THE WOLF'S LONG HOWL
by Stanley Waterloo
THE WOLF'S LONG HOWL AN ULM THE HAIR OF THE DOG THAT BIT HIM THE MAN WHO FELL IN LOVE A TRAGEDY OF THE FOREST THE PARASANGS LOVE AND A TRIANGLE AN EASTER ADMISSION PROFESSOR MORGAN'S MOON RED DOG'S SHOW WINDOW MARKHAM'S EXPERIENCE THE RED REVENGER A MURDERER'S ACCOMPLICE A MID-PACIFIC FOURTH LOVE AND A LATCH-KEY CHRISTMAS 200,000 B.C. THE CHILD THE BABY AND THE BEAR AT THE GREEN TREE CLUB THE RAIN-MAKER WITHIN ONE LIFE'S SPAN
THE WOLF'S LONG HOWL
George Henry Harrison, though without living near kinfolk, had never considered himself alone in the world. Up to the time when he became thirty years of age he had always thought himself, when he thought of the matter at all, as fortunate in the extent of his friendships. He was acquainted with a great many people; he had a recognized social standing, was somewhat cleverer than the average man, and his instincts, while refined by education and experience, were decidedly gregarious and toward hearty companionship. He should have been a happy man, and had been one, in fact, up to the time when this trustworthy account begins; but just now, despite his natural buoyancy of spirit, he did not count himself among the blessed.
George Henry wanted to be at peace with all the world, and now there were obstacles in the way. He did not delight in aggressiveness, yet certain people were aggressive. In his club—which he felt he must soon abandon—he received from all save a minority of the members a hearty reception, and in his club he rather enjoyed himself for the hour, forgetting that conditions were different outside. On the streets he met men who bowed to him somewhat stiffly, and met others who recognized him plainly enough, but who did not bow. The postman brought daily a bunch of letters, addressed in various forms of stern commercial handwriting to George Henry Harrison, but these often lay unopened and neglected on his desk.
To tell the plain and unpleasant truth, George Henry Harrison had just become a poor man, a desperately poor man, and already realized that it was worse for a young man than an old one to rank among those who have "seen better days." Even after his money had disappeared in what had promised to be a good investment, he had for a time maintained his place, because, unfortunately for all concerned, he had been enabled to get credit; but there is an end to that sort of thing, and now, with his credit gone after his money, he felt his particular world slipping from him. He felt a change in himself, a certain on-creeping paralysis of his social backbone. When practicable he avoided certain of his old friends, for he could see too plainly written on their faces the fear that he was about to request a trifling loan, though already his sense of honor, when he considered his prospects, had forced him to cease asking favors of the sort. There were faces which he had loved well which he could not bear to see with the look of mingled commiseration and annoyance he inspired.
And so it came that at this time George Henry Harrison was acquainted chiefly with grief—with the wolf at his door. His mail, once blossoming with messages of good-will and friendliness, became a desert of duns.
"Why is it," George Henry would occasionally ask himself—there was no one else for him to talk to—"why is it that when a man is sure of his meals every day he has endless invitations to dine out, but that when those events are matters of uncertainty he gets not a bidding to the feast?" This question, not a new one, baffling in its mystery and chilling to the marrow, George Henry classed with another he had heard somewhere: "Who is more happy: the hungry man who can get nothing to eat, or the rich man with an overladen table who can eat nothing?" The two problems ran together in his mind, like a couple of hounds in leash, during many a long night when he could not shut out from his ears the howling of the wolf. He often wondered, jeering the while at his own grotesque fancy, how his neighbors could sleep with those mournful yet sinister howlings burdening the air, but he became convinced at last that no one heard the melancholy solo but himself.
"'The wolf's long howl on Oonalaska's shore' is not in it with that of mine," said George Henry—for since his coat had become threadbare his language had deteriorated, and he too frequently used slang—"but I'm thankful that I alone hear my own. How different the case from what it is when one's dog barks o' nights! Then the owner is the only one who sleeps within a radius of blocks. The beasts are decidedly unlike."
Not suddenly had come all this tribulation to the man, though the final disappearance of all he was worth, save some valueless remnants, had been preceded by two or three heavy losses. Optimistic in his ventures, he was not naturally a fool. Ill fortune had come to him without apparent provocation, as it comes to many another man of intelligence, and had followed him persistently and ruthlessly when others less deserving were prospering all about him. It was not astonishing that he had become a trifle misanthropic. He found it difficult to recover from the daze of the moment when he first realized his situation.
The comprehension of where he stood first came to George Henry when he had a note to meet, a note for a sum that would not in the past have seemed large to him, but one at that time assuming dimensions of importance. He thought when he had given the note that he could meet it handily; he had twice succeeded in renewing it, and now had come to the time when he must raise a certain sum or be counted among the wreckage. He had been hopeful, but found himself on the day of payment without money and without resources. How many thousands of men who have engaged in our tigerish dollar struggle have felt the sinking at heart which came to him then! But he was a man, and he went to work. Talk about climbing the Alps or charging a battery! The man who has hurried about all day with reputation to be sustained, even at the sacrifice of pride, has suffered more, dared more and knows more of life's terrors than any reckless mountain-climber or any veteran soldier in existence. George Henry failed at last. He could not meet his bills.
Reason to himself as he might, the man was unable to endure his new condition placidly. He tried to be philosophical. He would stalk about his room humming from "The Mahogany Tree":
"Care, like a dun, stands at the gate. Let the dog wait!"
and seek to get himself into the spirit of the words, but his efforts in such direction met with less than moderate success. "The dog does wait," he would mutter. "He's there all the time. Besides, he isn't a dog: he's a wolf. What did Thackeray know about wolves!" And so George Henry brooded, and was, in consequence, not quite as fit for the fray as he had been in the past.
To make matters worse, there was a woman in the case; not that women always make matters worse when a man is in trouble, but in this instance the fact that a certain one existed really caused the circumstances to be more trying. There was a charming young woman in whom George Henry had taken more than a casual interest. There was reason to suppose that the interest was not all his, either, but there had been no definite engagement. At the time when financial disaster came to the man, there had grown up between him and Sylvia Hartley that sort of understanding which cannot be described, but which is recognized clearly enough, and which is to the effect that flowers bring fruit. Now he felt glad, for her sake, that only the flower season had been reached. They were yet unpledged. Since he could not support a wife, he must give up his love. That was a matter of honor.
The woman was quite worthy of a man's love. She was clever and good. She had dark hair and a wonderfully white skin, and dark, bright eyes, and when he explained to her that he was a wreck financially, and said that in consequence he didn't feel justified in demanding so much of her attention, she exhibited in a gentle way a warmth of temperament which endeared her to him more than ever, while she argued with him and tried to laugh him out of his fears. He was tempted sorely, but he loved her in a sufficiently unselfish way to resist. He even sought to conceal his depth of feeling under a disguise of lightness. He admitted that in his present frame of mind he ought to be with her as much as possible, as then, if ever, he stood in need of a sure antidote for the blues, and with a half-hearted jest he closed the conversation, and after that call merely kept away from her. It was hard for him, and as hard for her; but if he had honor, she had pride. So they drifted apart, each suffering.
Who shall describe with a just portrayal of its agony the inner life of the reasonably strong man who feels that he is somehow going down hill in the world, who becomes convinced that he is a failure, and who struggles almost hopelessly! George Henry went down hill, though setting his heels as deeply as he could. His later plans failed, and there came a time when his strait was sore indeed—the time when he had not even the money with which to meet the current expenses of a modest life. To one vulgar or dishonest this is bad; to one cultivated and honorable it is far worse. George Henry chanced to come under the latter classification, and so it was that to him poverty assumed a phase especially acute, and affected him both physically and mentally.
His first experience was bitter. He had never been an extravagant man, but he liked to be well dressed, and had remained so for a time after his business plans had failed. He was not a gormand, but he had continued to live well. Now, with almost nothing left to live upon, he must go shabby, and cease to tickle his too fastidious palate. He must buy nothing new to wear, and must live at the cheapest of the restaurants. He felt a sort of Spartan satisfaction when this resolve had been fairly reached, but no enthusiasm. It required great resolution on his part when, for the first time, he entered a restaurant the sign in front of which bore the more or less alluring legend, "Meals fifteen cents."
George Henry loved cleanliness, and the round table at which he found a seat bore a cloth dappled in various ways. His sense of smell was delicate, and here came to him from the kitchen, separated from the dining-room by only a thin partition, a combination of odors, partly vegetable, partly flesh and fish, which gave him a new sensation. A faintness came upon him, and he envied those eating at other tables. They had no qualms; upon their faces was the hue of health, and they were eating as heartily as the creatures of the field or forest do, and with as little prejudice against surroundings. George Henry tried to philosophize again and to be like these people, but he failed. He noted before him on the table a jar of that abject stuff called carelessly either "French" or "German" mustard, stale and crusted, and remembered that once at a dinner he had declared that the best test of a gentleman, of one who knew how to live, was to learn whether he used pure, wholesome English mustard or one of these mixed abominations. His ears felt pounding into them a whirlwind of street talk larded with slang. He ordered sparingly. He did not like it when the waiter, with a yell, translated his modest order of fried eggs and coffee into "Fried, turned," and "Draw one," and he liked it less when the food came and he found the eggs limed and the coffee muddy. He ate little, and left the place depressed. "I can't stand this," he muttered, "that's as sure as God made little apples."
His own half-breathed utterance of this expression startled the man. The simile he had used was a repetition of what he had just heard in a conversation between men at an adjoining table in the restaurant. He had often heard the expression before, but had certainly never utilized it personally. "The food must be affecting me already," he said bitterly, and then wandered off unconsciously into an analysis of the metaphor. It puzzled him. He could not understand why the production of little apples by the Deity had seemed to the person who at some time in the past had first used this expression as an illustration of a circumstance more assured than the production of big apples by the same power, or of the evolution of potatoes or any other fruit or vegetable, big or little. His foolish fancies in this direction gave him the mental relief he needed. When he awoke to himself again the restaurant was a memory, and he, having recovered something of his tone, resolved to do what could be done that day to better his fortunes.
Then came work—hard and exceedingly fruitless work—in looking for something to do. Then Nature began paying attention to George Henry Harrison personally, in a manner which, however flattering in a general way, did not impress him pleasantly. His breakfast had been a failure, and now he was as hungry as the leaner of the two bears of Palestine which tore forty-two children who made faces at Elisha. He thought first of a free-lunch saloon, but he had an objection to using the fork just laid down by another man. He became less squeamish later. He was resolved to feast, and that the banquet should be great. He entered a popular down-town place and squandered twenty-five cents on a single meal. The restaurant was scrupulously clean, the steak was good, the potatoes were mealy, the coffee wasn't bad, and there were hot biscuits and butter. How the man ate! The difference between fifteen and twenty-five cents is vast when purchasing a meal in a great city. George Henry was reasonably content when he rose from the table. He decided that his self-imposed task was at least endurable. He had counted on every contingency. Instinctively, after paying for his food, he strolled toward the cigar-stand. Half-way there he checked himself, appalled. Cigars had not been included in the estimate of his daily needs. Cigars he recognized as a luxury. He left the place, determined but physically unhappy. The real test was to come.
The smoking habit affects different men in different ways. To some tobacco is a stimulant, to others a narcotic. The first class can abandon tobacco more easily than can the second. The man to whom tobacco is a stimulant becomes sleepy and dull when he ceases its use, and days ensue before he brightens up on a normal plane. To the one who finds it a narcotic, the abandonment of tobacco means inviting the height of all nervousness. To George Henry tobacco had been a narcotic, and now his nerves were set on edge. He had pluck, though, and irritable and suffering, endured as well as he could. At length came, as will come eventually in the case of every healthy man persisting in self-denial, surcease of much sorrow over tobacco, but in the interval George Henry had a residence in purgatory, rent free.
And so—these incidents are but illustrative—the man forced himself into a more or less philosophical acceptance of the new life to which necessity had driven him. If he did not learn to like it, he at least learned to accept its deprivations without a constant grimace.
But more than mere physical self-denial is demanded of the man on the down grade. The plans of his intellect a failure, he turns finally to the selling of the labor of his body. This selling of labor may seem an easy thing, but it is not so to the man with neither training nor skill in manual labor of any sort. George Henry soon learned this lesson, and his heart sank within him. He had reached the end of things. He had tried to borrow what he needed, and failed. His economies had but extended his lease of tolerable life.
Shabby and hungry, he sought a "job" at anything, avoiding all acquaintances, for his pride would not allow him to make this sort of an appeal to them. Daily he looked among strangers for work. He found none. It was a time of business and industrial depression, and laborers were idle by thousands. He envied the men working on the streets relaying the pavements. They had at least a pittance, and something to do to distract their minds.
Weeks and months went by. George Henry now lived and slept in his little office, the rent of which he had paid some months in advance before the storms of poverty began to beat upon him. Here, when not making spasmodic excursions in search of work, he dreamed and brooded. He wondered why men came into the feverish, uncertain life of great cities, anyhow. He thought of the peace of the country, where he was born; of the hollyhocks and humming-birds, of the brightness and freedom from care which was the lot of human beings there. They had few luxuries or keen enjoyments, but as a reward for labor—the labor always at hand—they had at least a certainty of food and shelter. There came upon him a great craving to get into the world of nature and out of all that was cankering about him, but with the longing came also the remembrance that even in the blessed home of his youth there was no place now for him.
One day, after what seemed ages of this kind of life, a wild fancy took hold of George Henry's mind. Out of the wreckage of all his unprofitable investments one thing remained to him. He was still a landed proprietor, and he laughed somewhat bitterly at the thought. He was the owner of a large tract of gaunt poplar forest, sixteen hundred acres, in a desolate region of Michigan, his possessions stretching along the shores of the lake. An uncle had bought the land for fifty cents an acre, and had turned it over to George Henry in settlement of a loan made in his nephew's more prosperous days. George Henry had paid the insignificant taxes regularly, and as his troubles thickened had tried to sell the vaguely valued property at any price, but no one wanted it. This land, while it would not bring him a meal, was his own at least, and he reasoned that if he could get to it and build a little cabin upon it, he could live after a fashion.
The queer thought somehow inspirited him. He would make a desperate effort. He would get a barrel of pork and a barrel or two of flour and some potatoes, a gun and an axe; he knew a lake captain, an old friend, who would readily take him on his schooner on its next trip and land him on his possessions. But the pork and the flour and the other necessaries would cost money; how was he to get it? The difficulty did not discourage him. The plan gave him something definite to do. He resolved to swallow all pride, and make a last appeal for a loan from some of those he dreaded to meet again. Surely he could raise among his friends the small sum he needed, and then he would go into the woods. Maybe his head and heart would clear there, and he would some day return to the world like the conventional giant refreshed with new wine.
It is astonishing how a fixed resolution, however grotesque, helps a man. The very fact that in his own mind the die was cast brought a new recklessness to George Henry. He could look at things objectively again. He slept well for the first time in many weeks.
The next morning, when George Henry awoke, he had abated not one jot of his resolve nor of his increased courage. The sun seemed brighter than it had been the day before, and the air had more oxygen to the cubic foot. He looked at the heap of unopened letters on his desk—letters he had lacked, for weeks, the moral courage to open—and laughed at his fear of duns. Let the wolf howl! He would interest himself in the music. He would be a hero of heroes, and unflinchingly open his letters, each one a horror in itself to his imagination; but with all his newly found courage, it required still an effort for George Henry to approach his desk.
Alone, with set teeth and drooping eyes, George Henry began his task. It was the old, old story. Bills of long standing, threats of suits, letters from collecting agencies, red papers, blue, cream and straw-colored—how he hated them all! Suddenly he came upon a new letter, a square, thick, well addressed letter of unmistakable respectability.
"Can it be an invitation?" said George Henry, his heart beating. He opened the sturdy envelope and read the words it had enclosed. Then he leaned back, very still, in his chair, with his eyes shut. His heart bled over what he had suffered. "Had" suffered—yes, that was right, for it was all a thing of the past. The letter made it clear that he was comparatively a rich man. That was all.
It was the despised—but not altogether despised, since he had thought of making it his home—poplar land in Michigan. The poplar supply is limited, and paper-mills have capacious maws. Prices of raw material had gone up, and the poplar hunters had found George Henry's land the most valuable to them in the region. A syndicate offered him one hundred dollars an acre for the tract.
Joy failed to kill George Henry Harrison. It stunned him somewhat, but he showed wonderful recuperative powers. As he ate a free-lunch after a five-cent expenditure that morning, there was something in his air which would have prevented the most obtuse barkeeper in the world from commenting upon the quantity consumed. He was not particularly depressed because his hat was old and his coat gray at the seams and his shoes cracked. His demeanor when he called upon an attorney, a former friend, was quite that of an American gentleman perfectly at his ease.
Within a few days George Henry Harrison had deposited to his credit in bank the sum of one hundred and sixty thousand dollars, minus the slight cost of certain immediate personal requirements. Then one morning he stalked over to his little office, now clean and natty. He leaned back in his chair again and devoted himself to thinking, the persons on whom his mind dwelt being his creditors.
The proper title for the brief account which follows should be The Feast of the Paying of Bills. Here was a man who had suffered, here was a man who had come to doubt himself, and who had now become suddenly and arrogantly independent. His creditors, he knew, were hopeless. That he had so few lawsuits to meet was only because those to whom he owed money had reasoned that the cost of collection would more than offset the sum gained in the end from this man, who had, they thought, no real property behind him. Their attitude had become contemptuous. Now he stood forth defiant and jaunty.
There is a time in a man's failing fortunes when he borrows and gives his note blithely. He is certain that he can repay it. He runs up bills as cheerfully, sure that they will easily be met at the end of thirty days. With George Henry this now long past period had left its souvenirs, and the torture they had inflicted upon him has been partly told.
Now came the sweet and glorious hour of his relief.
It was a wonderful sensation to him. He marveled that he had so respectfully thought of the creditors who had dogged him. They were people, he now said, of whom he should not have thought at all. He became a magnificently objective reasoner. But there was work to be done.
George Henry decided that, since there were certain people to whom he must write, each letter being accompanied by a check for a certain sum of money, each letter should appropriately indicate to its recipient the calm and final opinion of the writer regarding the general character and reputation of the person or firm addressed. The human nature of George Henry asserted itself very strongly just here. He set forth paper and ink, took up his pen, and poised his mind for a feast of reason and flow of soul which should be after the desire of his innermost heart.
First, George Henry carefully arranged in the order of their date of incurring a list of all his debts, great and small—not that he intended to pay them in that order, but where a creditor had waited long he decided that his delay in paying should be regarded as in some degree extenuating and excusing the fierceness of the assaults made upon a luckless debtor. The creditors chanced to have had no choice in the matter, but that did not count. Age hallowed a debt to a certain slight extent.
This arrangement made, George Henry took up his list of creditors, one hundred and twenty in all, and made a study of them, as to character, habits and customs. He knew them very well indeed. In their intercourse with him, each, he decided, had laid his soul bare, and each should be treated according to the revelations so made. There was one man who had loaned him quite a large sum, and this was the oldest debt of all, incurred when George Henry first saw the faint signs of approaching calamity, but understood them not. This man, a friend, recognizing the nature of George Henry's struggle, had never sought payment—had, in fact, when the debtor had gone to him, apologetically and explaining, objected to the intrusion and objurgated the caller in violent language of the lovingly profane sort. He would have no talk of payment, as things stood. This claim, not only the oldest but the least annoying, should, George Henry decided, have the honor of being "No. 1"—that is, it should be paid first of all. So the list was extended, a careful analysis being made of the mental and moral qualities of each creditor as exposed in his monetary relations with George Henry Harrison. There were some who had been generous and thoughtful, some who had been vicious and insulting; and in his examination George Henry made the discovery that those who had probably least needed the money due them had been by no means the most considerate. It seemed almost as if the reverse rule had obtained. There was one man in particular, who had practically forced a small loan upon him when George Henry was still thought to be well-to-do, who had developed an ingenuity and insolence in dunning which gave him easy altitude for meanness and harshness among the lot. He went down as "No. 120," the last on the list.
There were others. There were the petty tradesmen who in former years had prospered through George Henry's patronage, whose large bills had been paid with unquestioning promptness until came the slip of his cog in the money-distributing machine. They had not hesitated a moment. As the peccaries of Mexico and Central America pursue blindly their prey, so these small yelpers, Tray, Blanche and Sweetheart, of the trade world, had bitten at his heels persistently from the beginning of his weakness up to the present moment. Toward these he had no malice. He counted them but as he had counted his hunting dogs in better days. They were narrow, but they were reckoned as men; they transacted business and married the females of their kind, and bred children—prodigally—and after all, against them he had no particular grievance. They were as they were made and must be. He gathered a bunch of their bills together, and decided that they should be classed together, not quite at the end of the list.
The grade of each individual creditor fixed, the list was carefully divided into five parts, twenty in each, of which twenty should receive their letters and checks one day, twenty the next, and so on. Then the literature of the occasion began.
The thoughtful debtor who has had somewhat continuous relations with a creditor can, supposing he has even a moderate gift, write a very neat, compact and thought-compelling little letter to that creditor when he finally settles with him, if, as in the case of George Henry, the debtor will have balance enough left after all settlements to make him easy and independent. George Henry felt the strength of this proposition as he wrote. In casual, easily written conversation with his meanest creditors he rather excelled himself. Of course he sent abundant interest to everybody, though apologizing to the gentlemen among the lot for doing so, but telling them frankly that it would relieve him if they accepted the proper sum for the use of the money, saying nothing about it; while of the mean ones he demanded prompt receipts in full. That was the general tenor of the notes, but there were certain moderate extravagances in either direction, if there be such a thing as a "moderate extravagance."
To the worst, the most irritating of his creditors, George Henry indicted his masterpiece. He admitted his obligation, he expressed his satisfaction at paying an interest which made it a good investment for the creditor, and then he entered into a little disquisition as to the creditor's manner and scale of thought and existence, followed by certain mild suggestions as to improvements which might be made in the character under observation. He pledged himself to return at any time the favor extended him, and promised also never to mention it after it had been extended. He apologized for the lack of further and more adequate treatment of the subject, expressing his conviction that the more delicate shades of meaning which might be employed after a more extended study would not be comprehended by the person addressed.
George Henry—it is with regret that it is admitted—had a wild hope that this creditor would become enraged to the point of making a personal assault on him from this simple summing up of affairs, because he had an imbedded desire to lick, or anyway try to lick, this particular person, could he be provoked into an encounter. It is as well to say here that his dream was never gratified. The nagging man is never a fighting man.
And so the Feast of the Paying of Bills went on to its conclusion. It was a season of intense enjoyment for George Henry. When it was ended, having money, having also a notable gift as a shot, he fled to the northern woods, where grouse and deer fell plentifully before him, and then after a month he returned to enjoy life at ease.
It was upon his return home that George Henry Harrison, well-to-do and content, learned something which for a time made him think this probably the hollowest of all the worlds which swing around the sun. He came back, vigorous and hopeful of spirit, with the strength of the woods and of nature in him, and with open heart and hand ready to greet his fellow-beings, glad to be one with them. The thing which smote him was odd. It was that he found himself a stranger among the fellow-beings he had come to meet. He found himself still a Selkirk of the world of trade and traffic and transfer of thought and well-wishing and strong-doing and of all social life. He was like a strange bird, like an albatross blown into unaccustomed seas, alighting upon an island where albatrosses were unknown.
He found his office as bright and attractive as urgently and sternly directed servitude could make it. There were no letters upon his desk, however, the desk so overburdened in the past. The desk spoke of loneliness. The new carpet, without a worn white strip leading from the doorway, said loneliness. All was loneliness. He could not understand it.
There was the abomination of clean and cold desolation in and all about his belongings. He sat down in the easy-chair before his desk, and was far, very far, from happy. He leaned back—the chair worked beautifully upon its well-oiled springs—and wondered. He shut his eyes, and tried to place himself in his position of a month before, and failed. Why had there been no callers? His own branch of business was in a laggard way, but of that he made no account. He thought of Oonalaska, and decided that there were worse places in the world than on that shore, even with the drawback of the howlings. He seemed to be in space.
To sum up all in an explanatory way, George Henry, having largely lost his grip upon the world, had voluntarily, being too sensitive, severed all connections save those he had to maintain with that portion of the community interested in the paying of his bills. Now, since he had met all material obligations, he thought the world would come to him again unsought. It did not come.
Every one seemed to have gone away with the wolf. George Henry began trying to determine what it was that was wrong. The letter-carrier, a fine fellow, who had called upon him daily in the past, now never crossed his threshold. Even book agents and peddlers avoided the place, from long experience of rebuff. The bill-collectors came no more, of course; and as George Henry looked back over the past months of humiliation and agony he suddenly realized that to these same collectors he had been solely indebted toward the last of his time of trial for what human companionship had come to him. His friends, how easily they had given him up! He thought of poor old Rip Van Winkle's plaint, "How soon we are forgotten when we are gone!" and sarcastically amended it to "How soon we are forgotten when we are here!" A few invitations declined, the ordinary social calls left for some other time, and he was apparently forgotten. He could not much blame himself that he had voluntarily severed the ties. A man cannot dine in comfort with comfortable friends when his heart is sore over his general inconsequence in the real world. Play is not play when zest is not given to it by work and duties. Even his social evenings with old and true friends he had given up early in the struggle. He could not overcome the bitterness of his lot sufficiently to sit easily among those he most cared for. It is not difficult sometimes to drop out of life while yet alive. Yet George Henry realized that possibly he had been an extended error—had been too sensitive. He thought of his neglect of friends and his generally stupid performances while under the spell of the wolf, but he thought also of the excuse he had, and conscience was half appeased.
So he was alone, the same old Selkirk or Robinson Crusoe, without a man Friday, without even a parrot and goats; alone in his once familiar hotel and his office, in a city where he was distinctly of the native sort, where he had seen, it seemed to him, every one of the great "sky-scraping" buildings rise from foundation-stone to turret, where he should be one whose passage along the street would be a series of greetings. He yearned for companionship. His pulse quickened when he met one of his lately persecuting bill-collectors on the street and received from him a friendly recognition of his bow and smile. He became affable with elevator-men and policemen. But he was lonely, very lonely.
The days drifted into long weeks, when one day the mail-carrier, once so regular in his calls, now almost a stranger, appeared and cast upon George Henry's desk a letter returned uncalled for. The recipient examined it with interest. It did not require much to excite his interest now.
The returned letter was one which he had sent enclosing a check to a Dr. Hartley, to whom he had become indebted for professional services at one time. He had never received a bill, but had sent the check at a venture. Its return, with the postoffice comment, "Moved, left no address," startled him. Dr. Hartley was Her father. George Henry pondered. Was it a dream or reality, that a few months ago, while he was almost submerged in his sea of difficulties, he had read or heard of Dr. Hartley's death? He had known the doctor but slightly, well as he had known his daughter Sylvia, of the dark eyes, but it seemed impossible that in any state of mind such a thing as Dr. Hartley's reported death should have made no impression upon him. He was aroused now, almost for the first time, and was really himself again. The benumbing influence of his face-to-face fight with poverty and inactivity disappeared. Sylvia lived again, fresh, vital and strong in her hold upon him. He was renewed by the purpose in life which he had allowed to lapse in his desperate days of defeat. He would find Sylvia. She might be in sorrow, in trouble; he could not wait, but leaped out of his office and ran down the long stairways, too hurried and restless to wait for the lagging elevator of the great building where he had suffered so much. The search was longer and more difficult than the seeker had anticipated. It required but little effort to learn that Dr. Hartley had been dead for months, and that his family had gone away from the roomy house where their home had been for many years. To learn more was for a time impossible. He had known little of the family kinship and connections, and it seemed as if an adverse fate pursued his attempts to find the hidden links which bind together the people of a great city. But George Henry persisted, and his heart grew warm within him. He hummed an old tune as he walked quickly along the crowded streets, smiling to himself when he found himself singing under his breath the old, old song:
Who is Silvia? What is she That all swains commend her?
In another quarter of the city, far removed from her former home and neighbors, George Henry at last found Sylvia, her mother and a younger brother, living quietly with the mother's widowed sister. During his search for her the image of the woman he had once hoped might be his wife had grown larger and dearer in his mind and heart. He wondered how he had ever given her up, and how he had lived through so much suffering, and then through relief from suffering, without the past and present joy of his life. He wondered if he should find her changed. He need have had no fears. He found, when at last he met her, that she had not changed, unless, it may be, to have become even more lovable in his eyes. In the moment when he first saw her now he knew he had found the world again, that he was no longer a stranger in it, that he was living in it and a part of it. A sweetheart has been a tonic since long before knights wore the gloves of ladies on their crests. Within a week, through Sylvia, he had almost forgotten that one can get lost, even as a lost child, in this great, grinding world of ours, and within a year he and Mrs. George Henry Harrison were "at home" to their friends.
After a time, when George Henry Harrison had settled down into steady and appreciative happiness, and had begun to indulge his fancies in matters apart from the honeymoon, there appeared upon the wall over the fireplace in his library a picture which unfailingly attracted the attention and curiosity of visitors to that hospitable hearth. The scene represented was but that upon an island in the Bering Sea, and there was in the aspect of it something more than the traditional abomination of desolation, for there was a touch of bloodthirsty and hungry life. Up away from the sea arose a stretch of dreary sand, and in the far distance were hills covered with snow and dotted with stunted pine, and bleak and forbidding, though not tenantless. In the foreground, close to the turbid waters which washed this frozen almost solitude, a great, gaunt wolf sat with his head uplifted to the lowering skies, and so well had the artist caught the creature's attitude, that looking upon it one could almost seem to hear the mournful but murderous howl and gathering cry.
This was only a fancy which George Henry had—that the wolf should hang above the fireplace—and perhaps it needed no such reminder to make of him the man he proved in helping those whom he knew the wolf was hunting. His eye was kindly keen upon his friends, and he was quick to perceive when one among them had begun to hear the howlings which had once tormented him so sorely; he fancied that there was upon the faces of those who listened often to that mournful music an expression peculiar to such suffering. And he found such ways as he could to cheer and comfort those unfortunate during their days of trial. He was a helpful man. It is good for a man to have had bad times.
"It is as you say; he is not handsome, certainly not beautiful as flowers and the stars and women are, but he has another sort of beauty, I think, such a beauty as made Victor Hugo's monster, Gwynplaine, fascinating, or gives a certain sort of charm to a banded rattlesnake. He is not much like the dove-eyed setter over whom we shot woodcock this afternoon, but to me he is the fairest object on the face of the earth, this gaunt, brindled Ulm. There's such a thing as association of ideas, you know.
"What is there about an Ulm especially attractive? Well, I don't know. About Ulms in the abstract very little, I imagine. About an Ulm in the concrete, particularly the brute near us, a great deal. The Ulm is a morbid development in dog-breeding, anyhow. I remember, as doubtless you do as well, when the animals first made their appearance in this country a few years ago. The big, dirty-white beasts, dappled with dark blotches and with countenances unexplainably threatening, reminded one of hyenas with huge dog forms. Germans brought them over first, and they were affected by saloon-keepers and their class. They called them Siberian bloodhounds then, but the dog-fanciers got hold of them, and they became, with their sinister obtrusiveness, a feature of the shows; the breed was defined more clearly, and now they are known as Great Danes or Ulms, indifferently. How they originated I never cared to learn. I imagine it sometimes. I fancy some jilted, jaundiced descendant of the sea-rovers, retiring to his castle, and endeavoring, by mating some ugly bloodhound with a wild wolf, to produce a quadruped as fierce and cowardly and treacherous as man or woman may be. He succeeded only partially, but he did well.
"Never mind about the dog, and tell you why I've been gentleman, farmer, sportsman and half-hermit here for the last five years—leaving everything just as I was getting a grip on reputation in town, leaving a pretty wife, too, after only a year of marriage? I can hardly do that—that is, I can hardly drop the dog, because, you see, he's part of the story. Hamlet would be left out decidedly were I to read the play without him. Besides, I've never told the story to any one. I'll do it, though, to-day. The whim takes me. Surely a fellow may enjoy the luxury of being recklessly confidential once in half a decade or so, especially with an old friend and a trusted one. No need for going far back with the legend. You know it all up to the time I was married. You dined with me once or twice later. You remember my wife? Certainly she was a pretty woman, well bred, too, and wise, in a woman's way. I've seen a good deal of the world, but I don't know that I ever saw a more tactful entertainer, or in private a more adorable woman when she chose to be affectionate. I was in that fool's paradise which is so big and holds so many people, sometimes for a year and a half after marriage. Then one day I found myself outside the wall.
"There was a beautiful set to my wife's chin, you may recollect—a trifle strong for a woman; but I used to say to myself that, as students know, the mother most impresses the male offspring, and that my sons would be men of will. There was a fullness to her lips. Well, so there is to mine. There was a delicious, languorous craft in the look of her eyes at times. I cared not at all for that. I thought she loved me and knew me. Love of me would give all faithfulness; knowledge of me, even were the inclination to wrong existent, would beget a dread of consequences. My dear boy, we don't know women. Sometimes women don't know men. She did not know me any more than she loved me. She has become better informed.
"What happened! Well, now come in the dog and the man. The dog was given me by a friend who was dog-mad, and who said to me the puppy would develop into a marvel of his kind, so long a pedigree he had. I relegated the puppy to the servants and the basement, and forgot him. The man came in the form of an accidental new friend, an old friend of my wife, as subsequently developed. I invited him to my house, and he came often. I liked to have him there. I wanted to go to Congress—you know all about that—and wasn't often at home in the evening. He made the evenings less lonely for my wife, and I was glad of it. I told her I would make amends for my absence when the campaign was over. She was all patience and sweetness.
"Meanwhile that brute of a puppy in the basement had been developing. He had grown into a great, rangy, long-toothed monster, with a leer on his dull face, and the servants were afraid of him. I got interested and made a pet of the uncouth animal. I studied the Ulm character. I learned queer things about him. Despite his size and strength, he was frequently overcome by other dogs when he wandered into the street. He was tame until the shadows began to gather and the sun went down. Then a change came upon him. He ranged about the basement, and none but I dared venture down there. He was, in short, a cur by day, at night a demon. I supposed the early dogs of this breed had been trained to night slaughter and savageness alone, and that it was a case of atavism, a recurrence of hereditary instinct. It interested me vastly, and I resolved to make him the most perfect of watchdogs. I trained him to lie couchant, and to spring upon and tear a stuffed figure I would bring into the basement. I noticed he always sprang at the throat. 'Hard lines,' thought I, 'for the burglar who may venture here!'
"It was a little later than this nonsense with the dog, which was a piece of boyishness, a degree of relaxation to the strain of my fight with down-town conditions, that there came in what makes a man think the affairs of this world are not adjusted rightly, and makes recurrent the impulse which was first unfortunate for Abel—no doubt worse for Cain. There is no need for going into details of the story, how I learned, or when. My knowledge was all-sufficient and absolute. My wife and my friend were sinning, riotously and fully, but discreetly—sinning against all laws of right and honor, and against me. The mechanism of it was simple. The grounds back of my house, you know, were large, and you may not have forgotten the lane of tall, clipped shrubbery that led up from the rear to a summer-house. His calls in the evening were made early and ended early. The pinkness of all propriety was about them. The servants suspected nothing. But, his call ended, the graceful gentleman, friend of mine, and lover of my wife, would walk but a few hundred paces, then turn and enter my grounds at the rear gate I have mentioned, and pass up the arbor to the pretty summer-house. He would find time for pleasant anticipation there as he lolled upon one of the soft divans with which I had furnished the charming place, but his waiting would not be long. She would soon come to him, and time passed swiftly.
"That is the prologue to my little play. Pretty prologue, isn't it?—but commonplace. The play proper isn't! The same conditions affect men differently. When I learned what I have told—after the first awful five minutes—I don't like to think of them, even now!—I became the most deliberate man on the face of this earth peopled with sinners. Sometimes, they say, the whole substance of a man's blood may be changed in a second by chemical action. My blood was changed, I think. The poison had transmuted it. There was a leaden sluggishness, but my head was clear.
"I had odd fancies. I remember I thought of a nobleman who had another torn slowly apart by horses for proving false to him at the siege of Calais. His cruelty had been a youthful horror to me. Now I had a tremendous appreciation of the man. 'Good fellow, good fellow!' I went about muttering to myself in a foolish, involuntary way. I wondered how my wife's lover could endure the strain of four strong Clydesdales, each started at the same moment, one north, one south, one east, one west. His charming personal appearance recurred to me, and I thought of his fine neck. Women like a fine-throated man, and he was one. I wondered if my wife's fancy tended the same way. It was well this idea came to me, for it gave me an inspiration. I thought of the dog.
"There is no harm, is there, in training a dog to pull down a stuffed figure? There is no harm, either, if the stuffed figure be given the simulated habiliments of some friend of yours. And what harm can there be in training the dog in a garden arbor instead of in a basement? I dropped into the way of being at home a little more. I told my wife she should have alternate nights at least, and she was grateful and delighted. And on the nights when I was at home I would spend half an hour in the grounds with the dog, saying I was training him in new things, and no one paid attention. I taught him to crouch in the little lane close to the summer-house, and to rush down and leap upon the manikin when I displayed it at the other end. Ye gods! how he learned to tear it down and tear its imitation throat! The training over, I would lock him in the basement as usual. But one night I had a dispatch come to me summoning me to another city. The other man was to call that evening, and he came. I left before nine o'clock, but just before going I released the dog. He darted for the post in the garden, and with gleaming eyes crouched, as he had been accustomed to do, watching the entrance of the arbor.
"I can always sleep well on a train. I suppose the regular sequence of sounds, the rhythmic throb of the motion, has something to do with it. I slept well the night of which I am telling, and awoke refreshed when I reached the city of my destination. I was driven to a hotel; I took a bath; I did what I rarely do, I drank a cocktail before breakfast, but I wanted to be luxurious. I sat down at the table; I gave my order, and then lazily opened the morning paper. One of the dispatches deeply interested me.
"'Inexplicable Tragedy' was the headline. By the way, 'Inexplicable Tragedy' contains just about the number of letters to fill a line neatly in the style of heading now the fashion. I don't know about such things, but it seems to me compact and neat and most effective. The lines which followed gave a skeleton of the story:
"'A WELL-KNOWN GENTLEMAN KILLED BY A DOG.
"'THEORY OF THE CASE WHICH APPEARS THE ONLY ONE POSSIBLE UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES.'
"I read the dispatch at length. A man is naturally interested in the news from his own city. It told how a popular club man had been found in the early morning lying dead in the grounds of a friend, his throat torn open by a huge dog, an Ulm, belonging to that friend, which had somehow escaped from the basement of the house, where it was usually confined. The gentleman had been a caller at the residence the same evening, and had left at a comparatively early hour. Some time later the mistress of the place had gone out to a summer-house in the grounds to see that the servants had brought in certain things used at a luncheon there during the day, but had seen nothing save the dog, which snarled at her, when she had gone into the house again. In the morning the gardener found the body of Mr. ——- lying about midway of an arbor leading from a gateway to the summer-house. It was supposed that the unfortunate gentleman had forgotten something, a message or something of that sort, and upon its recurrence to him had taken the shorter cut to reach the house again, as he might do naturally, being an intimate friend of the family. That was all there was of the dispatch.
"Oddly enough, I received no telegram from my wife, but under the circumstances I could do nothing else than return to my home at once. I sought my wife, to whom I expressed my horror and my sorrow, but she said very little. The dog I found in the basement, and he seemed very glad to see me. It has always been a source of regret to me that dogs cannot talk. I see that some one has learned that monkeys have a language, and that he can converse with them, after a fashion. If we could but talk with dogs!
"I saw the body, of course. I asked a famous surgeon once which would kill a man the quicker: severance of the carotid artery or the jugular vein? I forget what his answer was, but in this case it really cut no figure. The dog had torn both open. It was on the left side. From this I infer that the dog sprang from the right, and that it was that big fang in his left upper jaw that did the work. Come here, you brute, and let me open your mouth! There, you see, as I turn his lips back, what a beauty of a tooth it is! I've thought of having that particular fang pulled, and of having it mounted and wearing it as a charm on my watch-chain, but the dog is likely to die long before I do, and I've concluded to wait till then. But it's a beautiful tooth!
"I've mentioned, I believe, that my wife was a woman of keen perception. You will understand that after the unfortunate affair in the garden, our relations were somewhat—I don't know just what word to use, but we'll say 'quaint.' It's a pretty little word, and sounds grotesque in this conversation. One day I provided an allowance for her, a good one, and came away here alone to play farmer and shoot and fish for four or five years. Somehow I lost interest in things, and knew I needed a rest. As for her, she left the house very soon and went to her own home. Oddly enough, she is in love with me now—in earnest this time. But we shall not live together again. I could never eat a peach off which the street vendors had rubbed the bloom. I never bought goods sold after a fire, even though externally untouched. I don't believe much in salvage as applied to the relations of men and women. I've seen, in the early morning, the unfortunates who eat choice bits from the garbage barrels. So they stifle a hunger, but I couldn't do it, you know. Odd, isn't it, what little things will disturb the tenor of a man's existence and interfere with all his plans?
"I came here and brought the dog with me. I'm fond of him, despite the failings in his character. Notwithstanding his currishness and the cowardly ferocity which comes out with the night, there is something definite about him. You know what to expect and what to rely upon. He does something. That is why I like Ulm.
"What am I going to do? Why, come back to town next year and pick up the threads. My nerves, which seemed a little out of the way, are better than they were when I came here. There's nothing to equal country air. I must have that whirl in my district yet. I don't think the boys have quite forgotten me. Have you noticed the drift at all? I could only judge from the papers. How are things in the Ninth Ward?"
THE HAIR OF THE DOG THAT BIT HIM
I have read hundreds of queer histories. I have myself had various adventures, but I know of no experience more odd than that of an old schoolmate of mine named John Appleman. John was born in Macomb County, southeastern Michigan, in the year 1830. His father owned a farm of one hundred acres there. John's mother died when he was but a lad, and after that he lived alone with his father upon the farm. In 1855 John's father died. In 1856 John married a pretty girl of the neighborhood. A year later a child was born to them, a daughter. This is the brief history of John Appleman up to the time when he began to develop his real personality.
He was a contented personage in his early married life. His wife, while not a shrew, had undoubted force of character, but there was not much attrition; and his little daughter was, in John's estimation, the fairest child upon the continent. Personally, he was content with all the world, though his wife was somewhat less so. John had his failings. He was not counted among the farmers of the neighborhood as a "pushing" man. There was still much woodland in Macomb County in the year 1857, and in autumn the woods were most enticing. Squirrels, black and gray, were still abundant where the oak and hickory were; the ruffled grouse still fed in families upon beech-nuts on the ridges and the thorn-apples of the lowlands. The wild turkey still strutted about in flocks rapidly thinning, and occasionally a deer fell to the lot of the shrewd hunter. John liked to hunt and fish. He wasted time that way, his neighbors said, and his wife was of the same opinion. It is true, he possessed certain qualities which, even in their utilitarian eyes, commanded some slight respect. He was so close to nature in his thoughts and fancies that he knew many things which they did not, and which had a money value. It was he, for instance, who first recognized the superior quality of the White Neshannock, the potato of the time. It was he who grafted the Baldwin upon his apple-trees, recognizing the fact that this particular apple was a toothsome and marketable and relatively non-decaying fruit. And it was he who could judge best as to what crosses and combinations would most improve the breed of horses and cattle and hogs and sheep. They admitted his "faculty," as they called it, in certain directions, but they had a profound contempt for him in others. They could not understand why he would leave standing in the midst of a wheat-field a magnificent soft maple, the branches of which shaded and made untillable an area of scores of yards. They could not understand why he hesitated to murder a tree. So it came that he was with them while scarcely of them, and that Mrs. Appleman, who could not comprehend, belonged to the majority.
It must not be understood that John Appleman was unpopular. On the contrary, each sturdy farmer rather liked while he criticised him. Had John run for township clerk, or possibly even for supervisor, that most important of township honors throughout Michigan, he might have been elected, but John did not know his strength. He recognized his own weakness, after a fashion. He knew that he would work violently for a month or two at a time, giving the vigorous hired man a decent test in holding his physical own, and he knew that after that he would become what the people called "slack," and a little listless; and it was in his slack times that the squirrel and grouse most suffered. Between him and the wife of his bosom had grown nothing, so grave as to be described as an armed neutrality; but more and more he hesitated in entering the house after an evening's work, and more and more he drifted down to the Corners—that is, the cross-roads where were the postoffice and the blacksmith-shop and the general store. He liked to be with the other fellows. He liked human companionship; and since his fellows drank, he began to drink with them. It is needless to explain how the habit grew upon him. The man who drinks whisky affects his stomach, and the stomach affects the nerves, and there is a sort of arithmetical progression until the stimulant eventually seems to become almost a part of life; and the man, unless he be one of great force of character, or one most knowing and scientific, must yield eventually to the stress of close conditions. Time came when John Appleman yielded, and carried whisky home in a gallon jug and hid it in the haymow.
Need does not exist for any going into details, for telling of what happened at the cross-roads store, of what good stories were related day by day and week by week and month by month, while the cup went round; it is sufficient to say that the stomach of John Appleman became querulous when he had not taken a stimulant within a limited number of hours, and that he was in a fair way of becoming an ordinary drunkard. With his experience and decadence came, necessarily, an expertness of judgment as to the quality of that which he drank. He could tell good liquor from bad, the young from the old.
It came that, being thoughtful and imaginative, John Appleman decided that he, at least, should drink better liquor than did tipplers in general. He would not be seen a weakly vagrant, buying his jugful at the corner store; neither would he drink raw liquor. He would buy it in quantity and let it age upon his farm, and so with each replenishing of the jug from his private store would come an increase in quality derived from greater age, until in time each daily tipple would be an absorption of something so smooth and potent that immediate subsequent existence would be a thing desirable in all ways. And John Appleman had a plan.
The Appleman barn and house stood perhaps three hundred yards apart, near the crest of what was hardly worthy the name of hill, which sloped downward into what they called the "flats," through which the creek ran. The barn stood very close to uncleared woodland, and the banks ending the woodland showed a decidedly rocky exterior. Appleman, chasing a woodchuck one day, had seen him scurry into a hole in this rocky surface, and prying away with a handspike had unloosed a small mass of rock and discovered a cave; not much of a cave, it is true, but one of at least twenty feet in length and eight or ten in breadth, and full six feet in height. This discovery occurred a year or two before John felt the grip of any stimulant. He had forgotten all about it until there came to him the idea of drinking better whisky than did other people.
John had sold a yoke of oxen and a Blackhawk colt, and two hundred dollars in gold were resting heavily in his little cherry-wood desk in the farm-house sitting-room. One day he took ten of these gold-pieces and went to town; not to the cross-roads, but to the larger place, some ten miles distant, where was a distillery, and there he bought two barrels of whisky. Whisky in those days, before the time of present taxes, was sold from the distillery at prices ranging from thirty-five to fifty cents a gallon, about forty-seven gallons to a barrel. The team of horses dragged wearily home the heavy load; but they did not stop when home was reached, either in front of the house or at the barn-yard gate. Instead, they were turned aside through a rude gate leading into the flats, and thence drew the load to the mouth of the little cave, where, unseen by any one, Appleman tilted the barrels out and left them lying on the sward.
Other things had been bought in town that day, and Appleman had no difficulty in giving reasons for the lateness of his home-coming. Next day, though, he was a busy man. By the exercise of main strength, and the leverage afforded with a strong ironwood handspike, he succeeded in rolling both those barrels into the cave and uptilting them, and leaving them standing high and dry. The cave was as dry as a bone. He noted with satisfaction the overhanging clay bank above, and felt that if he were to be called away his treasure would be safe, since the opening would doubtless soon be hidden from the sight of anybody. When he went to bed that night he thought much of the hidden barrels.
An incident has been neglected in this account. When John Appleman bought those barrels, the son of the distiller, a boy of ten, was told to see that two designated barrels were rolled out from the storeroom. The boy marked them, utilizing the great chunk of red chalk which every country boy carried in his pocket some forty years ago. Furthermore, being a boy and having time to waste, he decorated the barrels with various grotesque figures, the ungainly fruit of his imagination. This boy's work with that piece of red chalk had an effect upon the future of John Appleman.
So things drifted, the whisky in the cave getting a little older, the friction between John Appleman and his more business-like wife getting somewhat more vigorous and emitting more domestic sparks, until there came a change to every one. The farmer, who had read of martial music, heard with his own ears the roll of the drum and the shrieking, encouraging call of the fife. War was on, and good men abandoned homes and families and surroundings because of what we call patriotism and principle. As for John Appleman, he was among the very first to enlist. He went into the army blithely. It is to be feared that John Appleman, like many a worthier man, preferred the various conditions appertaining to the tented field and the field of battle to that narrower scene of conflict called the home. Before leaving, however, he crept into the cave and varnished those two barrels with exceeding thoroughness.
"That will rather modify the process of evaporation. There will be good whisky there when I come home next year," he said.
John Appleman went to the war with a Michigan regiment, and it is but justice to him to say that he made an amazingly good soldier. He was made corporal and sergeant, and later second lieutenant, and filled that position gallantly until the war ended. That was his record in the great struggle. Meanwhile his home relations had somewhat changed.
Rather happier in the army than on the farm, John Appleman had felt a sense of half-gratitude that there had been no objection to his departure, and for months after he left Michigan he sent most of his soldier's pay home to his wife. Then came promotion and little attendant expenses, and he sent less. There came no letter, and after a while he sent nothing at all. "They have a good farm there which should support them," so he said to himself; "as for me, I am a poor fellow battling along down here, and what little I get I need." There ceased to be any remittances, and there ceased to be any correspondence.
The war ended and John Appleman was free again; but he had a personal acquaintance with a friend of the Confederate Major John Edwards of Missouri, the right-hand man of the daring General Joe Shelby. There were meetings and an exchange of plans and confidences, and the end of it all was, that Appleman rode into Mexico on that famous foray led by Shelby, when the tottering throne of Maximilian was almost given new foundation by the quixotic raiders. The story of that foray is well known, and there is no occasion for repeating it. It need only be said that when Shelby's men rode gayly home again, John Appleman was not in their company. He had met an old friend in the turbulent City of Mexico; had, with due permission, abandoned the ranks of the wild riders, and had fled away to where were supposable peace and quiet. There was something of cowardice in his action now. He had delayed his home-going; he should have been in Michigan shortly after Appomattox, and now he was afraid to face his vigorous wife and make an explanation. In Guaymas, on the western coast, he thought peace might be. So he bestrode a mule, and with his friend traveled laboriously to the shores of the Pacific, and there with this same friend dropped into the lazy but long life of the latitude.
If one had no memory one could do many things. Memory clings ever to a man's coat-tails and drags him back to where he was before. There was a tug upon the coat-tails of John Appleman. He was homesick at times. The musky odors of the coast in blooming time often oppressed him. The fragrance of the tropic blossom had never become sweeter in his nostrils than the breath of northern pines. He wanted to go home, but feared to do so. Mrs. Appleman was assuming monumental proportions in his estimation. And so the years went by, and John Appleman, dealing out groceries in Guaymas for such brief hours of the day as people bought things, his partner relieving him half the time, hungered more with each passing year to see southeastern Michigan, and with each passing year became more alarmed over the prospect of facing the partner of his joys and sorrows there. He was an Anglo-Saxon, far away from home, and the racial instinct and the home instinct were very strong upon him.
With a tendency toward becoming a drunkard when he left home, John Appleton had not developed into one, either during his long experience as a soldier, or later in western Mexico. There was nothing unexplainable in this. Certain men of a certain quality, worried and hampered, are liable to resort to stimulants; the same sort of men, unhampered, need no stimulants at all. To such as these pure air and nature are stimulants sufficient. Whoever heard of a drunken pioneer and facer of natural difficulties, from Natty Bumpo of imagination to Kit Carson of reality? John Appleman as a soldier did not drink. As a half idler in Guaymas he tried, casually, mescal and aguardiente and all Mexican intoxicants, but cast them aside as things unnecessary. More years passed, and finally fear of Mrs. Appleman became to an extent attenuated, while the scent of the clover-blossoms gained intensity. And one morning in April, of the good year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety-four, John Appleman said to himself: "I am going home to take the consequences. The old lady"—thus honestly he spoke to himself—"can't be any worse than this hunger in me. I am going to Michigan."
So he started from Guaymas. He had very little money. The straightening up of affairs showed him to possess only about four hundred dollars to the good, but he started gallantly, shirking in his mind the meeting, but overpowered by the homing instinct, the instinct which leads the carrier-pigeon to its cot.
Meanwhile there had been living and change upon the farm. Mother and daughter, left together, existed comfortably for some years, with the aid of the one hired man. The war over, the wife waited patiently the return of the husband from whom no letter had come for a long time, but who she knew was still alive, learning this from returning members of his company, who had told of his good services. She had learned later of his companionship with the Confederate group under Shelby; but as time passed and no word came, doubt grew upon her. She wrote to some of the leaders of that wild campaign, and learned from their kindly answers that her husband had been lost from them somewhere in Mexico. Both she and her daughter finally decided that he must have met death. In 1867 Mrs. Appleman put on mourning, and she and Jane, the daughter, settled down into the management of their own affairs.
As heretofore indicated, the farm had not been a bonanza, even when its master was in charge, though its soil was rich and it was a most desirable inheritance. Even less profitable did it become under the management of the supposed widow and her daughter. They struggled courageously and faithfully, but they were at a disadvantage. The mowing-machine and the reaper had taken the place of the scythe and cradle. The singing of the whetstone upon steel was heard no longer in the meadows nor among the ripened grain. The harrow had cast out the hoe. The work of the farm was accomplished by patent devices in wood and steel. To utilize these aids, to keep up with the farming procession, required a degree of capital, and no surplus had accrued upon the Appleman farm. Mrs. Appleman was compelled to borrow when she bought her mowing-machine, and the slight mortgage then put upon the place was increased when other necessary purchases were made in time. The mortgage now amounted to eleven hundred dollars, and had been that for over four years, the annual interest being met with the greatest difficulty. The farm, even with the few improved facilities secured, barely supported the widow and her daughter. They could lay nothing aside, and now, in 1894, there was not merely a threat, but the certainty, of a foreclosure unless the eleven hundred dollars should be paid. It was due on the twentieth of September. It was the first of September when John Appleman started from Guaymas for home. It was nine days later when he left the little Michigan station in the morning and walked down the country road toward his farm.
He was sixty-four years of age now, but he was a better-looking man than he was when he entered the army. His step was vigorous, his eye was clear, and there was lacking all that dull look which comes to the countenance of the man who drinks intoxicants. He was breathing deeply as he walked, and gazing with a sort of childish delight upon the Michigan landscape about him.
It seemed to Appleman as if he were awakening from a dream. Real dreams had often come to him of this scene and his return to it, but the reality exceeded the figments of the night. A quail whistled, and he compared its note with that of its crested namesake in Mexico, much to the latter's disadvantage. A flicker passed in dipping flight above the pasture, and it seemed to him that never before was such a golden color as that upon its wings. Even the call of the woodpecker was music to him, and the chatter and chirr of a red squirrel perched jauntily on the rider of a rail fence seemed to him about the most joyous sound he had ever heard. He felt as if he were somehow being born again. And when his own farm came into view, the feeling but became intensified. He thought he had never seen so fair a place.
He crossed the bridge above the creek which flowed through his own farm, and saw a man engaged in cutting away the willow bush which had assumed too much importance along the borders of the little stream. He called the man to him, and did what was a wise thing, something of which he had thought much during his long railroad journey.
"Are you working for Mrs. Appleman?" he asked.
The man answered in the affirmative.
"Well," said John, "I want you to go up to the house and say to her that her husband has come back and will be there in a few minutes."
The man started for the house. Appleman sat down on the edge of the bridge and let his legs dangle above the water, just as he had done many years ago when he was a barefooted boy and had fished for minnows with a pin hook. How would his wife receive him, and what could he say to her? Well, he would tell her the truth, that was all, and take the chances. He rose and went up the road until opposite his own gate. How familiar the yard seemed to him! There was the gravel path leading from the gate to the door, and the later flowers, the asters and dahlias, were in bloom on either side, just as they were when he went away in 1861. The brightness of the forenoon was upon everything, and it was all invigorating. He opened the gate and walked toward the house, and just as he reached his hand toward the latch of the door, it opened, and a woman whose hair was turning gray put her arms about his neck and drew him inside, weeping, and with the exclamation, "Oh, John!"
There was another woman, fair-faced and demure, whom he did not recognize at first, but who kissed him and called him father. Of what else happened at this meeting I do not know. The reunion was at least good, and John Appleman was a very happy man.
But the practical phases of life are prompt in asserting themselves. It was not long before John Appleman knew the problem he had to face. There was a mortgage nearly due for eleven hundred dollars on the farm, and he had in his possession only about three hundred dollars. A shrewder financier than he might have known how to renew the mortgage, or to lift it by making a new one elsewhere, for the farm was worth many times the sum involved. But Appleman was not a financier. The burden of anxiety which had rested upon his wife and daughter now descended upon him. He brooded and worried until he saw the hour of execution only five days off, with no reasonable existent prospect of saving himself. He wandered about the fields, plotting and planning vaguely, but to little purpose. One day he stood beside the creek, gazing absent-mindedly toward the hillside.
Something about the hillside, some association of ideas, perhaps the view of a gnarled honey-suckle-bush where he had gathered flowers in his childhood, set his memory working, and there flashed upon him the incident of the cave, and what he had left concealed there when he went into the army. He looked for the cave's entrance, but saw none. The matter began to interest him. Why there was no entrance visible was easily explained. Clay had overrun with the spring rains from the cultivated field above, building gradually upward from the bottom of the little hill until the aperture had been entirely hidden. This deposit of clay, a foot perhaps in depth, reached nearly to the summit of the slight declivity. Appleman began speculating as to where the cave might be, and his curiosity so grew upon him that he resolved to learn. He cut a stout blue-beach rod and sharpened one of it, and estimating as closely as he could where the little cave had been, thrust in his testing-pole. Scarcely half a dozen ventures were required to attain his object. He found the cave, then went to the barn and secured a spade and came back to do a little digging. He had begun to feel an interest in the fate of those two whisky barrels. It was not a difficult work to effect an entrance to the cave, and within an hour from the time he began digging Appleman was inside and examining things by the aid of a lantern which he had brought. He was astonished. The cave had evidently never been entered by any one save himself; all was dry and clean, and the two barrels stood apparently just as he had left them, over thirty years ago. He decided that they must be empty, that their contents must have long since evaporated; but when he tried to tilt one of them over upon its side he found it very heavy. He made further test that day, boring a hole into the top of one of the barrels, with the result that there came forth a fragrance compared with which, to a judge of good liquor, all the perfumes of Araby the Blest would be of no importance. He measured the depth of the remaining contents, and found that each barrel was more than two-thirds full. Then he hitched a horse to a buggy and drove to town—drove to the same distillery where he had bought those barrels in the latter 'fifties. The distiller of that time had passed away and his son reigned in his stead—the youth who had decorated the barrels with the red chalk-marks. To him, now a keen, middle-aged business man, Appleman told his story. The distiller was deeply interested, but incredulous. "I will drive back with you," he said; and late that afternoon the two men visited the cave.
The visit was a brief one. No sooner did the distiller observe those lurid hieroglyphics upon the barrels than he uttered a shout of delight. There came back to him the memory of that afternoon so many years ago, and of his boyish exploit in decoration. He applied his nose judicially to the auger-hole in the barrel's top. He estimated the amount of spirits in each. "I wouldn't have believed it," he said, "if I hadn't seen it. It's because you varnished the barrels. That made evaporation slow. I'll give you twenty dollars a gallon for all there is of it."
"I'll take it," said John Appleman.
There were in those two barrels just seventy-six gallons of whisky, to compare with which in quality there was practically nothing else upon the continent; at least so swore the distiller. Twenty times seventy-six dollars is fifteen hundred and twenty dollars. The mortgage on the farm was paid, and John Appleman and wife and daughter leaned back content, out of debt, and, counting the little John had brought home, with four or five hundred dollars to the good in the county bank. They are doing very well now. Appleman regrets the disappearance of the deer, wild turkey and ruffed grouse, but the quail are abundant, and the flowers bloom as brightly and the birds sing as sweetly as in the days before the war. Time, just as it improved the whisky, has improved his wife, and she has a mellower flavor. He prefers Michigan to Mexico.
I have read somewhere that there is a moral to the life of every man. I have often speculated as to the moral appertaining to the career of Appleman. If he had never bought those two barrels of whisky he would have lost his farm. On the other hand, had he never taken to drink, he might have remained at home an ordinary decent citizen, and his farm have never been in peril. The only moral I have been able to deduce is this: If by any chance you come into possession of any quantity of whisky, don't drink it, but bury it for thirty-five years at least, and see what will happen.
THE MAN WHO FELL IN LOVE
He lived in one of the great cities in this country, the man who fell in love, and was in that city a character at least a little above the ordinary rut of men. He had talent and energy, and there had come to him a hard schooling in city ways, though he was born in the forest, and his youth had been passed upon a farm sloping downward to the shore of the St. Clair River, that wonderful strait and stretch of water which flows between broad meadowlands and wheat-fields and connects Lake Huron with the lower lake system, and itself becomes at last the huge St. Lawrence tumbling down into the Atlantic Ocean. Upon the St. Clair River now passes hourly, in long procession, the huge fleet of the lakes, the grain and ore laden crafts of Lake Superior, queer "whalebacks" and big propellers, and the vast fleet of merchantmen from Chicago and Milwaukee and other ports of the inland seas. The procession upon the watery blue ribbon a mile in width, stretching across the farm lands, is something not to be seen elsewhere upon the globe. The boats seen from a distance appear walking upon the land. Broad sails show white and startling against green groves upon the shore, and the funnels of steamers rear themselves like smoking stumps of big trees beyond a corn-field. Here passes a traffic greater in tonnage than that of the Suez Canal, of the Mersey, or even of the Thames. But it was not so when the man who fell in love was a boy. There were dense forests upon the river's banks then, and only sailing crafts and an occasional steamer passed, for that was half a century ago.
The man who was to fall in love, as will be told, had, in the whirl of city life, almost forgotten the sturdy days when he was a youngster in the little district school, when at other times he rode a mare dragging an old-fashioned "cultivator," held by his father between the corn rows, and when the little farm hewed out of the woodland had yet stumps on every acre, when "loggings" and "raisings" drew the pioneers together, and when he, one of the first-born children of that region, had fled for comfort in every boyish strait to a gentle, firm-faced woman who was his mother. He had, with manhood, drifted to the city, and had become one of the city's cream in all acuteness and earnestness and what makes the pulse of life, when thousands and tens and hundreds of thousands congregate to live together in one vast hive. He was a man of affairs, a man of the world, easily at home among traders and schemers for money, at a political meeting, at a banquet, or in society. Sometimes, in the midst of things, would float before his eyes a vision of woods, of dark soil, of a buckwheat field, of squirrels on brush fences, of a broad, blue river, and finally of a face, maternal and sweet, with brown eyes, hovering over him watchfully and lovingly. He would think of the earnest, thoughtful, bold upbringing of him, and his heart would go out to the woman; but the tide of city affairs rose up and swept away the vision. Still, he was a good son, as good sons at a distance go, and occasionally wrote a letter to the woman growing older and older, or sent her some trifle for remembrance. He was reasonably content with himself.
Here comes another phase of description in this brief account of affairs of the man who fell in love. One afternoon a woman sat in an arm-chair on the long porch in front of what might have by some been called a summer cottage, by others a farm-house, overlooking the St. Clair River. The chair she sat in was of oak, with no arms, and tilted easily backward, yet with no chance of tipping clear over. It must have cost originally about four dollars. In its early days it had possessed a cane back and cane bottom, through the round holes of which the little children were accustomed to thrust their fingers, getting them caught sometimes, and howling until released. Now its back was of stout canvas, and its seat of cords, upon which a cushion rested. It was in general appearance, though stout enough, a most disreputable chair among the finer and more modern ones which stood along the porch upon either side. But it was this chair that the aging woman loved. "It was this chair he liked," she would say, "and it shall not be discarded. He used to sit in it and rock and dream, and it shall stay there while I live." She spoke the truth. It was that old chair the boy, now the city man, had liked best of all.
She sat there, this gray-haired woman, a picture of one of the mothers who have made this nation what it is. The hair was drawn back simply from the broad, clear forehead, and her strong aquiline features were sweet, with all their force. Her dress was plain. She sat there, looking across the blue waters thoughtfully, and at moments wistfully.
Not far from the woman on the long, broad porch was a pretty younger woman, and beside her two children were playing. The younger woman, the mother of the tumbling youngsters, was the niece of the elder one in the rude old rocking-chair. She spoke to the two children at times, repressing them when they became too boisterous, or petting and soothing when misadventure came to either of them in their gambols. At last she moved close to the elder, and began to talk. The conversation was about the children, and there was much to say, the gray-haired woman listening kindly and interestedly. Finally she spoke.
"Take comfort with the children now, Louisa," she said, gently, "because it will be best for you. It is a strange thing; it is something we cannot comprehend, though doubtless it is all for the best, but I often think that my happiest days were when my children were little, climbing about my skirts, dependent upon me for everything, as birds in the nest are dependent, and with all my anxiety over them, giving me the greatest comfort that can come to a woman. But the years passed, and the children went away. They are good men and women; I am proud of them, but they are mine no longer. They love the old mother, too, I know that—when they think of her. But, oh, Louisa! there is lead in my heart sometimes. I want something closer. But I'll not complain. Why should I? It is the law of nature." And she sighed and looked again across the blue water. There were tears in the corners of her eyes.
The niece, hopeful in the pride of young motherhood, replied consolingly: "Aunt, you should be proud of your children. Even Jack, the oldest of them all, is as good as he can be. Think of his long letters once in a while. He loves you dearly."
"Yes," the old lady replied; "I know he loves me—when he thinks of old times and his boyhood. But, Louisa, I am very lonesome."
And again her eyes sought the water and the yellow wheat-fields of the farther shore.
The road which follows the American bank of the St. Clair River is a fine thing in its way. It is what is known as a "dirt" road, well kept and level, of the sort beloved of horses and horsemen, and it lies close to the stream, between it and the farm lands. At every turn a new and wonderful panorama of green and yellow landscape and azure expanse of water bursts upon the lucky traveler along this blessed highway. Still, being a "dirt" road, when one drives along it at speed there arises in midsummer a slight pillar of dust as the conveyance passes, and one may from a distance note the approach of a possible visitor.
"There's a carriage coming, aunt," said the younger woman.
The carriage came along rapidly, and with a sudden check the horses were brought to a standstill in front of the house upon the porch of which the two women were sitting. Out of the carriage bounded a broad-shouldered gentleman, who stopped only for a moment to give directions to the driver concerning the bringing of certain luggage to the house, and who then strode up the pathway confidently. The elder woman upon the porch looked upon the performance without saying a word, but when the man had got half-way up the walk she rose from the chair, moved swiftly for a woman of her age to where the broad steps from the pathway led up to the porch, and met the ascending visitor with the simple exclamation:
"Jack, my boy!"
Jack, the "my boy" of the occasion, seemed a trifle affected himself. He looked the city man, every inch of him, and was one known under most circumstances to be self-contained, but upon this occasion he varied a little from his usual form. He stooped to kiss the woman who had met him, and then, changing his mind, reached out his arms and hugged her a little as he kissed her. It was a good meeting.
There was much to talk about, and the mother's face was radiant; but the instinct of caring and providing for the being whom she had brought into the world soon became paramount in her breast, and she moved, as she had done decades ago, to provide for the physical needs of her child. This man of the world from the city was but the barefooted six-year-old whom she had borne and loved and fed and guarded in the years that were past. She must care for him now. And so she told him that he must have supper, and that he must let her go; and there was a sweet tinge of motherly authority in her words—unconsciously to her, arbitrary and unconsciously to him, submissive—and she left him to smoke upon the broad porch, and dawdle in the chair he remembered so well, and talk with the bright Louisa.
As for the supper—it would in the city have been called a dinner—it was good. There were fine things to eat. What about biscuits, so light and fragrant and toothsome that the butter is glad to meet them? What about honey, brought by the bees fresh from the buckwheat-field? What about ham and eggs, so fried that the appetite-tempting look of the dish and the smell of it makes one a ravenous monster? What about old-fashioned "cookies" and huckleberry pie which melts in the mouth? What about a cup of tea—not the dyed green abomination, but luscious black tea, with the rich old flavor of Confucian ages to it, and a velvety smoothness to it and softness in swallowing? What about preserves, recalling old memories, and making one think of bees and butterflies and apples on the trees and pumpkins in the cornrows, and robins and angle-worms and brown-armed men in the hay-fields? Eh, but it was a supper!
It was late when the man from the city went to bed, and there was much talk, for he had told his mother that he intended to stay a little longer this time than in the past; that he had been bothered and fled away from everything for rest. "We'll go up the river to-morrow," said he, "just you and I, and 'visit' with each other."
He went to his room and got into bed, and then came a little tap at his door. His mother entered. She asked the big strong man how he felt, and patted his cheek and tucked the bedclothes in about his feet and kissed him, and went away. He went back forty years. And he repeated reverently—he could not help it—"Now I lay me," and slept well.
There was a breakfast as fine as had been the supper, and as for the coffee, the hardened man of the city and jests and cynicism found himself wondering that there should have developed jokes about what "mother used to make." The more he thought of it, the madder he became. "We are a nation of cheap laughers," he said to himself savagely.