The Desert and The Sown
Mary Hallock Foote
Part 3 out of 4
"She!--What am I saying! We have plunged into those damnable inferences
and I haven't given you the facts. Wait. I shall contradict all this in a
moment. I thought, she must have done this for her children. She must be
given another chance. And I approached the thing on my very knees--not to
let her know that I knew, only to hint that I was not unprepared, had
guessed--could meet it, and help her to meet the problems it would bring
into our lives. Help her! She stood and faced me as if I had insulted her.
'I have been your father's widow for twenty-two years. If that fact is not
sacred to you, it is to me. Never dare to speak of this to me again!'"
"Ah," said Moya in a long-drawn sigh, "then she did not"--
"Oh, she did, explicitly! For I went on to speak of it. It was my last
chance. I asked her how she--we--could possibly go through with it; how
with this knowledge between us we could look each other in the face--and
go on living.
"'Put this hallucination out of your mind,' she said. 'That man and I are
"Was that--would you call that a lie?" asked Moya fearfully.
"You can see your answer in her face. I do not say that hers was the first
lie. It must always be foolish, I think, to evade the facts of life as we
make them for ourselves. He refused to meet his facts, from the noblest
motives;--but now I'm tangling you all up again! Rest your head here,
darling. This is such a business! It is a pity I cannot tell you his whole
story. Half the meaning of all this is lost. But--here is a solemn
declaration in writing, signed John Hagar, in which this man we are
speaking of says that Adam Bogardus was his partner, who died in the woods
and was buried by his hand; that he knew his story, all the scenes and
circumstances of his life in many a long talk they had together, as well
as he knew his own. In his delirium he must have confused himself with his
old partner, and half in dreams, he said, half in the crazy satisfaction
of pretending to himself he had a son, he allowed the delusion to go on;
saw it work upon me, and half feared it, half encouraged it. Afterwards he
was frightened at the thought of meeting my mother, who would know him for
an impostor. His seeming scruples were fear of exposure, not consideration
for her. This was why he guarded their interview so carefully. 'No harm's
been done,' he says, 'if you'll act now like a sensible man. I'll be
disappointed in you if you make your mother any trouble about this. You've
treated me as square as any man could treat another. Remember, I say so,
and think as kindly as you can of a harmless, loony old impostor'--and he
signs himself 'John Hagar,'--which shows again how one lie leads to
another. We go to find 'John Hagar.'"
"Have you shown your mother this letter? You have not? Paul, you will not
rob her of her just defense!"
"I will not heap coals of fire on her head! This letter simply completes
his renunciation, and he meant it for her defense. But when a man signs
himself 'John Hagar' in the handwriting of my father, it shows that
somebody is not telling the truth. I used to pore over the old farm
records in my father's hand at Stone Ridge in the old account books stowed
away in places where a boy loves to poke and pry. I know it as well as I
know yours. Do you suppose she would not know it? When a man writes as few
letters as he does, the handwriting does not change." Paul laid the letter
upon the coals. "It is the only witness against her, but it loses the
"She never could have loved him. I never believed she did!" said Moya.
"She thinks she can live out this deep-down, deliberate--But it will kill
her, Moya. Her life is ended from this on. How could I have driven her to
that excruciating choice! I ought to have listened to him altogether or
not at all. There is a hell for meddlers, and the ones who meddle for
conscience' sake are the deepest damned, I think."
Moya came and wreathed her arm in his, and they paced the room in silence.
At length she said, "If we go to find John Hagar, shall we not be meddling
again? A man who respects a woman's freedom must love his own. It is the
last thing left him. Don't hunt him down. I believe nothing could hurt him
now like seeing you again."
"He shall not see me unless he wants to, but he shall know where I stand
on this question of the Impostor. It shall be managed so that even he can
see I am protecting her. No, call himself what he will, the tie between
him and me is another of those facts."
"But do you love him, Paul?"
"Oh--I cannot forget him! He is--just as he used to be--'poor father out
there in the cold.' We must find him and comfort him somehow."
"For our own peace of mind? Forgive me for arguing when everything is so
difficult. But he is a man--a brave man who would rather be forever out in
the cold than be a burden. Do not rob him of his right to _be_ John Hagar
if he wants to, for the sake of those he loves. You do not tell me it was
love, but I am sure it was, in some mistaken way, that drove him into
exile. Only love as pure as his can be our excuse for dragging him back.
He did not want shelter and comfort from her. Only one thing. Have we got
that to give him?"
"Well then, I go for my own sake--it is a physical necessity; and I go for
hers. She has put it out of her own power to help him. It will ease her a
little to know I am trying to reach him in his forlorn disguise."
"But you were not going to tell her?"
"In words, no. But she will understand. There is a strange clairvoyance
between us, as if we were accomplices in a crime!"
Moya reflected silently. This search which Paul had set his heart upon
would equally work his own cure, she saw. Nor could she now imagine for
themselves any lover's paradise inseparable from this moral tragedy, which
she saw would be fibre of their fibre, life of their life. A family is an
organism; one part may think to deny or defy another, but with strange
pains the subtle union exerts itself; distance cannot break the thread.
They kissed each other solemnly like little children on the eve of a long
journey full of awed expectancy.
Mrs. Bogardus stood holding her door ajar as Moya passed on her way
downstairs. "You are very late," she uttered hoarsely. "Is nothing settled
"Everything!" Moya hesitated and forced a smile, "everything but where we
shall go. We will start--and decide afterwards."
"You go together? That is right. Moya, you have a genius for happiness!"
"I wish I had a genius for making people sleep who lie awake hours in the
night thinking about other people!"
"If you mean me, people of my age need very little sleep."
"May I kiss you good-night, Paul's mother?"
"You may kiss me because I am Paul's mother, not because I do not sleep."
Moya's lips touched a cheek as white and almost as cold as the frosted
window-panes through which the moon was glimmering. She thought of the icy
roses on her wedding dress.
Downstairs her father was smoking his bedtime cigar. Mrs. Creve, very
sleepy and cosy and flushed, leaned over the smouldering bed of coals. She
held out her plump, soft hand to Moya.
"Come here and be scolded! We have been scolding you steadily for the last
"If you want that young man to get his strength back, you'd better not
keep him up talking half the night," the colonel growled softly. "Do you
see what time it is?"
Moya knelt and leaned her head against her father. She reached one hand to
Mrs. Creve. They did not speak again till her weak moment had passed. "It
will be very soon," she said, pressing the warm hand that stroked her own.
"You will help me pack, aunt Annie; and then you'll stay--with father? I
know you are glad to have me out of the way at last!"
THE HIDDEN TRAIL
Because they had set forth on a grim and sorrowful quest, it need not be
supposed that Paul and Moya were a pair of sorrowful pilgrims. It was
their wedding journey. At the outset Moya had said: "We are doing the best
we know. For what we don't know, let us leave it and not brood."
They did not enter at once upon the more eccentric stages of the search.
They went by way of the Great Northern to Portland, descending from snow
to roses and drenching rains. At Pendleton, which is at the junction of
three great roads, Paul sent tracers out through express agents and train
officials along the remotest slender feeders of these lines. Through the
same agents it was made known that for any service rendered or expense
incurred on behalf of the person described, his friends would hold
themselves gratefully responsible.
At Portland, Paul searched the steamer lists and left confidential orders
in the different transportation offices; and Moya wrote to his mother--a
woman's letter, every page shining with happiness and as free from
apparent forethought as a running brook.
They returned by the Great Northern and Lake Coeur d'Alene, stopping over
at Fort Sherman to visit Mrs. Creve, who was giddy with joy over the
wholesome change in Paul. She, too, wrote a woman's letter concerning that
visit, to the colonel, which cleared a crowd of shadows from his lonely
Thence again to Pendleton came the seekers, and Paul gathered in his
lines, but found nothing; so cast them forth again. But through all these
distant elaborations of the search, in his own mind he saw the old man
creeping away by some near, familiar trail and lying hid in some warm
valley in the hills, his prison and his home.
It was now the last week in March. The travelers' bags were in the office,
the carriage at the door, when a letter--pigeon-holed and forgotten since
received some three weeks before--was put into Paul's hand.
I run up against your ad. in the Silver City Times [the communication
began]. If you haven't found your man yet, maybe I can put you onto the
right lead. I'm driving a jerky on the road from Mountain Home to Oriana,
but me and the old man we don't jibe any too well. I've got a sort of
disgust on me. Think I'll quit soon and go to mining. Jimmy Breen he runs
the Ferry, he can tell you all I know. Fifty miles from Mountain Home good
road can make it in one day. Yours Respecfully,
It was in following up this belated clue that the pilgrims had come to the
Ferry inn, crossing by team from valley to valley, cutting off a great
bend of the Oregon Short Line as it traverses the Snake River desert;
those bare high plains escarped with basalt bluffs that open every fifty
miles or so to let a road crawl down to some little rope-ferry supported
by sheep-herders, ditch contractors, miners, emigrants, ranchmen, all the
wild industries of a country in the dawn of enterprise.
Business at the Ferry had shrunk since the railroad went through. The
house-staff consisted of Jimmy Breen, a Chinese cook of the bony, tartar
breed, sundry dogs, and a large bachelor cat that mooned about the empty
piazzas. In a young farming country, hungry for capital, Jimmy could not
do a cash business, but everything was grist that came to his mill; and he
was quick to distinguish the perennial dead beat from a genuine case of
"That's a good axe ye have there," pointing suggestively to a new one
sticking out of the rear baggage of an emigrant outfit. "Ye better l'ave
that with me for the dollar that's owing me. If ye have money to buy new
axes ye can't be broke entirely." Or: "Slip the halter on that calf behind
there. The mother hasn't enough to keep it alive. There's har'ly a
dollar's wort' of hide on its bones, but I'll take it to save it droppin'
on the road." Or, he would try sarcasm: "Well, we'll be shuttin' her down
in the spring. Then ye can go round be Walter's Ferry and see if they'll
trust ye there." Or: "Why wasn't ye workin' on the Ditch last winter?
Settin' smokin' your poipe in the tules, the wife and young ones packin'
sagebrush to kape ye warm!"
On the morning after their distinguished arrival, Jimmy's guests came down
late to a devastated breakfast-table. Little heaps of crumbs here and
there showed where earlier appetites had had their destined hour and gone
their way. At an impartial distance from the top and the foot of the table
stood the familiar group of sauce and pickle bottles, every brand dear to
the cowboy, including the "surrup-jug" adhering to its saucer. There was a
fresh-gathered bunch of wild phlox by Moya's plate in a tumbler printed
round the edge with impressions of a large moist male thumb.
"Catchee plenty," the Chinaman grinned, pointing to the plain outside
where the pale sage-brush quivered stiffly in the wind. "Bymbye plenty
come. Pretty col' now."
"You'll be getting a large hump on yourself, Han, me boy. 'T is a cash
crowd we have here--and a lady, by me sowl!" Thus Jimmy exhorted his
household. Times were looking up. They would be a summer resort before the
Ditch went through; it should be mentioned in the Ditch company's
prospectus. Jimmy had put his savings into land-office fees and had a
hopeful interest in the Ditch.
A spur in the head is worth two in the heel. Without a word from "the
boss" Han had found time to shave and powder and polish his brown forehead
and put on his whitest raiment over his baggiest trousers. There was loud
panic among the fowls in the corral. The cat had disappeared; the jealous
dogs hung about the doors and were pushed out of the way by friends of
Seated by the office fire, Paul was conferring with Jimmy, who was happy
with a fresh pipe and a long story to tell to a patient and paying
listener. He rubbed the red curls back from his shining forehead, took the
pipe from his teeth, and guided a puff of smoke away from his auditor.
"I seen him settin' over there on his blankets,"--he pointed with his pipe
to the opposite shore plainly visible through the office windows,--"but he
niver hailed me, so I knowed he was broke. Some, whin they're broke, they
holler all the louder. Ye would think they had an appointment wit' the
Governor and he sint his car'iage to meet them. But he was as humble, he
was, as a yaller dog.--Out! Git out from here--the pack of yez! Han, shut
the dure an' drive thim bloody curs off the piazzy. They're trackin' up
the whole place.--As I was sayin', sor, there he stayed hunched up in the
wind, waitin' on the chanst of a team comin', and I seen he was an ould
daddy. I stud the sight of him as long as I cud, me comin' and goin'. He
fair wore me out. So I tuk the boat over for 'im. One of his arrums he
couldn't lift from the shoulder, and I give him a h'ist wit' his bundle.
Faith, it was light! 'Twinty years a-getherin',' he cackles, slappin' it.
'Ye've had harrud luck,' I says. ''T is not much of a sheaf ye are packin'
home.' 'That's as ye look at it,' he says.
"I axed him what way was he goin'. He was thinking to get a lift as far as
Oriana, if the stages was runnin' on that road. 'Then ye 'll have to bide
here till morning,' I says, 'for ye must have met the stage goin' the
other way.' 'I met nothing,' says he; 'I come be way of the
bluffs,'--which is a strange way for one man travelin' afoot.
"The grub was on the table, and I says, 'Sit by and fill yourself up.' His
cheeks was fallin' in wit' the hunger. With that his poor ould eye begun
to water. 'Twas one weak eye he had that was weepin' all the time. 'I've
got out of the habit of reg'lar aitin',' he says. 'It don't take much to
kape me goin'.' 'Niver desave yourself, sor! 'T is betther feed three
hungry men than wan "no occasion."' His appetite it grew on him wit' every
mouthful. There was a boundless emptiness to him. He lay there on the
bench and slep' the rest of the evening, and I left him there wit' a big
fire at night. And the next day at noon we h'isted him up beside of Joe
Stratton. A rip-snorter of a wind was blowin' off the Silver City peaks.
His face was drawed like a winter apple, but he wint off happy. I think he
was warm inside of himself."
"Did you ask him his name?"
"Sure. Why not? John Treagar he called himself."
"Treagar? Hagar, you mean!"
"It was Treagar he said."
"John Hagar is the man I am looking for."
"Treagar--Hagar? 'T is comin' pretty close to it."
"About what height and build was he?"
"He was not to say a tall man; and he wasn't so turrible short neither.
His back was as round as a Bible. A kind of pepper and saltish beard he
had, and his hair was blacker than his beard but white in streaks."
"A _dark_ man, was he?"
"He would be a _dark_ man if he was younger."
"The man I want is blue-eyed."
"His eyes was blue--a kind of washed-out gray that maybe was blue wanst;
and one of them always weepin' wit' the cold."
"And light brown hair mixed with gray, like sand and ashes--mostly ashes;
and a thin straggling beard, thinner on the cheeks? A high head and a tall
stooping figure--six feet at least; hands with large joints and a habit of
picking at them when"--
"Ye are goin' too fast for me now, sor. He was not that description of a
man, nayther the height nor the hair of him. Sure't is a pity for ye
comin' this far, and him not the man at all. Faith, I wish I was the man
meself! I wonder at Joe Stratton anyhow! He's a very hasty man, is Joe. He
jumps in wit' both feet, so he does. I could have told ye that."
* * * * *
Moya, always helplessly natural, and now very tired as well, when Paul
described with his usual gravity this anti-climax, fell below all the
dignities at once in a burst of childish giggling. Paul looked on with an
embarrassed smile, like a puzzled affectionate dog at the incomprehensible
mirth of humans. Paul was certainly deficient in humor and therefore in
breadth. But what woman ever loved her lover the less for having
discovered his limitations? Humor runs in families of the intenser
cultivation. The son of the soil remains serious in the face of life's and
THE STAR IN THE EAST
So the search paused, while the searchers rested and revised their plans.
Spring opened in the valley as if for them alone. There were mornings
"proud and sweet," when the humblest imagination could have pictured
Aurora and her train in the jocund clouds that trooped along the
sky,--wind-built processions which the wind dispersed. Wild flowers spread
so fast they might have been spilled from the rainbow scarf of Iris
fleeting overhead. The river was in flood, digging its elbows into its
muddy banks. The willow and wild-rose thickets stooped and washed their
spring garments in its tide.
Primeval life and love were all around them. Meadow larks flung their
brief jets of song into the sunlight; the copses rustled with wings;
wood-doves cooed from the warm sunny hollows, and the soft booming of
their throaty call was like a beating in the air,--the pulse of spring.
They had found their Garden. Humanity in the valley passed before them in
forms as interesting and as alien as the brother beasts to Adam: the
handsome driver of the jerky, Joe Stratton's successor, who sat at dinner
opposite and combed his flowing mustache with his fork in a lazy,
dandified way; the darkened faces of sheep-herders enameled by sun and
wind, their hair like the winter coats of animals; the slow-eyed farmers
with the appetites of horses; the spring recruits for the ranks of labor
footing it to distant ranches, each with his back-load of bedding, and the
dust of three counties on his garments.
The sweet forces of Nature shut out, for a season, Paul's _cri du coeur_.
One may keep a chamber sacred to one's sadder obligations and yet the
house be filled with joy. Further ramifications of the search were mapped
out with Jimmy's indifferent assistance. For good reasons of his own,
Jimmy did little to encourage an early start. He would explain that his
maps were of ancient date and full of misinformation as to stage routes.
"See that now! The stages was pulled off that line five year ago, on
account of the railroad cuttin' in on them. Ye couldn't make it wid'out ye
took a camp outfit. There's ne'er a station left, and when ye come to it,
it's ruins ye'll find. A chimbly and a few rails, if the mule-skinners
hasn't burned them. 'Tis a country very devoid of fuel; sagebrush and
grease-wood, and a wind, bedad! that blows the grass-seeds into the next
When these camping-trips were proposed to Moya, she hesitated and
responded languidly; but when Paul suggested leaving her even for a day,
her fears fluttered across his path and wiled him another way. Vaguely he
felt that she was unlike herself--less buoyant, though often restless; and
sometimes he fancied she was pale underneath her sun-burned color like
that of rose-hips in October. Various causes kept him inert, while
strength mounted in his veins, and life seemed made for the pure joy of
The moon of May in that valley is the moon of roses, for the heats once
due come on apace. The young people gave up their all-day horseback rides
and took morning walks instead, following the shore-paths lazily to shaded
coverts dedicated to those happy silences which it takes two to make. Or,
they climbed the bluffs and gazed at the impenetrable vast horizon, and
thought perhaps of their errand with that pang of self-reproach which,
when shared, becomes a subtler form of self-indulgence.
But at night, all the teeming life of the plain rushed up into the sky and
blazed there in a million friendly stars. After the languor of the sleepy
afternoons, it was like a fresh awakening--the dawn of those white May
nights. The wide plain stirred softly through all its miles of sage. The
river's cadenced roar paused beyond the bend and outbroke again. All that
was eerie and furtive in the wild dark found a curdling voice in the
In a hollow concealed by sage, not ten minutes' walk from the Ferry inn,
unknown to the map-maker and innocent of all use, lay a perfect floor for
evening pacing with one's eyes upon the stars. It was the death mask of an
ancient lake, done in purest alkali silt, and needing only the shadows
cast by a low moon to make the illusion almost unbelievable. Slow
precipitation, season after season, as the water dried, had left the lake
bed smooth as a cast in plaster. Subsequent warpings had lifted the alkali
crust into thin-lipped wavelets. But once upon the floor itself the
resemblance to water vanished. The warpings and Grumblings took the shape
of earth as made by water and baked by fire. Moya compared it to a bit of
the dead moon fallen to show us what we are coming to. They paced it
soft-footed in tennis shoes lest they should crumble its talc-like
whiteness. But they read no horoscopes, for they were shy of the future in
speaking to each other,--and they made no plans.
One evening Moya had said to Paul: "I can understand your mother so much
better now that I am a wife. I think most women have a tendency towards
the state of being _un_married. And if one had--children, it would
increase upon one very fast. A widow and a mother--for twenty years. How
could she be a wife again?"
Paul made no reply to this speech which long continued to haunt him;
especially as Moya wrote more frequently to his mother and did not offer
to show him her letters. In their evening walks she seemed distrait, and
during the day more restless.
One night of their nightly pacings she stopped and stood long, her head
thrown back, her eyes fixed upon the dizzy star-deeps. Paul waited a step
behind her, touching her shoulders with his hands. Suddenly she reeled and
sank backwards into his arms. He held her, watching her lovely face grow
whiter; her eyelids closed. She breathed slowly, leaning her whole weight
Coming to herself, she smiled and said it was nothing. She had been that
way before. "But--we must go home. We must have a home--somewhere. I want
to see your mother. Paul, be good to her--forgive her--for my sake!"
PILGRIMS AND STRANGERS
Aunt Polly Lewis was disappointed in the latest of her beneficiaries. It
was nine years since her husband had locked up his savings in the Mud
Springs ranch, a neglected little health-plant at the mouth of the
Bruneau. If you were troubled with rheumatism, or a crick in the back, or
your "pancrees" didn't act or your blood was "out o' fix, why, you'd
better go up to Looanders' for a spell and soak yourself in that blue mud
and let aunt Polly diet ye and dost ye with yerb tea."
When Leander courted aunt Polly in the interests of his sanitarium, she
was reputed the best nurse in Ada County. The widow--by desertion--of a
notorious quack doctor of those parts: it was an open question whether his
medicine had killed or her nursing had cured the greater number of
confiding sick folk. Leander drove fifty miles to catechise this notable
woman, and finding her sound on the theory of packs hot and cold, and
skilled in the practice of rubbing,--and having made the incidental
discovery that she was a person not without magnetism,--he decided on the
spot to add her to the other attractions of Mud Springs ranch; and she
drove home with him next day, her trunk in the back of his wagon.
The place was no sinecure. Bricks without straw were a child's pastime to
the cures aunt Polly and the Springs effected without a pretense to the
comforts of life in health, to say nothing of sickness. Modern
conveniences are costly, and how are you to get the facilities for "pay
patients" when you have no patients that pay! Prosperity had overlooked
the Bruneau, or had made false starts there, through detrimental schemes
that gave the valley a bad name with investors. The railroad was still
fifty miles away, and the invalid public would not seek life itself, in
these days of luxurious travel, at the cost of a twelve hours' stage-ride.
However, as long as the couple had a roof over their heads and the Springs
continued to plop and vomit their strange, chameleon-colored slime,
Leander would continue to bring home the sick and the suffering for Polly
and the Springs to practice on. Health became his hobby, and in time, with
isolation thrown in, it began to invade his common sense. He tried in
succession all the diet fads of the day and wound up a convert to the
"Ralston" school of eating. Aunt Polly had clung a little longer to the
flesh-pots, but the charms of a system that abolished half the labor of
cooking prevailed with her at last, and in the end she kept a sharper eye
upon Leander at mealtime than ever he had upon her.
The ignorant gorgings of their neighbors were a head-shaking and a warning
to them, and more than once Leander's person was in jeopardy through his
zealous but unappreciated concern for the brother who eats in darkness.
He had started out one winter morning from Bisuka, a virtuous man. His
team had breakfasted, but not he. A Ralstonite does not load up his
stomach at dawn after the manner of cattle, and such pious substitutes for
a cup of coffee as are permitted the faithful cannot always be had for a
price. At Indian Creek he hauled up to water his team, and to make for
himself a cinnamon-colored decoction by boiling in hot water a preparation
of parched grains which he carried with him. This he accomplished in an
angle of the old corral fence out of the wind. There is no comfort nor
even virtue in eating cold dust with one's sandwiches. Leander sunk his
great white tushes through the thick slices of whole-wheat bread and
tasted the paste of peanut meal with which they were spread. He ate
standing and slapped his leg to warm his driving hand.
A flutter of something colored, as a garment, caught his eye, directing it
to the shape of a man, rolled in an old blue blanket, lying motionless in
a corner of the tumble-down wall. "Drunk, drunk as a hog!" pronounced
Leander. For no man in command of himself would lie down to sleep in such
a place. As if to refute this accusation, the wind turned a corner of the
blanket quietly off a white face with closed eyelids,--an old, worn,
gentle face, appealing in its homeliness, though stamped now with the
dignity of death. Leander knelt and handled the body tenderly. It was long
before he satisfied himself that life was still there. Another case for
Polly and the Springs. A man worth saving, if Leander knew a man; one of
the trustful, trustworthy sort. His heart went out to him on the instant
as to a friend from home.
It was closing in for dusk when he reached the Ferry. Jimmy was away, and
Han, in high dudgeon, brought the boat over in answer to Leander's hail.
He had grouse to dress for supper, inconsiderately flung in upon him at
the last moment by the stage, four hours late.
"Huh! Why you no come one hour ago? All time 'Hullo, hullo'! Je' Cli'! me
no dam felly-man--me dam cook! Too much man say 'Hullo'!"
The prospect was not good for help at the Ferry inn, so, putting his trust
in Polly and the Springs, Leander pushed on up the valley.
When Aunt Polly's patients were of the right sort, they stayed on after
their recovery and helped Leander with the ranch work. But for the most
part they "hit the trail" again as soon as their ills were healed, not
forgetting to advertise the Springs to other patients of their own class.
The only limit to this unenviable popularity was the size of the house.
Leander saw no present advantage in building.
But in case they ever did build--and the time was surely coming!--here was
the very person they had been looking for. Cast your bread upon the
waters. The winter's bread and care and shelter so ungrudgingly bestowed
had returned to them many-fold in the comfortable sense of dependence and
unity they felt in this last beneficiary, the old man of Indian Creek whom
they called "Uncle John."
"The kindest old creetur' ever lived! Some forgitful, but everybody's
liable to forgit. Only tell him one thing at once, and don't confuse him,
and he'll git through an amazin' sight of chores in a day."
"Just the very one we'll want to wait on the men patients," Aunt Polly
chimed in. "He can carry up meals and keep the bathrooms clean, and wash
out the towels, and he's the best hand with poultry. He takes such good
care of the old hens they're re'lly ashamed not to lay!"
It was spring again; old hopes were putting forth new leaves. Leander had
heard of a capitalist in the valley; a young one, too, more prone to
enthusiasm if shown the right thing.
"I'm going down to Jimmy's to fetch them up here!" Leander announced.
"Are there two of them?"
"He has brought his wife out with him. They are a young couple. He's the
only son of a rich widow in New York, and Jimmy says they've got money to
burn. Jimmy don't take much stock in this 'ere 'wounded guide'
story--thinks it's more or less of a blind. He's feeling around for a good
investment--desert land or mining claims. Jimmy thinks he represents big
interests back East."
Aunt Polly considered, and the corners of her mouth moistened as she
thought of the dinner she would snatch from the jaws of the system on the
day these young strangers should visit the ranch.
"By Gum!" Leander shouted. "I wonder if Uncle John wouldn't know something
about the party they're advertising for. That'd be the way to find out if
they're really on the scent. I'll take him down with me--that's what I'll
_do_--and let him have a talk with the young man himself. It'll make a
good opening. Are you listening, Polly?" She was not. "I wish you'd git
him to fix himself up a little. Layout one o' my clean shirts for him, and
I'll take him down with me day after to-morrow."
"I'll have a fresh churning to-morrow," Aunt Polly mused. "You can take a
little pat of it with you. I won't put no salt in it, and I'll send along
a glass or two of my wild strawberry jam. It takes an awful time to pick
the berries, but I guess it'll be appreciated after the table Jimmy sets.
I don't believe Jimmy'll be offended?"
"Bogardus is their name," continued Leander. "Mr. and Mrs. Bogardus, from
New York. Jimmy's got it down in his hotel book and he's showing it to
everybody. Jimmy's reel childish about it. I tell him one swallow don't
make a summer."
Uncle John had come into the room and sat listening, while a yellow pallor
crept over his forehead and cheeks. He moved to get up once, and then sat
down again weakly.
"What's the matter, Uncle?" Aunt Polly eyed him sharply. "You been out
there chopping wood too long in this hot sun. What did I tell you?"
She cleared the decks for action. Paler and paler the old man grew. He was
not able to withstand her vigorous sympathies. She had him tucked up on
the calico lounge and his shoes off and a hot iron at his feet; but while
she was hurrying up the kettle to make him a drink of something hot, he
rose and slipped up the outside stairs to his bedroom in the attic. There
he seated himself on the side of his neat bed which he always made himself
camp fashion,--the blankets folded lengthwise with just room for one quiet
sleeper to crawl inside; and there he sat, opening and clinching his
hands, a deep perplexity upon his features.
Aunt Polly called to him and began to read the riot act, but Leander said:
"Let him be! He gits tired o' being fussed over. You're at him about
something or other the whole blessed time."
"Well, I have to! My gracious! He'd forgit to come in to his meals if I
didn't keep him on my mind."
"It just strikes me--what am I going to call him when I introduce him to
those folks? Did he ever tell you what his last name is?"
"I wouldn't be surprised," Aunt Polly lowered her voice, "if he couldn't
remember it himself! I've heard of such cases. Whenever I try to draw him
out to talk about himself and what happened to him before you found him,
it breaks him all up; seemingly gives him a back-set every time. He sort
of slinks into himself in that queer, lost way--just like he was when he
first come to."
"He's had a powerful jar to his constitution, and his mind is taking a
rest." Leander was fond of a diagnosis. "There wasn't enough life left in
him to keep his faculties and his bod'ly organs all a-going at once. The
upper story's to let."
"I wish you'd go upstairs, and see what he is doing up there."
"Aw, no! Let him be. He likes to go off by himself and do his thinking. I
notice it rattles him to be talked to much. He sets out there on the
choppin'-block, looking at the bluffs--ever notice? He looks and don't see
nothin', and his lips keep moving like he was learning a spellin'-lesson.
If I speak to him sharp, he hauls himself together and smiles uneasy, but
he don't know what I said. I tell you he's waking up; coming to his
memories, and trying to sort 'em out."
"That's just what _I_ say," Aunt Polly retorted, "but he's got to eat his
meals. He can't live on memories."
Uncle John was restless that evening, and appeared to be excited. He
waited upon Aunt Polly after supper with a feverish eagerness to be of
use. When all was in order for bedtime, and Leander rose to wind the
clock, he spoke. It was getting about time to roll up his blankets and
pull out, he said. Leander felt for the ledge where the clock-key
belonged, and made no answer.
"I was saying--I guess it's about time for me to be moving on. The grass
"Are you cal'latin' to live on grass?" Leander drawled with cutting irony.
"Gettin' tired of the old woman's cooking? Well, she ain't much of a
Uncle John remained silent, working at his hands. His mouth, trembled
under his thin straggling beard. "I never was better treated in my life,
and you know it. It ain't handsome of you, Lewis, to talk that way!"
"He don't mean nothing, Uncle John! What makes you so foolish, Looander!
He just wants you to know there's no begrudgers around here. You're
welcome, and more than welcome, to settle down and camp right along with
"Winter and summer!" Leander put in, "if you're satisfied. There's nobody
in a hurry to see the last of ye."
Uncle John's mild but determined resistance was a keen disappointment to
his friends. Leander thought himself offended. "What fly's stung you,
anyhow! Heard from any of your folks lately?"
The old man smiled.
"Got any money salted down that needs turning?"
"Looander! Quit teasing of him!"
"Let him have his fun, ma'am. It's all he's likely to get out of me. I
have got a little money," he pursued. "'T would be an insult to name it in
the same breath with what you've done for me. I'd like to leave it here,
though. You could pass it on. You'll have chances enough. 'T ain't likely
I'll be the last one you'll take in and do for, and never git nothing out
of it in return."
There was a mild sensation, as the speaker, fumbling in his loose trousers,
appeared to be seeking for that money. Aunt Polly's eyes flamed indignation
behind her tears. She was a foolish, warm-hearted creature, and her eyes
watered on the least excuse.
"Looander, you shouldn't have taunted him," she admonished her husband,
who felt he had been a little rough.
"Look here, Uncle John, d'you ever know anybody who wasn't by way of
needing help some time in their lives? We don't ask any one who comes
"He didn't come!" Aunt Polly corrected.
"Well, who was brought, then! We don't ask for their character, nor their
private history, nor their bank account. I don't know but you're the first
one for years I've ever took a real personal shine to, and we've h'isted a
good many up them stairs that wasn't able to walk much further. I'd like
you to stay as a favor to us, dang it!"
Leander delivered this invitation as if it were a threat. His straight-cut
mustache stiffened and projected itself by the pressure of his big lips;
his dark red throat showed as many obstinate creases as an old
"I'm much obliged to you both. I want you to remember that. We--I--I'll
talk with ye in the morning."
"That means he's going all the same," said Leander, after Uncle John had
closed the outside door.
Sure enough, next morning he had made up his little pack, oiled his boots,
and by breakfast-time was ready for the road. They argued the point long
and fiercely with him whether he should set out on foot or wait a day and
ride with Leander to the Ferry. It was not supposed he could be thinking
of any other road. By to-morrow, if he would but wait, Aunt Polly would
have comfortably outfitted him after the custom of the house; given his
clothes a final "going over" to see everything taut for the journey,
shoved a week's rations into a corn-sack, choosing such condensed forms of
nourishment as the system allowed--nay, straining a point and smuggling in
a nefarious pound or two of real miner's coffee.
Aunt Polly's distress so weighed with her patient that he consented to
remain overnight and ride with Leander as far as the dam across the
Bruneau, at its junction with the Snake. There he would cross and take the
trail down the river, cutting off several miles of the road to the Ferry.
As for going on to see Jimmy or Jimmy's "folks," the nervous resistance
which this plan excited warned the good couple not to press the old man
too far, or he might give them the slip altogether.
A strangeness in his manner which this last discussion had brought out,
lay heavy on aunt Polly's mind all day after the departure of the team for
the Ferry. She watched the two men drive off in silence, Leander's bush
beard reddening in the sun, his big body filling more than his half of the
"Well, by Gum! If he ain't the blamedest, most per-sistent old fool!" he
complained to his wife that night. Their first words were of the old man,
already missed like one of the family from the humble place he had made
for himself. Leander was still irritable over his loss. "I set him down
with his grub and blankets, and I watched him footing it acrost the dam.
He done it real handsome, steady on his pins. Then he set down and waited,
kind o' dreaming, like he used to, settin' on the choppin'-block. I hailed
him. 'What's the matter?' I says. 'Left anything?' No: every time I hailed
he took off his hat and waved to me real pleasant. Nothing the matter.
There he set. Well, thinks I, I can't stay here all day watching ye take
root. So I drove on a piece. And, by Gum! when I looked back going around
the bend, there he went a-pikin' off up the bluffs--just a-humping himself
for all he was worth. I wouldn't like to think he was cunning, but it
looked that way for sure,--turning me off the scent and then taking to the
bluffs like he was sent for! Where in thunder is he making for? He knows
just as well as I do--you have heard me tell him a dozen times--the stages
were hauled off that Wood River road five year and more ago. He won't git
nowhere! And he won't meet up with a team in a week's walking."
"His food will last him a week if he's careful; he's no great eater. I
ain't afraid his feet will get lost; he's to home out of doors almost
anywhere;--it's his head I'm afraid of. He's got some sort of a skew on
him. I used to notice if he went out for a little walk anywhere, he'd
always slope for the East."
A STATION IN THE DESERT
That forsworn identity which Adam Bogardus had submitted to be clothed in
as a burial garment was now become a thing for the living to flee from. He
had seen a woman in full health whiten and cower before it;--she who stood
beside his bed and looked at him with dreadful eyes, eyes of his girl-wife
growing old in the likeness of her father. Hard, reluctant eyes forced to
own the truth which the ashen lips denied. Are we responsible for our
silences? He had not spoken to her. Nay, the living must speak first, or
the ghostly dead depart unquestioned. He asked only that he might forget
her and be himself forgotten. If it were that woman's right to call
herself Emily Bogardus, then was there no Adam her husband. Better the old
disguise which left him free to work out his own sentence and pay his
forfeit to the law. He had never desired that one breath of it should be
commuted, or wished to accept an enslaving pardon from those for whose
sake he had put himself out of the way. If he could have taken his own
comparative spiritual measurement, he might have smiled at the humor of
that forgiveness promised him in the name of the Highest by his son.
For many peaceful years solitude had been the habit of his soul. Gently as
he bore with human obligations, he escaped from them with a sense of
relief which shamed him somewhat when he thought of the good friends to
whom he owed this very blessed power to flee. It was quite as Leander had
surmised. He could not command his faculties--memory especially--when a
noise of many words and questions bruised his brain.
The stillness of the desert closed about him with delicious healing. He
was a world-weary child returned to the womb of Nature. His old camp-craft
came back; his eye for distance, his sense of the trail, his little pet
economies with food and fire. There was no one to tell him what to eat and
when to eat it. He was invisible to men. Each day's march built up his
muscle, and every night's deep sleep under the great high stars steadied
his nerves and tightened his resolve.
He thought of the young man--his son--with a mixture of pain and
tenderness. But Paul was not the baby-boy he had put out of his arms
with a father's smile at One Man station. Paul was himself a man now; he
had coerced him at the last, neither did he understand.
The blind instinct of flight began after a while to shape its own
direction. It was no new leaning with the packer. As many times as he
had crossed this trail he never had failed to experience the same pull.
He resisted no longer. He gave way to strange fancies and made them his
At some time during his flight from the hospital, in one of those blanks
that overtook him, he knew not how, he had met with a great loss. The
words had slipped from his memory--of that message which had kept him in
fancied touch with his wife all these many deluding years. Without them he
was like a drunkard deprived of his habitual stimulant. The craving to
connect and hold them--for they came to him sometimes in tantalizing
freaks of memory, and slipped away again like beads rolling off a broken
thread--was almost the only form of mental suffering he was now conscious
of. What had become of the message itself? Had they left it exposed to
every heartless desecration in that abandoned spot?--a scrap of paper
driven like a bit of tumble-weed before the wind, snatched at by spikes of
sage, trampled into the mire of cattle, nuzzled by wild beasts? Or, had
they put it away with that other beast where he lay with the scoff on his
dead face? Out of dreams and visions of the night that place of the
parting ways called to him, and the time was now come when he must go.
He approached it by one of those desert trails that circle for miles on
the track of water and pounce as a bird drops upon its prey into the
trampled hollow at One Man station--a place for the gathering of hoofs in
the midst of the plain.
He could trace what might have been the foundation of a house, a few
blackened stones, a hearthstone showing where a chimney perhaps had stood,
but these evidences of habitation would never have been marked except by
one who knew where to look. He searched the ground over for signs of the
tragedy that bound him to that spot--a smiling desolation, a sunny
nothingness. The effect of this careless obliteration was quieting. Nature
had played here once with two men and a woman. One of the toy men was
lost, the other broken. She had forgotten where she put the broken one.
There were mounds which looked like graves, but the seeker knew that
artificial mounds in a place like this soon sink into hollows; and there
were hollows like open graves, filled with unsightly human rubbish, washed
in by the yearly rains.
He spent three days in the hollow, doing nothing, steeped in sunshine,
lying down to rest broad awake in the tender twilight, making his peace
with this place of bitter memory before bidding it good-by. His thoughts
turned eastward as the planets rose. Time he was working back towards
home. He would hardly get there if he started now, before his day was
done. He saw his mother's grave beside his father's, in the southeast
corner of the burying-ground, where the trees were thin. All who drove in
through the big gate of funerals could see the tall white shafts of the
Beviers and Brodericks and Van Eltens, but only those who came on foot
could approach his people in the gravelly side-hill plots. "I'd like to be
put there alongside the old folks in that warm south corner." He could see
their names on the plain gray slate stones, rain-stained and green with
On the third May evening of his stay the horizon became a dust-cloud, the
setting sun a ball of fire. Loomed the figure of a rider topping the
heaving backs of his herd. All together they came lumbering down the
slopes, all heading fiercely for the water. The rider plunged down a
side-draw out of the main cloud. Clanking bells, shuffling hoofs, the
"Whoop-ee-youp!" came fainter up the gulch. The cowboy was not pleased as
he dashed by to see an earlier camp-fire smoking in the hollow. But he was
less displeased, being half French, than if he had been pure-bred
The old man, squatting by his cooking-fire, gave him a civil nod, and he
responded with a flourish of his quirt. The reek of sage smoke, the smell
of dust and cattle rose rank on the cooling air. It was good to Boniface,
son of the desert; it meant supper and bed, or supper and talk, for
"Bonny" Maupin ("Bonny Moppin," it went in the vernacular) would talk
every other man to sleep, full or empty, with songs thrown in. To-night,
however, he must talk on an empty stomach, for his chuck wagon was not in
"W'ich way you travelin'?" he began, lighting up after a long pull at his
flask. The old man had declined, though he looked as if he needed a drink.
"East about," was the answer.
"Well; summer's before us. I cal'late to keep moving till snow falls."
"Shucks! You ain' pressed for time. Maybe you got some friend back there.
Goin' back to git married?" He winked genially to point the jest and the
old man smiled indulgently.
"Won't you set up and take a bite with me? You don't look to have much of
a show for supper along."
"Thanks, very much! I had bully breakfast at Rock Spring middlin' late
this morning. They butcherin' at that place. Five fat hog. My chuck wagon
he stay behin' for chunk of fresh pig. I won' spoil my appetide for that
tenderloin. Hol' on yourself an' take supper wis me. No?--That fellah be
'long 'bout Chris'mas if he don' git los'! He always behin', pig or no
Bonny strolled away collecting fire-wood. Presently he called back,
pointing dramatically with his small-toed boot. "Who's been coyotin' round
here?" The hard ground was freshly disturbed in spots as by the paws of
some small inquisitive animal. There was no answer.
"What you say? Whose surface diggin's is these? I never know anybody do
some mining here."
"That was me"--Bonny backed a little nearer to catch the old man's words.
"I was looking round here for something I lost."
"What luck you have? You fin' him?"
"Well, now, doos it reely matter to you, sonny?"
"Pardner, it don' matter to me a d--n, if you say so! I was jus' askin'
myself what a man _would_ look for if he los' it here. Since I strike this
'ell of a place the very groun' been chewed up and spit out reg'lar, one
hundred times a year. 'T'is a gris' mill!"
"I didn't gretly expect to find what I was lookin' for. I was just foolin'
around to satisfy myself."
"That satisfy me!" said Bonny pleasantly; and yet he was a trifle
discomfited. He strolled away again and began to sing with a boyish show
of indifference to having been called "sonny."
"Oh, Sally is the gal for me!
Oh, Sally's the gal for me!
On moonlight night when the star is bright--
"Halloa! This some more your work, oncle? You ain' got no chicken wing for
arm if you lif' this.--Ah, be dam! I see what you lif' him with. All same
stove-lid." Talking and swearing to himself cheerfully, Bonny applied the
end of a broken whiffletree to the blunt lip of the old hearthstone which
marked the stage-house chimney. He had tried a step-dance on it and found
it hollow. More fresh digging, and marks upon the stone where some prying
tool had taken hold and slipped, showed he was not the first who had been
"There you go, over on you' back, like snap' turtle; I see where you lay
there before. What the dev'! I say!" Bonny, much excited with his find,
extracted a rusty tin tobacco-box from the hole, pried open the spring lid
and drew forth its contents: a discolored canvas bag bulging with coin and
whipped around the neck with a leather whang. The canvas was rotten; Bonny
supported its contents tenderly as he brought it over to the old man.
"Oncle, I ask you' pardon for tappin' that safe. Pretty good lil'
nest-egg, eh? But now you got to find her some other place."
"That don't belong to me," said the old man indifferently.
"Aw--don't be bashful! I onderstan' now what you los'. You dig
here--there--migs up the scent. I just happen to step on that stone--ring
him, so, with my boot-heel!"
"That ain't my pile," the other persisted. "I started to build a fire on
that stone two nights ago. It rung hollow like you say. I looked and found
what you found."
--"And put her back! My soul to God! An' you here all by you'self!"
"Why not? The stuff ain't mine."
"Who _is_ she? How long since anybody live here?"
"I don't know,--good while, I guess."
"Well, sar! Look here! I open that bag. I count two hondre' thirteen
dolla'--make it twelve for luck, an' call it you' divvee! You strike her
first. What you say: we go snac'?"
"I haven't got any use for that money. You needn't talk to me about it."
"Got no h'use!--are you a reech man? Got you' private car waitin' for you
out in d' sagebrush? Sol' a mine lately?"
"I don't know why it strikes you so funny. It's no concern of mine if a
man puts his money in the ground and goes off and leaves it."
"Goes off and die! There was one man live here by himself--he die, they
say, 'with his boots on.' He, I think, mus' be that man belong to this
money. What an old stiff want with two hondre' thirteen dolla'? That money
goin' into a live man's clothes." Bonny slapped his chappereros, and the
"I've no objection to its going into _your_ clothes," said the old man.
"You thing I ain' particular, me? Well, eef the party underground was my
frien', and I knew his fam'ly, and was sure the money was belong to
him--I'd do differend--perhaps. Mais,--it is going--going--gone! You won'
The old man smiled and looked steadily away.
"Blas' me to h--l! but you aire the firs' man ever I strike that jib at
the sight of col' coin. She don' frighten me!"
Bonny always swore when he felt embarrassed.
"Well, sar! Look here! You fin' you'self so blame indifferend--s'pose you
_so_ indifferend not to say nothing 'bout this, when my swamper fellah git
in. I don' wish to go snac' wis him. I don' feel oblige'. See?"
"What you want to pester me about this money for!" The old man was weary.
"I didn't come here, lookin' for money, and I don't expect to take none
away with me. So I'll say good-night to ye."
"Hol' on, hol' on! Don' git mad. What time you goin' off in the morning?"
"Before you do, I shouldn't wonder."
"But hol'! One fine idea--blazin' good idea--just hit me now in the head!
Wan' to come on to Chicago wis me? I drop this fellah at Felton. He take
the team back, and I get some one to help me on the treep. Why not you?
Ever tek' care of stock?"
"Some consid'able years ago I used to look after stock. Guess I'd know an
ox from a heifer."
"Ever handle 'em on cattle-car?"
"Well, all there is, you feed 'em, and water 'em, and keep 'em on their
feets. If one fall down, all the others they have too much play. They
rock"--Bonny exhibited--"and fall over and pile up in heap. I like to do
one turn for you. We goin' the same way--you bring me the good luck, like
a bird in the han'. This is my clean-up, you understand. You bring me the
beautiful luck. You turn me up right bower first slap. Now it's goin' be
my deal. I like to do by you!"
The packer turned over and looked up at the cool sky, pricked through with
early stars. He was silent a long time. His pale old face was like a fine
bit of carving in the dusk.
"What you think?" asked Moppin, almost tenderly. "I thing you better come
wis me. You too hold a man to go like so--alone."
"I'll have to think about it first;--let you know in the morning."
INJURIOUS REPORTS CONCERNING AN OLD HOUSE
A Rush of wheels and a spatter of hoofs coming up the drive sent Mrs.
Dunlop to the sitting-room window. She tried to see out through streaming
showers that darkened the panes.
"Isn't that Mrs. Bogardus? Why, it is! Put on your shoes, Chauncey, quick!
Help her in 'n' take her horse to the shed. Take an umbrella with you."
Chauncey the younger, meekly drying his shoes by the kitchen fire, put
them on, not stopping to lace them, and slumped down the porch steps,
pursued by his mother's orders. She watched him a moment struggling with a
cranky umbrella, and then turned her attention to herself and the room.
Mrs. Bogardus made her calls in the morning, and always plainly on
business. She had not seen the inside of Cerissa's parlor for ten years.
This was a grievance which Cerissa referred to spasmodically, being seized
with it when she was otherwise low in her mind.
"My sakes! Can't I remember my mother telling how _her_ mother used to
drive over and spend the afternoon, and bring her sewing and the
baby--whichever one was the baby. They called each other Chrissy and
Angevine, and now she don't even speak of her own children to us by their
first names. It's 'Mrs. Bowen' and 'Mr. Paul;' just as if she was talking
to her servants."
"What's that to us? We've got a good home here for as long as we want to
stay. She's easy to work for, if you do what she says."
Chauncey respected Mrs. Bogardus's judgment and her straightforward
business habits. Other matters he left alone. But Cerissa was ambitious
and emotional, and she stayed indoors, doing little things and thinking
small thoughts. She resented her commanding neighbor's casual manners.
There was something puzzling and difficult to meet in her plainness of
speech, which excluded the personal relation. It was like the cut and
finish of her clothes--mysterious in their simplicity, and not to be
When the two met, Cerissa was immediately reduced to a state of flimsy
apology which she made up for by being particularly hot and self-assertive
in speaking of the lady afterward.
"There is the parlor, in perfect order," she fretted, as she stood waiting
to open the front door; "but of course she wouldn't let me take her in
there--that would be too much like visiting."
The next moment she had corrected her facial expression, and was offering
smiling condolences to Mrs. Bogardus on the state of her attire.
"It is only my jacket. You might put that somewhere to dry," said the lady
curtly. Raindrops sparkled on the wave of thick iron-gray hair that lifted
itself, with a slight turn to one side, from her square low brow. Her eyes
shone dark against the fresh wind color in her cheeks. She had the
straight, hard, ophidian line concealing the eyelid, which gives such a
peculiar strength to the direct gaze of a pair of dark eyes. If one
suspects the least touch of tenderness, possibly of pain, behind that iron
fold, it lends a fascination equal to the strength. There was some
excitement in Mrs. Bogardus's manner, but Cerissa did not know her well
enough to perceive it. She merely thought her looking handsomer, and, if
possible, more formidable than usual.
She sat by the fire, folding her skirts across her knees, and showing the
edges of the most discouragingly beautiful petticoats,--a taste perhaps
inherited from her wide-hipped Dutch progenitresses. Mrs. Bogardus reveled
in costly petticoats, and had an unnecessary number of them.
"How nice it is in here!" she said, looking about her. Cerissa, with the
usual apologies, had taken her into the kitchen to dry her skirts. There
was a slight taint of steaming shoe leather, left by Chauncey when driven
forth. Otherwise the kitchen was perfection,--the family room of an old
Dutch farmhouse, built when stone and hardwood lumber were cheap,--thick
walls; deep, low window-seats; beams showing on the ceiling; a modern
cooking-stove, where Emily Bogardus could remember the wrought brass
andirons and iron backlog, for this room had been her father's
dining-room. The brick tiled hearth remained, and the color of those
century and a half old bricks made a pitiful thing of Cerissa's new
oil-cloth. The woodwork had been painted--by Mrs. Bogardus's orders, and
much to Cerissa's disgust--a dark kitchen green,--not that she liked the
color herself, but it was the artistic demand of the moment,--and the
place was filled with a green golden light from the cherry-trees close to
the window, which a break in the clouds had suddenly illumined.
"You keep it beautifully," said Mrs. Bogardus, her eyes shedding
compliments as she looked around. "I should not dare go in my own kitchen
at this time of day. There are no women nowadays who know how to work in
the way ladies used to work. If I could have such a housekeeper as you,
Cerissa flushed and bridled. "What would Chauncey do!"
"I don't expect you to be my housekeeper," Mrs. Bogardus smiled. "But I
"She has come to ask a favor," thought Cerissa. "I never knew her so
pleasant, for nothing. She wants me to do up her fruit, I guess." Cerissa
was mistaken. Mrs. Bogardus simply was happy--or almost happy--and deeply
stirred over a piece of news which had come to her in that morning's mail.
"I have telephoned Bradley not to send his men over on Monday. My son is
bringing his wife home. They may be here all summer. The place belongs to
them now. Did Chauncey tell you? Mr. Paul writes that he has some building
plans of his own, and he wishes everything left as it is for the present,
especially this house. He wants his wife to see it first just as it is."
"Well, to be sure! They've been traveling a long time, haven't they? And
how is his health now?"
"Oh, he is very well indeed. You will be glad not to have the trouble of
those carpenters, Cerissa? Pulling down old houses is dirty work."
"Oh, dear! I wouldn't mind the dirt. Anything to get rid of that old rat's
nest on top of the kitchen chamber. I hate to have such out of the way
places on my mind. I can't get around to do every single thing, and it's
years--years, Mrs. Bogardus, since I could get a woman to do a half-day's
cleaning up there in broad daylight!"
Mrs. Bogardus stared. What was the woman talking about!
"I call it a regular eyesore on the looks of the house besides. And it
keeps all the old stories alive."
"Why, of course your father wasn't out of his head--we all know that--when
he built that upstairs room and slep' there and locked himself in every
night of his life. It was only on one point he was a little warped: the
fear of bein' robbed. A natural fear, too,--an old man over eighty livin'
in such a lonesome place and known to be well off. But--you'll excuse my
repeating the talk--but the story goes now that he re'ly went insane and
was confined up there all the last years of his life. And that's why the
windows have got bars acrost them. Everybody notices it, and they ask
questions. It's real embarrassin', for of course I don't want to discuss
"Who asks questions?" Mrs. Bogardus's eyes were hard to meet when her
voice took that tone.
"Why, the city folks out driving. They often drive in the big gate and
make the circle through the grounds, and they're always struck when they
see that tower bedroom with windows like a prison. They say, 'What's the
story about that room, up there?'"
"When people ask you questions about the house, you can say you did not
live here in the owner's time and you don't know. That's perfectly simple,
"But I do know! Everybody knows," said Cerissa hotly. "It was the talk of
the whole neighborhood when that room was put up; and I remember how
scared I used to be when mother sent me over here of an errand."
Mrs. Bogardus rose and shook out her skirts. "Will Chauncey bring my horse
when it stops raining? By the way, did you get the furniture down that was
in that room, Cerissa?--the old secretary? I am going to have it put in
order for Mr. Paul's room. Old furniture is the fashion now, you know."
Cerissa caught her breath nervously. "Mrs. Bogardus--I couldn't do a thing
about it! I wanted Chauncey to tell you. All last week I tried to get a
woman, or a man, to come and help me clear out that place, but just as
soon as they find out what's wanted--'You'll have to get somebody else for
that job,' they say."
"What is the matter with them?"
"It's the room, Mrs. Bogardus; if I was you--I'm doing now just as I'd be
done by--I would not take Mrs. Paul Bogardus up into that room--not even
in broad daylight; not if it was my son's wife, in the third month of her
being a wife."
"Well, upon my word!" said Mrs. Bogardus, smiling coldly. "Do you mean to
say these women are afraid to go up there?"
"It was old Mary Hornbeck who started the talk. She got what she called
her 'warning' up there. And the fact is, she was a corpse within six
months from that day. Chauncey and me, we used to hear noises, but old
houses are full of noises. We never thought much about it; only, I must
say I never had any use for that part of the house. Chauncey keeps his
seeds and tools in the lower room, and some of the winter vegetables, and
we store the parlor stove in there in summer."
"Well, about this 'warning'?" Mrs. Bogardus interrupted.
"Yes! It was three years ago in May, and I remember it was some such a day
as this--showery and broken overhead, and Mary disappointed me; but she
came about noon, and said she'd put in half a day anyhow. She got her pail
and house-cloths; but she wasn't gone not half an hour when down she come
white as a sheet, and her mouth as dry as chalk. She set down all of a
shake, and I give her a drink of tea, and she said: 'I wouldn't go up
there again, not for a thousand dollars.' She unlocked the door, she said,
and stepped inside without thinkin'. Your father's old rocker with the
green moreen cushions stood over by the east window, where he used to sit.
She heard a creak like a heavy step on the floor, and that empty chair
across the room, as far as from here to the window, begun to rock as if
somebody had just rose up from them cushions. She watched it till it
stopped. Then she took another step, and the step she couldn't see
answered her, and the chair begun to rock again."
"Was that all?"
"No, ma'am; that wasn't all. I don't know if you remember an old wall
clock with a brass ball on top and brass scrolls down the sides and a
painted glass door in front of the pendulum with a picture of a castle and
a lake? The paint's been wore off the glass with cleaning, so the pendulum
shows plain. That clock has not been wound since we come to live here. I
don't believe a hand has touched it since the night he was carried feet
foremost out of that room. But Mary said she could count the strokes go
tick, tick, tick! She listened till she could have counted fifty, for she
was struck dumb, and just as plain as the clock before her face she could
see the minute-hand and the pendulum, both of 'em dead still. Now, how do
you account for that!
"I told Chauncey about it, and he said it was all foolishness. Do all I
could he would go up there himself, that same evening. But he come down
again after a while, and he was almost as white as Mary. 'Did you see
anything?' I says. 'I saw what Mary said she saw,' says he, 'and I heard
what she heard.' But no one can make Chauncey own up that he believes it
was anything supernatural. 'There is a reason for everything,' he says.
'The miracles and ghosts of one generation are just school-book learning
to the next; and more of a miracle than the miracles themselves.'"
"Chauncey shows his sense," Mrs. Bogardus observed.
"He was real disturbed, though, I could see; and he told me particular not
to make any talk about it. I never have opened the subject to a living
soul. But when Mary died, within six months, folks repeated what she had
been saying about her 'warning.' The 'death watch' she called it. We can't
all of us control our feelings about such things, and she was a lonely
"Well, do you believe that ticking is going on up there now?" asked Mrs.
Cerissa looked uneasy.
"Is the door locked?"
"I re'ly couldn't say," she confessed.
"Do you mean to say that all you sensible people in this house have
avoided that room for three years? And you don't even know if the door is
"I--I don't use that part for anything, and cleaning is wasted on a place
that's never used, and I can't _get_ anybody"--
"I am not criticising your housekeeping. Will you go up there with me now,
Cerissa? I want to understand about this."
"What, just now, do you mean? I'm afraid I haven't got the time this
morning, Mrs. Bogardus. Dinner's at half-past twelve. It's a quarter to
"Very well. You think the door is not locked?"
"If it is, the key must be in the door. Oh, don't go, please, Mrs.
Bogardus. Wait till Chauncey conies in"--
"I wish you'd send Chauncey up when he does come in. Ask him to bring a
screw-driver." Mrs. Bogardus rose and examined her jacket. It was still
damp. She asked for a cape, or some sort of wrap, as her waist was thin,
and the rain had chilled the morning air.
For the sake of decency, Cerissa escorted her visitor across the hall
passage into the loom-room--a loom-room in name only for upwards of three
generations. Becky had devoted it to the rough work of the house, and to
certain special uses, such as the care of the butchering products, the
making of soft soap and root beer. Here the churning was done, by hand,
with a wooden dasher, which spread a circle of white drops, later to
become grease-spots. The floor of the loom-room was laid in large brick
tiles, more or less loose in their sockets, with an occasional earthy
depression marking the grave of a missing tile. Becky's method of cleaning
was to sluice it out and scrub it with an old broom. The seepage of
generations before her time had thus added their constant quota to the old
well's sum of iniquity.
Mrs. Bogardus had not visited this part of the old house for many years.
After her father's death she had shrunk from its painful associations.
Later she grew indifferent; but as she passed now into the gloomy
place--doubly dark with the deep foliage of June on a rainy morning--she
was afraid of her own thoughts. Henceforth she was a woman with a diseased
consciousness. "What can't be cured must be _seared_," flashed over her as
she set her face to the stairway.
These stairs, leading up into the back attic or "kitchen chamber," being
somewhat crowded for space, advanced two steps into the room below. As the
stair door opened outward, and the stairs were exceedingly steep and dark,
every child of the house, in turn, had suffered a bad fall in consequence;
but the arrangement remained in all its natural depravity, for "children
Little Emmy of the old days had loved to sit upon these steps, a trifle
raised above the kitchen traffic, yet cognizant of all that was going on,
and ready to descend promptly if she smelled fresh crullers frying, or
baked sweet apples steaming hot from the oven. If Becky's foot were heard
upon the stairs above, she would jump quick enough; but if the step had a
clumping, boyish precipitancy, she sat still and laughed, and planted her
back against the door. Often she had teased Adam in this way, keeping him
prisoner from his duties, helpless in his good nature either to scold her
or push her off. But once he circumvented her, slipping off his shoes and
creeping up the stairs again, and making his escape by the roof and the
boughs of the old maple. Then it was Emmy who was teased, who sat a
foolish half hour on the stairs alone and missed a beautiful ride to the
wood lot; but she would not speak to Adam for two days afterward.
Becky's had been the larger of the two bedrooms in the attic, Adam's the
smaller--tucked low under the eaves, and entered by crawling around the
big chimney that came bulking up to the light like a great tree caught
between house walls. The stairs hugged the chimney and made use of its
support. Adam would warm his hands upon it coming down on bitter mornings.
From force of habit, Emily Bogardus laid her smooth white hand upon the
clammy bricks. No tombstone could be colder than that heart of house
The roof of the kitchen chamber had been raised a story higher, and the
chimney as it went up contracted to quite a modern size. This elevation
gave room for the incongruous tower bedroom that had hurt the symmetry of
the old house, spoiled its noble sweep of roof, and given rise to so much
unpleasant conjecture as to its use. It was this excrescence, the record
of those last unloved and unloving years of her father's life, which Mrs.
Bogardus would have removed, but was prevented by her son.
"You go back now, Cerissa," she said to the panting woman behind her. "I
see the key is in the lock. You may send Chauncey after a while; there is
"Oh!" gasped Cerissa. "Do you see _that!_"
"I thought there was something--something behind that slit."
"There isn't. Step this way. There, can't you see the light?"
Mrs. Bogardus grasped Cerissa by the shoulders and held her firmly in
front of a narrow loophole that pierced the partition close beside the
door. Light from the room within showed plainly; but it gave an
unpleasantly human expression to the entrance, like a furtive eye on the
"He would always be there," Cerissa whispered.
"Your father. If anybody wanted to see him after he shut himself in there
for the night, they had to stand to be questioned through that wall-slit
before he opened the door. Yes, ma'am! He was on the watch in there the
whole time like a thing in a trap."
"Are you afraid to go back alone?" Mrs. Bogardus spoke with chilling
Cerissa backed away in silence, her heart thumping. "She's putting it on,"
she said to herself. "I never see her turn so pale. Don't tell _me_ she
There was a hanging shelf against the chimney on which a bundle of dry
herbs had been left to turn into dust. Old Becky might have put them there
the autumn before she died; or some successor of hers in the years that
were blank to the daughter of the house. As she pushed open the door a
sighing draught swept past her and seemed to draw her inward. It shook the
sere bundle. Its skeleton leaves, dissolving into motes, flickered an
instant athwart the light. They sifted down like ashes on the woman's dark
head as she passed in. Her color had faded, but not through fear of ghost
clocks. It was the searing process she had to face. And any room where she
sat alone with certain memories of her youth was to her a torture chamber.
* * * * *
"She's been up there an awful long time. I wouldn't wonder if she's
"What would she faint at? I guess it's pretty cold, though. Give me some
more tea; put plenty of milk so I can drink it quick."
Chauncey's matter of fact tone always comforted Cerissa when she was
nervous. She did not mind that he jeered or that his words were often
rude; no man of her acquaintance could say things nicely to women, or ever
tried. A certain amount of roughness passed for household wit. Chauncey
put the screw-driver in his pocket, his wife and son watching him with
respectful anxiety. He thought rather well of his own courage privately.
But the familiar details of the loom-room cheered him on his way, the
homely tools of his every-day work were like friendly faces nodding at
him. He knocked loudly on the door above, and was answered by Mrs.
Bogardus in her natural voice.
"Bosh--every bit of it bosh!" he repeated courageously.
She was seated by the window in the chair with the green cushions. Her
face was turned towards the view outside. "What a pity those cherries were
not picked before the rain," she observed. "The fruit is bursting ripe;
I'm afraid you'll lose the crop."
Chauncey moved forward awkwardly without answering.
"Stop there one moment, will you?" Mrs. Bogardus rose and demonstrated.
"You notice those two boards are loose. Now, I put this chair here,"--she
laid her hand on the back to still its motion. "Step this way. You see?
The chair rocks of itself. So would any chair with a spring board under
it. That accounts for _that_, I think. Now come over here." Chauncey
placed himself as she directed in front of the high mantel with the clock
above it. She stood at his side and they listened in silence to that sound
which Mary Hornbeck, deceased, had deemed a spiritual warning.
"Would you call that a 'ticking'? Is that like any sound an insect could
make?" the mistress asked.
"I should call it more like a 'ting,'" said Chauncey. "It comes kind o'
muffled like through the chimbly--a person might be mistaken if they was
upset in their nerves considerable."
"What old people call the 'death-watch' is supposed to be an insect that
lives in the walls of old houses, isn't it? and gives warning with a
ticking sound when somebody is going to be called away? Now to me that
sounds like a soft blow struck regularly on a piece of hollow iron--say
the end of a stove-pipe sticking in the chimney. When I first came up
here, there was only a steady murmur of wind and rain. Then the clouds
thinned and the sun came out and drops began to fall--distinctly. Your
wife says the ticking was heard on a day like this, broken and showery.
Now, if you will unscrew that clock, I think you will find there's a
stove-pipe hole behind it; and a piece of pipe shoved into the chimney
just far enough to catch the drops as they gather and fall."
Chauncey went to work. He sweated in the airless room. The powerful screws
blunted the lips of his tool but would not start.
"I guess I'll have to give it up for to-day. The screws are rusted in
solid. Want I should pry her out of the woodwork?"
"No, don't do that," said Mrs. Bogardus. "Why should we spoil the panel?
This seems a very comfortable room. My son is right. It would be foolish
to tear it down. Such a place as this might be very useful if you people
would get over your notions about it."
"I never had no notions," Chauncey asserted. "When the women git talkin'
they like to make out a good story, and whichever one sees the most and
hears the most makes the biggest sensation."
Mrs. Bogardus waited till he had finished without appearing to have heard
what he was saying.
"Where is the key to this door?" she laid her hand over a knob to the
right of the stairs.
"I guess if there is one it's on the other side. Yes, it's in the
key-hole." Chauncey turned the knob and shoved and lifted. The door
yielded to his full strength, and he allowed Mrs. Bogardus to precede him.
She stepped into a room hardly bigger than a closet with one window,
barred like those in the outer room. It was fitted up with toilet
conveniences according to the best advices of its day. Over all the neat
personal arrangements there was the slur of neglect, a sad squalor which
even a king's palace wears with time.
Chauncey tested the plumbing with a noise that was plainly offensive to
his companion, but she bore with it--also with his reminiscences gathered
from neighborhood gossip. "He wa'n't fond of spending money, but he didn't
spare it here: this was his ship cabin when he started on his last voyage.
It looked funny--a man with all his land and houses cooped up in a place
like this; but he wanted to be independent of the women. He hated to have
'em fussin' around him. He had a woman to come and cook up stuff for him
to help himself to; but she wouldn't stay here overnight, nor he wouldn't
let her. As for a man in the house,--most men were thieves, he thought, or
waiting their chance to be. It was real pitiful the way he made his end."
"Open that window and shut the door when you come out," said Mrs.
Bogardus. "I will send some one to help you down with that secretary.
Cerissa knows about it. It is to be sent up on the Hill."
THE CASE STRIKES IN
Christine's marriage took place while Paul and Moya were lingering in the
Bruneau, for Paul's health ostensibly. Banks and Horace had been left to
the smiling irony of justice. They never had a straight chance to define
their conduct in the woods; for no one accused them. No awkward questions
were asked in the city drawing-rooms or at the clubs. For a tough half
hour or so at Fort Lemhi they had realized how they stood in the eyes of
those unbiased military judges. The shock had a bracing effect for a time.
Both boys were said to be much improved by their Western trip and by the
hardships of that frightful homeward march.
Mrs. Bogardus had matched her gift of Stone Ridge to her son, which was a
gift of sentiment, with one of more substantial value to her
daughter,--the income from certain securities settled upon her and her
heirs. Banks was carefully unprovided for. The big house in town was full
of ghosts--the ghosts that haunt such homes, made desolate by a breach of
hearts. The city itself was crowded with opportunities for giving and
receiving pain between mother and daughter. Christine had developed all
the latent hardness of her mother's race with a sickly frivolity of her
own. She made a great show of faith in her marriage venture. She boomed it
in her occasional letters, which were full of scarce concealed bravado as
graceful as snapping her fingers in her mother's face.
Mrs. Bogardus leased her house in town, and retired before the ghosts, but
not escaping them; Stone Ridge must be put in order for its new master and
mistress, and Stone Ridge had its own ghosts. She informed her absentees
that, before their return, she should have left for Southern California to
look after some investments which she had neglected there of late. It was
then she spoke of her plan for restoring the old house by pulling down
that addition which disfigured it; and Paul had objected to this erasure.
It would take from the house's veracity, he said. The words carried their
But it was Moya's six lines at the bottom of his page that changed and
softened everything. Moya--always blessed when she took the
initiative--contrived, as swiftly as she could set them down, to say the
very words that made the home-coming a coming home indeed.
"Will Madam Bogardus be pleased to keep her place as the head of her son's
house?" she wrote. "This foolish person he has married wants to be
anything rather than the mistress of Stone Ridge. She wants to be always
out of doors, and she needs to be. Oh, must you go away now--now when we
need you so much? It cannot be said here on paper how much _I_ need you!
Am I not your motherless daughter? Please be there when we come, and
please stay there!"
"For a little while then," said the lonely woman, smiling at the image of
that sweet, foolish person in her thoughts. "For a little while, till she
learns her mistake." Such mistakes are the cornerstone of family
* * * * *
It was an uneventful summer on the Hill, but one of rather wearing
intensity in the inner relations of the household, one with another; for
nothing could be quite natural with a pit of concealment to be avoided by
all, and an air of unconsciousness to be carefully preserved in avoiding
it. Moya's success in this way was so remarkable that Paul half hated it.
How was it possible for her to speak to his mother so lightly; never the
least apparent premeditation or fear of tripping; how look at her with
such sweet surface looks that never questioned or saw beneath? He could
not meet his mother's eyes at all when they were alone together, or endure
a silence in her company.
Both women were of the type called elemental. They understood each other
without knowing why. Moya felt the desperate truth contained in the
mother's falsehood, and broke forth into passionate defense of her as
against her husband's silence.
He answered her one day by looking up a little green book of fairy tales
and reading aloud this fragment of "The Golden Key."
"'I never tell lies, even in fun.' (The mysterious Grandmother speaks.)
"'How good of you!' (says the Child in the Wood.)
"'I couldn't if I tried. It would come true if I said it, and then I
should be punished enough.'"
Moya's eyes narrowed reflectively.
"How constantly you are thinking of this! I think of it only when I am
with you. As if a woman like your mother, who has done _one thing_, should
be all that thing, and nothing more to us, her children!"
Moya was giving herself up, almost immorally, Paul sometimes thought, to
the fascination Mrs. Bogardus's personality had for her. In a keenly
susceptible state herself, at that time, there was something calming and
strengthening in the older woman's perfected beauty, her physical poise,
and the fitness of everything she did and said and wore to the given
occasion. As a dark woman she was particularly striking in summer
clothing. Her white effects were tremendous. She did not pretend to study
these matters herself, but in years of experience, with money to spend,
she had learned well in whom to confide. When women are shut up together
in country houses for the summer, they can irritate each other in the most
foolish ways. Mrs. Bogardus never got upon your nerves.
But, for Paul, there was a poison in his mother's beauty, a dread in her
influence over his impressionable young wife, thrilled with the awakening
forces of her consonant being. Moya would drink deep of every cup that
life presented. Motherhood was her lesson for the day. "She is a queen of
mothers!" she would exclaim with an abandon that was painful to Paul; he
saw deformity where Moya was ready to kneel. "I love her perfect love for
you--for me, even! She is above all jealousy. She doesn't even ask to be
Paul was silent.
"And oh, she knows, she knows! She has been through it all--in such
despair and misery--all that is before me, with everything in the world to
make it easy and all the beautiful care she gives me. She is the supreme
mother. And I never had a mother to speak to before. Don't, don't, please,
keep putting that dreadful thing between us now!"
So Paul took the dreadful thing away with him and was alone with it, and
knew that his mother saw it in his eyes when their eyes met and avoided.
When, after a brief household absence, he would see her again he wondered,
"Has she been alone with it? Has it passed into another phase?"--as of an
incurable disease that must take its time and course.
Mrs. Bogardus did not spare her conscience in social ways all this time.
It was a part of her life to remember that she had neighbors--certain
neighbors. She included Paul without particularly consulting him whenever
it was proper for him to support her in her introduction of his wife to
the country-house folk, many of whom they knew in town.
All his mother's friends liked Paul and supposed him to be very clever,
but they had never taken him seriously. "Now, at last," they said, "he has
done something like other people. He is coming out." Experienced matrons
were pleased to flatter him on his choice of a bride. The daughters
studied Moya, and decided that she was "different," but "all right." She
had a careless distinction of her own. Some of her "things" were
surprisingly lovely--probably heirlooms; and army women are so clever
Would they spend the winter in town?
Paul replied absently: they had not decided. Probably they would not go
down till after the holidays.
What an attractive plan? What an ideal family Christmas they would have
all together in the country! Christine had not been up all summer, had
she? Here Moya came to her husband's relief, through a wife's dual
consciousness in company, and covered his want of spirits with a flood of
The smiling way in which women the most sincere can posture and prance on
the brink of dissimulation was particularly sickening to Paul at this
time. Why need they put themselves in situations where it was required?
The situations were of his mother's creation. He imagined she must suffer,
but had little sympathy with that side of her martyrdom. Moya seemed a
trifle feverish in her acceptance of these affairs of which she was
naturally the life and centre. A day of entertaining often faded into an
evening of subtle sadness.
Paul would take her out into the moonlight of that deep inland country.
The trees were dark with leaves and brooded close above them; old
water-fences and milldams cast inky shadows on the still, shallow ponds
clasped in wooded hills. No region could have offered a more striking
contrast to the empty plains. Moya felt shut in with old histories. The
very ground was but moulding sand in which generations of human lives had
been poured, and the sand swept over to be reshaped for them.
"We are not living our own life yet," Paul would say; not adding, "We are
protecting her." Here was the beginning of punishment helplessly meted out
to this proud woman whose sole desire was towards her children--to give,
and not to receive.
"But this is our Garden?" Moya would muse. "We are as nearly two alone as
any two could be."
"If you include the Snake. We can't leave out the Snake, you know."
"Snake or Seraph--I don't believe I know the difference. Paul, I cannot
have you thinking things."
"I?--what do I think?"
"You are thinking it is bad for me to be so much with her. You, as a man
and a husband, resent what she, as a woman and a wife, has dared to do.
And I, as another woman and wife, I say she could do nothing else and be
true. For, don't you see? She never loved him. The wifehood in her has
never been reached. She was a girl, then a mother, then a widow. How could
"Do you think he would have claimed her as his wife? Oh, you do not know
him;--she has never known him. If we could be brave and face our duty to
the whole truth, and leave the rest to those sequences, never dreamed of,
that wait upon great acts. Such surprises come straight from God. Now we
can never know how he would have risen to meet a nobler choice in her. He
had not far to rise! Well, we have our share of blessings, including
piazza teas; but as a family we have missed one of the greatest spiritual
opportunities,--such as come but once in a lifetime."
"Ah, if she was not ready for it, it was not _her_ opportunity. God is
very patient with us, I believe."
Mothers and sons are rarely very personal in their intimacy after the son
has taken to himself a wife. Apart from certain moments not appropriate to
piazza teas, Paul and his mother were perhaps as comfortable together as
the relation averages. It was much that they never talked emotionally.
Private judgments which we have refrained from putting into words may die
unfruitful and many a bitter crop be spared.
"This is Paul's apology for being happy in spite of himself--and of us!"
Moya teased, as she admired the beautifully drawn plans for the
"It doesn't need any apology; it's a very good thing," said Mrs. Bogardus,
ignoring double meanings. No caps that were flying around ever fitted her
head. Paul's dreams and his mother's practical experience had met once
more on a common ground of philanthropy. This time it was a workingmen's
club in which the interests of social and mental improvement were
conjoined with facilities for outdoor sport. Up to date philanthropy is an
expensive toy. Paul, though now a landowner, was far from rich in his own
right. His mother financed this as she had many another scheme for him.
She was more openhanded than heretofore, but all was done with that
ennuyed air which she ever wore as of an older child who has outgrown the
game. It was in Moya and Moya's prospective maternity that her pride
reinstated itself. Her own history and generation she trod underfoot.
Mistakes, humiliations, whichever way she turned. Paul had never satisfied
her entirely in anything he did until he chose this girl for the mother of
his children. Now their house might come to something. Moya moved before
her eyes crowned in the light of the future. And that this noble and
innocent girl, with her perfect intuitions, should turn to _her_ now with
such impetuous affection was perhaps the sweetest pain the blighted woman
had ever known. She lay awake many a night thinking mute blessings on the
mother and the child to be. Yet she resisted that generous initiative so
dear to herself, aware with a subtle agony of the pain it gave her son.
One day she said to Paul (they were driving home together through a bit of
woodland, the horses stepping softly on the mould of fallen leaves)--"I
don't expect you to account for every dollar of mine you spend in helping
those who can be helped that way. You have a free hand."
"I understand," said Paul. "I have used your money freely--for a purpose
that I never have accounted for."
"Don't you need more?"
"No; there is no need now."
"Why is there not?"
Paul was silent. "I cannot go into particulars. It is a long story."
"Does the purpose still exist?" his mother asked sharply.
"It does; but not as a claim--for that sort of help."
"Let me know if such a claim should ever return."
"I will, mother," said Paul.
* * * * *
There came a day when mother and son reaped the reward of their mutual
forbearance. There was a night and a day when Paul became a boy again in
his mother's hands, and she took the place that was hers in Nature. She
was the priestess acquainted with mysteries. He followed her, and hung
upon her words. The expression of her face meant life and death to him.
The dreadful consciousness passed out of his eyes; tears washed it out as
he rose from his knees by Moya's bed, and his mother kissed him, and laid
his son in his arms.
The following summer saw the club-house and all its affiliations in
working order. The beneficiaries took to it most kindly, but were disposed
to manage it in their own way: not in all respects the way of the
"To make a gift complete, you must keep yourself out of it," Mrs. Bogardus
advised. "You have done your part; now let them have it and run it
Paul was not hungry for leadership, but he had hoped that his interest in
the men's amusements would bring him closer to them and equalize the
difference between the Hill and the quarry.
"You have never worked with them; how can you expect to play with them?"
was another of his mother's cool aphorisms. Alas! Paul, the son of the
poor man, had no work, and hence no play.
It was time to be making winter plans again. Mrs. Bogardus knew that her
son's young family was now complete without her presence. Moya had gained
confidence in the care of her child; she no longer brought every new
symptom to the grandmother. Yet Mrs. Bogardus put off discussing the
change, dreading to expose her own isolation, a point on which she was as
sensitive as if it were a crime. Paul was never entirely frank with her:
she knew he would not be frank in this. They never expressed their wills
or their won'ts to each other with the careless rudeness of a sound family
faith, and always she felt the burden of his unrelenting pity. She began
to take long drives alone, coming in late and excusing herself for dinner.
At such times she would send for her grandson in his nurse's arms to bid
him good-night. The mother would put off her own good-night, not to
intrude at these sessions. One evening, going up later to kiss her little
son, she found his crib empty, the nurse gone to her dinner. He was fast
asleep in his grandmother's arms, where she had held him for an hour in
front of the open fire in her bedroom. She looked up guiltily. "He was so
comfortable! And his crib is cold. Will he take cold when Ellen puts him
"I am sure he won't," Moya whispered, gathering up the rosy sleeper. But
she was disturbed by the breach of bedtime rules.
In the drawing-room a few nights later she said energetically to Paul.
"One might as well be dead as to live with a grudge."
"A good grudge?"
"There are no good grudges."
"There are some honest ones--honestly come by."
"I don't care how they are come by. Grudges 'is p'ison.'" She laughed, but
her cheeks were hot.
"Do you know that Christine has been at death's door? Your mother heard of
it--through Mrs. Bowen! Was that why you didn't show me her letter?"
"It was not in my letter from Mrs. Bowen."
"I think she has known it some time," said Moya, "and kept it to herself."
"Your mother. Isn't it terrible? Think how Chrissy must have needed her.
They need each other so! Christine was her constant thought. How can all
that change in one year! But she cannot go to Banks Bowen's house without
an invitation. We must go to New York and make her come with us--we must
open the way."
"Yes," said Paul, "I have seen it was coming. In the end we always do the
thing we have forsworn."
"_I_ was the one. I take it back. Your work is there. I know it calls you.
Was not Mrs. Bowen's letter an appeal?"
Paul was silent.
"She must think you a deserter. And there is bigger work for you, too!
Here is a great political fight on, and my husband is not in it. Every man
must slay his dragon. There is a whole city of dragons!"
"Yes," smiled Paul; "I see. You want me to put my legs under the same
cloth with Banks and ask him about his golf score."
"If you want to fight him, have it out on public grounds; fight him in
"We are on the same side!"
Moya laughed, but she looked a little dashed.
"Banks comes of gentlemen. He inherited his opinions," said Paul.
"He may have inherited a few other things, if we could have patience with
"Are you sorry for Banks?"
"I shall be sorry for him--when he meets you. He has been spared that too
"Dispenser of destinies, I bow as I always do!"
"You will speak to your mother at once?"
"And do it beautifully?"
"As well as I know how."
"Ah, you have had such practice! How good it would be if we could only
dare to quarrel in this family! You and I--of course!"
"_We_ quarrel, of course!" laughed Paul.
"I _love_ to quarrel with you!"
"You do it beautifully. You have had such practice!"
"I am so happy! It is clear to me now that we shall live down this misery.
Christine will love to see me again; I know she will. A wife is a very
different thing from a girl--a haughty girl!"
"I should think the wife of Banks Bowen might be."
"And we'll part with our ancient and honorable grudge! We are getting too
big for it. _We_ are parents!"
Paul made the proposition to his mother and she agreed to it in every
particular save the one. She would remain at Stone Ridge. It was
impossible to move her. Moya was in despair. She had cultivated an
overweening conscience in her relations with Mrs. Bogardus. It turned upon
her now and showed her the true state of her own mind at the thought of
being Two once more and alone with the child God had given them. Mrs.
Bogardus appeared to see nothing but her own interests in the matter. She
had made up her mind. And in spite of the conscientious scruples on all
sides, the hedging and pleading and explaining, all were happier in the
end for her decision. She herself was softened by it, and she yielded one
point in return. Paul had steadily opposed his mother's plan of
housekeeping, alone with one maid and a man who slept at the stables. The
Dunlops, as it happened, were childless for the winter, young Chauncey
attending a "commercial college" in a neighboring town. After many
interviews and a good deal of self-importance on Cerissa's part, the pair
were persuaded to close the old house and occupy the servants' wing on the
Hill, as a distinct family, yet at hand in case of need. It was late
autumn before all these arrangements could be made. Paul and Moya, leaving
the young scion aged nineteen months in the care of his nurse and his
grandmother, went down the river to open the New York house.
The upper fields of Stone Ridge, so the farmers said, were infested that
autumn by a shy and solitary vagrant, who never could be met with face to
face, but numbers of times had been seen across the width of a lot,
climbing the bars, or closing a gate, or vanishing up some crooked lane
that quickly shut him from view.
"I would look after that old chap if I was you, Chauncey. He'll be smoking
in your hay barns, and burn you out some o' these cold nights."
Chauncey took these neighborly warnings with good-humored indifference. "I
haven't seen no signs of his doin' any harm," he said. "Anybody's at
liberty to walk in the fields if there ain't a 'No Trespass' posted. I
rather guess he makes his bed among the corn stouks. I see prints of
someone's feet, goin' and comin'."
Mrs. Bogardus was more herself in those days than she had been at any time
since the great North-western wilderness sent her its second message of
fear. Old memories were losing their sting. She could bear to review her
decision with a certain shrinking hardihood. Had the choice been given her
to repeat, her action had been the same. In so far as she had perjured
herself for the sake of peace in the family, she owned the sacrifice was
vain; but her own personality was the true reason for what she had done.
She was free in her unimpeachable widowhood--a mother who had never been
at heart a wife. She feared no ghosts this keen autumn weather, at the
summit of her conscious powers. Her dark eye unsheathed its glance of
authority. It was an eye that went everywhere, and everywhere was met with
signs that praised its oversight. Here was an out-worn inheritance which
Back to Full Books