The Troll Garden and Selected Stories
Part 1 out of 5
BANTAM CLASSIC-A BANTAM CLASSIC-A BANTAM CLASSIC-A BANTAM
The Troll Garden
by Willa Cather
Introduction by Rita Mae Brown
NEW YORK - TORONTO - LONDON - SYDNEY - AUCKLAND
THE TROLL GARDEN AND SELECTED STORIES
A Bantam Classic Book / November 1990
Cover art "Stone City, Iowa" by Grant Wood;
courtesy of Joselyn Art Museum
All rights reserved.
Introduction copyright (c) 1990 by Rita Mae Brown.
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OPM 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Introduction by Rita Mae Brown vii
On the Divide 1
Eric Hermannson's Soul 15
The Enchanted Bluff 40
The Bohemian Girl 51
The Troll Garden
Flavia and Her Artists 99
The Sculptor's Funeral 128
"A Death in the Desert" 144
The Garden Lodge 167
The Marriage of Phaedra 180
A Wagner Matinee 199
Paul's Case 208
On the Divide
Near Rattlesnake Creek, on the side of a little draw stood
Canute's shanty. North, east, south, stretched the level
Nebraska plain of long rust-red grass that undulated constantly
in the wind. To the west the ground was broken and rough, and a
narrow strip of timber wound along the turbid, muddy little
stream that had scarcely ambition enough to crawl over its black
bottom. If it had not been for the few stunted cottonwoods and
elms that grew along its banks, Canute would have shot himself
years ago. The Norwegians are a timber-loving people, and if
there is even a turtle pond with a few plum bushes around it they
seem irresistibly drawn toward it.
As to the shanty itself, Canute had built it without aid of
any kind, for when he first squatted along the banks of
Rattlesnake Creek there was not a human being within twenty
miles. It was built of logs split in halves, the chinks stopped
with mud and plaster. The roof was covered with earth and was
supported by one gigantic beam curved in the shape of a round
arch. It was almost impossible that any tree had ever grown in
that shape. The Norwegians used to say that Canute had taken the
log across his knee and bent it into the shape he wished. There
were two rooms, or rather there was one room with a partition
made of ash saplings interwoven and bound together like big straw
basket work. In one corner there was a cook stove, rusted and
broken. In the other a bed made of unplaned planks and poles. it
was fully eight feet long, and upon it was a heap of dark bed
clothing. There was a chair and a bench of colossal proportions.
There was an ordinary kitchen cupboard with a few cracked dirty
dishes in it, and beside it on a tall box a tin washbasin. Under
the bed was a pile of pint flasks, some broken, some whole,
all empty. On the wood box lay a pair of shoes of almost
incredible dimensions. On the wall hung a saddle, a gun, and
some ragged clothing, conspicuous among which was a suit of dark
cloth, apparently new, with a paper collar carefully wrapped in a
red silk handkerchief and pinned to the sleeve. Over the door hung
a wolf and a badger skin, and on the door itself a brace of thirty
or forty snake skins whose noisy tails rattled ominously every time
it opened. The strangest things in the shanty were the wide
windowsills. At first glance they looked as though they had been
ruthlessly hacked and mutilated with a hatchet, but on closer
inspection all the notches and holes in the wood took form and
shape. There seemed to be a series of pictures. They were, in a
rough way, artistic, but the figures were heavy and labored, as
though they had been cut very slowly and with very awkward
instruments. There were men plowing with little horned imps
sitting on their shoulders and on their horses' heads. There were
men praying with a skull hanging over their heads and little demons
behind them mocking their attitudes. There were men fighting with
big serpents, and skeletons dancing together. All about these
pictures were blooming vines and foliage such as never grew in this
world, and coiled among the branches of the vines there was always
the scaly body of a serpent, and behind every flower there was a
serpent's head. It was a veritable Dance of Death by one who had
felt its sting. In the wood box lay some boards, and every inch of
them was cut up in the same manner. Sometimes the work was very
rude and careless, and looked as though the hand of the workman had
trembled. It would sometimes have been hard to distinguish the men
from their evil geniuses but for one fact, the men were always
grave and were either toiling or praying, while the devils were
always smiling and dancing. Several of these boards had been split
for kindling and it was evident that the artist did not value his
It was the first day of winter on the Divide. Canute stumbled
into his shanty carrying a basket of. cobs, and after filling the
stove, sat down on a stool and crouched his seven foot frame over
the fire, staring drearily out of the window at the wide gray
sky. He knew by heart every individual clump of bunch grass in the
miles of red shaggy prairie that stretched before his cabin. He
knew it in all the deceitful loveliness of its early summer, in all
the bitter barrenness of its autumn. He had seen it smitten by all
the plagues of Egypt. He had seen it parched by drought, and
sogged by rain, beaten by hail, and swept by fire, and in the
grasshopper years he had seen it eaten as bare and clean as bones
that the vultures have left. After the great fires he had seen it
stretch for miles and miles, black and smoking as the floor of
He rose slowly and crossed the room, dragging his big feet
heavily as though they were burdens to him. He looked out of the
window into the hog corral and saw the pigs burying themselves in
the straw before the shed. The leaden gray clouds were beginning
to spill themselves, and the snow flakes were settling down over
the white leprous patches of frozen earth where the hogs had gnawed
even the sod away. He shuddered and began to walk, trampling
heavily with his ungainly feet. He was the wreck of ten winters on
the Divide and he knew what that meant. Men fear the winters of
the Divide as a child fears night or as men in the North Seas fear
the still dark cold of the polar twilight. His eyes fell upon his
gun, and he took it down from the wall and looked it over. He sat
down on the edge of his bed and held the barrel towards his face,
letting his forehead rest upon it, and laid his finger on the
trigger. He was perfectly calm, there was neither passion nor
despair in his face, but the thoughtful look of a man who is
considering. Presently he laid down the gun, and reaching into the
cupboard, drew out a pint bottle of raw white alcohol. Lifting it
to his lips, he drank greedily. He washed his face in the tin
basin and combed his rough hair and shaggy blond beard. Then he
stood in uncertainty before the suit of dark clothes that hung on
the wall. For the fiftieth time he took them in his hands and
tried to summon courage to put them on. He took the paper collar
that was pinned to the sleeve of the coat and cautiously slipped it
under his rough beard, looking with timid expectancy into the
cracked, splashed glass that hung over the bench. With a short
laugh he threw it down on the bed, and pulling on his old
black hat, he went out, striking off across the level.
It was a physical necessity for him to get away from his cabin
once in a while. He had been there for ten years, digging and
plowing and sowing, and reaping what little the hail and the hot
winds and the frosts left him to reap. Insanity and suicide are
very common things on the Divide. They come on like an epidemic in
the hot wind season. Those scorching dusty winds that blow up over
the bluffs from Kansas seem to dry up the blood in men's veins as
they do the sap in the corn leaves. Whenever the yellow scorch
creeps down over the tender inside leaves about the ear, then the
coroners prepare for active duty; for the oil of the country is
burned out and it does not take long for the flame to eat up the
wick. It causes no great sensation there when a Dane is found
swinging to his own windmill tower, and most of the Poles after
they have become too careless and discouraged to shave themselves
keep their razors to cut their throats with.
It may be that the next generation on the Divide will be very
happy, but the present one came too late in life. It is useless
for men that have cut hemlocks among the mountains of Sweden for
forty years to try to be happy in a country as flat and gray and
naked as the sea. It is not easy for men that have spent their
youth fishing in the Northern seas to be content with following a
plow, and men that have served in the Austrian army hate hard work
and coarse clothing on the loneliness of the plains, and long for
marches and excitement and tavern company and pretty barmaids.
After a man has passed his fortieth birthday it is not easy for him
to change the habits and conditions of his life. Most men bring
with them to the Divide only the dregs of the lives that they have
squandered in other lands and among other peoples.
Canute Canuteson was as mad as any of them, but his madness
did not take the form of suicide or religion but of alcohol. He
had always taken liquor when he wanted it, as all Norwegians do,
but after his first year of solitary life he settled down to it
steadily. He exhausted whisky after a while, and went to alcohol,
because its effects were speedier and surer. He was a big man and
with a terrible amount of resistant force, and it took a great
deal of alcohol even to move him. After nine years of drinking,
the quantities he could take would seem fabulous to an ordinary
drinking man. He never let it interfere with his work, he
generally drank at night and on Sundays. Every night, as soon as
his chores were done, he began to drink. While he was able to sit
up he would play on his mouth harp or hack away at his window sills
with his jackknife. When the liquor went to his head he would lie
down on his bed and stare out of the window until he went to sleep.
He drank alone and in solitude not for pleasure or good cheer, but
to forget the awful loneliness and level of the Divide. Milton
made a sad blunder when he put mountains in hell. Mountains
postulate faith and aspiration. All mountain peoples are
religious. It was the cities of the plains that, because of their
utter lack of spirituality and the mad caprice of their vice, were
cursed of God.
Alcohol is perfectly consistent in its effects upon man.
Drunkenness is merely an exaggeration. A foolish man drunk becomes
maudlin; a bloody man, vicious; a coarse man, vulgar. Canute was
none of these, but he was morose and gloomy, and liquor took him
through all the hells of Dante. As he lay on his giant's bed all
the horrors of this world and every other were laid bare to his
chilled senses. He was a man who knew no joy, a man who toiled in
silence and bitterness. The skull and the serpent were always
before him, the symbols of eternal futileness and of eternal hate.
When the first Norwegians near enough to be called neighbors
came, Canute rejoiced, and planned to escape from his bosom vice.
But he was not a social man by nature and had not the power of
drawing out the social side of other people. His new neighbors
rather feared him because of his great strength and size, his
silence and his lowering brows. Perhaps, too, they knew that he
was mad, mad from the eternal treachery of the plains, which every
spring stretch green and rustle with the promises of Eden, showing
long grassy lagoons full of clear water and cattle whose hoofs are
stained with wild roses. Before autumn the lagoons are dried up,
and the ground is burnt dry and hard until it blisters and cracks
So instead of becoming a friend and neighbor to the men that
settled about him, Canute became a mystery and a terror. They told
awful stories of his size and strength and of the alcohol he drank.
They said that one night, when he went out to see to his horses
just before he went to bed, his steps were unsteady and the rotten
planks of the floor gave way and threw him behind the feet of a
fiery young stallion. His foot was caught fast in the floor, and
the nervous horse began kicking frantically. When Canute felt the
blood trickling down into his eyes from a scalp wound in his head,
he roused himself from his kingly indifference, and with the quiet
stoical courage of a drunken man leaned forward and wound his arms
about the horse's hind legs and held them against his breast with
crushing embrace. All through the darkness and cold of the night
he lay there, matching strength against strength. When little Jim
Peterson went over the next morning at four o'clock to go with him
to the Blue to cut wood, he found him so, and the horse was on its
fore knees, trembling and whinnying with fear. This is the story
the Norwegians tell of him, and if it is true it is no wonder that
they feared and hated this Holder of the Heels of Horses.
One spring there moved to the next "eighty" a family that made
a great change in Canute's life. Ole Yensen was too drunk most of
the time to be afraid of any one, and his wife Mary was too
garrulous to be afraid of any one who listened to her talk, and
Lena, their pretty daughter, was not afraid of man nor devil. So
it came about that Canute went over to take his alcohol with Ole
oftener than he took it alone, After a while the report spread that
he was going to marry Yensen's daughter, and the Norwegian girls
began to tease Lena about the great bear she was going to keep
house for. No one could quite see how the affair had come about,
for Canute's tactics of courtship were somewhat peculiar. He
apparently never spoke to her at all: he would sit for hours with
Mary chattering on one side of him and Ole drinking on the other
and watch Lena at her work. She teased him, and threw flour in his
face and put vinegar in his coffee, but he took her rough jokes
with silent wonder, never even smiling. He took her to church
occasionally, but the most watchful and curious people never
saw him speak to her. He would sit staring at her while she
giggled and flirted with the other men.
Next spring Mary Lee went to town to work in a steam laundry.
She came home every Sunday, and always ran across to Yensens to
startle Lena with stories of ten cent theaters, firemen's dances,
and all the other esthetic delights of metropolitan life. In a few
weeks Lena's head was completely turned, and she gave her father no
rest until he let her go to town to seek her fortune at the ironing
board. From the time she came home on her first visit she began to
treat Canute with contempt. She had bought a plush cloak and kid
gloves, had her clothes made by the dress maker, and assumed airs
and graces that made the other women of the neighborhood cordially
detest her. She generally brought with her a young man from town
who waxed his mustache and wore a red necktie, and she did not even
introduce him to Canute.
The neighbors teased Canute a good deal until he knocked one
of them down. He gave no sign of suffering from her neglect except
that he drank more and avoided the other Norwegians more carefully
than ever, He lay around in his den and no one knew what he felt or
thought, but little Jim Peterson, who had seen him glowering at
Lena in church one Sunday when she was there with the town man,
said that he would not give an acre of his wheat for Lena's life or
the town chap's either; and Jim's wheat was so wondrously worthless
that the statement was an exceedingly strong one.
Canute had bought a new suit of clothes that looked as nearly
like the town man I s as possible. They had cost him half a millet
crop; for tailors are not accustomed to fitting giants and they
charge for it. He had hung those clothes in his shanty two months
ago and had never put them on, partly from fear of ridicule, partly
from discouragement, and partly because there was something in his
own soul that revolted at the littleness of the device.
Lena was at home just at this time. Work was slack in the
laundry and Mary had not been well, so Lena stayed at home, glad
enough to get an opportunity to torment Canute once more.
She was washing in the side kitchen, singing loudly as
she worked. Mary was on her knees, blacking the stove and scolding
violently about the young man who was coming out from town that
night. The young man had committed the fatal error of laughing at
Mary's ceaseless babble and had never been forgiven.
"He is no good, and you will come to a bad end by running with
him! I do not see why a daughter of mine should act so. I do not
see why the Lord should visit such a punishment upon me as to give
me such a daughter. There are plenty of good men you can marry."
Lena tossed her head and answered curtly, "I don't happen to
want to marry any man right away, and so long as Dick dresses nice
and has plenty of money to spend, there is no harm in my going with
"Money to spend? Yes, and that is all he does with it I'll be
bound. You think it very fine now, but you will change your tune
when you have been married five years and see your children running
naked and your cupboard empty. Did Anne Hermanson come to any good
end by marrying a town man?"
"I don't know anything about Anne Hermanson, but I know any of
the laundry girls would have Dick quick enough if they could get
"Yes, and a nice lot of store clothes huzzies you are too. Now
there is Canuteson who has an 'eighty' proved up and fifty head
of cattle and--"
"And hair that ain't been cut since he was a baby, and a big
dirty beard, and he wears overalls on Sundays, and drinks like a
pig. Besides he will keep. I can have all the fun I want, and
when I am old and ugly like you he can have me and take care of me.
The Lord knows there ain't nobody else going to marry him."
Canute drew his hand back from the latch as though it were red
hot. He was not the kind of man to make a good eavesdropper, and
he wished he had knocked sooner. He pulled himself together and
struck the door like a battering ram. Mary jumped and opened it
with a screech.
"God! Canute, how you scared us! I thought it was crazy Lou--
he has been tearing around the neighborhood trying to convert
folks. I am afraid as death of him. He ought to be sent off, I
think. He is just as liable as not to kill us all, or burn
the barn, or poison the dogs. He has been worrying even the poor
minister to death, and he laid up with the rheumatism, too! Did
you notice that he was too sick to preach last Sunday? But don't
stand there in the cold, come in. Yensen isn't here, but he just
went over to Sorenson's for the mail; he won't be gone long. Walk
right in the other room and sit down."
Canute followed her, looking steadily in front of him and not
noticing Lena as he passed her. But Lena's vanity would not allow
him to pass unmolested. She took the wet sheet she was wringing
out and cracked him across the face with it, and ran giggling to
the other side of the room. The blow stung his cheeks and the
soapy water flew in his eves, and he involuntarily began rubbing
them with his hands. Lena giggled with delight at his
discomfiture, and the wrath in Canute's face grew blacker than
ever. A big man humiliated is vastly more undignified than a
little one. He forgot the sting of his face in the bitter
consciousness that he had made a fool of himself He stumbled
blindly into the living room, knocking his head against the door
jamb because he forgot to stoop. He dropped into a chair behind
the stove, thrusting his big feet back helplessly on either side of
Ole was a long time in coming, and Canute sat there, still and
silent, with his hands clenched on his knees, and the skin of his
face seemed to have shriveled up into little wrinkles that trembled
when he lowered his brows. His life had been one long lethargy of
solitude and alcohol, but now he was awakening, and it was as when
the dumb stagnant heat of summer breaks out into thunder.
When Ole came staggering in, heavy with liquor, Canute rose at
"Yensen," he said quietly, "I have come to see if you will let
me marry your daughter today."
"Today!" gasped Ole.
"Yes, I will not wait until tomorrow. I am tired of living alone."
Ole braced his staggering knees against the bedstead, and
stammered eloquently: "Do you think I will marry my daughter to a
drunkard? a man who drinks raw alcohol? a man who sleeps with
rattle snakes? Get out of my house or I will kick you out
for your impudence." And Ole began looking anxiously for his feet.
Canute answered not a word, but he put on his hat and went out
into the kitchen. He went up to Lena and said without looking at
her, "Get your things on and come with me!"
The tones of his voice startled her, and she said angrily,
dropping the soap, "Are you drunk?"
"If you do not come with me, I will take you--you had better
come," said Canute quietly.
She lifted a sheet to strike him, but he caught her arm
roughly and wrenched the sheet from her. He turned to the wall and
took down a hood and shawl that hung there, and began wrapping her
up. Lena scratched and fought like a wild thing. Ole stood in the
door, cursing, and Mary howled and screeched at the top of her
voice. As for Canute, he lifted the girl in his arms and went out
of the house. She kicked and struggled, but the helpless wailing
of Mary and Ole soon died away in the distance, and her face was
held down tightly on Canute's shoulder so that she could not see
whither he was taking her. She was conscious only of the north
wind whistling in her ears, and of rapid steady motion and of a
great breast that heaved beneath her in quick, irregular breaths.
The harder she struggled the tighter those iron arms that had held
the heels of horses crushed about her, until she felt as if they
would crush the breath from her, and lay still with fear. Canute
was striding across the level fields at a pace at which man never
went before, drawing the stinging north winds into his lungs in
great gulps. He walked with his eyes half closed and looking
straight in front of him, only lowering them when he bent his head
to blow away the snow flakes that settled on her hair. So it was
that Canute took her to his home, even as his bearded barbarian
ancestors took the fair frivolous women of the South in their hairy
arms and bore them down to their war ships. For ever and anon the
soul becomes weary of the conventions that are not of it, and with
a single stroke shatters the civilized lies with which it is unable
to cope, and the strong arm reaches out and takes by force what it
cannot win by cunning.
When Canute reached his shanty he placed the girl upon a
chair, where she sat sobbing. He stayed only a few minutes. He
filled the stove with wood and lit the lamp, drank a huge swallow
of alcohol and put the bottle in his pocket. He paused a moment,
staring heavily at the weeping girl, then he went off and locked
the door and disappeared in the gathering gloom of the night.
Wrapped in flannels and soaked with turpentine, the little
Norwegian preacher sat reading his Bible, when he heard a
thundering knock at his door, and Canute entered, covered with snow
and his beard frozen fast to his coat.
"Come in, Canute, you must be frozen," said the little man,
shoving a chair towards his visitor.
Canute remained standing with his hat on and said quietly, "I
want you to come over to my house tonight to marry me to Lena
"Have you got a license, Canute?"
"No, I don't want a license. I want to be married."
"But I can't marry you without a license, man. it would not be
A dangerous light came in the big Norwegian's eye. "I want
you to come over to my house to marry me to Lena Yensen."
"No, I can't, it would kill an ox to go out in a storm like
this, and my rheumatism is bad tonight."
"Then if you will not go I must take you," said Canute with a
He took down the preacher's bearskin coat and bade him put it
on while he hitched up his buggy. He went out and closed the door
softly after him. Presently he returned and found the frightened
minister crouching before the fire with his coat lying beside him.
Canute helped him put it on and gently wrapped his head in his big
muffler. Then he picked him up and carried him out and placed him
in his buggy. As he tucked the buffalo robes around him be said:
"Your horse is old, he might flounder or lose his way in this
storm. I will lead him."
The minister took the reins feebly in his hands and sat
shivering with the cold. Sometimes when there was a lull in the
wind, he could see the horse struggling through the snow with
the man plodding steadily beside him. Again the blowing snow would
hide them from him altogether. He had no idea where they were or
what direction they were going. He felt as though he were being
whirled away in the heart of the storm, and he said all the prayers
he knew. But at last the long four miles were over, and Canute set
him down in the snow while he unlocked the door. He saw the bride
sitting by the fire with her eyes red and swollen as though she had
been weeping. Canute placed a huge chair for him, and said
Lena began to cry and moan afresh, begging the minister to
take her home. He looked helplessly at Canute. Canute said
"If you are warm now, you can marry us."
"My daughter, do you take this step of your own free will?"
asked the minister in a trembling voice.
"No, sir, I don't, and it is disgraceful he should force me
into it! I won't marry him."
"Then, Canute, I cannot marry you," said the minister,
standing as straight as his rheumatic limbs would let him.
"Are you ready to marry us now, sir?" said Canute, laying one
iron hand on his stooped shoulder. The little preacher was a good
man, but like most men of weak body he was a coward and had a
horror of physical suffering, although he had known so much of it.
So with many qualms of conscience he began to repeat the marriage
service. Lena sat sullenly in her chair, staring at the fire.
Canute stood beside her, listening with his head bent reverently
and his hands folded on his breast. When the little man had prayed
and said amen, Canute began bundling him up again.
"I will take you home, now," he said as he carried him out and
placed him in his buggy, and started off with him through the fury
of the storm, floundering among the snow drifts that brought even
the giant himself to his knees.
After she was left alone, Lena soon ceased weeping. She was
not of a particularly sensitive temperament, and had little
pride beyond that of vanity. After the first bitter anger wore
itself out, she felt nothing more than a healthy sense of
humiliation and defeat. She had no inclination to run away, for
she was married now, and in her eyes that was final and all
rebellion was useless. She knew nothing about a license, but she
knew that a preacher married folks. She consoled herself by
thinking that she had always intended to marry Canute someday,
She grew tired of crying and looking into the fire, so she got
up and began to look about her. She had heard queer tales about
the inside of Canute's shanty, and her curiosity soon got the
better of her rage. One of the first things she noticed was the
new black suit of clothes hanging on the wall. She was dull, but
it did not take a vain woman long to interpret anything so
decidedly flattering, and she was pleased in spite of herself. As
she looked through the cupboard, the general air of neglect and
discomfort made her pity the man who lived there.
"Poor fellow, no wonder he wants to get married to get
somebody to wash up his dishes. Batchin's pretty hard on a man."
It is easy to pity when once one's vanity has been tickled.
She looked at the windowsill and gave a little shudder and wondered
if the man were crazy. Then she sat down again and sat a long time
wondering what her Dick and Ole would do.
"It is queer Dick didn't come right over after me. He surely
came, for he would have left town before the storm began and he
might just as well come right on as go back. If he'd hurried he
would have gotten here before the preacher came. I suppose he was
afraid to come, for he knew Canuteson could pound him to jelly, the
coward!" Her eyes flashed angrily.
The weary hours wore on and Lena began to grow horribly
lonesome. It was an uncanny night and this was an uncanny place to
be in. She could hear the coyotes howling hungrily a little way
from the cabin, and more terrible still were all the unknown noises
of the storm. She remembered the tales they told of the big log
overhead and she was afraid of those snaky things on the
windowsills. She remembered the man who had been killed in the
draw, and she wondered what she would do if she saw crazy Lou's
white face glaring into the window. The rattling of the door
became unbearable, she thought the latch must be loose and took the
lamp to look at it. Then for the first time she saw the ugly brown
snake skins whose death rattle sounded every time the wind jarred
"Canute, Canute!" she screamed in terror.
Outside the door she heard a heavy sound as of a big dog
getting up and shaking himself. The door opened and Canute stood
before her, white as a snow drift.
"What is it?" he asked kindly.
"I am cold," she faltered.
He went out and got an armful of wood and a basket of cobs and
filled the stove. Then he went out and lay in the snow before the
door. Presently he heard her calling again.
"What is it?" he said, sitting up.
"I'm so lonesome, I'm afraid to stay in here all alone."
"I will go over and get your mother." And he got up.
"She won't come."
"I'll bring her," said Canute grimly.
"No, no. I don't want her, she will scold all the time."
"Well, I will bring your father."
She spoke again and it seemed as though her mouth was close up
to the key-hole. She spoke lower than he had ever heard her speak
before, so low that he had to put his ear up to the lock to hear
"I don't want him either, Canute,--I'd rather have you."
For a moment she heard no noise at all, then something like a
groan. With a cry of fear she opened the door, and saw Canute
stretched in the snow at her feet, his face in his hands, sobbing
on the doorstep.
Eric Hermannson's Soul
It was a great night at the Lone Star schoolhouse--a night
when the Spirit was present with power and when God was very near
to man. So it seemed to Asa Skinner, servant of God and Free
Gospeller. The schoolhouse was crowded with the saved and
sanctified, robust men and women, trembling and quailing before the
power of some mysterious psychic force. Here and there among this
cowering, sweating multitude crouched some poor wretch who had felt
the pangs of an awakened conscience, but had not yet experienced
that complete divestment of reason, that frenzy born of a
convulsion of the mind, which, in the parlance of the Free
Gospellers, is termed "the Light." On the floor before the
mourners' bench lay the unconscious figure of a man in whom
outraged nature had sought her last resort. This "trance" state
is the highest evidence of grace among the Free Gospellers, and
indicates a close walking with God.
Before the desk stood Asa Skinner, shouting of the mercy and
vengeance of God, and in his eyes shone a terrible earnestness, an
almost prophetic flame. Asa was a converted train gambler who used
to run between Omaha and Denver. He was a man made for the
extremes of life; from the most debauched of men he had become the
most ascetic. His was a bestial face, a. face that bore the stamp
of Nature's eternal injustice. The forehead was low, projecting
over the eyes, and the sandy hair was plastered down over it and
then brushed back at an abrupt right angle. The chin was heavy,
the nostrils were low and wide, and the lower lip hung loosely
except in his moments of spasmodic earnestness, when it shut like
a steel trap. Yet about those coarse features there were deep,
rugged furrows, the scars of many a hand-to-hand struggle with the
weakness of the flesh, and about that drooping lip were sharp,
strenuous lines that had conquered it and taught it to pray. Over
those seamed cheeks there was a certain pallor, a greyness caught
from many a vigil. It was as though, after Nature had done her
worst with that face, some fine chisel had gone over it, chastening
and almost transfiguring it. Tonight, as his muscles twitched with
emotion, and the perspiration dropped from his hair and chin, there
was a certain convincing power in the man. For Asa Skinner was a
man possessed of a belief, of that sentiment of the sublime before
which all inequalities are leveled, that transport of conviction
which seems superior to all laws of condition, under which
debauchees have become martyrs; which made a tinker an artist and
a camel-driver the founder of an empire. This was with Asa Skinner
tonight, as he stood proclaiming the vengeance of God.
It might have occurred to an impartial observer that Asa
Skinner's God was indeed a vengeful God if he could reserve
vengeance for those of his creatures who were packed into the Lone
Star schoolhouse that night. Poor exiles of all nations; men from
the south and the north, peasants from almost every country of
Europe, most of them from the mountainous, night-bound coast of
Norway. Honest men for the most part, but men with whom the world
had dealt hardly; the failures of all countries, men sobered by
toil and saddened by exile, who had been driven to fight for the
dominion of an untoward soil, to sow where others should gather,
the advance guard of a mighty civilization to be.
Never had Asa Skinner spoken more earnestly than now. He felt
that the Lord had this night a special work for him to do. Tonight
Eric Hermannson, the wildest lad on all the Divide, sat in his
audience with a fiddle on his knee, just as he had dropped in on
his way to play for some dance. The violin is an object of
particular abhorrence to the Free Gospellers. Their antagonism to
the church organ is bitter enough, but the fiddle they regard as a
very incarnation of evil desires, singing forever of worldly
pleasures and inseparably associated with all forbidden things.
Eric Hermannson had long been the object of the prayers of the
revivalists. His mother had felt the power of the Spirit weeks
ago, and special prayer-meetings had been held at her house for her
son. But Eric had only gone his ways laughing, the ways of youth,
which are short enough at best, and none too flowery on the Divide.
He slipped away from the prayer-meetings to meet the Campbell boys
in Genereau's saloon, or hug the plump little French girls at
Chevalier's dances, and sometimes, of a summer night, he even went
across the dewy cornfields and through the wild-plum thicket to
play the fiddle for Lena Hanson, whose name was a reproach through
all the Divide country, where the women are usually too plain and
too busy and too tired to depart from the ways of virtue. On such
occasions Lena, attired in a pink wrapper and silk stockings and
tiny pink slippers, would sing to him, accompanying herself on a
battered guitar. It gave him a delicious sense of freedom and
experience to be with a woman who, no matter how, had lived in big
cities and knew the ways of town folk, who had never worked in the
fields and had kept her hands white and soft, her throat fair and
tender, who had heard great singers in Denver and Salt Lake, and
who knew the strange language of flattery and idleness and mirth.
Yet, careless as he seemed, the frantic prayers of his mother
were not altogether without their effect upon Eric. For days he
had been fleeing before them as a criminal from his pursuers, and
over his pleasures had fallen the shadow of something dark and
terrible that dogged his steps. The harder he danced, the louder
he sang, the more was he conscious that this phantom was gaining
upon him, that in time it would track him down. One Sunday
afternoon, late in the fall, when he had been drinking beer with
Lena Hanson and listening to a song which made his cheeks burn, a
rattlesnake had crawled out of the side of the sod house and thrust
its ugly head in under the screen door. He was not afraid of
snakes, but he knew enough of Gospellism to feel the significance
of the reptile lying coiled there upon her doorstep. His lips were
cold when he kissed Lena goodbye, and he went there no more.
The final barrier between Eric and his mother's faith was his
violin, and to that he clung as a man sometimes will cling to his
dearest sin, to the weakness more precious to him than all his
strength, In the great world beauty comes to men in many guises,
and art in a hundred forms, but for Eric there was only his violin.
It stood, to him, for all the manifestations of art; it was his
only bridge into the kingdom of the soul.
It was to Eric Hermannson that the evangelist directed his
impassioned pleading that night.
"Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Is there a Saul here
tonight who has stopped his ears to that gentle pleading, who has
thrust a spear into that bleeding side? Think of it, my brother;
you are offered this wonderful love and you prefer the worm that
dieth not and the fire which will not be quenched. What right have
you to lose one of God's precious souls? Saul, Saul, why
persecutest thou me?"
A great joy dawned in Asa Skinner's pale face, for he saw that
Eric Hermannson was swaying to and fro in his seat. The minister
fell upon his knees and threw his long arms up over his head.
"O my brothers! I feel it coming, the blessing we have prayed
for. I tell you the Spirit is coming! just a little more prayer,
brothers, a little more zeal, and he will be here. I can feel his
cooling wing upon my brow. Glory be to God forever and ever,
The whole congregation groaned under the pressure of this
spiritual panic. Shouts and hallelujahs went up from every lip.
Another figure fell prostrate upon the floor. From the mourners'
bench rose a chant of terror and rapture:
"Eating honey and drinking wine,
Glory to the bleeding Lamb!
I am my Lord's and he is mine,
Glory to the bleeding Lamb!"
The hymn was sung in a dozen dialects and voiced all the vague
yearning of these hungry lives, of these people who had starved all
the passions so long, only to fall victims to the barest of them
A groan of ultimate anguish rose from Eric Hermannson's bowed
head, and the sound was like the groan of a great tree when it
falls in the forest.
The minister rose suddenly to his feet and threw back his
head, crying in a loud voice:
"Lazarus, come forth! Eric Hermannson, you are lost, going
down at sea. In the name of God, and Jesus Christ his Son, I throw
you the life line. Take hold! Almighty God, my soul for his!"
The minister threw his arms out and lifted his quivering face.
Eric Hermannson rose to his feet; his lips were set and the
lightning was in his eyes. He took his violin by the neck and
crushed it to splinters across his knee, and to Asa Skinner the
sound was like the shackles of sin broken audibly asunder.
For more than two years Eric Hermannson kept the austere faith
to which he had sworn himself, kept it until a girl from the East
came to spend a week on the Nebraska Divide. She was a girl of
other manners and conditions, and there were greater distances
between her life and Eric's than all the miles which separated
Rattlesnake Creek from New York City. Indeed, she had no business
to be in the West at all; but ah! across what leagues of land and
sea, by what improbable chances, do the unrelenting gods bring to
us our fate!
It was in a year of financial depression that Wyllis Elliot
came to Nebraska to buy cheap land and revisit the country where he
had spent a year of his youth. When he had graduated from Harvard
it was still customary for moneyed gentlemen to send their
scapegrace sons to rough it on ranches in the wilds of Nebraska or
Dakota, or to consign them to a living death in the sagebrush of
the Black Hills. These young men did not always return to the ways
of civilized life. But Wyllis Elliot had not married a
half-breed, nor been shot in a cowpunchers' brawl, nor wrecked by
bad whisky, nor appropriated by a smirched adventuress. He had
been saved from these things by a girl, his sister, who had been
very near to his life ever since the days when they read fairy
tales together and dreamed the dreams that never come true. On
this, his first visit to his father's ranch since he left it six
years before, he brought her with him. She had been laid up half
the winter from a sprain received while skating, and had had too
much time for reflection during those months. She was restless and
filled with a desire to see something of the wild country of which
her brother had told her so much. She was to be married the next
winter, and Wyllis understood her when she begged him to take her
with him on this long, aimless jaunt across the continent, to taste
the last of their freedom together. it comes to all women of her
type--that desire to taste the unknown which allures and terrifies,
to run one's whole soul's length out to the wind--just once.
It had been an eventful journey. Wyllis somehow understood that
strain of gypsy blood in his sister, and he knew where to take her.
They had slept in sod houses on the Platte River, made the
acquaintance of the personnel of a third-rate opera company on the
train to Deadwood, dined in a camp of railroad constructors at the
world's end beyond New Castle, gone through the Black Hills on
horseback, fished for trout in Dome Lake, watched a dance at
Cripple Creek, where the lost souls who hide in the hills
gathered for their besotted revelry. And now, last of all, before
the return to thraldom, there was this little shack, anchored on
the windy crest of the Divide, a little black dot against the
flaming sunsets, a scented sea of cornland bathed in opalescent air
and blinding sunlight.
Margaret Elliot was one of those women of whom there are so
many in this day, when old order, passing, giveth place to new;
beautiful, talented, critical, unsatisfied, tired of the world at
twenty-four. For the moment the life and people of the Divide
interested her. She was there but a week; perhaps had she stayed
longer, that inexorable ennui which travels faster even than the
Vestibule Limited would have overtaken her. The week she
tarried there was the week that Eric Hermannson was helping Jerry
Lockhart thresh; a week earlier or a week later, and there would
have been no story to write.
It was on Thursday and they were to leave on Saturday. Wyllis
and his sister were sitting on the wide piazza of the ranchhouse,
staring out into the afternoon sunlight and protesting against the
gusts of hot wind that blew up from the sandy riverbottom twenty
miles to the southward.
The young man pulled his cap lower over his eyes and remarked:
"This wind is the real thing; you don't strike it anywhere
else. You remember we had a touch of it in Algiers and I told you
it came from Kansas. It's the keynote of this country."
Wyllis touched her hand that lay on the hammock and continued
"I hope it's paid you, Sis. Roughing it's dangerous business;
it takes the taste out of things."
She shut her fingers firmly over the brown hand that was so
like her own.
"Paid? Why, Wyllis, I haven't been so happy since we were
children and were going to discover the ruins of Troy together some
day. Do you know, I believe I could just stay on here forever and
let the world go on its own gait. It seems as though the tension
and strain we used to talk of last winter were gone for good, as
though one could never give one's strength out to such petty things
Wyllis brushed the ashes of his pipe away from the silk
handkerchief that was knotted about his neck and stared moodily off
at the skyline.
"No, you're mistaken. This would bore you after a while. You
can't shake the fever of the other life. I've tried it. There was
a time when the gay fellows of Rome could trot down into the
Thebaid and burrow into the sandhills and get rid of it. But it's
all too complex now. You see we've made our dissipations so dainty
and respectable that they've gone further in than the flesh, and
taken hold of the ego proper. You couldn't rest, even here. The
war cry would follow you."
"You don't waste words, Wyllis, but you never miss fire. I
talk more than you do, without saying half so much. You must have
learned the art of silence from these taciturn Norwegians. I think
I like silent men."
"Naturally," said Wyllis, "since you have decided to marry the most
brilliant talker you know."
Both were silent for a time, listening to the sighing of the
hot wind through the parched morning-glory vines. Margaret spoke
"Tell me, Wyllis, were many of the Norwegians you used to know
as interesting as Eric Hermannson?"
"Who, Siegfried? Well, no. He used to be the flower of the
Norwegian youth in my day, and he's rather an exception, even now.
He has retrograded, though. The bonds of the soil have tightened
on him, I fancy."
"Siegfried? Come, that's rather good, Wyllis. He looks like
a dragon-slayer. What is it that makes him so different from the
others? I can talk to him; he seems quite like a human being."
"Well," said Wyllis, meditatively, "I don't read Bourget
as much as my cultured sister, and I'm not so well up in analysis,
but I fancy it's because one keeps cherishing a perfectly
unwarranted suspicion that under that big, hulking anatomy of his,
he may conceal a soul somewhere. Nicht wahr?"
"Something like that," said Margaret, thoughtfully, "except
that it's more than a suspicion, and it isn't groundless. He has
one, and he makes it known, somehow, without speaking."
"I always have my doubts about loquacious souls," Wyllis
remarked, with the unbelieving smile that had grown habitual with
Margaret went on, not heeding the interruption. "I knew it
from the first, when he told me about the suicide of his cousin,
the Bernstein boy. That kind of blunt pathos can't be summoned at
will in anybody. The earlier novelists rose to it, sometimes,
unconsciously. But last night when I sang for him I was doubly
sure. Oh, I haven't told you about that yet! Better light your
pipe again. You see, he stumbled in on me in the dark when I was
pumping away at that old parlour organ to please Mrs. Lockhart
It's her household fetish and I've forgotten how many pounds of
butter she made and sold to buy it. Well, Eric stumbled in, and in
some inarticulate manner made me understand that he wanted me to
sing for him. I sang just the old things, of course. It's queer
to sing familiar things here at the world's end. It makes one
think how the hearts of men have carried them around the world,
into the wastes of Iceland and the jungles of Africa and the
islands of the Pacific. I think if one lived here long enough one
would quite forget how to be trivial, and would read only the great
books that we never get time to read in the world, and would
remember only the great music, and the things that are really worth
while would stand out clearly against that horizon over there. And
of course I played the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana
for him; it goes rather better on an organ than most things do. He
shuffled his feet and twisted his big hands up into knots and
blurted out that he didn't know there was any music like that in
the world. Why, there were tears in his voice, Wyllis! Yes, like
Rossetti, I heard his tears. Then it dawned upon me that it
was probably the first good music be had ever heard in all his
life. Think of it, to care for music as he does and never to hear
it, never to know that it exists on earth! To long for it as we
long for other perfect experiences that never come. I can't tell
you what music means to that man. I never saw any one so
susceptible to it. It gave him speech, he became alive. When I had
finished the intermezzo, he began telling me about a little
crippled brother who died and whom he loved and used to carry
everywhere in his arms. He did not wait for encouragement. He
took up the story and told it slowly, as if to himself, just sort
of rose up and told his own woe to answer Mascagni's. It overcame
"Poor devil," said Wyllis, looking at her with mysterious
eyes, "and so you've given him a new woe. Now he'll go on
wanting Grieg and Schubert the rest of his days and never getting
them. That's a girl's philanthropy for you!"
Jerry Lockhart came out of the house screwing his chin over
the unusual luxury of a stiff white collar, which his wife insisted
upon as a necessary article of toilet while Miss Elliot was
at the house. Jerry sat down on the step and smiled his broad, red
smile at Margaret.
"Well, I've got the music for your dance, Miss Elliot. Olaf
Oleson will bring his accordion and Mollie will play the organ,
when she isn't lookin' after the grub, and a little chap from
Frenchtown will bring his fiddle--though the French don't mix with
the Norwegians much."
"Delightful! Mr. Lockhart, that dance will be the feature of
our trip, and it's so nice of you to get it up for us. We'll see
the Norwegians in character at last," cried Margaret, cordially.
"See here, Lockhart, I'll settle with you for backing her in
this scheme," said Wyllis, sitting up and knocking the ashes out of
his pipe. "She's done crazy things enough on this trip, but to
talk of dancing all night with a gang of half-mad Norwegians and
taking the carriage at four to catch the six o'clock train out of
Riverton--well, it's tommyrot, that's what it is!"
"Wyllis, I leave it to your sovereign power of reason to
decide whether it isn't easier to stay up all night than to get up
at three in the morning. To get up at three, think what that
means! No, sir, I prefer to keep my vigil and then get into a
"But what do you want with the Norwegians? I thought you were
tired of dancing."
"So I am, with some people. But I want to see a Norwegian
dance, and I intend to. Come, Wyllis, you know how seldom it is
that one really wants to do anything nowadays. I wonder when I
have really wanted to go to a party before. It will be something
to remember next month at Newport, when we have to and don't want
to. Remember your own theory that contrast is about the only thing
that makes life endurable. This is my party and Mr. Lockhart's;
your whole duty tomorrow night will consist in being nice to the
Norwegian girls. I'll warrant you were adept enough at it once.
And you'd better be very nice indeed, for if there are many such
young Valkyries as Eric's sister among them, they would simply tie
you up in a knot if they suspected you were guying them."
Wyllis groaned and sank back into the hammock to consider his
fate, while his sister went on.
"And the guests, Mr. Lockhart, did they accept?"
Lockhart took out his knife and began sharpening it on the sole of
"Well, I guess we'll have a couple dozen. You see it's pretty
hard to get a crowd together here any more. Most of 'em have gone
over to the Free Gospellers, and they'd rather put their feet in
the fire than shake 'em to a fiddle."
Margaret made a gesture of impatience. "Those Free Gospellers
have just cast an evil spell over this country, haven't they?"
"Well," said Lockhart, cautiously, "I don't just like to pass
judgment on any Christian sect, but if you're to know the chosen by
their works, the Gospellers can't make a very proud showin', an'
that's a fact. They're responsible for a few suicides, and they've
sent a good-sized delegation to the state insane asylum, an' I
don't see as they've made the rest of us much better than we were
before. I had a little herdboy last spring, as square a little
Dane as I want to work for me, but after the Gospellers got hold of
him and sanctified him, the little beggar used to get down on his
knees out on the prairie and pray by the hour and let the cattle
get into the corn, an' I had to fire him. That's about the way it
goes. Now there's Eric; that chap used to be a hustler and the
spryest dancer in all this section-called all the dances. Now he's
got no ambition and he's glum as a preacher. I don't suppose we
can even get him to come in tomorrow night."
"Eric? Why, he must dance, we can't let him off," said
Margaret, quickly. "Why, I intend to dance with him myself."
"I'm afraid he won't dance. I asked him this morning if he'd
help us out and he said, 'I don't dance now, any more,' " said
Lockhart, imitating the laboured English of the Norwegian.
"'The Miller of Hofbau, the Miller of Hofbau, O my Princess!'"
chirped Wyllis, cheerfully, from his hammock.
The red on his sister's cheek deepened a little, and she
laughed mischievously. "We'll see about that, sir. I'll not admit
that I am beaten until I have asked him myself."
Every night Eric rode over to St. Anne, a little village in
the heart of the French settlement, for the mail. As the road lay
through the most attractive part of the Divide country, on several
occasions Margaret Elliot and her brother had accompanied him.
Tonight Wyllis had business with Lockhart, and Margaret rode
with Eric, mounted on a frisky little mustang that Mrs. Lockhart
had broken to the sidesaddle. Margaret regarded her escort very
much as she did the servant who always accompanied her on long
rides at home, and the ride to the village was a silent one. She
was occupied with thoughts of another world, and Eric was wrestling
with more thoughts than had ever been crowded into his head before.
He rode with his eyes riveted on that slight figure before him, as
though he wished to absorb it through the optic nerves and hold it
in his brain forever. He understood the situation perfectly. His
brain worked slowly, but he had a keen sense of the values of
things. This girl represented an entirely new species of humanity
to him, but he knew where to place her. The prophets of old, when
an angel first appeared unto them, never doubted its high origin.
Eric was patient under the adverse conditions of his life, but
he was not servile. The Norse blood in him had not entirely lost
its self-reliance. He came of a proud fisher line, men who were
not afraid of anything but the ice and the devil, and he had
prospects before him when his father went down off the North Cape
in the long Arctic night, and his mother, seized by a violent
horror of seafaring life, had followed her brother to America.
Eric was eighteen then, handsome as young Siegfried, a giant in
stature, with a skin singularly pure and delicate, like a Swede's;
hair as yellow as the locks of Tennyson's amorous Prince, and eyes
of a fierce, burning blue, whose flash was most dangerous to women.
He had in those days a certain pride of bearing, a certain
confidence of approach, that usually accompanies physical
perfection. It was even said of him then that he was in love with
life, and inclined to levity, a vice most unusual on the Divide.
But the sad history of those Norwegian exiles, transplanted in an
arid soil and under a scorching sun, had repeated itself in his
case. Toil and isolation had sobered him, and he grew more and
more like the clods among which he laboured. It was as though some
red-hot instrument had touched for a moment those delicate
fibers of the brain which respond to acute pain or pleasure, in
which lies the power of exquisite sensation, and had seared them
quite away. It is a painful thing to watch the light die out of
the eyes of those Norsemen, leaving an expression of impenetrable
sadness, quite passive, quite hopeless, a shadow that is never
lifted. With some this change comes almost at once, in the first
bitterness of homesickness, with others it comes more slowly,
according to the time it takes each man's heart to die.
Oh, those poor Northmen of the Divide! They are dead many a
year before they are put to rest in the little graveyard on the
windy hill where exiles of all nations grow akin.
The peculiar species of hypochondria to which the exiles of
his people sooner or later succumb had not developed in Eric until
that night at the Lone Star schoolhouse, when he had broken his
violin across his knee. After that, the gloom of his people
settled down upon him, and the gospel of maceration began its work.
"If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out," et cetera. The
pagan smile that once hovered about his lips was gone, and he was
one with sorrow. Religion heals a hundred hearts for one that it
embitters, but when it destroys, its work is quick and deadly, and
where the agony of the cross has been, joy will not come again.
This man understood things literally: one must live without
pleasure to die without fear; to save the soul, it was necessary to
starve the soul.
The sun hung low above the cornfields when Margaret and her
cavalier left St. Anne. South of the town there is a stretch of
road that runs for some three miles through the French settlement,
where the prairie is as level as the surface of a lake. There the
fields of flax and wheat and rye are bordered by precise rows of
slender, tapering Lombard poplars. It was a yellow world that
Margaret Elliot saw under the wide light of the setting sun.
The girl gathered up her reins and called back to Eric, "It
will be safe to run the horses here, won't it?"
"Yes, I think so, now," he answered, touching his spur to his
pony's flank. They were off like the wind. It is an old
saying in the West that newcomers always ride a horse or two
to death before they get broken in to the country. They are
tempted by the great open spaces and try to outride the horizon, to
get to the end of something. Margaret galloped over the level
road, and Eric, from behind, saw her long veil fluttering in the
wind. It had fluttered just so in his dreams last night and the
night before. With a sudden inspiration of courage he overtook her
and rode beside her, looking intently at her half-averted face.
Before, he had only stolen occasional glances at it, seen it in
blinding flashes, always with more or less embarrassment, but now
he determined to let every line of it sink into his memory. Men of
the world would have said that it was an unusual face, nervous,
finely cut, with clear, elegant lines that betokened ancestry. Men
of letters would have called it a historic face, and would have
conjectured at what old passions, long asleep, what old sorrows
forgotten time out of mind, doing battle together in ages gone, had
curved those delicate nostrils, left their unconscious memory in
those eyes. But Eric read no meaning in these details. To him
this beauty was something more than colour and line; it was a flash
of white light, in which one cannot distinguish colour because all
colours are there. To him it was a complete revelation, an
embodiment of those dreams of impossible loveliness that linger by
a young man's pillow on midsummer nights; yet, because it held
something more than the attraction of health and youth and
shapeliness, it troubled him, and in its presence he felt as the
Goths before the white marbles in the Roman Capitol, not knowing
whether they were men or gods. At times he felt like uncovering
his head before it, again the fury seized him to break and despoil,
to find the clay in this spirit-thing and stamp upon it. Away from
her, he longed to strike out with his arms, and take and hold; it
maddened him that this woman whom he could break in his hands
should be so much stronger than he. But near her, he never
questioned this strength; he admitted its potentiality as he
admitted the miracles of the Bible; it enervated and conquered him.
Tonight, when he rode so close to her that he could have touched
her, he knew that he might as well reach out his hand to
take a star.
Margaret stirred uneasily under his gaze and turned questioningly
in her saddle.
"This wind puts me a little out of breath when we ride fast,"
Eric turned his eyes away.
"I want to ask you if I go to New York to work, if I maybe
hear music like you sang last night? I been a purty good hand to
work," he asked, timidly.
Margaret looked at him with surprise, and then, as she studied
the outline of his face, pityingly.
"Well, you might--but you'd lose a good deal else. I shouldn't
like you to go to New York--and be poor, you'd be out of
atmosphere, some way," she said, slowly. Inwardly she was
thinking: There he would be altogether sordid, impossible--a
machine who would carry one's trunks upstairs, perhaps. Here he is
every inch a man, rather picturesque; why is it? "No," she
added aloud, "I shouldn't like that."
"Then I not go," said Eric, decidedly.
Margaret turned her face to hide a smile. She was a trifle
amused and a trifle annoyed. Suddenly she spoke again.
"But I'll tell you what I do want you to do, Eric. I want you
to dance with us tomorrow night and teach me some of the Norwegian
dances; they say you know them all. Won't you?"
Eric straightened himself in his saddle and his eyes flashed
as they had done in the Lone Star schoolhouse when he broke his
violin across his knee.
"Yes, I will," he said, quietly, and he believed that he
delivered his soul to hell as he said it.
They had reached the rougher country now, where the road wound
through a narrow cut in one of the bluffs along the creek, when a
beat of hoofs ahead and the sharp neighing of horses made the
ponies start and Eric rose in his stirrups. Then down the gulch in
front of them and over the steep clay banks thundered a herd of
wild ponies, nimble as monkeys and wild as rabbits, such as horse-
traders drive east from the plains of Montana to sell in the
farming country. Margaret's pony made a shrill sound, a neigh that
was almost a scream, and started up the clay bank to meet them, all
the wild blood of the range breaking out in an instant. Margaret
called to Eric just as he threw himself out of the saddle and
caught her pony's bit. But the wiry little animal had gone mad and
was kicking and biting like a devil. Her wild brothers of the
range were all about her, neighing, and pawing the earth, and
striking her with their forefeet and snapping at her flanks. It
was the old liberty of the range that the little beast fought for.
"Drop the reins and hold tight, tight!" Eric called, throwing
all his weight upon the bit, struggling under those frantic
forefeet that now beat at his breast, and now kicked at the wild
mustangs that surged and tossed about him. He succeeded in
wrenching the pony's head toward him and crowding her withers
against the clay bank, so that she could not roll.
"Hold tight, tight!" he shouted again, launching a kick at a
snorting animal that reared back against Margaret's saddle. If she
should lose her courage and fall now, under those hoofs-- He
struck out again and again, kicking right and left with all his
might. Already the negligent drivers had galloped into the cut,
and their long quirts were whistling over the heads of the herd.
As suddenly as it had come, the struggling, frantic wave of wild
life swept up out of the gulch and on across the open prairie, and
with a long despairing whinny of farewell the pony dropped her head
and stood trembling in her sweat, shaking the foam and blood from
Eric stepped close to Margaret's side and laid his hand on her
saddle. "You are not hurt?" he asked, hoarsely. As he raised his
face in the soft starlight she saw that it was white and drawn and
that his lips were working nervously.
"No, no, not at all. But you, you are suffering; they struck
you!" she cried in sharp alarm.
He stepped back and drew his hand across his brow.
"No, it is not that," he spoke rapidly now, with his hands
clenched at his side. "But if they had hurt you, I would beat
their brains out with my hands. I would kill them all. I
was never afraid before. You are the only beautiful thing that
has ever come close to me. You came like an angel out of the sky.
You are like the music you sing, you are like the stars and the
snow on the mountains where I played when I was a little boy. You
are like all that I wanted once and never had, you are all that
they have killed in me. I die for you tonight, tomorrow, for all
eternity. I am not a coward; I was afraid because I love you more
than Christ who died for me, more than I am afraid of hell, or hope
for heaven. I was never afraid before. If you had fallen--oh, my
God!" He threw his arms out blindly and dropped his head upon the
pony's mane, leaning ]imply against the animal like a man struck
by some sickness. His shoulders rose and fell perceptibly with his
laboured breathing. The horse stood cowed with exhaustion and
fear. Presently Margaret laid her hand on Eric's head and said
"You are better now, shall we go on? Can you get your horse?"
"No, he has gone with the herd. I will lead yours, she is not
safe. I will not frighten you again." His voice was still husky,
but it was steady now. He took hold of the bit and tramped home in
When they reached the house, Eric stood stolidly by the pony's
head until Wyllis came to lift his sister from the saddle.
"The horses were badly frightened, Wyllis. I think I was pretty
thoroughly scared myself," she said as she took her brother's arm
and went slowly up the hill toward the house. "No, I'm not hurt,
thanks to Eric. You must thank him for taking such good care of
me. He's a mighty fine fellow. I'll tell you all about it in the
morning, dear. I was pretty well shaken up and I'm going right to
bed now. Good night."
When she reached the low room in which she slept, she sank
upon the bed in her riding dress, face downward.
"Oh, I pity him! I pity him!" she murmured, with a long sigh
of exhaustion. She must have slept a little. When she rose again,
she took from her dress a letter that had been waiting for her at
the village post-office. It was closely written in a long,
angular hand, covering a dozen pages of foreign note-paper, and
My Dearest Margaret: if I should attempt to say how like
a winter hath thine absence been, I should incur the risk of
being tedious. Really, it takes the sparkle out of everything.
Having nothing better to do, and not caring to go anywhere in
particular without you, I remained in the city until Jack Courtwell
noted my general despondency and brought me down here to his place
on the sound to manage some open-air theatricals he is getting up.
As You Like It is of course the piece selected. Miss
Harrison plays Rosalind. I wish you had been here to take the
part. Miss Harrison reads her lines well, but she is either a
maiden-all-forlorn or a tomboy; insists on reading into the part
all sorts of deeper meanings and highly coloured suggestions wholly
out of harmony with the pastoral setting. Like most of the
professionals, she exaggerates the emotional element and quite
fails to do justice to Rosalind's facile wit and really brilliant
mental qualities. Gerard will do Orlando, but rumor says he is
epris of your sometime friend, Miss Meredith, and his memory
is treacherous and his interest fitful.
My new pictures arrived last week on the Gascogne. The
Puvis de Chavannes is even more beautiful than I thought it in
Paris. A pale dream-maiden sits by a pale dream-cow and a
stream of anemic water flows at her feet. The Constant, you
will remember, I got because you admired it. It is here in
all its florid splendour, the whole dominated by a glowing
sensuosity. The drapery of the female figure is as wonderful
as you said; the fabric all barbaric pearl and gold, painted
with an easy, effortless voluptuousness, and that white,
gleaming line of African coast in the background recalls
memories of you very precious to me. But it is useless to
deny that Constant irritates me. Though I cannot prove the
charge against him, his brilliancy always makes me suspect him
Here Margaret stopped and glanced at the remaining pages of
this strange love-letter. They seemed to be filled chiefly with
discussions of pictures and books, and with a slow smile she laid
She rose and began undressing. Before she lay down she went
to open the window. With her hand on the sill, she hesitated,
feeling suddenly as though some danger were lurking outside, some
inordinate desire waiting to spring upon her in the darkness. She
stood there for a long time, gazing at the infinite sweep of the
"Oh, it is all so little, so little there," she murmured.
"When everything else is so dwarfed, why should one expect love to
be great? Why should one try to read highly coloured suggestions
into a life like that? If only I could find one thing in it all
that mattered greatly, one thing that would warm me when I am
alone! Will life never give me that one great moment?"
As she raised the window, she heard a sound in the plum bushes
outside. It was only the house-dog roused from his sleep, but
Margaret started violently and trembled so that she caught the foot
of the bed for support. Again she felt herself pursued by some
overwhelming longing, some desperate necessity for herself, like
the outstretching of helpless, unseen arms in the darkness, and the
air seemed heavy with sighs of yearning. She fled to her bed with
the words, "I love you more than Christ who died for me!" ringing
in her ears.
About midnight the dance at Lockhart's was at its height.
Even the old men who had come to "look on" caught the spirit of
revelry and stamped the floor with the vigor of old Silenus. Eric
took the violin from the Frenchmen, and Minna Oleson sat at the
organ, and the music grew more and more characteristic--rude, half
mournful music, made up of the folksongs of the North, that the
villagers sing through the long night in hamlets by the sea, when
they are thinking of the sun, and the spring, and the fishermen so
long away. To Margaret some of it sounded like Grieg's Peer
Gynt music. She found something irresistibly infectious in
the mirth of these people who were so seldom merry, and she felt
almost one of them. Something seemed struggling for freedom in
them tonight, something of the joyous childhood of the nations
which exile had not killed. The girls were all boisterous with
delight. Pleasure came to them but rarely, and when it came, they
caught at it wildly and crushed its fluttering wings in their
strong brown fingers. They had a hard life enough, most of them.
Torrid summers and freezing winters, labour and drudgery and
ignorance, were the portion of their girlhood; a short wooing, a
hasty, loveless marriage, unlimited maternity, thankless sons,
premature age and ugliness, were the dower of their womanhood. But
what matter? Tonight there was hot liquor in the glass and hot
blood in the heart; tonight they danced.
Tonight Eric Hermannson had renewed his youth. He was no
longer the big, silent Norwegian who had sat at Margaret's feet and
looked hopelessly into her eyes. Tonight he was a man, with a
man's rights and a man's power. Tonight he was Siegfried indeed.
His hair was yellow as the heavy wheat in the ripe of summer, and
his eyes flashed like the blue water between the ice packs in the
north seas. He was not afraid of Margaret tonight, and when he
danced with her he held her firmly. She was tired and dragged on
his arm a little, but the strength of the man was like an all-
pervading fluid, stealing through her veins, awakening under her
heart some nameless, unsuspected existence that had slumbered there
all these years and that went out through her throbbing fingertips
to his that answered. She wondered if the hoydenish blood of some
lawless ancestor, long asleep, were calling out in her tonight,
some drop of a hotter fluid that the centuries had failed to cool,
and why, if this curse were in her, it had not spoken before. But
was it a curse, this awakening, this wealth before undiscovered,
this music set free? For the first time in her life her heart held
something stronger than herself, was not this worthwhile? Then she
ceased to wonder. She lost sight of the lights and the faces and
the music was drowned by the beating of her own arteries. She saw
only the blue eyes that flashed above her, felt only the
warmth of that throbbing hand which held hers and which the blood
of his heart fed. Dimly, as in a dream, she saw the drooping
shoulders, high white forehead and tight, cynical mouth of the man
she was to marry in December. For an hour she had been crowding
back the memory of that face with all her strength.
"Let us stop, this is enough," she whispered. His only answer
was to tighten the arm behind her. She sighed and let that
masterful strength bear her where it would. She forgot that this
man was little more than a savage, that they would part at dawn.
The blood has no memories, no reflections, no regrets for the past,
no consideration of the future.
"Let us go out where it is cooler," she said when the music
stopped; thinking, I am growing faint here, I shall be all
right in the open air. They stepped out into the cool, blue
air of the night.
Since the older folk had begun dancing, the young Norwegians
had been slipping out in couples to climb the windmill tower into
the cooler atmosphere, as is their custom.
"You like to go up?" asked Eric, close to her ear.
She turned and looked at him with suppressed amusement. "How
high is it?"
"Forty feet, about. I not let you fall." There was a note of
irresistible pleading in his voice, and she felt that he
tremendously wished her to go. Well, why not? This was a night of
the unusual, when she was not herself at all, but was living an
unreality. Tomorrow, yes, in a few hours, there would be the
Vestibule Limited and the world.
"Well, if you'll take good care of me. I used to be able to
climb, when I was a little girl."
Once at the top and seated on the platform, they were silent.
Margaret wondered if she would not hunger for that scene all her
life, through all the routine of the days to come. Above them
stretched the great Western sky, serenely blue, even in the night,
with its big, burning stars, never so cold and dead and far away as
in denser atmospheres. The moon would not be up for twenty minutes
yet, and all about the horizon, that wide horizon, which
seemed to reach around the world, lingered a pale white light, as
of a universal dawn. The weary wind brought up to them the heavy
odours of the cornfields. The music of the dance sounded faintly
from below. Eric leaned on his elbow beside her, his legs swinging
down on the ladder. His great shoulders looked more than ever like
those of the stone Doryphorus, who stands in his perfect, reposeful
strength in the Louvre, and had often made her wonder if such men
died forever with the youth of Greece.
"How sweet the corn smells at night," said Margaret nervously.
"Yes, like the flowers that grow in paradise, I think."
She was somewhat startled by this reply, and more startled
when this taciturn man spoke again.
"You go away tomorrow?"
"Yes, we have stayed longer than we thought to now."
"You not come back any more?"
"No, I expect not. You see, it is a long trip halfway across
"You soon forget about this country, I guess." It seemed to
him now a little thing to lose his soul for this woman, but that
she should utterly forget this night into which he threw all his
life and all his eternity, that was a bitter thought.
"No, Eric, I will not forget. You have all been too kind to
me for that. And you won't be sorry you danced this one night,
"I never be sorry. I have not been so happy before. I not be
so happy again, ever. You will be happy many nights yet, I only
this one. I will dream sometimes, maybe."
The mighty resignation of his tone alarmed and touched her.
It was as when some great animal composes itself for death, as when
a great ship goes down at sea.
She sighed, but did not answer him. He drew a little closer
and looked into her eyes.
"You are not always happy, too?" he asked.
"No, not always, Eric; not very often, I think."
"You have a trouble?"
"Yes, but I cannot put it into words. Perhaps if I could do
that, I could cure it."
He clasped his hands together over his heart, as children do when
they pray, and said falteringly, "If I own all the world, I give
Margaret felt a sudden moisture in her eyes, and laid her hand
"Thank you, Eric; I believe you would. But perhaps even then
I should not be happy. Perhaps I have too much of it already."
She did not take her hand away from him; she did not dare.
She sat still and waited for the traditions in which she had always
believed to speak and save her. But they were dumb. She belonged
to an ultra-refined civilization which tries to cheat nature with
elegant sophistries. Cheat nature? Bah! One generation may do
it, perhaps two, but the third-- Can we ever rise above nature or
sink below her? Did she not turn on Jerusalem as upon Sodom, upon
St. Anthony in his desert as upon Nero in his seraglio? Does she
not always cry in brutal triumph: "I am here still, at the bottom
of things, warming the roots of life; you cannot starve me nor tame
me nor thwart me; I made the world, I rule it, and I am its
This woman, on a windmill tower at the world's end with a
giant barbarian, heard that cry tonight, and she was afraid! Ah!
the terror and the delight of that moment when first we fear
ourselves! Until then we have not lived.
"Come, Eric, let us go down; the moon is up and the music has
begun again," she said.
He rose silently and stepped down upon the ladder, putting his
arm about her to help her. That arm could have thrown Thor's
hammer out in the cornfields yonder, yet it scarcely touched her,
and his hand trembled as it had done in the dance. His face was
level with hers now and the moonlight fell sharply upon it. All
her life she had searched the faces of men for the look that lay in
his eyes. She knew that that look had never shone for her before,
would never shine for her on earth again, that such love comes to
one only in dreams or in impossible places like this, unattainable
always. This was Love's self, in a moment it would die. Stung by
the agonized appeal that emanated from the man's whole being, she
leaned forward and laid her lips on his. Once, twice and again she
heard the deep respirations rattle in his throat while she held
them there, and the riotous force under her head became an
engulfing weakness. He drew her up to him until he felt all the
resistance go out of her body, until every nerve relaxed and
yielded. When she drew her face back from
his, it was white with fear.
"Let us go down, oh, my God! let us go down!" she muttered.
And the drunken stars up yonder seemed reeling to some appointed
doom as she clung to the rounds of the ladder. All that she was to
know of love she had left upon his lips.
"The devil is loose again," whispered Olaf Oleson, as he saw Eric
dancing a moment later, his eyes blazing.
But Eric was thinking with an almost savage exultation of the
time when he should pay for this. Ah, there would be no quailing
then! if ever a soul went fearlessly, proudly down to the gates
infernal, his should go. For a moment he fancied he was there
already, treading down the tempest of flame, hugging the fiery
hurricane to his breast. He wondered whether in ages gone, all the
countless years of sinning in which men had sold and lost and flung
their souls away, any man had ever so cheated Satan, had ever
bartered his soul for so great a price.
It seemed but a little while till dawn.
The carriage was brought to the door and Wyllis Elliot and his
sister said goodbye. She could not meet Eric's eyes as she gave
him her hand, but as he stood by the horse's head, just as the
carriage moved off, she gave him one swift glance that said, "I
will not forget." In a moment the carriage was gone.
Eric changed his coat and plunged his head into the water tank
and went to the barn to hook up his team. As he led his horses to
the door, a shadow fell across his path, and he saw Skinner rising
in his stirrups. His rugged face was pale and worn with looking
after his wayward flock, with dragging men into the way of
"Good morning, Eric. There was a dance here last night?" he
"A dance? Oh, yes, a dance," replied Eric, cheerfully.
"Certainly you did not dance, Eric?"
"Yes, I danced. I danced all the time."
The minister's shoulders drooped, and an expression of profound
discouragement settled over his haggard face. There was almost
anguish in the yearning he felt for this soul.
"Eric, I didn't look for this from you. I thought God had set
his mark on you if he ever had on any man. And it is for things
like this that you set your soul back a thousand years from God. 0
foolish and perverse generation!"
Eric drew himself up to his full height and looked off to
where the new day was gilding the corn-tassels and flooding the
uplands with light. As his nostrils drew in the breath of the dew
and the morning, something from the only poetry he had ever read
flashed across his mind, and he murmured, half to himself, with
"'And a day shall be as a thousand years, and a thousand years
as a day.'"
The Enchanted Bluff
We had our swim before sundown, and while we were cooking our
supper the oblique rays of light made a dazzling glare on the white
sand about us. The translucent red ball itself sank behind the
brown stretches of cornfield as we sat down to eat, and the warm
layer of air that had rested over the water and our clean sand bar
grew fresher and smelled of the rank ironweed and sunflowers
growing on the flatter shore. The river was brown and sluggish,
like any other of the half-dozen streams that water the Nebraska
corn lands. On one shore was an irregular line of bald clay bluffs
where a few scrub oaks with thick trunks and flat, twisted tops
threw light shadows on the long grass. The western shore was low
and level, with cornfields that stretched to the skyline, and all
along the water's edge were little sandy coves and beaches where
slim cottonwoods and willow saplings flickered.
The turbulence of the river in springtime discouraged milling,
and, beyond keeping the old red bridge in repair, the busy farmers
did not concern themselves with the stream; so the Sandtown boys
were left in undisputed possession. In the autumn we hunted quail
through the miles of stubble and fodder land along the flat shore,
and, after the winter skating season was over and the ice had gone
out, the spring freshets and flooded bottoms gave us our great
excitement of the year. The channel was never the same for two
successive seasons. Every spring the swollen stream undermined a
bluff to the east, or bit out a few acres of cornfield to the west
and whirled the soil away, to deposit it in spumy mud banks
somewhere else. When the water fell low in midsummer, new sand
bars were thus exposed to dry and whiten in the August sun.
Sometimes these were banked so firmly that the fury of the next
freshet failed to unseat them; the little willow seedlings emerged
triumphantly from the yellow froth, broke into spring leaf, shot up
into summer growth, and with their mesh of roots bound together the
moist sand beneath them against the batterings of another April.
Here and there a cottonwood soon glittered among them, quivering in
the low current of air that, even on breathless days when the dust
hung like smoke above the wagon road, trembled along the face of
It was on such an island, in the third summer of its yellow
green, that we built our watch fire; not in the thicket of dancing
willow wands, but on the level terrace of fine sand which had been
added that spring; a little new bit of world, beautifully ridged
with ripple marks, and strewn with the tiny skeletons of turtles
and fish, all as white and dry as if they had been expertly cured.
We had been careful not to mar the freshness of the place, although
we often swam to it on summer evenings and lay on the sand to rest.
This was our last watch fire of the year, and there were
reasons why I should remember it better than any of the others.
Next week the other boys were to file back to their old places in
the Sandtown High School, but I was to go up to the Divide to teach
my first country school in the Norwegian district. I was already
homesick at the thought of quitting the boys with whom I had always
played; of leaving the river, and going up into a windy plain that
was all windmills and cornfields and big pastures; where there was
nothing wilful or unmanageable in the landscape, no new islands,
and no chance of unfamiliar birds--such as often followed the
Other boys came and went and used the river for fishing or
skating, but we six were sworn to the spirit of the stream, and we
were friends mainly because of the river. There were the two
Hassler boys, Fritz and Otto, sons of the little German tailor.
They were the youngest of us; ragged boys of ten and twelve, with
sunburned hair, weather-stained faces, and pale blue eyes. Otto,
the elder, was the best mathematician in school, and clever
at his books, but he always dropped out in the spring term as if
the river could not get on without him. He and Fritz caught the
fat, horned catfish and sold them about the town, and they lived
so much in the water that they were as brown and sandy as the river
There was Percy Pound, a fat, freckled boy with chubby cheeks,
who took half a dozen boys' story-papers and was always being kept
in for reading detective stories behind his desk. There was Tip
Smith, destined by his freckles and red hair to be the buffoon in
all our games, though he walked like a timid little old man and had
a funny, cracked laugh. Tip worked hard in his father's grocery
store every afternoon, and swept it out before school in the
morning. Even his recreations were laborious. He collected
cigarette cards and tin tobacco-tags indefatigably, and would sit
for hours humped up over a snarling little scroll-saw which he kept
in his attic. His dearest possessions were some little pill
bottles that purported to contain grains of wheat from the Holy
Land, water from the Jordan and the Dead Sea, and earth from the
Mount of Olives. His father had bought these dull things from a
Baptist missionary who peddled them, and Tip seemed to derive great
satisfaction from their remote origin.
The tall boy was Arthur Adams. He had fine hazel eves that
were almost too reflective and sympathetic for a boy, and such a
pleasant voice that we all loved to hear him read aloud. Even when
he had to read poetry aloud at school, no one ever thought of
laughing. To be sure, he was not at school very much of the time.
He was seventeen and should have finished the High School the year
before, but he was always off somewhere with his gun. Arthur's
mother was dead, and his father, who was feverishly absorbed in
promoting schemes, wanted to send the boy away to school and get
him off his hands; but Arthur always begged off for another year
and promised to study. I remember him as a tall, brown boy with an
intelligent face, always lounging among a lot of us little fellows,
laughing at us oftener than with us, but such a soft, satisfied
laugh that we felt rather flattered when we provoked it. In
after-years people said that Arthur had been given to evil ways
as a ]ad, and it is true that we often saw him with the gambler's
sons and with old Spanish Fanny's boy, but if he learned anything
ugly in their company he never betrayed it to us. We would have
followed Arthur anywhere, and I am bound to say that he led us into
no worse places than the cattail marshes and the stubble fields.
These, then, were the boys who camped with me that summer night
upon the sand bar.
After we finished our supper we beat the willow thicket for
driftwood. By the time we had collected enough, night had fallen,
and the pungent, weedy smell from the shore increased with the
coolness. We threw ourselves down about the fire and made another
futile effort to show Percy Pound the Little Dipper. We had tried
it often before, but he could never be got past the big one.
"You see those three big stars just below the handle, with the
bright one in the middle?" said Otto Hassler; "that's Orion's belt,
and the bright one is the clasp." I crawled behind Otto's shoulder
and sighted up his arm to the star that seemed perched upon the tip
of his steady forefinger. The Hassler boys did seine-fishing at
night, and they knew a good many stars.
Percy gave up the Little Dipper and lay back on the sand, his
hands clasped under his head. "I can see the North Star," he
announced, contentedly, pointing toward it with his big toe.
"Anyone might get lost and need to know that."
We all looked up at it.
"How do you suppose Columbus felt when his compass didn't
point north any more?" Tip asked.
Otto shook his head. "My father says that there was another
North Star once, and that maybe this one won't last always. I
wonder what would happen to us down here if anything went wrong
Arthur chuckled. "I wouldn't worry, Ott. Nothing's apt to
happen to it in your time. Look at the Milky Way! There must be
lots of good dead Indians."
We lay back and looked, meditating, at the dark cover of the
world. The gurgle of the water had become heavier. We had often
noticed a mutinous, complaining note in it at night, quite
different from its cheerful daytime chuckle, and seeming like the
voice of a much deeper and more powerful stream. Our water had
always these two moods: the one of sunny complaisance, the other of
inconsolable, passionate regret.
"Queer how the stars are all in sort of diagrams," remarked
Otto. "You could do most any proposition in geometry with 'em.
They always look as if they meant something. Some folks say
everybody's fortune is all written out in the stars, don't they?"
"They believe so in the old country," Fritz affirmed.
But Arthur only laughed at him. "You're thinking of Napoleon,
Fritzey. He had a star that went out when he began to lose
battles. I guess the stars don't keep any close tally on Sandtown
We were speculating on how many times we could count a hundred
before the evening star went down behind the cornfields, when
someone cried, "There comes the moon, and it's as big as a cart
We all jumped up to greet it as it swam over the bluffs behind
us. It came up like a galleon in full sail; an enormous, barbaric
thing, red as an angry heathen god.
"When the moon came up red like that, the Aztecs used to
sacrifice their prisoners on the temple top," Percy announced.
"Go on, Perce. You got that out of Golden Days. Do you
believe that, Arthur?" I appealed.
Arthur answered, quite seriously: "Like as not. The moon was
one of their gods. When my father was in Mexico City he saw the
stone where they used to sacrifice their prisoners."
As we dropped down by the fire again some one asked whether
the Mound-Builders were older than the Aztecs. When we once got
upon the Mound-Builders we never willingly got away from them, and
we were still conjecturing when we heard a loud splash in the
"Must have been a big cat jumping," said Fritz. "They do
sometimes. They must see bugs in the dark. Look what a track the
There was a long, silvery streak on the water, and where the
current fretted over a big log it boiled up like gold pieces.
"Suppose there ever was any gold hid away in this old
river?" Fritz asked. He lay like a little brown Indian, close to
the fire, his chin on his hand and his bare feet in the air. His
brother laughed at him, but Arthur took his suggestion seriously.
"Some of the Spaniards thought there was gold up here somewhere.
Seven cities chuck full of gold, they had it, and Coronado and his
men came up to hunt it. The Spaniards were all over this country
Percy looked interested. "Was that before the Mormons went
We all laughed at this.
"Long enough before. Before the Pilgrim Fathers, Perce. Maybe
they came along this very river. They always followed the
"I wonder where this river really does begin?" Tip mused.
That was an old and a favorite mystery which the map did not
clearly explain. On the map the little black line stopped
somewhere in western Kansas; but since rivers generally rose in
mountains, it was only reasonable to suppose that ours came from
the Rockies. Its destination, we knew, was the Missouri, and the
Hassler boys always maintained that we could embark at Sandtown in
floodtime, follow our noses, and eventually arrive at New Orleans.
Now they took up their old argument. "If us boys had grit enough
to try it, it wouldn't take no time to get to Kansas City and St.
We began to talk about the places we wanted to go to. The
Hassler boys wanted to see the stockyards in Kansas City, and Percy
wanted to see a big store in Chicago. Arthur was interlocutor and
did not betray himself.
"Now it's your turn, Tip."
Tip rolled over on his elbow and poked the fire, and his eyes
looked shyly out of his queer, tight little face. "My place is
awful far away. My Uncle Bill told me about it."
Tip's Uncle Bill was a wanderer, bitten with mining fever, who
had drifted into Sandtown with a broken arm, and when it was well
had drifted out again.
"Where is it?"
"Aw, it's down in New Mexico somewheres. There aren't no
railroads or anything. You have to go on mules, and you run out of
water before you get there and have to drink canned tomatoes."
"Well, go on, kid. What's it like when you do get there?"
Tip sat up and excitedly began his story.
"There's a big red rock there that goes right up out of the
sand for about nine hundred feet. The country's flat all around
it, and this here rock goes up all by itself, like a monument.
They call it the Enchanted Bluff down there, because no white man
has ever been on top of it. The sides are smooth rock, and
straight up, like a wall. The Indians say that hundreds of years
ago, before the Spaniards came, there was a village away up there
in the air. The tribe that lived there had some sort of steps,
made out of wood and bark, bung down over the face of the bluff,
and the braves went down to hunt and carried water up in big jars
swung on their backs. They kept a big supply of water and dried
meat up there, and never went down except to hunt. They were a
peaceful tribe that made cloth and pottery, and they went up there
to get out of the wars. You see, they could pick off any war party
that tried to get up their little steps. The Indians say they were
a handsome people, and they had some sort of queer religion. Uncle
Bill thinks they were Cliff-Dwellers who had got into trouble and
left home. They weren't fighters, anyhow.
"One time the braves were down hunting and an awful storm came
up--a kind of waterspout--and when they got back to their rock they
found their little staircase had been all broken to pieces, and
only a few steps were left hanging away up in the air. While they
were camped at the foot of the rock, wondering what to do, a
war party from the north came along and massacred 'em to a man,
with all the old folks and women looking on from the rock. Then
the war party went on south and left the village to get down the
best way they could. Of course they never got down. They starved
to death up there, and when the war party came back on their way
north, they could hear the children crying from the edge of the
bluff where they had crawled out, but they didn't see a sign of a
grown Indian, and nobody has ever been up there since."
We exclaimed at this dolorous legend and sat up.
"There couldn't have been many people up there," Percy demurred.
"How big is the top, Tip?"
"Oh, pretty big. Big enough so that the rock doesn't look
nearly as tall as it is. The top's bigger than the base. The
bluff is sort of worn away for several hundred feet up. That's one
reason it's so hard to climb."
I asked how the Indians got up, in the first place.
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