Part 4 out of 5
The president of that date was, like all the other presidents of
Middletown College, a florid, hearty old gentleman with more red blood
than he knew what to do with, in spite of his seventy years. He was vastly
amused at the inexperienced young fellow's simple-minded notion, and,
clapping him on the shoulder, said with his cheerfully Johnsonian
rotundity: "Why, my dear young sir, your recent sad bereavement must have
temporarily deranged your mental faculties, that at your age you can
contemplate adopting such a desiccated mode of existence. Your
proposition is, however, a highly advantageous one to your college, and I
shall see that it is accepted. However, I am willing to lay a wager with
you that a year will not be out before you are asking to be freed from
J.M., trembling in suspense, took in nothing of the president's speech
beyond the acceptance of his offer, and, pale with relief, he tried to
stammer his thanks and his devotion to his chosen cause. He made no
attempt to contradict the president's confident prophecies; he only made
the greatest possible haste to the tower-rooms which were to be his home.
His eyes filled with thankfulness at his lot as he paced about them, and,
looking out of the windows upon the campus, he had a prophetic vision of
his future, of the simple, harmless, innocent life which was to be his.
Of the two prophets he proved himself the truer. The head of his college
and one generation after another of similar presidents laughed and joked
him about the _Wanderlust_ which would some day sweep him away from his
old moorings, or the sensible girl who would some day get hold of him and
make a man of him. He outlasted all these wiseacres, however, watching
through mild, spectacled eyes the shifting changes of the college world,
which always left him as immovable as the old elms before the library
door. He never went away from Middletown, except on the most necessary
trips to New York or Boston on business connected with book-buying for the
He explained this unheard-of stagnation by saying that the utter
metamorphosis of the village after the college life stopped gave him
change enough. Only once had he gone farther and, to one of the younger
professors who had acquired an odd taste for old J.M.'s society,
confessed hesitatingly that he did not go away because he had no place to
which he could go, except to his childhood home. He said he couldn't bear
to go there lest he find it so changed that the sight of it would rob him
of his old memories, the dearest--in fact the only possessions of his
heart. After a pause he had added to his young listener, who found the
little old secular monk a tremendously pathetic figure: "Do you know,
Layton, I sometimes feel that I have missed a great deal in life--and yet
not at all what everybody thought I would miss, the stir of active life or
the vulgar excitement of being in love. All that kind of thing seems as
distasteful to me now as ever."
There he stopped and poked the fire until the young professor, overcome
with sympathetic curiosity, urged him to go on. He sighed at this, and
said: "Why, fortune ought not to have made me an only child, although I
can't say that I've ever longed for brothers or sisters.... But now I feel
that I should like very much to have some nephews and nieces. I never
could have stood having children of my own--I should have been crushed
under the responsibility; but a nephew, now--a young creature with a brain
and soul developing--to whom I could be a help ... I find as I get older
that I have an empty feeling as the college year draws to a close. I have
kept myself so remote from human life, for fear of being dragged into that
feverish center of it which has always so repelled me, that now I do not
touch it at all." He ended with a gentle resignation, taking off his
glasses and rubbing them sadly: "I suppose I do not deserve anything more,
because I was not willing to bear the burdens of common life ... and yet
it almost seems that there should be some place for such as I--?"
The heart of his young friend had melted within him at this revelation of
the submissive isolation of the sweet-tempered, cool-blooded old scholar.
Carelessly confident, like all the young, that any amount or variety of
human affection could be his for the asking, he promised himself to make
the dear old recluse a sharer in his own wealth; but the next year he
married a handsome, ambitious girl who made him accept an advantageous
offer in the commercial world. With his disappearance, the solitary door
in the prison walls which kept J.M. remote from his fellows swung shut.
He looked so hopelessly dull and becalmed after this that the president
was moved to force on him a little outing. Stopping one day with his
touring-car at the door of the library, he fairly swept the sedentary
little man off his feet and out to the machine. J.M. did not catch his
breath during the swift flight to the president's summer home in a trim,
green, elm-shaded village in the Berkshires. When he recovered a little he
was startled by the resemblance of the place to his old recollections of
Woodville. There were the same white houses with green shutters, and big
white pillars to the porches, the same green lawns and clumps of peonies
and carefully tended rose-gardens, and the same old-New-England air of
distance from the hurry and smoky energy of modern commercial life.
He spoke of this to the president's wife and she explained that it was no
wonder. The village was virtually owned by a summer colony of oldish
people who had lived there in their youth and who devoted themselves to
keeping the old place just as it had been. "We haven't any children to
bother about any more," she said, laughing, "so we take it out in putting
knockers on the doors instead of bells and in keeping the grocery-stores
out of sight so that the looks of the village green shan't be spoiled."
After J.M. returned to deserted Middletown, he could not keep out of his
mind the vision of the village he had just left, and the thought of the
village like it which he had loved so well in his boyhood. It seemed to
him that if Woodville kept its old aspect at all, he would find it a
comfort to try to inspire the people now living there to preserve the
old-timey look of it, as the president was doing for his old home. There
was positively a thrill for J.M. in the thought of his possibly
influencing other people, and before he knew it the plan had made itself
the main interest of the interminably long, empty days of the summer
vacation. His vague feeling of a lack in his life crystallized about a
definite attempt at filling it. He was stirred from his inertia and,
leaving word with the registrar of the college, a newcomer who was not at
all surprised that the librarian should follow the example of all the rest
of the faculty, J.M. made the three hours' journey which had separated
him for so many years from the home of his youth.
As the train wound along the valley beside the river, and as the familiar
outlines of the mountains rose up like the faces of dear, unforgotten
friends, J.M. expanded and bloomed with delight in his new idea; but it
was a very shriveled and dusty little old scholar who finally arrived at
the farther end of the Main Street of Woodville and stood, in the hush of
the noon hour, gazing back with a stricken face at the row of slovenly
unlovely front yards separating the wretched old houses from the street.
He stood before the house that had been his home, and when he looked at it
he turned very pale and sat down quickly as though his knees had failed
him. Apparently the house had not been painted since his childhood, and
certainly it had not been repaired. Broken, dangling shutters gave it a
blear-eyed look which it made him sick to see, and swarms of untidily
pin-feathered chickens wandered about over the hard-beaten earth of the
yard, which was without a spear of grass, littered with old boxes and
crates and unsightly rags, and hung with a flapping, many-legged wash.
From the three rural mail-delivery boxes at the gate, he gathered that
three families were crowded into the house which had seemed none too large
for his father, his mother, and himself. He put on his glasses and read
the names shudderingly--Jean-Baptiste Loyette, Patrick McCartey, and S.
"Good heavens!" he observed feebly to the vacant, dusty road beside him,
and in answer a whistle from the big, barrack-like building at the other
end of the street screamed so stridently that the heavy August air seemed
to vibrate about him in hot waves.
At once, as if all the houses on the street were toy barometers, every
door swung open and a stream of men and boys in dirty shirts and overalls
flowed out through the squalid yards along the sidewalks toward the
factory. From the house before which the librarian of Middletown College
sat in a crushed heap of resentment came three men to correspond to the
three mail-boxes: one short and red-haired; one dark, thick-set, and
grizzle-bearded; and the third tall, clumsily built, with an impassive
face and dark, smoldering eyes. They stared at the woebegone old stranger
before their gate, but evidently had no time to lose, as their house was
the last on the street, and hurried away toward the hideous, many-windowed
J.M. gazed after them, shaking his head droopingly, until a second
eruption from the house made him look back. The cause of the hard-beaten
bare ground of the yard was apparent at once, even to his inexperienced
eyes. The old house seemed to be exuding children from a thousand
pores--children red-haired and black-haired, and tow-headed, boys and
girls, little and big, and apparently yelling on a wager about who owned
the loudest voice, all dirty-faced, barelegged, and scantily clothed.
J.M. mechanically set himself to counting them, but when he got as high
as seventeen, he thought he must have counted some of them twice, and left
A draggle-tailed woman stepped to a door and threw out a pan of
dish-water. J.M. resolved to overcome his squeamish disgust and make a
few inquiries before he fled back to the blessed cleanliness and quiet of
Middletown Library. Picking his way gingerly through the chickens and
puppies and cats and children, the last now smitten into astonished
silence by his appearance, he knocked on the door. The woman who came to
answer him was dressed in what had been a black and purple percale,
wrapper, she had a baby on her arm, and was making vain attempts to fasten
up a great coil of hair at the back of her head. No, she told him volubly,
she couldn't remember the town when it was any different, though she and
Pat had lived there ever since they were married and came over from
Ireland, and that was the whole of sixteen years ago.
"Oh!" with a sudden gush of sympathy, "and so it was your old home! Isn't
that interring now! You must come in and sit awhile. Pat, git a chair for
the gentleman, and Molly, take the baby so I can talk better. Oh, _won't_
you come in? You'd _better_, now, and have a bite to eat and a sup of tea.
I've some ready made." Of course, she went on, she knew the house didn't
look so nice as in his day.... "It's all along of the children! Irish
people can't kape so tidy, now, _can_ they, with siven or eight, as
Yankees can with one--" But it certainly was a grand house, she didn't
wonder he came back to look at it. Wasn't it fairly like a palace, now,
compared with anything her kin back in Ireland had, and such a fine big
place for the children to play an' all.
J.M. broke in to ask a final question, which she answered, making vain
attempts to button her buttonless collar about a fat white neck, and
following him as he retreated toward the street, through a lively game of
baseball among the older boys. No, so far as she knew there wasn't one of
the Yankees left that had lived here in old times. They had gone away when
the factory had come in, she'd heard said. J.M. had expected this answer,
but when it came, he turned a little sick for an instant, and felt giddy
with the heat of the sun and lack of food and a desolation in his heart
sharper and more searching than any emotion he had known since his
boyhood. Through a mist before his eyes, he saw his hostess make a wild
warning gesture, and heard a yell of dismay from the crowd of boys, but
before he could turn his head, something cruelly hard struck him in the
side. In the instant before he fell, his clearest impression was utter
amazement that anything in the world could cause him such incredible pain,
but then his head struck heavily against a stone, and he lay quite still
in a little crumpled heap under the old elm which had sheltered his
For an instant after he opened his eyes again, all his life after leaving
Woodville seemed to have melted away, for there at the foot of his bed was
the little, many-paned window out of which he had watched the seasons
change all through his boyhood, and close above him hung the familiar
slanting roof of his own little, old room. However, when he stirred, it
was not his mother but a rosy-faced Irish woman who stopped her sewing and
asked him in a thick, sweet brogue if he needed anything. As he stared at
her, recollecting but dimly having seen her glossy brown hair and fair,
matronly face before, she exclaimed: "Ah, I'm Bridget McCartey, you know,
an' you were hurted by the lads throwin' a baseball into your ribs. It's
lyin' here a week sick you've been, and, savin' your pardon, the sooner
you tell me where your folks live the better. They'll be fair wild about
The sick man closed his eyes again. "I have no family at all," he said. It
was the first time in years that the thoroughgoing extent of that fact had
been brought home to him.
His nurse was moved to sympathy over so awful a fate. "Sure an' don't I
know how 'tis. Pat an' I left every one of our kith behind us, mostly,
when we come away, and it's that hungry for thim that I get. I dare say it
ill becomes me to say it, but the first thing I says to myself when I see
you was how like you are to one of my father's brothers in County Kerry.
It's been a real comfort to have you here sick, as though I had some of my
own kin near. _His_ name was Jerry. It's not possible, is't, that the J.
on your handkerchief stands for Jerry, too?"
For the first time since he had left Woodville J.M. disclosed the
grotesque secret of his initials. In the flaccid indifference of
convalescence it flowed from him painlessly. "My name is Jeroboam
"Exactly to a hair like Uncle Jerry's!" cried Mrs. McCartey, overjoyed by
the coincidence. "Except that his J. stood for Jeremiah and his M. for
Michael. If you will tell me your last name, too, I'll try and lambaste
the children into callin' you proper. Not havin' sorra name to speak of
you by, and hearin' me say to Pat how you favored my father's brother,
haven't they taken to callin' _you_ Uncle Jerry--more shame to them!"
The mention of the children awoke to life J.M.'s old punctilious habits.
He tried to sit up. "But you have so little space for all your family--you
should not have taken me in; where can the children sleep?"
Mrs. McCartey pushed him back on the pillow with an affectionate firmness
born of "the bringin' up of sivin." "Now lay still, Uncle Jerry, and kape
yourself cool." The name slipped out unnoticed in her hospitable fervor
"Wasn't it the least we could do when 'twas our own Mike's ball that came
near killin' you? An' the children--the boys, that is, that this is their
room--isn't it out in the barn they're sleepin' on the hay? An' that
pleased with it. Pat and I were thinkin' that now was a good chance to
teach them to give up things--when you've no old folks about you, the
children are so apt to grow up selfish-like--but they think the barn's
better nor the house, bless them, so don't _you_ worry."
She pulled the bedclothes straight (J.M. noticed that they were quite
clean), settled the pillow, and drew down the shade. "Now thin, you've
talked enough," she said. "Take a sup of sleep for a while." And to
J.M.'s feeble surprise he found himself doing exactly as he was told,
dozing off with a curious weak-headed feeling of comfort.
He came to his strength slowly, the doctor forbidding him to think of
taking a journey for a month at least. Indeed, J.M., thinking of his
isolated tower-rooms in the deserted college town, was in no haste to
leave Mrs. McCartey's kindly, dictatorial care. He had been very sick
indeed, the doctor told him seriously, and he felt it in the trembling
weakness of his first attempts at sitting up, and in the blank vacancy of
At first he could not seem to remember for more than an instant at a time
how he came to be there, and later, as his capacity for thought came back,
he found his surroundings grown insensibly familiar to him. He felt
himself somehow to have slipped so completely into the inside of things
that it was impossible to recover the remote, hostile point of view which
had been his as he had looked over the gate a fortnight ago. For instance,
knowing now, not only that the children's faces were scrubbed to a
polished redness every morning, but being: cognizant through his window of
most of the palpably unavoidable accidents of play which made them dirty
half an hour later, he would have resented as unreasonable intolerance any
undue emphasis on this phase of their appearance.
The first day that he was well enough to sit out on the porch was a great
event. The children, who before had made only shy, fleeting visits to his
room with "little handfuls of bokays," as their mother said, were as
excited and elated over his appearance as though it reflected some credit
on themselves. Indeed, J.M. found that he was the subject of
unaccountable pride to all the family, and one of the first of those
decisions of his between McCartey and Loyette occurred that very morning.
The Loyette children insisted on being included in the rejoicing over the
convalescent's step forward, and soon Pierre, the oldest boy, was haled
before J.M. himself to account for his having dared to use the McCartey
name for the sick man.
"You're _not_ his Uncle Jerry, _are_ you?" demanded Mike McCartey.
J.M. thought that now was the time to repress the too exuberant McCartey
familiarity. "I'm his Uncle Jerry just as much as I am yours!" he said
It took him a whole day to understand the jubilant triumph of the
French-Canadians and to realize that he had apparently not only upheld the
McCarteys in their preposterous nickname, but that he had added all the
black-eyed Loyettes to his new family. Mrs. McCartey said to him that
evening, with an innocent misconception of the situation, "Sure an'
mustn't it sound fine to you, that name, when you've no kith of your own."
J.M. realized that that speech broke down the last bridge of retreat into
his forsaken dignity. It is worthy of note that as he lay in bed that
evening, meditating upon it, he suddenly broke into a little laugh of
utter amusement, such as the assistants at Middletown Library had never
heard from his lips.
The rapidity with which he was fitted into the routine of the place took
his breath away. At first when he sat on the porch, which was the common
ground of all the families, either Mrs. McCartey or Mrs. Loyette sewed
near him to keep an eye on the children, but, as his strength came back,
they made him, with a sigh of relief, their substitute, and disappeared
into the house about neglected housework. "Oh, ain't it lovely now!" cried
Mrs. McCartey to Mrs. Loyette, "to have an old person of your own about
the place that you can leave the children with a half-minute, while you
snatch the wash-boiler off the fire or keep the baby from cuttin' her
throat with the butcher-knife."
Mrs. Loyette agreed, shaking her sleek black head a great many times in
emphasis. "Zose pipple," she added, "zose lucky pipple who have all zere
old pipple wiz zem, they can _not_ know how hard is eet to be a mozzer,
wizout a one grand'mere, or oncle."
So J.M. at the end of his first fortnight in Woodville found himself
undisputed umpire in all the games, discussions, quarrels,
and undertakings of seven young, Irish-Americans and more
French-Canadian-Americans than he could count. He never did find out
exactly how many Loyettes there were. The untidy front yard, littered with
boxes and barrels, assumed a strangely different aspect to him as he
learned its infinite possibilities, for games and buildings and
imaginations generally. Sometimes it was a village with a box as house for
each child, ranged in streets and lanes, and then Uncle Jerry was the
mayor and had to make the laws. Sometimes the yard foamed and heaved in
salt waves as, embarked in caravels, the expedition for the discovery of
America (out of the older children's history-books) dashed over the
Atlantic. It is needless to state that Uncle Jerry was Christopher
Both the grateful mothers whom he was relieving cried out that never had
there been such peace as since he came, not only because the children
could appeal to him for decisions instead of running to their mothers, but
because, the spectacular character in every game belonging to him as
"company," there were no more quarrels between Mike and Pierre about the
leadership. J.M. could not seem to find his old formal personality for
weeks after Mike's baseball had knocked it out of him, and in the meantime
he submitted, meekly at first and later with an absurd readiness, to being
an Indian chieftain, and the head of the fire department, and the
principal of a big public school, and the colonel of a regiment, and the
owner of a cotton factory, and the leader of Arctic expeditions, and all
the other characters which the fertile minds inhabiting the front yard
forced upon him. He realized that he was a changed soul when he found
himself rejoicing as the boys came tugging yet another big crate, obtained
from the factory, to add to the collection before him. They needed it for
the car for the elephant as the circus they were then performing moved
from one end of the yard to the other.
He was often very, very tired when night came, but he surprised himself by
never having a touch of his old enemy, insomnia. At first he went to bed
when the children did, but as he progressed out of convalescence, he sat
out on the porch with Pat and Bridget, as they insisted he should call
them. It was very quiet then, when the cool summer dusk had hushed all the
young life which made each day such an absorbing series of unexpected
events. The puppies and kittens slept in their boxes, the hens had
gathered the chickens under their wings, the children were sound asleep,
and the great elms cast kindly shadows on the porch where the older people
sat. The Loyettes often came out and joined them, and J.M. listened with
an interest which surprised him as they told stories about hard times in
their old homes, rejoiced in their present prosperity, and made humbly
aspiring plans for their children.
For the first time in his life J.M. felt himself to be a person of almost
unlimited resources, both of knowledge and wealth, as the pitiful
meagerness of his hosts supply of these commodities was revealed to him in
these talks, more intimate than any he had known, more vitally human than
any he had ever heard. The acquisition of rare first edition, perhaps the
most stirring event in his life in Middletown, had never aroused him to
anything like the eagerness with which he heard the Loyettes helplessly
bemoaning their inability to do anything for their oldest child, Rosalie,
a slim girl of seventeen. Her drawing-teacher at school had said that the
child had an unusual gift for designing, and a manufacturer of wallpaper,
who had seen some of her work on a visit to the Woodville factory, had
confirmed this judgment and said that "something ought to be done for
"But _what?_" her parents wondered with an utter ignorance of the world
outside of Woodville which astonished J.M.
"Why don't you send her to a school of design?" he asked.
"Vat is _zat_?" asked Papa Loyette blankly, and "We have no money," sighed
J.M. stirred himself, wrote to the director of a school of design in
Albany, consulted the priest of the parish, sent some of Rosalie's work,
and asked about scholarships. When a favorable answer came, he hurried to
explain the matter to the Loyettes and offered to provide the four dollars
a week necessary for her board at the Catholic Home for Working Girls, of
which the priest had told him. He went to bed that night with his heart
beating faster from the reflection of their agitated joy than it had done
for years. He could not get to sleep for a long time, such a thrill of
emotion did he get from each recollection of Maman Loyette's broad face
bathed in tears of gratitude.
After this they fell into the way of asking him about all their problems,
from the management of difficult children to what to do about an unjust
foreman and whether to join the union. The childless, unpractical,
academic old bachelor, forced to meditate on these new subjects, gave
utterance to advice whose sagacity amazed himself. He had not known it was
in him to have such sensible ideas about how to interest a growing boy in
athletics to keep him from drinking; and as for the question of unions, he
boiled at the memory of some of the half-baked, pedantic theories he had
heard promulgated by the professor of political economy in Middletown.
On the other hand, he stood in wonder at the unconscious but profound
wisdom which these ignorant people showed as to the fundamentals of life.
"No, we're not much for _clothes!_" said Mrs. McCartey, comfortably
tucking up her worn and faded sleeves. "Haven't we all of us enough good
clothes to go to Mass in, and that's a'plenty! The rest of Pat's money
goes to gettin' lots of good food for the children, bless their red faces
and fat little bellies! and laying by a dollar or so a week against the
rainy day. Children can play better, anyhow, with only overalls and
shirts. The best times for kids is the cheapest!"
J.M. thought of the heavy-eyed, harassed professors of his acquaintance,
working nights and Sundays at hack work to satisfy the nervous ambitions
of their wives to keep up appearances, and gave a sudden swift embrace to
the ragged child on his lap, little Molly, who had developed an especial
cult for him, following him everywhere with great pansy eyes of adoring
On his first expedition out of the yard since his illness, he was touched
by the enthusiastic interest which all Main Street took in his progress.
Women with babies came down to nearly every gate to pass the time of day
with Rosalie, on whose arm he leaned, and to say in their varying foreign
accents that they were glad to see the sick gentleman able to be out.
Since J.M. had had a chance at first-hand observation of the variety of
occupation forced upon the mother of seven, he was not surprised that they
wore more or less dilapidated wrappers and did not Marcel-wave their hair.
Now he noticed the motherly look in their eyes, and the exuberant health
of the children laughing and swarming about them. When he returned to the
house he sat down on the porch to consider a number of new ideas which
were springing up in his mind, beginning to return to its old vigor. Mrs.
McCartey came out to see how he had stood the fatigue and said: "Sure you
look smarter than before you went! It inter_est_ed you now, didn't it, to
have a chance really to see the old place?"
"Yes," said J.M., "it did, very much."
Mrs. McCartey went on: "I've been thinkin' so many times since you come
how much luckier you are than most Yankees that come back to their old
homes. It must seem so good to you to see the houses just swarmin' with
young life and to know that the trees and yards and rocks and brooks that
give you such a good time when you was a boy, are goin' on givin' good
times to a string of other boys."
J.M. looked at her with attentive, surprised eyes. "Why, do you know," he
cried, "it _does_ seem good, to be sure!"
The other did not notice the oddness of his accent as she ended
meditatively: "You can never get me to believe that it don't make old
Yankees feel low in their minds to go back to their old homes and find
just a few white-headed rheumatickers potterin' around, an' the grass
growing over everything as though it was a molderin' graveyard that nobody
iver walked in, and sorra sign of life anyway you look up and down the
J.M.'s mind flew back to the summer home of the president of Middletown.
"Good gracious," he exclaimed, "you're right!"
Mrs. McCartey did not take in to the full this compliment, her mind being
suddenly diverted by the appearance of a tall figure at the door of the
farther wing of the house. "Say, Uncle Jerry," she said, lowering her
voice, "Stefan Petrofsky asked me the other day if I thought you would let
him talk to you about Ivan some evening?"
"Why, who are they, anyhow?" asked J.M. "I've often wondered why they
kept themselves so separate from the rest of us." As he spoke he noticed
the turn of his phrase and almost laughed aloud.
"Petrofsky's wife, poor thing, died since they come here, and now there's
only Stefan, he's the father, and Ivan, he's the boy. He's awful smart
they say, and Stefan, he's about kilt himself to get the boy through the
high school. He graduated this spring and now Stefan he says he wants him
to get some _more_ education. He says their family, back in Russia, was
real gentry and he wants Ivan to learn a lot so that he can help the poor
Roosians who come here to do the right thing by the government--"
"_ What_?" asked J.M. "I don't seem to catch his idea."
"Well, no more do I, sorra bit," confessed Mrs. McCartey serenely. "Not a
breath of what he meant got to me, but what he _said_ was that Ivan's
schoolin' had put queer ideas in his head to be an anarchist or somethin'
and he thought that maybe more schoolin' would drive out _thim_ ideas and
put in other ones yet. Hasn't it a foolish sound, now?" She appealed to
J .M. for a sympathy she did not get.
"It sounds like the most interesting case I ever heard of," he cried, with
a generous looseness of superlative new to him. "Is Ivan that tall, shy,
sad-looking boy who goes with his father to work?"
"That's _him_. An' plays the fiddle fit to tear the heart out of your
body, and reads big books till God knows what hour in the mornin'. His
father, he says _he_ don't know what to do with him ... There's a big, bad
devil of a Polack down to the works that wants him to join the anarchists
in the fall and go to----"
J.M. rose to his feet and hurried down the porch toward the Petrofsky
wing of the house, addressing himself to the tall, grave-faced figure in
the doorway. "Oh, Mr. Petrofsky, may I have a few minutes' talk with you
about your son?" he said.
The registrar of Middletown College, being a newcomer, saw nothing unusual
in the fact that the librarian came to his office on matriculation day to
enroll as a freshman a shy, dark-eyed lad with a foreign name; but the
president and older professors were petrified into speechlessness by the
news that old J.M. had returned from parts unknown with a queer-looking
boy, who called the old man uncle. Their amazement rose to positive
incredulity when they heard that the fastidious, finical old bachelor had
actually installed a raw freshman in one of his precious tower-rooms,
always before inexorably guarded from the mildest and most passing
intrusion on their hallowed quiet.
The president made all haste to call on J.M. and see the phenomenon with
his own eyes. As discreetly as his raging curiosity would allow him, he
fell to questioning the former recluse. When he learned that J.M. had
spent six weeks in Woodville, no more explanation seemed needed. "Oh, of
course, your old home?"
"Yes," said J.M., "my old home."
"And you had a warm welcome there, I dare say?"
"Yes, indeed," said J.M.
"Found the old town in good condition?"
"Excellent!" this with emphasis.
The president saw it all, explaining it competently to himself. "Yes, yes,
I see it from here--vacation spent in renewing your youth playing with the
children--promised to go back at Christmas, I suppose."
"Oh, yes, of course," said J.M.
"Children cried when you came away, and gave you dotty little things
they'd made themselves?"
"Just like that," with a reminiscent smile.
"Well, well," the president got to his feet. "Of course, most natural
thing in the world to take an interest in your brothers' and sisters'
J.M. did not contradict the president. He never contradicted the
presidents. He outlasted them so consistently that it was not necessary.
This time he took off his glasses and rubbed them on an awkwardly
fashioned chamois spectacle-wiper made for him by little Molly McCartey.
He noticed the pattern of the silk in his visitor's necktie and it made
him think of one of Rosalie Loyette's designs. He smiled a little.
The president regarded this smiling silence with suspicion. He cocked his
eye penetratingly upon his librarian. "But it is very queer, J.M., that as
long as I have known you, I never heard that you _had_ any family at all."
J.M. put his clean and polished spectacles back on his nose and looked
through them into the next room, where Ivan Petrofsky sat devouring his
first lesson in political economy. Then he turned, beaming like an amiable
sphinx upon his interrogator. "Do you know--I never realized it myself
until just lately," he said.
BY ABANA AND PHARPAR
Fields, green fields of Shining River,
Lightly left too soon
In the stormy equinoctial,
In the hunter's moon,--
Snow-blown fields of Shining River
I shall once more tread;
I shall walk their crested hollows,
Living or dead.
To old Mrs. Prentiss, watching apprehensively each low mountain dawn, the
long, golden days of the warm autumn formed a series of blessed reprieves
from the loom which hung over her. With her inherited and trained sense of
reality, she could not cheat herself into forgetting, even for a moment,
that her fate was certain, but, nevertheless, she took a breathless
enjoyment in each day, as it passed and did not bring the dreaded change
in her life. She spoke to her husband about this feeling as they sat on
the front step one October evening, when the air was as mild as in late
May, breaking the calm silence, in which they usually sat, by saying,
"Seems as though this weather was just made for us, don't it, father?"
The old man stirred uneasily in his chair. "I dun'no'--seems sometimes to
me as though I'd ruther have winter come and be done with it. If we've got
to go as soon as cold weather sets in, we might as well go and have it
over with. As 'tis, I keep on saying good-by in my mind to things and
folks every minute, and then get up in the morning to begin it all again.
This afternoon I was down the river where I saved Hiram's life when he was
a little fellow--the old black whirl-hole. I got to thinking about that
time, I never was real sure till then I wouldn't be a coward if it come
right down _to_ it. Seems as though I'd been more of a man ever since.
It's been a real comfort to me to look at that whirl-hole, and that
afternoon it come over me that after this there wouldn't be a single thing
any more to remind us of anything _good_ or bad, we've ever done. It'll be
most as if we hadn't lived at all. I just felt as though I _couldn't_ go
away from everything and everybody I've ever known down to Hiram's stuffy
little flat. And yet I suppose we are real lucky to have such a good son
as Hiram now the others are all gone. I dun'no' what we'd do if 'tweren't
"Do!" cried his wife bitterly. "We could go on living right in this valley
where we belong, if 'twas only in the poor-house!"
The old man answered reasonably, as though trying to convince himself,
"Well, I suppose it's really flying in the face of Providence to feel so.
The doctor says your lungs ain't strong enough to stand another of our
winters in the mountains, fussing over stove fires, and zero weather and
all, and I'm so ailing I probably wouldn't last through, either. He says
it's a special dispensation that we've got such a nice place to go where
there's steam heat, and warm as summer, day and night."
"Nathaniel!" exclaimed his wife, attempting to turn her bulky body toward
him in the energy of her protest, "how can you talk so! We've visited
Hiram and we know what an awful place he lives in. I keep a-seeing that
little narrow room that's to be all the place you and I'll have, with the
one window that gets flapped by the wash of the Lord knows who, and that
kitchen as big as the closet to my bedroom here, and that long narrow
hall--why, it's as much as ever I can walk down that all without sticking
fast--and Hiram's queer Dutch wife--"
She stopped, silenced by the scantiness of her vocabulary, but through her
mind still whirled wordless outcries of rebellion. Her one brief visit to
the city rose before her with all the horror of the inexplicable, strange,
and repellent life which it had revealed to her. The very conveniences of
the compact city apartment were included in her revulsion from all that it
meant. The very kindnesses of the pretty, plump German woman who was her
daughter-in-law startled and repelled her, as did the familiar, easy,
loud-voiced affection of the blond young German-Americans who were her
grandchildren. Even her own son, Hiram, become half Teutonic through the
influence of his business and social relations among the Germans, seemed
alien and remote to her. The stout, beer-drinking, good-natured and
easygoing man seemed another person from the shy, stiff lad who had gone
away from them many years ago, looking so like his father at nineteen that
his mother choked to see him.
She passed in review all the small rooms of her son's home, "strung along
the hall like buttons on a string," and thought of the three flights of
stairs which were the only escape from them--three long, steep flights,
which left her breathless, her knees trembling under her great weight, and
which led out on the narrow side street, full of noisy, impertinent
children and clattering traffic. Beyond that, nothing--a city full of
strangers whose every thought and way of life were foreign to her, whose
very breath came in hurried, feverish gasps, who exhaled, as they passed
her, an almost palpable emanation of hostile indifference to her and her
existence. It was no new vision to her. Ever since the doctor's verdict
had made it impossible longer to resist her son's dutiful urging of his
parents to make his home theirs she had spent scarcely an hour without a
sudden sick wave of dread of what lay before her; but the picture was the
none the less horrifying because of familiarity, and she struck her hands
together with a sharp indrawn breath.
The gaunt old man turned toward her, a helpless sympathy twisting his
seamed and weather-marked face. "It's too _bad_, mother," he said. "I know
just how you feel about it. But Hiram's a good son, and"--he hesitated,
casting about for a redeeming feature--"there's always the Natural
History Museum and the birds."
"That's just it, Nathaniel," returned the old rebel against fate. "You
have something there that's going on with _one_ thing you've done here.
You've always noticed birds and studied 'em in the woods, and you can go
on doing it in a museum. But there ain't a thing for me! All I've ever
done is to live right here in this house ever since I was born, and look
out at the mountains and the big meadows and the river and the churchyard,
and keep house and take care of you and the children.
"Now the children are all gone, and I haven't the strength to take care of
you the way you need; my life is all done--there ain't no more to it!
"It's like a book--there's still a chapter _you_ can write, or one you can
finish up; but me--I've come right down to _Finis_, only the Lord won't
write it for me. It's as if somebody wanted to scrawl on the back flyleaf
something that hasn't a thing to do with the rest of the book, some
scratching stuff in a furrin' language that I can't even understand."
Her husband did not contradict her. He sighed heavily and they both fell
again into a cheerless silence. The moon rose with a strange, eerie
swiftness over the wall of mountain before them, and its wavering
reflection sprang at once to life in the swirling waters of the black hole
in the Necronsett on the other side of the meadow. The old woman's heart
gave a painful leap in her breast at the sight. It was probably one of the
last times she would see it. Numberless occasions when she had noted it
before hurried through her mind.
She felt herself again the little girl who had sat in summer evenings,
miles away from the talk of her elders in a happy child's reverie, and who
had grown dizzy with watching the swimming reflection in the whirlpool.
She had a strange fleeting hallucination that she was again sitting in the
moonlight, her cheeks flushed and her strong young pulse beating high to
hear Nathaniel's footfall draw nearer down the road. She felt again the
warm, soft weight of her little son, the first-born, the one who had died
young, as she remembered how proud she and Nathaniel had been when he
first noticed the moon.
An odd passion of recollection possessed her. As the moon rose higher she
seemed to be living over at one time a thousand hours of her busy, ardent
life. She looked at the high, drooping line of the mountains with her
childhood's delight in its clear outline against the sky; she saw the
white stones of the old graveyard, next door, glimmer through the shadow
cast by the church tower, with the half uneasy, fearful pleasure of her
romantic girlhood; she felt about her the solidity and permanency of the
old house, her father's and her grandfather's home, with the joy in
protected security of her young married life; and through it all there ran
a heavy sick realization that she was, in fact, a helpless old woman,
grown too feeble to conduct her own life, and who was to be forced to die
two deaths, one of the spirit and one of the body.
"Come, mother," said Nathaniel, rising, "we'd better go to bed. We both of
us get notiony sitting here in the moonlight."
He helped her raise her weighty body with the deftness of long practice
and they both went dully into the house.
The knowledge of the sky and of the signs of weather which was almost an
instinct with the descendant of generations of farmers, was put to an
anxious use during the days which followed.
Not since the days when, as a young girl, she had roamed the mountains, as
much a part of the forest and fields as any wild inhabitant, had she so
scanned the face of the valley which was her world.
She had stopped hoping for any release from her sentence. She only prayed
now for one more day of grace, and into each day she crowded a fullness of
life which was like a renewal of her vigorous youth.
Of late years, existence had flowed so uniform a passage through the
channels of habit that it had become but half sentient. The two old people
had lived in almost as harmoniously vacant and vital a silence as the old
trees in the forest back of the house. In the surroundings which
generations of human use had worn to an exquisite fitness for their needs,
and to which a long lifetime had adjusted their every action, they
convicted their life with the unthinking sureness of a process of Nature.
But now the old woman, feeling exile close upon her, drew from every
moment of the familiar life an essential savor.
She knew there was no hope for her; the repeated visits of the doctor and
his decided judgments left her no illusions as to the possibility of
escape. "The very first cold snap you must certainly go," he said, with
the inflexibility of the young. "Mr. Prentiss is likely to have one of his
bad turns and you simply cannot give him the are he must have. Besides,
when he is sick, you will have to look after the fires, and the slightest
exposure would mean pneumonia. I've just written your son so." He drew on
his overcoat. He was so recently from the hospital that it was still of a
fashionable cut and texture. "_I_ can't see anyway why you object to
going. Your son can't afford to keep you both here, and hire somebody to
look after you into the bargain. Think of the advantages you have there,
theaters and museums and the like."
Mrs. Prentiss spoke sharply. "I've never been in a theater in my life and
I hope I'll go to my grave without being; and as for museums and things,
look at me! I'm so big I can hardly get into the cars, and my city
grandchildren are ashamed to go out with me and have all the folks looking
at the fat old woman from the country."
The doctor laughed involuntarily at this picture as he turned away.
"Do you think you are so big it takes the whole Necronsett valley to hold
you?" he called lightly over his shoulder.
Mrs. Prentiss looked after him with burning eyes What did _he_ know about
the continuity of human life He had told her himself that he had never
lived more than four years in one place. What did he know of ordering your
life, not only for yourself, but for your parents and grandparents? She
felt often as she looked upon the unchanging line of the mountains
guarding the valley, as in her great-grandfather's time, that she saw with
the eyes of her ancestors as well as her own. The room in which she stood
had been her grandmother's bedroom, and her father had been born there, as
she had been herself, and as her children had been. In her childhood she
had looked up to the top of the tall chest of drawers as to a mountain
peak, and her children had, after her. Every inequality in the floor was
as familiar to her feet as to those of her great-grandmother. The big
chest, where she had always kept her children's clothes, had guarded hers
and her mother's, and as often as she had knelt by it, she had so vivid a
recollection of seeing her mother and her grandmother in the same
attitude, that she seemed to lose for a moment the small and confining
sense of individual personality, and to become merged in a noble
procession of mothers of the race.
She had been an undisciplined girl, called a tomboy in those days, whose
farmer forbears had given to her a pagan passion for the soil and the open
sky. Although brought up with a rigid training in theology, religion had
never meant more to her than a certainty of hell as a punishment for
misdeeds which neither she nor any of the valley people were likely to
commit--murder, suicide, false swearing, and the like. Of definite
religious feeling, she had none, although the discipline of a hard if
happy life had brought her spiritual life in an unconsciously profound
form. She had shrunk from that discipline with all the force of her
nature, and in her girl's heart had vowed that she would never marry and
lead the slave's life of a New England farmer's wife. But then had arrived
Nathaniel, the big, handsome lad who had taken her wild, shy heart and
lost his own when they first met.
So, half rebellious, she had begun the life of a wife in the old house
from which her mother had just gone to the churchyard next door, and which
was yet filled with her brave and gentle spirit. The old woman, looking
miserably about her, remembered how at every crisis of her life the old
house had spoken to her of the line of submissive wives and mothers which
lay back of her, and had tamed her to a happy resignation in the common
fate of women. On her mother's bed she had borne the agony of childbirth
without a murmur, she whose strong young body had never known pain of any
kind. She had been a joyful prisoner to her little children, she who had
always roamed so foot-free in her girlhood, and with a patience inspired
by the thought of her place in the pilgrimage of her race, she had turned
the great strength of her love for her husband toward a contented
acceptance of the narrow life which was all he could give her.
Each smallest detail in the room had a significance running back over
years. The ragged cuts in the window-sill moved her to a sudden
recollection of how naughty little Hiram had cut them with his first
knife. With what a repressed intensity she had loved the child while she
had reproved him! How could she go away and leave every reminder of her
children! With a quick and characteristic turn she caught herself in the
flagrant contradiction involved in her reluctance to leave behind her mere
senseless reminders of her son when she was going to his actual self. And
then, with the despairing clear sight of one in a crisis of life, she knew
that, in very fact, Hiram was no longer the boy who had left them years
ago. Away from all that made up her life, under influences utterly foreign
and alien, he had spent almost twice as many years as he had with her. Not
only had the reaction from his severe training carried him to another
extreme of laxness, but as result of his continued absence he had lost all
contact with her world. He no longer consciously repudiated it, he had
crossed the deeper gulf of forgetting it. He was a stranger to her.
Always before the memories which clung about every corner of the dark old
house had helped her, but now she was forced to face a crisis which none
of her people had known. It was not one of the hardships of life which
were to be accepted, and the hot rebellion of her girlhood burned in her
aching old heart. She thought resentfully of the doctor's blind and stony
lack of understanding. His last ironic sentence came to her mind and she
flamed at the recollection. Yes, it did take the whole valley to hold her,
the valley which was as much a part of her as her eyes which beheld it.
There were moments when she stood under the hazy autumn sky, so acutely
conscious of every line and color of the great wall of mountains
surrounding her that she grew in very fact to be an indivisible portion of
the whole--felt herself as actually rooted to that soil and as permanent
under that sky as the great elm before the door.
She made no more outcries against fate to her husband, partly because of
the anguish which came upon his gentle old face at the sight of her
suffering, and partly because she felt herself to have no tangible reason
for rebellion. During the last years they had gone drearily around and
around the circle which they felt closing so inexorably upon them, and
there was no longer any use to wear themselves out in futile discussions
of impossible plans. They had both been trained to regard reasonableness
as one of the cardinal virtues, and to the mild nature of the old man it
was a natural one, so they tried conscientiously to force themselves not
only to act, but to feel, "like sensible folks," as they put it bravely to
"Other folks have gone to live with their children, and not near such good
sons as Hiram either, and they didn't make such a fuss about it," said Mr.
Prentiss one evening, out of a long silence, as they sat in front of the
hearth. He looked at his wife, hoping for a cheerful response, but her
lips were set in a quivering line of pain, and the flickering light showed
her fair broad face glistening with tears. "Oh, _mother_!" he cried, in a
helpless misery of sympathy. "Oh, mother, don't! I can't stand it! If I
could only do it for you! But we _can't_ stay, you know."
The other nodded dumbly, although after a moment she said, "Every day I
live all my life over again, and my mother's, and all my folks. It has
never seemed as though they really died as long as we lived here same as
they did. It's like killing them all again to go away and sell the house
There was a silence and then, "Oh, Nathaniel, what was that?" she cried,
her voice rising in a quaver of apprehension.
"The wind," said her husband, stirring the fire.
"I know. But _what_ wind? It sounds like the first beginning of the wind
over Eagle Rock, and that means snow!"
She hastened heavily to the window, and raised the shade. "There's a ring
around the moon as plain as my wedding ring!" And then as she looked there
clung to the window-pane a single flake of snow, showing ghastly white in
the instant before it melted.
"Nathaniel, the end has come," she said solemnly. "Help me get to bed."
The next morning there was a foot of snow and the thermometer was going
steadily down. When the doctor arrived, red-nosed and gasping from the
knife-like thrusts of the wind over Eagle Rock, he announced that it was
only eight above zero, and he brought a kindly telegram from Hiram, saying
that he had started for the mountains to accompany his parents back to the
city. "I envy you!" said the doctor, blowing on his stiff fingers. "Think
of the bliss of being where you have only to turn a screw in your
steam-radiator to escape from this beastly cold. Your son will be here on
the evening train, and I'll bring him right over. You'll be ready to start
tomorrow, won't you? You've had all the autumn to get packed up in."
Mrs. Prentiss did not answer. She was so irrationally angry with him that
she could not trust herself to speak. She stood looking out of the low
window at the Necronsett, running swift and black between the white banks.
She felt a wave of her old obsession that in her still lived the bygone
dwellers in the old house, that through her eyes they still saw the
infinitely dear and familiar scenes, something in her own attitude
reminded her of how her father had looked as he stood every morning at
that same window and speculated on the weather. For a moment she had an
almost dizzy conviction that he did in all reality stand there again.
Then she heard the doctor saying, "I'm coming over there myself when you
start for the station, to see that you're well wrapped up. The least
exposure----" He looked at Mrs. Prentiss's broad and obstinate back,
turned, to her husband, and tapped his chest significantly.
After he had gone the room was intensely quiet. Mr. Prentiss sat by the
fire, looking vacantly at his withered old hands on his knees, and his
wife did not stir from the window. Her heavy, wide figure was immovable,
but a veritable whirlwind of despair raged within her. She had supposed
she knew all along how bad it was going to be, but it had been a foolish
child's play, like shutting your eyes to pretend you were blind. Now that
utter darkness was upon her, it was as great a shock as though it came
with the most extreme and cruel surprise. A thousand furious fancies went
through her mind, although she continued to gaze out of the window with
the same blank look of stunned incredulity. The whirlpool in the river
caught her eye and she had a wild impulse to throw herself into it. Even
in her frenzy, however, there came the thought, instantly dissuading, of
the scandal in the village and family which such an action would cause.
No, there was no escape at all, since that simple and obvious one was
The valley lay about her, the mountain walls iridescent with snow in
sunshine, the river gleaming with its curious, rapid, serpentine life, in
all the peaceful death of winter; everything was as it always had been.
Her mind refused to accept the possibility of her living under other
conditions with as irresistible and final a certainty as if she had been
called upon to believe she could live with her head separated from her
And yet, battering at that instinctive feeling, came the knowledge that
she was to start for New York the next day. She felt suddenly that she
could not. "I can't! I can't!" she cried dumbly. "I can't, even if I
An instant later, like an echo, a fiercer gust than usual swept down off
the ledge of rock above the little house, rattled the loose old window,
and sent a sharp blade of icy air full in the old woman's eyes. She gasped
and started back. And then, all in a breath, her face grew calm and
smooth, and her eyes bright with a sudden resolve. Without a moment's
hesitation, she turned to her husband and said in a tone more like her old
self than he had heard for some time, "Father, I wish you'd go over to
Mrs. Warner's and take back that pattern. If we're going to leave
to-morrow, you know----"
The old man rose obediently, and began putting on his wraps. His wife
helped him, and hurried him eagerly off. When she was alone, she tore at
the fastening of her gown in a fury of haste, baring her wrinkled old
throat widely. Then without a glance about her, she opened the door to the
woodshed, stepped out, and closed it behind her. The cold clutched at her
throat like a palpable hand of ice, and her first involuntary gasp set her
into a fit of coughing.
She sat down on the stump where kindlings were always split and opened her
gown wider. She noticed how fair and smooth the skin on her shoulders
still was and remembered that her husband had always been proud of her
pretty neck. She had worn a low-necked dress when he had told her he loved
her. That had been in the garden, into which she could now look as she sat
on the stump. She had been picking currants for tea, and he had gone out
to see her. The scene came up before her so vividly that she heard his
voice, and felt herself turn to him with the light grace of her girlhood
and cry again, in an ecstasy of surprised joy, "Oh, _Nathaniel!_"
A gust of wind whirled a handful of snow against her and some of it
settled on her bare shoulders. She watched it melt and felt the icy little
trickle with a curious aloofness. Suddenly she began to shiver, gripped by
a dreadful chill, which shook her like a strong hand. After that she was
very still again, the death-like cold penetrating deeper and deeper until
her breath came in constricted gasps. She did not stir until she heard the
front door bang to her husband's return. Then she rose with infinite
effort and struggled back into the kitchen. When he came in, she was
standing by the sink, fumbling idly with the dishes. Already her head was
whirling, and she scarcely knew what she was doing.
In the nightmare of horror which his wife's sudden sickness brought upon
him, old Mr. Prentiss felt that he could bear everything except the sight
and sound of his wife's struggles for breath. He hardly saw the neighbor
women who filled the house, taking advantage of this opportunity to
inspect the furniture with an eye to the auction which would follow the
removal of the old people to the city. He hardly heeded the doctor's
desperate attempts with all varieties of new-fangled scientific
contrivances to stay the hand of death. He hardly knew that his son had
come, and in his competent, prosperous way was managing everything for
him. He sat in one corner of the sick-room, and agonized over the
unconscious sick woman, fighting for every breath.
On the third day he was left alone with her, by some chance, and suddenly
the dreadful, heaving gasp was still. He sprang to the bedside, sick with
apprehension, but his wife looked up at him with recognition in her eyes.
"This is the end, Nathaniel," she said in so low a whisper that he laid
his ear to her lips to hear. "Don't let anybody in till I'm gone. I don't
want 'em to see how happy I look." Her face wore, indeed, an unearthly
look of beatitude.
"Nathaniel," she went on, "I hope there's no life after this--for _me_
anyway. I don't think I ever had very much soul. It was always enough for
me to live in the valley with you. When I go back into the ground I'll be
where I belong. I ain't fit for heaven, and, anyway, I'm tired. We've
lived hard, you and I, Nathaniel; we loved hard when we were young, and
we've lived all our lives right out to the end. Now I want to rest."
The old man sat down heavily in a chair by the bed. His lips quivered, but
he said nothing. His wife's brief respite from pain had passed as suddenly
as it came, and her huge frame began again to shake in the agony of
straining breath. She managed to speak between gasps.
"Don't let a soul in here, Nathaniel. I'll be gone in a few minutes.
I don't want 'em to see----"
The old man stepped to the door and locked it. As he came back, the sick
woman motioned him to come closer.
"Natty, I thought I could keep it, but I never did have a secret from you,
and I can't die without telling you, if there _is_ a heaven and
hell----Oh, Natty, I've done a wicked thing and I'm dying without
repenting. I'd do it again. That time you went to Mrs. Warner's with the
pattern--this cold I got that day I went out----"
Her husband interrupted her. For the first time in years he did not call
her "mother," but used the pet name of their courtship. The long years of
their parenthood had vanished. They had gone back to the days when each
had made up all the world to the other. "I know, Matey," he said. "I met
young Warner out in the road and give the pattern to him, and I come right
back, and see you sitting out there. I knew what 'twas for."
His wife stared at him, amazement silencing her.
"I thought it was the only thing left I could do for you, Matey, to let
you stay there. You know I never wished for anything but that you should
have what you wanted." He had spoken in a steady, even tone, which now
broke into an irrepressible wail of selfish, human anguish. "But you leave
me all _alone_, Matey! How can I get on without you! I thought I'd die
myself as I sat inside the house watching you. You're all I ever had,
Matey! All there has ever been in the world for me!"
The old woman stopped her gasping by a superhuman effort. "Why, Natty, I
never supposed you thought so much of me still. I thought that had gone
when we got old. But, oh, my dear! I'm afraid I've dragged you down with
me to destruction. It wa'n't any matter about me, but I'm afraid you've
lost your soul. That was a wicked thing for us to do!"
Her husband lifted his tear-stained, old face and laid it on the pillow
beside her. He did not put his arms about her, as a younger lover or one
of another country might have done, but because he was a man who had loved
deeply all his life, his answer came with the solemn significance and
sincerity of a speech before the Judgment Seat. "I ain't afraid of hell if
you're there, Matey," he said.
His wife turned her head and looked at him, her whole face transfigured.
She was no longer a fat old woman on her deathbed. Before his very eyes
she grew again to be the girl among the currant bushes, and with the same
amazed intonation of incredulous joy she cried his name aloud. "Oh,
Nathaniel!" she said, and with the word the longed for _Finis_ was written
to her life.
A VILLAGE MUNCHAUSEN
When I was a little girl, and lived in Hillsboro with my grandparents,
there were two Decoration Days in every year. One was when all we
school-children took flowers put to the cemetery and decorated the graves
of the soldiers; and the other was when the peonies and syringas bloomed,
and grandfather and I went alone to put a bouquet on the grave of old
Grandfather did this as a sort of penance for a great mistake he had made,
and I think it was with the idea of making an atonement by confession that
he used always to tell me the story of his relations with the old man. At
any rate, he started his narrative when we left the house and began to
walk out to the cemetery, and ended it as he laid the flowers on the
neglected grave. I trotted along beside him, faster and faster as he grew
more and more interested, and then stood breathless on the other side of
the grave as he finished, in his cracked old voice, harsh with emotion.
The first part of his story happened a very long time ago, even before
grandfather was born, when Jedediah Chillingworth first began to win for
himself the combination title of town-fool and town-liar. By the time
grandfather was a half-grown boy, big enough to join in the rough crowd of
village lads who tormented Jed, the old dizzard had been for years the
local butt. Of course I never saw him, but I have keard so much about him
from all the gossips in the village, and grandfather used to describe him
so vividly, that I feel as if I know all about him.
For about ten years of his youth Jedediah had been way from our little
Vermont town, wandering in the great world. From his stories, he had been
everywhere on he map. In the evening, around the stove in the village
post-office, when somebody read aloud from the newspaper a remarkable
event, all the loafers turned to Jed with wide, malicious grins, to hear
him cap it with a yet ore marvelous tale of what had happened to him. They
gathered around the simple-minded little old man, their tongues in their
cheeks, and drew from him one silly, impossible, boastful story after
another. They made him amplify circumstantially by clumsily artful
questions, and poked one another in the ribs with delight over his deluded
joy in their sympathetic interest.
As he grew older, his yarns solidified like folk-lore, into a consecrated
and legendary form, which he repeated endlessly without variation. There
were many of them--"How I drove a team of four horses over a falling
bridge," "How I interviewed the King of Portugal," "How I saved big Sam
Harden's life in the forest fire." But the favorite one was, "How I rode
the moose into Kennettown, Massachusetts." This was the particular
flaunting, sumptuous yarn which everybody made old Jed bring out for
company. If a stranger remarked, "Old man Chillingworth can tell a tale or
two, can't he?" everybody started up eagerly with the cry: "Oh, but have
you heard him tell the story of how he rode the moose into Kennettown,
If the answer was negative; all business was laid aside until the withered
little old man was found, pottering bout some of the odd jobs by which he
earned his living. He was always as pleased as Punch to be asked to
perform, and laid aside his tools with a foolish, bragging grin on his
face, of which grandfather has told me so many times that it seems as if I
had really seen it.
This is how he told the story, always word for word the same way:
"Wa'al, sir, I've had queer things happen to me in my time, hain't I,
boys?"--at which the surrounding crowd always wagged mocking heads--"but
nothin' to beat that. When I was ashore wunst, from one of my long v'y'ges
on the sea, I was to Kennettown, Massachusetts."
"How'd ye come to go there, Jed?" This was a question never to be omitted.
"Oh, I had a great sight of money to take to some folks that lived there.
The captain of our ship had died at sea, and he give me nine thousand five
hundred and seventy-two English gold guineas, to take to his brother and
Here he always stared around at the company, and accepted credulously the
counterfeit coin of grotesquely exaggerated amazement which was given him.
"Wa'al, sir, I done it. I give the gold to them as it belonged to, and I
was to leave town on the noon stagecoach. I was stayin' in the captain's
brother's house. It was spang up against the woods, on the edge of town;
and, I tell ye, woods _was_ woods in them days.
"The mornin' I was to leave I was up early, lookin' out of my window, when
what should I see with these mortial eyes but a gre't bull moose, as big
as two yoke o' oxen, comin' along toward the house. He sort o' staggered
along, and then give a gre't sigh I could hear from my room--I was on the
ground floor--fell down on his knees, and laid his head on the ground 's
if he was too beat out to go another step. Wa'al, sir, I never waited not
long enough even to fetch a holler to wake the folks I just dove out o'
the window, and made for him as fast as I could lick in. As I went by the
wood-pile, I grabbed up a big stick of wood----"
"What kind of wood?" everybody asked in chorus.
"'Twas a big stick of birch-wood, with the white bark on it as clean as
writin'-paper. I grabbed that up for a club--'twas the only thing in
sight--and when I got to the moose I hit him a clip on the side of the
head as hard as I could lay on. He didn't so much as open an eye, but I
saw he was still breathing and I climbed up on his back so's to get a good
whack at the top of his head. And then, sir, by Jupiter! he riz right up
like a earthquake under me, and started off at forty miles an hour. He
throwed his head back as he run, and ketched me right between his horns,
like a nut in a nutcracker. I couldn't have got out of them horns--no,
sir, a charge of powder couldn't scarcely have loosened me."
There was another pause at this place for the outcries of astonishment and
marvel which were never lacking. Then Jed went on, mumbling his toothless
gums in delight over his importance.
"Wa'al, sir, I dassent tell ye how long we careered around them woods and
pastures, for, after a while, he got so plumb crazy that he run right out
into the open country. I'd hit him a whack over the head with my stick of
wood every chanst I got and he was awful weak anyhow, so he'd kind o'
stagger whenever he made a sharp turn. By an' by we got to goin' toward
town. Somehow he'd landed himself in the road; an', sir, we rid up to the
hotel like a coach and four, and he drapped dead in front of the steps, me
stickin' as fast between his horns as if I'd 'a' growed to him. Yes, sir,
they ackchally had to saw one of them horns off'n his head before they got
He came to a full stop here, but this was not the end.
"What became of the horns, Jed? Why didn't ye bring 'em along?"
"I did take the one they sawed off, to give to my partner, big Sam Harden.
He was the biggest man I ever see, Sam Harden was. I left th' other horn
in Kennettown for the captain's sister. She was as smart an' handsome a
widow-woman as ever I see, an' I wanted for her to have a keepsake from
This was really the end. The circle of inquisitors left their unconscious
victim nodding and grinning to himself, and went on down the road.
Grandfather said he still felt mean all over to remember how they laughed
among themselves, and how they pointed out to the stranger the high lights
in the story.
"Not only ain't there never been seen a moose in the State of
Massachusetts, and not only are a moose's horns set too wide to catch a
little squinch of a man like Jed, but what do you think?--there ain't no
Kennettown in Massachusetts! No, nor in any other State. No, nor never
was. Old Jed just made the town up out of his head, like the moose, an'
the money, and the birch-bark and the handsome widow. Don't he beat
My grandfather was one of these boys; in fact, he always used to say he
was the ringleader, but that may have been another form of his penance. As
he grew up he began to work into his father's business of tanning leather,
and by and by, when a man grown, he traveled down to a big tannery at
Newtonville, in Massachusetts, to learn some new processes in
When grandfather got along to this part of the story he began stretching
his long legs faster and faster, until I was obliged to trot along,
panting. He always lived the hurried last part over again, and so did I,
although it happened so long before I was born.
One evening he was asked to tea by the mother of the prettiest girl in the
village--she afterward became my grandmother--and was taken into the "best
room" to see all the family curiosities. There were wax flowers and
silhouettes and relics of every description. Mrs. Hamilton spared him not
one of these wonders.
"This," she said, "is the chain that was made of my grandfather's hair. It
was finished and brought home on a Wednesday, and Thursday, the next day,
grandfather was burned up in the great tannery fire, and this was all my
grandmother had to remember him by. These are the front teeth of a savage
that my uncle Josiah Abijah killed in the South Sea Islands. Uncle Josiah
Abijah always said it was either him or the black man, but I have always
felt that it was murder, just the same, and this is the stick of
birch-wood that a sailor-man, who came here once to see my mother, killed
a bull moose with."
My grandmother has told me that never before or since did she see a human
face change as did grandfather's.
"What?" he shouted, and his voice cracked.
"Yes, it sounds queer, but it's so. It's the only time a moose was ever
seen here, and folks thought the wolves must have chased it till it was
crazy or tired out. This sailor-man, who happened to be here, saw it, ran
out, snatched up a stick from the wood-pile, and went at that great animal
all alone. Folks say he was the bravest man this town ever saw. He got
right up on its back--"
Grandmother said grandfather had turned so pale by this time that she
thought he was going to faint and he sat down as if somebody had knocked
him down. On the dusty road to the cemetery, however, he only strode along
the faster, half forgetting the little girl who dragged at his hand, and
turned a sympathetically agitated face up to his narrative.
Mrs. Hamilton went on through the whole incident, telling every single
thing just the way old Jed did. She showed the dark places on the
birch-bark where the blood had stained it, and she said the skull of the
animal, with its one horn sawed off, was over among the relics in her
"My Aunt Maria was accounted a very good-looking woman in her day, and
there were those that thought she might have taken a second husband, if
the sailor had been so disposed. He was so brave and so honest, bringing
all that money from my uncle, the sea-captain, when goodness knows, he
might have run off with every cent of it, and nobody been any the wiser!"
At this grandfather gave a loud exclamation and stood up, shaking his head
as if he had the ague. He just couldn't believe his ears, he said.
"No! No! _No_! It can't be the same!" he said over and over. "Why, he said
it happened in Kennettown."
"Well, _now_!" said Mrs. Hamilton, surprised. "Where did you ever get hold
of _that_ old name? I didn't suppose a soul but some of our old folks
remembered that. Why, Newtonville wasn't named that but six months. Folks
got mad at the Kennetts for being so highfalutin' over having the town
named after them, and so 'twas changed back."
Grandfather said he'd no notion of another word she said after that. When
he went back to his room, he found a letter from home, telling him all the
news, and mentioning, among other things, that old Jedediah Chillingworth
wasn't expected to live much longer. Age had withered the little old man
until there wasn't enough of him left to go on living. Grandfather usually
reached this part of the story just as we arrived under the big maples
that stand on each side of the cemetery gate, and always stopped short to
"Thank the _Lord_! I've two things to my credit. I never waited one minute
to start back to Hillsboro, and from that time on I wanted to do what was
right by the old man, even if it did turn out so different."
Then we went on into the cemetery, and paced slowly along the winding
paths as he continued:
"I got to Hillsboro late one night, and I'd 'most killed my horse to do
it. They said Jedediah was still alive, but wasn't expected to last till
morning. I went right up to his little old shack, without waiting to see
my folks or to get a mouthful to eat. A whole lot of the neighbors had
come in to watch with him, and even then, with the old dizzard actually
dying, they were making a fool of him.
"He was half propped up in bed--he wasn't bigger than my fist by that
time--with red spots in his cheeks, and his eyes like glass, and he was
just ending up that moose story. The folks were laughing and winking and
nudging one another in the ribs, just the way I used to. I was done up
with my long, hard ride, and some nervous, I guess, for it fair turned my
stomach to see them.
"I waited till they were all through laughing, and then I broke loose. I
just gave them a piece of my mind! 'Look-a-here, you fellows!' I said.
'You think you're awful smart, don't you, making fun of poor old Jed as he
lies a-dying? Now, listen to me. I've ridden forty miles over the
mountains to get here before he goes, and make every man jack of you beg
the old man's pardon. _That story's true_. I've just found out that every
word of it is absolutely, literally the way it happened. Newtonville,
where I'm staying in Massachusetts, used to be called Kennettown, and
Jedediah _did_ take the money there--yes, that exact sum we've laughed at
all these years. They call him the honestest man in the world over there.
They've got the stick of birch-wood, with the bloodstains on it, and the
moose's skull, with the horn sawed off, and there are lots of old people
who remember all about it. And I'm here to say I believe old Jed's been
telling the truth, not only about that, but about all his adventures.
I don't believe he's ever lied to us!'
"I felt so grand and magnanimous," grandfather went on, "to think how I
was making it up to the poor old man, and so set up over bringing a piece
of news that just paralyzed everybody with astonishment. They all jumped
up, yelling and carrying on. '_What_? That story _true_! Well, did you
ever! Wouldn't that beat all? To think old Jed's been telling--"
"And then we all thought of him, and started toward the bed to say how bad
"I'll never forget how he looked. His eyes were fairly coming out of his
head, and his face was as white as paper. But that wasn't the dreadful
thing. What always comes back to me whenever I think of him is the
expression on his face. You could just see his heart breaking. He was so
hurt, so surprised, so ashamed, that it wasn't decent to look at him. But
we couldn't look away. We stood there, hanging our heads--I never felt so
mean in my life--while he tried to get breath enough to say something. And
then he screamed out--'twas dreadful to hear:
"'Why, didn't you fellers _believe_ me? Did you think I was _lyin_?'"
Here grandfather stopped and blew his nose, and I choked.
"Those were his last words. He had some kind of a spasm, and never came to
enough to know anything before he died. Those were the last words he said;
and though they told us that in the coffin he looked just as he always
had, only more quiet, with the foolish look gone, we were all of us
ashamed to look the dead man in the face."
Here grandfather laid the flowers on the unkempt grave, as if to serve as
an "Amen" to his confession.
After this I always went around and held his hand tightly, and we stood
very still. It was the solemnest time of the year.
All this used to happen, as I said, when I was a little girl; but I, too,
grew up, as grandfather grew bent and feeble. When he was an old, old man
of eighty-five, and when I had been away from Hillsboro several years
teaching school, the last of my grandmother's relatives in Newtonville
died. I was sent for to decide what should be done with the few family
relics, and one Saturday and Sunday I went all through the little old
house, looking over the things.
In the garret I came across the moose-skull with one horn. It made me feel
queer to think what a part it had played in the development of my
grandfather's honorable and tender old soul. There were a few sticks of
furniture, some daguerrotypes and silhouettes, and a drawerful of yellow
papers. The first I sent home to Hillsboro to grandmother. I took the
papers back to the town where I was teaching, to look over them.
Among other things was a quaint old diary of my grandmother's great-aunt,
she that was the buxom widow of Jed's story. It was full of homely items
of her rustic occupations; what day she had "sett the broune hen," and how
much butter was made the first month she had the "party-colored cowe from
over the mount'n." I glanced idly at these faded bits of insignificant
news, when I was electrified by seeing the following entry:
#This day came to my Bro. Amos and Me, a sea-man, bringeing news of my
Bro. Elijah's the capt'n's dethe, and allso mutch monie in gold, sent to
us by our Bro. The sea-man is the greatest in size aver I saw. No man in
towne his bed can reach so mutch as to his sholder. And comely withal#.
The words fairly whirled on the page before my astonished eyes. Where was
the image of the ill-favored little old Jed, so present to my imagination?
I read on breathlessly, skipping news of the hen-house and barnyard, until
I came upon this, the only other reference, but quite sufficient:
This day the sea-man, Samuel Harden, left us.
The self-restrained woman had said nothing of any disappointment she might
have felt. The item stood quite alone, however, in a significant
isolation. At least on that day she had not noticed the number of eggs.
I doubt if grandfather himself had been more excited when he saw the
birch-wood club than I was to read those few words. I could hardly wait
till the next Saturday to rush back to Hillsboro, and relieve the poor old
man of the burden of remorse he had carried so faithfully and so
mistakenly all these years, and to snatch the specious crown of martyrdom
from that shameless thief of another man's exploits.
And yet, when I finally arrived at Hillsboro, I found it not so easy to
begin. Some strange spell, exhaled from the unchanging aspect of the old
house and the old people, fell on me, and, though I tried several times, I
could not find a suitable opening. On Sunday morning grandfather asked me
if I would help him to get out to Jed's grave. The peonies and syringas
were in bloom, and grandmother had the bouquet made up ready. Drawing me
aside, she to me that grandfather was really too infirm to try to make the
expedition at all, and certainly could not go alone. Even then I could
find no words to tell her. I thought it might be easier to do so out of
It was the middle of a bright spring morning, when we started off,
grandfather leaning on his cane and holding to my arm, while I carried the
great clump of red peonies and white syringas. The sun was warm, but a
cool breeze blew down from the mountains, and grandfather hobbled along
It made me feel like a little girl again to have him begin the story of
the moose, and tell it word for word as he always had. He was forced to
stop often now, and wait for breath to come back to him. At each of these
halts beside the road, which was white in the clear spring sunshine, it
was harder and harder to think of breaking in on him with my discovery.
As he finally told about Jedediah's wounded virtue on his deathbed--that
outcry which seemed to me the most brazen part of the whole
imposture--suddenly my heart softened, and I, too, believed that by that
time of his life old Jed was--I really don't know just what it was that I
believed, but it was something as comforting as the quiet warmth of the
We were standing by the sunken old grave when grandfather finished. I
looked at him, the sun shining down on his bent figure and bared white
head, the flowers reflecting their brightness up into his withered old
face, and a lump came into my throat. I could not have told him if I had
"We were ashamed to look the dead man in the face," he said humbly, and
laid the flowers down on the young grass.
Then I went around and held his dear old hand tightly in mine; and we
stood very still for a long, long time.
"After the sickening stench of personality in theatrical life," the great
Madame Orloff told the doctor with her usual free-handed use of language,
"it is like breathing a thin, pure air to be here again with our dear
inhuman old Vieyra. He hypnotizes me into his own belief that nothing
matters--not broken hearts, nor death, nor success, nor first love, nor
old age---nothing but the chiaroscuro of his latest acquisition."
The picture-dealer looked at her in silence, bringing the point of his
white beard up to his chin with a meditative fist. The big surgeon gazed
about him with appreciative eyes, touched his mustache to his gold-lined
coffee-cup, and sighed contentedly. "You're not the only one, my dear
Olga," he said, "who finds Vieyra's hard heart a blessing. When I am here
in his magnificent old den, listening to one of his frank accounts of his
own artistic acumen and rejoicing in his beautiful possessions, why the
rest of the world--real humanity--seems in retrospect like one great
hospital full of shrieking incurables."
"Oh, humanity----!" The actress thrust it away with one of her startling,
"You think it very clever, my distinguished friends, to discuss me before
my face," commented the old picture-dealer indifferently. He fingered the
bright-colored decorations on his breast, looking down at them with absent
eyes. After a moment he added, "and to show your in-ti-mate knowledge of
my character." Only its careful correctness betrayed the foreignness of
There was a pause in which the three gazed idly at the fire's reflection
in the brass of the superb old andirons Then, "Haven't you something new
to show us?" asked the woman. "Some genuine Masaccio, picked up in a
hill-town monastery--a real Ribera?"
The small old Jew drew a long breath. "Yes, I have something new." He
hesitated, opened his lips, closed them again and, looking at the fire,
"Oh yes, very new indeed--new to me."
"Is it here?" The great surgeon looked about the picture-covered walls.
"No; I have it in--you know what you call the inner sanctuary--the light
here is not good enough."
The actress stood up, her glittering dress flashing a thousand eyes at the
fire. "Let me see it," she commanded. "Certainly I would like to see
anything that was new to _you_!"
"You shall amuse yourself by identifying the artist without my aid," said
He opened a door, held back a portiere, let his guests pass through into a
darkened room, turned on a softly brilliant light, and: "Whom do you make
the artist?" he said. He did not look at the picture. He looked at the
faces of his guests, and after a long silent pause, he smiled faintly into
his beard. "Let us go back to the fire," he said, and clicked them into
"And what do you say?" he asked as they sat down.
"By Jove!" cried the doctor. "By Jove!"
Madame Orloff turned on the collector the somber glow of her deep-set
eyes. "I have dreamed it," she said.
"It is real," said Vieyra. "You are the first to see it. I wished to
"It's an unknown Vermeer!" The doctor brought his big white hand down
loudly on this discovery. "Nobody but Vermeer could have done the plaster
wall in the sunlight. And the girl's strange gray head-dress must be
seventeenth-century Dutch of some province I don't----"
"I am a rich man, for a picture-dealer," said Vieyra, "but only national
governments can afford to buy Vermeers nowadays."
"But you picked it up from some corner, some attic, some stable----"
"Yes, I picked it up from a stable," said the collector.
The actress laid her slender, burning fingers on his cool old hand. "Tell
us--tell us," she urged. "There is something different here."
"Yes, there is something different," he stirred in his chair and thrust
out his lips. "So different that I don't know if you----"
"Try me! try me!" she assured him ardently. "You have educated me well to
your own hard standards all these years."
At this he looked at her, startled, frowning, attentive, and ended by
shaking off her hand. "No, I will not tell you."
"You shall----" her eyes commanded, adjured him. There was a silence. "I
will understand," she said under her breath.
"You will not understand," he said in the same tone; but aloud he began:
"I heard of it first from an American picture-dealer over here scraping up
a mock-Barbizon collection for a new millionaire. He wanted to get my
judgment, he said, on a canvas that had been brought to him by a cousin of
his children's governess. I was to be sure to see it when I went to New
York--you knew did you not, that I had been called to New York to testify
in the prosecution of Paullsen for selling a signed copy?"
"Did you really go?" asked the doctor. "I thought you swore that nothing
could take you to America."
"I went," said the old man grimly. "Paullsen did me a bad turn once,
thirty years ago. And while I was there I went to see the unknown canvas.
The dealer half apologized for taking my time--said he did not as a rule
pay any attention to freak things brought in from country holes by
amateurs, but--I remember his wording--this thing, some ways he looked at
it, didn't seem bad somehow."
The collector paused, passed his tongue over his lips, and said briefly:
"Then he showed it to me. It was the young girl and kitten in there."
"By Jove!" cried the doctor.
"You have too exciting a profession, my good old dear," said the actress.
"Some day you will die of a heart failure."
"Not after living through that!"
"What did you tell him?"
"I asked for the address of the cousin of his children's governess, of
course. When I had it, I bought a ticket to the place, and when I reached
there, I found myself at the end of all things--an abomination of
desolation, a parched place in the wilderness. Do you know America, either
The doctor shook his head.
"I have toured there, three times," said the actress.
"Did you ever hear of a place called Vermont?"
Madame Orloff looked blank. "It sounds French, not English. Perhaps you do
not pronounce it as they do."
"Heaven forbid that I should do anything as 'they' do! This place, then,
call it what you will, is inhabited by a lean, tall, sullenly silent race
who live in preposterously ugly little wooden houses of the most naked
cleanliness ... God of my Fathers! the hideousness of the huddle of those
huts where I finally found the cousin! He was a seller of letter-paper and
cheap chromos and he knew nothing of the picture except that it was
brought to him to sell by the countryman who sold him butter. So I found
the address of the butter-maker and drove endless miles over an execrable
road to his house, and encountered at last a person who could tell me
something of what I wanted to know. It was the butter-maker's mother, a
stolid, middle-aged woman, who looked at me out of the most uncanny quiet
eyes ... all the people in that valley have extraordinary piercing and
quiet eyes ... and asked, 'Is it about the picture? For if it is, I don't
want you should let on about it to anybody but me. Nobody but the family
knows he paints 'em!"
At this the doctor burst out, "Gracious powers! You don't mean to say that
the man who painted that picture is alive now ... in 1915!"
The actress frowned at the interruption and turned with a lithe petulance
on the big Briton. "If you want to know, let him alone!" she commanded.
"And soon I had it all," the narrator went on. "Almost more than I could
bear. The old woman could tell me what I wished to know, she said. He was
her uncle, the only brother of her mother, and he had brought up her and
her brothers and sisters. She knew... oh, she knew with good reason, all
of his life. All, that is, but the beginning. She had heard from the older
people in the valley that he had been wild in his youth (he has always
been, she told me gravely, 'queer') and she knew that he had traveled far
in his young days, very, very far."
"'To New York?' I ventured.
"'Oh, no, beyond that. Across the water.'
"That she didn't know. It was a foreign country at least, and he had stayed
there two, three years, until he was called back by her father's
death--his brother-in-law's--to take care of his mother, and his sister
and the children. Here her mind went back to my question, and she said she
had something perhaps I could tell from, where he had been. She kept it in
her Bible. He had given it to her when she was a child as a reward the day
she had kept her little brother from falling in the fire. She brought it
out. It was a sketch, hasty, vigorous, suggestive, haunting as the
original itself, of the Leonardo da Vinci Ste. Anne.
"Yes, I told her, now I knew where he had been. And they had called him
back from there--_here_?
"'When my father died,' she repeated, 'my uncle was all my grandmother and
my mother had. We were five little children, and the oldest not seven, and
we were all very poor,'
"'How old was your uncle then?' I asked.
"'A young man--he was younger than my mother. Perhaps he was twenty-five,'
"I looked at the sketch in my hand. Twenty-five, and called back from
"'When did he go back to Paris?'
"'Oh, he never went back,' She told me this quite placidly, as she said
everything else. 'He never went back at all.'
"He had stayed there the rest of his life, and worked the little farm that
was all his sister had, and made a living for them--not large, the farm
being poor and he not a first-class farmer, but still enough. He had
always been kind to them--if he was quite queer and absent. She had heard
her grandmother say that at first, the first ten years, perhaps, he had
had strange, gloomy savage fits like a person possessed that you read of
in the Bible; but she herself could never remember him as anything but
quiet and smiling. He had a very queer smile unlike anyone else, as I
would notice for myself when I went to see him about the picture. You
could tell him by that, and by his being very lame.
"That brought me back with a start. I rushed at her with questions. 'How
about the picture? Were there others? Were there many? Had he always
painted? Had he never shown them to anyone? Was he painting now?
"She could not tell me much. It had been a detail of their common life she
had but absently remarked, as though she had lived with a man who
collected snail-shells, or studied the post-marks on letters. She 'had
never noticed'--that was the answer to most of my questions. No, she did
not think there were very many now, though he must have painted 'most a
million. He was always at it, every minute he could spare from farming.
But they had been so poor he had not felt he could afford many canvases.
The paints cost a good deal too. So he painted them over and over, first
one thing and then another, as he happened to fancy. He painted in the
horse-barn. 'Had a place rigged up,' in her phrase, in one corner of the
room where the hay was stored, and had cut a big window in the roof that
was apt to let in water on the hay if the rain came from the north.
"'What did he paint?' 'Oh, anything. He was queer about that. He'd paint
_any_thing! He did one picture of nothing but the corner of the barnyard,
with a big white sow and some little pigs in the straw, early in the
morning, when the dew was on everything. He had thought quite a lot of
that, but he had had to paint over it to make the picture of her little
sister with the yellow kittie--the one she'd sent down to the village to
try to sell, the one--'
"'Yes, yes,' I told her, 'the one I saw. But did he never try to sell any
himself? Did he never even show them to anyone?'
"She hesitated, tried to remember, and said that once when they were very
poor, and there was a big doctor's bill to pay, he _had_ sent a picture
down to New York. But it was sent back. They had made a good deal of fun
of it, the people down there, because it wasn't finished off enough. She
thought her uncle's feelings had been hurt by their letter. The express
down and back had cost a good deal too, and the only frame he had got
broken. Altogether, she guessed that discouraged him. Anyhow, he'd never
tried again. He seemed to get so after a while that he didn't care whether
anybody liked them or even saw them or not--he just painted them to amuse
himself, she guessed. He seemed to get a good real of comfort out of it.
It made his face very still and smiling to paint. Nobody around there so
much as knew he did it, the farm was so far from neighbors.
"'Twas a real lonely place, she told me, and she had been glad to marry
and come down in the valley to live closer to folks. Her uncle had given
her her wedding outfit. He had done real well by them all, and they were
grateful; and now he was getting feeble and had trouble with his heart,
they wanted to do something for him. They had thought, perhaps, they could
sell some of his pictures for enough to hire a man to help him with the
farm work. She had heard that pictures were coming into fashion more than
they had been, and she had borrowed that one of her little sister and the
kittie, and without her uncle's knowing anything about it, had sent it
off. She was about discouraged waiting for somebody down in the city to
make up his mind whether he'd buy it or not.
"I asked her a thousand other questions but she could answer none of them.
The only detail I could get from her being an account of her uncle's habit
of 'staring' for sometimes a half an hour at something, without once
looking away. She'd seen him stop that way, when he'd be husking corn
maybe, and stare at a place where a sunbeam came in on a pile of corn. It
put him back quite considerable in his work, that habit, but they had
nothing to complain of. He'd done well by them, when you considered they
weren't his own children.
"'Hadn't he ever tried to break away?' I asked her amazed. 'To leave them?
To go back?'
"She told me: 'Oh, no, he was the only support his mother and his sister
had, and there were all the little children. He _had_ to stay.'"
The actress broke in fiercely: "Oh, stop! stop! it makes me sick to hear.
I could boil them in oil, that family! Quick! You saw him? You brought him
"I saw him," said Vieyra, "yes, I saw him."
Madame Orloff leaned toward him, her eyebrows a line of painful attention.
"I drove that afternoon up to a still tinier village in the mountains near
where he lived, and there I slept that night--or, at least, I lay in a
"Of course, you could not sleep," broke in the listening woman; "I shall
"When dawn came I dressed and went out to wander until people should be
awake. I walked far, through fields, and then through a wood as red as
red-gold--like nothing I ever saw. It was in October, and the sun was late
to rise. When I came out on an uplying heath, the mists were just
beginning to roll away from the valley below. As I stood there, leaning
against a tree in the edge of the wood, some cows came by, little,
pinched, lean cows and a young dog bounding along, and then, after them,
slowly, an old man in gray--very lame."
The actress closed her eyes.
"He did not see me. He whistled to the dog and stroked his head, and then
as the cows went through a gate, he turned and faced the rising sun, the
light full on his face. He looked at the valley coming into sight through
the mists. He was so close to me I could have tossed a stone to him--I
shall never know how long he stood there--how long I had that face before
The narrator was silent. Madame Orloff opened her eyes and looked at him
"I cannot tell you--I cannot!" he answered her. 'Who can tell of life and
death and a new birth? It was as though I were thinking with my
finger-nails, or the hair of my head--a part of me I had never before
dreamed had feeling. My eyes were dazzled. I could have bowed myself to
the earth like Moses before the burning bush. How can I tell you--? How
can I tell you?"
"He was--?" breathed the woman.
"Hubert van Eyck might have painted God the Father with those eyes--that
mouth--that face of patient power--of selfless, still beatitude.--Once the
dog, nestling by his side, whimpered and licked his hand. He looked down,
he turned his eyes away from his vision, and looked down at the animal and
smiled. Jehovah! What a smile. It seemed to me then that if God loves
humanity, he can have no kinder smile for us. And then he looked back
across the valley--at the sky, at the mountains, at the smoke rising from
the houses below us--he looked at the world--at some vision, some
knowledge--what he saw--what he saw--!
"I did not know when he went. I was alone in that crimson wood.
"I went back to the village. I went back to the city. I would not speak to
him till I had some honor worthy to offer him. I tried to think what would
mean most to him. I remembered the drawing of the Ste. Anne. I remembered
his years in Paris, and I knew what would seem most honor to him. I cabled
Drouot of the Luxembourg Gallery. I waited in New York till he came. I
showed him the picture. I told him the story. He was on fire!
"We were to go back to the mountains together, to tell him that his
picture would hang in the Luxembourg, and then in the Louvre--that in all
probability he would be decorated by the French government, that other
pictures of his would live for all time in Paris, in London, in
Brussels--a letter came from the woman, his niece. He was dead."
The actress fell back in her chair, her hands over her face.
The surgeon stirred wrathfully. "Heavens and earth, Vieyra, what beastly,
ghastly, brutally tragic horror are you telling us, anyhow?"
The old Jew moistened his lips and was silent. After a moment he said: "I
should not have told you. I knew you could not understand."
Madame Orloff looked up sharply. "Do you mean--is it possible that _you_
mean that if we had seen him--had seen that look--we would--that he had
had all that an artist--"
The picture-dealer addressed himself to her, turning his back on the
doctor. "I went back to the funeral, to the mountains. The niece told me
that before he died he smiled suddenly on them all and said: 'I have had a
happy life,' I had taken a palm to lay on his coffin, and after I had
looked long at his dead face, I put aside the palm. I felt that if he had
lived I could never have spoken to him---could never have told him."
The old Jew looked down at the decorations on his breast, and around at
the picture-covered walls. He made a sweeping gesture.
"What had I to offer him?" he said.
WHO ELSE HEARD IT?
A lady walking through the square
With steamship tickets in her hand,
To spend her summer in the Alps,
Her winter in the Holy Land,
Heard (or else dreamed), as she passed by
The Orphan Home across the way,
A small and clear and wondering voice
From out a dormer window say,
"And would you really rather climb
Mont Blanc alone, than walk with me
Out hunting Mayflowers in the woods
Of Westerburn and Cloverlea?
"Alas! And would you rather hear
Cathedral choirs in cities far
Than one at bedtime, on your lap,
Say 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star'?"
"A lonely Christmas would you spend
By Galilee or Jordan's tide
When a child's stocking you might fill
And hang it by your own fireside?"
A DROP IN THE BUCKET
There is no need to describe in detail the heroine of this tale, because
she represents a type familiar to all readers of the conventional
New-England-village dialect story. She was for a long time the sole
inhabitant of Hillsboro, who came up to the expectations of our visiting
friends from the city, on the lookout for Mary Wilkins characters. We
always used to take such people directly to see Cousin Tryphena, as
dwellers in an Italian city always take their foreign friends to see their
one bit of ruined city wall or the heap of stones which was once an
Inquisitorial torture chamber, never to see the new water-works or the
modern, sanitary hospital.
On the way to the other end of the street, where Cousin Tryphena's tiny,
two-roomed house stood, we always laid bare the secrets of her somnolent,
respectable, unprofitable life; we always informed our visitors that she
lived and kept up a social position on two hundred and fifteen dollars a
year, and that she had never been further from home than to the next
village. We always drew attention to her one treasure, the fine Sheraton
sideboard that had belonged to her great-grandfather, old Priest Perkins;
and, when we walked away from the orderly and empty house, we were sure
that our friends from the city would always exclaim with great insight
into character, "What a charmingly picturesque life! Isn't she perfectly
Next door to Cousin Tryphena's minute, snow-white house is a forlorn old
building, one of the few places for rent in our village, where nearly
everyone owns his own shelter. It stood desolately idle for some time,
tumbling to pieces almost visibly, until, one day, two years ago, a burly,
white-bearded tramp stopped in front of it, laid down his stick and bundle,
and went to inquire at the neighbor's if the place were for rent, then
moved in with his stick and bundle and sent away for the rest of his
belongings, that is to say, an outfit for cobbling shoes. He cut a big
wooden boot out of the side of an empty box, painted it black with
axle-grease and soot, hung it up over the door, and announced himself as
ready to do all the cobbling and harness-repairing he could get ... and a
fine workman he showed himself to be.
We were all rather glad to have this odd new member of our community
settle down among us ... all, that is, except Cousin Tryphena, who was
sure, for months afterward, that he would cut her throat some night and
steal away her Sheraton sideboard. It was an open secret that Putnam, the
antique-furniture dealer in Troy, had offered her two hundred and fifty
dollars for it. The other women of the village, however, not living alone
in such dangerous proximity to the formidable stranger, felt reassured by
his long, white beard, and by his great liking for little children.
Although, from his name, as from his strong accent, it was evident that
old Jombatiste belonged, by birth, to our French-Canadian colony, he never
associated himself with that easy-going, devoutly Catholic, law-abiding,
and rather unlettered group of our citizens. He allied himself with quite
another class, making no secret of the fact that he was an out-and-out
Socialist, Anti-clerical, Syndicalist, Anarchist, Nihilist. ... We in
Hillsboro are not acute in distinguishing between the different shades of
radicalism, and never have been able exactly to place him, except that,
beside his smashing, loudly-voiced theories, young Arthur Robbins'
Progressivism sounds like old Martin Pelham's continued jubilation over
the Hayes campaign.
The central article of Jombatiste's passionately held creed seemed to be
that everything was exactly wrong, and that, while the Socialist party was
not nearly sweeping enough in its ideas, it was, as yet, the best means
for accomplishing the inevitable, righteous overturning of society.
Accordingly, he worked incessantly, not only at his cobbling, but at any
odd job he could find to do, lived the life of an anchorite, went in rags,
ate mainly crackers and milk, and sent every penny he could save to the
Socialist Headquarters. We knew about this not only through his own
trumpeting of the programme of his life, but because Phil Latimer, the
postmaster, is cousin to us all and often told us about the money-orders,
so large that they must have represented almost all the earnings of the
fanatical old shoemaker.
And yet he was never willing to join in any of our charitable enterprises,
although his ardent old heart was evidently as tender as it was hot.
Nothing threw him into such bellowing fury as cruelty. He became the
terror of all our boys who trapped rabbits, and, indeed, by the sole
influence of his whirlwind descents upon them, and his highly illegal
destruction of their traps, he practically made that boyish pastime a
thing of the past in Hillsboro. Somehow, though the boys talked mightily
about how they'd have the law of dirty, hot-tempered old Jombatiste,
nobody cared really to face him. He had on tap a stream of red-hot
vituperation astonishingly varied for a man of his evident lack of early
education. Perhaps it came from his incessant reading and absorption of
Socialist and incendiary literature.
He took two Socialist newspapers, and nobody knows how many queer little
inflammatory magazines from which he read aloud selections to anyone who
did not run away.