Part 1 out of 4
At the Foot of the Rainbow
by Gene Stratton-Porter
"And the bow shall be set in the cloud; and I will look upon it,
that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and
every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth."
I. THE RAT-CATCHERS OF THE WABASH
II. RUBEN O'KHAYAM AND THE MILK PAIL
III. THE FIFTY COONS OF THE CANOPER
IV. WHEN THE KINGFISHER AND THE BLACK BASS CAME HOME
V. WHEN THE RAINBOW SET ITS ARCH IN THE SKY
VI. THE HEART OF MARY MALONE
VII. THE APPLE OF DISCORD BECOMES A JOINTED ROD
VIII. WHEN THE BLACK BASS STRUCK
IX. WHEN JIMMY MALONE CAME TO CONFESSION
X. DANNIE'S RENUNCIATION
XI. THE POT OF GOLD
A LITTLE STORY OF HER LIFE AND WORK
For several years Doubleday, Page & Company have been receiving
repeated requests for information about the life and books of
Gene Stratton-Porter. Her fascinating nature work with bird,
flower, and moth, and the natural wonders of the Limberlost
Swamp, made famous as the scene of her nature romances, all have
stirred much curiosity among readers everywhere.
Mrs. Porter did not possess what has been called "an aptitude for
personal publicity." Indeed, up to the present, she has
discouraged quite successfully any attempt to stress the personal
note. It is practically impossible, however, to do the kind of
work she has done--to make genuine contributions to natural
science by her wonderful field work among birds, insects, and
flowers, and then, through her romances, to bring several hundred
thousands of people to love and understand nature in a way they
never did before-- without arousing a legitimate interest in her
own history, her ideals, her methods of work, and all that
underlies the structure of her unusual achievement.
Her publishers have felt the pressure of this growing interest
and it was at their request that she furnished the data for a
biographical sketch that was to be written of her. But when this
actually came to hand, the present compiler found that the author
had told a story so much more interesting than anything he could
write of her, that it became merely a question of how little need
The following pages are therefore adapted from what might be
styled the personal record of Gene Stratton-Porter. This will
account for the very intimate picture of family life in the
Middle West for some years following the Civil War.
Mark Stratton, the father of Gene Stratton-Porter, described his
wife, at the time of their marriage, as a "ninety-pound bit of
pink porcelain, pink as a wild rose, plump as a partridge,
having a big rope of bright brown hair, never ill a day in her
life, and bearing the loveliest name ever given a woman--Mary."
He further added that "God fashioned her heart to be gracious,
her body to be the mother of children, and as her especial gift
of Grace, he put Flower Magic into her fingers." Mary Stratton
was the mother of twelve lusty babies, all of whom she reared
past eight years of age, losing two a little over that, through
an attack of scarlet fever with whooping cough; too ugly a
combination for even such a wonderful mother as she. With this
brood on her hands she found time to keep an immaculate house, to
set a table renowned in her part of the state, to entertain with
unfailing hospitality all who came to her door, to beautify her
home with such means as she could command, to embroider and
fashion clothing by hand for her children; but her great gift
was conceded by all to be the making of things to grow. At that
she was wonderful. She started dainty little vines and climbing
plants from tiny seeds she found in rice and coffee. Rooted
things she soaked in water, rolled in fine sand, planted
according to habit, and they almost never failed to justify her
expectations. She even grew trees and shrubs from slips and
cuttings no one else would have thought of trying to cultivate,
her last resort being to cut a slip diagonally, insert the lower
end in a small potato, and plant as if rooted. And it nearly
There is a shaft of white stone standing at her head in a
cemetery that belonged to her on a corner of her husband's land;
but to Mrs. Porter's mind her mother's real monument is a cedar
of Lebanon which she set in the manner described above. The cedar
tops the brow of a little hill crossing the grounds. She carried
two slips from Ohio, where they were given to her by a man who
had brought the trees as tiny things from the holy Land. She
planted both in this way, one in her dooryard and one in her
cemetery. The tree on the hill stands thirty feet tall now,
topping all others, and has a trunk two feet in circumference.
Mrs. Porter's mother was of Dutch extraction, and like all Dutch
women she worked her special magic with bulbs, which she favoured
above other flowers. Tulips, daffodils, star flowers, lilies,
dahlias, little bright hyacinths, that she called "blue bells,"
she dearly loved. From these she distilled exquisite perfume by
putting clusters, & time of perfect bloom, in bowls lined with
freshly made, unsalted butter, covering them closely, and cutting
the few drops of extract thus obtained with alcohol. "She could
do more different things," says the author, "and finish them all
in a greater degree of perfection than any other woman I have
ever known. If I were limited to one adjective in describing her,
`capable' would be the word."
The author's father was descended from a long line of ancestors
of British blood. he was named for, and traced his origin to,
that first Mark Stratton who lived in New York, married the
famous beauty, Anne Hutchinson, and settled on Stratton Island,
afterward corrupted to Staten, according to family tradition.
From that point back for generations across the sea he followed
his line to the family of Strattons of which the Earl of
Northbrooke is the present head. To his British traditions and
the customs of his family, Mark Stratton clung with rigid
tenacity, never swerving from his course a particle under the
influence of environment or association. All his ideas were
clear-cut; no man could influence him against his better
judgment. He believed in God, in courtesy, in honour, and
cleanliness, in beauty, and in education. He used to say that he
would rather see a child of his the author of a book of which he
could be proud, than on the throne of England, which was the
strongest way he knew to express himself. His very first earnings
he spent for a book; when other men rested, he read; all his life
he was a student of extraordinarily tenacious memory. He
especially loved history: Rollands, Wilson's Outlines, Hume,
Macauley, Gibbon, Prescott, and Bancroft, he could quote from all
of them paragraphs at a time contrasting the views of different
writers on a given event, and remembering dates with unfailing
accuracy. "He could repeat the entire Bible," says Mrs.
Stratton-Porter, "giving chapters and verses, save the books of
Generations; these he said `were a waste of gray matter to
learn.' I never knew him to fail in telling where any verse
quoted to him was to be found in the Bible." And she adds: "I was
almost afraid to make these statements, although there are many
living who can corroborate them, until John Muir published the
story of his boyhood days, and in it I found the history of such
rearing as was my father's, told of as the customary thing among
the children of Muir's time; and I have referred many inquirers
as to whether this feat were possible, to the Muir book."
All his life, with no thought of fatigue or of inconvenience to
himself, Mark Stratton travelled miles uncounted to share what he
had learned with those less fortunately situated, by delivering
sermons, lectures, talks on civic improvement and politics. To
him the love of God could be shown so genuinely in no other way
as in the love of his fellowmen. He worshipped beauty: beautiful
faces, souls, hearts, beautiful landscapes, trees, animals,
flowers. He loved colour: rich, bright colour, and every
variation down to the faintest shadings. He was especially fond
of red, and the author carefully keeps a cardinal silk
handkerchief that he was carrying when stricken with apoplexy at
the age of seventy-eight. "It was so like him," she comments, "to
have that scrap of vivid colour in his pocket. He never was too
busy to fertilize a flower bed or to dig holes for the setting of
a tree or bush. A word constantly on his lips was `tidy.' It
applied equally to a woman, a house, a field, or a barn lot. He
had a streak of genius in his make-up: the genius of large
appreciation. Over inspired Biblical passages, over great books,
over sunlit landscapes, over a white violet abloom in deep shade,
over a heroic deed of man, I have seen his brow light up, his
Mrs. Porter tells us that her father was constantly reading aloud
to his children and to visitors descriptions of the great deeds
of men. Two "hair-raisers" she especially remembers with
increased heart-beats to this day were the story of John Maynard,
who piloted a burning boat to safety while he slowly roasted at
the wheel. She says the old thrill comes back when she recalls
the inflection of her father's voice as he would cry in imitation
of the captain: "John Maynard!" and then give the reply. "Aye,
aye, sir!" His other until it sank to a mere gasp: favourite was
the story of Clemanthe, and her lover's immortal answer to her
question: "Shall we meet again?"
To this mother at forty-six, and this father at fifty, each at
intellectual top-notch, every faculty having been stirred for
years by the dire stress of Civil War, and the period immediately
following, the author was born. From childhood she recalls
"thinking things which she felt should be saved," and frequently
tugging at her mother's skirts and begging her to "set down" what
the child considered stories and poems. Most of these were some
big fact in nature that thrilled her, usually expressed in
Biblical terms; for the Bible was read twice a day before the
family and helpers, and an average of three services were
attended on Sunday.
Mrs. Porter says that her first all-alone effort was printed in
wabbly letters on the fly-leaf of an old grammar. It was
entitled: "Ode to the Moon." "Not," she comments, "that I had an
idea what an `ode' was, other than that I had heard it discussed
in the family together with different forms of poetic expression.
The spelling must have been by proxy: but I did know the words I
used, what they meant, and the idea I was trying to convey.
"No other farm was ever quite so lovely as the one on which I was
born after this father and mother had spent twenty-five years
beautifying it," says the author. It was called "Hopewell" after
the home of some of her father's British ancestors. The natural
location was perfect, the land rolling and hilly, with several
flowing springs and little streams crossing it in three
directions, while plenty of forest still remained. The days of
pioneer struggles were past. The roads were smooth and level as
floors, the house and barn commodious; the family rode abroad in
a double carriage trimmed in patent leather, drawn by a matched
team of gray horses, and sometimes the father "speeded a little"
for the delight of the children. "We had comfortable clothing,"
says Mrs. Porter, "and were getting our joy from life without
that pinch of anxiety which must have existed in the beginning,
although I know that father and mother always held steady, and
took a large measure of joy from life in passing."
Her mother's health, which always had been perfect, broke about
the time of the author's first remembrance due to typhoid fever
contracted after nursing three of her children through it. She
lived for several years, but with continual suffering, amounting
at times to positive torture.
So it happened, that led by impulse and aided by an escape from
the training given her sisters, instead of "sitting on a cushion
and sewing a fine seam"--the threads of the fabric had to be
counted and just so many allowed to each stitch!--this youngest
child of a numerous household spent her waking hours with the
wild. She followed her father and the boys afield, and when tired
out slept on their coats in fence corners, often awaking with shy
creatures peering into her face. She wandered where she pleased,
amusing herself with birds, flowers, insects, and plays she
invented. "By the day," writes the author, "I trotted from one
object which attracted me to another, singing a little song of
made-up phrases about everything I saw while I waded catching
fish, chasing butterflies over clover fields, or following a bird
with a hair in its beak; much of the time I carried the
inevitable baby for a woman-child, frequently improvised from an
ear of corn in the silk, wrapped in catalpa leaf blankets."
She had a corner of the garden under a big Bartlett pear tree for
her very own, and each spring she began by planting radishes and
lettuce when the gardening was done; and before these had time to
sprout she set the same beds full of spring flowers, and so
followed out the season. She made special pets of the birds,
locating nest after nest, and immediately projecting herself into
the daily life of the occupants. "No one," she says, "ever taught
me more than that the birds were useful, a gift of God for our
protection from insect pests on fruit and crops; and a gift of
Grace in their beauty and music, things to be rigidly protected.
From this cue I evolved the idea myself that I must be extremely
careful, for had not my father tied a 'kerchief over my mouth
when he lifted me for a peep into the nest of the humming-bird,
and did he not walk softly and whisper when he approached the
spot? So I stepped lightly, made no noise, and watched until I
knew what a mother bird fed her young before I began dropping
bugs, worms, crumbs, and fruit into little red mouths that opened
at my tap on the nest quite as readily as at the touch of the
feet of the mother bird."
In the nature of this child of the out-of-doors there ran a fibre
of care for wild things. It was instinct with her to go slowly,
to touch lightly, to deal lovingly with every living thing:
flower, moth, bird, or animal. She never gathered great handfuls
of frail wild flowers, carried them an hour and threw them away.
If she picked any, she took only a few, mostly to lay on her
mother's pillow--for she had a habit of drawing comfort from a
cinnamon pink or a trillium laid where its delicate fragrance
reached her with every breath. "I am quite sure," Mrs. Porter
writes, "that I never in my life, in picking flowers, dragged up
the plant by the roots, as I frequently saw other people do. I
was taught from infancy to CUT a bloom I wanted. My regular habit
was to lift one plant of each kind, especially if it were a
species new to me, and set it in my wild-flower garden."
To the birds and flowers the child added moths and butterflies,
because she saw them so frequently, the brilliance of colour in
yard and garden attracting more than could be found elsewhere. So
she grew with the wild, loving, studying, giving all her time. "I
fed butterflies sweetened water and rose leaves inside the screen
of a cellar window," Mrs. Porter tells us; "doctored all the sick
and wounded birds and animals the men brought me from afield;
made pets of the baby squirrels and rabbits they carried in for
my amusement; collected wild flowers; and as I grew older,
gathered arrow points and goose quills for sale in Fort Wayne. So
I had the first money I ever earned."
Her father and mother had strong artistic tendencies, although
they would have scoffed at the idea themselves, yet the manner in
which they laid off their fields, the home they built, the
growing things they preserved, the way they planted, the life
they led, all go to prove exactly that thing. Their bush--and
vine-covered fences crept around the acres they owned in a strip
of gaudy colour; their orchard lay in a valley, a square of apple
trees in the centre widely bordered by peach, so that it appeared
at bloom time like a great pink-bordered white blanket on the
face of earth. Swale they might have drained, and would not, made
sheets of blue flag, marigold and buttercups. From the home you
could not look in any direction without seeing a picture of
"Last spring," the author writes in a recent letter, "I went back
with my mind fully made up to buy that land at any reasonable
price, restore it to the exact condition in which I knew it as a
child, and finish my life there. I found that the house had been
burned, killing all the big trees set by my mother's hands
immediately surrounding it. The hills were shorn and ploughed
down, filling and obliterating the creeks and springs. Most of
the forest had been cut, and stood in corn. My old catalpa in the
fence corner beside the road and the Bartlett pear under which I
had my wild-flower garden were all that was left of the dooryard,
while a few gnarled apple trees remained of the orchard, which
had been reset in another place. The garden had been moved, also
the lanes; the one creek remaining out of three crossed the
meadow at the foot of the orchard. It flowed a sickly current
over a dredged bed between bare, straight banks. The whole place
seemed worse than a dilapidated graveyard to me. All my love and
ten times the money I had at command never could have put back
the face of nature as I knew it on that land."
As a child the author had very few books, only three of her own
outside of school books. "The markets did not afford the miracles
common with the children of today," she adds. "Books are now so
numerous, so cheap, and so bewildering in colour and make-up,
that I sometimes think our children are losing their perspective
and caring for none of them as I loved my few plain little ones
filled with short story and poem, almost no illustration. I had a
treasure house in the school books of my elders, especially the
McGuffey series of Readers from One to Six. For pictures I was
driven to the Bible, dictionary, historical works read by my
father, agricultural papers, and medical books about cattle and
"Near the time of my mother's passing we moved from Hopewell to
the city of Wabash in order that she might have constant medical
attention, and the younger children better opportunities for
schooling. Here we had magazines and more books in which I was
interested. The one volume in which my heart was enwrapt was a
collection of masterpieces of fiction belonging to my eldest
sister. It contained `Paul and Virginia,' `Undine,' `Picciola,'
`The Vicar of Wakefield,' `Pilgrim's Progress,' and several
others I soon learned by heart, and the reading and rereading of
those exquisitely expressed and conceived stories may have done
much in forming high conceptions of what really constitutes
literature and in furthering the lofty ideals instilled by my
parents. One of these stories formed the basis of my first
publicly recognized literary effort."
Reared by people who constantly pointed out every natural beauty,
using it wherever possible to drive home a precept, the child
lived out-of-doors with the wild almost entirely. If she reported
promptly three times a day when the bell rang at meal time, with
enough clothing to constitute a decent covering, nothing more was
asked until the Sabbath. To be taken from such freedom, her feet
shod, her body restricted by as much clothing as ever had been
worn on Sunday, shut up in a schoolroom, and set to droning over
books, most of which she detested, was the worst punishment ever
inflicted upon her she declares. She hated mathematics in any
form and spent all her time on natural science, language, and
literature. "Friday afternoon," writes Mrs. Porter, "was always
taken up with an exercise called `rhetoricals,' a misnomer as a
rule, but let that pass. Each week pupils of one of the four
years furnished entertainment for the assembled high school and
faculty. Our subjects were always assigned, and we cordially
disliked them. This particular day I was to have a paper on
"I put off the work until my paper had been called for several
times, and so came to Thursday night with excuses and not a line.
I was told to bring my work the next morning without fail. I went
home in hot anger. Why in all this beautiful world, would they
not allow me to do something I could do, and let any one of four
members of my class who revelled in mathematics do my subject?
That evening I was distracted. `I can't do a paper on
mathematics, and I won't!' I said stoutly; `but I'll do such a
paper on a subject I can write about as will open their foolish
eyes and make them see how wrong they are.'"
Before me on the table lay the book I loved, the most wonderful
story in which was `Picciola' by Saintine. Instantly I began to
write. Breathlessly I wrote for hours. I exceeded our limit ten
times over. The poor Italian Count, the victim of political
offences, shut by Napoleon from the wonderful grounds, mansion,
and life that were his, restricted to the bare prison walls of
Fenestrella, deprived of books and writing material, his one
interest in life became a sprout of green, sprung, no doubt, from
a seed dropped by a passing bird, between the stone flagging of
the prison yard before his window. With him I had watched over it
through all the years since I first had access to the book; with
him I had prayed for it. I had broken into a cold sweat of fear
when the jailer first menaced it; I had hated the wind that bent
it roughly, and implored the sun. I had sung a paean of joy at
its budding, and worshipped in awe before its thirty perfect
blossoms. The Count had named it `Picciola'--the little one--to
me also it was a personal possession. That night we lived the
life of our `little one' over again, the Count and I, and never
were our anxieties and our joys more poignant.
"Next morning," says Mrs. Porter, "I dared my crowd to see how
long they could remain on the grounds, and yet reach the assembly
room before the last toll of the bell. This scheme worked.
Coming in so late the principal opened exercises without
remembering my paper. Again, at noon, I was as late as I dared
be, and I escaped until near the close of the exercises, through
which I sat in cold fear. When my name was reached at last the
principal looked at me inquiringly and then announced my
inspiring mathematical subject. I arose, walked to the front, and
made my best bow. Then I said: `I waited until yesterday because
I knew absolutely nothing about my subject'--the audience
laughed--`and I could find nothing either here or in the library
at home, so last night I reviewed Saintine's masterpiece,
"Then instantly I began to read. I was almost paralyzed at my
audacity, and with each word I expected to hear a terse little
interruption. Imagine my amazement when I heard at the end of the
first page: `Wait a minute!' Of course I waited, and the
principal left the room. A moment later she reappeared
accompanied by the superintendent of the city schools. `Begin
again,' she said. `Take your time.'
"I was too amazed to speak. Then thought came in a rush. My paper
was good. It was as good as I had believed it. It was better than
I had known. I did go on! We took that assembly room and the
corps of teachers into our confidence, the Count and I, and told
them all that was in our hearts about a little flower that sprang
between the paving stones of a prison yard. The Count and I were
free spirits. From the book I had learned that. He got into
political trouble through it, and I had got into mathematical
trouble, and we told our troubles. One instant the room was in
laughter, the next the boys bowed their heads, and the girls who
had forgotten their handkerchiefs cried in their aprons. For
almost sixteen big foolscap pages I held them, and I was eager to
go on and tell them more about it when I reached the last line.
Never again was a subject forced upon me."
After this incident of her schooldays, what had been inclination
before was aroused to determination and the child neglected her
lessons to write. A volume of crude verse fashioned after the
metre of Meredith's "Lucile," a romantic book in rhyme, and two
novels were the fruits of this youthful ardour. Through the
sickness and death of a sister, the author missed the last three
months of school, but, she remarks, "unlike my schoolmates, I
studied harder after leaving school than ever before and in a
manner that did me real good. The most that can be said of what
education I have is that it is the very best kind in the world
for me; the only possible kind that would not ruin a person of my
inclinations. The others of my family had been to college; I
always have been too thankful for words that circumstances
intervened which saved my brain from being run through a groove
in company with dozens of others of widely different tastes and
mentality. What small measure of success I have had has come
through preserving my individual point of view, method of
expression, and following in after life the Spartan regulations
of my girlhood home. Whatever I have been able to do, has been
done through the line of education my father saw fit to give me,
and through his and my mother's methods of rearing me.
"My mother went out too soon to know, and my father never saw one
of the books; but he knew I was boiling and bubbling like a yeast
jar in July over some literary work, and if I timidly slipped to
him with a composition, or a faulty poem, he saw good in it, and
made suggestions for its betterment. When I wanted to express
something in colour, he went to an artist, sketched a design for
an easel, personally superintended the carpenter who built it,
and provided tuition. On that same easel I painted the water
colours for `Moths of the Limberlost,' and one of the most
poignant regrets of my life is that he was not there to see them,
and to know that the easel which he built through his faith in me
was finally used in illustrating a book.
"If I thought it was music through which I could express myself,
he paid for lessons and detected hidden ability that should be
developed. Through the days of struggle he stood fast; firm in
his belief in me. He was half the battle. It was he who demanded
a physical standard that developed strength to endure the rigours
of scientific field and darkroom work, and the building of ten
books in ten years, five of which were on nature subjects, having
my own illustrations, and five novels, literally teeming with
natural history, true to nature. It was he who demanded of me
from birth the finishing of any task I attempted and who taught
me to cultivate patience to watch and wait, even years, if
necessary, to find and secure material I wanted. It was he who
daily lived before me the life of exactly such a man as I
portrayed in `The Harvester,' and who constantly used every atom
of brain and body power to help and to encourage all men to do
Marriage, a home of her own, and a daughter for a time filled the
author's hands, but never her whole heart and brain. The book
fever lay dormant a while, and then it became a compelling
influence. It dominated the life she lived, the cabin she
designed for their home, and the books she read. When her
daughter was old enough to go to school, Mrs. Porter's time came.
Speaking of this period, she says: "I could not afford a maid,
but I was very strong, vital to the marrow, and I knew how to
manage life to make it meet my needs, thanks to even the small
amount I had seen of my mother. I kept a cabin of fourteen rooms,
and kept it immaculate. I made most of my daughter's clothes, I
kept a conservatory in which there bloomed from three to six
hundred bulbs every winter, tended a house of canaries and
linnets, and cooked and washed dishes besides three times a day.
In my spare time (mark the word, there was time to spare else the
books never would have been written and the pictures made) I
mastered photography to such a degree that the manufacturers of
one of our finest brands of print paper once sent the manager of
their factory to me to learn how I handled it. He frankly said
that they could obtain no such results with it as I did. He
wanted to see my darkroom, examine my paraphernalia, and have me
tell him exactly how I worked. As I was using the family bathroom
for a darkroom and washing negatives and prints on turkey
platters in the kitchen, I was rather put to it when it came to
giving an exhibition. It was scarcely my fault if men could not
handle the paper they manufactured so that it produced the
results that I obtained, so I said I thought the difference might
lie in the chemical properties of the water, and sent this man on
his way satisfied. Possibly it did. But I have a shrewd suspicion
it lay in high-grade plates, a careful exposure, judicious
development, with self-compounded chemicals straight from the
factory, and C.P. I think plates swabbed with wet cotton before
development, intensified if of short exposure, and thoroughly
swabbed again before drying, had much to do with it; and paper
handled in the same painstaking manner had more. I have hundreds
of negatives in my closet made twelve years ago, in perfect
condition for printing from to-day, and I never have lost a plate
through fog from imperfect development and hasty washing; so my
little mother's rule of `whatsoever thy hands find to do, do it
with thy might,' held good in photography."
Thus had Mrs. Porter made time to study and to write, and editors
began to accept what she sent them with little if any changes.
She began by sending photographic and natural history hints to
Recreation, and with the first installment was asked to take
charge of the department and furnish material each month for
which she was to be paid at current prices in high-grade
photographic material. We can form some idea of the work she did
under this arrangement from the fact that she had over one
thousand dollars' worth of equipment at the end of the first
year. The second year she increased this by five hundred, and
then accepted a place on the natural history staff of Outing,
working closely with Mr. Casper Whitney. After a year of this
helpful experience Mrs. Porter began to turn her attention to
what she calls "nature studies sugar coated with fiction." Mixing
some childhood fact with a large degree of grown-up fiction, she
wrote a little story entitled "Laddie, the Princess, and the
"I was abnormally sensitive," says the author, "about trying to
accomplish any given thing and failing. I had been taught in my
home that it was black disgrace to undertake anything and fail.
My husband owned a drug and book store that carried magazines,
and it was not possible to conduct departments in any of them and
not have it known; but only a few people in our locality read
these publications, none of them were interested in nature
photography, or natural science, so what I was trying to do was
not realized even by my own family.
"With them I was much more timid than with the neighbours. Least
of all did I want to fail before my man Person and my daughter
and our respective families; so I worked in secret, sent in my
material, and kept as quiet about it as possible. On Outing I had
graduated from the camera department to an illustrated article
each month, and as this kept up the year round, and few
illustrations could be made in winter, it meant that I must
secure enough photographs of wild life in summer to last during
the part of the year when few were to be had.
"Every fair day I spent afield, and my little black horse and
load of cameras, ropes, and ladders became a familiar sight to
the country folk of the Limberlost, in Rainbow Bottom, the
Canoper, on the banks of the Wabash, in woods and thickets and
beside the roads; but few people understood what I was trying to
do, none of them what it would mean were I to succeed. Being so
afraid of failure and the inevitable ridicule in a community
where I was already severly criticised on account of my ideas of
housekeeping, dress, and social customs, I purposely kept
everything I did as quiet as possible. It had to be known that I
was interested in everything afield, and making pictures; also
that I was writing field sketches for nature publications, but
little was thought of it, save as one more, peculiarity, in me.
So when my little story was finished I went to our store and
looked over the magazines. I chose one to which we did not
subscribe, having an attractive cover, good type, and paper, and
on the back of an old envelope, behind the counter, I scribbled:
Perriton Maxwell, 116 Nassau Street, New York, and sent my story
on its way.
"Then I took a bold step, the first in my self-emancipation.
Money was beginning to come in, and I had some in my purse of my
very own that I had earned when no one even knew I was working. I
argued that if I kept my family so comfortable that they missed
nothing from their usual routine, it was my right to do what I
could toward furthering my personal ambitions in what time I
could save from my housework. And until I could earn enough to
hire capable people to take my place, I held rigidly to that
rule. I who waded morass, fought quicksands, crept, worked from
ladders high in air, and crossed water on improvised rafts
without a tremor, slipped with many misgivings into the
postoffice and rented a box for myself, so that if I met with
failure my husband and the men in the bank need not know what I
had attempted. That was early May; all summer I waited. I had
heard that it required a long time for an editor to read and to
pass on matter sent him; but my waiting did seem out of all
reason. I was too busy keeping my cabin and doing field work to
repine; but I decided in my own mind that Mr. Maxwell was a `mean
old thing' to throw away my story and keep the return postage.
Besides, I was deeply chagrined, for I had thought quite well of
my effort myself, and this seemed to prove that I did not know
even the first principles of what would be considered an
"Then one day in September I went into our store on an errand and
the manager said to me: `I read your story in the Metropolitan
last night. It was great! Did you ever write any fiction before?'
"My head whirled, but I had learned to keep my own counsels, so I
said as lightly as I could, while my heart beat until I feared he
could hear it: `No. Just a simple little thing! Have you any
spare copies? My sister might want one.'
"He supplied me, so I hurried home, and shutting myself in the
library, I sat down to look my first attempt at fiction in the
face. I quite agreed with the manager that it was `great.' Then I
wrote Mr. Maxwell a note telling him that I had seen my story in
his magazine, and saying that I was glad he liked it enough to
use it. I had not known a letter could reach New York and bring a
reply so quickly as his answer came. It was a letter that warmed
the deep of my heart. Mr. Maxwell wrote that he liked my story
very much, but the office boy had lost or destroyed my address
with the wrappings, so after waiting a reasonable length of time
to hear from me, he had illustrated it the best he could, and
printed it. He wrote that so many people had spoken to him of a
new, fresh note in it, that he wished me to consider doing him
another in a similar vein for a Christmas leader and he enclosed
my very first check for fiction.
"So I wrote: `How Laddie and the Princess Spelled Down at the
Christmas Bee.' Mr. Maxwell was pleased to accept that also, with
what I considered high praise, and to ask me to furnish the
illustrations. He specified that he wanted a frontispiece, head
and tail pieces, and six or seven other illustrations. Counting
out the time for his letter to reach me, and the material to
return, I was left with just ONE day in which to secure the
pictures. They had to be of people costumed in the time of the
early seventies and I was short of print paper and chemicals.
First, I telephoned to Fort Wayne for the material I wanted to be
sent without fail on the afternoon train. Then I drove to the
homes of the people I wished to use for subjects and made
appointments for sittings, and ransacked the cabin for costumes.
The letter came on the eight A.M. train. At ten o'clock I was
photographing Colonel Lupton beside my dining-room fireplace for
the father in the story. At eleven I was dressing and posing Miss
Lizzie Huart for the princess. At twelve I was picturing in one
of my bed rooms a child who served finely for Little Sister, and
an hour later the same child in a cemetery three miles in the
country where I used mounted butterflies from my cases, and
potted plants carried from my conservatory, for a graveyard
scene. The time was early November, but God granted sunshine that
day, and short focus blurred the background. At four o'clock I
was at the schoolhouse, and in the best-lighted room with five or
six models, I was working on the spelling bee scenes. By six I
was in the darkroom developing and drying these plates, every one
of which was good enough to use. I did my best work with
printing-out paper, but I was compelled to use a developing
paper in this extremity, because it could be worked with much
more speed, dried a little between blotters, and mounted. At
three o'clock in the morning I was typing the quotations for the
pictures, at four the parcel stood in the hall for the six
o'clock train, and I realized that I wanted a drink, food, and
sleep, for I had not stopped a second for anything from the time
of reading Mr. Maxwell's letter until his order was ready to
mail. For the following ten years I was equally prompt in doing
all work I undertook, whether pictures or manuscript, without a
thought of consideration for self; and I disappointed the
confident expectations of my nearest and dearest by remaining
sane, normal, and almost without exception the healthiest woman
This story and its pictures were much praised, and in the
following year the author was asked for several stories, and even
used bird pictures and natural history sketches, quite an
innovation for a magazine at that time. With this encouragement
she wrote and illustrated a short story of about ten thousand
words, and sent it to the Century. Richard Watson Gilder advised
Mrs. Porter to enlarge it to book size, which she did. This book
is "The Cardinal." Following Mr. Gilder's advice, she recast the
tale and, starting with the mangled body of a cardinal some
marksman had left in the road she was travelling, in a fervour of
love for the birds and indignation at the hunter, she told the
Cardinal's life history in these pages.
The story was promptly accepted and the book was published with
very beautiful half-tones, and cardinal buckram cover.
Incidentally, neither the author's husband nor daughter had the
slightest idea she was attempting to write a book until work had
progressed to that stage where she could not make a legal
contract without her husband's signature. During the ten years of
its life this book has gone through eight different editions,
varying in form and make-up from the birds in exquisite colour,
as colour work advanced and became feasible, to a binding of
beautiful red morocco, a number of editions of differing design
intervening. One was tried in gray binding, the colour of the
female cardinal, with the red male used as an inset. Another was
woodsgreen with the red male, and another red with a wild rose
design stamped in. There is a British edition published by Hodder
and Stoughton. All of these had the author's own illustrations
which authorities agree are the most complete studies of the home
life and relations of a pair of birds ever published.
The story of these illustrations in "The Cardinal" and how the
author got them will be a revelation to most readers. Mrs. Porter
set out to make this the most complete set of bird illustrations
ever secured, in an effort to awaken people to the wonder and
beauty and value of the birds. She had worked around half a dozen
nests for two years and had carried a lemon tree from her
conservatory to the location of one nest, buried the tub, and
introduced the branches among those the birds used in
approaching their home that she might secure proper illustrations
for the opening chapter, which was placed in the South. When the
complete bird series was finished, the difficult work over, and
there remained only a few characteristic Wabash River studies of
flowers, vines, and bushes for chapter tail pieces to be secured,
the author "met her Jonah," and her escape was little short of a
After a particularly strenuous spring afield, one teeming day in
early August she spent the morning in the river bottom beside the
Wabash. A heavy rain followed by August sun soon had her dripping
while she made several studies of wild morning glories, but she
was particularly careful to wrap up and drive slowly going home,
so that she would not chill. In the afternoon the author went to
the river northeast of town to secure mallow pictures for another
chapter, and after working in burning sun on the river bank until
exhausted, she several times waded the river to examine bushes on
the opposite bank. On the way home she had a severe chill, and
for the following three weeks lay twisted in the convulsions of
congestion, insensible most of the time. Skilled doctors and
nurses did their best, which they admitted would have availed
nothing if the patient had not had a constitution without a flaw
upon which to work.
"This is the history," said Mrs. Porter, "of one little tail
piece among the pictures. There were about thirty others, none so
strenuous, but none easy, each having a living, fighting history
for me. If I were to give in detail the story of the two years'
work required to secure the set of bird studies illustrating `The
Cardinal,' it would make a much larger book than the life of the
"The Cardinal" was published in June of 1903. On the 20th of
October, 1904, "Freckles" appeared. Mrs. Porter had been delving
afield with all her heart and strength for several years, and in
the course of her work had spent every other day for three months
in the Limberlost swamp, making a series of studies of the nest
of a black vulture. Early in her married life she had met a
Scotch lumberman, who told her of the swamp and of securing fine
timber there for Canadian shipbuilders, and later when she had
moved to within less than a mile of its northern boundary, she
met a man who was buying curly maple, black walnut, golden oak,
wild cherry, and other wood extremely valuable for a big
furniture factory in Grand Rapids. There was one particular
woman, of all those the author worked among, who exercised
herself most concerning her. She never failed to come out if she
saw her driving down the lane to the woods, and caution her to be
careful. If she felt that Mrs. Porter had become interested and
forgotten that it was long past meal time, she would send out
food and water or buttermilk to refresh her. She had her family
posted, and if any of them saw a bird with a straw or a hair in
its beak, they followed until they found its location. It was her
husband who drove the stake and ploughed around the killdeer nest
in the cornfield to save it for the author; and he did many other
acts of kindness without understanding exactly what he was doing
or why. "Merely that I wanted certain things was enough for those
people," writes Mrs. Porter. "Without question they helped me in
every way their big hearts could suggest to them, because they
loved to be kind, and to be generous was natural with them. The
woman was busy keeping house and mothering a big brood, and
every living creature that came her way, besides. She took me in,
and I put her soul, body, red head, and all, into Sarah Duncan.
The lumber and furniture man I combined in McLean. Freckles was a
composite of certain ideals and my own field experiences, merged
with those of Mr. Bob Burdette Black, who, at the expense of much
time and careful work, had done more for me than any other ten
men afield. The Angel was an idealized picture of my daughter.
"I dedicated the book to my husband, Mr. Charles Darwin Porter,
for several reasons, the chiefest being that he deserved it. When
word was brought me by lumbermen of the nest of the Black Vulture
in the Limberlost, I hastened to tell my husband the wonderful
story of the big black bird, the downy white baby, the pale blue
egg, and to beg back a rashly made promise not to work in the
Limberlost. Being a natural history enthusiast himself, he agreed
that I must go; but he qualified the assent with the proviso that
no one less careful of me than he, might accompany me there. His
business had forced him to allow me to work alone, with hired
guides or the help of oilmen and farmers elsewhere; but a
Limberlost trip at that time was not to be joked about. It had
not been shorn, branded, and tamed. There were most excellent
reasons why I should not go there. Much of it was impenetrable.
Only a few trees had been taken out; oilmen were just invading
it. In its physical aspect it was a treacherous swamp and
quagmire filled with every plant, animal, and human danger known
in the worst of such locations in the Central States.
"A rod inside the swamp on a road leading to an oil well we mired
to the carriage hubs. I shielded my camera in my arms and before
we reached the well I thought the conveyance would be torn to
pieces and the horse stalled. At the well we started on foot, Mr.
Porter in kneeboots, I in waist-high waders. The time was late
June; we forced our way between steaming, fetid pools, through
swarms of gnats, flies, mosquitoes, poisonous insects, keeping a
sharp watch for rattlesnakes. We sank ankle deep at every step,
and logs we thought solid broke under us. Our progress was a
steady succession of prying and pulling each other to the
surface. Our clothing was wringing wet, and the exposed parts of
our bodies lumpy with bites and stings. My husband found the
tree, cleared the opening to the great prostrate log, traversed
its unspeakable odours for nearly forty feet to its farthest
recess, and brought the baby and egg to the light in his
"We could endure the location only by dipping napkins in
deodorant and binding them over our mouths and nostrils. Every
third day for almost three months we made this trip, until Little
Chicken was able to take wing. Of course we soon made a road to
the tree, grew accustomed to the disagreeable features of the
swamp and contemptuously familiar with its dangers, so that I
worked anywhere in it I chose with other assistance; but no trip
was so hard and disagreeable as the first. Mr. Porter insisted
upon finishing the Little Chicken series, so that `deserve' is a
poor word for any honour that might accrue to him for his part in
This was the nucleus of the book, but the story itself originated
from the fact that one day, while leaving the swamp, a big
feather with a shaft over twenty inches long came spinning and
swirling earthward and fell in the author's path. Instantly she
looked upward to locate the bird, which from the size and
formation of the quill could have been nothing but an eagle; her
eyes, well trained and fairly keen though they were, could not
see the bird, which must have been soaring above range. Familiar
with the life of the vulture family, the author changed the bird
from which the feather fell to that described in "Freckles." Mrs.
Porter had the old swamp at that time practically untouched, and
all its traditions to work upon and stores of natural history
material. This falling feather began the book which in a few days
she had definitely planned and in six months completely written.
Her title for it was "The Falling Feather," that tangible thing
which came drifting down from Nowhere, just as the boy came, and
she has always regretted the change to "Freckles." John Murray
publishes a British edition of this book which is even better
liked in Ireland and Scotland than in England.
As "The Cardinal" was published originally not by Doubleday, Page
& Company, but by another firm, the author had talked over with
the latter house the scheme of "Freckles" and it had been agreed
to publish the story as soon as Mrs. Porter was ready. How the
book finally came to Doubleday, Page & Company she recounts as
"By the time `Freckles' was finished, I had exercised my woman's
prerogative and `changed my mind'; so I sent the manuscript to
Doubleday, Page & Company, who accepted it. They liked it well
enough to take a special interest in it and to bring it out with
greater expense than it was at all customary to put upon a novel
at that time; and this in face of the fact that they had
repeatedly warned me that the nature work in it would kill fully
half its chances with the public. Mr. F.N. Doubleday, starting on
a trip to the Bahamas, remarked that he would like to take a
manuscript with him to read, and the office force decided to put
`Freckles' into his grip. The story of the plucky young chap won
his way to the heart of the publishers, under a silk cotton tree,
'neath bright southern skies, and made such a friend of him that
through the years of its book-life it has been the object of
special attention. Mr. George Doran gave me a photograph which
Mr. Horace MacFarland made of Mr. Doubleday during this reading
of the Mss. of `Freckles' which is especially interesting."
That more than 2,000,000 readers have found pleasure and profit
in Mrs. Porter's books is a cause for particular gratification.
These stories all have, as a fundamental reason of their
existence, the author's great love of nature. To have imparted
this love to others--to have inspired many hundreds of thousands
to look for the first time with seeing eyes at the pageant of the
out-of-doors--is a satisfaction that must endure. For the part of
the publishers, they began their business by issuing "Nature
Books" at a time when the sale of such works was problematical.
As their tastes and inclinations were along the same lines which
Mrs. Porter loved to follow, it gave them great pleasure to be
associated with her books which opened the eyes of so great a
public to new and worthy fields of enjoyment.
The history of "Freckles" is unique. The publishers had inserted
marginal drawings on many pages, but these, instead of attracting
attention to the nature charm of the book, seemed to have exactly
a contrary effect. The public wanted a novel. The illustrations
made it appear to be a nature book, and it required three long
slow years for "Freckles" to pass from hand to hand and prove
that there really was a novel between the covers, but that it was
a story that took its own time and wound slowly toward its end,
stopping its leisurely course for bird, flower, lichen face, blue
sky, perfumed wind, and the closest intimacies of the daily life
of common folk. Ten years have wrought a great change in the
sentiment against nature work and the interest in it. Thousands
who then looked upon the world with unobserving eyes are now
straining every nerve to accumulate enough to be able to end life
where they may have bird, flower, and tree for daily companions.
Mrs. Porter's account of the advice she received at this time is
particularly interesting. Three editors who read "Freckles"
before it was published offered to produce it, but all of them
expressed precisely the same opinion: "The book will never sell
well as it is. If you want to live from the proceeds of your
work, if you want to sell even moderately, you must CUT OUT THE
NATURE STUFF." "Now to PUT IN THE NATURE STUFF," continues the
author, "was the express purpose for which the book had been
written. I had had one year's experience with `The Song of the
Cardinal,' frankly a nature book, and from the start I realized
that I never could reach the audience I wanted with a book on
nature alone. To spend time writing a book based wholly upon
human passion and its outworking I would not. So I compromised on
a book into which I put all the nature work that came naturally
within its scope, and seasoned it with little bits of imagination
and straight copy from the lives of men and women I had known
intimately, folk who lived in a simple, common way with which I
was familiar. So I said to my publishers: `I will write the books
exactly as they take shape in my mind. You publish them. I know
they will sell enough that you will not lose. If I do not make
over six hundred dollars on a book I shall never utter a
complaint. Make up my work as I think it should be and leave it
to the people as to what kind of book they will take into their
hearts and homes.' I altered `Freckles' slightly, but from that
time on we worked on this agreement.
"My years of nature work have not been without considerable
insight into human nature, as well," continues Mrs. Porter. "I
know its failings, its inborn tendencies, its weaknesses, its
failures, its depth of crime; and the people who feel called upon
to spend their time analyzing, digging into, and uncovering these
sources of depravity have that privilege, more's the pity! If I
had my way about it, this is a privilege no one could have in
books intended for indiscriminate circulation. I stand squarely
for book censorship, and I firmly believe that with a few more
years of such books, as half a dozen I could mention, public
opinion will demand this very thing. My life has been fortunate
in one glad way: I have lived mostly in the country and worked in
the woods. For every bad man and woman I have ever known, I have
met, lived with, and am intimately acquainted with an
overwhelming number of thoroughly clean and decent people who
still believe in God and cherish high ideals, and it is UPON THE
LIVES OF THESE THAT I BASE WHAT I WRITE. To contend that this
does not produce a picture true to life is idiocy. It does. It
produces a picture true to ideal life; to the best that good men
and good women can do at level best.
"I care very little for the magazine or newspaper critics who
proclaim that there is no such thing as a moral man, and that my
pictures of life are sentimental and idealized. They are! And I
glory in them! They are straight, living pictures from the lives
of men and women of morals, honour, and loving kindness. They
form `idealized pictures of life' because they are copies from
life where it touches religion, chastity, love, home, and hope of
heaven ultimately. None of these roads leads to publicity and the
divorce court. They all end in the shelter and seclusion of a
"Such a big majority of book critics and authors have begun to
teach, whether they really believe it or not, that no book is
TRUE TO LIFE unless it is true to the WORST IN LIFE, that the
idea has infected even the women."
In 1906, having seen a few of Mrs. Porter's studies of bird life,
Mr. Edward Bok telegraphed the author asking to meet him in
Chicago. She had a big portfolio of fine prints from plates for
which she had gone to the last extremity of painstaking care, and
the result was an order from Mr. Bok for a six months' series in
the Ladies' Home Journal of the author's best bird studies
accompanied by descriptions of how she secured them. This
material was later put in book form under the title, "What I Have
Done with Birds," and is regarded as authoritative on the subject
of bird photography and bird life, for in truth it covers every
phase of the life of the birds described, and contains much of
other nature subjects.
By this time Mrs. Porter had made a contract with her publishers
to alternate her books. She agreed to do a nature book for love,
and then, by way of compromise, a piece of nature work spiced
with enough fiction to tempt her class of readers. In this way
she hoped that they would absorb enough of the nature work while
reading the fiction to send them afield, and at the same time
keep in their minds her picture of what she considers the only
life worth living. She was still assured that only a straight
novel would "pay," but she was living, meeting all her expenses,
giving her family many luxuries, and saving a little sum for a
rainy day she foresaw on her horoscope. To be comfortably
clothed and fed, to have time and tools for her work, is all she
ever has asked of life.
Among Mrs. Porter's readers "At the Foot of the Rainbow" stands
as perhaps the author's strongest piece of fiction.
In August of 1909 two books on which the author had been working
for years culminated at the same time: a nature novel, and a
straight nature book. The novel was, in a way, a continuation of
"Freckles," filled as usual with wood lore, but more concerned
with moths than birds. Mrs. Porter had been finding and picturing
exquisite big night flyers during several years of field work
among the birds, and from what she could have readily done with
them she saw how it would be possible for a girl rightly
constituted and environed to make a living, and a good one, at
such work. So was conceived "A Girl of the Limberlost." "This
comes fairly close to my idea of a good book," she writes. "No
possible harm can be done any one in reading it. The book can,
and does, present a hundred pictures that will draw any reader in
closer touch with nature and the Almighty, my primal object in
each line I write. The human side of the book is as close a
character study as I am capable of making. I regard the character
of Mrs. Comstock as the best thought-out and the cleanest-cut
study of human nature I have so far been able to do. Perhaps the
best justification of my idea of this book came to me recently
when I received an application from the President for permission
to translate it into Arabic, as the first book to be used in an
effort to introduce our methods of nature study into the College
Hodder and Stoughton of London published the British edition of
At the same time that "A Girl of the Limberlost" was published
there appeared the book called "Birds of the Bible." This volume
took shape slowly. The author made a long search for each bird
mentioned in the Bible, how often, where, why; each quotation
concerning it in the whole book, every abstract reference, why
made, by whom, and what it meant. Then slowly dawned the sane and
true things said of birds in the Bible compared with the amazing
statements of Aristotle, Aristophanes, Pliny, and other writers
of about the same period in pagan nations. This led to a search
for the dawn of bird history and for the very first pictures
preserved of them. On this book the author expended more work
than on any other she has ever written.
In 1911 two more books for which Mrs. Porter had gathered
material for long periods came to a conclusion on the same date:
"Music of the Wild" and "The Harvester." The latter of these was
a nature novel; the other a frank nature book, filled with all
outdoors--a special study of the sounds one hears in fields and
forests, and photographic reproductions of the musicians and
The idea of "The Harvester" was suggested to the author by an
editor who wanted a magazine article, with human interest in it,
about the ginseng diggers in her part of the country. Mr. Porter
had bought ginseng for years for a drug store he owned; there
were several people he knew still gathering it for market, and
growing it was becoming a good business all over the country.
Mrs. Porter learned from the United States Pharmacopaeia and from
various other sources that the drug was used mostly by the
Chinese, and with a wholly mistaken idea of its properties. The
strongest thing any medical work will say for ginseng is that it
is "A VERY MILD AND SOOTHING DRUG." It seems that the Chinese buy
and use it in enormous quantities, in the belief that it is a
remedy for almost every disease to which humanity is heir; that
it will prolong life, and that it is a wonderful stimulant.
Ancient medical works make this statement, laying special
emphasis upon its stimulating qualities. The drug does none of
these things. Instead of being a stimulant, it comes closer to a
sedative. This investigation set the author on the search for
other herbs that now are or might be grown as an occupation. Then
came the idea of a man who should grow these drugs
professionally, and of the sick girl healed by them. "I could
have gone to work and started a drug farm myself," remarks Mrs.
Porter, "with exactly the same profit and success as the
Harvester. I wrote primarily to state that to my personal
knowledge, clean, loving men still exist in this world, and that
no man is forced to endure the grind of city life if he wills
otherwise. Any one who likes, with even such simple means as
herbs he can dig from fence corners, may start a drug farm that
in a short time will yield him delightful work and independence.
I WROTE THE BOOK AS I THOUGHT IT SHOULD BE WRITTEN, TO PROVE MY
POINTS AND ESTABLISH MY CONTENTIONS. I THINK IT DID. MEN THE
GLOBE AROUND PROMPTLY WROTE ME THAT THEY ALWAYS HAD OBSERVED THE
MORAL CODE; OTHERS THAT THE SUBJECT NEVER IN ALL THEIR LIVES HAD
BEEN PRESENTED TO THEM FROM MY POINT OF VIEW, BUT NOW THAT IT HAD
BEEN, THEY WOULD CHANGE AND DO WHAT THEY COULD TO INFLUENCE ALL
MEN TO DO THE SAME"
Messrs. Hodder and Stoughton publish a British edition of "The
Harvester," there is an edition in Scandinavian, it was running
serially in a German magazine, but for a time at least the German
and French editions that were arranged will be stopped by this
war, as there was a French edition of "The Song of the Cardinal."
After a short rest, the author began putting into shape a book
for which she had been compiling material since the beginning of
field work. From the first study she made of an exquisite big
night moth, Mrs. Porter used every opportunity to secure more and
representative studies of each family in her territory, and
eventually found the work so fascinating that she began hunting
cocoons and raising caterpillars in order to secure life
histories and make illustrations with fidelity to life. "It
seems," comments the author, "that scientists and lepidopterists
from the beginning have had no hesitation in describing and using
mounted moth and butterfly specimens for book text and
illustration, despite the fact that their colours fade rapidly,
that the wings are always in unnatural positions, and the bodies
shrivelled. I would quite as soon accept the mummy of any
particular member of the Rameses family as a fair representation
of the living man, as a mounted moth for a live one."
When she failed to secure the moth she wanted in a living and
perfect specimen for her studies, the author set out to raise
one, making photographic studies from the eggs through the entire
life process. There was one June during which she scarcely slept
for more than a few hours of daytime the entire month. She turned
her bedroom into a hatchery, where were stored the most precious
cocoons; and if she lay down at night it was with those she
thought would produce moths before morning on her pillow, where
she could not fail to hear them emerging. At the first sound she
would be up with notebook in hand, and by dawn, busy with
cameras. Then she would be forced to hurry to the darkroom and
develop her plates in order to be sure that she had a perfect
likeness, before releasing the specimen, for she did release all
she produced except one pair of each kind, never having sold a
moth, personally. Often where the markings were wonderful and
complicated, as soon as the wings were fully developed Mrs.
Porter copied the living specimen in water colours for her
illustrations, frequently making several copies in order to be
sure that she laid on the colour enough BRIGHTER than her subject
so that when it died it would be exactly the same shade.
"Never in all my life," writes the author, "have I had such
exquisite joy in work as I had in painting the illustrations for
this volume of `Moths of the Limberlost.' Colour work had
advanced to such a stage that I knew from the beautiful
reproductions in Arthur Rackham's `Rheingold and Valkyrie' and
several other books on the market, that time so spent would not
be lost. Mr. Doubleday had assured me personally that I might
count on exact reproduction, and such details of type and paper
as I chose to select. I used the easel made for me when a girl,
under the supervision of my father, and I threw my whole heart
into the work of copying each line and delicate shading on those
wonderful wings, `all diamonded with panes of quaint device,
innumerable stains and splendid dyes,' as one poet describes
them. There were times, when in working a mist of colour over
another background, I cut a brush down to three hairs. Some of
these illustrations I sent back six and seven times, to be worked
over before the illustration plates were exact duplicates of the
originals, and my heart ached for the engravers, who must have
had Job-like patience; but it did not ache enough to stop me
until I felt the reproduction exact. This book tells its own
story of long and patient waiting for a specimen, of watching, of
disappointments, and triumphs. I love it especially among my
book children because it represents my highest ideals in the
making of a nature book, and I can take any skeptic afield and
prove the truth of the natural history it contains."
In August of 1913 the author's novel "Laddie" was published in
New York, London, Sydney and Toronto simultaneously. This book
contains the same mixture of romance and nature interest as the
others, and is modelled on the same plan of introducing nature
objects peculiar to the location, and characters, many of whom
are from life, typical of the locality at a given period. The
first thing many critics said of it was that "no such people ever
existed, and no such life was ever lived." In reply to this the
author said: "Of a truth, the home I described in this book I
knew to the last grain of wood in the doors, and I painted, it
with absolute accuracy; and many of the people I described I knew
more intimately than I ever have known any others. TAKEN AS A
WHOLE IT REPRESENTS A PERFECTLY FAITHFUL PICTURE OF HOME LIFE, IN
A FAMILY WHO WERE REARED AND EDUCATED EXACTLY AS THIS BOOK
INDICATES. There was such a man as Laddie, and he was as much
bigger and better than my description of him as a real thing is
always better than its presentment. The only difference, barring
the nature work, between my books and those of many other
writers, is that I prefer to describe and to perpetuate the BEST
I have known in life; whereas many authors seem to feel that
they have no hope of achieving a high literary standing unless
they delve in and reproduce the WORST.
"To deny that wrong and pitiful things exist in life is folly,
but to believe that these things are made better by promiscuous
discussion at the hands of writers who FAIL TO PROVE BY THEIR
BOOKS that their viewpoint is either right, clean, or helpful, is
close to insanity. If there is to be any error on either side in
a book, then God knows it is far better that it should be upon
the side of pure sentiment and high ideals than upon that of a
too loose discussion of subjects which often open to a large part
of the world their first knowledge of such forms of sin,
profligate expenditure, and waste of life's best opportunities.
There is one great beauty in idealized romance: reading it can
make no one worse than he is, while it may help thousands to a
cleaner life and higher inspiration than they ever before have
Mrs. Porter has written ten books, and it is not out of place
here to express her attitude toward them. Each was written, she
says, from her heart's best impulses. They are as clean and
helpful as she knew how to make them, as beautiful and
interesting. She has never spared herself in the least degree,
mind or body, when it came to giving her best, and she has never
considered money in relation to what she was writing.
During the hard work and exposure of those early years, during
rainy days and many nights in the darkroom, she went straight
ahead with field work, sending around the globe for books and
delving to secure material for such books as "Birds of the
Bible," "Music of the Wild," and "Moths of the Limberlost." Every
day devoted to such work was "commercially" lost, as publishers
did not fail to tell her. But that was the work she could do, and
do with exceeding joy. She could do it better pictorially, on
account of her lifelong knowledge of living things afield, than
any other woman had as yet had the strength and nerve to do it.
It was work in which she gloried, and she persisted. "Had I been
working for money," comments the author, "not one of these nature
books ever would have been written, or an illustration made."
When the public had discovered her and given generous approval to
"A Girl of the Limberlost," when "The Harvester" had established
a new record, that would have been the time for the author to
prove her commercialism by dropping nature work, and plunging
headlong into books it would pay to write, and for which many
publishers were offering alluring sums. Mrs. Porter's answer was
the issuing of such books as "Music of the Wild" and "Moths of
the Limberlost." No argument is necessary. Mr. Edward Shuman,
formerly critic of the Chicago Record-Herald, was impressed by
this method of work and pointed it out in a review. It appealed
to Mr. Shuman, when "Moths of the Limberlost" came in for review,
following the tremendous success of "The Harvester," that had the
author been working for money, she could have written half a
dozen more "Harvesters" while putting seven years of field work,
on a scientific subject, into a personally illustrated work.
In an interesting passage dealing with her books, Mrs. Porter
writes: "I have done three times the work on my books of fiction
that I see other writers putting into a novel, in order to make
all natural history allusions accurate and to write them in such
fashion that they will meet with the commendation of high
schools, colleges, and universities using what I write as text
books, and for the homes that place them in their libraries. I am
perfectly willing to let time and the hearts of the people set my
work in its ultimate place. I have no delusions concerning it.
"To my way of thinking and working the greatest service a piece
of fiction can do any reader is to leave him with a higher ideal
of life than he had when he began. If in one small degree it
shows him where he can be a gentler, saner, cleaner, kindlier
man, it is a wonder-working book. If it opens his eyes to one
beauty in nature he never saw for himself, and leads him one step
toward the God of the Universe, it is a beneficial book, for one
step into the miracles of nature leads to that long walk, the
glories of which so strengthen even a boy who thinks he is dying,
that he faces his struggle like a gladiator."
During the past ten years thousands of people have sent the
author word that through her books they have been led afield and
to their first realization of the beauties of nature her mail
brings an average of ten such letters a day, mostly from
students, teachers, and professional people of our largest
cities. It can probably be said in all truth of her nature books
and nature novels, that in the past ten years they have sent more
people afield than all the scientific writings of the same
period. That is a big statement, but it is very likely pretty
close to the truth. Mrs. Porter has been asked by two London and
one Edinburgh publishers for the privilege of bringing out
complete sets of her nature books, but as yet she has not felt
ready to do this.
In bringing this sketch of Gene Stratton-Porter to a close it
will be interesting to quote the author's own words describing
the Limberlost Swamp, its gradual disappearance under the
encroachments of business, and her removal to a new field even
richer in natural beauties. She says: "In the beginning of the
end a great swamp region lay in northeastern Indiana. Its head
was in what is now Noble and DeKalb counties; its body in Allen
and Wells, and its feet in southern Adams and northern Jay The
Limberlost lies at the foot and was, when I settled near it,
EXACTLY AS DESCRIBED IN MY BOOKS. The process of dismantling it
was told in, Freckles, to start with, carried on in `A Girl of
the Limberlost,' and finished in `Moths of the Limberlost.' Now
it has so completely fallen prey to commercialism through the
devastation of lumbermen, oilmen, and farmers, that I have been
forced to move my working territory and build a new cabin about
seventy miles north, at the head of the swamp in Noble county,
where there are many lakes, miles of unbroken marsh, and a far
greater wealth of plant and animal life than existed during my
time in the southern part. At the north end every bird that
frequents the Central States is to be found. Here grow in
profusion many orchids, fringed gentians, cardinal flowers,
turtle heads, starry campions, purple gerardias, and grass of
Parnassus. In one season I have located here almost every flower
named in the botanies as native to these regions and several that
I can find in no book in my library.
"But this change of territory involves the purchase of fifteen
acres of forest and orchard land, on a lake shore in marsh
country. It means the building of a permanent, all-year-round
home, which will provide the comforts of life for my family and
furnish a workshop consisting of a library, a photographic
darkroom and negative closet, and a printing room for me. I could
live in such a home as I could provide on the income from my
nature work alone; but when my working grounds were cleared,
drained and ploughed up, literally wiped from the face of the
earth, I never could have moved to new country had it not been
for the earnings of the novels, which I now spend, and always
have spent, in great part UPON MY NATURE WORK. Based on this plan
of work and life I have written ten books, and `please God I live
so long,' I shall write ten more. Possibly every one of them will
be located in northern Indiana. Each one will be filled with all
the field and woods legitimately falling to its location and
peopled with the best men and women I have known."
THE RAT-CATCHERS OF THE WABASH
"Hey, you swate-scented little heart-warmer!" cried Jimmy Malone,
as he lifted his tenth trap, weighted with a struggling muskrat,
from the Wabash. "Varmint you may be to all the rist of
creation, but you mane a night at Casey's to me."
Jimmy whistled softly as he reset the trap. For the moment he
forgot that he was five miles from home, that it was a mile
farther to the end of his line at the lower curve of Horseshoe
Bend, that his feet and fingers were almost freezing, and that
every rat of the ten now in the bag on his back had made him
thirstier. He shivered as the cold wind sweeping the curves of
the river struck him; but when an unusually heavy gust dropped
the ice and snow from a branch above him on the back of his
head, he laughed, as he ducked and cried: "Kape your snowballing
till the Fourth of July, will you!"
"Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!" remarked a tiny gray bird on the tree
above him. Jimmy glanced up. "Chickie, Chickie, Chickie," he
said. "I can't till by your dress whether you are a hin or a
rooster. But I can till by your employmint that you are working
for grub. Have to hustle lively for every worm you find, don't
you, Chickie? Now me, I'm hustlin' lively for a drink, and I be
domn if it seems nicessary with a whole river of drinkin' stuff
flowin' right under me feet. But the old Wabash ain't runnin
"wine and milk and honey" not by the jug-full. It seems to be
compounded of aquil parts of mud, crude ile, and rain water. If
'twas only runnin' Melwood, be gorry, Chickie, you'd see a
mermaid named Jimmy Malone sittin' on the Kingfisher Stump,
combin' its auburn hair with a breeze, and scoopin' whiskey down
its gullet with its tail fin. No, hold on, Chickie, you wouldn't
either. I'm too flat-chisted for a mermaid, and I'd have no time
to lave off gurglin' for the hair-combin' act, which, Chickie, to
me notion is as issential to a mermaid as the curves. I'd be a
sucker, the biggest sucker in the Gar-hole, Chickie bird. I'd be
an all-day sucker, be gobs; yis, and an all- night sucker, too.
Come to think of it, Chickie, be domn if I'd be a sucker at all.
Look at the mouths of thim! Puckered up with a drawstring! Oh,
Hell on the Wabash, Chickie, think of Jimmy Malone lyin' at the
bottom of a river flowin' with Melwood, and a puckerin'-string
mouth! Wouldn't that break the heart of you? I know what I'd be.
I'd be the Black Bass of Horseshoe Bend, Chickie, and I'd locate
just below the shoals headin' up stream, and I'd hold me mouth
wide open till I paralyzed me jaws so I couldn't shut thim. I'd
just let the pure stuff wash over me gills constant, world
without end. Good-by, Chickie. Hope you got your grub, and pretty
soon I'll have enough drink to make me feel like I was the Bass
for one night, anyway."
Jimmy hurried to his next trap, which was empty, but the one
after that contained a rat, and there were footprints in the
snow. "That's where the porrage-heart of the Scotchman comes in,"
said Jimmy, as he held up the rat by one foot, and gave it a
sharp rap over the head with the trap to make sure it was dead.
"Dannie could no more hear a rat fast in one of me traps and not
come over and put it out of its misery, than he could dance a
hornpipe. And him only sicond hand from hornpipe land, too! But
his feet's like lead. Poor Dannie! He gets just about half the
rats I do. He niver did have luck."
Jimmy's gay face clouded for an instant. The twinkle faded from
his eyes, and a look of unrest swept into them. He muttered
something, and catching up his bag, shoved in the rat. As he
reset the trap, a big crow dropped from branch to branch on a
sycamore above him, and his back scarcely was turned before it
alighted on the ice, and ravenously picked at three drops of
blood purpling there.
Away down the ice-sheeted river led Dannie's trail, showing
plainly across the snow blanket. The wind raved through the
trees, and around the curves of the river. The dark earth of the
banks peeping from under overhanging ice and snow, looked like
the entrance to deep mysterious caves. Jimmy's superstitious soul
readily peopled them with goblins and devils. He shuddered, and
began to talk aloud to cheer himself. "Elivin muskrat skins,
times fifteen cints apiece, one dollar sixty-five. That will buy
more than I can hold. Hagginy! Won't I be takin' one long fine
gurgle of the pure stuff! And there's the boys! I might do the
grand for once. One on me for the house! And I might pay
something on my back score, but first I'll drink till I swell
like a poisoned pup. And I ought to get Mary that milk pail she's
been kickin' for this last month. Women and cows are always
kickin'! If the blarsted cow hadn't kicked a hole in the pail,
there'd be no need of Mary kicking for a new one. But dough IS
dubious soldering. Mary says it's bad enough on the dish pan, but
it positively ain't hilthy about the milk pail, and she is right.
We ought to have a new pail. I guess I'll get it first, and fill
up on what's left. One for a quarter will do. And I've several
traps yet, I may get a few more rats."
The virtuous resolve to buy a milk pail before he quenched the
thirst which burned him, so elated Jimmy with good opinion of
himself that he began whistling gayly as he strode toward his
next trap. And by that token, Dannie Macnoun, resetting an empty
trap a quarter of a mile below, knew that Jimmy was coming, and
that as usual luck was with him. Catching his blood and water
dripping bag, Dannie dodged a rotten branch that came crashing
down under the weight of its icy load, and stepping out on the
river, he pulled on his patched wool-lined mittens as he waited
"How many, Dannie?" called Jimmy from afar.
"Seven," answered Dannie. "What for ye?"
"Elivin," replied Jimmy, with a bit of unconscious swagger. "I am
havin' poor luck to-day."
"How mony wad satisfy ye?" asked Dannie sarcastically.
"Ain't got time to figure that," answered Jimmy, working in a
double shuffle as he walked. "Thrash around a little, Dannie. It
will warm you up."
"I am no cauld," answered Dannie.
"No cauld!" imitated Jimmy. "No cauld! Come to observe you
closer, I do detect symptoms of sunstroke in the ridness of your
face, and the whiteness about your mouth; but the frost on your
neck scarf, and the icicles fistooned around the tail of your
coat, tell a different story.
"Dannie, you remind me of the baptizin' of Pete Cox last winter.
Pete's nothin' but skin and bone, and he niver had a square meal
in his life to warm him. It took pushin' and pullin' to get him
in the water, and a scum froze over while he was under. Pete came
up shakin' like the feeder on a thrashin' machine, and whin he
could spake at all, `Bless Jasus,' says he, `I'm jist as
wa-wa-warm as I wa-wa-want to be.' So are you, Dannie, but
there's a difference in how warm folks want to be. For meself,
now, I could aisily bear a little more hate."
"It's honest, I'm no cauld," insisted Dannie; and he might have
added that if Jimmy would not fill his system with Casey's
poisons, that degree of cold would not chill and pinch him
either. But being Dannie, he neither thought nor said it. `"Why,
I'm frozen to me sowl!" cried Jimmy, as he changed the rat bag to
his other hand, and beat the empty one against his leg." Say,
Dannie, where do you think the Kingfisher is wintering?"
"And the Black Bass," answered Dannie. "Where do ye suppose the
Black Bass is noo?"
"Strange you should mintion the Black Bass," said Jimmy. "I was
just havin' a little talk about him with a frind of mine named
Chickie-dom, no, Chickie-dee, who works a grub stake back there.
The Bass might be lyin' in the river bed right under our feet.
Don't you remimber the time whin I put on three big cut-worms,
and skittered thim beyond the log that lays across here, and he
lept from the water till we both saw him the best we ever did,
and nothin' but my old rotten line ever saved him? Or he might be
where it slumps off just below the Kingfisher stump. But I know
where he is all right. He's down in the Gar-hole, and he'll come
back here spawning time, and chase minnows when the Kingfisher
comes home. But, Dannie, where the nation do you suppose the
"No' so far away as ye might think," replied Dannie. "Doc Hues
told me that coming on the train frae Indianapolis on the
fifteenth of December, he saw one fly across a little pond juist
below Winchester. I believe they go south slowly, as the cold
drives them, and stop near as they can find guid fishing. Dinna
that stump look lonely wi'out him?"
"And sound lonely without the Bass slashing around! I am going to
have that Bass this summer if I don't do a thing but fish!" vowed
"I'll surely have a try at him," answered Dannie, with a twinkle
in his gray eyes. "We've caught most everything else in the
Wabash, and our reputation fra taking guid fish is ahead of any
one on the river, except the Kingfisher. Why the Diel dinna one
of us haul out that Bass?"
"Ain't I just told you that I am going to hook him this summer?"
"Dinna ye hear me mention that I intended to take a try at him
mysel'?" questioned Dannie. "Have ye forgotten that I know how to
"'Nough breeze to-day without starting a Highlander," interposed
Jimmy hastily. "I believe I hear a rat in my next trap. That will
make me twilve, and it's good and glad of it I am for I've to
walk to town when my line is reset. There's something Mary
"If Mary wants ye to go to town, why dinna ye leave me to finish
your traps, and start now?" asked Dannie. "It's getting dark, and
if ye are so late ye canna see the drifts, ye never can cut
across the fields; fra the snow is piled waist high, and it's a
mile farther by the road."
"I got to skin my rats first, or I'll be havin' to ask credit
again," replied Jimmy.
"That's easy," answered Dannie. "Turn your rats over to me richt
noo. I'll give ye market price fra them in cash."
"But the skinnin' of them," objected Jimmy for decency sake,
though his eyes were beginning to shine and his fingers to
"Never ye mind about that," retorted Dannie. "I like to take my
time to it, and fix them up nice. Elivin, did ye say?"
"Elivin," answered Jimmy, breaking into a jig, supposedly to keep
his feet warm, in reality because he could not stand quietly
while Dannie pulled off his mittens, got out and unstrapped his
wallet, and carefully counted out the money. "Is that all ye
need?" he asked.
For an instant Jimmy hesitated. Missing a chance to get even a
few cents more meant a little shorter time at Casey's. "That's
enough, I think," he said. "I wish I'd staid out of matrimony,
and then maybe I could iver have a cint of me own. You ought to
be glad you haven't a woman to consume ivery penny you earn
before it reaches your pockets, Dannie Micnoun."
"I hae never seen Mary consume much but calico and food," Dannie
"Oh, it ain't so much what a woman really spinds," said Jimmy,
peevishly, as he shoved the money into his pocket, and pulled on
his mittens. "It's what you know she would spind if she had the
"I dinna think ye'll break up on that," laughed Dannie.
And that was what Jimmy wanted. So long as he could set Dannie
laughing, he could mold him.
"No, but I'll break down," lamented Jimmy in sore self-pity, as
he remembered the quarter sacred to the purchase of the milk
"Ye go on, and hurry," urged Dannie. "If ye dinna start home by
seven, I'll be combing the drifts fra ye before morning."
"Anything I can do for you?" asked Jimmy, tightening his old red
"Yes," answered Dannie. "Do your errand and start straight home,
your teeth are chattering noo. A little more exposure, and the
rheumatism will be grinding ye again. Ye will hurry, Jimmy?"
"Sure!" cried Jimmy, ducking under a snow slide, and breaking
into a whistle as he turned toward the road.
Dannie's gaze followed Jimmy's retreating figure until he climbed
the bank, and was lost in the woods, and the light in his eyes
was the light of love. He glanced at the sky, and hurried down
the river. First across to Jimmy's side to gather his rats and
reset his traps, then to his own. But luck seemed to have turned,
for all the rest of Dannie's were full, and all of Jimmy's were
empty. But as he was gone, it was not necessary for Dannie to
slip across and fill them, as was his custom when they worked
together. He would divide the rats at skinning time, so that
Jimmy would have just twice as many as he, because Jimmy had a
wife to support. The last trap of the line lay a little below the
curve of Horseshoe Bend, and there Dannie twisted the tops of the
bags together, climbed the bank, and struck across Rainbow
Bottom. He settled his load to his shoulders, and glanced ahead
to choose the shortest route. He stopped suddenly with a quick
intake of breath.
"God!" he cried reverently. "Hoo beautifu' are Thy works."
The ice-covered Wabash circled Rainbow Bottom like a broad white
frame, and inside it was a perfect picture wrought in crystal
white and snow shadows. The blanket on the earth lay smoothly in
even places, rose with knolls, fell with valleys, curved over
prostrate logs, heaped in mounds where bushes grew thickly, and
piled high in drifts where the wind blew free. In the shelter of
the bottom the wind had not stripped the trees of their loads as
it had those along the river. The willows, maples, and soft woods
bent almost to earth with their shining burden; but the stout,
stiffly upstanding trees, the oaks, elms, and cottonwoods defied
the elements to bow their proud heads. While the three mighty
trunks of the great sycamore in the middle looked white as the
snow, and dwarfed its companions as it never had in summer; its
wide-spreading branches were sharply cut against the blue
background, and they tossed their frosted balls in the face of
Heaven. The giant of Rainbow Bottom might be broken, but it never
would bend. Every clambering vine, every weed and dried leaf wore
a coat of lace-webbed frostwork. The wind swept a mist of tiny
crystals through the air, and from the shelter of the deep woods
across the river a Cardinal whistled gayly.
The bird of Good Cheer, whistling no doubt on an empty crop, made
Dannie think of Jimmy, and his unfailing fountain of mirth. Dear
Jimmy! Would he ever take life seriously? How good he was to
tramp to town and back after five miles on the ice. He thought of
Mary with almost a touch of impatience. What did the woman want
that was so necessary as to send a man to town after a day on
the ice? Jimmy would be dog tired when he got home. Dannie
decided to hurry, and do the feeding and get in the wood before
he began to skin the rats.
He found walking uncertain. He plunged into unsuspected hollows,
and waded drifts, so that he was panting when he reached the
lane. From there he caught the gray curl of smoke against the sky
from one of two log cabins side by side at the top of the
embankment, and he almost ran toward them. Mary might think they
were late at the traps, and be out doing the feeding, and it
would be cold for a woman.
On reaching his own door, he dropped the rat bags inside, and
then hurried to the yard of the other cabin. He gathered a big
load of wood in his arms, and stamping the snow from his feet,
called "Open!" at the door. Dannie stepped inside and filled the
empty box. With smiling eyes he turned to Mary, as he brushed the
snow and moss from his sleeves.
"Nothing but luck to-day," he said. "Jimmy took elivin fine skins
frae his traps before he started to town, and I got five more
that are his, and I hae eight o' my own."
Mary looked such a dream to Dannie, standing there all pink and
warm and tidy in her fresh blue dress, that he blinked and
smiled, half bewildered.
"What did Jimmy go to town for?" she asked.
"Whatever it was ye wanted," answered Dannie.
"What was it I wanted?" persisted Mary.
"He dinna tell me," replied Dannie, and the smile wavered.
"Me, either," said Mary, and she stooped and picked up her
Dannie went out and gently closed the door. He stood for a second
on the step, forcing himself to take an inventory of the work.
There were the chickens to feed, and the cows to milk, feed, and
water. Both the teams must be fed and bedded, a fire in his own
house made, and two dozen rats skinned, and the skins put to
stretch and cure. And at the end of it all, instead of a bed and
rest, there was every probability that he must drive to town
after Jimmy; for Jimmy could get helpless enough to freeze in a
drift on a dollar sixty-five.
"Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy!" muttered Dannie. "I wish ye wadna." And he
was not thinking of himself, but of the eyes of the woman inside.
So Dannie did all the work, and cooked his supper, because he
never ate in Jimmy's cabin when Jimmy was not there. Then he
skinned rats, and watched the clock, because if Jimmy did not
come by eleven, it meant he must drive to town and bring him
home. No wonder Jimmy chilled at the trapping when he kept his
blood on fire with whiskey. At half-past ten, Dannie, with
scarcely half the rats finished, went out into the storm and
hitched to the single buggy. Then he tapped at Mary Malone's
door, quite softly, so that he would not disturb her if she had
gone to bed. She was not sleeping, however, and the loneliness of
her slight figure, as she stood with the lighted room behind her,
struck Dannie forcibly, so that his voice trembled with pity as
he said: "Mary, I've run out o' my curing compound juist in the
midst of skinning the finest bunch o' rats we've taken frae the
traps this winter. I am going to drive to town fra some more
before the stores close, and we will be back in less than an
hour. I thought I'd tell ye, so if ye wanted me ye wad know why I
dinna answer. Ye winna be afraid, will ye?"
"No," replied Mary, "I won't be afraid."
"Bolt the doors, and pile on plenty of wood to keep ye warm,"
said Dannie as he turned away.
Just for a minute Mary stared out into the storm. Then a gust of
wind nearly swept her from her feet, and she pushed the door
shut, and slid the heavy bolt into place. For a little while she
leaned and listened to the storm outside. She was a clean, neat,
beautiful Irish woman. Her eyes were wide and blue, her cheeks
pink, and her hair black and softly curling about her face and
neck. The room in which she stood was neat as its keeper. The
walls were whitewashed, and covered with prints, pictures, and
some small tanned skins. Dried grasses and flowers filled the
vases on the mantle. The floor was neatly carpeted with a striped
rag carpet, and in the big open fireplace a wood fire roared. In
an opposite corner stood a modern cooking stove, the pipe passing
through a hole in the wall, and a door led into a sleeping room
As her eyes swept the room they rested finally on a framed
lithograph of the Virgin, with the Infant in her arms. Slowly
Mary advanced, her gaze fast on the serene pictured face of the
mother clasping her child. Before it she stood staring. Suddenly
her breast began to heave, and the big tears brimmed from her
eyes and slid down her cheeks.
"Since you look so wise, why don't you tell me why?" she
demanded. "Oh, if you have any mercy, tell me why!"
Then before the steady look in the calm eyes, she hastily made
the sign of the cross, and slipping to the floor, she laid her
head on a chair, and sobbed aloud.
RUBEN O'KHAYAM AND THE MILK PAIL
Jimmy Malone, carrying a shinning tin milk pail, stepped into
Casey's saloon and closed the door behind him.
"E' much as wine has played the Infidel,
And robbed me of my robe of Honor--well,
I wonder what the Vinters buy
One-half so precious as the stuff they sell."
Jimmy stared at the back of a man leaning against the bar, and
gazing lovingly at a glass of red wine, as he recited in mellow,
swinging tones. Gripping the milk pail, Jimmy advanced a step.
The man stuck a thumb in the belt of his Norfolk jacket, and the
verses flowed on:
"The grape that can with logic absolute
The two and seventy jarring sects confute:
The sovereign Alchemist that in a trice
Life's leaden metal into Gold transmute."
Jimmy's mouth fell open, and he slowly nodded indorsement of the
sentiment. The man lifted his glass.
"Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Yesterday this Day's Madness did prepare;
To-morrow's Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go nor where."
Jimmy set the milk pail on the bar and faced the man.
"'Fore God, that's the only sensible word I ever heard on my side
of the quistion in all me life. And to think that it should come
from the mouth of a man wearing such a Go-to-Hell coat!"
Jimmy shoved the milk pail in front of the stranger. "In the name
of humanity, impty yourself of that," he said. "Fill me pail with
the stuff and let me take it home to Mary. She's always got the
bist of the argumint, but I'm thinkin' that would cork her. You
won't?" questioned Jimmy resentfully. "Kape it to yoursilf, thin,
like you did your wine." He shoved the bucket toward the
barkeeper, and emptied his pocket on the bar. "There, Casey, you
be the Sovereign Alchemist, and transmute that metal into Melwood
pretty quick, for I've not wet me whistle in three days, and the
belly of me is filled with burnin' autumn leaves. Gimme a loving
cup, and come on boys, this is on me while it lasts."
The barkeeper swept the coin into the till, picked up the bucket,
and started back toward a beer keg.
"Oh, no you don't!" cried Jimmy. "Come back here and count that
`leaden metal,' and then be transmutin' it into whiskey straight,
the purest gold you got. You don't drown out a three-days'
thirst with beer. You ought to give me 'most two quarts for
The barkeeper was wise. He knew that what Jimmy started would go
on with men who could pay, and he filled the order generously.
Jimmy picked up the pail. He dipped a small glass in the liquor,
and held near an ounce aloft.
"I wonder what the Vinters buy
One-half so precious as the stuff they sell?"
he quoted. "Down goes!" and he emptied the glass at a draft.
Then he walked to the group at the stove, and began dipping a
drink for each.
When Jimmy came to a gray-haired man, with a high forehead and an
intellectual face, he whispered: "Take your full time, Cap. Who's
the rhymin' inkybator?"
"Thread man, Boston," mouthed the Captain, as he reached for the
glass with trembling fingers. Jimmy held on. "Do you know that
stuff he's giving off?" The Captain nodded, and rose to his feet.
He always declared he could feel it farther if he drank standing.
"What's his name?" whispered Jimmy, releasing the glass.
"Rubaiyat, Omar Khayyam," panted the Captain, and was lost. Jimmy
finished the round of his friends, and then approached the bar.
His voice was softening. "Mister Ruben O'Khayam," he said, "it's
me private opinion that ye nade lace-trimmed pantalettes and a
sash to complate your costume, but barrin' clothes, I'm entangled
in the thrid of your discourse. Bein' a Boston man meself, it
appeals to me, that I detict the refinemint of the East in yer
voice. Now these, me frinds, that I've just been tratin', are men
of these parts; but we of the middle East don't set up to equal
the culture of the extreme East. So, Mr. O'Khayam, solely for the
benefit you might be to us, I'm askin' you to join me and me
frinds in the momenchous initiation of me new milk pail."
Jimmy lifted a brimming glass, and offered it to the Thread Man.
"Do you transmute?" he asked. Now if the Boston man had looked
Jimmy in the eye, and said "I do," this book would not have been
written. But he did not. He looked at the milk pail, and the
glass, which had passed through the hands of a dozen men in a
little country saloon away out in the wilds of Indiana, and said:
"I do not care to partake of further refreshment; if I can be of
intellectual benefit, I might remain for a time."
For a flash Jimmy lifted the five feet ten of his height to six;
but in another he shrank below normal. What appeared to the
Thread Man to be a humble, deferential seeker after wisdom, led
him to one of the chairs around the big coal base burner. But the
boys who knew Jimmy were watching the whites of his eyes, as they
drank the second round. At this stage Jimmy was on velvet. How
long he remained there depended on the depth of Melwood in the
milk pail between his knees. He smiled winningly on the Thread
"Ye know, Mister O'Khayam," he said, "at the present time you are
located in one of the wooliest parts of the wild East. I don't
suppose anything woolier could be found on the plains of Nebraska
where I am reliably informed they've stuck up a pole and labeled
it the cinter of the United States. Being a thousand miles closer
that pole than you are in Boston, naturally we come by that
distance closer to the great wool industry. Most of our wool here
grows on our tongues, and we shear it by this transmutin'
process, concerning which you have discoursed so beautiful. But
barrin' the shearin' of our wool, we are the mildest, most
sheepish fellows you could imagine. I don't reckon now there is a
man among us who could be induced to blat or to butt, under the
most tryin' circumstances. My Mary's got a little lamb, and all
the rist of the boys are lambs. But all the lambs are waned, and
clusterin' round the milk pail. Ain't that touchin'? Come on,
now, Ruben, ile up and edify us some more!"
"On what point do you seek enlightenment?" inquired the Thread
Jimmy stretched his long legs, and spat against the stove in pure
"Oh, you might loosen up on the work of a man," he suggested.
"These lambs of Casey's fold may larn things from you to help
thim in the striss of life. Now here's Jones, for instance, he's
holdin' togither a gang of sixty gibbering Atalyans; any wan of
thim would cut his throat and skip in the night for a dollar, but
he kapes the beast in thim under, and they're gettin' out gravel
for the bed of a railway. Bingham there is oil. He's punchin' the
earth full of wan thousand foot holes, and sendin' off two
hundred quarts of nitroglycerine at the bottom of them, and
pumpin' the accumulation across continents to furnish folks light
and hate. York here is runnin' a field railway between Bluffton
and Celina, so that I can get to the river and the resurvoir to
fish without walkin'. Haines is bossin' a crew of forty Canadians
and he's takin' the timber from the woods hereabouts, and sending
it to be made into boats to carry stuff across sea. Meself, and
me partner, Dannie Micnoun, are the lady-likest lambs in the
bunch. We grow grub to feed folks in summer and trap for skins to
cover 'em in winter. Corn is our great commodity. Plowin' and
hoein' it in summer, and huskin' it in the fall is sich lamb-like
work. But don't mintion it in the same brith with tendin' our
four dozen fur traps on a twenty-below-zero day. Freezing hands
and fate, and fallin' into air bubbles, and building fires to
thaw out our frozen grub. Now here among us poor little,
transmutin', lambs you come, a raging lion, ripresentin' the
cultour and rayfinement of the far East. By the pleats on your
breast you show us the style. By the thrid case in your hand you
furnish us material so that our women can tuck their petticoats
so fancy, and by the book in your head you teach us your
sooperiority. By the same token, I wish I had that book in me
head, for I could just squelch Dannie and Mary with it complate.
Say, Mister O'Khayam, next time you come this way bring me a
copy. I'm wantin' it bad. I got what you gave off all secure, but
I take it there's more. No man goin' at that clip could shut off
with thim few lines. Do you know the rist?"
The Thread Man knew the most of it, and although he was very
uncomfortable, he did not know just how to get away, so he
recited it. The milk pail was empty now, and Jimmy had almost
forgotten that it was a milk pail, and seemed inclined to resent
the fact that it had gone empty. He beat time on the bottom of
it, and frequently interrupted the Thread Man to repeat a couplet
which particularly suited him. By and by he got to his feet and
began stepping off a slow dance to a sing-song repetition of
lines that sounded musical to him, all the time marking the
measures vigorously on the pail. When he tired of a couplet, he
pounded the pail over the bar, stove, or chairs in encore, until
the Thread Man could think up another to which he could dance.
"Wine! Wine! Wine! Red Wine!
The Nightingale cried to the rose,"
chanted Jimmy, thumping the pail in time, and stepping off the
measures with feet that scarcely seemed to touch the floor. He
flung his hat to the barkeeper, and his coat on a chair, ruffled
his fingers through his thick auburn hair, and holding the pail
under one arm, he paused, panting for breath and begging for
more. The Thread Man sat on the edge of his chair, and the eyes
he fastened on Jimmy were beginning to fill with interest.
"Come fill the Cup and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-Garment of Repentance fling.
The bird of time has but a little way to flutter
And the bird is on the wing."
Smash came the milk pail across the bar. "Hooray!" shouted
Jimmy. "Besht yet!" Bang! Bang! He was off." Bird ish on the
wing," he chanted, and his feet flew. "Come fill the cup, and in
the firesh of spring--Firesh of Spring, Bird ish on the Wing!"
Between the music of the milk pail, the brogue of the panted
verses, and the grace of Jimmy's flying feet, the Thread Man was
almost prostrate. It suddenly came to him that here might be a
chance to have a great time.
"More!" gasped Jimmy. "Me some more!" The Thread Man wiped his
"Wether the cup with sweet or bitter run,
The wine of life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The leaves of life keep falling one by one."
Away went Jimmy.
"Swate or bitter run,
Laves of life kape falling one by one."
Bang! Bang! sounded a new improvision on the sadly battered
pail, and to a new step Jimmy flashed back and forth the length
of the saloon. At last he paused to rest a second. "One more!
Just one more!" he begged.
"A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A jug of wine, a Loaf of Bread and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness.
Oh, wilderness were Paradise enough!"
Jimmy's head dropped an instant. His feet slowly shuffled in
improvising a new step, and then he moved away, thumping the milk
pail and chanting:
"A couple of fish poles underneath a tree,
A bottle of Rye and Dannie beside me
A fishing in the Wabash.
Were the Wabash Paradise? HULLY GEE!
"Tired out, he dropped across a chair facing the back and folded
his arms. He regained breath to ask the Thread Man: "Did you iver
have a frind?"
He had reached the confidential stage.
The Boston man was struggling to regain his dignity. He retained