O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1921
Part 6 out of 8
"He'll be mighty quiet come suppeh-time, not talkin' much, lookin'
dahk. Walk light, an' don't say nuffin' rile him up, eve'ything all
right. T'-morrow mawnin' come, he's outer it." Her voice rose into a
minor cadence, almost a chant. "Chile, it's a dahk shadder on all de
Deans--dey all mahked wid dat frown on deir foreheads, an' dey all got
dahk hours come to um. Marse Wes's maw she fade out an' die caze she
cain' stan' no such. His grammaw, she leave his grampaw. An' so on
back. Ontell some ooman marry a Dean who kin chase dat debbil outer
him, jes so long de Dean men lib in de shadder. I tole you, ain' I, de
day you come, sperrit an' sense carry you fur, but it's de haht gwine
carry you froo. Now you un'stan'."
Yes, Annie understood, imperfectly. So might Red Riding Hood have
understood when the wolf suddenly appeared beside her peaceful
pathway. She asked one more question, "Does he get mad often?" and
waited, trembling, for the answer.
Aunt Dolcey stuck out her underlip. "Sometime he do, en den again,
sometime he doan'. Mos' giner'ly he do."
Annie walked back to her letter, and looked at its last phrase. She
picked up the pen, but did not write.
Then with a quick intake of breath she took her first conscious step
in the path of loyal wifehood.
She added, writing fast: "He is the best man that ever lived, I do
believe," and signed her name, folded the letter and sealed it in its
envelope as quickly as she could.
At supper she watched Wes. He was, as Aunt Dolcey had predicted, very
silent; the vein in his forehead still twitched menacingly and the
pupils of his eyes were distended until the colour about them
disappeared in blackness. After he had eaten he went outside and
smoked, while Annie sat fiddling with a bit of sewing and dreading she
knew not what.
But nothing happened. Presently he came in, announced that he was
tired and had a hard day before him to-morrow, and thought he'd go to
Long after he had fallen into immobile slumber Annie lay beside him,
awake, marvelling how suddenly he had become a stranger, almost an
ogre. Yet she loved him and yearned to him. The impulse that had made
her finish the letter to Cousin Lorena in the same spirit in which she
had begun it called her to pity and help him. She must conceal his
weakness from their world. She listened to his deep, regular
breathing, she put her hand against his hard palm.
"I'm his wife," thought Annie Dean with inarticulate tenderness. "I'm
going to try to be everything a wife ought to be."
The next morning he was his old self again, laughing, joking, teasing
her as usual. The scene of yesterday seemed to have gone utterly from
his memory, though he must have known that she had seen and heard it.
But he made no allusion to it, nor did she. The farm work was
pressing; the warm spring days foretold an early season.
As he went whistling out toward the barn Annie heard him salute Unc'
Zenas with familiar friendliness:
"How's tricks this morning? Think the Jersey'll be fresh next week?"
Aunt Dolcey heard him, too, and she and Annie exchanged long glances.
The old woman's said, "You see--what I told you was true"; and the
young woman's answered, "Yes, I see, and I understand. I'm going to
see it through."
But something in her youth had definitely vanished, as it always does
when responsibility lays its heavy hand on us. She went about her new
life questioningly eager for understanding. There was so much for her
to see and learn--the erratic ways of setting hens, the care of
foolish little baby chicks; the spring house, cool and damp and
gray-walled, with its trickle of cold water forever eddying about the
crocks of cream-topped milk; the garden making, left to her and Aunt
Dolcey after the first spading; the various messes and mashes to be
prepared for cows with calf; the use of the stored vegetables and
fruits, and meat dried and salted in such generous quantity that she
marvelled at it. All the farm woman's primer she learned, bit by bit,
seeing how it supplemented and harmonized with that life of the fields
that so engrossed and commanded Wes.
But through it all, beneath it all, she found herself waiting, with
dread, for another outburst. Against whom would it be this time--Unc'
Zenas again--Aunt Dolcey--one of the animals--or perhaps herself? She
wondered if she could bear it if he turned on her.
She was working in the spring house mixing cream with curd for cottage
cheese, very busy and anxious over it, for this was her first essay
alone, when she heard Wes again in anger. She dropped her spoon, but
did not go to look, only concentrated herself to listen.
This time he was cursing one of his horses, and she could hear the
stinging whish of a whip, a wicked and sinister emphasis to the
beast's snorting and frenzied thumping of hoofs. Her blue eyes dilated
with fear; she knew in what pain and fright the horse must be lunging
under those blows. And Wes, raucous, violent, his mouth foul with
unclean words--only this morning he had told her that when Sunday came
they'd go into the woods and find a wild clematis to plant beside the
front door. Wild clematis! She could have laughed at the irony of it.
At last she could bear it no longer; she put her hands to her ears to
shut out the hideousness of it. After an interminable wait she took
them down. He had stopped--there was silence--but she heard footsteps
outside, and she literally cowered into the darkest corner of the
spring house. But it was only Aunt Dolcey, her lips set in a line of
"I was lookin' erbout foh you, honey," she said reassuringly. "I di'n'
know where you was, en den I remembah you come off down heah. Let Aunt
Dolcey finish up dat cheese."
"What--what started him?" asked Annie piteously.
"I doan' jes' know--sound' like one de big team di'n' go inter his
right stall, er som'n like dat. It's always som'n triflin', en no
'count. But land, he'll be ovah it come night. Doan' look so white en
"But--but I been thinking--what if he might turn on me--what if he'd
strike me? Aunt Dolcey--did he ever strike you?"
"Oh, Aunt Dolcey, what did you do?"
Something flared in Aunt Dolcey's eyes that was as old as her race.
She looked past Annie as if she saw something she rather relished;
just so her ancestors must have looked when they were dancing before a
bloodstained Congo fetish.
"You see dat big white scar on Marse Wes' lef' wris'? When he struck
me I mahk him dere wid my hot flatiron. Am' no man eveh gwine lif' his
hand to Dolcey, no matter who."
A shrewd question came to Annie:
"Aunt Dolcey, did he ever strike you again?"
"No, ma'am, no 'ndeedy, he didn'. Wil' Marse Wes may be, but he ain'
no crazy man. It's dat ole debbil in his nature, Miss Annie, honey. En
ef ever once som'n tremenjus happen to Marse Wes, dat debbil'll be
cas' out. But hit's got to be stronger en mo' pow'ful dan he is. Not
'ligion, fer 'ligion goes f'm de outside in. Som'n got to come from
inside Marse Wes out befo' dat ole debbil is laid."
This was meagre comfort, and Annie did not follow the primitive
psychology of it. She only knew that into her happiness there had come
again the darkening of a fear, fear that was to be her devil, no less
terrible because his presence was for the most part veiled.
But again she steeled her courage. "I won't let him spoil everything;
I won't let him make me afraid of him," she vowed, seeing Wes in his
silent mood that night. "I won't be afraid of him. I wish I could cut
that old vein out of his forehead. I hate it--it's just as if it was
the thing that starts him. Never seems as if it was part of the real
Wes, my Wes."
In the depths of the woods, on Sunday, she stood by while he dug up
the wild clematis--stood so he could not see her lips quiver--and she
put her clenched hands behind her for fear they, too, would betray
"Wes," she asked, "what made you get so mad last Thursday and beat old
He turned toward her in genuine surprise.
"I wasn't mad; not much, that is. And all I laid on Pomp's tough old
hide couldn't hurt him. He's as mean as a mule, that old scoundrel.
Gets me riled every once in a while."
"I wish you wouldn't ever do it again. It scared me almost to death."
"Scared you!" he laughed. "Oh, Annie, you little silly--you aren't
scared of me. Now don't let on you are. What you doing--trying to kid
me? There, ain't that a splendid plant? I believe I'll take back a
couple shovelfuls this rich wood earth to put in under it. It'll never
know it's not at home."
"Yes, but, Wes--I wish you'd promise me something."
"Promise you anything."
"Then--promise me not to get mad and beat the horses any more or
holler at Unc' Zenas. I don't like it."
"Annie, you little simp--what's the matter with you? A fellow's got to
let off steam once in a while, and if you'd been pestered like I have
with Unc' Zenas's ornery trifling spells and old Pomp's general
cussedness, you'd wonder that I don't get mad and stay mad every
minute. Don't let's talk any more about it. Say, look there--there's a
scarlet tanager! Ain't it pretty? Shyest bird there is, but up here in
the woods there's a couple pairs 'most every year. Pull that old
newspaper up round the earth a little, so's I can get a better holt of
it. That's the girl. Gee, I never knew what fun it'd be to have a wife
who'd be so darn chummy as you are. How d'you like your husband, Mrs.
Dean? Ain't it about time you said something nice to the poor feller
instead of scolding his lights and liver out of place on a nice
peaceful Sabbath day? You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
She pushed back the fear devil and answered his smile.
'No, sir, I'm not going to say anything nice to my husband. I'll tell
you a secret about him--he's awful stuck on himself now."
"Why shouldn't he be? Look who he picked out to marry."
Who could stand against such beguiling? Annie looked up at him and saw
his Dean mark give a little mocking twitch as if it rejoiced in her
But she said no more; and they planted the wild clematis with its
black woods earth beneath at the side of the front door, and Annie
twisted its pliable green stems round one of the posts of the little
Her hands moved deftly, and Wes, who had finished firming the earth
about the plant, watched them.
"Your little paws are gettin' awful brown," he said. "I remember that
first day, in the shop, how white they were--and how quick they moved.
You wrapped up them aprons like somethin' was after you, and I was
trying to get my nerve up to speak to you."
"Tryin' to get up your nerve! I reckon it wasn't much effort. There,
don't that vine look's if it grew there of itself?"
"Yeh--it looks fine." He sat down on the bench and pulled her down
beside him, his arm about her. "Annie, baby, are y' happy?"
She put her cheek against his shoulder and shut her eyes.
"I'm so happy I wouldn't darst be any happier."
"You're not sorry you picked up with me so quick? You don't wish't
you'd stayed down in Balt'mer and got you a city beau?"
"I'd rather be with you--here--than any place in the world. And,
Wes--I think you're the best and kindest man that ever lived. I
wouldn't have you changed, any way, one little bit."
She defied her fears and that mocking, twitching vein with the words.
"Same here. Made to order for me, you were. First minute I looked in
those round blue eyes of yours I knew it."
"It isn't possible," she thought. "It isn't possible that he can get
so mad and be so dreadful. Maybe if I can make him think he's awful
good and kind"--oh, simple subtlety--"believe he is, too, and he'll
stop getting such spells. Oh, if he would always be just like this!"
But it was only two days later when she called him to help her; there
was a hen that was possessed to brood, and Aunt Dolcey had declared
that it was too late, that summer chickens never thrived.
"I can't get her out, Wes," said Annie. "She's 'way in under the
stable, and she pecks at me so mean. You got longer arms'n me--you
reach in and grab her."
He came, smiling. He reached in and grabbed, and the incensed biddy
In a flash his anger was on him. He snatched again, and this time
brought out the creature and dropped her with wrung neck, a mass of
quivering feathers and horribly jerking feet, before Annie.
"I reckon that'll learn the old crow!" he snarled, and strode away.
"We might's well have soup for supper," remarked Aunt Dolcey, coming
on the scene a moment later. "Dere, chile, what's a chicken, anyway?"
"It's not that," said Annie briefly; "but he makes me afraid of him.
If I get too afraid of him I'll stop caring anything about him. I
don't want to do that."
"Den," answered Aunt Dolcey with equal brevity, "you got think up some
manner er means to dribe his debbil out. Like I done tol' you."
Aunt Dolcey paused, holding the carcass of the chicken in her hands,
and faced her.
"Dishyer ain' nuthin'. Wait tell he gits one his still spells, whenas
he doan' speak ter nobody an' doan' do no work. Why ain' we got no
seed potaters? Marse Wes he took a contrairy spell an' he wouldn't dig
'em, an' he wouldn't let Zenas tech 'em needer. Me, I went out
moonlight nights an' dug some to eat an' hid 'em in de cellar. Miss
Annie, you doan' know nuffin' erbout de Dean temper yit."
They went silently to the house. Aunt Dolcey stopped in the kitchen
and Annie went on into the living room. There on the walls hung the
pictures of Wes's father and mother, cabinet photographs framed square
in light wood. Annie looked at those pictured faces in accusing
inquiry. Why had they bequeathed Wes such a legacy? In his father's
face, despite the beard that was the fashion of those days, there was
the same unmistakable pride and passion of Wes to-day. And his mother
was a meek woman who could not live and endure the Dean temper. Well,
Annie was not going to be meek. She thought with satisfaction of Aunt
Dolcey and the hot flatiron. The fact that he had never lifted finger
to Aunt Dolcey again proved that if one person could thus conquer him,
so might another. Was she, his wife, to be less resourceful, less
self-respecting than that old Negro woman? Was she to endure what Aunt
Dolcey would not?
Suddenly she snatched out the little old family album from its place
in the top of the desk secretary, an old-fashioned affair bound in
shabby brown leather with two gilt clasps. Here were more pictures of
the Dean line--his grandfather, more bearded than his father, his Dean
vein even more prominent; his grandmother, another meek woman.
"Probably the old wretch beat her," thought Annie angrily.
Another page and here was great-grandfather himself, in middle age,
his picture--a faded daguerreotype--showing him in his Sunday best,
but plainly in no Sunday mood. "Looks like a pirate," was Annie's
comment. There was no picture of great-grandmother. "Probably he
killed her off too young, before she had time to get her picture
taken." And Annie's eyes darted blue fire at the supposed culprit. She
shook her brown little fist at him. "You started all this," she said
aloud. "You began it. If you'd had a wife who'd've stood up to you
you'd never got drunk and killed a man, and you wouldn't have left
your family a nasty old mad vein in the middle of their foreheads,
looking perfectly unChristian. I just wish I had you here, you old
scoundrel! I'll bet I'd tell you something that'd make your ears
She banged to the album and put it in its place.
"Well, not me!" said Annie. "Not me! I'm not going to be bullied and
scared to death by any man with a bad temper, and the very next time
Mister Wes flies off the handle and raises Cain I'm going to raise
Cain, two to his one. I won't be scared! I won't be a little gump and
take such actions off any man. We'll see!"
It is easy enough to be bold and resolute and threaten a picture. It
is easy enough to plot action either before or after the need for it
arises. But when it comes to raising Cain two to your husband's one,
and that husband has been a long and successful cultivator of that
particular crop--why, that is quite a different thing.
Besides, as it happened, Annie did not wholly lack sympathy for his
next outburst, which was directed toward a tramp, a bold dirty
creature who appeared one morning at the kitchen door and asked for
"You two Janes all by your lonesome here?" he asked, stepping in.
Wes had come into the house for another shirt--he had split the one he
was wearing in a mighty bout with the grubbing hoe--and he entered the
kitchen from the inner door just in time to catch the words.
He leaped and struck in one movement, and it carried the tramp and
himself outside on the grass of the drying yard. The tramp was a burly
man, and after the surprise of the attack he attempted to fight. He
might as well have battled with a locomotive going full speed.
"What you doin' way up here, you lousy loafer?" demanded Wes between
blows. "Get to hell out of here before I kill you, like you deserve,
comin' into my house and scarin' women. I've a great mind to get my
gun and blow you full of holes."
In two minutes the tramp was running full speed toward the road,
followed by Wes, who assisted his flight with kicks whenever he could
reach him. After twenty minutes or so the victor came back. His eyes
were red with rage that possessed him. He did not stop to speak, but
hurried out his rackety little car and was gone. Later they found out
he had overtaken the tramp, fought him again, knocked him out, and
then, roping him, had taken him to the nearest constable and seen him
committed to jail.
But the encounter left him strange and silent for a week, and his Dean
mark twitched and leaped in triumph. During that time the only notice
he took of Annie was to teach her to use his rifle.
"Another tramp comes round, shoot him," he commanded.
"En in de meantime," counselled Aunt Dolcey, "it'll come in mighty
handy fer you to kill off some deseyer chicken hawks what makin' so
free wid our nex' crap br'ilers."
But beyond the learning how to use the gun Annie had learned something
more: she added it to her knowledge that Aunt Dolcey had once outfaced
that tyrant. It was this--that Wes's rage was the same, whether the
cause of it was real or imaginary.
* * * * *
The advancing summer, with its sultriness, its sudden evening storms
shot through with flaming lightning and reverberant with the drums of
thunder, brought to Annie a cessation of her purpose. She was languid,
subject to whimsical desires and appetites, at times a prey to sudden
nervous tears. The household work slipped back into Aunt Dolcey's
faithful hands, save now and then when Annie felt more buoyant and
instinct with life and energy than she had ever felt before. Then she
would weed her garden or churn and print a dozen rolls of butter with
a keen and vivid delight in her activity.
In the evening she and Wes walked down the long lane and looked at the
wheat, wide level green plains already turning yellow; or at the corn,
regiments of tall soldiers, each shako tipped with a feathery tassel.
Beyond lay the woods--dark, mysterious. Little dim plants of the soil
bloomed and shed faint scent along the pathway in the dewy twilight.
Sometimes they sat under the wild clematis, flowering now, and that,
too, was perfumed, a wild and tangy scent that did not cloy. They did
not talk very much, but he was tender with her, and his fits of anger
When they did talk it was usually about the crops--the wheat. It was
wonderful heavy wheat. It was the best wheat in all the neighbourhood.
Occasionally they took out the little coffeepot and drove through the
country and looked at other wheat, but there was none so fine as
And with the money it would bring--the golden wheat turned into
gold--they would---- And now came endless dreams.
"I thought we'd sell the old coffeepot to the junkman and get a
brand-new car, a good one, but now----" This was Wes.
"I think we ought to save, too. A boy'll need so many things."
"Girls don't need anything much, I suppose--oh, no!" He touched her
cheek with gentle fingers.
"It's not going to be a girl."
"How d'you know?"
So went their talk, over and over, an endless garland of happy
conjectures, plans, air castles. Cousin Lorena sent little patterns
and thin scraps of material, tiny laces, blue ribbons.
"I told her blue--blue's for boys," said Annie. And Wes laughed at
her. It was all a blessed interlude of peace and expectancy.
The wheat was ready for harvest. From her place under the clematis
vine, where she sat with her sewing, Annie could see the fields of
pale gold, ready for the reaper. Wes had taken the coffeepot and gone
down to the valley to see when the threshers would be able to come. In
the morning he would begin to cut. Annie cocked a questioning eye at
the sky, for she had already learned to watch the farmer's greatest
ally and enemy--weather.
"If this good spell of weather only holds until he gets it all cut!"
She remembered stories he had told her of sudden storms that flattened
the ripe grain to the ground, beyond saving; of long-continued rains
that mildewed it as it stood in the shocks. But if the good weather
held! And there was not a cloud in the sky, nor any of those faint
signs by which changing winds or clouds are forecast.
She heard the rattle and clack of the returning coffeepot, boiling up
the hill at an unwonted speed. And she waved her hand to Wes as he
came past; but he was bent over the wheel and did not even look round
for her, only banged the little car round to the back furiously.
Something in his attitude warned her, and she felt the old
almost-forgotten devil of her fear leap to clutch her heart.
Presently he came round the house, and she hardly dared to look at
him; she could not ask. But there was no need. He flung his hat on the
ground before her with a gesture of frantic violence. When he spoke
the words came in a ferment of fury:
"That skunk of a Harrison says he won't bring the thresher up here
this year; claims the road's too rough and bridges are too weak for
"Oh, Wes--what'll you do?"
"Do! I'm not going to do anything! I'm not going to haul my wheat down
to him--I'll see him in hell and back again before I will."
"But our wheat!"
"The wheat can rot in the fields! I won't be bossed and blackguarded
by any dirty little runt that thinks because he owns the only
threshing outfit in the neighbourhood that he can run my affairs."
He raged up and down, adding invective, vituperation.
"But you can't, Wes--you can't let the wheat go to waste." For Annie
had absorbed the sound creed of the country, that to waste foodstuff
is a crime as heinous as murder.
"Can't I? Well, we'll see about that!"
She recognized from his tone that she had been wrong to protest; she
had confirmed him in his purpose. She picked up her sewing and tried
with unsteady fingers to go on with it, but she could not see the
stitches for her tears. He couldn't mean it--and yet, what if he
should? She looked up and out toward those still fields of precious
ore, dimming under the purple shadows of twilight, and saw them a
black tangle of wanton desolation. The story Aunt Dolcey had told her
about the potatoes of last year was ominous in her mind.
He was sitting opposite her now, his head in his hands, brooding,
sullen, the implacable vein in his forehead swollen with triumph,
something brutish and hard dimming his clean and gallant youth.
"That's the way he's going to look as he gets older," thought Annie
with a touch of prescience. "He's going to change into somebody
else--little by little. This is the worst spell he's ever had. And all
this mean blood's going to live again in my child. It goes on and on
She leaned against the porch seat and struggled against the sickness
"I might stand it for myself," she thought. "I might stand it for
myself; but I'm not going to stand it for my baby. I'll do
something--I'll take him away."
Her thoughts ran on hysterically, round and round in a coil that had
no end and no beginning.
The silent fit was on Wes now. Presently, she knew, he would get up
and stalk away to bed without a word. And in the morning----
It was as she expected. Without a word to her he got up and went
inside, and she heard him going up the stairs. She sat then a little
longer, for the night was still and warm and beautiful, the stars very
near, and the soft hush-h of the country solitude comforting to her
Then she heard Unc' Zenas and Dolcey talking at the kitchen door,
their voices a faint cadenced murmur; and this reminded her that she
was not quite alone. She slipped round to them.
"Unc' Zenas, Wes says he's not going to cut the wheat; he'll let it
rot in the fields. Seems Harrison won't send his thresher up this far;
wants us to haul to him instead."
"Marse Wes say he ain' gwine cut dat good wheat? Oh, no Miss Annie, he
cain' mean dat, sholy, sholy!"
"He said it. He's got an awful spell this time. Unc'
Zenas--look--couldn't you ride the reaper if he wouldn't? Couldn't
you? Once the wheat gets cut there's some chance."
"Befo' my God, Miss Annie, wid deseyer wuffless ole han's I cain'
ha'dly hol' one hawss, let alone three. Oh, if I had back my stren'th
lak I useter!"
The three fell into hopeless silence.
"Are the bridges so bad? Is it too hard to get the thresher up here?"
asked Annie at last. "Or was that just Harrison's excuse?"
"No, ma'am; he's got de rights. Dem ole bridges might go down mos' any
time. An' dishyer road up yere, it mighty hard to navigate foh er
grea' big hebby contraption lak er threshin' machine en er engine.
Mos' eve'y year he gits stuck. Las' year tuk er day en er ha'f to git
him out. No'm; he's got de rights."
"Yes, but, Unc' Zenas, that wheat mustn't be left go to waste."
Aunt Dolcey spoke up. "Miss Annie, honey, go git your res'--mawnin'
brings light. Maybe Marse Wes'll come to his solid senses een de
mawnin'. You cain' do nuffin' ternight noway."
"No, that's so." She sighed hopelessly. "Unc' Zenas, maybe we could
hire somebody else to cut the wheat if he won't."
"Miss Annie, honey, eve'ybody busy wid his own wheat--an', moreover,
Marse Wes ain' gwi' let any stranger come on dis place an' cut his
wheat--you know he ain'."
There seemed nothing more to say. In the darkness tears were slowly
trickling down Annie's cheeks, and she could not stop them.
"Good-night, my lamb, good-night. I gwi' name you en your tribulations
in my prayers dis night."
She had never felt so abandoned, so alone. She could not even make the
effort to force herself to believe that Wes would not commit this
crime against all Nature; instead, she had a vivid and complete
certainty that he would. She went over it and over it, lying in
stubborn troubled wakefulness. She put it in clear if simple terms. If
Wes persisted in his petty childish anger and wasted this wheat, it
meant that they could not save the money that they had intended for
the child that was coming. They would have, in fact, hardly more than
their bare living left them. The ridiculous futility of it swept her
from one mood to another, from courage to utter hopelessness. She
remembered the first time that she had seen Wes angry, and how she had
lain awake then and wondered, and dreaded. She remembered how, later,
she had planned to manage him, to control him. And she had done
nothing. Now it had come to this, that her child would be born in
needless impoverishment; and, worse, born with the Dean curse full
upon him. She clenched and unclenched her hands. The poverty she might
bear, but the other was beyond her power to endure. Sleep came to her
at last as a blessed anodyne.
In the first moment of the sunlit morning she forgot her trouble, but
instantly she remembered, and she dressed in an agony of apprehension
and wonder. Wes was gone, as was usual, for he got up before she did,
to feed his cattle. She hurried into her clothes and came down, to
find him stamping in to breakfast, and with the first glance at him
her hope fell like a plummet.
He did mean it--he did! He did not mean to cut that wheat. She watched
him as he ate, and that fine-spun desperation that comes when courage
alone is not enough, that purpose that does the impossible, took hold
When he had finished his silent meal he went leisurely out to the
little front porch and sat down. She followed him. "Wes Dean, you
going to cut that wheat?" she demanded; and she did not know the sound
of her own voice, so high and shrill it was.
The vein in his forehead leered at her. What was she to pit her
strength against a mood like this? He did not answer, did not even
look at her.
"Do you mean to say you'd be so wicked--such a fool?" she went on.
Now he looked up at her with furious, threatening eyes.
"Shut your mouth and go in!" he said.
She did not move. "If you ain't going to cut it--then I am!"
She turned and started through the house, and he leaped up and
followed her. In the kitchen he overtook her.
"You stay where you are! You don't go out of this house this day!" He
laid a rough, restraining hand on her shoulder.
At that touch--the first harshness she had ever felt from
him--something hot and flaming leaped through her. She whirled away
from him and caught up Aunt Dolcey's big sharp butcher knife lying on
the table; lifted it.
"You put your hands on me like that again and I'll kill you!" Her
voice was not high and shrill now; she did not even raise it. "You and
your getting mad! You and your rotten, filthy temper! You'd waste that
wheat because you haven't got enough sense to see what a big fool you
She dropped the knife and walked past him, out of the kitchen, to the
"Unc' Zenas," she called, "you hitch up the horses to the reaper. I'm
going to cut that near field to-day myself."
"But, Miss Annie----" began the old man.
"You hitch up that team," she said. "If there ain't any men round this
place, I don't know's it makes so much difference."
She waited while the three big horses were brought out and hitched to
the reaper, and then she mounted grimly to the seat. She did not even
look around to see if Wes might be watching. She did not answer when
Unc' Zenas offered a word of direction.
"Let dat nigh horse swing round de cornahs by hisse'f, Miss Annie. He
knows. An' look--here's how you drop de knife. I'll let down de bars
an' foller you."
Behind her back he made frantic gestures to Dolcey to come to him,
and she ran, shuffling, shaken. Together they followed the little
figure in the blue calico dress, perched high on the rattling,
clacking reaper. Her hair shone in the sun like the wheat.
The near horse knew the game, knew how to lead the others. That was
Annie's salvation. As she swung into the field she had a struggle with
the knife, but it dropped into place, and the first of the golden
harvest fell before it squarely, cleanly; the stubble was even behind
it. She watched the broad backs of her team, a woman in a dream. She
did not know how she drove them; the lines were heavy in her hands,
dragged at her arms. It was hot, and sweat rolled down her forehead.
She wished vaguely that she had remembered to put on her sunbonnet.
Behind her came Unc' Zenas and Aunt Dolcey, setting the sheaves into
compact, well-capped stocks, little rough golden castles to dot this
field of amazing conflict.
And now the reaper had come to the corner. Unc' Zenas straightened
himself and watched anxiously. But his faith in the near horse was
justified--the team turned smoothly, Annie lifted the blade and
dropped it, and they started again, only half visible now across the
Annie's wrists and back ached unbearably, the sweat got in her eyes,
but she drove on. She thought a little of Wes, and how he had looked
when she picked up that butcher knife. She thought of his heavy hand
on her shoulder, and her flesh burned where he had grasped it.
"I'm going to cut this wheat if it kills me." she said over and over
to herself in a queer refrain. "I'm going to cut this wheat if it
kills me!" She thought probably it would. But she drove on.
She made her second corner successfully, and now the sun was at her
back, and that gave her a little ease. This wheat was going to be cut,
and hauled to the thresher, and sold in the market, if she did every
bit of the work herself. She would show Wes Dean! Let him try to stop
her--if he dared!
And there would be money enough for everything the baby might want or
might need. Her child should not be born to poverty and skimping. If
only the sun didn't beat so hard on the back of her neck! If only her
arms didn't ache so!
After countless hours of time she overtook Dolcey and Zenas, and the
old woman divined her chief discomfort. She snatched the sunbonnet off
her own head and handed it up to her.
"Marster in hebben, ef I only had my stren'th!" muttered Zenas as she
"Angels b'arin' dat chile up wid deir wings," chanted Aunt Dolcey.
Then, descending to more mundane matters, she added a delighted
chuckle: "I knowed she'd rise en shine one dese days. Holler at Marse
Wes she did, name him names, plenty. Yessuh--laid him out!"
"What you s'pose he up to now?" asked Zenas, looking over his
"I dunno--but I bet you he plumb da'nted. Zenas, lak I tol' you--man
may hab plenty debbilment, rip en t'ar, but he'll stan' back whenas a
ooman meks up her min' she stood enough." And Aunt Dolcey had never
heard of Rudyard Kipling's famous line.
"Dat chile might kill he'se'f."
"When yo' mad yo' kin 'complish de onpossible, en it doan' hurt yo',"
replied Dolcey, thus going Kipling one better.
But she watched Annie anxiously.
The girl held out, though the jolting and shaking racked her
excruciatingly and the pull of the reins seemed to drag the very flesh
from her bones. Now and then the golden field swam dark before her
eyes, the backs of the horses swelled to giant size and blotted out
the sun. But she kept on long after her physical strength was gone;
her endurance held her. Slowly, carefully, the machine went round and
round the field, and the two bent old figures followed.
And so they came to mid-morning. They had long since ceased to look or
care for any sign of the young master of the land. None of them
noticed him, coming slowly, slowly from the stables, coming slowly,
slowly to the field's edge and standing there, watching with
unbelieving, sullen eyes the progress of the reaper, the wavering arms
that guided the horses, the little shaken blue figure that sat high in
the driver's seat. But he was there.
It is said of criminals that a confession can often be extracted by
the endless repetition of one question alone; they cannot bear the
pressure of its monotony. Perhaps it was the monotony of the measured
rattle and clack of the machine going on so steadily that finally
impelled Wes Dean, after his long frowning survey of the scene, to
vault the low stone wall and approach it.
Annie did not check the horses when she saw him; she did not even look
at him. But he looked at her, and in her white face, with the dreary
circles of utter fatigue shadowing her eyes, his defeat was completed.
He put his hand on the bit of the nearest horse and stopped the team.
Then she looked at him, as one looks at a loathsome stranger.
"What you want?" she asked coldly.
He swallowed hard. "Annie--I'll--I'll cut the wheat, le'me lift you
down off there." He held out his arms.
She did not budge. "You going to cut it all--and haul it down to the
"Yes--yes, I will. Gee, you look near dead--get down, honey. You go in
the house and lay down--I'm afraid you'll kill yourself. I'm afraid
you'll hurt--him some way."
Still she did not move. "I'd ruther be dead than live with a man that
acts like you do," she said. "Grown up, and can't handle his temper."
Something in her quiet, cold scorn struck through to him and cut away
forever his childish satisfaction with himself. A new manhood came
into his face; his twitching, sinister vein was still. Surrender
choked him, but he managed to get it out:
"I know I acted like a fool. But I can't let you do this. I'll--I'll
The words died on his lips and he leaped forward in time to catch her
as she swayed and fell, fainting.
An hour later Annie lay on the lounge in the sitting room, still
aching with terrible weariness, but divinely content. Far away she
could hear the steady susurrus of the reaper, driven against the
golden wheat, and the sound was a promise and a song to her ears. She
looked up now and then at the pictured face of Wes's father, frowning
and passionate, and the faint smile of a conqueror curved her tired
mouth. For she had found and proved the strongest thing in the world,
and she would never again know fear.
By HARRY ANABLE KNIFFIN
From _Brief Stories_
The Little Chap reached up a chubby hand to the doorknob. A few
persistent tugs and twists and it turned in his grasp. Slowly pushing
the door open, he stood hesitating on the threshold of the studio.
The Big Chap looked up from his easel by the window. His gray eyes
kindled into a kindly smile, its welcoming effect offset by an
admonitory headshake. "Not now, Son," he said. "I'm busy."
"Can't I stay a little while, Daddy?" The sturdy little legs carried
their owner across the floor as he spoke. "I'll be quiet, like--like I
The Big Chap hesitated, looking first at his canvas and then at the
small replica of himself standing before him.
"I got on my new pants," the youngster was saying, conversationally
easing the embarrassment of a possible capitulation. "Mummy says I
ought to be proud of them, and because I'm five years old."
The artist looked gravely down at him. "Proud, Son?" he asked, in the
peculiar way he had of reasoning with the Little Chap. "Have you
reached the age of five because of anything you have done? Or did you
acquire the trousers with money you earned?"
The Little Chap looked up at him questioningly. He had inherited his
father's wide gray eyes, and at present their expression was troubled.
Then, evidently seeking a more easily comprehended topic, his eyes
left his father's and sought the canvas on which was depicted a court
scene of mediaeval times. "Who is that, Daddy?" His small index finger
pointed to the most prominent figure in the painting.
His father continued to regard him thoughtfully. "One of England's
proud kings, Son."
"And what did _he_ do to be proud of?" came quickly from the youthful
A hearty laugh escaped the artist. "Bully for you, Son! That's a
poser! Aside from taxing the poor and having enemies beheaded, I'm
puzzled to know what he really did do to earn his high position."
The Little Chap squirmed himself between his father's knees and
started to scale the heights to his lap, where he finally settled down
with a sigh of comfort. "Tell me a story about him," he said eagerly.
"A story with castles, 'n' wars, 'n' everything."
The artist's gaze rested on the kingly figure in the picture, then
wandered away to the window through which he seemed to lose himself in
scenes of a far-distant time.
"I'll tell you a story, Son," he began, slowly and ruminatingly, "of
how Loyalty and Service stormed the Stronghold of Honour and
Splendour. This proud king you see in the picture lived part of the
time in the great castle of Windsor, and the balance of the year in
Saint James's Palace in London."
"It must have cost him a lot for rent," wisely interpolated the Little
"No, the people paid the rent, Son. Some of them were glad to do it,
for they looked upon their king as a superior being. Among this class
of loyal subjects was an old hatter, very poor and humble."
"What was his name?" asked the Little Chap, apparently greatly
"He had no name. People in those olden days were known by their trade
or calling. So he was simply called 'the hatter'."
"And did he make nice hats?"
"I've no doubt he did, Son. But you mustn't interrupt. Well, the
hatter paid his tithes, or taxes, after which, I dare say, he had
little enough left to live on. But he appeared not to mind. And
whenever the King and Queen rode through the streets in their gilded
coach of state, his cracked old voice would cheer lustily, and his
hoary head would be bared in deepest reverence."
"Didn't he ever catch cold?"
"Hush, Son, I'm telling a story! As the hatter grew older he lost his
wits and became quite crazy on the subject of his king. He yearned to
do something to prove his loyalty. And whenever England engaged in a
war, and a proclamation was issued calling for men to fight for King
and country, he would be one of the first to volunteer. But they never
accepted him, of course, because he was so old.
"With the passing of the years the Queen died, and the King decided to
marry again. Great preparations for the ceremony were begun at
Westminster Abbey, where the wedding was to take place. The old hatter
became greatly excited when he heard the news. His addled wits
presently hit upon a wonderful scheme by which he could both honour
and serve his sovereign: _He would make the King a hat to wear at his
"I guess he must 've been a good hatter, after all," the Little Chap
murmured, in a tone of conviction.
"Perhaps, in his time," his father conceded. "But you must remember he
now was old and foolish. His materials were merely such odds and ends
as he could gather together, and the result was very
disreputable-looking. But in his rheumy old eyes it was the most
wonderful hat ever designed for a monarch. He carefully wrapped it in
a soiled old cloth and started out to present it to the King. At the
palace gates the guards refused him admittance, and cruelly laughed in
his face. He tried every means he could think of to have the hat reach
its destination. Once he stopped the Court Chamberlain on the street,
only to be rebuked for his pains. Another time he waylaid a peer, as
he left the House of Lords, and was threatened with arrest. Foiled in
all his attempts, the cracked-brained old fellow impatiently awaited
the wedding ceremony. At last the great day arrived. All the bells of
old London were ringing blithely as the gilded coach, drawn by ten
white horses, deposited the King at Westminster Abbey. In the
forefront of the vast throng surrounding the entrance stood the
"And did he have the hat with him?" asked the Little Chap.
"Yes, Son, he had it with him. And when the King entered the portals
of the ancient Abbey, the hatter somehow broke through the line of
guards and ran after him crying 'Your Majesty! Your Majesty! Deign to
accept this token of a loyal subject's regard!'
"The King turned in surprise And when he saw the ragged old fellow
tending him the ridiculous-looking hat, he flew into a great rage and
cried angrily: 'How comes this varlet here, interrupting his
Sovereign's nuptials and desecrating our Tomb of Kings? Away with him
to prison, and let him repent his insolence as he rots in a dungeon!'"
"Why did he do that, Daddy?"
"The Sovereign, Son, was a very proud king, while the hatter was both
poor and humble. And at his words the guards hurried forward and
hustled the old man out of the Abbey, where his presence was an insult
to the Great. In the struggle the hat rolled into the gutter, and one
of the King's white horses put his hoof through it. The hatter cried
like a child when he saw the work of his loving hands thus ruined. But
they carried him off to prison and kept him shut up there until he
died and paid the penalty for his crime of desecrating the Abbey."
"Oh, the poor old hatter! But is that the end of the story, Daddy?"
The Little Chap's disappointment was markedly pronounced.
"No, Son, there is a little more to come. I meant to tell you that the
hatter had reared a large family of boys. His sons all married and, in
turn, raised large families. These numerous relatives or kin took the
name of Hatterskin. In course of time that became shortened to
Hatkins, and so remained until the British habit of dropping their H's
reduced it to Atkins.
"At last the proud King died and was buried with great ceremony in the
Abbey. Year followed year, and century succeeded century. England,
although blessed with a Royal pair both humane and good, was ruled by
an even wiser monarch--the Sovereign People.
"Then came an August day when the black thunder-cloud of war darkened
her smiling horizon. Four bloody, terrible years the conflict lasted.
And when at last an armistice was signed, the stricken people went
wild with joy."
The Big Chap's gaze returned to the canvas with its scene of mediaeval
splendour. A mystic light smouldered in his eyes as, unconscious of
his surroundings and his youthful auditor, he continued: "On the
second anniversary of that happy day an unprecedented thing happened.
Before the ancient Abbey a gun carriage, bearing the flag-draped
casket of an unidentified warrior, came to rest on the very spot where
the gilded coach of the proud King once had stopped. Again the square
was crowded, as on that day in the long ago when the poor hatter
foolishly tried to honour his sovereign. The traditions of centuries
toppled when the body of the unknown soldier passed through those
storied portals followed by the King of England as chief mourner. In
the dim, historic chapel the king stood, in advance of princes, prime
ministers, and the famous leaders of both army and navy. Like the
humble hatter of old his royal head was reverently bared as the
nameless hero was laid among the silent company of England's
illustrious dead. 'The Boast of Heraldry and the Pomp of Power' bowed
in silent homage before the remains of a once common soldier. Thus
Loyalty and Service eventually stormed the Stronghold of Honour and
For a moment there was an impressive, brooding silence, broken
presently by the Little Chap. "And what was the soldier's name,
Recalled from his revery, the father answered:
"_He was known, Son, as Tommy Atkins_."
The Little Chap's brow was puckered in thought. At last he laughed
delightedly and clapped his hands. "Was the soldier, Daddy, one of the
hatter's family--the poor old hatter who was thrown out of the Abbey?"
The Big Chap lifted the child from his lap and placed him on his feet.
Then he picked up a brush and turned to his painting.
"I like to think so, Son. But only God knows."
By O.F. LEWIS
From _Red Book_
Old Man Anderson, the lifer, and Detroit Jim, the best second-story
man east of the Mississippi, lay panting side by side in the
pitch-dark dugout, six feet beneath the surface of the prison yard.
They knew their exact position to be twenty feet south of the north
wall, and, therefore, thirty feet south of the slate sidewalk outside
the north wall.
It had taken the twain three months and twenty-one days to achieve the
dugout. Although there was always a guard somewhere on the north wall,
the particular spot where the dugout had come into being was sheltered
from the wall-guard's observation by a small tool-house. Also whenever
the pair were able to dig, which was only at intervals, a bunch of
convicts was always perched on the heap of dirt from various
legitimate excavations within the yard, which Fate had piled up at
that precise spot. The earth from the dugout and the earth from these
other diggings mixed admirably.
Nor, likewise because of the dirt-pile, could any one detect the job
from the south end of the yard. If a guard appeared from around the
mat-shop or coming out of the Principal Keeper's office, the convicts
sunning themselves on the dirt-pile in the free hour of noon, or late
in the afternoon, after the shops had closed, spoke with motionless
lips to the two diggers. Plenty of time was thus afforded to shove a
couple of boards over the aperture, kick dirt over the boards, and
even push a barrow over the dugout's entrance--and there you were!
One minute before this narrative opens, on July 17th, a third convict
had dropped the boards over the hole into which Old Man Anderson, the
lifer, and Detroit Jim, had crawled. This convict had then frantically
kicked dirt over the boards, had clawed down still more dirt, to make
sure nothing could be seen of the hole--had made the thing look just
like part of the big dirt-pile indeed--and then had legged it to the
ball-game now in progress on this midsummer Saturday afternoon, at the
extreme south end of the yard, behind the mat-shop.
Dirt trickled down upon the gray hair of Old Man Anderson in the dark
and stuffy hole he shared with his younger companion. But the darkness
and the stuffiness and the filtering dirt were unsensed. Something far
more momentous was in the minds of both. How soon would Slattery, the
prison guard, whom they knew to be lying dead in the alley between the
foundry and the tool-shop, be found? For years Slattery had been a
fairly good friend to Old Man Anderson, but what did that count in the
face of his becoming, for all his friendship, a last-minute and
totally unexpected impediment to the get-away? He had turned into the
alley just when Old Man Anderson and Detroit Jim were crouching for
the final jump to the dugout! A blow--a thud--that was all....
Anderson lay now, staring wide-eyed into the black nothing of the
hole. For the second time he had killed a man, and God knew he hadn't
intended to--either time! Fourteen years ago a man had tried to get
his wife away from him, while he was serving a one-year bit in the
county jail. Both men had had guns, and Old Man Anderson had killed
the other or he would have been killed himself. So that was no murder
at all! And as for Slattery--big, heavy, slow-moving, red-faced
Slattery--Old Man Anderson would even have gone out of his way to do
the guard a favour, under ordinary circumstances. But as between
Slattery and the chance to escape--that was different.
Old Man Anderson rubbed his right hand in the dirt and held it before
his eyes in the blackness. He knew that the moisture on it was
Slattery's blood. The iron pipe in Old Man Anderson's hands had struck
Slattery on the head just once, but once was enough.
Old Man Anderson burst into hiccoughing sobs. The younger convict
punched him in the ribs, and swore at him in muffled tones. Anderson
stifled his sobs then, but continued to sniffle and shiver. This time
it would absolutely be The Chair for him--if they got him! In a few
minutes they couldn't help discovering Slattery. Anderson never could
give himself up now, however this business of the dugout and the
hoped-for old sewer conduit should finally turn out. In the beginning
he had counted on crawling out, if worst came to worst, and
surrendering. But to crawl out now meant but one thing--The Chair!
In all his fourteen years behind the walls the vision of The Chair had
terrorized the old man. When they had sent him to prison his first
cell had been in the death-house, separated from The Chair only by a
corridor that, they told him, was about twenty feet long, and took no
more than five seconds to traverse--with the priest. Until they
changed his cell, the gaunt, terrible Thing in the next room edged
every day nearer, nearer, nearer, looming, growing, broadening before
his morbid vision until it seemed to have cut off from his sight
everything else in the world--closer, closer until it was only seven
incredible hours away! Then had come the commutation of his sentence
from death to life!
The next day Old Man Anderson, gray-haired even then, went out from
the death-house among his gray-clad fellows, but straight into the
prison hospital, where for three months be lay a victim of chair-shock
just as surely as was ever a man shell-shocked on the Flanders front.
And never since had the hands of the man wholly ceased to quiver and
Now he was a murderer for the second time! In the blackness he
stretched out his hand, and ran it over a stack of tin cans. Detroit
Jim had been mighty clever! Canned food from the storehouse, enough to
last perhaps two weeks! Detroit Jim had had a storehouse job. Twice a
day, during the last ten days, the wiry little ferret-faced
second-story man had got away with at least one can from the prison
commissary. Also he had provided matches, candles, and even a cranky
little flashlight. Only chewing tobacco, because you can smell smoke a
long way when you are hunting escaped convicts. And a can of water
half the size of an ash can!
Despair fastened upon Old Man Anderson, and a wave of sickness swept
over him. All the food in the world wouldn't bring Slattery back to
life. And again that Thing in the death-house rose before his mind's
eyes. Throughout all the years he had carried a kind of dread that
sometime a governor might come along who would put back his sentence
where it had been at first--and then all his good behaviour in these
endless years would count for nothing. Until Detroit Jim had told him
about the long-forgotten sewer conduit, he had never even thought to
disobey the prison rules.
The old man's teeth chattered. Detroit Jim's thin fingers tugged at
his sleeve. That meant getting busy, and digging with the pick with
the sawed-off handle. So Anderson wriggled into the horizontal
chamber, which was just large enough to permit his body and arms to
As he hacked away at the damp earth, he could see in the pitch
darkness the dirty sheet of paper, now in Detroit Jim's pocket, upon
which their very life depended. It was a tracing made by a discharged
convict from a dusty leather-covered book in the public library in New
York, sent in by the underground to Jim. The book had contained the
report of some forgotten architect, back in the fifties of the last
century, and the diagram in his report showed the water and sewage
conduit--in use! It ran from the prison building, right down across
the yard, six feet under ground, and out under the north wall, under
the street outside, and finally into the river. Built of brick, four
feet wide, four feet high. A ready-made tunnel to freedom!
Old Man Anderson could hear Detroit Jim's hoarse whisper now, as he
chopped away at the dirt, which he shoved back under his stomach, to
where Jim's fingers caught it and thrust it farther back.
"We're only a couple of feet from that old conduit right now. Dig, you
son of a gun, dig! Can the snifflin'! You dig, and then I'll dig!"
They were saving their matches and candles against necessity.
Mechanically the old man chopped and hacked at the wall of earth in
front of him. Now and then the pick would encounter a stone or some
other hard substance. In the last few days they had come upon frequent
pieces of old brick. Detroit Jim had rejoiced over these signs. For
the old man every falling clod of earth seemed to bring him nearer to
freedom. They also took his mind off Slattery.
So he chopped away, how long he did not know. Suddenly his pick struck
an obstacle again. He hacked at it. It gave slightly. A third time he
struck it, and it seemed to recede. An odour of mouldy air filled his
nostrils. In that little aperture his pick touched nothing now! He
heard something fall! Then he knew! There was a hollow place in front
of them! The abandoned conduit? He stifled a shout.
From somewhere, muffled at first, but ultimately faintly strident,
rose a prolonged wail that seemed to issue from the very earth. The
sound rose, and fell, and rose again. Frantically the pick of Old Man
Anderson hacked away at the dirt, and then at whatever was in front of
him. Detroit Jim snapped the feeble flashlight then. It was a
wall--the conduit wall!
Meantime, the prison siren shrieked out to the countryside the news of
What time it was--whether night or day or what day, neither Jim nor
Old Man Anderson knew. They had slept, of course, and Jim had
forgotten to wind his watch. Had one week or two weeks passed? If two
weeks had slipped by and if the prison officers ran true to form they
would by now have ceased searching inside the prison walls.
Old Man Anderson and Detroit Jim huddled close to each other in the
darkness of the conduit. A hundred times they had crawled from one end
to the other of their vaultlike trap! In their desperate and fruitless
search for an outlet to the conduit they had burned many matches and
several candles. Besides, Old Man Anderson had required light in which
to fight off his attacks of nerves, and the last of the candles had
gone for that. Now total darkness enveloped them.
The conduit was blocked! By earth at one end, and by a brick wall at
the other! All along the winding hundred feet of vault they had hacked
out brick after brick only to encounter solid earth behind. Only a few
tins of food remained and the water was wholly gone; the liquid from
the food cans only served to increase their thirst.
Old Man Anderson had grown to loathe Detroit Jim. Every word he
murmured, every movement he made, intensified the loathing. He had
made up his mind that Jim was planning to desert him the next time he
should fall asleep; perhaps would kill him and leave him there--in the
dark. The two had practically ceased speaking to each other. In his
mental confusion Old Man Anderson kept revolving in his mind, with
satisfaction, a new plan he had evolved. The next time Jim should fall
asleep he would crawl back through the aperture in the conduit wall,
pry up the boards over the opening into the prison yard, wriggle out,
and take his chances in getting over the wall somehow! Better even be
shot by a guard than die like a rat in this unspeakable place, as he
was doing, where he couldn't stand up and dared not lie down on
account of the things that were forever crawling through the place!
His contemplation of his plan was broken in upon by his companion
clutching him spasmodically by the arm. The old man's cry died in his
Footsteps! Dull and distant they were, and somewhere above
them--momentarily more distinct--receding--gone!
Detroit Jim pulled Andersen's head toward him, and whispered:
"Sidewalk! People going by! We've never sat right here before! We
wouldn't hear them if they weren't walking on stone, or slate, or
The old man's heart pounded like a trip-hammer. Detroit Jim seized the
pick and began to pry the bricks loose from the arched roof of the
conduit. They worked like mad, picking, hacking, pulling, piling the
bricks softly down on the conduit floor.
Once, for an instant, Jim stopped working. "How far from the hole we
came in through, do you think we are?" he whispered.
"'Bout a hundred feet, I guess," answered the old man. "Why?"
Without replying Detroit Jim resumed his picking, picking, at the
bricks. A hundred feet from where they had entered would not be under
the sidewalk. Finally, he understood. This conduit wound around a good
deal; it would take a hundred winding feet to cover thirty
Finally, also, Detroit Jim turned the pick over to the old man, who,
feeling in the blackness with his hands, discovered the span as wide
as his outstretched arms, from which Detroit Jim had removed the
bricks. It was a span of yielding earth into which the old man now dug
his pick. As he worked, the loosened dirt fell upon him, upon his
head, into his eyes and nose and ears....
Abruptly the old man's pick struck the flagging above them! Detroit
Jim mounted upon the pile of bricks and shoved Anderson aside.
Jim felt along the edges of the stone clear around. It seemed to
measure about three feet by two, and to be of slate, and probably held
in place only by its contact with other stones, or by cement between
the stones. No light appeared through the crevices. Detroit Jim took
from his pocket a huge pocket-knife and with the longest blade poked
up between the main stone and the one adjoining. The blade met
Ultimately, and abruptly, however, the blade shot through to the hilt
of the knife. Jim drew it back instantly. No light came through the
"I smell good air," he whispered, "but I can't see a thing. It must be
They knew now what to do. The flagging must be removed at once, before
any one should go by! The hole would be big enough to let them out!
Old Man Andersen's heart leaped. It was over. They had won. Trust him
to go where they'd never get him for the Slattery business! As for
Detroit Jim, he already knew the next big trick that he would pull
off--out in Cleveland!
Ultimately, as Detroit Jim worked upon it, the stone began to sag. An
edge caught upon the adjacent flagging. The two men, perched upon the
wobbly bricks, manipulated the stone, working it loose, until,
finally, it came crashing down.
The stone had made noise enough, it seemed, to wake the dead; yet
above them there was no sound. Swiftly they raised the flagging and
set it securely upon the heap of bricks. When Detroit Jim stood upon
this improvised platform his head was level with the aperture they had
made. He could see no sky, no stars, could feel no wind, discover no
light such as pervades even the darkest night.
"Good God!" he breathed. His fingers went out over the flagging. His
knife dropped. The tinkle echoed dully down the conduit. He stooped to
where Old Man Anderson stood, breathing hard.
"It's a--a room!" he whispered.
"A--a room?" repeated Old Man Anderson dully.
"Come! After me! Up! I'll pull you up!"
Detroit Jim, being wiry, swung himself up, and then bent down, groping
for the old man's hands. Winded, panting, exhausted, the two men stood
at last in this new blackness, clutching each other, their ears
strained to catch the slightest sound.
"For God's sake, don't fall down that hole now!" hissed Detroit Jim.
"Listen. We'll both crawl together till we get to a wall. Then you
feel along one way, and whisper to me what you find, and I'll crawl
the other. Look for a window or a door--some way out! We'll come
together finally. Are you ready?"
"I'm--I'm afraid," whined the old man.
Detroit Jim's fingers dug into the other's arm, and he pulled the
latter along. Their groping hands touched a wall--a wall of wood.
Detroit Jim stood up and pulled Anderson beside him. He felt the old
man shiver. He shoved him gently in to the left and himself moved
cautiously to the right, slowly, catlike.
Finally, Jim came to a door. He could perceive no light through the
chinks in the door. Sensing the increasing uncanniness of a room
without windows, without furniture, with flagging for a floor, he
turned the knob of the door gently, and it gave under his touch.
Just then there came to him a hoarse whisper from across the room. It
made him jump. "I've--I've found some wires," the old man was saying,
"in a cable running along the floor----"
"See where they lead!" Detroit Jim was breathless, in anticipation.
And then, shattering the overwhelming tension of the moment, shrilled,
suddenly, a horrible, prolonged, piercing shriek ending in a gasp and
the sound of a heavy body falling to the floor! What, in God's name,
had happened to the old man? And that yell was enough to awaken the
Detroit Jim groped his way across the room. He could hear now no
further sound from the old man.... Steps outside! He sank upon his
knees, his hands outstretched. He heard a lock turn; then following
upon a click the whole universe went white, and dazzling and
He raised one arm to his blinking, throbbing eyes. A rough voice
shouted: "Hands up!"
There was a rush of feet, the rough clutch of hands at his
shoulders.... Presently he found himself blinking down upon the
fear-contorted face of Old Man Anderson dirt-streaked, bearded, gaunt,
Slowly his eyes crawled beyond the body on the floor.... Before him,
its empty arms stretched toward him, its straps and wires twisting
snakily in front of him, was The Chair!
By ETHEL WATTS MUMFORD
From _Pictorial Review_
"Your name!--_Votre nom_?" Crossman added, for in the North Country
not many of the habitants are bilingual.
She looked at him and smiled slowly, her teeth white against
"Ma name? Aurore," she answered in a voice as mystically slow as her
smile, while the mystery of her eyes changed and deepened.
Crossman watched her, fascinated. She was like no woman he had ever
seen, radiating a personality individual and strange. "Aurore," he
repeated. "You're not the dawn, you know; not a bit like it." He did
not expect her to own to any knowledge of the legend of her name, but
she nodded her head understandingly.
"It was the Cure name' me so," she explained. "But the Cure and me,"
she shrugged, "never could--how you say?--see--hear--one the
other--so, I would not be a blonde just for spite to him--I am a very
black dawn, _n'est-ce pas_?"
"A black dawn," he repeated. Her words unleashed his fancy--her heavy
brows and lashes, her satiny raven hair, her slow voice that seemed
made of silence, her eyes that changed in expression so rapidly that
they dizzied one with a sense of space. "Black Dawn!" He stared at her
long, which in no wise disconcerted her.
"Will you want, then, Antoine and me?" she asked at length.
He woke from his dream with a savage realization that, most surely, he
wanted her. "Yes. Of course--you--and Antoine. Wait, _attendez_, don't
"_Why_ not?" she smiled. "I have what I came for."
Her hand was on the door-latch. The radiance from the opened door of
the square, old-fashioned stove shimmered over her fur cap and
intensified the broad scarlet stripes of her mackinaw. In black
corduroy trousers, full and bagging as a moujik's, she stood at ease,
her feet small and dainty even in the heavy caribou-hide boots.
"_Bon soir, monsieur_," she said. "In two days we go with you to
"Wait!" he cried, but she had opened the door. He rose with a start,
and, ignoring the intense cold, followed her till the stinging breath
of the North stabbed him with the recollection of its immutable power.
All about him the night was radiant. Of a sudden the sky was hung with
banners--banners that rippled and folded and unfolded, banners of
rainbows, long, shaking loops of red and silver, ghosts of lost
emeralds and sapphires, oriflammes that fluttered in the heavens,
swaying across the world in mysterious majesty. Immensity, Silence,
Mystery--The Northern Lights! "Aurora!" he called into the night,
The Cure of Portage Dernier drove up to the log-cabin office and shook
himself from his blankets; his _soutane_ was rolled up around his
waist and secured with safety-pins; his solid legs were encased in the
heaviest of woollen trousers and innumerable long stockings. His
appearance was singularly divided--clerical above, under the long
wool-lined cape, and "lay" below. Though the thermometer showed a
shockingly depressed figure, the stillness and the warmth of the sun,
busy at diamond-making in the snow, gave the feeling of spring.
The sky was inconceivably blue. The hard-frozen world was one
immaculate glitter, the giant evergreens standing black against its
brightness. The sonorous ring of axes on wood, the gnawing of saws,
the crunching of runners, the crackling crash of distant trees falling
to the woodsmen's onslaughts--Bijou Falls logging-camp was a vital
centre of joyous activity.
The Cure grinned and rubbed his mittened hands. "H--Hola!" he called.
At his desk in the north window Crossman heard the hail, and went to
the door. At sight of the singular padded figure his face lifted in a
grin. "Come in, Father," he exclaimed; "be welcome."
"Ah," said the Priest, his pink face shining with benevolence, "I
thank you. Where is my friend, that good Jakapa? I am on my monthly
circuit, and I thought to see what happens at the Falls of the Bijou."
He stepped inside the cabin and advanced to the stove with
outstretched hands. "I have not the pleasure," he said tentatively.
"My name is Crossman," the other answered. "I am new to the North."
"Ah, so? I am the Cure of Portage Dernier, but, as you see, I must
wander after my lambs--very great goats are they, many of them, and
the winter brings the logging. So I, too, take to the timber. My
team," he waved an introducing hand at the two great cross-bred
sled-dogs that unhooked from their traces had followed him in and now
sat gravely on their haunches, staring at the fire. "You are an
overseer for the company?" suggested the Cure, politely curious--"or
perhaps you cruise?"
Crossman shook his head. "No, _mon pere_. I came up here to get well."
"Ah," said the Cure, sympathetically tapping his lung. "In this air of
the evergreens and the new wood, in the clean cold--it is the world's
sanatorium--you will soon be yourself again."
Crossman smiled painfully. "Perhaps _here_"--he laid a long, slender
finger on his broad chest--"but I heal not easily of the great world
sickness--the War. It has left its mark! The War, the great malady of
"You are right." Meditatively the Priest threw aside his cape and
began unfastening the safety-pins that held up his cassock. "You say
well. It strikes at the _heart_."
"Yet it passes, my son, and Nature heals; as long as the hurt be in
Nature, Nature will take care. And you have come where Nature and God
work together. In this great living North Country, for sick bodies and
sick souls, the good God has His good sun and His clean winds." He
nodded reassurance, and Crossman's dark face cleared of its brooding.
"Sit down, Father." He advanced a chair.
"So," murmured the Cure, continuing his thought as he sank into the
embrace of thong and withe. "So you were in the War, and did you take
hurt there, my son?"
Crossman nodded. "Trench pneumonia, and then the rat at the lung; but
of shock, something also. But I think it was not concussion, as the
doctors said, but _soul_-shock. It has left me, Father, like
Mohammed's coffin, suspended. I think I have lost my grip on the
world--and not found my hold on another."
"Shock of the soul," the Priest ruminated. "Your soul is bruised, my
son. We must take care of it." His voice trailed off. There was
silence in the little office broken only by the yawn and snuffle of
Suddenly the door swung open. In the embrasure stood Aurore in her red
mackinaw and corduroy trousers. A pair of snowshoes hung over her
back, and her hand gripped a short-handled broad axe. Her great eyes
turned from Crossman to the Cure, and across her crimson mouth crept
her slow smile. The Cure sprang to his feet at sight of her, his face
went white, and the lines from nose to lips seemed to draw in.
"Aurore!" he exclaimed; "Aurore!"
"_Oui, mon pere_," she drawled. "It is Aurore." She struck a
provocative pose, her hand on her hip, her head thrown back, while her
eyes changed colour as alexandrite in the sun.
The Cure turned on Crossman. "What is this woman to you?"
Her eyes defied him. "Tell him," she jeered. "What _am_ I to you?"
"She is here with Antoine Marceau, the log-brander," Crossman answered
unsteadily. "She takes care of our cabin, Jakapa's and mine."
"Is that _all_?" the Priest demanded.
Her eyes challenged him. What, indeed, was she to him?
What _was_ she? From the moment he had followed her into the boreal
night, with its streaming lights of mystery and promise, she had held
his imagination and his thoughts.
"Is that _all_?" the Priest insisted.
"You insult both this girl and me," Crossman retorted, stung to sudden
"_Dieu merci_!" the Cure made the sign of the cross as he spoke. "As
for this woman, send her away. She is _not_ the wife of Antoine
Marceau; she is not married--she _will_ not be."
In spite of himself a savage joy burned in Crossman's veins. She was
the wife of no man; she was a free being, whatever else she was.
"I do not have to marry," she jeered. "That is for the women that only
one man desires--or perhaps two--like some in your parish, _mon
"She is evil," the Priest continued, paying no attention to her
sneering comment. "I know not what she is, nor who. One night, in
autumn, in the dark of the hour before morning, she was brought to me
by some Indians. They had found her, a baby, wrapped in furs, in an
empty canoe, rocking almost under the Grande Falls. But I tell you,
and to my sorrow, I _know_, she is evil. She knows not God, nor God
her. You, whose soul is sick, flee her as you would the devil! Aurore,
the Dawn! I named her, because she came so near the morning. Aurore!
Ah, God! She should be named after the blackest hour of a witch's
She laughed. It was the first time Crossman had heard her laugh--a
deep, slow, far-away sound, more like an eerie echo.
"_He_ has a better name for me," she said, casting Crossman a look
whose intimacy made his blood run hot within him. "'The Black
Dawn'--_n'est-ce-pas?_ Though I _have_ heard him call me in the
night--by another name," with which equivocal statement she swung the
axe into the curve of her arm, turned on her heel, and softly closed
the door between them.
The Priest turned on him. "My son," his eyes searched Crossman's, "you
have not lied to me?"
"No," he answered steadily. "Once I called her the Aurora
Borealis--that is all. To me she seems mysterious and changing, and
coloured, like the Northern Lights."
"She is mysterious and changing and beautiful, but it is not the
lights of the North and of Heaven. She is the _feu follet_, the
will-o'-the-wisp that hovers over what is rotten, and dead. Send her
away, my son; send her away. Oh, she has left her trail of blood and
hatred and malice in my parish, I know. She has bred feuds; she has
sent strong men to the devil, and broken the hearts of good women. But
_you_ will not believe me. It is to Jakapa I must talk. _Mon Dieu_!
how is it that he let her come! You are a stranger, but he----"
"Jakapa wished for Antoine, and she was with him," explained Crossman
uneasily, yet resentful of the Priest's vehemence.
"I can not wait." The Cure rose and began repinning his clerical
garments. "Where is Jakapa? Have you a pair of snowshoes to lend me?
You must forgive my agitation, Monsieur, but you do not
"He should be at Mile End, just above the Bijou. Sit still, Father; I
will send for him. The wind sets right. I'll call him in." Slipping on
his beaver jacket, he stepped outside and struck two blows on the
great iron ring, a bent rail, that swung from its gibbet like a
Chinese gong. A singing roar, like a metal bellow, sprang into the
clear, unresisting air, leaped and echoed, kissed the crags of the
Bijou and recoiled again, sending a shiver of sound and vibration
through snow-laden trees, on, till the echoes sighed into silence.
Crossman's over-sensitive ear clung to the last burring whisper as it
answered, going north, north, to the House of Silence, drawn there by
the magnet of Silence, as water seeks the sea. For a moment he had
almost forgotten the reason for the smitten clamour, hypnotized by the
mystery of sound. Then he turned, to see Aurore, a distant figure of
scarlet and black at the edge of the wood road, shuffling northward on
her long snowshoes, northward, as if in pursuit of the sound that had
gone before. She raised a mittened hand to him in ironic salutation.
She seemed to beckon, north--north--into the Silence. Crossman shook
himself. What was this miasma in his heart? He inhaled the vital air
and felt the rush of his blood in answer, realizing the splendour of
this beautiful, intensely living world of white and green, of sparkle
and prismatic brilliance. Its elemental power like the urge of the
But Aurore? His brain still heard the echo of her laugh. He cursed
savagely under his breath, and turned his back upon the Cure, unable
to face the scrutiny of those kind, troubled eyes.
"Jakapa will be here presently," he said over his shoulder. "That gong
carries ten miles if there's no wind. One ring, that's for the Boss;
two, call in for the whole gang; three, alarm--good as a telegraph or
the telephone as far as it goes. Meanwhile, if you'll excuse me, I'll
have a look at the larder."
Without a doubt, he reasoned, Aurore would have left their mid-day
meal ready. She would not return, he knew, until the guest had gone.
In the little overheated cook-house he found the meal set out. All was
in order. Then his eye caught a singular decoration fastened to the
door, a paper silhouette, blackened with charcoal, the shape of a
cassocked priest. The little cut-out paper doll figure was pinned to
the wood by a short, sharp kitchen knife driven viciously deep, and
the handle, quivering with the closing of the door, gave the illusion
that the hand that had delivered the blow must have only at that
instant been withdrawn.
Crossman shivered. He knew that world-old formula of hate; he knew of
its almost innocent use in many a white caban, but its older, deeper
meaning of demoniacal incantation rushed to his mind, somehow blending
with the wizardry with which he surrounded his thoughts of the strange
A step outside crunching in the snow. The door opened, revealing
Antoine Marceau. The huge form of the log-brander towered above him.
He could not read the expression of the eyes behind the square-cupped
"She tell me, Aurore," he rumbled, "that I am to come. We have the
"Yes, the Cure of Portage Dernier." Crossman watched him narrowly.
Antoine took off the protecting wooden blinders and thrust them in his
Crossman stood aside, hesitating. Antoine drew off his mittens with
businesslike precision, and placed a huge, capable hand on a pot-lid,
lifted it, and eyed the contents of the saucepan.
"The Cure, he like ptarmigan," he observed, "but," he added in a
matter-of-fact voice, "the Cure like not Aurore--he have tell you,
_hein_? Ah, well, why not? For him such as Aurore _are_ not--_voila_."
"The Cure says she is a devil." Crossman marvelled at his temerity,
yet he hung on the answer.
"Why not? For him, as I have say, she _is_ not--for _me_, for _you_,
ma frien', _that_ is different." Antoine turned on him eyes as
impersonal as those of Fate; where Crossman had expected to see
animosity there was none, only a strange brotherhood of pitying
"For who shall forbid that the dawn she shall break--_hein_?" he
continued. "The Cure? Not mooch. When the Dawn she come, she come; not
with his hand can he hold her back. For me, now comes perhaps the
sunset; perhaps the dawn for you. But what would you? Who can put the
dog-harness on the wind, or put the bit in the teeth of the waterfall
to hold him up?"
"Or who with his hand can draw the Borealis from heaven?" Crossman cut
in. He spoke unconsciously. He had not wished to say that, he had not
wanted to speak at all, but his subconscious mind had welded the
thought of her so fast to the great mystery of the Northern Lights
that without volition he had voiced it.
Antoine Marceau nodded quietly. The strangely aloof acknowledgment of
Crossman's possible relation to this woman, _his_ woman, who yet was
not his or any man's, somehow shocked Crossman. His blood flamed at
the thought, and yet he felt her intangible, unreal. He had but to
look into her shifting, glittering eyes, and there were silence and
playing lights. Suddenly his vision of her changed, became human and
vital. He saw before him the sinuous movement of her strong young
body. He realized the living perfume of her, clean and fresh, faintly
aromatic as of pine in the sunlight, and violets in the shadow.
Antoine Marceau busied himself about the cook-house. He did not speak
of Aurore again, not even when his eye rested on the paper doll
skewered to the door by the deep-driven knife. He frowned, made the
sign of the cross, jerked out the knife, and thrust its point in the
purifying blaze of the charcoal fire. But he made no comment.
Crossman turned on his heel and entered the office-building. Through
the south window he saw Jakapa snowshoeing swiftly up the short
incline to the door; beside him walked the Cure, pleading and anxious.
He could follow the words as his lips framed them. In the present mood
Crossman did not wish to hear the Cure's denunciation. It was
sufficient to see that the Foreman had, evidently, no intention of
acting on the advice proffered.
As he softly closed the door between the main office and the living
room at the rear, he heard the men enter on a quick word of reproof in
the Cure's rich bass.
"She does her work sufficiently well, and I shall not order her from
the camp," Jakapa snapped in reply. "She is with Marceau; if he keeps
her in hand, what do I care? She leave him, that _his_ affair, _mon
Dieu, mon pere_."
"She has bewitched you, too, Jakapa. She has bewitched that other, the
young man who is here for the healing of his soul. What an irony, to
heal his soul, and she comes to poison it!"
"Heal his soul?" Jakapa laughed harshly. "He's had the weak lung,
shell-shock, and he's a friend of the owner. _Mon pere_, if he is here
for the good of his soul, that is _your_ province--but me?--I am here
to boss one job, and I boss him, that's all. I hope only you have not
driven the cook away, or the _pot-au-feu_, she will be thin." He tried
to speak the latter part of his sentence lightly, but his voice
betrayed his irritation.
Crossman opened the door and entered. "Antoine will be here in a
minute," he announced. "Aurore sent him back to feed the animals." He
took down the enamelled tin dishes and cups and set their places.
Jakapa eyed him covertly, with a half-sneering venom he had never
It was a silent meal. The Cure sighed and shook his head at intervals,
and the Boss grumbled a few comments in answer to an occasional
question concerning his lumberjacks. Crossman sat in a dream. Could he
have understood aright when Antoine had spoken of the dawn?
Jakapa dropped a plate with a curse and a clatter. The sudden sound
ripped the sick man's nerves like an exploding bomb. White to the
lips, he jumped from his chair to meet the Boss's sneering eyes. The
Cure laid a gentle hand on his arm, and he settled back shamefacedly.
"Your pardon, _mon pere_--my nerves are on edge--excuse me--an
inheritance of the trenches."
"Emotion is bad for you, my son, and you should not emotion yourself,"
said the Priest gently.
"Do you travel far when you leave us now?" Crossman asked
self-consciously, anxious to change the subject.
"To the camp at the Chaumiere Noire, a matter of ten kilometres. It is
no hardship, my rounds, not at all, with the ground like a white
tablecloth, and this good sun, to me like to my dogs, it is but play."
He rose from the table, glad of the excuse to hasten his going, and
with scant courtesy Jakapa sped his guest's departure.
As the sled disappeared among the trees, bearing the queerly bundled
figure of the Priest, the Boss unhooked his snowshoes from the wall.
He seemed to have forgotten Crossman's presence, but as he turned, his
smouldering eyes lighted on him. He straightened with a jerk. "What
did he mean when he say, _she_ have bewitch _you_?" As always, when
excited, his somewhat precise English slipped back into the idiom of
the habitant. "By Gar! Boss or no Boss, I pack you out if I catch you.
We make no jealousies for any one, not where I am. You come here for
your health--_hein?_ Well, better you keep this place healthy for
As if further to complicate the situation, the door opened to admit
the woman herself. She closed it, leaned against the wall, looking
from one to the other with mocking eyes.
"Well, do I leave? Am I to pack? Have you wash the hand of me to
please the Cure, yes?"
Jakapa turned on her brutally. "Get to the cook-house! Wash your dish!
Did I give orders to Antoine to leave hees work? By Gar! I feel like I
take you and break you in two!" He moved his knotted hands with a
gesture of destruction. There was something so sinister in the action
that, involuntarily, Crossman cried out a startled warning. Her laugh
tinkled across it.
"Bah!" she shrugged. "If you wish to kill, why do you not kill those
who make the interferre? Are you a man? What is it, a cassock, that it
so protect a man? But me, because I do not wear a woman's skirt, you
will break me, hey? _Me!_ Nevair mind, I prefer this man. He at least
make no big talk." She slipped her arm through Crossman's, letting her
fingers play down from his wrist to his finger-tips--and the thrill of
it left him tongue-tied and helpless.
Jakapa cursed and crouched low. He seemed about to hurl himself upon
the pair before him. Again she laughed, and her tingling, searching
fingers stole slowly over his throbbing pulses.
She released Crossman's arm with a jerk, and snapped the fingers that
had just caressed him in the face of the furious lumberman. "_Allons!_
Must I forever have no better revenge but to knife one paper doll? Am
I to be hounded like a beast, and threatened wherever I go? I am tired
of this dead camp. I think I go me down the river." She paused a
moment in her vehemence. Her next words came almost in a whisper:
"_Unless you can cross the trail to Chaumiere Noire--then_, maybe, I
stay with you--I say--maybe." With a single swooping movement of her
strong young arm she swept the door open, and came face to face with
Antoine Marceau. "What, thou?" she said airily.
He nodded. "Shall I go back, or do you want that I go to the other
side?" he asked the Foreman.
"Go to the devil!" growled Jakapa, and slinging his snowshoes over his
arm, he stamped out.
"_Tiens_!" said Antoine. "He is mad, the Boss."
"I think we are all mad," said Crossman.
"Maybe," said Antoine. Quietly he gathered together his axe, mittens,
and cap, and shrugging his huge shoulders into his mackinaw, looked
out at the glorious brightness of the stainless world and frowned.
"Come, Aurore," he said quietly.
A little later, as Crossman rose to replenish the dwindling fire, he
saw him, followed by Aurore, enter the northern end of the timber
limit. Were they leaving, Crossman wondered. Had the silent woodsman
asserted his power over the woman? Crossman took down the
field-glasses from the nail on the wall. They were the sole reminder,
here in the North Country, of his years of war service. He followed
the two figures until the thickening timber hid them. Idly he swept
the horizon of black-green trees, blue shadows, and sparkling snow. A
speck moved--a mackinaw-clad figure passed swiftly across the clearing
above the Little Bijou--only a glimpse--the man took to cover in the
burned timber, where the head-high brush made a tangle of brown above
which the gaunt, white, black-smeared arms of dead trees flung
agonized branches to the sky.--"The short-cut trail to Chaumiere
Noire"--"Shall I forever have no better revenge but to stab one paper
doll?" Her words echoed in his ears.
_Jakapa was on the short cut to the Chaumiere Noire_! Only Crossman's
accidental use of the field-glasses had betrayed his going. For an
instant Crossman's impulse was to rush out and ring the alarm on the
shrieking steel gong, but the next instant he laughed at himself. Yes,
surely, he was a sick man of many imaginings. The gang boss was gone
about his business. The log-brander had called upon his woman to
accompany him. That was all. Her angry words were mere threats--best
With nervous haste he bundled into his heavy garments and ran from
himself and his imaginings into the dazzling embrace of the sun.
He tramped to the gang at work above the Little Bijou Chute, where
they raced the logs to the iron-hard ice of the river's surface far
below. He even took a hand with the axe, was laughed at, and watched
the precision and power of the Jacks as they clove, swung, and lopped.
From the cliff he looked down at the long bunk-house, saw the blue
smoke rising straight, curled at the top like the uncoiling frond of a
new fern-leaf. Saw the Chinese cook, in his wadded coat of blue,
disappear into the snow-covered mound that hid the provision shack,
and watched the bounding pups refusing to be broken into harness by
Siwash George. It was all very simple, very real, and the twists of
his tired mind relaxed; his nervous hands came to rest in the warm
depths of his mackinaw pockets. The peace of sunned spaces and
flowing, clean air soothed his mind and heart.
The blue shadows lengthened. The gang knocked off work. The last log
was rushed down the satin ice of the chute to leap over its fellows at
the foot. The smell of bacon sifted through the odours of evergreen
branches and new-cut wood. Crossman declined a cordial invitation to
join the gang at chuck. He must be getting back, he explained, "for
chow at the Boss's."
Whistling, he entered the office, stirred up the fire, and crossed to
the cook-house. It was empty. The charcoal fire was out. Shivering, he
rebuilt it, looked through the larder, and hacked off a ragged slice
of jerked venison. A film of fear rose in his soul. What if they were
_really_ gone? What if Antoine _had_ taken her? It looked like it. His
heart sank. Not to see her again! Not to feel her strange, thrilling
presence! Not to sense that indomitable, insolent soul, throwing its
challenge before it as it walked through the world!
Crossman came out, returned to the office, busied himself in tidying
the living room and solving the disorder of his desk. The twilight
sifted over wood and hill, crept from under the forest arches, and
spread across the snow of the open. He lit the lamps and waited. The
silence was complete. It seemed as if the night had come and closed
the world, locking it away out of the reach even of God.
The meal Crossman had bunglingly prepared lay untouched on the table.
Now and then the crash of an avalanche of snow from the overburdened
branches emphasized the stillness. Dreading he knew not what, Crossman
waited--and loneliness is not good for a sick soul.
Thoughts began crowding, nudging one another; happenings that he had
dismissed as casual took on new and sinister meanings. "Two and two
together" became at once a huge sum, leaping to terrifying
conclusions. Then with the silence and the tense nerve-draw of waiting
came the sense of things finished--done forever. A vast, all-embracing
finality--"_Neant_"--the habitant expression for the uttermost
nothing, the word seemed to push at his lips. He wanted to say it, but
a premonition warned him that to utter it was to make it real.
Should he call upon the name of the Void, the Void would answer. He
feared it--it meant that She would be swallowed also in the great
gaping hollow of nothingness. He strained his ears for sounds of the
living world--the spit of the fire, the fall of clinkers in the grate,
the whisper of the wind stirring at the door. He tried to analyse his
growing uneasiness. He was sure now that she had followed Antoine's
bidding--forgetting him, if, indeed, her desires had ever reached
Now she seemed the only thing that mattered. He must find her; he must
follow. Wherever she was, there only was the world of reality. Where
she was, was life. And to find her, he must find Antoine--and then,
without warning, the door gaped--and Antoine stood before him, like a
coloured figure pasted on the black ground of the night. Then he
entered, quiet and matter-of-fact. He nodded, closed the door against
the biting cold, pulled off his cap, and stood respectfully.
"It is no use to wait for the Boss; he will not come," said the
log-brander. "I came to tell Monsieur, before I go on, that le Cure is
safe at Chaumiere Noire. Yes, he is safe, and Monsieur Jakapa have
turn back, when I catch up with him and tell him----"
"What?" gasped Crossman.
"It was to do," the giant twisted his cap slowly, "but it was harder
than I think. It was not for jealousy, I beg you to know. That she
would go if she want--to who she want, she can. I have no right to
stop her. But she would have had the Cure knifed to death. She made
the wish, and she put her wish in the heart of a man. If it had not
been this time--then surely some other time. She always find a hand to
do her will--even this of mine--once. I heard her tell to Jakapa.
Therefore, Jakapa he has gone back to watch with her body. I told him
where. Me I go. There are for me no more dawns. You love her, too,
Monsieur, therefore, I come to tell you the end. _Bon soir,
He was gone. Again there was silence. Crossman sat rigid. What had
happened? His mind refused to understand. Then he visioned her, lying
on the white snow, scarlet under her breast, redder than her mackinaw,
redder than her woollen mittens, redder than the cardinal-flower of
her mouth--cardinal no more! "No, no!" he shrieked, springing to his
feet. His words echoed in the empty room. "No--no!--He couldn't kill
her!" He clung to the table. "No--no! No!" he screamed. Then he saw
her eyes; she was looking in through the window--yes, they were her
eyes--changing and glowing, eyes of mystery, of magic, eyes that made
the silence, eyes that called and shifted and glowed. He laughed.
Fools, fools! to think her dead! He staggered to the door and threw it
wide. Hatless, coatless, he plunged headlong into the dark--the Dark?
No! for she was there--on high, wide-flung, the banners of the Aurora
Borealis blazed and swung, banners that rippled and ran, banners of
rainbows, the souls of amethysts and emeralds, they fluttered in the
heavens, they swayed across the world, streamed like amber wine poured
from an unseen chalice, dropped fold on fold, like the fluttering
raiment of the gods.
In the north a great sapphire curtain trembled as if about to part and
reveal the unknown Beyond; it grew brighter, dazzling, radiant.
"Aurore!" he called. "Aurore!" The grip of ice clutched his heart.
Cold seized on him with unseen numbing hands. He was struggling,
struggling with his body of lead--for one step--just a step nearer the
great curtain, that now glowed warm--red--red as the ghost of her
cardinal-flower lips--pillars of light, as of the halls of heaven.
MR. DOWNEY SITS DOWN
By L.H. ROBBINS
Jacob Downey waited in line at the meat shop. A footsore little man
was he. All day long, six days a week for twenty-two years, he had
stood on his feet, trotted on them, climbed on them, in the hardware
department of Wilbram, Prescot & Co., and still they would not
toughen; still they would hurt; still to sustain his spirit after
three o'clock he had to invoke a vision of slippers, a warm radiator,
the _Evening Bee_, and the sympathy of Mrs. Downey and the youngsters.
To the picture this evening he had added pork chops.
The woman next in line ahead of him named her meat. Said the butcher,
with a side glance at the clock, "A crown roast takes quite a while,
lady. Could I send it in the morning?"
No, the lady wished to see it prepared. Expressly for that purpose had
she come out in the rain. To-morrow she gave a luncheon.
"First come first served," thought Jacob Downey, and bode his time in
patience, feeling less pity for his aching feet than for Butcher
Myers. Where was the charity in asking a hurried man at five minutes
to six o'clock to frill up a roast that would not see the inside of
the oven before noon next day?
Now, crown roasts are one thing to him who waits on fallen arches, and
telephone calls are another. Scarcely had Downey's opening come to
speak for pork chops cut medium when off went the bell and off rushed
Sharply he warned the unknown that this was Myers's Meat Shop. Blandly
he smiled into the transmitter upon learning that his caller was Mrs.
A. Lincoln Wilbram.
By the audience in front of the counter the following social
intelligence was presently inferred:
That Mr. and Mrs. Wilbram had just returned from Florida; that they
had enjoyed themselves ever so much; that they hoped Mr. Myers's
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