Part 2 out of 4
elbow-room for the three Johns.
They met by accident in Hamilton at the
land-office. John Henderson, fresh from
Cincinnati, manifestly unused to the ways
of the country, looked at John Gillispie with
a lurking smile. Gillispie wore a sombrero,
fresh, white, and expansive. His boots had
high heels, and were of elegant leather and
finely arched at the instep. His corduroys
disappeared in them half-way up the thigh.
About his waist a sash of blue held a laced
shirt of the same color in place. Hender-
son puffed at his cigarette, and continued
to look a trifle quizzical.
Suddenly Gillispie walked up to him and
said, in a voice of complete suavity, "Damn
yeh, smoke a pipe!"
"Eh?" said Henderson, stupidly.
"Smoke a pipe," said the other. "That
thing you have is bad for your complexion."
"I can take care of my complexion," said
The two looked each other straight in the
"You don't go on smoking that thing till
you have apologized for that grin you had
on your phiz a moment ago."
"I laugh when I please, and I smoke
what I please," said Henderson, hotly, his
face flaming as he realized that he was in
for his first "row."
That was how it began. How it would
have ended is not known -- probably there
would have been only one John -- if it had
not been for the almost miraculous appear-
ance at this moment of the third John. For
just then the two belligerents found them-
selves prostrate, their pistols only half-cocked,
and between them stood a man all gnarled
and squat, like one of those wind-torn oaks
which grow on the arid heights. He was
no older than the others, but the lines in
his face were deep, and his large mouth
twitched as he said: --
"Hold on here, yeh fools! There's too
much blood in you to spill. You'll spile
th' floor, and waste good stuff. We need
blood out here!"
Gillispie bounced to his feet. Henderson
arose suspiciously, keeping his eyes on his
"Oh, get up!" cried the intercessor.
"We don't shoot men hereabouts till they
git on their feet in fightin' trim."
"What do you know about what we do
here?" interrupted Gillispie. "This is the
first time I ever saw you around."
"That's so," the other admitted. "I'm
just down from Montana. Came to take up
a quarter section. Where I come from we
give men a show, an' I thought perhaps yeh
did th' same here."
"Why, yes," admitted Gillispie, "we do.
But I don't want folks to laugh too much
-- not when I'm around -- unless they tell
me what the joke is. I was just mentioning
it to the gentleman," he added, dryly.
"So I saw," said the other; "you're kind
a emphatic in yer remarks. Yeh ought to
give the gentleman a chance to git used to
the ways of th' country. He'll be as tough
as th' rest of us if you'll give him a chance.
I kin see it in him."
"Thank you," said Henderson. "I'm
glad you do me justice. I wish you wouldn't
let daylight through me till I've had a chance
to get my quarter section. I'm going to
be one of you, either as a live man or a
corpse. But I prefer a hundred and sixty
acres of land to six feet of it."
"There, now!" triumphantly cried the
squat man. "Didn't I tell yeh? Give him
a show! 'Tain't no fault of his that he's a
tenderfoot. He'll get over that."
Gillispie shook hands with first one and
then the other of the men. "It's a square
deal from this on," he said. "Come and
have a drink."
That's how they met -- John Henderson,
John Gillispie, and John Waite. And a week
later they were putting up a shanty together
for common use, which overlapped each of
their reservations, and satisfied the law with
its sociable subterfuge.
The life wasn't bad, Henderson decided;
and he adopted all the ways of the country
in an astonishingly short space of time.
There was a freedom about it all which was
certainly complete. The three alternated
in the night watch. Once a week one of
them went to town for provisions. They
were not good at the making of bread, so
they contented themselves with hot cakes.
Then there was salt pork for a staple, and
prunes. They slept in straw-lined bunks,
with warm blankets for a covering. They
made a point of bringing reading-matter
back from town every week, and there were
always cards to fall back on, and Waite sang
songs for them with natural dramatic talent.
Nevertheless, in spite of their content-
ment, none of them was sorry when the
opportunity offered for going to town.
There was always a bit of stirring gossip to
be picked up, and now and then there was
a "show" at the "opera-house," in which,
it is almost unnecessary to say, no opera
had ever been sung. Then there was the
hotel, at which one not only got good fare,
but a chat with the three daughters of Jim
O'Neal, the proprietor -- girls with the acci-
dent of two Irish parents, who were, not-
withstanding, as typically American as they
well could be. A half-hour's talk with these
cheerful young women was all the more to
be desired for the reason that within riding
distance of the three Johns' ranch there were
only two other women. One was Minerva
Fitch, who had gone out from Michigan
accompanied by an oil-stove and a knowl-
edge of the English grammar, with the
intention of teaching school, but who had
been unable to carry these good intentions
into execution for the reason that there were
no children to teach, -- at least, none but
Bow-legged Joe. He was a sad little fellow,
who looked like a prairie-dog, and who had
very much the same sort of an outlook on life.
The other woman was the brisk and efficient
wife of Mr. Bill Deems, of "Missourah."
Mr. Deems had never in his life done any-
thing, not even so much as bring in a basket
of buffalo chips to supply the scanty fire.
That is to say, he had done nothing strictly
utilitarian. Yet he filled his place. He was
the most accomplished story-teller in the
whole valley, and this accomplishment of his
was held in as high esteem as the improvisa-
tions of a Welsh minstrel were among his
reverencing people. His wife alone depre-
cated his skill, and interrupted his spirited
narratives with sarcastic allusions concerning
the empty cupboard, and the "state of her
back," to which, as she confided to any who
would listen, "there was not a rag fit to wear."
These two ladies had not, as may be
surmised, any particular attraction for John
Henderson. Truth to tell, Henderson had
not come West with the intention of lik-
ing women, but rather with a determina-
tion to see and think as little of them as
possible. Yet even the most confirmed
misogynist must admit that it is a good
thing to see a woman now and then, and for
this reason Henderson found it amusing to
converse with the amiable Misses O'Neal.
At twenty-five one cannot be unyielding in
one's avoidance of the sex.
Henderson, with his pony at a fine lope,
was on his way to town one day, in that
comfortable frame of mind adduced by an
absence of any ideas whatever, when he
suddenly became conscious of a shiver that
seemed to run from his legs to the pony,
and back again. The animal gave a startled
leap, and lifted his ears. There was a stir-
ring in the coarse grasses; the sky, which
a moment before had been like sapphire,
dulled with an indescribable grayness.
Then came a little singing afar off, as if
from a distant convocation of cicadæ, and
before Henderson could guess what it meant,
a cloud of dust was upon him, blinding and
bewildering, pricking with sharp particles
at eyes and nostrils. The pony was an ugly
fellow, and when Henderson felt him put his
forefeet together, he knew what that meant,
and braced himself for the struggle. But it
was useless; he had not yet acquired the
knack of staying on the back of a bucking
bronco, and the next moment he was on
the ground, and around him whirled that
saffron chaos of dust. The temperature
lowered every moment. Henderson in-
stinctively felt that this was but the begin-
ning of the storm. He picked himself up
without useless regrets for his pony, and
made his way on.
The saffron hue turned to blackness, and
then out of the murk shot a living green
ball of fire, and ploughed into the earth.
Then sheets of water, that seemed to come
simultaneously from earth and sky, swept
the prairie, and in the midst of it struggled
Henderson, weak as a little child, half bereft
of sense by the strange numbness of head
and dullness of eye. Another of those green
balls fell and burst, as it actually appeared
to him, before his horrified eyes, and the
bellow and blare of the explosion made him
cry out in a madness of fright and physical
pain. In the illumination he had seen a
cabin only a few feet in front of him, and
toward it he made frantically, with an ani-
mal's instinctive desire for shelter.
The door did not yield at once to his
pressure, and in the panic of his fear he
threw his weight against it. There was a
cry from within, a fall, and Henderson flung
himself in the cabin and closed the door.
In the dusk of the storm he saw a woman
half prostrate. It was she whom he had
pushed from the door. He caught the hook
in its staple, and turned to raise her. She
was not trembling as much as he, but, like
himself, she was dizzy with the shock of
the lightning. In the midst of all the
clamor Henderson heard a shrill crying, and
looking toward the side of the room, he
dimly perceived three tiny forms crouched
in one of the bunks. The woman took the
smallest of the children in her arms, and
kissed and soothed it; and Henderson, after
he had thrown a blanket at the bottom of
the door to keep out the drifting rain, sat
with his back to it, bracing it against the
wind, lest the frail staple should give way.
He managed some way to reach out and lay
hold of the other little ones, and got them
in his arms, -- a boy, so tiny he seemed
hardly human, and a girl somewhat sturdier.
They cuddled in his arms, and clutched his
clothes with their frantic little hands, and
the three sat so while the earth and the
heavens seemed to be meeting in angry
And back and forth, back and forth, in
the dimness swayed the body of the woman,
hushing her babe.
Almost as suddenly as the darkness had
fallen, it lifted. The lightning ceased to
threaten, and almost frolicked, -- little way-
ward flashes of white and yellow dancing
in mid-air. The wind wailed less frequently,
like a child who sobs in its sleep. And at
last Henderson could make his voice heard.
"Is there anything to build a fire with?"
he shouted. "The children are shiver-
The woman pointed to a basket of buffalo
chips in the corner, and he wrapped his
little companions up in a blanket while he
made a fire in the cooking-stove. The baby
was sleeping by this time, and the woman
began tidying the cabin, and when the
fire was burning brightly, she put some
"I wish I had some clothes to offer you,"
she said, when the wind had subsided suffi-
ciently to make talking possible. "I'm
afraid you'll have to let them get dry on you."
"Oh, that's of no consequence at all!
We're lucky to get off with our lives. I
never saw anything so terrible. Fancy!
half an hour ago it was summer; now it is
"It seems rather sudden when you're not
used to it," the woman admitted. "I've
lived in the West six years now; you can't
frighten me any more. We never die out
here before our time comes."
"You seem to know that I haven't been
here long," said Henderson, with some
"Yes," admitted the woman; "you have
the ear-marks of a man from the East."
She was a tall woman, with large blue
eyes, and a remarkable quantity of yellow
hair braided on top of her head. Her gown
was of calico, of such a pattern as a widow
"I haven't been out of town a week yet,"
she said. "We're not half settled. Not
having any one to help makes it harder;
and the baby is rather fretful."
"But you're not alone with all these little
codgers?" cried Henderson, in dismay.
The woman turned toward him with a sort
of defiance. "Yes, I am," she said; "and
I'm as strong as a horse, and I mean to get
through all right. Here were the three
children in my arms, you may say, and no
way to get in a cent. I wasn't going to
stand it just to please other folk. I said,
let them talk if they want to, but I'm going
to hold down a claim, and be accumulating
something while the children are getting up
a bit. Oh, I'm not afraid!"
In spite of this bold assertion of bravery,
there was a sort of break in her voice. She
was putting dishes on the table as she talked,
and turned some ham in the skillet, and got
the children up before the fire, and dropped
some eggs in water, -- all with a rapidity that
"How long have you been alone?" he
"Three months before baby was born,
and he's five months old now. I -- I -- you
think I can get on here, don't you? There
was nothing else to do."
She was folding another blanket over the
sleeping baby now, and the action brought
to her guest the recollection of a thousand
tender moments of his dimly remembered
"You'll get on if we have anything to do
with it," he cried, suppressing an oath with
difficulty, just from pure emotion.
And he told her about the three Johns'
ranch, and found it was only three miles
distant, and that both were on the same
road; only her cabin, having been put up
during the past week, had of course been
unknown to him. So it ended in a sort of
compact that they were to help each other
in such ways as they could. Meanwhile the
fire got genial, and the coffee filled the cabin
with its comfortable scent, and all of them
ate together quite merrily, Henderson cut-
ting up the ham for the youngsters; and he
told how he chanced to come out; and she
entertained him with stories of what she
thought at first when she was brought a
bride to Hamilton, the adjacent village, and
convulsed him with stories of the people,
whom she saw with humorous eyes.
Henderson marvelled how she could in
those few minutes have rescued the cabin
from the desolation in which the storm had
plunged it. Out of the window he could
see the stricken grasses dripping cold moist-
ure, and the sky still angrily plunging for-
ward like a disturbed sea. Not a tree or a
house broke the view. The desolation of it
swept over him as it never had before. But
within the little ones were chattering to
themselves in odd baby dialect, and the
mother was laughing with them.
"Women aren't always useless," she said,
at parting; "and you tell your chums that
when they get hungry for a slice of home-
made bread they can get it here. And the
next time they go by, I want them to stop
in and look at the children. It'll do them
good. They may think they won't enjoy
themselves, but they will."
"Oh, I'll answer for that!" cried he,
shaking hands with her. "I'll tell them we
have just the right sort of a neighbor."
"Thank you," said she, heartily. "And
you may tell them that her name is Cathe-
Once at home, he told his story.
"H'm!" said Gillispie, "I guess I'll have
to go to town myself to-morrow."
Henderson looked at him blackly. "She's
a woman alone, Gillispie," said he, severely,
"trying to make her way with handicaps -- "
"Shet up, can't ye, ye darned fool?"
roared Gillispie. "What do yeh take me
Waite was putting on his rubber coat
preparatory to going out for his night with
the cattle. "Guess you're makin' a mistake,
my boy," he said, gently. "There ain't no
danger of any woman bein' treated rude in
"I know it, by Jove!" cried Henderson,
in quick contriteness.
"All right," grunted Gillispie, in tacit
acceptance of this apology. "I guess you
thought you was in civilized parts."
Two days after this Waite came in late
to his supper. "Well, I seen her," he
"Oh! did you?" cried Henderson, know-
ing perfectly well whom he meant. "What
was she doing?"
"Killin' snakes, b'gosh! She says th'
baby's crazy fur um, an' so she takes aroun'
a hoe on her shoulder wherever she goes,
an' when she sees a snake, she has it out
with 'im then an' there. I says to 'er, 'Yer
don't expec' t' git all th' snakes outen this
here country, d' yeh?' 'Well,' she says,
'I'm as good a man as St. Patrick any day.'
She is a jolly one, Henderson. She tuk
me in an' showed me th' kids, and give me
a loaf of gingerbread to bring home. Here
it is; see?"
"Hu!" said Gillispie. "I'm not in it."
But for all of his scorn he was not above
eating the gingerbread.
It was gardening time, and the three
Johns were putting in every spare moment
in the little paling made of willow twigs
behind the house. It was little enough
time they had, though, for the cattle were
new to each other and to the country, and
they were hard to manage. It was generally
conceded that Waite had a genius for herd-
ing, and he could take the "mad" out of a
fractious animal in a way that the others
looked on as little less than superhuman.
Thus it was that one day, when the clay had
been well turned, and the seeds arranged on
the kitchen table, and all things prepared
for an afternoon of busy planting, that Waite
and Henderson, who were needed out with
the cattle, felt no little irritation at the inex-
plicable absence of Gillispie, who was to
look after the garden. It was quite night-
fall when he at last returned. Supper was
ready, although it had been Gillispie's turn
to prepare it.
Henderson was sore from his saddle, and
cross at having to do more than his share
of the work. "Damn yeh!" he cried, as
Gillispie appeared. "Where yeh been?"
"Making garden," responded Gillispie,
"Making garden!" Henderson indulged
in some more harmless oaths.
Just then Gillispie drew from under his
coat a large and friendly looking apple-pie.
"Yes," he said, with emphasis; "I've bin
a-makin' garden fur Mis' Ford."
And so it came about that the three Johns
knew her and served her, and that she never
had a need that they were not ready to
supply if they could. Not one of them
would have thought of going to town with-
out stopping to inquire what was needed
at the village. As for Catherine Ford, she
was fighting her way with native pluck and
maternal unselfishness. If she had feared
solitude she did not suffer from it. The
activity of her life stifled her fresh sorrow.
She was pleasantly excited by the rumors
that a railroad was soon to be built near the
place, which would raise the value of the
claim she was "holding down" many thou-
It is marvellous how sorrow shrinks when
one is very healthy and very much occupied.
Although poverty was her close companion,
Catherine had no thought of it in this prim-
itive manner of living. She had come out
there, with the independence and determi-
nation of a Western woman, for the purpose
of living at the least possible expense, and
making the most she could while the baby
was "getting out of her arms." That process
has its pleasures, which every mother feels
in spite of burdens, and the mind is happily
dulled by nature's merciful provision. With
a little child tugging at the breast, care and
fret vanish, not because of the happiness
so much as because of a certain mammal
complacency, which is not at all intellectual,
but serves its purpose better than the pro-
foundest method of reasoning.
So without any very unbearable misery at
her recent widowhood, this healthy young
woman worked in field and house, cared for
her little ones, milked the two cows out in
the corral, sewed, sang, rode, baked, and
was happy for very wholesomeness. Some-
times she reproached herself that she was
not more miserable, remembering that long
grave back in the unkempt little prairie
cemetery, and she sat down to coax her
sorrow into proper prominence. But the
baby cooing at her from its bunk, the low
of the cattle from the corral begging her to
relieve their heavy bags, the familiar call
of one of her neighbors from without, even
the burning sky of the summer dawns, broke
the spell of this conjured sorrow, and in
spite of herself she was again a very hearty
and happy young woman. Besides, if one
has a liking for comedy, it is impossible to
be dull on a Nebraska prairie. The people
are a merrier divertissement than the theatre
with its hackneyed stories. Catherine Ford
laughed a good deal, and she took the three
Johns into her confidence, and they laughed
with her. There was Minerva Fitch, who
insisted on coming over to tell Catherine
how to raise her children, and who was
almost offended that the children wouldn't
die of sunstroke when she predicted. And
there was Bob Ackerman, who had inflam-
matory rheumatism and a Past, and who
confided the latter to Mrs. Ford while she
doctored the former with homoeopathic
medicines. And there were all the strange
visionaries who came out prospecting, and
quite naturally drifted to Mrs. Ford's cabin
for a meal, and paid her in compliments of
a peculiarly Western type. And there were
the three Johns themselves. Catherine con-
sidered it no treason to laugh at them a
Yet at Waite she did not laugh much.
There had come to be something pathetic in
the constant service he rendered her. The
beginning of his more particular devotion
had started in a particular way. Malaria
was very bad in the country. It had carried
off some of the most vigorous on the prairie,
and twice that summer Catherine herself had
laid out the cold forms of her neighbors on
ironing-boards, and, with the assistance of
Bill Deems of Missourah, had read the
burial service over them. She had averted
several other fatal runs of fever by the con-
tents of her little medicine-case. These
remedies she dealt out with an intelligence
that astonished her patients, until it was
learned that she was studying medicine at
the time that she met her late husband, and
was persuaded to assume the responsibilities
of matrimony instead of those of the medi-
One day in midsummer, when the sun
was focussing itself on the raw pine boards
of her shanty, and Catherine had the shades
drawn for coolness and the water-pitcher
swathed in wet rags, East Indian fashion,
she heard the familiar halloo of Waite down
the road. This greeting, which was usually
sent to her from the point where the dip-
ping road lifted itself into the first view of
the house, did not contain its usual note of
cheerfulness. Catherine, wiping her hands
on her checked apron, ran out to wave a
welcome; and Waite, his squat body looking
more distorted than ever, his huge shoulders
lurching as he walked, came fairly plung-
ing down the hill.
"It's all up with Henderson!" he cried,
as Catherine approached. "He's got the
malery, an' he says he's dyin'."
"That's no sign he's dying, because he
says so," retorted Catherine.
"He wants to see yeh," panted Waite,
mopping his big ugly head. "I think he's
got somethin' particular to say."
"How long has he been down?"
"Three days; an' yeh wouldn't know
The children were playing on the floor at
that side of the house where it was least
hot. Catherine poured out three bowls of
milk, and cut some bread, meanwhile telling
Kitty how to feed the baby.
"She's a sensible thing, is the little
daughter," said Catherine, as she tied on
her sunbonnet and packed a little basket
with things from the cupboard. She kissed
the babies tenderly, flung her hoe -- her
only weapon of defence -- over her shoulder,
and the two started off.
They did not speak, for their throats were
soon too parched. The prairie was burned
brown with the sun; the grasses curled as
if they had been on a gridiron. A strong
wind was blowing; but it brought no com-
fort, for it was heavy with a scorching heat.
The skin smarted and blistered under it, and
the eyes felt as if they were filled with sand.
The sun seemed to swing but a little way
above the earth, and though the sky was
intensest blue, around about this burning
ball there was a halo of copper, as if the
very ether were being consumed in yellow
Waite put some big burdock-leaves on
Catherine's head under her bonnet, and now
and then he took a bottle of water from his
pocket and made her swallow a mouthful.
She staggered often as she walked, and the
road was black before her. Still, it was not
very long before the oddly shaped shack of
the three Johns came in sight; and as he
caught a glimpse of it, Waite quickened his
"What if he should be gone?" he said,
under his breath.
"Oh, come off!" said Catherine, angrily.
"He's not gone. You make me tired!"
But she was trembling when she stopped
just before the door to compose herself for
a moment. Indeed, she trembled so very
much that Waite put out his sprawling hand
to steady her. She gently felt the pressure
tightening, and Waite whispered in her ear:
"I guess I'd stand by him as well as any-
body, excep' you, Mis' Ford. He's been
my bes' friend. But I guess you like him
Catherine raised her finger. She could
hear Henderson's voice within; it was
pitiably querulous. He was half sitting up
in his bunk, and Gillispie had just handed
him a plate on which two cakes were swim-
ming in black molasses and pork gravy.
Henderson looked at it a moment; then
over his face came a look of utter despair.
He dropped his head in his arms and broke
into uncontrolled crying.
"Oh, my God, Gillispie," he sobbed, "I
shall die out here in this wretched hole! I
want my mother. Great God, Gillispie, am
I going to die without ever seeing my
Gillispie, maddened at this anguish, which
he could in no way alleviate, sought comfort
by first lighting his pipe and then taking his
revolver out of his hip-pocket and playing
with it. Henderson continued to shake with
sobs, and Catherine, who had never before
in her life heard a man cry, leaned against
the door for a moment to gather courage.
Then she ran into the house quickly, laugh-
ing as she came. She took Henderson's
arms away from his face and laid him back
on the pillow, and she stooped over him
and kissed his forehead in the most matter-
"That's what your mother would do if she
were here," she cried, merrily. "Where's
She washed his face and hands a long
time, till they were cool and his convulsive
sobs had ceased. Then she took a slice of
thin bread from her basket and a spoonful
of amber jelly. She beat an egg into some
milk and dropped a little liquor within it,
and served them together on the first clean
napkin that had been in the cabin of the
three Johns since it was built
At this the great fool on the bed cried
again, only quietly, tears of weak happi-
ness running from his feverish eyes. And
Catherine straightened the disorderly cabin.
She came every day for two weeks, and by
that time Henderson, very uncertain as to the
strength of his legs, but once more accoutred
in his native pluck, sat up in a chair, for
which she had made clean soft cushions,
writing a letter to his mother. The floor
was scrubbed; the cabin had taken to itself
cupboards made of packing-boxes; it had
clothes-presses and shelves; curtains at the
windows; boxes for all sort of necessaries,
from flour to tobacco; and a cook-book on
the wall, with an inscription within which
was more appropriate than respectful.
The day that she announced that she
would have no further call to come back,
Waite, who was looking after the house
while Gillispie was afield, made a little
"After this here," he said, "we four
stands er falls together. Now look here,
there's lots of things can happen to a person
on this cussed praira, and no one be none
th' wiser. So see here, Mis' Ford, every
night one of us is a-goin' to th' roof of this
shack. From there we can see your place.
If anything is th' matter -- it don't signify
how little er how big -- you hang a lantern
on th' stick that I'll put alongside th' house
to-morrow. Yeh can h'ist th' light up with
a string, and every mornin' before we go
out we'll look too, and a white rag'll bring us
quick as we can git there. We don't say
nothin' about what we owe yeh, fur that
ain't our way, but we sticks to each other
from this on."
Catherine's eyes were moist. She looked
at Henderson. His face had no expression
in it at all. He did not even say good-by
to her, and she turned, with the tears sud-
denly dried under her lids, and walked
down the road in the twilight.
Weeks went by, and though Gillispie and
Waite were often at Catherine's, Henderson
never came. Gillispie gave it out as his
opinion that Henderson was an ungrateful
puppy; but Waite said nothing. This
strange man, who seemed like a mere unto-
ward accident of nature, had changed dur-
ing the summer. His big ill-shaped body
had grown more gaunt; his deep-set gray
eyes had sunk deeper; the gentleness which
had distinguished him even on the wild
ranges of Montana became more marked.
Late in August he volunteered to take on
himself the entire charge of the night
"It's nicer to be out at night," he said
to Catherine. "Then you don't keep look-
ing off at things; you can look inside;" and
he struck his breast with his splay hand.
Cattle are timorous under the stars. The
vastness of the plains, the sweep of the wind
under the unbroken arch, frighten them;
they are made for the close comforts of the
barn-yard; and the apprehension is con-
tagious, as every ranchman knows. Waite
realized the need of becoming good friends
with his animals. Night after night, riding
up and down in the twilight of the stars, or
dozing, rolled in his blanket, in the shelter
of a knoll, he would hear a low roar; it
was the cry of the alarmist. Then from
every direction the cattle would rise with
trembling awkwardness on their knees, and
answer, giving out sullen bellowings. Some
of them would begin to move from place to
place, spreading the baseless alarm, and
then came the time for action, else over the
plain in mere fruitless frenzy would go the
whole frantic band, lashed to madness by
their own fears, trampling each other, heed-
less of any obstacle, in pitiable, deadly rout.
Waite knew the premonitory signs well, and
at the first warning bellow he was on his
feet, alert and determined, his energy
nerved for a struggle in which he always
Waite had a secret which he told to none,
knowing, in his unanalytical fashion, that it
would not be believed in. But soon as ever
the dark heads of the cattle began to lift
themselves, he sent a resonant voice out
into the stillness. The songs he sang were
hymns, and he made them into a sort of
imperative lullaby. Waite let his lungs
and soul fill with the breath of the night;
he gave himself up to the exaltation of
mastering those trembling brutes. Mount-
ing, melodious, with even and powerful
swing he let his full notes fall on the air
in the confidence of power, and one by one
the reassured cattle would lie down again,
lowing in soft contentment, and so fall
asleep with noses stretched out in mute
attention, till their presence could hardly
be guessed except for the sweet aroma of
One night in the early dusk, he saw Cath-
erine Ford hastening across the prairie with
Bill Deems. He sent a halloo out to them,
which they both answered as they ran on.
Waite knew on what errand of mercy Cath-
erine was bent, and he thought of the chil-
dren over at the cabin alone. The cattle
were quiet, the night beautiful, and he con-
cluded that it was safe enough, since he was
on his pony, to ride down there about mid-
night and see that the little ones were safe.
The dark sky, pricked with points of in-
tensest light, hung over him so beneficently
that in his heart there leaped a joy which
even his ever-present sorrow could not dis-
turb. This sorrow Waite openly admitted
not only to himself, but to others. He had
said to Catherine: "You see, I'll always hev
to love yeh. An' yeh'll not git cross with
me; I'm not goin' to be in th' way." And
Catherine had told him, with tears in her
eyes, that his love could never be but a com-
fort to any woman. And these words, which
the poor fellow had in no sense mistaken,
comforted him always, became part of his
joy as he rode there, under those piercing
stars, to look after her little ones. He found
them sleeping in their bunks, the baby tight
in Kitty's arms, the little boy above them in
the upper bunk, with his hand in the long
hair of his brown spaniel. Waite softly
kissed each of them, so Kitty, who was half
waking, told her mother afterwards, and
then, bethinking him that Catherine might
not be able to return in time for their break-
fast, found the milk and bread, and set it for
them on the table. Catherine had been
writing, and her unfinished letter lay open
beside the ink. He took up the pen and
"The childdren was all asleep at twelv.
He had not more than got on his pony
again before he heard an ominous sound
that made his heart leap. It was a frantic
dull pounding of hoofs. He knew in a
second what it meant. There was a stam-
pede among the cattle. If the animals had
all been his, he would not have lost his sense
of judgment. But the realization that he
had voluntarily undertaken the care of them,
and that the larger part of them belonged
to his friends, put him in a passion of appre-
hension that, as a ranchman, was almost in-
explicable. He did the very thing of all
others that no cattle-man in his right senses
would think of doing. Gillispie and Hender-
son, talking it over afterward, were never
able to understand it. It is possible -- just
barely possible -- that Waite, still drunk on
his solitary dreams, knew what he was doing,
and chose to bring his little chapter to an
end while the lines were pleasant. At any
rate, he rode straight forward, shouting and
waving his arms in an insane endeavor to
head off that frantic mob. The noise woke
the children, and they peered from the
window as the pawing and bellowing herd
plunged by, trampling the young steers
under their feet.
In the early morning, Catherine Ford, spent
both in mind and body, came walking slowly
home. In her heart was a prayer of thanks-
giving. Mary Deems lay sleeping back in
her comfortless shack, with her little son by
"The wonder of God is in it," said Cath-
erine to herself as she walked home. "All
the ministers of all the world could not have
preached me such a sermon as I've had
So dim had been the light and so per-
turbed her mind that she had not noticed
how torn and trampled was the road. But
suddenly a bulk in her pathway startled her.
It was the dead and mangled body of a steer.
She stooped over it to read the brand on its
flank. "It's one of the three Johns'," she
cried out, looking anxiously about her.
"How could that have happened?"
The direction which the cattle had taken
was toward her house, and she hastened
homeward. And not a quarter of a mile
from her door she found the body of Waite
beside that of his pony, crushed out of its
familiar form into something unspeakably
shapeless. In her excitement she half
dragged, half carried that mutilated body
home, and then ran up her signal of alarm
on the stick that Waite himself had erected
for her convenience. She thought it would
be a long time before any one reached her,
but she had hardly had time to bathe the
disfigured face and straighten the disfigured
body before Henderson was pounding at her
door. Outside stood his pony panting from
its terrific exertions. Henderson had not
seen her before for six weeks. Now he
stared at her with frightened eyes.
"What is it? What is it?" he cried.
"What has happened to you, my -- my
At least afterward, thinking it over as she
worked by day or tossed in her narrow bunk
at night, it seemed to Catherine that those
were the words he spoke. Yet she could
never feel sure; nothing in his manner after
that justified the impassioned anxiety of his
manner in those first few uncertain moments;
for a second later he saw the body of his
friend and learned the little that Catherine
knew. They buried him the next day in a
little hollow where there was a spring and
some wild aspens.
"He never liked the prairie," Catherine
said, when she selected the spot. "And I
want him to lie as sheltered as possible."
After he had been laid at rest, and she
was back, busy with tidying her neglected
shack, she fell to crying so that the children
"There's no one left to care what becomes
of us," she told them, bitterly. "We might
starve out here for all that any one cares."
And all through the night her tears fell,
and she told herself that they were all for the
man whose last thought was for her and her
babies; she told herself over and over again
that her tears were all for him. After this
the autumn began to hurry on, and the snow
fell capriciously, days of biting cold giving
place to retrospective glances at summer.
The last of the vegetables were taken out of
the garden and buried in the cellar; and a
few tons of coal -- dear almost as diamonds
-- were brought out to provide against the
severest weather. Ordinarily buffalo chips
were the fuel. Catherine was alarmed at
the way her wretched little store of money
began to vanish. The baby was fretful with
its teething, and was really more care than
when she nursed it. The days shortened,
and it seemed to her that she was forever
working by lamp-light The prairies were
brown and forbidding, the sky often a mere
gray pall. The monotony of the life began
to seem terrible. Sometimes her ears ached
for a sound. For a time in the summer so
many had seemed to need her that she had
been happy in spite of her poverty and her
loneliness. Now, suddenly, no one wanted
her. She could find no source of inspiration.
She wondered how she was going to live
through the winter, and keep her patience
and her good-nature.
"You'll love me," she said, almost fiercely,
one night to the children -- "you'll love
mamma, no matter how cross and homely
she gets, won't you?"
The cold grew day by day. A strong
winter was setting in. Catherine took up
her study of medicine again, and sat over
her books till midnight. It occurred to her
that she might fit herself for nursing by
spring, and that the children could be put
with some one -- she did not dare to think
with whom. But this was the only solution
she could find to her problem of existence.
November settled down drearily. Few
passed the shack. Catherine, who had no
one to speak with excepting the children,
continually devised amusements for them.
They got to living in a world of fantasy,
and were never themselves, but always wild
Indians, or arctic explorers, or Robinson
Crusoes. Kitty and Roderick, young as
they were, found a never-ending source of
amusement in these little grotesque dreams
and dramas. The fund of money was get-
ting so low that Catherine was obliged to
economize even in the necessities. If it had
not been for her two cows, she would hardly
have known how to find food for her little
ones. But she had a wonderful way of mak-
ing things with eggs and milk, and she kept
her little table always inviting. The day
before Thanksgiving she determined that
they should all have a frolic.
"By Christmas," she said to Kitty, "the
snow may be so bad that I cannot get
to town. We'll have our high old time
There is no denying that Catherine used
slang even in talking to the children. The
little pony had been sold long ago, and
going to town meant a walk of twelve miles.
But Catherine started out early in the
morning, and was back by nightfall, not
so very much the worse, and carrying in
her arms bundles which might have fatigued
The next morning she was up early, and
was as happy and ridiculously excited over
the prospect of the day's merrymaking as
if she had been Kitty. Busy as she was,
she noticed a peculiar oppression in the air,
which intensified as the day went on. The
sky seemed to hang but a little way above
the rolling stretch of frost-bitten grass. But
Kitty laughing over her new doll, Roderick
startling the sullen silence with his drum,
the smell of the chicken, slaughtered to
make a prairie holiday, browning in the
oven, drove all apprehensions from Cath-
erine's mind. She was a common creature.
Such very little things could make her happy.
She sang as she worked; and what with the
drumming of her boy, and the little exulting
shrieks of her baby, the shack was filled with
a deafening and exhilarating din.
It was a little past noon, when she became
conscious that there was sweeping down on
her a gray sheet of snow and ice, and not
till then did she realize what those lowering
clouds had signified. For one moment she
stood half paralyzed. She thought of every-
thing, -- of the cattle, of the chance for being
buried in this drift, of the stock of provi-
sions, of the power of endurance of the
children. While she was still thinking, the
first ice-needles of the blizzard came pepper-
ing the windows. The cattle ran bellowing
to the lee side of the house and crouched
there, and the chickens scurried for the coop.
Catherine seized such blankets and bits of
carpet as she could find, and crammed them
at windows and doors. Then she piled coal
on the fire, and clothed the children in all
they had that was warmest, their out-door gar-
ments included; and with them close about
her, she sat and waited. The wind seemed
to push steadily at the walls of the house.
The howling became horrible. She could
see that the children were crying with fright,
but she could not hear them. The air was
dusky; the cold, in spite of the fire, intol-
erable. In every crevice of the wretched
structure the ice and snow made their way.
It came through the roof, and began piling
up in little pointed strips under the crevices.
Catherine put the children all together in
one bunk, covered them with all the bed-
clothes she had, and then stood before them
defiantly, facing the west, from whence the
wind was driving. Not suddenly, but by
steady pressure, at length the window-sash
yielded, and the next moment that whirlwind
was in the house, -- a maddening tumult of
ice and wind, leaving no room for resistance;
a killing cold, against which it was futile to
fight. Catherine threw the bedclothes over
the heads of the children, and then threw
herself across the bunk, gasping and chok-
ing for breath. Her body would not have
yielded to the suffering yet, so strongly
made and sustained was it; but her dismay
stifled her. She saw in one horrified moment
the frozen forms of her babies, now so pink
and pleasant to the sense; and oblivion came
to save her from further misery.
She was alive -- just barely alive -- when
Gillispie and Henderson got there, three
hours later, the very balls of their eyes
almost frozen into blindness. But for an
instinct stronger than reason they would
never have been able to have found their
way across that trackless stretch. The chil-
dren lying unconscious under their coverings
were neither dead nor actually frozen, al-
though the men putting their hands on their
little hearts could not at first discover the
beating. Stiff and suffering as these young
fellows were, it was no easy matter to get
the window back into place and re-light the
fire. They had tied flasks of liquor about
their waists; and this beneficent fluid they
used with that sense of appreciation which
only a pioneer can feel toward whiskey. It
was hours before Catherine rewarded them
with a gleam of consciousness. Her body
had been frozen in many places. Her arms,
outstretched over her children and holding
the clothes down about them, were rigid.
But consciousness came at length, dimly
struggling up through her brain; and over
her she saw her friends rubbing and rubbing
those strong firm arms of hers with snow.
She half raised her head, with a horror of
comprehension in her eyes, and listened. A
cry answered her, -- a cry of dull pain from
the baby. Henderson dropped on his knees
"They are all safe," he said. "And we
will never leave you again. I have been
afraid to tell you how I love you. I thought
I might offend you. I thought I ought to
wait -- you know why. But I will never let
you run the risks of this awful life alone
again. You must rename the baby. From
this day his name is John. And we will
have the three Johns again back at the old
ranch. It doesn't matter whether you love
me or not, Catherine, I am going to take
care of you just the same. Gillispie agrees
"Damme, yes," muttered Gillispie, feeling
of his hip-pocket for consolation in his old
Catherine struggled to find her voice, but
it would not come.
"Do not speak," whispered John. "Tell
me with your eyes whether you will come
as my wife or only as our sister."
Catherine told him.
"This is Thanksgiving day," said he.
"And we don't know much about praying,
but I guess we all have something in our
hearts that does just as well."
"Damme, yes," said Gillispie, again, as
he pensively cocked and uncocked his re-
AFTER being dead twenty years, he
walked out into the sunshine.
It was as if the bones of a bleached skele-
ton should join themselves on some forgotten
plain, and look about them for the vanished
To be dead it is not necessary to be in
the grave. There are places where the
worms creep about the heart instead of the
The penitentiary is one of these.
David Culross had been in the penitentiary
twenty years. Now, with that worm-eaten
heart, he came out into liberty and looked
about him for the habiliments with which
he had formerly clothed himself, -- for
hope, self-respect, courage, pugnacity, and
But they had vanished and left no trace,
like the flesh of the dead men on the plains,
and so, morally unapparelled, in the hideous
skeleton of his manhood, he walked on down
the street under the mid-June sunshine.
You can understand, can you not, how a
skeleton might wish to get back into its
comfortable grave? David Culross had not
walked two blocks before he was seized
with an almost uncontrollable desire to beg
to be shielded once more in that safe and
shameful retreat from which he had just
been released. A horrible perception of the
largeness of the world swept over him.
Space and eternity could seem no larger
to the usual man than earth -- that snug
and insignificant planet -- looked to David
"If I go back," he cried, despairingly,
looking up to the great building that arose
above the stony hills, "they will not take
me in." He was absolutely without a refuge,
utterly without a destination; he did not
have a hope. There was nothing he desired
except the surrounding of those four narrow
walls between which he had lain at night
and dreamed those ever-recurring dreams, --
dreams which were never prophecies or
promises, but always the hackneyed history
of what he had sacrificed by his crime, and
relinquished by his pride.
The men who passed him looked at him
with mingled amusement and pity. They
knew the "prison look," and they knew the
prison clothes. For though the State gives
to its discharged convicts clothes which are
like those of other men, it makes a hundred
suits from the same sort of cloth. The
police know the fabric, and even the citizens
recognize it. But, then, were each man
dressed in different garb he could not be
disguised. Every one knows in what dull
school that sidelong glance is learned, that
aimless drooping of the shoulders, that
rhythmic lifting of the heavy foot.
David Culross wondered if his will were
dead. He put it to the test. He lifted up
his head to a position which it had not held
for many miserable years. He put his hands
in his pockets in a pitiful attempt at non-
chalance, and walked down the street with
a step which was meant to be brisk, but
which was in fact only uncertain. In his
pocket were ten dollars. This much the
State equips a man with when it sends him
out of its penal halls. It gives him also
transportation to any point within reasonable
distance that he may desire to reach. Cul-
ross had requested a ticket to Chicago. He
naturally said Chicago. In the long color-
less days it had been in Chicago that all
those endlessly repeated scenes had been
laid. Walking up the street now with that
wavering ineffectual gait, these scenes came
back to surge in his brain like waters cease-
lessly tossed in a wind-swept basin.
There was the office, bare and clean, where
the young stoop-shouldered clerks sat writ-
ing. In their faces was a strange resem-
blance, just as there was in the backs of the
ledgers, and in the endless bills on the
spindles. If one of them laughed, it was
not with gayety, but with gratification at
the discomfiture of another. None of them
ate well. None of them were rested after
sleep. All of them rode on the stuffy one-
horse cars to and from their work. Sun-
days they lay in bed very late, and ate more
dinner than they could digest. There was
a certain fellowship among them, -- such fel-
lowship as a band of captives among canni-
bals might feel, each of them waiting with
vital curiosity to see who was the next to be
eaten. But of that fellowship that plans in
unison, suffers in sympathy, enjoys vicari-
ously, strengthens into friendship and com-
munion of soul they knew nothing. Indeed,
such camaraderie would have been disap-
proved of by the Head Clerk. He would
have looked on an emotion with exactly the
same displeasure that he would on an error
in the footing of the year's accounts. It was
tacitly understood that one reached the
proud position of Head Clerk by having no
Culross did not remember having been
born with a pen in his hand, or even with one
behind his ear; but certainly from the day he
had been let out of knickerbockers his con-
stant companion had been that greatly over-
estimated article. His father dying at a time
that cut short David's school-days, he went
out armed with his new knowledge of double-
entry, determined to make a fortune and a
commercial name. Meantime, he lived in a
suite of three rooms on West Madison Street
with his mother, who was a good woman,
and lived where she did that she might
be near her favorite meeting-house. She
prayed, and cooked bad dinners, principally
composed of dispiriting pastry. Her idea
of house-keeping was to keep the shades
down, whatever happened; and when David
left home in the evening for any purpose of
pleasure, she wept. David persuaded him-
self that he despised amusement, and went
to bed each night at half-past nine in a
folding bedstead in the front room, and, by
becoming absolutely stolid from mere vege-
tation, imagined that he was almost fit to be
a Head Clerk.
Walking down the street now after the
twenty years, thinking of these dead but inno-
cent days, this was the picture he saw; and as
he reflected upon it, even the despoiled and
desolate years just passed seemed richer by
He reached the station thus dreaming, and
found, as he had been told when the warden
bade him good-by, that a train was to be at
hand directly bound to the city. A few
moments later he was on that train. Well
back in the shadow, and out of sight of the
other passengers, he gave himself up to the
enjoyment of the comfortable cushion. He
would willingly have looked from the win-
dow, -- green fields were new and wonderful;
drifting clouds a marvel; men, houses, horses,
farms, all a revelation, -- but those haunting
visions were at him again, and would not
leave brain or eye free for other things.
But the next scene had warmer tints. It
was the interior of a rich room, -- crimson
and amber fabrics, flowers, the gleam of a
statue beyond the drapings; the sound of a
tender piano unflinging a familiar melody,
and a woman. She was just a part of all the
He himself, very timid and conscious of
his awkwardness, sat near, trying barrenly
to get some of his thoughts out of his brain
on to his tongue.
"Strange, isn't it," the woman broke in
on her own music, "that we have seen each
other so very often and never spoken? I've
often thought introductions were ridiculous.
Fancy seeing a person year in and year
out, and really knowing all about him, and
being perfectly acquainted with his name
-- at least his or her name, you know -- and
then never speaking! Some one comes
along, and says, 'Miss Le Baron, this is Mr.
Culross,' just as if one didn't know that all
the time! And there you are! You cease
to be dumb folks, and fall to talking, and
say a lot of things neither of you care about,
and after five or six weeks of time and sun-
dry meetings, get down to honestly saying
what you mean. I'm so glad we've got
through with that first stage, and can say
what we think and tell what we really like."
Then the playing began again, -- a harp-
like intermingling of soft sounds. Zoe Le
Baron's hands were very girlish. Every-
thing about her was unformed. Even her
mind was so. But all promised a full com-
pletion. The voice, the shoulders, the smile,
the words, the lips, the arms, the whole
mind and body, were rounding to maturity.
"Why do you never come to church in
the morning?" asks Miss Le Baron, wheel-
ing around on her piano-stool suddenly.
"You are only there at night, with your
"I go only on her account," replies David,
truthfully. "In the morning I am so tired
with the week's work that I rest at home.
I ought to go, I know."
"Yes, you ought," returns the young
woman, gravely. "It doesn't really rest
one to lie in bed like that. I've tried it at
boarding-school. It was no good whatever."
"Should you advise me," asks David,
in a confiding tone, "to arise early on
The girl blushes a little. "By all means!"
she cries, her eyes twinkling, "and -- and
come to church. Our morning sermons are
really very much better than those in the
evening." And she plays a waltz, and what
with the music and the warmth of the room
and the perfume of the roses, a something
nameless and mystical steals over the poor
clerk, and swathes him about like the fumes
of opium. They are alone. The silence is
made deeper by that rhythmic unswelling
of sound. As the painter flushes the bare
wall into splendor, these emotions illumi-
nated his soul, and gave to it that high cour-
age that comes when men or women suddenly
realize that each life has its significance, --
their own lives no less than the lives of
The man sitting there in the shadow in
that noisy train saw in his vision how the
lad arose and moved, like one under a spell,
toward the piano. He felt again the en-
chantment of the music-ridden quiet, of the
perfume, and the presence of the woman.
"Knowing you and speaking with you
have not made much difference with me,"
he whispers, drunk on the new wine of
passion, "for I have loved you since I saw
you first. And though it is so sweet to hear
you speak, your voice is no more beautiful
than I thought it would be. I have loved
you a long time, and I want to know --"
The broken man in the shadow remem-
bered how the lad stopped, astonished at his
boldness and his fluency, overcome suddenly
at the thought of what he was saying. The
music stopped with a discord. The girl
arose, trembling and scarlet.
"I would not have believed it of you,"
she cries, "to take advantage of me like
this, when I am alone -- and -- everything.
You know very well that nothing but trouble
could come to either of us from your telling
me a thing like that."
He puts his hands up to his face to keep
off her anger. He is trembling with
Then she broke in penitently, trying to
pull his hands away from his hot face:
"Never mind! I know you didn't mean
anything. Be good, do, and don't spoil the
lovely times we have together. You know
very well father and mother wouldn't let us
see each other at all if they -- if they thought
you were saying anything such as you said
"Oh, but I can't help it!" cries the boy,
despairingly. "I have never loved anybody
at all till now. I don't mean not another
girl, you know. But you are the first being
I ever cared for. I sometimes think mother
cares for me because I pay the rent. And
the office -- you can't imagine what that is
like. The men in it are moving corpses.
They're proud to be that way, and so was I
till I knew you and learned what life was like.
All the happy moments I have had have
been here. Now, if you tell me that we are
not to care for each other --"
There was some one coming down the
hall. The curtain lifted. A middle-aged
man stood there looking at him.
"Culross," said he, "I'm disappointed in
you. I didn't mean to listen, but I couldn't
help hearing what you said just now. I
don't blame you particularly. Young men
will be fools. And I do not in any way
mean to insult you when I tell you to stop
your coming here. I don't want to see you
inside this door again, and after a while you
will thank me for it. You have taken a
very unfair advantage of my invitation. I
make allowances for your youth."
He held back the curtain for the lad to
pass out. David threw a miserable glance
at the girl. She was standing looking at
her father with an expression that David
could not fathom. He went into the hall,
picked up his hat, and walked out in
David wondered that night, walking the
chilly streets after he quitted the house, and
often, often afterward, if that comfortable
and prosperous gentleman, safe beyond the
perturbations of youth, had any idea of
what he had done. How COULD he know
anything of the black monotony of the life
of the man he turned from his door? The
"desk's dead wood" and all its hateful
slavery, the dull darkened rooms where his
mother prosed through endless evenings,
the bookless, joyless, hopeless existence
that had cramped him all his days rose up
before him, as a stretch of unbroken plain
may rise before a lost man till it maddens
The bowed man in the car-seat remem-
bered with a flush of reminiscent misery
how the lad turned suddenly in his walk
and entered the door of a drinking-room
that stood open. It was very comfortable
within. The screens kept out the chill of
the autumn night, the sawdust-sprinkled
floor was clean, the tables placed near
together, the bar glittering, the attendants
white-aproned and brisk.
David liked the place, and he liked better
still the laughter that came from a room
within. It had a note in it a little different
from anything he had ever heard before in
his life, and one that echoed his mood. He
ventured to ask if he might go into the
It does not mean much when most young
men go to a place like this. They take
their bit of unwholesome dissipation quietly
enough, and are a little coarser and more
careless each time they indulge in it, perhaps.
But certainly their acts, whatever gradual
deterioration they may indicate, bespeak no
sudden moral revolution. With this young
clerk it was different. He was a worse man
from the moment he entered the door, for
he did violence to his principles; he killed
He had been paid at the office that night,
and he had the money -- a week's miserable
pittance -- in his pocket. His every action
revealed the fact that he was a novice in
recklessness. His innocent face piqued the
men within. They gave him a welcome
that amazed him. Of course the rest of the
evening was a chaos to him. The throat
down which he poured the liquor was as
tender as a child's. The men turned his
head with their ironical compliments. Their
boisterous good-fellowship was as intoxicat-
ing to this poor young recluse as the liquor.
It was the revulsion from this feeling,
when he came to a consciousness that the
men were laughing at him and not with
him, that wrecked his life. He had gone
from beer to whiskey, and from whiskey to
brandy, by this time, at the suggestion of
the men, and was making awkward lunges
with a billiard cue, spurred on by the mock-
ing applause of the others. One young
fellow was particularly hilarious at his
expense. His jokes became insults, or so
they seemed to David.
A quarrel followed, half a jest on the part
of the other, all serious as far as David was
concerned. And then -- Well, who could
tell how it happened? The billiard cue was
in David's hand, and the skull of the jester
was split, a horrible gaping thing, revolt-
David never saw his home again. His
mother gave it out in church that her heart
was broken, and she wrote a letter to David
begging him to reform. She said she
would never cease to pray for him, that
he might return to grace. He had an
attorney, an impecunious and very aged
gentleman, whose life was a venerable
failure, and who talked so much about his
personal inconveniences from indigestion
that he forgot to take a very keen interest
in the concerns of his client. David's trial
made no sensation. He did not even have
the cheap sympathy of the morbid. The
court-room was almost empty the dull
spring day when the east wind beat against
the window, jangling the loose panes all
through the reading of the verdict.
Twenty years in the penitentiary!
David looked up at the judge and smiled.
Men have been known to smile that way
when the car-wheel crashes over their legs,
or a bullet lets the air through their lungs.
All that followed would have seemed
more terrible if it had not appeared to be
so remote. David had to assure himself
over and over that it was really he who was
put in that disgraceful dress, and locked in
that shameful walk from corridor to work-
room, from work-room to chapel. The work
was not much more monotonous than that
to which he had been accustomed in the
office. Here, as there, one was reproved
for not doing the required amount, but never
praised for extraordinary efforts. Here, as
there, the workers regarded each other with
dislike and suspicion. Here, as there, work
was a penalty and not a pleasure.
It is the nights that are to be dreaded in
a penitentiary. Speech eases the brain of
free men; but the man condemned to eter-
nal silence is bound to endure torments.
Thought, which might be a diversion, be-
comes a curse; it is a painful disease which
becomes chronic. It does not take long to
forget the days of the week and the months
of the year when time brings no variance.
David drugged himself on dreams. He
knew it was weakness, but it was the wine
of forgetfulness, and he indulged in it. He
went over and over, in endless repetition,
every scene in which Zoe Le Baron had
He learned by a paper that she had gone
to Europe. He was glad of that. For there
were hours in which he imagined that his
fate might have caused her distress -- not
much, of course, but perhaps an occasional
hour of sympathetic regret. But it was
pleasanter not to think of that. He pre-
ferred to remember the hours they had
spent together while she was teaching him
the joy of life.
How lovely her gray eyes were! Deep,
yet bright, and full of silent little speeches.
The rooms in which he imagined her as
moving were always splendid; the gowns
she wore were of rustling silk. He never in
any dream, waking or sleeping, associated
her with poverty or sorrow or pain. Gay
and beautiful, she moved from city to city,
in these visions of David's, looking always
at wonderful things, and finding laughter in
It was six months after his entrance into
his silent abode that a letter came for him.
"By rights, Culross," said the warden, "I
should not give this letter to you. It isn't
the sort we approve of. But you're in for
a good spell, and if there is anything that
can make life seem more tolerable, I don't
know but you're entitled to it. At least,
I'm not the man to deny it to you."
This was the letter: --
"MY DEAR FRIEND, -- I hope you do not
think that all these months, when you have
been suffering so terribly, I have been think-
ing of other things! But I am sure you
know the truth. You know that I could
not send you word or come to see you, or
I would have done it. When I first heard of
what you had done, I saw it all as it hap-
pened, -- that dreadful scene, I mean, in the
saloon. I am sure I have imagined every-
thing just as it was. I begged papa to help
you, but he was very angry. You see,
papa was so peculiar. He thought more
of the appearances of things, perhaps, than
of facts. It infuriated him to think of me
as being concerned about you or with you.
I did not know he could be so angry, and
his anger did not die, but for days it cast
such a shadow over me that I used to wish
I was dead. Only I would not disobey him,
and now I am glad of that. We were in
France three months, and then, coming home,
papa died. It was on the voyage. I wish
he had asked me to forgive him, for then
I think I could have remembered him with
more tenderness. But he did nothing of
the kind. He did not seem to think he had
done wrong in any way, though I feel that
some way we might have saved you. I am
back here in Chicago in the old home. But
I shall not stay in this house. It is so large
and lonesome, and I always see you and
father facing each other angrily there in the
parlor when I enter it. So I am going to
get me some cosey rooms in another part of
the city, and take my aunt, who is a sweet
old lady, to live with me; and I am going
to devote my time -- all of it -- and all of my
brains to getting you out of that terrible
place. What is the use of telling me that
you are a murderer? Do I not know you
could not be brought to hurt anything?
I suppose you must have killed that poor
man, but then it was not you, it was that
dreadful drink -- it was Me! That is what
continually haunts me. If I had been a
braver girl, and spoken the words that were
in my heart, you would not have gone into
that place. You would be innocent to-day.
It was I who was responsible for it all. I
let father kill your heart right there before
me, and never said a word. Yet I knew
how it was with you, and -- this is what I
ought to have said then, and what I must
say now -- and all the time I felt just as
you did. I thought I should die when I
saw you go away, and knew you would
never come back again. Only I was so
selfish, I was so wicked, I would say nothing.
"I have no right to be comfortable and
hopeful, and to have friends, with you shut
up from liberty and happiness. I will not
have those comfortable rooms, after all.
I will live as you do. I will live alone
in a bare room. For it is I who am guilty!
And then I will feel that I also am being
"Do you hate me? Perhaps my telling
you now all these things, and that I felt
toward you just as you did toward me, will
not make you happy. For it may be that
you despise me.
"Anyway, I have told you the truth now.
I will go as soon as I hear from you to a
lawyer, and try to find out how you may be
liberated. I am sure it can be done when
the facts are known.
"Poor boy! How I do hope you have
known in your heart that I was not for-
getting you. Indeed, day or night, I have
thought of nothing else. Now I am free to
help you. And be sure, whatever happens,
that I am working for you.
"ZOE LE BARON."
That was all. Just a girlish, constrained
letter, hardly hinting at the hot tears that
had been shed for many weary nights, coyly
telling of the impatient young love and all
the maidenly shame.
David permitted himself to read it only
once. Then a sudden resolution was born --
a heroic one. Before he got the letter he
was a crushed and unsophisticated boy;
when he had read it, and absorbed its full
significance, he became suddenly a man,
capable of a great sacrifice.
"I return your letter," he wrote, without
superscription, "and thank you for your
anxiety about me. But the truth is, I had
forgotten all about you in my trouble. You
were not in the least to blame for what hap-
pened. I might have known I would come
to such an end. You thought I was good,
of course; but it is not easy to find out the
life of a young man. It is rather mortifying
to have a private letter sent here, because
the warden reads them all. I hope you will
enjoy yourself this winter, and hasten to
forget one who had certainly forgotten you
till reminded by your letter, which I return.
That night some deep lines came into
his face which never left it, and which made
him look like a man of middle age.
He never doubted that his plan would
succeed; that, piqued and indignant at his
ingratitude, she would hate him, and in a
little time forget he ever lived, or remember
him only to blush with shame at her past
association with him. He saw her happy,
loved, living the usual life of women, with
all those things that make life rich.
For there in the solitude an understand-
ing of deep things came to him. He who
thought never to have a wife grew to know
what the joy of it must be. He perceived
all the subtle rapture of wedded souls. He
learned what the love of children was, the
pride of home, the unselfish ambition for
success that spurs men on. All the emo-
tions passed in procession at night before
him, tricked out in palpable forms.
A burst of girlish tears would dissipate
whatever lingering pity Zoe felt for him.
How often he said that! With her sensi-
tiveness she would be sure to hate a man
who had mortified her.
So he fell to dreaming of her again as
moving among happy and luxurious scenes,
exquisitely clothed, with flowers on her
bosom and jewels on her neck; and he saw
men loving her, and was glad, and saw her
at last loving the best of them, and told
himself in the silence of the night that
it was as he wished.
Yet always, always, from weary week to
weary week, he rehearsed the scenes. They
were his theatre, his opera, his library, his
He rehearsed them again there on the
cars. He never wearied of them. To be
sure, other thoughts had come to him at
night. Much that to most men seems com-
plex and puzzling had grown to appear
simple to him. In a way his brain had
quickened and deepened through the years
of solitude. He had thought out a great
many things. He had read a few good
books and digested them, and the visions in
his heart had kept him from being bitter.
Yet, suddenly confronted with liberty,
turned loose like a pastured colt, without
master or rein, he felt only confusion and
dismay. He might be expected to feel ex-
ultation. He experienced only fright. It
is precisely the same with the liberated colt.
The train pulled into a bustling station,
in which the multitudinous noises were
thrown back again from the arched iron
roof. The relentless haste of all the people
was inexpressibly cruel to the man who
looked from the window wondering whither
he would go, and if, among all the thousands
that made up that vast and throbbing city,
he would ever find a friend.
For a moment David longed even for
that unmaternal mother who had forgotten
him in the hour of his distress; but she had
been dead for many years.
The train stopped. Every one got out.
David forced himself to his feet and followed.
He had been driven back into the world.
It would have seemed less terrible to have
been driven into a desert. He walked
toward the great iron gates, seeing the
people and hearing the noises confusedly.
As he entered the space beyond the grat-
ing some one caught him by the arm. It
was a little middle-aged woman in plain
clothes, and with sad gray eyes.
"Is this David?" said she.
He did not speak, but his face answered
"I knew you were coming to-day. I've
waited all these years, David. You didn't
think I believed what you said in that letter
did you? This way, David, -- this is the
IT was the year of the small-pox. The
Pawnees had died in their cold tepees