The Desert and The Sown
Mary Hallock Foote
Part 2 out of 4
"You have said enough on that subject, Christine." Mrs. Bogardus bent her
dark, keen gaze upon her daughter's face. "Come"--she rose. "Come with
Christine sat still. "Come!" her mother repeated sternly. "Moya,"--in a
different voice,--"your letter was lovely. Shall you read it to your
"Hardly," said Moya, flushing. "Father does not care for descriptions, and
the woods are an old story to him."
Mrs. Bogardus placed her hands on the girl's shoulders and gave her one of
her infrequent, ceremonious kisses, which, like her finest smile, she kept
for occasions too nice for words.
THE POWER OF WEAKNESS
Christine followed her mother to their room, and the two faced each other
a moment in pale silence.
Mrs. Bogardus spoke first. "What does this mean?"--her breath came short,
perhaps from climbing the stairs. She was a large woman.
"What does what mean? I don't understand you, mother."
"Ah, child, don't repulse me! Twice you and Moya have nearly quarreled
about those men. Why were you so rude to her? Why did you behave so about
"Paul is so intolerant! And the airs he puts on! If he is my own brother I
must say he's an awful prig about other men."
"We are not discussing Paul. That is not the question now. Have you
anything to tell me, Christine?"
"To tell you?--about what, mother?" Christine spoke lower.
"You know what I mean. Which of them is it? Is it Banks?--don't say it is
"Mother, how can I say anything when you begin like that?"
"Have you any idea what sort of a man Banks Bowen really is? His father
supports him entirely--six years now, ever since he left the law school.
He does nothing, never will do anything. He has no will or purpose in
life, except about trifles like this hunting-trip. As far as I can see he
is without common sense."
Christine stood by the dressing-table pleating the cover-frilling with her
small fingers that were loaded with rings. She pinched the folds hard and
let them go. "Why did no one ever say these things before?"
"We don't say things about the sons of our friends, unless we are
compelled to. They were implied in every way possible. When have I asked
Banks Bowen to the house except when everybody was asked! I would never in
the world have come out in Mr. Borland's car if I had known the Bowens
were to be of the party."
"That made no difference," said Christine loftily.
"It was all settled before then, was it?"
"Have I said it was settled, mother? He asked me if I could ever care for
him; and I said that I did--a little. Why shouldn't I? He does what I like
a man to do. I don't enjoy people who have wills and purposes. It may be
very horrid of me, but I wouldn't be in Moya's place for worlds."
"You poor child! You poor, unhappy child!"
"Why am I unhappy? Has Paul added so much to our income since he left
"Paul does not make money; neither does he selfishly waste it. He has a
conscience in his use of what he has."
"I don't see what conscience has to do with it. When it is gone it's
"You will learn what conscience has to do with a man's spending if ever
you try to make both ends meet with Banks Bowen. I suppose he will go
through the form of speaking to me?"
"Mother dear! He has only just spoken to me. How fast you go!"
"Not fast enough to keep up with my children, it seems. Was it you,
Christine, who asked them to come here?"
Christine was silent.
"Where did you learn such ways?--such want of frankness, of delicacy, of
the commonest consideration for others? To be looking out for your own
little schemes at a time like this!" Mrs. Bogardus saw now what must have
been Paul's reason for doing what, with all her forced explanations of the
hunting-trip, she had never until now understood. He had taken the alarm
before she had, and done what he could to postpone this family
Christine retreated to a deep-cushioned chair, and threw herself into it,
her slender hands, palm upwards, extended upon its arms. Total surrender
under pressure of cruel odds was the expression of her pointed eyebrows
and drooping mouth. She looked exasperatingly pretty and irresponsibly
fragile. Her blue-veined eyelids quivered, her breath came in distinct
"Perhaps you will not be troubled with my 'ways' for very many years,
mother. If you could feel my heart now! It jumps like something trying to
get out. It will get out some day. Have patience!"
"That is a poor way to retaliate upon your mother, Christine. Your health
is too serious a matter to trifle with. If you choose to make it a shield
against everything I say that doesn't please you, you can cut yourself off
from me entirely. I cannot beat down such a defense as that. Anger me you
never can, but you can make me helpless to help you."
"I dare say it's better that I should never marry at all," said Christine,
her eyes closed in resignation. "You never would like anybody I like."
"I shall say no more. You are a woman. I have protected you as far as I
was able on account of your weakness. I cannot protect you from the
Mrs. Bogardus rose. She did not offer to comfort her child with caresses,
but in her eyes as she looked at her there was a profound, inalienable,
sorrowing tenderness, a depth of understanding beyond words.
"I know so well," the dark eyes seemed to say, "how you came to be the
poor thing that you are!"
The constraint which she felt towards her mother threw Chrissy back upon
Moya. Being a lesser power, she was always seeking alliances. Moya had put
aside their foolish tiff as unworthy of another thought; she was
embarrassed when at bedtime Christine came humbly to her door, and putting
her arms around her neck implored her not to be cross with her "poor
pussy." It was always the other person who was "cross" with Christine.
"Nobody is cross with anybody, so far as I know," said Moya briskly. A
certain sort of sentimentality always made her feel like whistling or
singing or asserting the commonplace side of life in some way.
THE WHITE PERIL
Mrs. Bogardus received many letters, chiefly on business, and these she
answered with manlike brevity, in a strong, provincial hand. They took up
much of her time, and mercifully, for it was now the last week in November
and the young men did not return.
The range cattle had been driven down into the valleys, deer-tracks
multiplied by lonely mountain fords; War Eagle and his brethren of the
Owyhees were taking council under their winter blankets. The nights were
still, the mornings rimy with hoarfrost. Fogs arose from the river and cut
off the bases of the mountains, converting the valley before sunrise into
the likeness of a polar sea.
"You have let your fire go out," said the colonel briskly. He had invaded
the sitting-room at an unaccustomed hour, finding the lady at her letters
as usual. She turned and held her pen poised above her paper as she looked
"You did not come to see about the fire?" she said.
"No; I have had letters from the north. Would you step into my study a
Moya was in her father's room when they entered. She had been weeping, but
at sight of Paul's mother she rose and stood picking at the handkerchief
she held, without raising her eyes.
"Don't be alarmed at Moya's face," said the colonel stoutly. "Paul was all
right at last accounts. We will have a merry Christmas yet."
"This is not from Paul!" Mrs. Bogardus fixed her eyes upon a letter which
she held at arm's length, feeling for her glasses. "It's not for
"Ah, well. I saw it was postmarked Lemhi--Fort Lemhi, you know. Sit down,
madam. Suppose I give you Mr. Winslow's report first--Lieutenant Winslow.
You heard of his going to Lemhi?"
"She doesn't know," whispered Moya.
"True. Well, two weeks ago I gave Mr. Winslow a hunter's leave, as we call
it in the army, to beat up the trail of those boys. I thought it was time
we heard from them, but it wasn't worth while to raise a hue and cry. He
started out with a few picked men from Lemhi, the Indian Reservation, you
know. I couldn't have sent a better man; the thing hasn't got into the
local papers even. My object, of course, has been to save unnecessary
alarm. Mr. Winslow has just got back to Challis. He rounded up the Bowen
youths and the cook and the helper, in bad shape, all of them, but able to
tell a story. The details we shall get later, but I have Mr. Winslow's
report to me. It is short and probably correct."
"Was Paul not with them?" his mother questioned in a hard, dry voice.
"Where is he then?"
"He is in camp, madam, in charge of the wounded."
"Dear father! if you would speak plain!" Moya whispered nervously.
"Certainly. There is nothing whatever to hide. We know now that on their
last day's hunt they met with an accident which resulted in a division of
the party. A fall of snow had covered the ice on the trails, and the
guide's horse fell and rolled on him--nature of his injuries not
described. This happened a day's journey from their camp at Ten-Mile
cabin, and the retreat with the wounded man was slow and of course
difficult over such a trail. They put together a sort of horse-litter made
of pine poles and carried him on that, slung between two mules tandem. A
beastly business, winding and twisting over fallen timber, hugging the
canon wall, near a thousand feet down--'Impassable' the trail is marked,
on the government military maps. This first day's march was so
discouraging that at Ten Mile they called a council, and the packer spoke
up like a man. He disposed of his own case in this way. If he were to
live, they could send back help to fetch him out. If not, no help would be
needed. The snows were upon them; there was danger in every hour's delay.
It was insane to sacrifice four sound men for one, badly hurt, with not
many hours perhaps to suffer."
A murmur from the mother announced her appreciation of the packer's
"It was no more than a man should do; but as to taking him at his word,
why, that's another question." The colonel paused and gustily cleared his
throat. "They were up against it right then and there, and the party split
upon it. Three of them went on,--for help, as they put it,--and Paul
stayed behind with the wounded man."
"Paul stayed--alone?" Mrs. Bogardus uttered with hoarse emphasis. "Was not
that a very strange way to divide? Among them all, I should think they
might have brought the man out with them."
"Their story is that his injuries were such that he could not have borne
the pain of the journey. Rather an unusual case," the colonel added dryly.
"In my experience, a wounded man will stand anything sooner than be left
on the field."
"I cannot understand it," Mrs. Bogardus repeated, in a voice of indignant
pain. "Such a strange division! One man left alone--to nurse, and hunt,
and cook, and keep up fires! Suppose the guide should die!"
"Paul was not _left_, you know," the colonel said emphatically. "He
_stayed_. And I should be thankful in your place, madam, that my son was
the man who made that choice. But setting conduct aside, for we are not
prepared to judge, it is merely a matter of time our getting in there, now
that we know where he is."
"How much time?" Mrs. Bogardus opened her ashen lips to say.
The colonel's face fell. "Mr. Winslow reports heavy snows for the past
week,--soft, clogging snow,--too deep to wade through and too soft to
bear. A little later, when the cold has formed a crust, our men can get in
on snowshoes. There is nothing for it but patience, Mrs. Bogardus, and
faith in the boy's endurance. The pluck that made him stay behind will
help him to hold out."
Moya gave a hurt sob; the colonel stepped to the desk and stood there a
moment turning over his papers. Behind his back the mother sent a glance
to Moya expressive of despair.
"Do you know what happened to his father? Did he ever tell you?" she
Moya assented; she could not speak.
"Twice, twice in a lifetime!" said the older woman.
With a gesture, Moya protested against this wild prophecy; but as Paul's
mother left the room she rushed upon her father, crying: "Tell _me_ the
truth! What do you think of it? Did you ever hear of such a dastardly
"It was a rout," said the colonel coolly. "They were in full flight before
"What enemy? They deserted a wounded comrade, and a servant at that!"
"The enemy was panic,--panic, my dear. In these woods I've seen strong men
go half beside themselves with fear of something--the Lord knows what!
Then, add the winter and what they had seen and heard of that. Anyway, you
can afford to be easy on the other boys. The honors of the day are with
Paul--and the old packer, though it's all in the day's work to him."
"And you are satisfied with Paul, father?"
"He didn't desert his command to save his own skin." The colonel smiled
"When the men of the Fourth discovered those other fellows they had
literally sat down in the snow to die. Not a man of them knew how to pack
a mule. Their meat pack slipped, going along one of those high trails, and
scared the mule, and in trying to kick himself free the beast fell off the
trail--mule and meat both gone. They got tired of carrying their stuff and
made a raft to float it down the river, and lost that! Paul has been much
better off in camp than he would have been with them. So cheer up, my
girl, and think how you'd like to have your bridegroom out on an Indian
"Ah, but that would be orders! It's the uselessness that hurts. There was
nothing to do or to gain. He didn't want to go. Oh, daddy dear, I made fun
of his shooting,--I did! I laughed at his way with firearms. Wretched fool
and snob that I was! As if I cared! I thought of what other people would
say. You remember,--he went shooting up the gulch with Mr. Lane, and when
he hit but didn't kill he wouldn't--couldn't put the birds out of pain.
Jephson had to do it for him, and he told it in barracks and the men
"How did you know that! And what does it all amount to! Blame yourself all
you like, dear, if it does you any good, but don't make him out a fool!
There's not much that comes to us straight in this world--not even orders,
you'll find. But we have to take it straight and leave the muddles and the
blunders as they are. That's the brave man's courage and the brave
woman's. Orders are mixed, but duty is clear. And the boy out there in the
woods has found his duty and done it like a man. That should be enough for
any soldier's daughter."
An hour passed in suspense. Moya was disappointed in her expectation of
sharing in whatever the letter from Fort Lemhi might contain. Christine
was in bed with a headache, her mother dully gave out, with no apparent
expectation that any one would accept this excuse for the girl's complete
withdrawal. The letter, she told Moya, was from Banks Bowen. "There was
nothing in it of consequence--to us," she added, and Moya took the words
to mean "you and me" to the unhappy exclusion of Christine.
Mrs. Bogardus's face had settled into lines of anxiety printed years
before, as the creases in an old garment, smoothed and laid away, will
reappear with fresh wear. Her plan was to go back to New York with
Christine, who was plainly unfit to bear a long siege of suspense. There
she could leave the girl with friends and learn what particulars could be
gathered from the Bowens, who would have arrived. She would then return
alone and wait for news at the garrison. That night, with Moya's help, she
completed her packing, and on the following day the wedding party broke
A SEARCHING OF HEARTS
Fine, dry snowflakes were drifting past the upper square of a window set
in a wall of logs. The lower half was obscured by a white bulk that
shouldered up against the sash in the likeness of a muffled figure
stooping to peer in.
Lying in his bunk against the wall, the packer watched this sentinel
snowdrift grow and become human and bold and familiar. His deep-lined
visage was reduced to its bony structure. The hand was a claw with which
he plucked at the ancient fever-crust shredding from his lips: an
occupation at once so absorbing and so exhausting that often the hand
would drop and the blankets rise upon the arch of the chest in a sigh of
retarded respiration. The sigh would be followed by a cough, controlled,
as in dread of the shock to a sore and shattered frame. The snow came
faster and faster until the dim, wintry pane was a blur. Millions of atoms
crossed the watcher's weary vision, whirling, wavering, driven with an
aimless persistence, unable to pause or to stop. And the blind white
snowdrift climbed, fed, like human circumstance, from disconnected atoms
impelled by a common law.
There were sounds in the cabin: wet wood sweating on hot coals; a step
that went to and fro. Outside, a snow-weighted bough let go its load and
sprang up, scraping against the logs. Some heavy soft thing slid off the
roof and dropped with a _chug_. Then the door, that hung awry like a
drooping eyelid, gave a disreputable wink, and the whole front gable of
the cabin loomed a giant countenance with a silly forehead and an evil
leer. Now it seemed that a hand was hurling snow against the door, as a
sower scatters grain,--snow that lay like beach sand on the floor, or
melted into a crawling pool--red in the firelight, red as blood!
These and other phantasms had now for an unmeasured time been tenants of
the packer's brain, sharing and often overpowering the reality of the
human step that went to and fro. To-day the shapes and relations of things
were more natural, and the step aroused a querulous curiosity.
"Who's there?" the sick man imagined himself to have said. A croaking
sound in his throat, which was all he could do by way of speech, brought
the step to his bedside. A young face, lightly bearded, and gaunt almost
as his own, bent over him. Large, black eyes rested on his; a hand with
womanish nails placed its fingers on his wrist.
"You are better to-day. Your pulse is down. I wouldn't try to talk."
"There is no one outside," Paul answered, following the direction of his
patient's eyes. "That? That is only a snowdrift. It grows faster than I
can shovel it away."
The packer had forgotten his own question. He dozed off, and presently
roused again as suddenly as he had slept. His utterance was clearer, but
not his meaning.
"What--you want to fetch me back for?"
"Back?" Paul repeated.
"I was most gone, wa'n't I?"
"Back to life, you mean? You came back of yourself. I hadn't much to do
"What's been the matter--gen'ly speaking?"
"You were hurt, don't you remember? Something like wound fever set in. The
altitude is bad for fevers. You have had a pretty close call."
"Been here all the time?"
"Have I been here?--yes."
"With you. How is your chest? Does it hurt you still when you breathe?"
The sick man filled his lungs experimentally. "Something busted inside, I
guess," he panted. "'Tain't no killing matter, though."
Nourishment, in a tin cup, warm from the fire was offered him, refused
with a gesture, and firmly urged upon him. This necessitated another rest.
It was long before he spoke again--out of some remoter train of thought
"Family all in New York?"
"My family? They were at Bisuka when I left them."
"You don't _live_ West!"
"No. I was born in the West, though. Idaho is my native state."
The patient fell to whimpering suddenly like a hurt child. He drew up the
blanket to cover his face. Paul, interpreting this as a signal for more
nourishment, brought the sad decoction,--rinds of dried beef cooked with
rice in snow water.
"Guess that'll do, thank ye. My tongue feels like an old buckskin glove."
"When I was a little fellow," said the nurse, beguiling the patient while
he tucked the spoonfuls down, "I was like you: I wouldn't take what the
doctor ordered, and they used to pretend I must take it for the others of
the family,--a kind of vicarious milk diet, or gruel, or whatever it was.
'Here's a spoonful for mother, poor mother,' they would say; and of course
it couldn't be refused when mother needed it so much. 'And now one for
"My sister, Christine. And then I'd take one for 'uncle' and one for each
of the servants; and the cupful would go down to the health of the
household, and I the dupe of my sympathies! Now you are taking this for
me, because it's nicer to be shut up here with a live man than a dead one;
and we haven't the conveniences for a first-class funeral."
"You never took a spoonful for 'father,'--eh?"
Paul answered the question with gravity. "No. We never used that name in
"Dead was he?"
"I will tell you some time. Better try to sleep now."
Paul returned the saucepan to the fire, after piecing out its contents
with water, and retired out of his patient's sight.
Again came a murmur, chiefly unintelligible, from the bunk.
"Did you ask for anything?"
The sick man heaved a worried sigh. "See what a mis'rable presumptuous
piece of work!" he muttered, addressing the logs overhead. "But that
Clauson--he wa'n't no more fit to guide ye than to go to heaven! Couldn't
'a' done much worse than this, though!"
"He has done worse!" Paul came over to the bunk-side to reason on this
matter. "They started back from here, four strong men with all the animals
and all the food they needed for a six weeks' trip. We came in in one. If
they got through at all, where is the help they were to send us?"
"Help!" The packer roused. "They helped themselves, and pretty frequent. I
said to them more than once--they didn't like it any too well: 'We can't
drink up here like they do down to the coast. The air is too light. What a
man would take with his dinner down there would fit him out with a
first-class jag up here, 'leven thousand above the sea!'"
"It's a waste of breath to talk about them--breath burns up food and we
haven't much to spare. We rushed into this trouble and we dragged you in
after us. We have hurt you a good deal more than you have us."
The sick man groaned. He flung one hand back against the logs, dislodging
ancient dust that fell upon his corpse-like forehead. It was carefully
wiped away. Helpless tears stole down the rigid face.
"John," said Paul with animation, "your general appearance just now
reminds me of those worked-out placer claims we passed in Ruby Gulch, the
first day out. The fever and my cooking have ground-sluiced you to the
John smiled faintly. "Don't look very fat yourself. Where'd you git all
that baird on your face?"
"We have been here some time, you know--or you don't know; you have been
living in places far away from here. I used to envy you sometimes. And
other times I didn't."
"You mean I was off my head?"
"At times. But more of the time you were dreaming and talking in your
dreams; seeing things out loud by the flash-light of fever."
"Talking, was I? Guess there wa'n't much sense in any of it?" The hazard
was a question.
"A kind of sense,--out of focus, distorted. Some of it was opium. Didn't
you coax a little of his favorite medicine out of the cook?"
Packer John apologized sheepishly, "I cal'lated I was going to be left.
You put it up on me--making out you were off with the rest. _That_ was all
right. But I wa'n't going to suffer it out; why should I? A gunshot would
have cured me quicker, perhaps. Then some critter might 'a' found me and
called it murder. A word like that set going can hang a man. No, I just
took a little to deaden the pain."
"The whole discussion was rather nasty, right before the man we were
talking about," said Paul. "I wanted to get them off and out of hearing.
Then we had a few words."
At intervals during that day and the next, Paul's patient expended his
strength in questions, apparently trivial. His eyes, whenever they were
open, followed his nurse with a shrinking intelligence. Paul was on his
"What day of the month do you make it out to be?"
"The second of December."
"December!" The packer lay still considering. "Game all gone down?"
"I am not much of a pot-hunter," said Paul. "There may be game, but I
can't seem to get it. The snow is pretty deep."
"Wouldn't bear a man on snowshoes?"
"He would go out of sight."
"Snowing a little every day?"
"Right along, quietly, for I don't know how many days! I think the sky is
packed with it a mile deep."
"How much grub have we got?"
Paul gave a flattering estimate of their resources. The patient was not
"Where's it all gone to? You ain't eat anything."
"I've eaten a good deal more than you have."
"I was livin' on fever."
"You can't live on fever any longer. The fever has left you, and you'll go
with it if you don't obey your doctor."
"But where's all the stuff _gone_ to?"
"There were four of them, and they allowed for some delay in getting out,"
Paul explained, with a sickly smile.
"Well, they was hogs! I knew how they'd pan out! That was why"--He wearied
of speech and left the point unfinished.
On the evening following, when the two could no longer see each other's
faces in the dusk, Paul spoke, controlling his voice:--
"I need not ask you, John, what you think of our chances?"
"I guess they ain't much worth thinking about." The fire hissed and
crackled; the soft subsidence of the snow could be heard outside.
"We are 'free among the dead,' how does it go? 'Like unto them that are
wounded and lie in the grave.' What we say to each other here will stop
here with our breath. Let us put our memories in order for the last
reckoning. I think, John, you must, at some time in your life, have known
my father, Adam Bogardus? He was lost on the Snake River plains,
twenty-one years ago this autumn."
Receiving no answer, the pale young inquisitor went on, choosing his words
with intense deliberation as one feeling his way in the dark.
"Most of us believe in some form of communication that we can't explain,
between those who are separated in body, in this world, but closely united
in thought. Do I make myself clear?"
There was a sound of deep breathing from the bunk; it produced a similar
conscious excitement in the speaker. He halted, recovered himself, and
"After my father's disappearance, my mother had a distinct
presentiment--it haunted her for years--that something had happened to him
at a place called One Man Station. Did you ever know the place?"
"I might have." The words came huskily.
"Father had left her at this place, and to her knowledge he never came
back. But she had this intimation--and suffered from it--that he did come
back and was foully dealt with there--wronged in body or mind. The place
had most evil associations for her; it was not strange she should have
connected it with the great disaster of her life. As you lay talking to
yourself in your fever, you took me back on that lost trail that ended, as
we thought, in the grave. But we might have been mistaken. Is there
anything it would not be safe for you and me to speak of now? Do you know
any tie between men that should be closer than the tie between us? Any
safer place where a man could lay off the secret burdens of his life and
be himself for a little while--before the end answers all? I know you have
a secret. I believe that a share of it belongs to me."
"We are better off sometimes if we don't get all that belongs to us," said
"It doesn't seem to be a matter of choice, does it? If you were not meant
to tell me--what you have partly told me already--where is there any
meaning in our being here at all? Let us have some excuse for this
senseless accident. Do you believe much in accidents? How foolish"--Paul
sighed--"for you and me to be afraid of each other! Two men who have
parted with everything but the privilege of speaking the truth!"
The packer raised himself in his bunk slowly, like one in pain. He looked
long at the listless figure crouching by the fire; then he sank back again
with a low groan. "What was it you heared me say? Come!"
"I can't give you the exact words. The words were nothing. Haven't you
watched the sparks blow up, at night, when the wind goes searching over
the ashes of an old camp-fire? It was the fever made you talk, and your
words were the sparks that showed where there had been fire once. Perhaps
I had no right to track you by your own words when you lay helpless, but I
couldn't always leave you. Now I'd like to have my share of that--whatever
it was--that hurt you so, at One Man Station."
"You ought to been a lawyer," said the packer, releasing his breath. There
was less strain in his voice. It broke with feeling. "You put up a mighty
strong case for your way of looking at it. I don't say it's best. There,
if you will have it! Sonny--my son! It--it's like startin' a snow-slide."
The sick man broke down and sobbed childishly.
"Take it quietly! Oh, take it quietly!" Paul shivered. "I have known it a
Hours later they were still awake, the packer in his bunk, Paul in his
blankets by the winking brands. The pines were moving, and in pauses of
the wind they could hear the incessant soft crowding of the snow.
"When they find us here in the spring," said the packer humbly, "it won't
matter much which on us was 'Mister' and which was 'John.'"
"Are you thinking of that!" Paul answered with nervous irritation. "I
thought you had lived in the woods long enough to have got rid of all that
"I guess there was some of it where you've been living."
"We are done with all that now. Go to sleep,--Father." He pronounced the
word conscientiously to punish himself for dreading it. The darkness
seemed to ring with it and give it back to him ironically. "Father!"
muttered the pines outside, and the snow, listening, let fall the word in
elfin whispers. Paul turned over desperately in his blankets. "Father!" he
repeated out loud. "Do _you_ believe it? Does it do you any good?"
"I wouldn't distress myself, one way or t' other, if it don't come
natural," the packer spoke, out of his corner in the darkness. "Wait till
you can feel to say it. The word ain't nothing."
"But do you feel it? Is it any comfort to you at all?"
"I ain't in any hurry to feel it. We'll get there. Don't worry. And s'pose
we don't! We're men. Man to man is good enough for me."
Paul spent some wakeful hours after that, trying not to think of Moya, of
his mother and Christine. They were of another world,--a world that dies
hard at twenty-four. Towards morning he slept, but not without dreams.
He was in the pent-road at Stone Ridge. It was sunset and long shadows
striped the lane. A man stood, back towards him, leaning both arms on the
stone fence that bounds the lane to the eastward,--a plain farmer figure,
gazing down across the misty fields as he might have stood a hundred times
in that place at that hour. Paul could not see his face, but something
told him who it must be. His heart stood still, for he saw his mother
coming up the lane. She carried something in her hand covered with a
napkin, and she smiled, walking carefully as if carrying a treat to a sick
child. She passed the man at the fence, not appearing to have seen him.
"Won't you speak to him, mother? Won't you speak to"--He could not utter
the name. She looked at him bewildered. "Speak? who shall I speak to?" The
man at the fence had turned and he watched her, or so Paul imagined. He
felt himself choking, faint, with the effort to speak that one word. Too
late! The moment passed. The man whom he knew was his father, the solemn,
quiet figure, moved away up the road unquestioned. He never looked back.
Paul grew dizzy with the lines of shadow; they stretched on and on, they
became the ties of a railroad--interminable. He awoke, very faint and
tired, with a lost feeling and the sense upon him of some great
catastrophe. The old man was sleeping deeply in his bunk, a ray of white
sunlight falling on his yellow features. He looked like one who would
never wake again. But as Paul gazed at him he smiled, and sighed heavily.
His lips formed a name; and all the blood in Paul's body dyed his face
crimson. The name was his mother's.
A few hours seemed days, after the great disclosure. Both men had recoiled
from it and were feeling the strain of the new relation. Three times since
their first meeting the elder had adjusted himself quietly to a change in
the younger's manner to him. First there had been respectful curiosity in
the presence of a new type, combined with the deference due a leader and
an expert in strange fields. Then indignant partisanship, pity, and the
slight condescension of the nurse. This had hurt the packer, but he took
it as he accepted his physical downfall. The last change was hardest to
bear; for now the time was short, and, as Paul himself had said, they were
in the presence of the final unveiling.
So when Paul made artificial remarks to break the pauses, avoiding his
father's eye and giving him neither name nor title, the latter became
silent and lay staring at the logs and picking at his hands.
"If I was hunting up a father," he said to himself aloud one day, "I'd try
to find a better lookin' one. I wouldn't pa'm off on myself no such old
warped stick as I be." The remark seemed a tentative one.
"I had the choice, to take or leave you," Paul responded. "You were an
unconscious witness. Why should I have opened the subject at all?"
Both knew that this answer was an evasion. By forcing the tie they had
merely marked the want of ease and confidence between them. As "Packer
John" Paul could have enjoyed, nay, loved this man; as his father, the sum
and finality of his filial dreams, the supplanter of that imaginary
husband of his mother's youth, the thing was impossible. And the father
knew it and did not resent it in the least, only pitied the boy for his
needless struggle. He was curious about him, too. He wanted to understand
him and the life he had come out of: his roundabout way of reaching the
simplest conclusions; his courage in argument, and his personal shying
away from the truth when found. More than all he longed for a little plain
talk, the exile's hunger for news from home. It pleased him when Paul,
rousing at this deliberate challenge, spoke up with animation, as if he
had come to some conclusion in his own mind. It could not be expected he
would express it simply. The packer had become used to his oddly elaborate
way of putting things.
"If we had food enough and time, we might afford to waste them discussing
each other's personal appearance. _I_ propose we talk to some purpose."
"Talking sure burns up the food." The packer waited.
"I wish I knew what my father was doing with himself, all those years when
his family were giving him the honors of the dead."
"I warned ye about this pumping out old shafts. You can't tell what you'll
find in the bottom. I suppose you know there are things in this world,
Boy, a good deal worse than death?"
"Desertion is worse. It is not my father's death I want explained, it is
his life, your life, in secret, these twenty years! Can you explain that?"
The packer doubled his bony fist and brought it down on the bunk-side.
"Now you talk like a man! I been waiting to hear you say that. Yes, I can
answer that question, if you ain't afeard of the answer!"
"I am keeping alive to hear it!" said Paul in a guarded voice.
"You might say you're keeping me alive to tell it. It's a good thing to
git off of one's mind; but it's a poor thing to hand over to a son. All
I've got to leave ye, though: the truth if you can stand it! Where do you
want I should begin?"
"At the night when you came back to One Man Station."
"How'd you know I come back?"
"You were back there in your fever, living over something that happened in
that place. There was a wind blowing and the door wouldn't shut. And
something had to be lifted,"--the old man's eyes, fixed upon his son, took
a look of awful comprehensions,--"something heavy."
"Yes; great Lord, it was heavy! And I been carrying it ever since!" His
chest rose as if the weight of that load lay on it still, and his breath
expired with a hoarse "haugh." "I got out of the way because it was _my_
load. I didn't want no help from them." He paused and sat picking at his
hands. "It's a dreadful ugly story. I'd most as soon live it over again as
have to tell it in cold blood. I feel sometimes it _can't be!_"
"You need not go back beyond that night. I know how my mother was left,
and what sort of a man you were forced to leave her with. Was it--the
"That's what it was. That was the hard knot in my thread. Nothing wouldn't
go past that. Some, when they git things in a tangle, they just reach for
the shears an' cut the thread. I wa'n't brought up that way. I was taught
to leave the shears alone. So I went on stringin' one year after another.
But they wouldn't join on to them that went before. There was the knot."
"It was between you and him--and the law?" said Paul.
"You've got it! I was there alone with it,--witness an' judge an' jury; I
worked up my own case. Manslaughter with extenuatin' circumstances, I made
it--though he was more beast than man. I give myself the outside
penalty,--imprisonment for life. And I been working out my sentence ever
since. The Western country wa'n't home to me then--more like a big prison.
It's been my prison these twenty-odd years, while your mother was enjoying
what belonged to her, and making a splendid job of your education. If I
had let things alone I might have finished my time out: but I didn't, and
now the rest of it's commuted--for the life of my son!"
"Don't put it that way! I am no lamb of sacrifice. Why, how can we let
things alone in this world! Should I have stood off from this secret and
never asked my father for his defense?"
"Do you mean to say a boy like you can take hold of this thing and
"I can," said Paul. "I could almost tell the story myself."
"Put it up then!" said the packer. The fascination of confession was
strong upon him.
"You had been out in the mountains--how long?"
"Two days and three nights, just as I left camp."
"You were crazed with anxiety for us. You came back to find your camp
empty, the wife and baby gone. You had reason to distrust the keeper. Not
for what he did--for what you knew he meant to do."
"For what he meant and tried to do. I seen it in his eye. The devil that
wanted him incited him to play with me and tell me lies about my wife. She
scorned the brute and he took his mean revenge. He kep' back her letter,
and he says to me, leerin' at me out of his wicked eyes, 'Your livestock
seems to be the strayin' kind. The man she went off with give me
that,'--he lugged a gold piece out of his clothes and showed me,--'give me
that,' he says, 'to keep it quiet.' He kep' it quiet! Half starved and
sick's I was, the strength was in me. But vengeance in the hand of a man,
it cuts both ways, my son! His bunk had a sharp edge to it like this. He
fell acrost it with my weight on top of him and he never raised up again.
There wasn't a mark on him. His back was broke. He died slow, his eyes
"'You fool,' he says. 'Go look in that coat hangin' on the wall.' I found
her letter there inside of one from Granger. He watched me read it and he
laughed. 'Now, go tell her you've killed a man!' He knew I didn't come of
a killin' breed. There was four hours to think it over. Four hours! I
thought hard, I tell you! 'T was six of one and half a dozen of t' other
'twixt him and me, but I worked it back 'n' forth a good long while about
her. First, taking her away from her father, an old man whose bread I'd
eat. She was like a child of my own raising. I always had felt mean about
that. We'd had bad luck from the start,--my luck,--and now disgrace to cap
it all. Whether I hid it or told her and stood my trial, I'd never be a
free man again. There he lay! And a sin done in secret, it's like a drop
of nitric acid: it's going to eat its way out--and in!
"I knew she'd have friends enough, once she was quit of me. That was the
case between us. The thing that hurt me most was to put her letter back
where I found it, and leave it, there with him. Her little cry to me--and
I couldn't come! I read the words over and over, I've said 'em to myself
ever since. I've lived on them. But I had to leave the letter there to
show I'd never come back. I put it back after he was dead.
"The sins of the parents shall be visited,--when it's in the blood! But I
declare to the Almighty, murder wa'n't in my blood! It come on me like a
stroke of lightning hits a tree, and I had a clear show to fall alone.
"That's the answer. Maybe I didn't see all sides of it, but there never
was no opening to do different, after that night. Now, you've had an
education. I should be glad to hear your way of looking at it?"
"I should think you might stand your trial, now, before any judge or jury,
in this world or the next," Paul answered.
"There is only one Judge." The packer smiled a beautiful quiet smile that
covered a world of meanings. "What a man re'ly wants, if he'd own up it,
is a leetle shade of partiality. Maybe that's what we're all going to
need, before we git through."
Paul was glad to be saved the necessity of speech, and he felt the swift
discernment with which the packer resumed his usual manner. "Got any more
of that stuff you call soup? Divide even! I won't be made no baby of."
"We might as well finish it up. It's hardly worth making two bites of a
"Call this 'cherry'! It's been a good while on the bough. What's it mostly
"Rind of bacon, snow water,--plenty of water,--and a tablespoonful of
"Good work! Hungry folks can live on what the full bellies throw away."
"Oh, I can save. But there comes a time when you can't live by saving what
you haven't got."
"That's right! Well, let's talk, then, before the bacon-rind fades out of
The packer's face and voice, his whole manner, showed the joy of a soul
that has found relief. Paul was not trying now to behave dutifully; they
were man to man once more. The quaint, subdued humor asserted itself, and
the narrator's speech flowed on in the homely dialect which expressed the
"I stayed out all that winter, workin' towards the coast. One day, along
in March, I fetched a charcoal burner's camp, and the critter took me in
and nursed my frost-bites and didn't ask no questions, nor I of him. We
struck up a trade, my drivin' stock, mostly skin and bone, for a show in
his business. He wa'n't gettin' rich at it, that was as plain as the hip
bones on my mules. I kep' in the woods, cuttin' timber and tendin' kiln,
and he hauled and did the sellin'. Next year he went below to Portland and
brought home smallpox with him. It broke out on him on the road. He was a
terrible sick man. I buried him, and waited for my turn. It didn't come. I
seemed kind o' insured. I've been in lots of trouble since then, but
nothing ever touched me till now. I banked on it too strong, though. I
sure did! My pardner was just such another lone bird like me. If he had
any folks of his own he kep' still about them. So I took his name--whether
it was his name there's no knowing. Guess I've took full as good care of
it as he would. 'Hagar?' folk would say, sort o' lookin' me over. 'You
ain't Jim Hagar.' No, but I was John, and they let it go at that.
"I heard of your mother that summer, from a prospector who came up past my
camp. He'd wintered in Mountain Home. He told me my own story, the way
they had it down there, and what straits your mother was in. I had scraped
up quite a few dollars by then, and was thinking how I'd shove it into a
bank like an old debt coming to Adam Bogardus. I was studying how I was
going to rig it. There wasn't any one who knew me down there, so I felt
safe to ventur' a few inquiries. What I heard was that she'd gone home to
her folks and was as well off as anybody need be. That broke me all up at
first. I must have had a sneakin' notion that maybe some day I could see
my way to go back to her, but that let me out completely. I quit then, and
I've stayed quit. The only break I made was showin' up here at the
'leventh hour, thinking I could be some use to my son!"
"It was to be," said Paul. "For years our lives have been shaping towards
this meeting. There were a thousand chances against it. Yet here we are!"
"Here we are!" the packer repeated soberly. "But don't think that I lay
any of my foolishness on the Almighty! Maybe it was meant my son should
close my eyes, but it's too dear at the price. Anybody would say so, I
don't care who."
"But aside from the 'price,' is it something to you?"
"More--more than I've got words to say. And yet it grinds me, every breath
I take! Not that I wish you'd done different--you couldn't and be a man. I
knew it even when I was kickin' against it. Oh, well! It ain't no use to
kick. I thought I'd learned something, but I ain't--learned--a thing!"
A greater freedom followed this confession, as was natural. It became the
basis for lighter confidences and bits of autobiography that came to the
surface easily after this tremendous effort at sincerity. Paul found that
he could speak even of the family past, into which by degrees he began to
fit the real man in place of that bucolic abstraction which had walked the
fields of fancy. He had never dared to actuate the "hired man," his
father, on a basis of fact. He knew the speech and manners of the class
from which he came,--knew men of that class, and talked with them every
summer at Stone Ridge; but he had brooded so deeply over the tragic and
sentimental side of his father's fate as to have lost sight of the fact
that he was a man.
Reality has its own convincing charm, not inconsistent with plainness or
even with commonness. To know it is to lose one's taste for toys of the
imagination. Paul, at last, could look back almost with, a sense of humor
at the doll-like progenitor he had played with so long. But when it came
to placing the real man, Adam Bogardus, beside that real woman, once his
wife, their son could but own with awe that there is mercy in extinction,
after all; in the chance, however it may come to us, for slipping off
those cruel disguises that life weaves around us.
In the strange, wakeful nights, full of starvation dreams, he saw his
mother as she would look on state occasions in the hostess's place at her
luxurious table; the odor of flowers, the smell of meats and wines,
tantalized and sickened him. Christine would come in her dancing frocks,
always laughing, greedy in her mirth; but Moya, face to face, he could
never see. It was torture to feel her near him, a disembodied embrace.
Passionate panegyrics and hopeless adjurations he would pour out to that
hovering loveliness just beyond his reach. The agony of frustration would
waken him, if indeed it were sleep that dissolved his consciousness, and
he would be irritable if spoken to.
The packer broke in, one morning, on these unnerving dreams. "You wouldn't
happen to have a picture of her along with you?"
Paul stared at him.
"No, of course you wouldn't! And I'd be 'most afeard to look at it, if you
had. She must have changed considerable. Time hasn't stood still with her
any more than the rest of us."
"I have no picture of my mother," Paul replied.
The packer saw that his question had jarred; he had waited weeks to ask
it. He passed it off now with one of his homely similes. "If you was to
break a cup clean in two, and put the halves together again while the
break was fresh, they'd knit so you wouldn't hardly see a crack. But you
take one half and set it in the chainy closet and chuck the other half out
on the ash-heap,--them halves won't look much like pieces of the same cup,
come a year or two. The edges won't jine no more than the lips of an old
cut that's healed without stitches. No; married folks they grow together
or they grow apart, and they're a-doing of the one or the other every
minute of the time, breaks or no breaks. Does she go up to the old place
"Not lately, except on business," said Paul. "A company was formed to open
slate quarries on the upper farm, a good many years ago. They are worth
more than all the land forty times over."
"I always said so; always told the old man he had a gold mine in that
ridge. Was this before he died?"
"Long after. It was my mother's scheme mainly. She controls it now. She is
a very strong business woman."
"She got her training, likely, from that uncle in New York. He had the
business head. The old man had no more contrivance than one of the bulls
in his pastures. He could lock horns and stay there, but it wa'nt no
trouble to outflank him. More than once his brother Jacob got to the
windward of him in a bargain. He was made a good deal like his own land.
Winters of frost it took to break up that ground, and sun and rain to
meller it, and then't was a hatful of soil to a cartful of stone. The
plough would jump the furrows if you drew it deep. My arms used to ache as
if they'd been pounded, with the jar of them stones. They used to tell us
children a story how Satan, he flew over the earth a-sowing it with rocks
and stones, and as he was passing over our county a hole bu'st through his
leather apron and he lost his whole load right slam there. I could 'a'
p'inted out the very spot where the heft on it fell. Ten Stone meadow,
so-called. Ten million stone! I was pickin' stone in that field all of one
summer when I was fifteen year old. We built a mile of fence with it.
"Them quarries must have brought a mint of money into the country.
Different sort of labor, too. Well, the world grows richer and poorer
every year. More difference every year between the way rich folks and poor
folks live. I wouldn't know where I belonged, 't ain't likely, if I was to
go back there. I'd be way off! One while I used to think a good deal about
going back, just to take a look around. It comes over me lately like
hunger and thirst. I think about the most curious things when I'm
asleep--foolish, like a child! I can smell all the good home smells of a
frosty morning: apple pomace, steaming in the barnyard; sausage frying;
Becky scouring the brass furnace-kittle with salt and vinegar. Killin'
time, you know--makes you think of boiling souse and head-cheese. You ever
eat souse?" The packer sucked in his breath with a lean smile. "It ain't
best to dwell on it. But you can't help yourself, at night. I can smell
Becky's fresh bread, in my dreams, just out of the brick oven. Never eat
bread cooked in a stove till I came out here. I never drunk any water like
that spring on the ridge. Last night I was back there, and the maples were
all yellow like sunshine. Once it was spring, and apple-blooms up in the
hill orchard. And little Emmy, a-setting on the fence, with her bunnit
throwed back on her neck. 'Addy!' she called, way across the lot; 'Addy,
come, help me down!' She was a master hand for venturin' up on places, but
she didn't like the gettin' down.
"Well, she 'a learned the ups and downs by this time. She don't need Addy
to help her. I'd have helped a big sight more if I had kep' my distance.
It's a thing so con-demned foolish and unnecessary--I can't be reconciled
to it noway!"
"You see only one side of it," said Paul. Unspeakable thoughts had kept
pace with his father's words. "Nothing that happens, happens through
us--or to us--alone. There was a girl I knew, outside. She was as happy,
when I knew her first, as you say my mother used to be. Then she met some
one--a man--and the shadow of his life crossed hers. He would have wrapped
her up in it and put out her sunshine if he had stayed in the same world.
Now she can be herself again, after a while. It cannot take long to forget
a person you have known only a little over a year."
The packer rose on one elbow. He reached across and shook his son.
"Where is that girl? Answer me! Take your face out of your hands!"
"At Bisuka Barracks. She is the commandant's daughter. I came out to marry
"What possessed ye not to tell me?"
"Why should I tell you? We buried the wedding-day months back, in the
"Boy, boy!" the packer groaned.
"What difference can it make now?"
"_All_ the difference--all the difference there is! I thought you were out
here touring it with them fool boys and they were all the chance you had
for help outside. You suppose her father is going to see her git left?
_They_'ll get in here, if they have to crawl on their bellies or climb
through the tree-limbs. They know how! And we've wasted the grub and
talked like a couple of women!"
"Oh, don't--don't torment me!" Paul groaned. "It was all over. Can't you
leave the dead in peace!"
"We are not the dead! I 'most wish we were. Boy, I've got a big word to
say to you about that. Come closer!" The packer's speech hoarsened and
failed. They could only hear each other breathe. Then it seemed to the
packer that his was the only breath in the darkness. He listened. A faint
cheer arose in the forest and a crashing of the dead underlimbs of the
He turned frantically upon his son, but no pledge could be extorted now.
Paul's lips were closed. He had lost consciousness.
The colonel's drawing-room was as hot as usual the first hour after
dinner, and as usual it was full of kindly participant neighbors who had
dropped in to repeat their congratulations on the good news, now almost a
week old. Mrs. Bogardus had not come down, and, though asked after by all,
the talk was noticeably freer for her absence.
Mrs. Creve, in response to a telegram from her brother, had arrived from
Fort Sherman on the day before, prepared for anything, from frozen feet to
a wedding. She had spent the afternoon in town doing errands for Moya, and
being late for dinner had not changed her dress. There never was such a
"natural" person as aunt Annie. At present she was addressing the company
at large, as if they were all her promising children.
"Nobody talks about their star in these days. I used to have a star. I
forget which it was. I know it was a pretty lucky one. Now I trust in
Providence and the major and wear thick shoes." She exhibited the shoes, a
particularly large and sensible kind which she imported from the East.
Everybody laughed and longed to embrace her. "Has Moya got a star?" she
"The whole galaxy!" a male voice replied. "Doesn't the luck prove it?"
"Moya has got a 'temperament,'" said Doctor Fleming, the Post surgeon.
"That's as good as having a star. You know there are persons who attract
misfortune just as sickly children catch all the diseases that are going.
I knew that boy was sure to be found. Anything of Moya's would be."
"So you think it was Moya's 'temperament' that pulled him out of the
snow?" said the colonel, wheeling his chair into the discussion.
"How about Mr. Winslow's temperament? I prefer to leave a little of the
credit to him," said Moya sweetly.
A young officer, who had been suffering in the corner by the fire, jumped
to his feet and bowed, then blushed and sat down again, regretting his
rashness. Moya continued to look at him with steadfast friendliness.
Winslow had led the rescue that brought her lover home. A glow of sympathy
united these friends and neighbors; the air was electrical and full of
"I suppose no date has been fixed for the wedding?" Mrs. Dawson, on the
divan, murmured to Mrs. Creve. The latter smiled a non-committal assent.
"I should think they would just put the doctor aside and be married
anyhow. My husband says he ought to go to a warmer climate at once."
"My dear, a young man can't be married in his dressing-gown and slippers!"
"No! It's not as bad as that?"
"Well, not quite. He's up and dressed and walks about, but he doesn't come
down to his meals,--he can eat so very little at a time, and it tires him
to sit through a dinner. It isn't one of those ravenous recoveries. It
went too far with him for that."
"His mother was perfectly magnificent through it all, they say."
"Have you seen much of Mrs. Bogardus?"
"No; we left them alone, poor things, when the pinch came. But I used to
see her walking the porch, up and down, up and down. Moya would go off on
the hills. They couldn't walk together! That was after Miss Chrissy went
home. Her mother took her back, you know, and then returned alone.
Perfectly heroic! They say she dressed every evening for dinner as
carefully as if she were in New York, and led the conversation. She used
to make Moya read aloud to her--history, novels--anything to pretend they
were not thinking. The strain must have begun before any of us knew. The
colonel kept it so quiet. What is the dear man doing with your bonnet?"
The colonel had plucked his sister's walking-hat, a pert piece of
millinery froward in feathers, from the trunk of the headless Victory,
where she had reposed it in her haste before dinner.
"Mustn't be disrespectful to the household Lar," he kindly reminded her.
"Where am I to put my hats, then? I shall wear them on my head and come
down to breakfast in them. Moya, dear, will you please rescue my hat? Put
it anywhere, dear,--under your chair. There is not really a place in this
house to put a thing. A wedding that goes off on time is bad enough, but
one that hangs on from month to month--and doesn't even take care of its
clothes! Forgive me, dear! The clothes are very pretty. I open a
bureau-drawer to put away my middle-aged bonnet--a puff of violets! A pile
of something white, and, behold, a wedding veil! There isn't a hook in the
closet that doesn't say, 'Standing-room only,' and the standing-room is
all stood on by a regiment of new shoes."
"My dear woman, go light on our sore spots. We are only just out of the
"Isn't it bad to coddle your sore spots, Doctor? Like a saddle-gall, ride
them down!" Mrs. Creve and Dr. Fleming exchanged a friendly smile on the
strength of this nonsense. On the doctor's side it covered a suspicion:
"'The lady, methinks, protests too much'!" The colonel, too, was restless,
and Moya's sweet color came and went. She appeared to be listening for
steps or sounds from some other part of the house.
The men all rose now as Mrs. Bogardus entered; one or two of the ladies
rose also, compelled by something in her look certainly not intended. She
was careful to greet everybody; she even crossed the room and gave her
hand to Lieutenant Winslow, whom she had not seen since the night of his
return. The doctor she casually passed over with a bow; they had met
before that day. It was in the mind of each person present not of the
family, and excepting the doctor, to ask her: 'How is your son this
evening?' But for some reason the inquiry did not come off.
The company began suddenly to feel itself _de trop_. Mrs. Dawson, who had
come under the doctor's escort, glanced at him, awaiting the moment when
it would do to make the first move.
"I hear you lost a patient from the hospital yesterday?" said Lieutenant
Winslow, at the doctor's side.
"_From_, did you say? That's right! He was to have been operated on
to-day." The doctor shrugged his shoulders.
"Two broken ribs. One grown fast to the lung."
"He just walked out. Said I had ordered him to have fresh air. There was a
new hall-boy, a greenhorn."
"He can't go far in that shape, can he?"
"Oh, there's no telling. The constitution of those men is beyond anything.
You can't kill him. He'll suffer of course, suffer like an animal, and die
like one--away from the herd. Maybe not this time, though."
"Was he afraid of the operation?"
"I can't say. He did not seem to be either afraid or anxious for help. Not
used to being helped. He would be taken to the Sisters' Hospital. Wouldn't
come up here as the guest of the Post, not a bit! I believe from the first
he meant to give us the slip, and take his chance in his own way."
"Did you hear,"--Mrs. Creve spoke up from the opposite side of the room
under that hypnotic influence by which a dangerous topic spreads,--"did
you hear about the poor guide who ran away from the hospital to escape
from our wicked doctor here? What a reputation you must have, Doctor!"
"All talk, my dear; town gossip," said the colonel. "You gave him his
discharge, didn't you, Doctor?" The colonel looked hard at the medical
officer; he had prepared the way for a statement suited to a mixed
company, including ladies. But Doctor Fleming stated things usually to
"There was a man who left the Sisters' Hospital rather informally
yesterday. I won't say he is not just as well off to-day as if he had
"Who was it? Was it our man, father?"
"The doctor has more than one patient at the hospital." Colonel Middleton
looked reproachfully at the doctor, who continued to put aside as childish
these clumsy subterfuges. "I think you ladies frightened him away with
your attentions. He knew he was under heavy liabilities for all your
flowers and fancy cookery."
"Attentions! Are we going to let him die on the road somewhere?" cried
"Miss Moya?" Lieutenant Winslow spoke up with a mixture of embarrassment
and resolution to be heard, though every voice in the room conspired
against him. "Those men are a big fraternity. They have their outfitting
places where they put in for repairs. Packer John had his blankets sent to
the Green Meadow corral. They know him there. They say he had money at one
of the stores. They all have a little money cached here and there. And
they _can't_ get lost, you know!"
Moya's eyes shone with a suspicious brightness.
"'When the forest shall mislead me;
When the night and morning lie.'"
She turned her swimming eyes upon Paul's mother, who would be sure to
remember the quotation.
Mrs. Bogardus remained perfectly still, her lips slightly parted. She grew
very pale. Then she rose and walked quickly to the door.
"Just a breath of cold air!" she panted. The doctor, Moya, and Mrs. Creve
had followed her into the hall. Moya placed herself on the settle beside
her and leaned to support her, but she sat back rigidly with her eyes
closed. Mrs. Creve looked on in quiet concern. "Let me take you into the
study, Mrs. Bogardus!" the doctor commanded. "A glass of water, Moya,
"How is she? What is it? Can we do anything?" The company crowded around
Mrs. Creve on her return to the drawing-room. She glanced at her brother.
There was no clue there. He stood looking embarrassed and mystified. "It
is only the warm welcome we give our friends," she said aloud, smiling
calmly. "Mrs. Bogardus found the room too hot. I think I should have
succumbed myself but for that little recess in the hall."
The colonel attacked his fire. He thought he was being played with. Things
were not right in the house, and no one, not the doctor, or even Annie,
was frank with him. His kind face flushed as he straightened up to bid his
"Well, if it's not anything serious, you think. But you'll be sure to let
us know?" said Mrs. Dawson. "Well, good-night, Mrs. Creve. _Good_-night,
Colonel! You'll say good-night to Moya? Do let us know if there is
anything we can do."
Dr. Fleming was in the hall looking for his cape. The colonel touched him
on the shoulder. "Don't be in a hurry, Doctor. Mrs. Dawson will excuse
"I don't think you need me any more to-night. Moya is with Mrs. Bogardus.
She is not ill. The room was a little close."
"Never mind the _room_! Come in here. I want a word with you."
The doctor laughed oddly, and obeyed.
"Annie, you needn't leave us."
"Why, thank you, dear boy! It's awfully good of you," Annie mocked him.
"But I must go and relieve Moya."
"I don't believe you are wanted in there," said Doctor Fleming.
"It's more than obvious that I'm not in here."
"Oh, do sit down," said the teased colonel.
The fire sulked and smoked a trifle with its brands apart. Doctor Fleming
leaned forward upon his knees and regarded it thoughtfully. The colonel
sat fondling the tongs. In a deep chair Mrs. Creve lay back and shaded her
face with the end of her lace scarf. By her manner she might have been
alone in the room, yet she was keenly observant of the men, for she felt
that developments were taking place.
"What is the matter with your patient upstairs, Doctor?" the colonel began
his cross-examination. Doctor Fleming raised his eyebrows.
"He's had nothing to eat to speak of for six weeks, at an altitude"--
"Yes; we know all that. But he's twenty-four years old. They made an easy
trip back, and he has been here a week, nearly. He's not as strong as he
was when they brought him in, is he?"
"That was excitement. You have to allow for the reaction. He has had a
shock to the entire system,--nerves, digestion,--must give him time. Very
nervous temperament too much controlled."
"Make it as you like. But I'm disappointed in his rallying powers, unless
you are keeping something back. A boy with the grit to do what he did, and
stand it as he did--why isn't he standing it better now?"
"We are all suffering from reaction, I think," said Mrs. Creve
diplomatically; "and we show it by making too much of little things. Tom,
we oughtn't to keep the doctor up here talking nonsense. He wants to go to
"_I_'m not talking nonsense," said the doctor. "I should be if I pretended
there was anything mysterious about that boy's case upstairs. He has had a
tremendous experience, say what you will; and it's pulled him down
nervously, and every other way. He isn't ready or able to talk of it yet.
And he knows as soon as he comes down there'll be forty people waiting to
congratulate him and ask him how it was. I don't wonder he fights shy. If
he could take his bride by the hand and walk out of the house with her I
believe he could start to-morrow; but if there must be a wedding and a lot
Mrs. Creve nodded her head approvingly. The three had risen and stood
around the hearth, while the colonel put the brands delicately together
with the skill of an old campaigner. The flames breathed again.
"I don't offer this as a professional opinion," said the doctor. "But a
case like his is not a disease, it's a condition"--
"Of the mind, perhaps?" the colonel added significantly. He glanced at
Mrs. Creve. "You've thought about that, Doctor? The letter his mother
consulted you about?"
"Have you been worrying about that, Colonel? Why didn't you say so? There
is nothing in it whatever. Why, it's so plain a case the other way--any
one can see where the animus comes from!"
"Now you _are_ getting mysterious, and I'm going to bed!" said Mrs. Creve.
"No; we're coming to the point now," said the colonel.
"What is it you want Bogardus to do?" asked Doctor Fleming. "Want him to
get up and walk out of the house as my patient did at the hospital? Dare
say he could do it, but what then? Will you let me speak out, Colonel? No
regard to anybody's feelings? Now, this may be gossip, but I think it has
a bearing on the case upstairs. I'm going to have it off my mind anyhow!
When Mrs. Bogardus came to see the guide,--Packer John,--day before
yesterday, was it?--he asked to see her alone. Said he had something
particular to say to her about her son. We thought it a queer start, but
she was willing to humor him. Well, she wasn't in there above ten minutes,
but in that time something passed between them that hit her very hard, no
doubt of that! Now, Bogardus holds his tongue like a gentleman as to what
happened in the woods. He doesn't mention his comrades' names. And the
packer has disappeared; so he can't be questioned. Seems to me a little
bird told me there was an attachment between one of those Bowen boys and
"Now we, who know what brutes brute fear will make of men, are not going
to deny that those boys behaved badly. There are some things that can't be
acknowledged among men, you know, if there is a hole to crawl out of.
Cowardice is one of them. Well then, they lied, that's the whole of it.
The little boys lied. They wrote Mrs. Bogardus a long letter from
Lemhi,"--the doctor was reviewing now for Mrs. Creve's benefit,--"when
they first got out. They probably judged, by the time they had had, that
Paul and the packer would never tell their own story. Very well: it
couldn't hurt Paul, it might be the saving of them, if they could show
that something had queered him in the woods. They asked his mother if she
had heard of the effects of altitude upon highly sensitive organizations.
They recounted some instances--I will mention them later. One of the boys
is a lawyer, isn't he? They are a pair of ingenious youths. Bogardus, they
claim, avoided them almost from the time they entered the woods,--almost
lived with the packer, behaved like a crank about the shooting. Whereas
they had gone there to kill things, he made it a personal matter whenever
they pursued this intention in a natural and undisguised manner. He had
pangs, like a girl, when the creatures expired. He hated the carcases, the
blood--forgive me, Mrs. Creve. In short, he called the whole business
"Do you make _that_ a sign of lunacy?" Mrs. Creve flung in.
"I am quoting, you know." The doctor smiled indulgently. "They declare
that they offered--even begged--to stay behind with him, one of them, at
least, but he rejected their company in a manner so unpleasant that they
saw it would only be courting a quarrel to remain. And so, treating him
perforce like a child _or_ a lunatic _pro tem._, and having but little
time to decide in, they cut loose and hurried back for help. This is the
tale, composed on reflection. They said nothing of this to Winslow--to
save publicity, of course! Mrs. Bogardus's lips are doubly sealed, for her
son's sake and for the sake of the young scamp who is to be her son, by
and by! I saw she winced at my opinion, which I gave her
plainly--brutally, perhaps. And she asked me particularly to say nothing,
which I am particularly not doing.
"This, I think, you will find is the bitter drop in the cup of rejoicing
upstairs. And they are swallowing it in silence, those two, for the sake
of the little girl and the old friends in New York. Of course she has kept
from Paul that last shot in the back from those sweet boys! The packer had
some unruly testimony he was bursting with, which he had sense enough to
keep for her alone, and she doesn't want the case to spread. It is
singular how a man in his condition could get out of the way as suddenly
as he did. You might think he'd been taken up in a cloud."
"Doctor, what do you mean by such an insinuation as that?"
"Colonel, have I insinuated anything? Did I say she had oiled the wheels
of his departure?"
"Come, come! You go too far!"
"Not at all. That's your own construction. I merely say that I am not
concerned about that man's disappearance. I think he'll be looked after,
as a valuable witness should be."
"Well," the colonel grumbled uneasily, "I don't like mysteries myself, and
I don't like family quarrels nor skeletons at the feasts of old friends.
But I suppose there must be a drop in every cup. What were your altitude
"The same old ones; poor Addison, you know. All those stories they tell an
Easterner. As I pointed out to Mrs. Bogardus, in every case there was some
predisposing cause. Addison had been too long in the mountains, and he was
frightfully overworked; short of company officers. He came to me about an
insect he said had got into his ear; buzzed, and bothered him day and
night. The story got to the men's quarters. They joked about the colonel's
'bug.' I knew it was no joke. I condemned him for duty, but the Sioux were
out. They thought at Washington no one but Addison could handle an Indian
campaign. He was on the ground, too. So they sent him up higher where it
was dry, with a thousand men in his hands. I knew he'd be a madman or a
dead man in a month! There were a good many of the dead! By Jove! The boys
who took his orders and loved the old fellow and knew he was sending them
to their death! Well for him that he'll never know."
"The 'altitude of heartbreak,'" sighed Mrs. Creve. The phrase was her own,
for many a reason deeply known unto herself, but she gave it the effect of
a quotation before the men.
"Then you think there is no 'altitude' in ours?"
"No; nor 'heartbreak' either," said the doctor, helping himself to one of
the colonel's cigars. "But I don't say there isn't enough to keep a woman
awake nights, and to make those young men avoid the sight of each other
for a time. Thanks, I won't smoke now. I'm going to take a look at Mrs.
Bogardus as I go out."
A BRIDEGROOM OF SNOW
The doctor had taken his look, feeling a trifle guilty under his patient's
counter gaze, yet glad to have relieved the good colonel's anxiety. If he
loved to gossip, at least he was particular as to whom he gossiped with.
Moya closed the door after him and silently resumed her seat. Mrs.
Bogardus helped herself to a sip of water. She was struggling with a dry
constriction of the throat, and Moya protested a little, seeing the effort
that it cost her to speak, even in the hoarse, unnatural tone which was
all the voice she had left.
"I want to finish now," she said, "and never speak of this again. It was I
who accused them first--and then I asked him:--if there was anything he
could say in their defense, to say it, for Chrissy's sake! 'I will never
break bread with them again,' said he,--'either Banks or Horace. I will
not eat with them, or drink with them, or speak with them again!' Think of
it! How are we to live? How are they to inhabit the same city? He thinks I
have been weak. I am weak! The only power I have is through--the property.
Banks will never marry a poor girl. But that would be a dear-bought
victory. Let her keep what faith in him she can. No; in families, the ones
who can control themselves have to give in--to those who can't. If you
argue with Christine she simply gives way, and then she gets hysterical,
and then she is ill. It's a disease. Mothers know how their
children--Christine was marked--marked with trouble! I am thankful she has
any mind at all. She needs me more than Paul does. I cannot be parted from
my power to help her--such as it is."
"When she is Banks Bowen's wife she will need you more than ever!" said
"She will. I could prevent the marriage, but I am afraid to. I am afraid!
So, as the family is cut in two--in three, for I"--Mrs. Bogardus stopped
and moistened her lips again. "So--I think you and Paul had better make
your arrangements and go as soon as you can wherever it suits you, without
minding about the rest of us."
Moya gave a little sobbing laugh. "You don't expect me to make the first
"Doesn't he say anything to you--anything at all?"
"He is too ill."
"He is not ill!" Mrs. Bogardus denied it fiercely. "Who says he is ill? He
is starved and frozen. He is just out of the grave. You must be good to
him, Moya. Warm him, comfort him! You can give him the life he needs. Your
hands are as soft as little birds. They comfort even me. Oh, don't you
"Of course I understand!" Moya answered, her face aflame. "But I cannot
marry Paul. He has got to marry me."
"What nonsense that is! People say to a girl: 'You can't be too cold
before you are married or too kind after!' That does not mean you and
Paul. If you are not kind to him _now_, you will make a great mistake."
"He is not thinking of marriage," said Moya. "Something weighs on him all
the time. I cannot ask him questions. If he wanted to tell me he would.
That is why I come downstairs and leave him. But he won't come down! Is it
not strange? If we could believe such things I would say a Presence came
with, him out of that place. It is with him when I find him alone. It is
in his eyes when he looks at me. It is not something past and done with,
it is here--now--in this house! _What_ is it? What do _you_ believe?"
The eyes she sought to question hardened under her gaze. Here, too, was a
veil. Mrs. Bogardus sat with her hands clasped in her lap. She was
motionless, but the creaking of her silks could be heard as her bosom rose
and fell. After a moment she said: "Paul's tray is on the table in the
dining-room. Will you take it when you go up?"
Moya altered her own manner instantly. "But you?" she hesitated. "I must
not crowd you out of all your mother privileges. You have handed over
everything to me."
"A mother's privilege is to see herself no longer needed. I can do nothing
more for my son"--her smile was hard--"except take care of his money."
"My dear, do you suppose we mind? It is a very great privilege to be
allowed to step aside when your work is done."
"Paul's _mother!_" Moya insisted.
Mrs. Bogardus rose. "You don't remember your own mother, my dear. You have
an exaggerated idea of the--the importance of mothers. They are only a
temporary arrangement." She put out her hands and the girl's cheek touched
hers for an instant; then she straightened herself and walked calmly out
of the room. Moya remained a little longer, afraid to follow her. "If she
would not smile! If she would do anything but smile!"
Paul was walking about his room, half an hour later, when Moya stopped
outside his door. She placed the tray on a table in the hall. The door was
opened from within. Paul had heard his mother go up before, heard her
pause at the stairs, and, after a silence, enter her own room.
"She knows that I know," he said to himself. "That knowledge will be
always between us; we can never look each other in the face again." To
Moya he endeavored to speak lightly.
"It sounded very gay downstairs to-night. You must have had a houseful."
"I have been with your mother the last hour," answered Moya, vaguely on
the defensive. Since Paul's return there had been little of the old free
intercourse in words between them, and without this outlet their mutual
consciousness became acute. Often as they saw each other during the day,
the keenest emotion attached to the first meeting of their eyes.
Paul was unnerved by his sudden recall from death to life. Its contrasts
were overwhelming to his starved senses: from the dirt and dearth and
grimy despair of his burial hutch in the snow to this softly lighted,
close-curtained room, warm and sweet with flowers; from the gaunt,
unshaven spectre of the packer and his ghostly revelations, to Moya,
meekly beautiful, her bright eyes lowered as she trailed her soft skirts
across the carpet; Moya seated opposite, silent, conscious of him in every
look and movement. Her lovely hands lay in her lap, and the thought of
holding them in his made him tremble; and when he recalled the last time
he had kissed her he grew faint. He longed to throw off this exhausting
self-restraint, but feared to betray his helpless passion which he deemed
an insult to his soul's worship of her.
And she was thinking: "Is this all it is going to mean--his coming
home--our being together? And I was almost his wife!"
"So it was my mother you were talking to in the study? I thought I heard a
"It was the doctor. Your mother was not quite herself this evening. He
came in to see her, but he does not think she is ill. 'Rest and change,'
he says she needs."
Paul gave the words a certain depth of consideration. "Are you as well as
"Oh, I am always well," she answered cheerlessly. "I seem to thrive on
anything--everything," she corrected herself, and blushed.
The blush made him gasp. "You are more beautiful than ever. I had
forgotten that beauty is a physical fact. The sight of you confuses me."
"I always told you you were morbid." Moya's happy audacity returned. "Now,
how long are you going to sit and think about that?"
"Do I sit and think about things?" His reluctant, boyish smile, which all
women loved, captured his features for a moment. "It is very rude of me."
"Suppose I should ask you what you are thinking about?"
"Ah! I am afraid you would say 'morbid' again."
"Try me! You ought to let me know at once if you are going to break out in
any new form of morbidness."
"I wish it might amuse you, but it wouldn't. Let me put you a
Moya smiled. "Once we were serious--ages ago. Do you remember?"
"Do I remember!"
"Well? You are you, and I am I, still."
"Yes; and as full of fateful surprises for each other."
"I bar 'fateful'! That word has the true taint of morbidness."
"But you can't 'bar' fate. Listen: this is a supposing, you know. Suppose
that an accident had happened to our leader on the way home--to your
Lieutenant Winslow, we'll say"--
"Your father's--the regiment's--Lieutenant Winslow 'of ours.' Suppose we
had brought him back in a state to need a surgeon's help; and without a
word to any one he should get up and walk out of the hospital with his
hurts not healed, and no one knew why, or where he had gone? There would
be a stir about it, would there not? And if such a poor spectre of a
bridegroom as I were allowed to join the search, no one would think it
strange, or call it a slight to his bride if the fellow went?"
"I take your case," said Moya with a beaming look. "You want to go after
that poor man who suffered with you."
"Who went with us to save us from our own headstrong folly, and would have
died there alone"--
"Yes; oh, yes!--before you begin to think about yourself, or me. Because
he is nobody 'of ours,' and no one seems to feel responsible, and we go on
talking and laughing just the same!"
"Do they talk of this downstairs?"
"To-night they were talking--oh, with such philosophy! But how came you to
Paul did not answer this question. "Then"--he drew a long breath,--"then
you could bear it, dear?--the comment, even if they called it a slight to
you and a piece of quixotic lunacy? Others will not take my case,
"They will say: 'Why doesn't he send a better man? He is no trailer.' It
is true. Money might find him and bring him back, but all the money in the
world could not teach him to trust his friends. There is a
misunderstanding here which is too bitter to be borne. It is hard to
explain,--the intimacy that grows up between men placed as we were. But as
soon as help reached us, the old lines were drawn. I belonged with the
officers, he with the men. We could starve together, but we could not eat
together. He accepted it--put himself on that basis at once. He would not
come up here as the guest of the Post. He is done with us because he
thinks we are done with him. And he knows that I must know his occupation
is gone. He will never guide nor pack a mule again."
"Your mother and my father, they will understand. What do the others
"I must tell you, dear, that I do not propose to tell them--especially
them--why I go. For I am going. I must go! There are reasons I cannot
explain." He sighed, and looked wildly at Moya, whose smile was becoming
mechanical. "I hate the excuse, but it will have to be said that I go for
a change--for my health. My health! Great God! But it's 'orders,' dear."
"Your orders are my orders. You are never going anywhere again without
me," said Moya slowly. Her smile was gone. She stood up and faced him,
pale and beautiful. He rose, too, and stooped above her, taking her hands
and gazing into her full blue eyes arched like the eyes of angels.
"I thought she was a girl! But she is a woman," he said in a voice of
caressing wonder. "A woman, and not afraid!"
"I am afraid. I will not be left--I will not be left again! Oh, you won't
take me, even when I offer myself to you!"
"Don't--don't tempt me!" Paul caught her to him with a groan. "You don't
know me well enough to be afraid of _me!_"
"You! You will not let me know you."
"Oh, hush, dear--hush, my darling! This isn't thinking. We must think for
our lives. I must take care of you, precious. We don't know where this
search may take us, or where it will end, or what the end will be." He
kissed the sleeve of her dress, and put her gently from him, so that he
could look her in the eyes. She gave him her full pure gaze.
"It is the poor man again. You said he would spoil our lives."
"He is _our_ poor man. You didn't go out of your way to find him. And your
way is mine."
"It is so heavenly to be convinced! Who taught you to see things at a
glance,--things I have toiled and bungled over and don't know now if I am
right! _Who_ taught you?"
"Do you think I stood still while you were away! Oh, my heart was sifted
out by little pieces."
"You shall sift mine. You shall tell me what to do. For I know nothing!
Not even if I may dare to take this angel at her word!"
"I knew you would not take me!" the girl whispered wildly. "But I shall
THE NATURE OF AN OATH
"Your tray! It is after ten o'clock. Your 'angel' is a bad nurse." Moya
brought the tray and set it on a little stand beside Paul's chair. He
watched her shy, excited preparations as she moved about, conscious of his
eyes. The saucepan staggered upon the coals and they both sprang to save
the broth, and pouring it she burnt her thumb a little, and he behaved
quite like any ordinary young man. They were ecstatic to find themselves
at ease with each other once more. Moya became disrespectful to her
charge; such sweet daring looked from her eyes into his as made him
riotous with joy.
"Won't you take some with me?" He turned the cup towards her and watched
her as she sipped.
"'It was roast with fire,'" he pronounced softly and dreamily, 'because of
the dreadful pains. It was to be eaten with bitter herbs'"--
"What _are_ you saying?"--
"'To remind them of their bondage.'"
"I object to your talking about bondage and bitter herbs when you are
eating aunt Annie's delicious consomme."
He gravely sipped in turn, still with his eyes in hers. "Can you remember
what you were doing on the second of November?"
"Can I remember!"
"Yes; tell me. I have a reason for asking."
"Tell _me_ the reason first."
"May we have a little more fire, darling? It gives me chills to think of
that day. It was the last of my wretched pot-hunting. There was nothing to
hunt for--the game had all gone down, but I did not know that. Somewhere
in the woods, a long way from the cabin, it began to occur to me that I
should not make shelter that night. A fool and his strength are soon
parted. It was a little hollow with trees all around so deep that in the
distance their trunks closed in like a wall. Snow can make a wonderful
silence in the woods. I seemed to hear the thoughts of everybody I loved
in the world outside. There had been a dullness over me for weeks. I could
not make it true that I had ever been happy--that you really loved me. All
that part of my life was a dream. Now, in that silence suddenly I felt
you! I knew that you cared. It was cruel to die so if you did love me! It
brought the 'pang and spur'! I fought the drowsiness that was taking away
my pain. I had begun to lean on it as a comfortable breast. I woke up and
tore myself away from that siren sleep. It was my darling,--her love that
saved me. Without that thought of you, I never would have stirred again.
Where were you, what were you thinking that brought you so close to me?"
"Ah," said Moya in a whisper. "I was in that room across the hall, alone.
They were good to me that day; they made excuses and left me to myself. In
the afternoon a box came,--from poor father,--white roses, oh, sweet and
cold as snow! I took them up to that room and forced myself to go in. It
was where my things were kept, the trunks half packed, all the drawers and
closets full. And my wedding dress laid out on the bed. We girls used to
go up there at first and look at the things, and there was laughing and
joking. Sometimes I went up alone and tried on my hats before the glass,
and thought where I should be when I wore them, and--Well! all that
stopped. I dreaded to pass the door. Everything was left just as it was;
the shutters open, the poor dress covered with a sheet on the bed. The
room was a death-chamber. I went in. I carried the roses to my dead. I
drew down the sheet and put my face in that empty dress. It was my selfish
self laid out there--the girl who knew just what she wanted and was going
to get it if she could. Happiness I dared not even pray for--only
remembrance--everlasting remembrance. That we might know each other again
when no more life was left to part us--_my_ life. It seemed long to wait,
but that was my--marriage vow. I gave you all I could, remembrance, faith
"Then you are my own!" said Paul, his face transformed. "God was our
witness. Life of my life--for life and death!" Solemnly he took a
bridegroom's kiss from her lips.
"How do _you_ know that it is life that parts?"
"Speak so I can understand you!" Moya cried. "Ah, if I might! A man must
not have secrets from his wife. Secrets are destruction, don't you think?"
Moya waited in silence.
"Now we come to this bondage!" He let the words fall like a load from his
breast. "This is a hideous thing to tell you, but it will cut us apart
unless you know it. It compels me to do things." He paused, and they heard
a door down the passage open,--the door of his mother's room. A step came
forward a few paces. Silence; it retreated, and the door closed again
"She has not slept," Paul murmured. "Poor soul, poor soul! Now, in what I
am going to say, please listen to the facts, Moya dear. Try not to infer
anything from my way of putting things. I shall contradict myself, but the
facts do that.
"The--the guide--John, we will call him, had a long fever in the woods. It
would come on worse at night, and then--he talked--words, of a shocking
intimacy. They say that nothing the mind has come in contact with under
strong emotion is ever lost, no matter how long in the past. It will
return under similar excitement. This man had kept stored away in his
mind, under some such pressure, the words of a woman's message, a woman in
great distress. Over and over, as his pulse rose, countless times he would
repeat that message. I went out of the hut at night and stood outside in
the snow not to hear it, but I knew it as well as he did before we got
through. Now, this was what he said, word for word.
"'Do not blame me, my dear husband. I have held out in this place as long
as I can. Don't wait for anything. Don't worry about anything. Come back
to me with your bare hands. Come!--to your loving Emmy!'
"'Come, come!' he would shout out loud. Then in another voice he would
whisper, 'Come back to me with your bare hands!' And he would stare at his
hands and his face would grow awful."
Moya drew a long sigh of scared attention.
"Those words were all over the cabin walls. I heard them and saw them
everywhere. There was no rest from them. I could have torn the roof down
to stop his talking, but the words it was not possible to forget. And
where was the horror of it? Was not this what we had asked, for years, to
"You need not explain to me," said Moya, shuddering.
"Yes; but all one's meanest motives were unearthed in a place like that.
Would I have felt so with a different man? Some one less uncouth? Was it
the man himself, or his"--
"Paul, if anything could make you a snob, it would be your deadly fear of
"Well, if they had found us then, God knows how that fight would have
ended. But I won it--when there was nothing left to fight for. I owned
him--in the grave. We owned each other and took a bashful sort of comfort
in it, after we had shuffled off the 'Mister' and 'John.' I grew quite
fond of him, when we were so near death that his English didn't matter, or
his way of eating. I thought him a very remarkable man, you remember, when
he was just material for description. He was, he is remarkable. Most
remarkable in this, he was not ashamed of his son."
"Do please let that part alone. I want to know what he was doing, hiding
away by himself all these years? I believe he is an impostor!"
"We came to that, of course; though somehow I forgave him before he could
answer the question. In the long watch beside him I got very close to him.
It was not possible to believe him a deserter, a sneak. Can you take my
word for his answer? It was given as a death-bed confession and he is
"I would take your word for anything except yourself!" Moya did not smile,
or think what she was saying.
"That answer cleared him, in my mind, with something over to the credit of
blind, stupid heroism. He is not a clever man. But, speaking as one who
has teen face to face with the end of things, I can say that I know of no
act of his that should prevent his returning to his family--if he had a
family--not even his deserting them for twenty years. _If_, I say!
"When the soldiers found us we were too far gone to realize the issue that
was upon us. He was the first to take it in. It was on the march home, at
night, he touched me and began speaking low in our corner of the tent. 'As
we came in here, so we go out again, and so we stay,' he said. I told him
it could not be. To suppress what I had learned would make the whole of
life a lie, a coward's lie. That knowledge belonged to my mother. I must
render it up to her. To do otherwise would be to treat her like a child
and to meddle with the purposes of God. 'No honest man robs another of his
secrets,' he said. He was very much excited. She was the only one now to
be considered--and what did I know about God's purposes? He refused to
take my scruples into consideration, except such as concerned her. But,
after a long argument, very painful, weak as we were and whispering in the
dark, he yielded this much. If I were bent on digging up the dead, as he
called it, it must be done in such a way as to leave her free. Free she
was in law, and she must be given a chance to claim her freedom without
talk or publicity. Absolute secrecy he demanded of me in the mean time. I
begged him to see how unfair it was to her to bring her face to face with
such a discovery without one word of preparation, of excuse for him. She
would condemn him on the very fact of his being alive. So she would, he
said, if she were going to judge him; not if she felt towards him as--as a
wife feels to her husband. It was that he wanted to know. It was that or
nothing he would have from her. 'Bring me face to face with her alone, and
as sudden as you like. If she knows me, I am the man. And if she wants me
back, she will know me--and that way I'll come and no other way.' Was not
that wonderful? A gentleman could hardly have improved on that. Whatever
feeling he might be supposed to have towards her in the matter we could
never touch upon. But I think he had his hopes. That decision was hanging
over us--and I trembled for her. Day before yesterday, was it, I persuaded
her to see the sick guide. She wondered why I was faint as she kissed me
good-by. I ought to have prepared her. It was a horrible snare. And yet he
meant it all in delicacy, a passionate consideration for her. Poor fool.
How could I prepare _him!_ How could he keep pace with the changes in her!
After all, it is externals that make us,--habits, clothes. Great God!
Things you could not speak of to a naked soul like him. But he would have
it 'straight,' he said--and straight he got it. And he is gone; broke away
like an animal out of a trap. And I am going to find him, to see at least
that he has a roof over his head. God knows, he may not die for years!"
"She has got years before her too."
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