hands. How little it would take to end it all for both of them! A mist came over his eyes and he stooped, his hands outstretched toward her white throat. They fell on the rounded curve of her shoulder. He checked the caress as he checked the other impulse and shook her instead.
"Let us go home," he said.
They went into the storm.
Why wilt thou take a castle on thy back When God gave but a pack? With gown of honest wear, why wilt thou tease For braid and fripperies? Learn thou with flowers to dress, with birds to feed, And pinch thy large want to thy little need.
The next morning dawned clear and warm, and Adam, coming in with his milk-pails, held out his hand to Robin. There were three ripe strawberries.
"See," he said, "they are the harbingers of spring, or a California climate, and either way makes our gain. California without fogs and fleas is heavenly enough for most people."
Nevertheless, they completed the shelling of the corn, and made a bin for it at the end of the tunnel, removing the cat family to the house, where Lassie viewed their advent with jealous eyes. One day when they had been hulling corn for nearly a week, Adam sat down and began laughing. "Do you know how much corn it takes to plant an acre?" he asked.
"No," said Robin, blankly. "I know something about the number of kernels to the hill,—'one for the cutworm, and one for the crow, and one for something-or-other else, I forget what, and one to grow.' Why?"
"It takes eight quarts to plant an acre. We have raised about thirty bushels to the acre, which is very well for sod. That will make over fifteen thousand pounds of meal and hominy, and will feed us for seven years, even if we eat six pounds daily. Unless there is a winter season, when we must do something for the animals, there is not the slightest use in planting more than an acre. As to the wheat, even with a light yield, there would be fifteen hundred pounds to the acre. We have fresh vegetables all the time, and there will be any quantity of potatoes and cabbage and beans."
"And yet people starved everywhere, and it seemed to me that the farmers were the worst off of all."
"They farmed to make money, not to live, and they had no control over the markets. They had to sell or build barns. It is only Dives who can afford to tear down the old ones and build greater. It was easier for them to sell cheap to a man who took their wheat and held it until it could be sold back to them as dear flour. They were eaten up with mortgages and pests and interest. Have you noticed that there are almost no insects here, not even flies and mosquitoes? They were never so bad in the mountains, and apparently they have been wiped out with the rest."
"Truly, Adam," she said, "speaking just of the physical part of it, would you regret this year?"
He stood up and stretched out his arms, a splendid type of manhood, smooth-shaven, with clear-cut features, bronzed, square-shouldered, and powerful.
"Oh, you are magnificent!" she cried involuntarily. "It has done you good, great good. You are twice the man you were in strength and health and resource; and if only we had been cast away on an island, knowing we were sure to be rescued some day soon, I should not be sorry at all."
He colored and answered frankly: "Without the mental strain, I should not regret this year. Sometimes, when I am sure it is a dream, and that presently we shall waken, I can't help wondering whether we shall not wish we had fretted less and enjoyed it more. When I come to think of it, I believe it is the first time since I was a child that ways and means have not troubled me. It was a good thing to work as we have, to keep our minds employed, but now that we are sure that starvation is five or six years away, we might as well drop the old, headlong rush to get more than we need. That has been the trouble ever since men began to make history. It was the same thing,—power, conquest, riches, everything; too much to eat, too much to drink, too much to wear—"
"Well, you can't say that of us," said Robin ruefully, looking down at her made-over gown.
"Well, perhaps not, and I don't mean that there ever was a time when there was a general surfeit, but I mean that was the tendency. There would have been plenty for all, if part had not taken more than their share; as for the other part who had not enough, they only longed for the opportunity to simulate their unwise betters. When they could, they took too much, too, if it was only to drink and forget their misery. We could have lived so well and so easily, if we had lived more simply, coming more directly in contact with nature, as we have this year."
She shook her head doubtfully. "This has not been real life at all. We have only kept alive. We haven't read anything or done anything or helped any one—"
"Except each other and the animals dependent on us. On the whole, I don't know but that we have accomplished about as much as when we were devoting most of our attention to paying board and rent bills. We have helped each other more than we can measure. We should have died had we been left alone with our thoughts. All of life is not in cities, nor even in books."
She did not answer for some moments, and then said slowly, "If it were a dream, and we were going back to the old life, what would you regret most?"
"If we were going back to the world we know, I should regret a good many things; first, I suppose, that I did not realize sooner that we must be going back, instead of letting myself be utterly overwhelmed. Then I think I should be sorry that I didn't practise, a la Demosthenes, when I had a whole coast to myself, and most of all I should regret that we have not kept a record of our lives from day to day. There is other writing I should want to do,—but there is no paper, and I don't know how to make any."
"There is plenty of time to do all that yet," she said. "What else would you wish you had done?"
He looked at her, for there was something in her voice he did not understand, but her eyes were turned from him. "I should regret that we had not talked more. Do you know, we have been very silent? And we used to have so many things to talk over in the old days. I should have twinges of remorse that I did not make more of your companionship when I had it, instead of raising more corn than we can eat in half a dozen years, and letting you tear your hands shelling it." He stooped and kissed one of her slender hands. She withdrew it quickly; there had never been even a touch of the sentimental between them.
"What would you regret?" he asked suddenly.
She shrank a little, and her eyes looked far away, past the gateway. "Some of the things you mention; very much that I had not encouraged you more to go on with your work, but mainly—"
She jumped down from the rock where she had been sitting, and answered evasively, "I don't think there is any mainly, unless it is that when I had such a good chance to be a hermit, I couldn't remember all those wonderful Mahatma practices that make one so good and so wise. The only formulas I have really tried hard to recall are for cooking without sugar, or spice, or fruit."
Heap on more wood!—the wind is chill; But let it whistle as it will, We'll keep our Christmas merry still.
It was Christmas Eve, and the night being in a reminiscent mood, was chillier than usual. Adam piled up the logs till the whole room was full of the warm glow. "Let us hang up our stockings," he said, with an attempt at gayety.
Robin spread out her hands with a gesture of comic distress. "If only I had a pair to hang!" she said. "But they gave boxes in England, didn't they? I noticed that the rain the other day seemed to have come through the shed roof, and I fear the contents of those packing cases may be the worse for it, especially if they happen to be sugar. Do you think it would do to make ourselves presents of them? If you do, please give me the smaller box; I am sure it has hair-pins and needles and darning-cotton in it."
Adam laughed. "We will give them to each other," he said, "and perhaps you'll find some stockings in your box, if there is no box in your stockings. We can dream of their contents all night, and—who knows?—we may have a merry Christmas, after all."
Robin hardly knew the place next morning. Adam had risen early and decked every available spot with kinnikinnick until the room fairly glistened. "I wish I knew how to thank him," she said.
"Do you like it?" he said, as he came in. "I was afraid I should waken you putting it up."
"Like it!" she answered, "Why, Adam, it is beautiful. You are just an ideal Santa Claus."
When they had finished their breakfast they went out and looked at the boxes.
"You must open yours first," she said; "it's so big I know it doesn't contain anything nice, so we would better save mine till the last, and then I can divide with you. What do you think it is? You shall have three guesses."
"It might be a piano from its size," he ventured.
"No," she said decidedly. "It's not the right shape."
"Or perhaps it's a feather-bed; I don't know of anything I want less."
"It's too large for that; now guess, really."
"As a matter of fact, I expect it is mining machinery, which will be about as much use as another chimney; but here goes to find out." He brought his hatchet down vigorously between the boards at one end, where a slight crevice promised some leeway.
"Oh, do be careful," she cried "even if there's nothing in it but stove-polish and excelsior, the nails and the boards are absolute treasures!"
He proceeded more gently. There was any amount of hoop-iron, which he removed carefully, and the nails were drawn with as much caution as if they had been teeth, as they well might be, considering there were no more on earth to draw. When the top of the box was finally off, and a quantity of papers removed, they gave a simultaneous cry of delight. The box was full of books. They took them out, one at a time, with little exclamations of pleasure, as an old friend came to light. Sitting down on the ground they piled the books about them on the papers, and opening favorites here and there read to each other and themselves till long after noon. It was really a fine library, well chosen, covering a wide range of subjects and including an encyclopaedia and an unusually fine edition of Shakespeare.
"Isn't it the most beautiful Christmas present you can imagine, Adam?" she said. "If you are not suited with this it must be because, in the old slang, you 'want the earth.'"
"But we haven't even opened your box," he said.
"I don't want to," she answered slowly. "Somehow I feel as if we would better stop now and let well enough alone. Let us enjoy this awhile. Perhaps the other box may spoil this one, or at least the day."
Adam laughed with good-natured tolerance. "How absurd!" he said. "Let us see what there is. You know you said yours would be the nicest; besides, if it contains sawdust and last year's almanacs, I shall have to divide with you, and we may quarrel over the Shakespeare." He opened the box while she stood watching him with a strange unwillingness. It had been labeled, "This Side Up," and on the very top there was a wooden case. He put it in Robin's arms, and she opened it with trembling fingers. She replaced the broken strings, adjusted the bridge, tucked the violin under her chin, tuned it, and straightway escaped from every sorry care of earth.
Adam went on unpacking the box. It contained chiefly materials for writing,—all the paraphernalia that the fastidious student requires. There were many note-books, and at the bottom a large, handsomely inlaid writing-desk. The name on the cover made him start and call her. She put down the violin reluctantly, and then stooped and kissed the vibrating wood with sudden feeling.
"It is a Steiner," she said. "You know the story of Steiner's violins, do you not? No? Some day, perhaps, I may tell you. Can you open the desk?"
He found the key and unlocked it. There were some letters, a few papers and memoranda, and a journal. Adam turned to the last page written, and read:—
"Have just completed arrangements for transportation of my effects to the mountains. Close study of various phenomena convinces me that I may have been in error, and that the cataclysm is much closer at hand than I have thought. Within a few months I shall burn this book, and confess that I should be written down an ass, or turn to it to prove myself a prophet. From the eyrie I have chosen I expect to be able to write the story of the coming deluge. It will be of great value to posterity to have a calm, scientific account, quite free from any tinge of superstition or religion. I have to-day written my Boston skeptics, forwarding copies of my calculations, with references to former inundations, and reasons for believing the Rocky Mountain region the safest at this time. All geologists agree that—"
Here the journal terminated abruptly.
Robin hardly seemed to comprehend its full significance; or possibly she was not surprised. She touched the book as gently as if it were the napkin over the face of the dead.
"It is not to the wise that God has revealed himself," she said softly. "Where is the hand that wrote this? You must finish it, Adam. Here are the blank pages waiting for such a chapter as was never written on earth."
But Adam only looked at the half-written page unseeingly. "It is all true, then," he muttered to himself; "it is all true." He walked away with a painful precision of motion, almost as if he were drunk; he neither heard nor saw anything, yet was conscious of everything, and while he thought he had been hopeless before, he knew now that he had never given up hope, never until that moment ceased to expect a rescue.
Robin took her violin and went indoors. Presently he heard its liquid notes stealing out to him, like a power unknown and divine, brushing its fingers across his heart, the harp of a thousand strings. She played for a long time, and when she ceased, in some strange way he felt that he was comforted.
The World is too much with us; late and soon Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.
* * * * *
Great God! I'd rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,— So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
They had been sitting by the fire in silence for a long time. Robin had been sewing, but the blaze had sunk too low to see by it, and her hands were folded idly upon her mending. She put it by, and went to the window. It was a very dark night, and the stars shone brilliantly. The stars had come to mean a great deal to them both, howbeit neither had ever said so. The stars only were unchanged. "The thoughts of God in the heavens" were the same, whatever might be His thought on earth.
She sighed so heavily, that Adam asked quickly, "What is it?" and she answered, with a nervous laugh, "I was thinking of the old legend, that the souls on other planets call ours 'the sorrowful world.' What made it so sorrowful, Adam?"
"Ignorance would cover it all," he answered, "but to be specific, intemperance, sensuality, avarice, and poverty. I don't mean drunkenness only, when I say intemperance. I have known a few prohibitionists in my time who were as intemperate in their eating as any one could be in the matter of drink. I think intemperance in its widest sense was the great curse of our time anyway; drink and tobacco and tea and coffee; and as to our eating, there was too much, of almost everything on earth that was not food, but which could be over-salted and over-peppered, and treated with tabasco sauce. We over-stimulated every activity of the body, and spent our lives doing all kinds of things in which there was no sense. Think of reading one or two morning and evening papers every day. To be sure we said there was nothing in them, but we used up our eyesight over them, and let a stream of silliness and scandal dribble through our minds. As to the things we wore—"
Robin laughed. "I know," she said. "The sewing-machine didn't save work; it only made ruffles. A dressmaker once said to me, 'It's a good thing for me that these women haven't sense enough to spend their time and money on themselves, in making their bodies free and strong and beautiful. But no; they would rather have a stylish dress than a graceful body. They don't care to be beautiful themselves; all they want is a handsome gown to cover their ugliness.' Isn't it strange that we never seemed able to realize that the Greek fashions were immortal because they were beautiful?"
"Still, I don't think the dress of the Greek women would be very convenient for housework," ventured Adam.
Robin shook her head. "You only say that because some woman has said it to you. The Diana of the Stag wore the first rainy-day gown. The Greek dress was capable of ever so many modifications. If I were making a handbook of proverbs for women, I should say, 'A good complexion is rather to be chosen than many fine dresses, and glossy and abundant hair turneth away wrath.' I believe in the simplification of life. I understand just how Thoreau felt when he threw out that specimen because it had to be dusted daily. There are very few things beautiful enough to pay for that amount of trouble. But perhaps that is because I don't care for specimens, and I loathe dusting."
"You ought to have been a Jap," said Adam. "There was one in college, in my class, and one day when I was fretting over something I could not afford he said, in that immensely polite way of theirs, 'You I cannot understand. With all American people it so is, even as by Ruskin said was it; whatever you have, of it you more would get, and where you are, you would go from. You happy are only when something you get, and never that you yourself are.' But I think the Celestial was wrong there. When a man is self-conscious of illy-made garments, a mean domicile, a poor kind of half education, he is uncomfortable; he hasn't accomplished his evolution from the conscious, the self-conscious, to the unconscious. It was this very discomfort and inequality that used so to enrage me, for it need not have been."
"I wish," said Robin, "we knew how to make paper; of all the fascinating things in Bellamy's 'Equality,' there was nothing I liked so well as the idea of paper garments, to be burned when one got through with them. Think of never having any washing and ironing, and always having new clothes."
"I wonder whether we could invent some of those things over again," said Adam, reflectively.
"I couldn't spare you any of my precious rags, if you could," said Robin.
"Most of the paper was made out of wood, anyhow," answered Adam, "and the ash that grows here in any quantity was considered particularly fine for that purpose."
"'God made man upright, but he hath sought out many inventions,'" quoted Robin, "and now we are going to seek them over again. I can't imagine how anyone could ever make a lineotype, but the type and the hand-press are easy enough, and if you can make paper, we may yet live to read our 'published works.' You probably do not know that I used to have a Wegg-like facility for dropping into poetry."
"Did you? That is another of the things you never told me; but your speaking of Thoreau," answered Adam, "recalls what he said of the amount of work necessary to sustain life beside Walden Pond. It took six weeks out of the year, and that was in a most forbidding country. In such a valley as this two months ought to be sufficient to more than feed and clothe us; but then he didn't have to make his own clothing."
"And out of nothing particular," interrupted Robin.
Adam laughed and went on. "Did you ever hear of a man called Hertzka? He was an eminent Austrian sociologist, and he figured it out, that if five million men should work a little less than an hour and three quarters a day they could produce all the necessities of life for the twenty-two million people of Austria. By working two hours and twelve minutes daily for two months beside, they could have all the luxuries also. And that not for a few, not for the Court and the nobility, but for all. There could have been music and pictures and books and theatres, and sufficient food and clothing. Isn't it strange that when we might have been so happy we preferred to be so wretched? For even if we had all we wanted ourselves, we could not escape the sights and sounds that told of abject misery."
"It was always so," Robin answered moodily. "The poor we had always with us. History always repeated itself."
"Still, it didn't exactly repeat itself," Adam said. "Our dark age would have done for a golden age in the past. Greece was glorious for a little while, but her literature tells us of her ideals. The isles of Greece, where Byron contracted his last illness, would have left him to die among the rocks twenty-five hundred years earlier, because he had a lame foot. We at least were kinder to animals, and that means a great deal."
"I don't know," she answered. "Perhaps; it seems to me I have read of a hospital for sick animals on the island of Ceylon a long sometime B. C. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu—or was it Lady Hester Stanhope?—said she had traveled all over the world, and had never found but two kinds of people,—men and women. I fancy the same thing is true of all the ages as well as all the countries."
"No," Adam said, shaking his head; "our ideals change. The scheme of life laid down by Christ was to the Greeks foolishness and to the Jews a stumbling-block, and there were plenty of Greeks and Jews in our day. By Greeks I mean people whose ideals were purely intellectual, and by Jews those who saw no good save a material good, no God but the God of Mammon. They would not hear either Moses or the prophets, and the statute of limitations was as near as they could come to the Sabbatic year. The Greek and the Jew have stood ready with their cup of hemlock, their crown of thorns for every Christ-spirit that has ever come to earth. Yet more people read Socrates, and believed on the Nazarene every year. I don't mean in the church; the working-man did not go to church, but he uncovered his head at the name of Christ, the first lawgiver who confounded the scribes and Pharisees, and ate with publicans and sinners."
"But Moses was the first lawgiver to forbid taking the nether millstone as a pledge," objected Robin.
"True," he admitted, "and the laws of Moses would have made the world over. He was the greatest writer on political economy this earth has ever seen. His absolute fiat against the alienation of the land would have done more for the common people than all Adam Smith's theories of free competition, and Fourier's dream of a perfected communism. But who would have known of Moses, save for Christ? The Old Testament would have been merely the sacred book of the Hebrews, and save as a literary and historic work, of very uncertain historic value, would have been unread, as the Koran and other books of a similar nature were unread."
"And yet you do not believe in the divinity of Christ," she said slowly.
"No," he answered. "Is that necessary before one can believe in his teachings? The truth is always divine. What difference does it make whether the one who utters it be human or divine, bond or slave, AEsop or Marcus Aurelius? the truth remains the same. A fable is only another name of a parable. We have the story of the lost sheep; that's a parable; and that of the lamb that muddied the stream, and that's a fable. One is sacred, the other profane, but both are fables, both parables. When you take them away from the context it is as easy to feel for the lamb eaten by the wolf, as for the one that was rescued, and has been immortalized in picture and song."
"Probably you are right," she said. "I never thought of it in just that way before," and saying "good night" she went to her room.
Adam thought he heard her humming, "Away on the mountains cold and bare."
When we mean to build We first survey the plot, then draw the model, And, then we see the figure of the house, Then must we rate the cost of the erection.
The discovery of the incomplete journal made a subtle change in Adam. He had been silent and self-absorbed from the first, but he had never quite given up hope. Even now, Robin sought to keep up the pretence, and dreading the despair which she saw creeping over Adam, she began artfully to seek some means of interesting him in something else. The question of a proper place for the books gave her an opportunity, and Adam suggested that he build an addition to the house.
They planned it as eagerly as if it was to be a castle, and spent days in looking for adobe, but finally decided that logs would be better, and Adam's ax could have been heard ringing from morning till night. A log house is not exactly a work of art, but it requires no little skill to build one, and takes a good deal of time when the logs for the floor must be planed and squared, so as to make a matched board floor. Sometimes Robin went with Adam, and worked or read; sometimes she took him his luncheon at noon, for the trees were at some little distance from the house. The logs had to be "snaked" across the rough ground and down the mountain, and when the floor had been laid, and the location of the window decided upon, Robin planted morning-glory seeds where it was to be. By dint of much pushing and hauling the logs were finally put in place, and the roof battened down. The window was truly worthy of a mediaeval castle, for it was simply an oblong hole, boxed in with a casement made from some scraps of boards, while a slab shutter, swung on leather hinges, shut out the elements.
The chinking was a simple matter, and when it was all done, including a doorway into the main room, Robin was unfeignedly delighted. They made rows of shelves with the packing-cases, and arranged the books thereon. It was not an extensive library, but it occupied one side of the room, and was a godsend to them. Under the window Robin placed the green covered desk, and placed on it Adam's writing materials. Along the inside wall Adam built a bunk, after the fashion in miners' cabins, and with a mattress stuffed with the soft inner cornhusk, and a pillow from the other room, and blankets from the one tiny closet, the couch looked sufficiently inviting. On the floor Robin spread mats made from plaited cornhusk, and in the doorway hung a portiere, woven from the same material on a loom that a Navajo might not have utterly despised.
Adam's scanty wardrobe was transferred to pegs in one corner of the room, one or two stools were set first here, then there, until Robin was sure the best effect had been secured, and when all was done that they could accomplish with the means at hand, and the morning-glory blossoms came peeping in at the window, the room was by no means unattractive.
Then Robin's housewifely soul took refuge in house-cleaning, and she scrubbed and arranged and re-arranged, while Adam repaired or invented furniture, until inside and out their little domain was as perfect as they could make it.
Between them there had again fallen one of those long silences they dreaded, but seemed powerless to prevent. As the voice of the turtledove was lifted in the plaintive notes of nesting time, Adam harrowed three acres of the plowed land and planted it in wheat and corn. The perennial garden was flourishing, and there was nothing to do. Adam said so one day, with an air of calm finality.
Robin regarded him uneasily. The time had not yet come when he could sit down and write, though she had brewed an excellent ink, and the paper waited on the desk in his room. She considered for a moment, then said brightly, "Don't you remember what Myron used to say? How when his friends got rich they first built a beautiful house, and then went abroad for three years? Let us go traveling; wouldn't you like it?"
The alacrity with which he acquiesced proved how well he liked it, and he started out at once to get the burros, and make ready for the expedition.
Robin baked and prepared as well as she could.
"It's a good thing I had a Southern grandmother," she soliloquized, as she put her beaten biscuit in the Dutch oven and pulled the coals over it. "And it's a good thing my mother crossed the plains and learned how to make biscuit in the mouth of her flour sack, and," as she rolled out some crackers, "it is a blessed good thing I went to cooking-school, but I wish that, instead of being so particular about the knobs on the candlesticks, the Pentateuch had given Sarah's recipe for making cakes with honey. Not that I have any honey, but I am sure we shall find some on this trip."
When they were all ready, and the burros stood waiting at the door, with Lassie jumping wildly about them, Adam wrote a placard which he stuck in the framework of the door. The stock had been turned loose on the mountain-side, and the house and stables secured as well as possible against any storms that might arise. The kittens had possession of one of the sheds. The puppies were to accompany them.
Robin had put on her long unused shoes, and a new gown that she had made out of a dark blue serge found hanging in her room. Adam looked at her approvingly from under his wide sombrero. She turned back, after going a few paces, and read the card.
Back in two weeks.
Look for smoke.
As she passed into the canon that hid their home from sight, Adam saw her brush her hand across her eyes.
I pity the man who can travel from Dan to Beersheba and cry, "'Tis all barren."
They traveled a due west course, crossing the two ranges, wending their way through dim defiles and along precipitous canons, until they saw the sea. Here its mood was summer-like. Even in the short time that had elapsed it had worn itself a broad, smooth beach, and wide tracts of land between the sand and the base of the mountains proved that the earth had been thrown up, or that the water had receded. They had not looked upon the ocean before for many months.
They picketed the burros on the rank, salt grass, and built their camp-fire early, and while Robin set the potatoes baking, and began her supper preparations, Adam went scouting along the coast. In less than half an hour he came back with a quantity of clams which he threw down before her as proudly as if they had been foreign battle-flags. She gave a little feminine shriek of delight.
"Now I know why we brought that inconvenient iron pot," she said; "bring it here, please."
Adam brought it, and watched her slice up onions and potatoes and stir in the various ingredients.
"It is going to be the best chowder you ever tasted," she said, "even if we haven't any bacon. When you write the veracious tale of our adventures, Adam, don't put in how many things we ate."
"They might think it a voracious tale if I did," he answered, dropping some more butter into his mealy potato. "Do you remember how the Swiss Family were always worrying for fear they wouldn't have enough to eat?"
"Yes, and how they went out and killed an elephant for breakfast, and a herd of wild pigs for dinner, and had a buffalo apiece for supper. And don't you remember how, when the boa constrictor killed one of their zebras, little Fritz asked pathetically if boas were good to eat?"
They laughed over their supper, and then having made sure that they were out of reach of the tide, and the fire would keep, and the rifle was close at Adam's elbow, they spread their blankets and said "good night." It had been an exciting day.
It was past midnight, and the moon was waning when Adam was wakened by Lassie's cold muzzle against his face. He sat up and called to Robin. There was no answer, and her blankets lay tossed on the other side of the fire. He started up and listened. At first he heard only the sound of the sea; then there came mingled with it the clear notes of her glorious voice. Holding Lassie in check he went down to the beach.
Robin stood well out on the shimmering sand, the waves lapping softly almost at her feet, and he heard the plaintive music, and caught the words,—
"Oh, for the wings, for the wings of a dove, Far away, far away, would I fly, and be, and be at rest."
Her voice quivered when she came to the words, "In the wilderness build me a nest," but she sang on, and Adam recalled the words of hymn after hymn, anthem after anthem, for she sang nothing else. He heard the bitter cry of the De Profundis, Handel's triumphant "I know that my Redeemer liveth," and then she began, "He watching over Israel slumbers not nor sleeps."
His eyes filled, and he saw the tents of his regiment. She had written by every mail, and across her letters, at the top or bottom, she had put those five bars from "Elijah." Though he did not believe it, for he had not the early Hebrew ability to see Israel in his own race, and the to be spoiled Philistine in every Filipino, it had comforted him in that sickening campaign. Surely, surely if he, an American "non-com," had spared a Filipino now and then, He watching over Israel had not been less merciful.
Her voice died away; it was the first time she had sung that year, though she was a very perfectly trained musician. Indeed in the old days, Adam had first sought her acquaintance because of her music.
Adam returned to the camp; he knew instinctively that she preferred to keep this to herself. He was lying quite still when she came back, and controlled every muscle when she bent over him. She regarded him intently for a moment, then went to her blankets with a heavy sigh that Adam knew was for him. She had sung out her own sorrows.
Their vigils seemed to do them both good, for they shook off their melancholy tendencies, and before the end of the first week their tour was beginning to be thoroughly enjoyable. They did not find cocoanuts and bananas, but they did find plenty of strawberries, and long, prickly vines that would be covered with raspberries, and wild grapes and choke-cherries and currants, which they planned to transplant, for though the Western coast was more beautiful, and in some respects more convenient than their hedged in valley, they preferred the valley. Already it had come to mean home.
They traveled about fifty miles southward, to the end of the island, making desultory trips up into the mountains to see if anywhere, on land or sea, there was a friendly wreath of smoke, and every night their watch-fire glowed from the highest peak in their vicinity. The island narrowed to a single range, detached peaks rising here and there from the sea. As they rounded the southernmost point, Adam said, "We ought to name it; that remarkable Swiss family always named places."
Robin looked at the bare, stone walls rising sheer above the waves three hundred feet, and her lip curled.
"Let us call it the Cape of Good Hope," she said.
"In the name of wonder, why?" asked Adam, and she answered, "Because we are past it," and then would have given anything to have recalled the bitter words.
The Eastern coast was wilder and more picturesque, but the traveling was correspondingly slower. Something in the formation of the coast caused a terrific surf, and at many places there was scarcely any beach, and they found themselves compelled to climb along trails that made even the burros dizzy.
When they had been absent ten days, Robin said, "I begin to feel like a grandmother; no, I don't mean that I feel so old, but that I begin to long to see the chicken and cat-children, and the new calf, and—everything."
Adam laughed, "I have been thinking we ought to hurry; that place of ours is growing so entrancingly lovely in memory that last night I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls!"
They were not to reach home without at least one adventure, however. A day or so later, as they toiled up a painfully steep ascent, Lassie sounded the note of alarm, and catching up the rifle, Adam ran ahead. As he rounded a point in the rocks, he came upon a Rocky Mountain goat engaged in combat with a cinnamon bear. The bear was hardly more than a cub, and was carrying off one of the kids. The goat, horns down, was fighting viciously, though weak from loss of blood.
It would be interesting to know what one wild animal thinks when another wild animal, from its point of view, comes to the rescue. Adam carried a lariat over one arm. In an instant it flew through the air, dropping over Bruin's shoulders. He released the kid, and tumbled backward over the cliff, as much with surprise as by the force of the jerk on the rope, taking that treasured article with him.
It took some time to capture the wounded animals, bind up their hurts, and get them down the pathway leading to the beach. For there was a beach, the best one they had found on the Eastern coast, and as they put the goat and her kids down in the grass, Adam said tentatively, "If you are not afraid, I can go home and get the horses and the sleds. It isn't a great way, and I believe I can be back in three hours,—I'm sure I can if the beach goes as close to our park as I think."