Part 3 out of 3
the overhanging willows of the opposite bank there was an inlet where
the water was deeper and flowed so slowly that it seemed to sleep
in the sun. In this little bay a single wild duck was swimming and
diving and preening her feathers, disporting herself very happily
in the flickering light and shade. They sat for a long time,
watching the solitary bird take its pleasure. No living thing
had ever seemed to Alexandra as beautiful as that wild duck. Emil
must have felt about it as she did, for afterward, when they were
at home, he used sometimes to say, "Sister, you know our duck down
there--" Alexandra remembered that day as one of the happiest in
her life. Years afterward she thought of the duck as still there,
swimming and diving all by herself in the sunlight, a kind of
enchanted bird that did not know age or change.
Most of Alexandra's happy memories were as impersonal as this one;
yet to her they were very personal. Her mind was a white book,
with clear writing about weather and beasts and growing things.
Not many people would have cared to read it; only a happy few.
She had never been in love, she had never indulged in sentimental
reveries. Even as a girl she had looked upon men as work-fellows.
She had grown up in serious times.
There was one fancy indeed, which persisted through her girlhood.
It most often came to her on Sunday mornings, the one day in
the week when she lay late abed listening to the familiar morning
sounds; the windmill singing in the brisk breeze, Emil whistling
as he blacked his boots down by the kitchen door. Sometimes, as
she lay thus luxuriously idle, her eyes closed, she used to have
an illusion of being lifted up bodily and carried lightly by some
one very strong. It was a man, certainly, who carried her, but
he was like no man she knew; he was much larger and stronger and
swifter, and he carried her as easily as if she were a sheaf of
wheat. She never saw him, but, with eyes closed, she could feel
that he was yellow like the sunlight, and there was the smell of
ripe cornfields about him. She could feel him approach, bend over
her and lift her, and then she could feel herself being carried
swiftly off across the fields. After such a reverie she would rise
hastily, angry with herself, and go down to the bath-house that
was partitioned off the kitchen shed. There she would stand in a
tin tub and prosecute her bath with vigor, finishing it by pouring
buckets of cold well-water over her gleaming white body which no
man on the Divide could have carried very far.
As she grew older, this fancy more often came to her when she was
tired than when she was fresh and strong. Sometimes, after she had
been in the open all day, overseeing the branding of the cattle or
the loading of the pigs, she would come in chilled, take a concoction
of spices and warm home-made wine, and go to bed with her body
actually aching with fatigue. Then, just before she went to sleep,
she had the old sensation of being lifted and carried by a strong
being who took from her all her bodily weariness.
The White Mulberry Tree
The French Church, properly the Church of Sainte-Agnes, stood
upon a hill. The high, narrow, red-brick building, with its tall
steeple and steep roof, could be seen for miles across the wheatfields,
though the little town of Sainte-Agnes was completely hidden away
at the foot of the hill. The church looked powerful and triumphant
there on its eminence, so high above the rest of the landscape,
with miles of warm color lying at its feet, and by its position and
setting it reminded one of some of the churches built long ago in
the wheat-lands of middle France.
Late one June afternoon Alexandra Bergson was driving along one
of the many roads that led through the rich French farming country
to the big church. The sunlight was shining directly in her face,
and there was a blaze of light all about the red church on the
hill. Beside Alexandra lounged a strikingly exotic figure in a
tall Mexican hat, a silk sash, and a black velvet jacket sewn with
silver buttons. Emil had returned only the night before, and his
sister was so proud of him that she decided at once to take him up
to the church supper, and to make him wear the Mexican costume he
had brought home in his trunk. "All the girls who have stands are
going to wear fancy costumes," she argued, "and some of the boys.
Marie is going to tell fortunes, and she sent to Omaha for a Bohemian
dress her father brought back from a visit to the old country.
If you wear those clothes, they will all be pleased. And you must
take your guitar. Everybody ought to do what they can to help
along, and we have never done much. We are not a talented family."
The supper was to be at six o'clock, in the basement of the church,
and afterward there would be a fair, with charades and an auction.
Alexandra had set out from home early, leaving the house to Signa
and Nelse Jensen, who were to be married next week. Signa had
shyly asked to have the wedding put off until Emil came home.
Alexandra was well satisfied with her brother. As they drove
through the rolling French country toward the westering sun and the
stalwart church, she was thinking of that time long ago when she
and Emil drove back from the river valley to the still unconquered
Divide. Yes, she told herself, it had been worth while; both Emil
and the country had become what she had hoped. Out of her father's
children there was one who was fit to cope with the world, who had
not been tied to the plow, and who had a personality apart from the
soil. And that, she reflected, was what she had worked for. She
felt well satisfied with her life.
When they reached the church, a score of teams were hitched in
front of the basement doors that opened from the hillside upon the
sanded terrace, where the boys wrestled and had jumping-matches.
Amedee Chevalier, a proud father of one week, rushed out and
embraced Emil. Amedee was an only son,--hence he was a very rich
young man,--but he meant to have twenty children himself, like
his uncle Xavier. "Oh, Emil," he cried, hugging his old friend
rapturously, "why ain't you been up to see my boy? You come
to-morrow, sure? Emil, you wanna get a boy right off! It's the
greatest thing ever! No, no, no! Angel not sick at all. Everything
just fine. That boy he come into this world laughin', and he been
laughin' ever since. You come an' see!" He pounded Emil's ribs
to emphasize each announcement.
Emil caught his arms. "Stop, Amedee. You're knocking the wind out
of me. I brought him cups and spoons and blankets and moccasins
enough for an orphan asylum. I'm awful glad it's a boy, sure
The young men crowded round Emil to admire his costume and to tell
him in a breath everything that had happened since he went away.
Emil had more friends up here in the French country than down on
Norway Creek. The French and Bohemian boys were spirited and jolly,
liked variety, and were as much predisposed to favor anything new
as the Scandinavian boys were to reject it. The Norwegian and
Swedish lads were much more self-centred, apt to be egotistical
and jealous. They were cautious and reserved with Emil because he
had been away to college, and were prepared to take him down if he
should try to put on airs with them. The French boys liked a bit
of swagger, and they were always delighted to hear about anything
new: new clothes, new games, new songs, new dances. Now they
carried Emil off to show him the club room they had just fitted up
over the post-office, down in the village. They ran down the hill
in a drove, all laughing and chattering at once, some in French,
some in English.
Alexandra went into the cool, whitewashed basement where the women
were setting the tables. Marie was standing on a chair, building
a little tent of shawls where she was to tell fortunes. She sprang
down and ran toward Alexandra, stopping short and looking at her
in disappointment. Alexandra nodded to her encouragingly.
"Oh, he will be here, Marie. The boys have taken him off to show
him something. You won't know him. He is a man now, sure enough.
I have no boy left. He smokes terrible-smelling Mexican cigarettes
and talks Spanish. How pretty you look, child. Where did you get
those beautiful earrings?"
"They belonged to father's mother. He always promised them to me.
He sent them with the dress and said I could keep them."
Marie wore a short red skirt of stoutly woven cloth, a white bodice
and kirtle, a yellow silk turban wound low over her brown curls,
and long coral pendants in her ears. Her ears had been pierced
against a piece of cork by her great-aunt when she was seven years
old. In those germless days she had worn bits of broom-straw, plucked
from the common sweeping-broom, in the lobes until the holes were
healed and ready for little gold rings.
When Emil came back from the village, he lingered outside on the
terrace with the boys. Marie could hear him talking and strumming
on his guitar while Raoul Marcel sang falsetto. She was vexed
with him for staying out there. It made her very nervous to hear
him and not to see him; for, certainly, she told herself, she was
not going out to look for him. When the supper bell rang and the
boys came trooping in to get seats at the first table, she forgot
all about her annoyance and ran to greet the tallest of the crowd,
in his conspicuous attire. She didn't mind showing her embarrassment
at all. She blushed and laughed excitedly as she gave Emil her
hand, and looked delightedly at the black velvet coat that brought
out his fair skin and fine blond head. Marie was incapable of being
lukewarm about anything that pleased her. She simply did not know
how to give a half-hearted response. When she was delighted, she
was as likely as not to stand on her tip-toes and clap her hands.
If people laughed at her, she laughed with them.
"Do the men wear clothes like that every day, in the street?" She
caught Emil by his sleeve and turned him about. "Oh, I wish I lived
where people wore things like that! Are the buttons real silver?
Put on the hat, please. What a heavy thing! How do you ever wear
it? Why don't you tell us about the bull-fights?"
She wanted to wring all his experiences from him at once, without
waiting a moment. Emil smiled tolerantly and stood looking down at
her with his old, brooding gaze, while the French girls fluttered
about him in their white dresses and ribbons, and Alexandra watched
the scene with pride. Several of the French girls, Marie knew, were
hoping that Emil would take them to supper, and she was relieved
when he took only his sister. Marie caught Frank's arm and dragged
him to the same table, managing to get seats opposite the Bergsons,
so that she could hear what they were talking about. Alexandra
made Emil tell Mrs. Xavier Chevalier, the mother of the twenty,
about how he had seen a famous matador killed in the bull-ring.
Marie listened to every word, only taking her eyes from Emil to
watch Frank's plate and keep it filled. When Emil finished his
account,--bloody enough to satisfy Mrs. Xavier and to make her
feel thankful that she was not a matador,--Marie broke out with
a volley of questions. How did the women dress when they went to
bull-fights? Did they wear mantillas? Did they never wear hats?
After supper the young people played charades for the amusement
of their elders, who sat gossiping between their guesses. All the
shops in Sainte-Agnes were closed at eight o'clock that night, so
that the merchants and their clerks could attend the fair. The
auction was the liveliest part of the entertainment, for the French
boys always lost their heads when they began to bid, satisfied that
their extravagance was in a good cause. After all the pincushions
and sofa pillows and embroidered slippers were sold, Emil precipitated
a panic by taking out one of his turquoise shirt studs, which every
one had been admiring, and handing it to the auctioneer. All the
French girls clamored for it, and their sweethearts bid against
each other recklessly. Marie wanted it, too, and she kept making
signals to Frank, which he took a sour pleasure in disregarding.
He didn't see the use of making a fuss over a fellow just because
he was dressed like a clown. When the turquoise went to Malvina
Sauvage, the French banker's daughter, Marie shrugged her shoulders
and betook herself to her little tent of shawls, where she began
to shuffle her cards by the light of a tallow candle, calling out,
The young priest, Father Duchesne, went first to have his fortune
read. Marie took his long white hand, looked at it, and then
began to run off her cards. "I see a long journey across water for
you, Father. You will go to a town all cut up by water; built on
islands, it seems to be, with rivers and green fields all about.
And you will visit an old lady with a white cap and gold hoops in
her ears, and you will be very happy there."
"Mais, oui," said the priest, with a melancholy smile. "C'est
L'Isle-Adam, chez ma mere. Vous etes tres savante, ma fille." He
patted her yellow turban, calling, "Venez donc, mes garcons! Il
y a ici une veritable clairvoyante!"
Marie was clever at fortune-telling, indulging in a light irony
that amused the crowd. She told old Brunot, the miser, that he
would lose all his money, marry a girl of sixteen, and live happily
on a crust. Sholte, the fat Russian boy, who lived for his stomach,
was to be disappointed in love, grow thin, and shoot himself from
despondency. Amedee was to have twenty children, and nineteen of
them were to be girls. Amedee slapped Frank on the back and asked
him why he didn't see what the fortune-teller would promise him.
But Frank shook off his friendly hand and grunted, "She tell my
fortune long ago; bad enough!" Then he withdrew to a corner and
sat glowering at his wife.
Frank's case was all the more painful because he had no one
in particular to fix his jealousy upon. Sometimes he could have
thanked the man who would bring him evidence against his wife.
He had discharged a good farm-boy, Jan Smirka, because he thought
Marie was fond of him; but she had not seemed to miss Jan when
he was gone, and she had been just as kind to the next boy. The
farm-hands would always do anything for Marie; Frank couldn't find
one so surly that he would not make an effort to please her. At
the bottom of his heart Frank knew well enough that if he could once
give up his grudge, his wife would come back to him. But he could
never in the world do that. The grudge was fundamental. Perhaps
he could not have given it up if he had tried. Perhaps he got more
satisfaction out of feeling himself abused than he would have got
out of being loved. If he could once have made Marie thoroughly
unhappy, he might have relented and raised her from the dust. But
she had never humbled herself. In the first days of their love
she had been his slave; she had admired him abandonedly. But the
moment he began to bully her and to be unjust, she began to draw
away; at first in tearful amazement, then in quiet, unspoken disgust.
The distance between them had widened and hardened. It no longer
contracted and brought them suddenly together. The spark of her
life went somewhere else, and he was always watching to surprise
it. He knew that somewhere she must get a feeling to live upon,
for she was not a woman who could live without loving. He wanted
to prove to himself the wrong he felt. What did she hide in her
heart? Where did it go? Even Frank had his churlish delicacies;
he never reminded her of how much she had once loved him. For that
Marie was grateful to him.
While Marie was chattering to the French boys, Amedee called Emil
to the back of the room and whispered to him that they were going
to play a joke on the girls. At eleven o'clock, Amedee was to go
up to the switchboard in the vestibule and turn off the electric
lights, and every boy would have a chance to kiss his sweetheart
before Father Duchesne could find his way up the stairs to turn the
current on again. The only difficulty was the candle in Marie's
tent; perhaps, as Emil had no sweetheart, he would oblige the boys
by blowing out the candle. Emil said he would undertake to do
At five minutes to eleven he sauntered up to Marie's booth, and
the French boys dispersed to find their girls. He leaned over the
card-table and gave himself up to looking at her. "Do you think
you could tell my fortune?" he murmured. It was the first word he
had had alone with her for almost a year. "My luck hasn't changed
any. It's just the same."
Marie had often wondered whether there was anyone else who could
look his thoughts to you as Emil could. To-night, when she met his
steady, powerful eyes, it was impossible not to feel the sweetness
of the dream he was dreaming; it reached her before she could shut
it out, and hid itself in her heart. She began to shuffle her
cards furiously. "I'm angry with you, Emil," she broke out with
petulance. "Why did you give them that lovely blue stone to sell?
You might have known Frank wouldn't buy it for me, and I wanted it
Emil laughed shortly. "People who want such little things surely
ought to have them," he said dryly. He thrust his hand into the
pocket of his velvet trousers and brought out a handful of uncut
turquoises, as big as marbles. Leaning over the table he dropped
them into her lap. "There, will those do? Be careful, don't let
any one see them. Now, I suppose you want me to go away and let
you play with them?"
Marie was gazing in rapture at the soft blue color of the stones.
"Oh, Emil! Is everything down there beautiful like these? How
could you ever come away?"
At that instant Amedee laid hands on the switchboard. There was a
shiver and a giggle, and every one looked toward the red blur that
Marie's candle made in the dark. Immediately that, too, was gone.
Little shrieks and currents of soft laughter ran up and down the
dark hall. Marie started up,--directly into Emil's arms. In the
same instant she felt his lips. The veil that had hung uncertainly
between them for so long was dissolved. Before she knew what she
was doing, she had committed herself to that kiss that was at once
a boy's and a man's, as timid as it was tender; so like Emil and
so unlike any one else in the world. Not until it was over did
she realize what it meant. And Emil, who had so often imagined
the shock of this first kiss, was surprised at its gentleness and
naturalness. It was like a sigh which they had breathed together;
almost sorrowful, as if each were afraid of wakening something in
When the lights came on again, everybody was laughing and shouting,
and all the French girls were rosy and shining with mirth. Only
Marie, in her little tent of shawls, was pale and quiet. Under her
yellow turban the red coral pendants swung against white cheeks.
Frank was still staring at her, but he seemed to see nothing. Years
ago, he himself had had the power to take the blood from her cheeks
like that. Perhaps he did not remember--perhaps he had never
noticed! Emil was already at the other end of the hall, walking
about with the shoulder-motion he had acquired among the Mexicans,
studying the floor with his intent, deep-set eyes. Marie began to
take down and fold her shawls. She did not glance up again. The
young people drifted to the other end of the hall where the guitar
was sounding. In a moment she heard Emil and Raoul singing:--
"Across the Rio Grand-e There lies a sunny land-e, My bright-eyed
Alexandra Bergson came up to the card booth. "Let me help you,
Marie. You look tired."
She placed her hand on Marie's arm and felt her shiver. Marie
stiffened under that kind, calm hand. Alexandra drew back, perplexed
There was about Alexandra something of the impervious calm of the
fatalist, always disconcerting to very young people, who cannot
feel that the heart lives at all unless it is still at the mercy
of storms; unless its strings can scream to the touch of pain.
Signa's wedding supper was over. The guests, and the tiresome
little Norwegian preacher who had performed the marriage ceremony,
were saying good-night. Old Ivar was hitching the horses to the
wagon to take the wedding presents and the bride and groom up to
their new home, on Alexandra's north quarter. When Ivar drove up
to the gate, Emil and Marie Shabata began to carry out the presents,
and Alexandra went into her bedroom to bid Signa good-bye and to
give her a few words of good counsel. She was surprised to find
that the bride had changed her slippers for heavy shoes and was
pinning up her skirts. At that moment Nelse appeared at the gate
with the two milk cows that Alexandra had given Signa for a wedding
Alexandra began to laugh. "Why, Signa, you and Nelse are to ride
home. I'll send Ivar over with the cows in the morning."
Signa hesitated and looked perplexed. When her husband called her,
she pinned her hat on resolutely. "I ta-ank I better do yust like
he say," she murmured in confusion.
Alexandra and Marie accompanied Signa to the gate and saw the
party set off, old Ivar driving ahead in the wagon and the bride
and groom following on foot, each leading a cow. Emil burst into
a laugh before they were out of hearing.
"Those two will get on," said Alexandra as they turned back to the
house. "They are not going to take any chances. They will feel
safer with those cows in their own stable. Marie, I am going to
send for an old woman next. As soon as I get the girls broken in,
I marry them off."
"I've no patience with Signa, marrying that grumpy fellow!" Marie
declared. "I wanted her to marry that nice Smirka boy who worked
for us last winter. I think she liked him, too."
"Yes, I think she did," Alexandra assented, "but I suppose she was
too much afraid of Nelse to marry any one else. Now that I think
of it, most of my girls have married men they were afraid of. I
believe there is a good deal of the cow in most Swedish girls.
You high-strung Bohemian can't understand us. We're a terribly
practical people, and I guess we think a cross man makes a good
Marie shrugged her shoulders and turned to pin up a lock of hair
that had fallen on her neck. Somehow Alexandra had irritated her
of late. Everybody irritated her. She was tired of everybody. "I'm
going home alone, Emil, so you needn't get your hat," she said as
she wound her scarf quickly about her head. "Good-night, Alexandra,"
she called back in a strained voice, running down the gravel walk.
Emil followed with long strides until he overtook her. Then she began
to walk slowly. It was a night of warm wind and faint starlight,
and the fireflies were glimmering over the wheat.
"Marie," said Emil after they had walked for a while, "I wonder if
you know how unhappy I am?"
Marie did not answer him. Her head, in its white scarf, drooped
forward a little.
Emil kicked a clod from the path and went on:--
"I wonder whether you are really shallow-hearted, like you seem?
Sometimes I think one boy does just as well as another for you.
It never seems to make much difference whether it is me or Raoul
Marcel or Jan Smirka. Are you really like that?"
"Perhaps I am. What do you want me to do? Sit round and cry all
day? When I've cried until I can't cry any more, then--then I must
do something else."
"Are you sorry for me?" he persisted.
"No, I'm not. If I were big and free like you, I wouldn't let
anything make me unhappy. As old Napoleon Brunot said at the fair,
I wouldn't go lovering after no woman. I'd take the first train
and go off and have all the fun there is."
"I tried that, but it didn't do any good. Everything reminded me.
The nicer the place was, the more I wanted you." They had come to
the stile and Emil pointed to it persuasively. "Sit down a moment,
I want to ask you something." Marie sat down on the top step and
Emil drew nearer. "Would you tell me something that's none of my
business if you thought it would help me out? Well, then, tell
me, PLEASE tell me, why you ran away with Frank Shabata!"
Marie drew back. "Because I was in love with him," she said firmly.
"Really?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes, indeed. Very much in love with him. I think I was the one
who suggested our running away. From the first it was more my
fault than his."
Emil turned away his face.
"And now," Marie went on, "I've got to remember that. Frank is
just the same now as he was then, only then I would see him as I
wanted him to be. I would have my own way. And now I pay for it."
"You don't do all the paying."
"That's it. When one makes a mistake, there's no telling where
it will stop. But you can go away; you can leave all this behind
"Not everything. I can't leave you behind. Will you go away with
Marie started up and stepped across the stile. "Emil! How wickedly
you talk! I am not that kind of a girl, and you know it. But what
am I going to do if you keep tormenting me like this!" she added
"Marie, I won't bother you any more if you will tell me just
one thing. Stop a minute and look at me. No, nobody can see us.
Everybody's asleep. That was only a firefly. Marie, STOP and tell
Emil overtook her and catching her by the shoulders shook her
gently, as if he were trying to awaken a sleepwalker.
Marie hid her face on his arm. "Don't ask me anything more. I
don't know anything except how miserable I am. And I thought it
would be all right when you came back. Oh, Emil," she clutched his
sleeve and began to cry, "what am I to do if you don't go away? I
can't go, and one of us must. Can't you see?"
Emil stood looking down at her, holding his shoulders stiff and
stiffening the arm to which she clung. Her white dress looked
gray in the darkness. She seemed like a troubled spirit, like some
shadow out of the earth, clinging to him and entreating him to give
her peace. Behind her the fireflies were weaving in and out over
the wheat. He put his hand on her bent head. "On my honor, Marie,
if you will say you love me, I will go away."
She lifted her face to his. "How could I help it? Didn't you
Emil was the one who trembled, through all his frame. After he
left Marie at her gate, he wandered about the fields all night,
till morning put out the fireflies and the stars.
One evening, a week after Signa's wedding, Emil was kneeling before
a box in the sitting-room, packing his books. From time to time
he rose and wandered about the house, picking up stray volumes and
bringing them listlessly back to his box. He was packing without
enthusiasm. He was not very sanguine about his future. Alexandra
sat sewing by the table. She had helped him pack his trunk in
the afternoon. As Emil came and went by her chair with his books,
he thought to himself that it had not been so hard to leave his
sister since he first went away to school. He was going directly
to Omaha, to read law in the office of a Swedish lawyer until
October, when he would enter the law school at Ann Arbor. They
had planned that Alexandra was to come to Michigan--a long journey
for her--at Christmas time, and spend several weeks with him.
Nevertheless, he felt that this leavetaking would be more final
than his earlier ones had been; that it meant a definite break with
his old home and the beginning of something new--he did not know
what. His ideas about the future would not crystallize; the more
he tried to think about it, the vaguer his conception of it became.
But one thing was clear, he told himself; it was high time that he
made good to Alexandra, and that ought to be incentive enough to
As he went about gathering up his books he felt as if he were
uprooting things. At last he threw himself down on the old slat
lounge where he had slept when he was little, and lay looking up
at the familiar cracks in the ceiling.
"Tired, Emil?" his sister asked.
"Lazy," he murmured, turning on his side and looking at her. He
studied Alexandra's face for a long time in the lamplight. It had
never occurred to him that his sister was a handsome woman until
Marie Shabata had told him so. Indeed, he had never thought of
her as being a woman at all, only a sister. As he studied her bent
head, he looked up at the picture of John Bergson above the lamp.
"No," he thought to himself, "she didn't get it there. I suppose
I am more like that."
"Alexandra," he said suddenly, "that old walnut secretary you use
for a desk was father's, wasn't it?"
Alexandra went on stitching. "Yes. It was one of the first things
he bought for the old log house. It was a great extravagance
in those days. But he wrote a great many letters back to the old
country. He had many friends there, and they wrote to him up to the
time he died. No one ever blamed him for grandfather's disgrace.
I can see him now, sitting there on Sundays, in his white shirt,
writing pages and pages, so carefully. He wrote a fine, regular
hand, almost like engraving. Yours is something like his, when
you take pains."
"Grandfather was really crooked, was he?"
"He married an unscrupulous woman, and then--then I'm afraid he
was really crooked. When we first came here father used to have
dreams about making a great fortune and going back to Sweden to
pay back to the poor sailors the money grandfather had lost."
Emil stirred on the lounge. "I say, that would have been worth
while, wouldn't it? Father wasn't a bit like Lou or Oscar, was
he? I can't remember much about him before he got sick."
"Oh, not at all!" Alexandra dropped her sewing on her knee. "He
had better opportunities; not to make money, but to make something
of himself. He was a quiet man, but he was very intelligent. You
would have been proud of him, Emil."
Alexandra felt that he would like to know there had been a man of
his kin whom he could admire. She knew that Emil was ashamed of
Lou and Oscar, because they were bigoted and self-satisfied. He
never said much about them, but she could feel his disgust. His
brothers had shown their disapproval of him ever since he first
went away to school. The only thing that would have satisfied them
would have been his failure at the University. As it was, they
resented every change in his speech, in his dress, in his point of
view; though the latter they had to conjecture, for Emil avoided
talking to them about any but family matters. All his interests
they treated as affectations.
Alexandra took up her sewing again. "I can remember father when
he was quite a young man. He belonged to some kind of a musical
society, a male chorus, in Stockholm. I can remember going with
mother to hear them sing. There must have been a hundred of them,
and they all wore long black coats and white neckties. I was
used to seeing father in a blue coat, a sort of jacket, and when I
recognized him on the platform, I was very proud. Do you remember
that Swedish song he taught you, about the ship boy?"
"Yes. I used to sing it to the Mexicans. They like anything
different." Emil paused. "Father had a hard fight here, didn't
he?" he added thoughtfully.
"Yes, and he died in a dark time. Still, he had hope. He believed
in the land."
"And in you, I guess," Emil said to himself. There was another
period of silence; that warm, friendly silence, full of perfect
understanding, in which Emil and Alexandra had spent many of their
At last Emil said abruptly, "Lou and Oscar would be better off if
they were poor, wouldn't they?"
Alexandra smiled. "Maybe. But their children wouldn't. I have
great hopes of Milly."
Emil shivered. "I don't know. Seems to me it gets worse as it
goes on. The worst of the Swedes is that they're never willing
to find out how much they don't know. It was like that at the
University. Always so pleased with themselves! There's no getting
behind that conceited Swedish grin. The Bohemians and Germans were
"Come, Emil, don't go back on your own people. Father wasn't
conceited, Uncle Otto wasn't. Even Lou and Oscar weren't when they
Emil looked incredulous, but he did not dispute the point. He
turned on his back and lay still for a long time, his hands locked
under his head, looking up at the ceiling. Alexandra knew that he
was thinking of many things. She felt no anxiety about Emil. She
had always believed in him, as she had believed in the land. He
had been more like himself since he got back from Mexico; seemed
glad to be at home, and talked to her as he used to do. She had
no doubt that his wandering fit was over, and that he would soon
be settled in life.
"Alexandra," said Emil suddenly, "do you remember the wild duck we
saw down on the river that time?"
His sister looked up. "I often think of her. It always seems to
me she's there still, just like we saw her."
"I know. It's queer what things one remembers and what things one
forgets." Emil yawned and sat up. "Well, it's time to turn in."
He rose, and going over to Alexandra stooped down and kissed her
lightly on the cheek. "Good-night, sister. I think you did pretty
well by us."
Emil took up his lamp and went upstairs. Alexandra sat finishing
his new nightshirt, that must go in the top tray of his trunk.
The next morning Angelique, Amedee's wife, was in the kitchen baking
pies, assisted by old Mrs. Chevalier. Between the mixing-board
and the stove stood the old cradle that had been Amedee's, and in
it was his black-eyed son. As Angelique, flushed and excited, with
flour on her hands, stopped to smile at the baby, Emil Bergson rode
up to the kitchen door on his mare and dismounted.
"'Medee is out in the field, Emil," Angelique called as she ran
across the kitchen to the oven. "He begins to cut his wheat to-day;
the first wheat ready to cut anywhere about here. He bought a new
header, you know, because all the wheat's so short this year. I
hope he can rent it to the neighbors, it cost so much. He and his
cousins bought a steam thresher on shares. You ought to go out and
see that header work. I watched it an hour this morning, busy as
I am with all the men to feed. He has a lot of hands, but he's
the only one that knows how to drive the header or how to run the
engine, so he has to be everywhere at once. He's sick, too, and
ought to be in his bed."
Emil bent over Hector Baptiste, trying to make him blink his round,
bead-like black eyes. "Sick? What's the matter with your daddy,
kid? Been making him walk the floor with you?"
Angelique sniffed. "Not much! We don't have that kind of babies.
It was his father that kept Baptiste awake. All night I had to be
getting up and making mustard plasters to put on his stomach. He
had an awful colic. He said he felt better this morning, but I
don't think he ought to be out in the field, overheating himself."
Angelique did not speak with much anxiety, not because she was
indifferent, but because she felt so secure in their good fortune.
Only good things could happen to a rich, energetic, handsome young
man like Amedee, with a new baby in the cradle and a new header in
Emil stroked the black fuzz on Baptiste's head. "I say, Angelique,
one of 'Medee's grandmothers, 'way back, must have been a squaw.
This kid looks exactly like the Indian babies."
Angelique made a face at him, but old Mrs. Chevalier had been
touched on a sore point, and she let out such a stream of fiery
PATOIS that Emil fled from the kitchen and mounted his mare.
Opening the pasture gate from the saddle, Emil rode across the field
to the clearing where the thresher stood, driven by a stationary
engine and fed from the header boxes. As Amedee was not on the
engine, Emil rode on to the wheatfield, where he recognized, on
the header, the slight, wiry figure of his friend, coatless, his
white shirt puffed out by the wind, his straw hat stuck jauntily
on the side of his head. The six big work-horses that drew, or
rather pushed, the header, went abreast at a rapid walk, and as they
were still green at the work they required a good deal of management
on Amedee's part; especially when they turned the corners, where
they divided, three and three, and then swung round into line again
with a movement that looked as complicated as a wheel of artillery.
Emil felt a new thrill of admiration for his friend, and with it
the old pang of envy at the way in which Amedee could do with his
might what his hand found to do, and feel that, whatever it was,
it was the most important thing in the world. "I'll have to bring
Alexandra up to see this thing work," Emil thought; "it's splendid!"
When he saw Emil, Amedee waved to him and called to one of his
twenty cousins to take the reins. Stepping off the header without
stopping it, he ran up to Emil who had dismounted. "Come along,"
he called. "I have to go over to the engine for a minute. I gotta
green man running it, and I gotta to keep an eye on him."
Emil thought the lad was unnaturally flushed and more excited than
even the cares of managing a big farm at a critical time warranted.
As they passed behind a last year's stack, Amedee clutched at his
right side and sank down for a moment on the straw.
"Ouch! I got an awful pain in me, Emil. Something's the matter
with my insides, for sure."
Emil felt his fiery cheek. "You ought to go straight to bed,
'Medee, and telephone for the doctor; that's what you ought to do."
Amedee staggered up with a gesture of despair. "How can I? I got
no time to be sick. Three thousand dollars' worth of new machinery
to manage, and the wheat so ripe it will begin to shatter next
week. My wheat's short, but it's gotta grand full berries. What's
he slowing down for? We haven't got header boxes enough to feed
the thresher, I guess."
Amedee started hot-foot across the stubble, leaning a little to the
right as he ran, and waved to the engineer not to stop the engine.
Emil saw that this was no time to talk about his own affairs. He
mounted his mare and rode on to Sainte-Agnes, to bid his friends
there good-bye. He went first to see Raoul Marcel, and found him
innocently practising the "Gloria" for the big confirmation service
on Sunday while he polished the mirrors of his father's saloon.
As Emil rode homewards at three o'clock in the afternoon, he saw
Amedee staggering out of the wheatfield, supported by two of his
cousins. Emil stopped and helped them put the boy to bed.
When Frank Shabata came in from work at five o'clock that evening,
old Moses Marcel, Raoul's father, telephoned him that Amedee had
had a seizure in the wheatfield, and that Doctor Paradis was going
to operate on him as soon as the Hanover doctor got there to help.
Frank dropped a word of this at the table, bolted his supper, and
rode off to Sainte-Agnes, where there would be sympathetic discussion
of Amedee's case at Marcel's saloon.
As soon as Frank was gone, Marie telephoned Alexandra. It was a
comfort to hear her friend's voice. Yes, Alexandra knew what there
was to be known about Amedee. Emil had been there when they carried
him out of the field, and had stayed with him until the doctors
operated for appendicitis at five o'clock. They were afraid it
was too late to do much good; it should have been done three days
ago. Amedee was in a very bad way. Emil had just come home, worn
out and sick himself. She had given him some brandy and put him
Marie hung up the receiver. Poor Amedee's illness had taken on a
new meaning to her, now that she knew Emil had been with him. And
it might so easily have been the other way--Emil who was ill and
Amedee who was sad! Marie looked about the dusky sitting-room.
She had seldom felt so utterly lonely. If Emil was asleep, there
was not even a chance of his coming; and she could not go to
Alexandra for sympathy. She meant to tell Alexandra everything,
as soon as Emil went away. Then whatever was left between them
would be honest.
But she could not stay in the house this evening. Where should she
go? She walked slowly down through the orchard, where the evening
air was heavy with the smell of wild cotton. The fresh, salty scent
of the wild roses had given way before this more powerful perfume
of midsummer. Wherever those ashes-of-rose balls hung on their
milky stalks, the air about them was saturated with their breath.
The sky was still red in the west and the evening star hung
directly over the Bergsons' wind-mill. Marie crossed the fence at
the wheatfield corner, and walked slowly along the path that led
to Alexandra's. She could not help feeling hurt that Emil had not
come to tell her about Amedee. It seemed to her most unnatural
that he should not have come. If she were in trouble, certainly
he was the one person in the world she would want to see. Perhaps
he wished her to understand that for her he was as good as gone
Marie stole slowly, flutteringly, along the path, like a white
night-moth out of the fields. The years seemed to stretch before
her like the land; spring, summer, autumn, winter, spring; always
the same patient fields, the patient little trees, the patient lives;
always the same yearning, the same pulling at the chain--until the
instinct to live had torn itself and bled and weakened for the last
time, until the chain secured a dead woman, who might cautiously
be released. Marie walked on, her face lifted toward the remote,
inaccessible evening star.
When she reached the stile she sat down and waited. How terrible
it was to love people when you could not really share their lives!
Yes, in so far as she was concerned, Emil was already gone. They
couldn't meet any more. There was nothing for them to say. They
had spent the last penny of their small change; there was nothing
left but gold. The day of love-tokens was past. They had now
only their hearts to give each other. And Emil being gone, what
was her life to be like? In some ways, it would be easier. She
would not, at least, live in perpetual fear. If Emil were once
away and settled at work, she would not have the feeling that she
was spoiling his life. With the memory he left her, she could be
as rash as she chose. Nobody could be the worse for it but herself;
and that, surely, did not matter. Her own case was clear. When a
girl had loved one man, and then loved another while that man was
still alive, everybody knew what to think of her. What happened
to her was of little consequence, so long as she did not drag other
people down with her. Emil once away, she could let everything
else go and live a new life of perfect love.
Marie left the stile reluctantly. She had, after all, thought he
might come. And how glad she ought to be, she told herself, that
he was asleep. She left the path and went across the pasture. The
moon was almost full. An owl was hooting somewhere in the fields.
She had scarcely thought about where she was going when the pond
glittered before her, where Emil had shot the ducks. She stopped
and looked at it. Yes, there would be a dirty way out of life, if
one chose to take it. But she did not want to die. She wanted to
live and dream--a hundred years, forever! As long as this sweetness
welled up in her heart, as long as her breast could hold this
treasure of pain! She felt as the pond must feel when it held the
moon like that; when it encircled and swelled with that image of
In the morning, when Emil came down-stairs, Alexandra met him
in the sitting-room and put her hands on his shoulders. "Emil, I
went to your room as soon as it was light, but you were sleeping
so sound I hated to wake you. There was nothing you could do, so
I let you sleep. They telephoned from Sainte-Agnes that Amedee
died at three o'clock this morning."
The Church has always held that life is for the living. On Saturday,
while half the village of Sainte-Agnes was mourning for Amedee and
preparing the funeral black for his burial on Monday, the other
half was busy with white dresses and white veils for the great
confirmation service to-morrow, when the bishop was to confirm a
class of one hundred boys and girls. Father Duchesne divided his
time between the living and the dead. All day Saturday the church
was a scene of bustling activity, a little hushed by the thought
of Amedee. The choir were busy rehearsing a mass of Rossini, which
they had studied and practised for this occasion. The women were
trimming the altar, the boys and girls were bringing flowers.
On Sunday morning the bishop was to drive overland to Sainte-Agnes
from Hanover, and Emil Bergson had been asked to take the place of
one of Amedee's cousins in the cavalcade of forty French boys who
were to ride across country to meet the bishop's carriage. At
six o'clock on Sunday morning the boys met at the church. As they
stood holding their horses by the bridle, they talked in low tones
of their dead comrade. They kept repeating that Amedee had always
been a good boy, glancing toward the red brick church which had
played so large a part in Amedee's life, had been the scene of his
most serious moments and of his happiest hours. He had played and
wrestled and sung and courted under its shadow. Only three weeks
ago he had proudly carried his baby there to be christened. They
could not doubt that that invisible arm was still about Amedee; that
through the church on earth he had passed to the church triumphant,
the goal of the hopes and faith of so many hundred years.
When the word was given to mount, the young men rode at a walk out
of the village; but once out among the wheatfields in the morning
sun, their horses and their own youth got the better of them. A
wave of zeal and fiery enthusiasm swept over them. They longed
for a Jerusalem to deliver. The thud of their galloping hoofs
interrupted many a country breakfast and brought many a woman and
child to the door of the farmhouses as they passed. Five miles east
of Sainte-Agnes they met the bishop in his open carriage, attended
by two priests. Like one man the boys swung off their hats in a
broad salute, and bowed their heads as the handsome old man lifted
his two fingers in the episcopal blessing. The horsemen closed
about the carriage like a guard, and whenever a restless horse broke
from control and shot down the road ahead of the body, the bishop
laughed and rubbed his plump hands together. "What fine boys!" he
said to his priests. "The Church still has her cavalry."
As the troop swept past the graveyard half a mile east of the
town,--the first frame church of the parish had stood there,--old
Pierre Seguin was already out with his pick and spade, digging
Amedee's grave. He knelt and uncovered as the bishop passed. The
boys with one accord looked away from old Pierre to the red church
on the hill, with the gold cross flaming on its steeple.
Mass was at eleven. While the church was filling, Emil Bergson waited
outside, watching the wagons and buggies drive up the hill. After
the bell began to ring, he saw Frank Shabata ride up on horseback
and tie his horse to the hitch-bar. Marie, then, was not coming.
Emil turned and went into the church. Amedee's was the only empty
pew, and he sat down in it. Some of Amedee's cousins were there,
dressed in black and weeping. When all the pews were full, the
old men and boys packed the open space at the back of the church,
kneeling on the floor. There was scarcely a family in town that was
not represented in the confirmation class, by a cousin, at least.
The new communicants, with their clear, reverent faces, were beautiful
to look upon as they entered in a body and took the front benches
reserved for them. Even before the Mass began, the air was charged
with feeling. The choir had never sung so well and Raoul Marcel,
in the "Gloria," drew even the bishop's eyes to the organ loft.
For the offertory he sang Gounod's "Ave Maria,"--always spoken of
in Sainte-Agnes as "the Ave Maria."
Emil began to torture himself with questions about Marie. Was she
ill? Had she quarreled with her husband? Was she too unhappy to
find comfort even here? Had she, perhaps, thought that he would
come to her? Was she waiting for him? Overtaxed by excitement
and sorrow as he was, the rapture of the service took hold upon his
body and mind. As he listened to Raoul, he seemed to emerge from
the conflicting emotions which had been whirling him about and
sucking him under. He felt as if a clear light broke upon his
mind, and with it a conviction that good was, after all, stronger
than evil, and that good was possible to men. He seemed to discover
that there was a kind of rapture in which he could love forever
without faltering and without sin. He looked across the heads of
the people at Frank Shabata with calmness. That rapture was for those
who could feel it; for people who could not, it was non-existent.
He coveted nothing that was Frank Shabata's. The spirit he had
met in music was his own. Frank Shabata had never found it; would
never find it if he lived beside it a thousand years; would have
destroyed it if he had found it, as Herod slew the innocents, as
Rome slew the martyrs.
wailed Raoul from the organ loft;
O--RA PRO NO-O-BIS!
And it did not occur to Emil that any one had ever reasoned thus
before, that music had ever before given a man this equivocal
The confirmation service followed the Mass. When it was over, the
congregation thronged about the newly confirmed. The girls, and
even the boys, were kissed and embraced and wept over. All the
aunts and grandmothers wept with joy. The housewives had much ado
to tear themselves away from the general rejoicing and hurry back
to their kitchens. The country parishioners were staying in town
for dinner, and nearly every house in Sainte-Agnes entertained
visitors that day. Father Duchesne, the bishop, and the visiting
priests dined with Fabien Sauvage, the banker. Emil and Frank
Shabata were both guests of old Moise Marcel. After dinner Frank
and old Moise retired to the rear room of the saloon to play
California Jack and drink their cognac, and Emil went over to the
banker's with Raoul, who had been asked to sing for the bishop.
At three o'clock, Emil felt that he could stand it no longer. He
slipped out under cover of "The Holy City," followed by Malvina's
wistful eye, and went to the stable for his mare. He was at that
height of excitement from which everything is foreshortened, from
which life seems short and simple, death very near, and the soul
seems to soar like an eagle. As he rode past the graveyard he looked
at the brown hole in the earth where Amedee was to lie, and felt
no horror. That, too, was beautiful, that simple doorway into
forgetfulness. The heart, when it is too much alive, aches for
that brown earth, and ecstasy has no fear of death. It is the old
and the poor and the maimed who shrink from that brown hole; its
wooers are found among the young, the passionate, the gallant-hearted.
It was not until he had passed the graveyard that Emil realized
where he was going. It was the hour for saying good-bye. It might
be the last time that he would see her alone, and today he could
leave her without rancor, without bitterness.
Everywhere the grain stood ripe and the hot afternoon was full of
the smell of the ripe wheat, like the smell of bread baking in an
oven. The breath of the wheat and the sweet clover passed him like
pleasant things in a dream. He could feel nothing but the sense of
diminishing distance. It seemed to him that his mare was flying,
or running on wheels, like a railway train. The sunlight, flashing
on the window-glass of the big red barns, drove him wild with joy.
He was like an arrow shot from the bow. His life poured itself
out along the road before him as he rode to the Shabata farm.
When Emil alighted at the Shabatas' gate, his horse was in a lather.
He tied her in the stable and hurried to the house. It was empty.
She might be at Mrs. Hiller's or with Alexandra. But anything
that reminded him of her would be enough, the orchard, the mulberry
tree. . . When he reached the orchard the sun was hanging low over
the wheatfield. Long fingers of light reached through the apple
branches as through a net; the orchard was riddled and shot with
gold; light was the reality, the trees were merely interferences
that reflected and refracted light. Emil went softly down between
the cherry trees toward the wheatfield. When he came to the corner,
he stopped short and put his hand over his mouth. Marie was lying
on her side under the white mulberry tree, her face half hidden in
the grass, her eyes closed, her hands lying limply where they had
happened to fall. She had lived a day of her new life of perfect
love, and it had left her like this. Her breast rose and fell
faintly, as if she were asleep. Emil threw himself down beside
her and took her in his arms. The blood came back to her cheeks,
her amber eyes opened slowly, and in them Emil saw his own face
and the orchard and the sun. "I was dreaming this," she whispered,
hiding her face against him, "don't take my dream away!"
When Frank Shabata got home that night, he found Emil's mare in
his stable. Such an impertinence amazed him. Like everybody else,
Frank had had an exciting day. Since noon he had been drinking too
much, and he was in a bad temper. He talked bitterly to himself
while he put his own horse away, and as he went up the path and
saw that the house was dark he felt an added sense of injury. He
approached quietly and listened on the doorstep. Hearing nothing,
he opened the kitchen door and went softly from one room to another.
Then he went through the house again, upstairs and down, with no
better result. He sat down on the bottom step of the box stairway
and tried to get his wits together. In that unnatural quiet there
was no sound but his own heavy breathing. Suddenly an owl began
to hoot out in the fields. Frank lifted his head. An idea flashed
into his mind, and his sense of injury and outrage grew. He went
into his bedroom and took his murderous 405 Winchester from the
When Frank took up his gun and walked out of the house, he had not
the faintest purpose of doing anything with it. He did not believe
that he had any real grievance. But it gratified him to feel like
a desperate man. He had got into the habit of seeing himself always
in desperate straits. His unhappy temperament was like a cage; he
could never get out of it; and he felt that other people, his wife
in particular, must have put him there. It had never more than
dimly occurred to Frank that he made his own unhappiness. Though
he took up his gun with dark projects in his mind, he would have
been paralyzed with fright had he known that there was the slightest
probability of his ever carrying any of them out.
Frank went slowly down to the orchard gate, stopped and stood for
a moment lost in thought. He retraced his steps and looked through
the barn and the hayloft. Then he went out to the road, where he
took the foot-path along the outside of the orchard hedge. The
hedge was twice as tall as Frank himself, and so dense that one
could see through it only by peering closely between the leaves.
He could see the empty path a long way in the moonlight. His mind
traveled ahead to the stile, which he always thought of as haunted
by Emil Bergson. But why had he left his horse?
At the wheatfield corner, where the orchard hedge ended and the
path led across the pasture to the Bergsons', Frank stopped. In
the warm, breathless night air he heard a murmuring sound, perfectly
inarticulate, as low as the sound of water coming from a spring,
where there is no fall, and where there are no stones to fret it.
Frank strained his ears. It ceased. He held his breath and began
to tremble. Resting the butt of his gun on the ground, he parted
the mulberry leaves softly with his fingers and peered through
the hedge at the dark figures on the grass, in the shadow of the
mulberry tree. It seemed to him that they must feel his eyes,
that they must hear him breathing. But they did not. Frank, who
had always wanted to see things blacker than they were, for once
wanted to believe less than he saw. The woman lying in the shadow
might so easily be one of the Bergsons' farm-girls. . . . Again
the murmur, like water welling out of the ground. This time he
heard it more distinctly, and his blood was quicker than his brain.
He began to act, just as a man who falls into the fire begins to
act. The gun sprang to his shoulder, he sighted mechanically and
fired three times without stopping, stopped without knowing why.
Either he shut his eyes or he had vertigo. He did not see anything
while he was firing. He thought he heard a cry simultaneous with
the second report, but he was not sure. He peered again through
the hedge, at the two dark figures under the tree. They had fallen
a little apart from each other, and were perfectly still-- No,
not quite; in a white patch of light, where the moon shone through
the branches, a man's hand was plucking spasmodically at the grass.
Suddenly the woman stirred and uttered a cry, then another, and
another. She was living! She was dragging herself toward the
hedge! Frank dropped his gun and ran back along the path, shaking,
stumbling, gasping. He had never imagined such horror. The
cries followed him. They grew fainter and thicker, as if she were
choking. He dropped on his knees beside the hedge and crouched
like a rabbit, listening; fainter, fainter; a sound like a whine;
again--a moan--another--silence. Frank scrambled to his feet and
ran on, groaning and praying. From habit he went toward the house,
where he was used to being soothed when he had worked himself into
a frenzy, but at the sight of the black, open door, he started back.
He knew that he had murdered somebody, that a woman was bleeding
and moaning in the orchard, but he had not realized before that
it was his wife. The gate stared him in the face. He threw his
hands over his head. Which way to turn? He lifted his tormented
face and looked at the sky. "Holy Mother of God, not to suffer!
She was a good girl--not to suffer!"
Frank had been wont to see himself in dramatic situations; but
now, when he stood by the windmill, in the bright space between the
barn and the house, facing his own black doorway, he did not see
himself at all. He stood like the hare when the dogs are approaching
from all sides. And he ran like a hare, back and forth about that
moonlit space, before he could make up his mind to go into the
dark stable for a horse. The thought of going into a doorway was
terrible to him. He caught Emil's horse by the bit and led it out.
He could not have buckled a bridle on his own. After two or three
attempts, he lifted himself into the saddle and started for Hanover.
If he could catch the one o'clock train, he had money enough to
get as far as Omaha.
While he was thinking dully of this in some less sensitized part
of his brain, his acuter faculties were going over and over the
cries he had heard in the orchard. Terror was the only thing that
kept him from going back to her, terror that she might still be
she, that she might still be suffering. A woman, mutilated and
bleeding in his orchard--it was because it was a woman that he
was so afraid. It was inconceivable that he should have hurt a
woman. He would rather be eaten by wild beasts than see her move
on the ground as she had moved in the orchard. Why had she been
so careless? She knew he was like a crazy man when he was angry.
She had more than once taken that gun away from him and held it,
when he was angry with other people. Once it had gone off while
they were struggling over it. She was never afraid. But, when
she knew him, why hadn't she been more careful? Didn't she have
all summer before her to love Emil Bergson in, without taking such
chances? Probably she had met the Smirka boy, too, down there in
the orchard. He didn't care. She could have met all the men on the
Divide there, and welcome, if only she hadn't brought this horror
There was a wrench in Frank's mind. He did not honestly believe that
of her. He knew that he was doing her wrong. He stopped his horse
to admit this to himself the more directly, to think it out the more
clearly. He knew that he was to blame. For three years he had been
trying to break her spirit. She had a way of making the best of
things that seemed to him a sentimental affectation. He wanted his
wife to resent that he was wasting his best years among these stupid
and unappreciative people; but she had seemed to find the people
quite good enough. If he ever got rich he meant to buy her pretty
clothes and take her to California in a Pullman car, and treat her
like a lady; but in the mean time he wanted her to feel that life was
as ugly and as unjust as he felt it. He had tried to make her life
ugly. He had refused to share any of the little pleasures she was so
plucky about making for herself. She could be gay about the least
thing in the world; but she must be gay! When she first came to him,
her faith in him, her adoration--Frank struck the mare with his fist.
Why had Marie made him do this thing; why had she brought this upon
him? He was overwhelmed by sickening misfortune. All at once he
heard her cries again--he had forgotten for a moment. "Maria," he
sobbed aloud, "Maria!"
When Frank was halfway to Hanover, the motion of his horse brought
on a violent attack of nausea. After it had passed, he rode on
again, but he could think of nothing except his physical weakness
and his desire to be comforted by his wife. He wanted to get into
his own bed. Had his wife been at home, he would have turned and
gone back to her meekly enough.
When old Ivar climbed down from his loft at four o'clock the next
morning, he came upon Emil's mare, jaded and lather-stained, her
bridle broken, chewing the scattered tufts of hay outside the stable
door. The old man was thrown into a fright at once. He put the
mare in her stall, threw her a measure of oats, and then set out
as fast as his bow-legs could carry him on the path to the nearest
"Something is wrong with that boy. Some misfortune has come upon
us. He would never have used her so, in his right senses. It is
not his way to abuse his mare," the old man kept muttering, as he
scuttled through the short, wet pasture grass on his bare feet.
While Ivar was hurrying across the fields, the first long rays of
the sun were reaching down between the orchard boughs to those two
dew-drenched figures. The story of what had happened was written
plainly on the orchard grass, and on the white mulberries that had
fallen in the night and were covered with dark stain. For Emil the
chapter had been short. He was shot in the heart, and had rolled
over on his back and died. His face was turned up to the sky and
his brows were drawn in a frown, as if he had realized that something
had befallen him. But for Marie Shabata it had not been so easy.
One ball had torn through her right lung, another had shattered
the carotid artery. She must have started up and gone toward the
hedge, leaving a trail of blood. There she had fallen and bled.
From that spot there was another trail, heavier than the first,
where she must have dragged herself back to Emil's body. Once
there, she seemed not to have struggled any more. She had lifted
her head to her lover's breast, taken his hand in both her own,
and bled quietly to death. She was lying on her right side in an
easy and natural position, her cheek on Emil's shoulder. On her
face there was a look of ineffable content. Her lips were parted
a little; her eyes were lightly closed, as if in a day-dream or a
light slumber. After she lay down there, she seemed not to have
moved an eyelash. The hand she held was covered with dark stains,
where she had kissed it.
But the stained, slippery grass, the darkened mulberries, told only
half the story. Above Marie and Emil, two white butterflies from
Frank's alfalfa-field were fluttering in and out among the interlacing
shadows; diving and soaring, now close together, now far apart;
and in the long grass by the fence the last wild roses of the year
opened their pink hearts to die.
When Ivar reached the path by the hedge, he saw Shabata's rifle
lying in the way. He turned and peered through the branches,
falling upon his knees as if his legs had been mowed from under
him. "Merciful God!" he groaned;
Alexandra, too, had risen early that morning, because of her anxiety
about Emil. She was in Emil's room upstairs when, from the window,
she saw Ivar coming along the path that led from the Shabatas'.
He was running like a spent man, tottering and lurching from side
to side. Ivar never drank, and Alexandra thought at once that one
of his spells had come upon him, and that he must be in a very bad
way indeed. She ran downstairs and hurried out to meet him, to
hide his infirmity from the eyes of her household. The old man
fell in the road at her feet and caught her hand, over which he
bowed his shaggy head. "Mistress, mistress," he sobbed, "it has
fallen! Sin and death for the young ones! God have mercy upon
Ivar was sitting at a cobbler's bench in the barn, mending harness
by the light of a lantern and repeating to himself the 101st Psalm.
It was only five o'clock of a mid-October day, but a storm had
come up in the afternoon, bringing black clouds, a cold wind and
torrents of rain. The old man wore his buffalo-skin coat, and
occasionally stopped to warm his fingers at the lantern. Suddenly
a woman burst into the shed, as if she had been blown in, accompanied by
a shower of rain-drops. It was Signa, wrapped in a man's overcoat
and wearing a pair of boots over her shoes. In time of trouble
Signa had come back to stay with her mistress, for she was the only
one of the maids from whom Alexandra would accept much personal
service. It was three months now since the news of the terrible
thing that had happened in Frank Shabata's orchard had first run
like a fire over the Divide. Signa and Nelse were staying on with
Alexandra until winter.
"Ivar," Signa exclaimed as she wiped the rain from her face, "do
you know where she is?"
The old man put down his cobbler's knife. "Who, the mistress?"
"Yes. She went away about three o'clock. I happened to look out
of the window and saw her going across the fields in her thin dress
and sun-hat. And now this storm has come on. I thought she was
going to Mrs. Hiller's, and I telephoned as soon as the thunder
stopped, but she had not been there. I'm afraid she is out somewhere
and will get her death of cold."
Ivar put on his cap and took up the lantern. "JA, JA, we will see.
I will hitch the boy's mare to the cart and go."
Signa followed him across the wagon-shed to the horses' stable.
She was shivering with cold and excitement. "Where do you suppose
she can be, Ivar?"
The old man lifted a set of single harness carefully from its peg.
"How should I know?"
"But you think she is at the graveyard, don't you?" Signa persisted.
"So do I. Oh, I wish she would be more like herself! I can't
believe it's Alexandra Bergson come to this, with no head about
anything. I have to tell her when to eat and when to go to bed."
"Patience, patience, sister," muttered Ivar as he settled the bit
in the horse's mouth. "When the eyes of the flesh are shut, the
eyes of the spirit are open. She will have a message from those
who are gone, and that will bring her peace. Until then we must
bear with her. You and I are the only ones who have weight with
her. She trusts us."
"How awful it's been these last three months." Signa held the
lantern so that he could see to buckle the straps. "It don't seem
right that we must all be so miserable. Why do we all have to be
punished? Seems to me like good times would never come again."
Ivar expressed himself in a deep sigh, but said nothing. He stooped
and took a sandburr from his toe.
"Ivar," Signa asked suddenly, "will you tell me why you go barefoot?
All the time I lived here in the house I wanted to ask you. Is it
for a penance, or what?"
"No, sister. It is for the indulgence of the body. From my youth
up I have had a strong, rebellious body, and have been subject to
every kind of temptation. Even in age my temptations are prolonged.
It was necessary to make some allowances; and the feet, as I
understand it, are free members. There is no divine prohibition
for them in the Ten Commandments. The hands, the tongue, the eyes,
the heart, all the bodily desires we are commanded to subdue; but
the feet are free members. I indulge them without harm to any
one, even to trampling in filth when my desires are low. They are
quickly cleaned again."
Signa did not laugh. She looked thoughtful as she followed Ivar out
to the wagon-shed and held the shafts up for him, while he backed
in the mare and buckled the hold-backs. "You have been a good
friend to the mistress, Ivar," she murmured.
"And you, God be with you," replied Ivar as he clambered into the
cart and put the lantern under the oilcloth lap-cover. "Now for
a ducking, my girl," he said to the mare, gathering up the reins.
As they emerged from the shed, a stream of water, running off the
thatch, struck the mare on the neck. She tossed her head indignantly,
then struck out bravely on the soft ground, slipping back again and
again as she climbed the hill to the main road. Between the rain
and the darkness Ivar could see very little, so he let Emil's mare
have the rein, keeping her head in the right direction. When the
ground was level, he turned her out of the dirt road upon the sod,
where she was able to trot without slipping.
Before Ivar reached the graveyard, three miles from the house,
the storm had spent itself, and the downpour had died into a soft,
dripping rain. The sky and the land were a dark smoke color, and
seemed to be coming together, like two waves. When Ivar stopped
at the gate and swung out his lantern, a white figure rose from
beside John Bergson's white stone.
The old man sprang to the ground and shuffled toward the gate
calling, "Mistress, mistress!"
Alexandra hurried to meet him and put her hand on his shoulder.
"TYST! Ivar. There's nothing to be worried about. I'm sorry if
I've scared you all. I didn't notice the storm till it was on me,
and I couldn't walk against it. I'm glad you've come. I am so
tired I didn't know how I'd ever get home."
Ivar swung the lantern up so that it shone in her face. "GUD!
You are enough to frighten us, mistress. You look like a drowned
woman. How could you do such a thing!"
Groaning and mumbling he led her out of the gate and helped her
into the cart, wrapping her in the dry blankets on which he had
Alexandra smiled at his solicitude. "Not much use in that, Ivar.
You will only shut the wet in. I don't feel so cold now; but I'm
heavy and numb. I'm glad you came."
Ivar turned the mare and urged her into a sliding trot. Her feet
sent back a continual spatter of mud.
Alexandra spoke to the old man as they jogged along through the
sullen gray twilight of the storm. "Ivar, I think it has done me
good to get cold clear through like this, once. I don't believe
I shall suffer so much any more. When you get so near the dead,
they seem more real than the living. Worldly thoughts leave one.
Ever since Emil died, I've suffered so when it rained. Now that
I've been out in it with him, I shan't dread it. After you once
get cold clear through, the feeling of the rain on you is sweet.
It seems to bring back feelings you had when you were a baby. It
carries you back into the dark, before you were born; you can't
see things, but they come to you, somehow, and you know them and
aren't afraid of them. Maybe it's like that with the dead. If
they feel anything at all, it's the old things, before they were
born, that comfort people like the feeling of their own bed does
when they are little."
"Mistress," said Ivar reproachfully, "those are bad thoughts. The
dead are in Paradise."
Then he hung his head, for he did not believe that Emil was in
When they got home, Signa had a fire burning in the sitting-room
stove. She undressed Alexandra and gave her a hot footbath, while
Ivar made ginger tea in the kitchen. When Alexandra was in bed,
wrapped in hot blankets, Ivar came in with his tea and saw that
she drank it. Signa asked permission to sleep on the slat lounge
outside her door. Alexandra endured their attentions patiently,
but she was glad when they put out the lamp and left her. As she
lay alone in the dark, it occurred to her for the first time that
perhaps she was actually tired of life. All the physical operations
of life seemed difficult and painful. She longed to be free from
her own body, which ached and was so heavy. And longing itself
was heavy: she yearned to be free of that.
As she lay with her eyes closed, she had again, more vividly than
for many years, the old illusion of her girlhood, of being lifted
and carried lightly by some one very strong. He was with her
a long while this time, and carried her very far, and in his arms
she felt free from pain. When he laid her down on her bed again,
she opened her eyes, and, for the first time in her life, she saw
him, saw him clearly, though the room was dark, and his face was
covered. He was standing in the doorway of her room. His white
cloak was thrown over his face, and his head was bent a little
forward. His shoulders seemed as strong as the foundations of the
world. His right arm, bared from the elbow, was dark and gleaming,
like bronze, and she knew at once that it was the arm of the
mightiest of all lovers. She knew at last for whom it was she had
waited, and where he would carry her. That, she told herself, was
very well. Then she went to sleep.
Alexandra wakened in the morning with nothing worse than a hard cold
and a stiff shoulder. She kept her bed for several days, and it
was during that time that she formed a resolution to go to Lincoln
to see Frank Shabata. Ever since she last saw him in the courtroom,
Frank's haggard face and wild eyes had haunted her. The trial had
lasted only three days. Frank had given himself up to the police
in Omaha and pleaded guilty of killing without malice and without
premeditation. The gun was, of course, against him, and the judge
had given him the full sentence,--ten years. He had now been in
the State Penitentiary for a month.
Frank was the only one, Alexandra told herself, for whom anything
could be done. He had been less in the wrong than any of them,
and he was paying the heaviest penalty. She often felt that she
herself had been more to blame than poor Frank. From the time the
Shabatas had first moved to the neighboring farm, she had omitted
no opportunity of throwing Marie and Emil together. Because she
knew Frank was surly about doing little things to help his wife,
she was always sending Emil over to spade or plant or carpenter
for Marie. She was glad to have Emil see as much as possible of an
intelligent, city-bred girl like their neighbor; she noticed that
it improved his manners. She knew that Emil was fond of Marie, but
it had never occurred to her that Emil's feeling might be different
from her own. She wondered at herself now, but she had never
thought of danger in that direction. If Marie had been unmarried,--oh,
yes! Then she would have kept her eyes open. But the mere fact that
she was Shabata's wife, for Alexandra, settled everything. That she was
beautiful, impulsive, barely two years older than Emil, these facts had
had no weight with Alexandra. Emil was a good boy, and only bad boys
ran after married women.
Now, Alexandra could in a measure realize that Marie was, after
all, Marie; not merely a "married woman." Sometimes, when Alexandra
thought of her, it was with an aching tenderness. The moment she
had reached them in the orchard that morning, everything was clear
to her. There was something about those two lying in the grass,
something in the way Marie had settled her cheek on Emil's shoulder,
that told her everything. She wondered then how they could have
helped loving each other; how she could have helped knowing that
they must. Emil's cold, frowning face, the girl's content--Alexandra
had felt awe of them, even in the first shock of her grief.
The idleness of those days in bed, the relaxation of body which
attended them, enabled Alexandra to think more calmly than she had
done since Emil's death. She and Frank, she told herself, were left
out of that group of friends who had been overwhelmed by disaster.
She must certainly see Frank Shabata. Even in the courtroom her
heart had grieved for him. He was in a strange country, he had no
kinsmen or friends, and in a moment he had ruined his life. Being
what he was, she felt, Frank could not have acted otherwise. She
could understand his behavior more easily than she could understand
Marie's. Yes, she must go to Lincoln to see Frank Shabata.
The day after Emil's funeral, Alexandra had written to Carl Linstrum;
a single page of notepaper, a bare statement of what had happened.
She was not a woman who could write much about such a thing, and
about her own feelings she could never write very freely. She knew
that Carl was away from post-offices, prospecting somewhere in the
interior. Before he started he had written her where he expected
to go, but her ideas about Alaska were vague. As the weeks went
by and she heard nothing from him, it seemed to Alexandra that
her heart grew hard against Carl. She began to wonder whether she
would not do better to finish her life alone. What was left of
life seemed unimportant.
Late in the afternoon of a brilliant October day, Alexandra Bergson,
dressed in a black suit and traveling-hat, alighted at the Burlington
depot in Lincoln. She drove to the Lindell Hotel, where she had
stayed two years ago when she came up for Emil's Commencement. In
spite of her usual air of sureness and self-possession, Alexandra
felt ill at ease in hotels, and she was glad, when she went to the
clerk's desk to register, that there were not many people in the
lobby. She had her supper early, wearing her hat and black jacket
down to the dining-room and carrying her handbag. After supper
she went out for a walk.
It was growing dark when she reached the university campus. She
did not go into the grounds, but walked slowly up and down the
stone walk outside the long iron fence, looking through at the young
men who were running from one building to another, at the lights
shining from the armory and the library. A squad of cadets were
going through their drill behind the armory, and the commands of
their young officer rang out at regular intervals, so sharp and
quick that Alexandra could not understand them. Two stalwart girls
came down the library steps and out through one of the iron gates.
As they passed her, Alexandra was pleased to hear them speaking
Bohemian to each other. Every few moments a boy would come running
down the flagged walk and dash out into the street as if he were
rushing to announce some wonder to the world. Alexandra felt a
great tenderness for them all. She wished one of them would stop
and speak to her. She wished she could ask them whether they had
As she lingered by the south gate she actually did encounter one
of the boys. He had on his drill cap and was swinging his books
at the end of a long strap. It was dark by this time; he did not
see her and ran against her. He snatched off his cap and stood
bareheaded and panting. "I'm awfully sorry," he said in a bright,
clear voice, with a rising inflection, as if he expected her to
"Oh, it was my fault!" said Alexandra eagerly. "Are you an old
student here, may I ask?"
"No, ma'am. I'm a Freshie, just off the farm. Cherry County.
Were you hunting somebody?"
"No, thank you. That is--" Alexandra wanted to detain him. "That
is, I would like to find some of my brother's friends. He graduated
two years ago."
"Then you'd have to try the Seniors, wouldn't you? Let's see; I
don't know any of them yet, but there'll be sure to be some of them
around the library. That red building, right there," he pointed.
"Thank you, I'll try there," said Alexandra lingeringly.
"Oh, that's all right! Good-night." The lad clapped his cap on
his head and ran straight down Eleventh Street. Alexandra looked
after him wistfully.
She walked back to her hotel unreasonably comforted. "What a nice
voice that boy had, and how polite he was. I know Emil was always
like that to women." And again, after she had undressed and was
standing in her nightgown, brushing her long, heavy hair by the
electric light, she remembered him and said to herself, "I don't
think I ever heard a nicer voice than that boy had. I hope he
will get on well here. Cherry County; that's where the hay is so
fine, and the coyotes can scratch down to water."
At nine o'clock the next morning Alexandra presented herself
at the warden's office in the State Penitentiary. The warden was
a German, a ruddy, cheerful-looking man who had formerly been a
harness-maker. Alexandra had a letter to him from the German banker
in Hanover. As he glanced at the letter, Mr. Schwartz put away
"That big Bohemian, is it? Sure, he's gettin' along fine," said
Mr. Schwartz cheerfully.
"I am glad to hear that. I was afraid he might be quarrelsome and
get himself into more trouble. Mr. Schwartz, if you have time, I
would like to tell you a little about Frank Shabata, and why I am
interested in him."
The warden listened genially while she told him briefly something
of Frank's history and character, but he did not seem to find
anything unusual in her account.
"Sure, I'll keep an eye on him. We'll take care of him all right,"
he said, rising. "You can talk to him here, while I go to see to
things in the kitchen. I'll have him sent in. He ought to be done
washing out his cell by this time. We have to keep 'em clean, you
The warden paused at the door, speaking back over his shoulder to
a pale young man in convicts' clothes who was seated at a desk in
the corner, writing in a big ledger.
"Bertie, when 1037 is brought in, you just step out and give this
lady a chance to talk."
The young man bowed his head and bent over his ledger again.
When Mr. Schwartz disappeared, Alexandra thrust her black-edged
handkerchief nervously into her handbag. Coming out on the streetcar
she had not had the least dread of meeting Frank. But since she
had been here the sounds and smells in the corridor, the look of the
men in convicts' clothes who passed the glass door of the warden's
office, affected her unpleasantly.
The warden's clock ticked, the young convict's pen scratched
busily in the big book, and his sharp shoulders were shaken every
few seconds by a loose cough which he tried to smother. It was easy
to see that he was a sick man. Alexandra looked at him timidly,
but he did not once raise his eyes. He wore a white shirt under
his striped jacket, a high collar, and a necktie, very carefully
tied. His hands were thin and white and well cared for, and he had
a seal ring on his little finger. When he heard steps approaching
in the corridor, he rose, blotted his book, put his pen in the rack,
and left the room without raising his eyes. Through the door he
opened a guard came in, bringing Frank Shabata.
"You the lady that wanted to talk to 1037? Here he is. Be on your
good behavior, now. He can set down, lady," seeing that Alexandra
remained standing. "Push that white button when you're through
with him, and I'll come."
The guard went out and Alexandra and Frank were left alone.
Alexandra tried not to see his hideous clothes. She tried to look
straight into his face, which she could scarcely believe was his.
It was already bleached to a chalky gray. His lips were colorless,
his fine teeth looked yellowish. He glanced at Alexandra sullenly,
blinked as if he had come from a dark place, and one eyebrow twitched
continually. She felt at once that this interview was a terrible
ordeal to him. His shaved head, showing the conformation of his
skull, gave him a criminal look which he had not had during the
Alexandra held out her hand. "Frank," she said, her eyes filling
suddenly, "I hope you'll let me be friendly with you. I understand
how you did it. I don't feel hard toward you. They were more to
blame than you."
Frank jerked a dirty blue handkerchief from his trousers pocket.
He had begun to cry. He turned away from Alexandra. "I never
did mean to do not'ing to dat woman," he muttered. "I never mean
to do not'ing to dat boy. I ain't had not'ing ag'in' dat boy. I
always like dat boy fine. An' then I find him--" He stopped. The
feeling went out of his face and eyes. He dropped into a chair
and sat looking stolidly at the floor, his hands hanging loosely
between his knees, the handkerchief lying across his striped leg.
He seemed to have stirred up in his mind a disgust that had paralyzed
"I haven't come up here to blame you, Frank. I think they were
more to blame than you." Alexandra, too, felt benumbed.
Frank looked up suddenly and stared out of the office window. "I
guess dat place all go to hell what I work so hard on," he said
with a slow, bitter smile. "I not care a damn." He stopped and
rubbed the palm of his hand over the light bristles on his head
with annoyance. "I no can t'ink without my hair," he complained.
"I forget English. We not talk here, except swear."
Alexandra was bewildered. Frank seemed to have undergone a change
of personality. There was scarcely anything by which she could
recognize her handsome Bohemian neighbor. He seemed, somehow, not
altogether human. She did not know what to say to him.
"You do not feel hard to me, Frank?" she asked at last.
Frank clenched his fist and broke out in excitement. "I not feel
hard at no woman. I tell you I not that kind-a man. I never hit
my wife. No, never I hurt her when she devil me something awful!"
He struck his fist down on the warden's desk so hard that he
afterward stroked it absently. A pale pink crept over his neck and
face. "Two, t'ree years I know dat woman don' care no more 'bout
me, Alexandra Bergson. I know she after some other man. I know
her, oo-oo! An' I ain't never hurt her. I never would-a done
dat, if I ain't had dat gun along. I don' know what in hell make
me take dat gun. She always say I ain't no man to carry gun. If
she been in dat house, where she ought-a been-- But das a foolish
Frank rubbed his head and stopped suddenly, as he had stopped
before. Alexandra felt that there was something strange in the way
he chilled off, as if something came up in him that extinguished
his power of feeling or thinking.
"Yes, Frank," she said kindly. "I know you never meant to hurt
Frank smiled at her queerly. His eyes filled slowly with tears.
"You know, I most forgit dat woman's name. She ain't got no name
for me no more. I never hate my wife, but dat woman what make me
do dat-- Honest to God, but I hate her! I no man to fight. I
don' want to kill no boy and no woman. I not care how many men
she take under dat tree. I no care for not'ing but dat fine boy
I kill, Alexandra Bergson. I guess I go crazy sure 'nough."
Alexandra remembered the little yellow cane she had found in Frank's
clothes-closet. She thought of how he had come to this country a
gay young fellow, so attractive that the prettiest Bohemian girl
in Omaha had run away with him. It seemed unreasonable that life
should have landed him in such a place as this. She blamed Marie
bitterly. And why, with her happy, affectionate nature, should
she have brought destruction and sorrow to all who had loved her,
even to poor old Joe Tovesky, the uncle who used to carry her about
so proudly when she was a little girl? That was the strangest thing
of all. Was there, then, something wrong in being warm-hearted
and impulsive like that? Alexandra hated to think so. But there
was Emil, in the Norwegian graveyard at home, and here was Frank
Shabata. Alexandra rose and took him by the hand.
"Frank Shabata, I am never going to stop trying until I get you
pardoned. I'll never give the Governor any peace. I know I can
get you out of this place."
Frank looked at her distrustfully, but he gathered confidence from
her face. "Alexandra," he said earnestly, "if I git out-a here,
I not trouble dis country no more. I go back where I come from;
see my mother."
Alexandra tried to withdraw her hand, but Frank held on to it
nervously. He put out his finger and absently touched a button
on her black jacket. "Alexandra," he said in a low tone, looking
steadily at the button, "you ain' t'ink I use dat girl awful bad
"No, Frank. We won't talk about that," Alexandra said, pressing
his hand. "I can't help Emil now, so I'm going to do what I can
for you. You know I don't go away from home often, and I came up
here on purpose to tell you this."
The warden at the glass door looked in inquiringly. Alexandra
nodded, and he came in and touched the white button on his desk.
The guard appeared, and with a sinking heart Alexandra saw Frank
led away down the corridor. After a few words with Mr. Schwartz,
she left the prison and made her way to the street-car. She had
refused with horror the warden's cordial invitation to "go through
the institution." As the car lurched over its uneven roadbed, back
toward Lincoln, Alexandra thought of how she and Frank had been
wrecked by the same storm and of how, although she could come out
into the sunlight, she had not much more left in her life than
he. She remembered some lines from a poem she had liked in her
Henceforth the world will only be
A wider prison-house to me,--
and sighed. A disgust of life weighed upon her heart; some such
feeling as had twice frozen Frank Shabata's features while they
talked together. She wished she were back on the Divide.
When Alexandra entered her hotel, the clerk held up one finger
and beckoned to her. As she approached his desk, he handed her a
telegram. Alexandra took the yellow envelope and looked at it in
perplexity, then stepped into the elevator without opening it. As
she walked down the corridor toward her room, she reflected that
she was, in a manner, immune from evil tidings. On reaching her
room she locked the door, and sitting down on a chair by the dresser,
opened the telegram. It was from Hanover, and it read:--
Arrived Hanover last night. Shall wait here until you come.
Please hurry. CARL LINSTRUM.
Alexandra put her head down on the dresser and burst into tears.
The next afternoon Carl and Alexandra were walking across the fields
from Mrs. Hiller's. Alexandra had left Lincoln after midnight,
and Carl had met her at the Hanover station early in the morning.
After they reached home, Alexandra had gone over to Mrs. Hiller's
to leave a little present she had bought for her in the city. They
stayed at the old lady's door but a moment, and then came out to
spend the rest of the afternoon in the sunny fields.
Alexandra had taken off her black traveling suit and put on
a white dress; partly because she saw that her black clothes made
Carl uncomfortable and partly because she felt oppressed by them
herself. They seemed a little like the prison where she had worn
them yesterday, and to be out of place in the open fields. Carl
had changed very little. His cheeks were browner and fuller. He
looked less like a tired scholar than when he went away a year ago,
but no one, even now, would have taken him for a man of business.
His soft, lustrous black eyes, his whimsical smile, would be less
against him in the Klondike than on the Divide. There are always
dreamers on the frontier.
Carl and Alexandra had been talking since morning. Her letter had
never reached him. He had first learned of her misfortune from
a San Francisco paper, four weeks old, which he had picked up in
a saloon, and which contained a brief account of Frank Shabata's
trial. When he put down the paper, he had already made up his
mind that he could reach Alexandra as quickly as a letter could;
and ever since he had been on the way; day and night, by the fastest
boats and trains he could catch. His steamer had been held back
two days by rough weather.
As they came out of Mrs. Hiller's garden they took up their talk
again where they had left it.
"But could you come away like that, Carl, without arranging things?
Could you just walk off and leave your business?" Alexandra asked.
Carl laughed. "Prudent Alexandra! You see, my dear, I happen to
have an honest partner. I trust him with everything. In fact,
it's been his enterprise from the beginning, you know. I'm in it
only because he took me in. I'll have to go back in the spring.
Perhaps you will want to go with me then. We haven't turned up
millions yet, but we've got a start that's worth following. But
this winter I'd like to spend with you. You won't feel that we
ought to wait longer, on Emil's account, will you, Alexandra?"
Alexandra shook her head. "No, Carl; I don't feel that way about
it. And surely you needn't mind anything Lou and Oscar say now.
They are much angrier with me about Emil, now, than about you.
They say it was all my fault. That I ruined him by sending him to
"No, I don't care a button for Lou or Oscar. The moment I knew
you were in trouble, the moment I thought you might need me, it all
looked different. You've always been a triumphant kind of person."
Carl hesitated, looking sidewise at her strong, full figure. "But
you do need me now, Alexandra?"
She put her hand on his arm. "I needed you terribly when it
happened, Carl. I cried for you at night. Then everything seemed
to get hard inside of me, and I thought perhaps I should never care
for you again. But when I got your telegram yesterday, then--then
it was just as it used to be. You are all I have in the world,
Carl pressed her hand in silence. They were passing the Shabatas'
empty house now, but they avoided the orchard path and took one
that led over by the pasture pond.
"Can you understand it, Carl?" Alexandra murmured. "I have had
nobody but Ivar and Signa to talk to. Do talk to me. Can you
understand it? Could you have believed that of Marie Tovesky? I
would have been cut to pieces, little by little, before I would
have betrayed her trust in me!"
Carl looked at the shining spot of water before them. "Maybe she
was cut to pieces, too, Alexandra. I am sure she tried hard; they
both did. That was why Emil went to Mexico, of course. And he was
going away again, you tell me, though he had only been home three
weeks. You remember that Sunday when I went with Emil up to
the French Church fair? I thought that day there was some kind
of feeling, something unusual, between them. I meant to talk to
you about it. But on my way back I met Lou and Oscar and got so
angry that I forgot everything else. You mustn't be hard on them,
Alexandra. Sit down here by the pond a minute. I want to tell
They sat down on the grass-tufted bank and Carl told her how he had
seen Emil and Marie out by the pond that morning, more than a year
ago, and how young and charming and full of grace they had seemed
to him. "It happens like that in the world sometimes, Alexandra,"
he added earnestly. "I've seen it before. There are women who
spread ruin around them through no fault of theirs, just by being
too beautiful, too full of life and love. They can't help it.
People come to them as people go to a warm fire in winter. I used
to feel that in her when she was a little girl. Do you remember
how all the Bohemians crowded round her in the store that day, when
she gave Emil her candy? You remember those yellow sparks in her
Alexandra sighed. "Yes. People couldn't help loving her. Poor
Frank does, even now, I think; though he's got himself in such
a tangle that for a long time his love has been bitterer than his
hate. But if you saw there was anything wrong, you ought to have
told me, Carl."
Carl took her hand and smiled patiently. "My dear, it was something
one felt in the air, as you feel the spring coming, or a storm in
summer. I didn't SEE anything. Simply, when I was with those two
young things, I felt my blood go quicker, I felt--how shall I say
it?--an acceleration of life. After I got away, it was all too
delicate, too intangible, to write about."
Alexandra looked at him mournfully. "I try to be more liberal
about such things than I used to be. I try to realize that we are
not all made alike. Only, why couldn't it have been Raoul Marcel,
or Jan Smirka? Why did it have to be my boy?"
"Because he was the best there was, I suppose. They were both the
best you had here."
The sun was dropping low in the west when the two friends rose and
took the path again. The straw-stacks were throwing long shadows,
the owls were flying home to the prairie-dog town. When they came
to the corner where the pastures joined, Alexandra's twelve young
colts were galloping in a drove over the brow of the hill.
"Carl," said Alexandra, "I should like to go up there with you in
the spring. I haven't been on the water since we crossed the ocean,
when I was a little girl. After we first came out here I used
to dream sometimes about the shipyard where father worked, and a
little sort of inlet, full of masts." Alexandra paused. After a
moment's thought she said, "But you would never ask me to go away
for good, would you?"
"Of course not, my dearest. I think I know how you feel about this
country as well as you do yourself." Carl took her hand in both
his own and pressed it tenderly.
"Yes, I still feel that way, though Emil is gone. When I was on
the train this morning, and we got near Hanover, I felt something
like I did when I drove back with Emil from the river that time,
in the dry year. I was glad to come back to it. I've lived here
a long time. There is great peace here, Carl, and freedom. . . .
I thought when I came out of that prison, where poor Frank is,
that I should never feel free again. But I do, here." Alexandra
took a deep breath and looked off into the red west.
"You belong to the land," Carl murmured, "as you have always said.
Now more than ever."
"Yes, now more than ever. You remember what you once said about
the graveyard, and the old story writing itself over? Only it is
we who write it, with the best we have."
They paused on the last ridge of the pasture, overlooking the
house and the windmill and the stables that marked the site of John
Bergson's homestead. On every side the brown waves of the earth
rolled away to meet the sky.
"Lou and Oscar can't see those things," said Alexandra suddenly.
"Suppose I do will my land to their children, what difference will
that make? The land belongs to the future, Carl; that's the way
it seems to me. How many of the names on the county clerk's plat
will be there in fifty years? I might as well try to will the
sunset over there to my brother's children. We come and go, but
the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand
it are the people who own it--for a little while."
Carl looked at her wonderingly. She was still gazing into the west,
and in her face there was that exalted serenity that sometimes came
to her at moments of deep feeling. The level rays of the sinking
sun shone in her clear eyes.
"Why are you thinking of such things now, Alexandra?"
"I had a dream before I went to Lincoln-- But I will tell you about
that afterward, after we are married. It will never come true,
now, in the way I thought it might." She took Carl's arm and they
walked toward the gate. "How many times we have walked this path
together, Carl. How many times we will walk it again! Does it seem
to you like coming back to your own place? Do you feel at peace
with the world here? I think we shall be very happy. I haven't
any fears. I think when friends marry, they are safe. We don't
suffer like--those young ones." Alexandra ended with a sigh.
They had reached the gate. Before Carl opened it, he drew Alexandra
to him and kissed her softly, on her lips and on her eyes.
She leaned heavily on his shoulder. "I am tired," she murmured.
"I have been very lonely, Carl."
They went into the house together, leaving the Divide behind them,
under the evening star. Fortunate country, that is one day to
receive hearts like Alexandra's into its bosom, to give them out
again in the yellow wheat, in the rustling corn, in the shining
eyes of youth!
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