Part 2 out of 3
"Yes, Ephraim is joined to his idols," said Dorothy, lifting her head. "Let
"Let him _alone_," corrected Rachel.
"Let him _alone_!" Dorothy repeated. "That is better yet."
"What's thee thinking of, dear?"
"Oh, I'm thinking about the dance in the barn."
"I'm glad thee looks at it in that light," said Rachel calmly.
* * * * *
Dorothy knelt by her bed in the low chamber under the eaves, crying to
herself that she was not the child of her mother any more.
She felt that she had lost something, that in truth had never been hers.
It was but the unconscious poise of her unawakened girlhood which had been
stirred; she had mistaken it for that abiding peace which is not lost or
won in a day.
Dorothy could no more stifle the spring thrills in her blood than she could
crush the color out of her cheek or brush the ripples out of her bright
hair, but she longed for the cool grays and the still waters. She prayed
that the "grave and beautiful damsel called Discretion" might take her by
the hand and lead her to that "upper chamber, whose name is Peace." She lay
awake listening to the music from the barn, and waiting through breathless
silences for it to begin again. She wondered if Fanny Jordan had grown any
prettier since she had seen her as a half-grown girl, and then she despised
herself for the thought. The katydids seemed to beat their wings upon her
brain, and all the noises of the night, far and near, came to her strained
senses as if her silent chamber were a whispering gallery. The clock struck
twelve, and in the silence that followed she missed the music; but voices
talking and laughing were coming down the lane. There was the clink of a
horse's hoof on the stones: now it was lost on the turf, and now they were
all trooping noisily past the house. She buried her head in her pillow and
tried to bury with it the consciousness that she was wondering if Evesham
were there laughing with the rest.
Yes, Evesham was there. He walked with Farmer Jordan, behind the young men
and girls, and discussed with him, somewhat absently, the war news and the
prices of grain.
As they passed the dark old house, spreading its wide roofs like a hen
gathering her chickens under her wing, he became suddenly silent. A white
curtain flapped in and out of an upper window. Evesham looked up and
slightly raised his hat, but his instinct failed him there,--it was the
window of the boys' room.
"Queer kinks them old Friend preachers gits into their heads sometimes,"
said Farmer Jordan, as they passed the empty mill. "Now what do you s'pose
took Uncle Tommy Barton off right on top of plantin', leavin' his wife 'n'
critters 'n' child'en to look after themselves? Mighty good preachin' it
ought to be to make up for such practicin'. Wonderful set ag'in the war,
Uncle Tommy is. He's a-preachin' up peace now. But Lord! all the preachin'
sense Moses won't keep men from fightin' when their blood's up and there's
ter'tory in it."
"It makes saints of the women," said Evesham shortly.
"Wal, yes. Saints in heaven before their time, some of 'em. There's
Dorothy, now. She'll hoe her row with any saint in the kingdom or out of
it. I never see a hulsomer-lookin' gal. My Luke, he run the furrers in
her corn-patch last May. Said it made him sick to see a gal like that
a-staggerin' after a plough. She wouldn't more 'n half let him. She's a
proud little piece. They're all proud, Quakers is. I never could see no
'poorness of spirit,' come to git at 'em. And they're wonderful clannish,
too. My Luke, he'd a notion he'd like to run the hull concern, Dorothy 'n'
all; but I told him he might's well p'int off. Them Quaker gals don't never
marry out o' meetin'. Besides, the farm's too poor."
"Good-night, Mr. Jordan," said Evesham suddenly. "I'm off across lots." He
leaped the fence, crashed through the alder hedgerow, and disappeared in
the dusky meadow.
Evesham was by no means satisfied with his experiments in planetary
distances. Somewhere, he felt sure, either in his orbit or hers, there
must be a point where Dorothy would be less insensible to the attraction
of atoms in the mass. Thus far she had reversed the laws of the spheres,
and the greater had followed the less. When she had first begun to hold a
permanent place in his thoughts he had invested her with something of that
atmosphere of peace and cool passivity which hedges in the women of her
faith. It had been like a thin, clear glass, revealing her loveliness,
but cutting off the magnetic currents. A young man is not long satisfied
with the mystery his thoughts have woven around the woman who is their
object. Evesham had grown impatient; he had broken the spell of her
sweet remoteness. He had touched her and found her human, deliciously,
distractingly human, but with a streak of that obduracy which history
has attributed to the Quakers under persecution. In vain he haunted the
mill-dam, and bribed the boys with traps and pop-guns, and lingered at the
well-curb to ask Dorothy for water that did not reach his thirst. She was
there in the flesh, with her arms aloft balancing the well-sweep, while he
stooped with his lips at the bucket; but in spirit she was unapproachable.
He felt, with disgust at his own persistence, that she even grudged him the
water. He grew savage and restless, and fretted over the subtle changes
that he counted in Dorothy as the summer waned. She was thinner and paler;
perhaps with the heats of harvest, which had not, indeed, been burdensome
from its abundance. Her eyes were darker and shyer, and her voice more
languid. Was she wearing down with all this work and care? A fierce disgust
possessed him that this sweet life should be cast into the breach between
faith and works.
He did not see that Rachel Barton had changed, too, with a change that
meant more, at her age, than Dorothy's flushings and palings. He did not
miss the mother's bent form from the garden, or the bench by the kitchen
door where she had been used to wash the milk-things.
Dorothy washed the milk-things now, and the mother spent her days in the
sunny east room, between her bed and the easy-chair, where she sat and
mused for hours over the five letters that she had received from her
husband in as many months. The boys had, in a measure, justified their
father's faith in them, since Rachel's illness, and Dorothy was released
from much of her out-door work; but the silence of the kitchen, when she
was there alone with her ironing and dish washing, was a heavier burden
than she had yet known.
Nature sometimes strikes in upon the hopeless monotony of life in remote
farmhouses with one of her phenomenal moods. They come like besoms of
destruction, but they scatter the web of stifling routine; they fling into
the stiffening pool the stone which jars the atoms into crystal.
The storms, that had ambushed in the lurid August skies and circled
ominously round the horizon during the first weeks of September, broke at
last in an equinoctial which was long remembered in the mill-house. It took
its place in the family calendar of momentous dates with the hard winter of
1800, with the late frost that had coated the incipient apples with ice and
frozen the new potatoes in the ground in the spring of '97, and with the
year the typhus had visited the valley.
The rain had been falling a night and a day; it had been welcomed with
thanksgiving, but it had worn out its welcome some hours since, and now the
early darkness was coming on without a lull in the storm. Dorothy and the
two older boys had made the rounds of the farm-buildings, seeing all safe
for the second night. The barns and mill stood on high ground, while the
house occupied the sheltered hollow between. Little streams from the hills
were washing in turbid currents across the lower levels; the waste-weir
roared as in early spring, the garden was inundated, and the meadow
a shallow pond. The sheep had been driven into the upper barn floor:
the chickens were in the corn-bin; and old John and the cows had been
transferred from the stable, that stood low, to the weighing floor of the
mill. A gloomy echoing and gurgling sounded from the dark wheel-chamber
where the water was rushing under the wheel and jarring it with its tumult.
At eight o'clock the woodshed was flooded and water began to creep under
the kitchen door. Dorothy and the boys carried armfuls of wood and stacked
them in the passage to the sitting-room, two steps higher up. At nine
o'clock the boys were sent protesting to bed, and Dorothy, looking out of
their window as she fumbled about in the dark for a pair of Shep's trousers
that needed mending, saw a lantern flickering up the road. It was Evesham
on his way to the mill-dams. The light glimmered on his oilskin coat as he
climbed the stile behind the well-curb.
"He raised the flood-gates at noon," Dorothy said to herself. "I wonder if
he is anxious about the dams." She resolved to watch for his return, but
she was busy settling her mother for the night when she heard his footsteps
on the porch. The roar of water from the hills startled Dorothy as she
opened the door; it had increased in violence within an hour. A gust of
wind and rain followed Evesham into the entry.
"Come in," she said, running lightly across the sitting-room to close the
door of her mother's room.
He stood opposite her on the hearth-rug and looked into her eyes, across
the estrangement of the summer. It was not Dorothy of the mill-head, or
of Slocum's meadow, or the cold maid of the well; it was a very anxious,
lonely little girl in a crumbling old house, with a foot of water in the
cellar and a sick mother in the next room. She had forgotten about Ephraim
and his idols; she picked up Shep's trousers from the rug, where she had
dropped them, and, looking intently at her thimble finger, told him she was
very glad that he had come.
"Did you think I would not come?" said he. "I'm going to take you home with
me, Dorothy,--you and your mother and the boys. It's not fit for you to be
"Does thee know of any danger?"
"I know of none, but water's a thing you can't depend on. It's an ugly
rain; older men than your father remember nothing like it."
"I shall be glad to have mother go, and Jimmy; the house is very damp. It's
an awful night for her to be out, though."
"She _must_ go!" said Evesham. "You must all go. I'll be back in half an
"_I_ shall not go," Dorothy said; "the boys and I must stay and look after
"What's that?" Evesham was listening to a trickling of water outside the
"Oh! it's from the kitchen. The door has blown open, I guess."
Dorothy looked out into the passage; a strong wind was blowing in from the
kitchen, where the water covered the floor and washed against the chimney.
"This is a nice state of things! What's all this wood here for?"
"The woodshed's under water."
"You must get yourself ready, Dorothy. I'll come for your mother first in
"I cannot go," she said. "I don't believe there is any danger. This old
house has stood for eighty years; it's not likely this is the first big
rain in all that time." Dorothy's spirits had risen. "Besides, I have a
family of orphans to take care of. See here," she said, stooping over a
basket in the shadow of the chimney. It was the "hospital tent," and as she
uncovered it, a brood of belated chickens stretched out their thin necks
with plaintive peeps.
Dorothy covered them with her hands and they nestled with comfortable
twitterings into silence.
"You're a kind of special providence, aren't you, Dorothy? But I've no
sympathy with chickens who will be born just in time for the equinoctial."
"_I_ didn't want them," said Dorothy, anxious to defend her management.
"The old hen stole her nest and she left them the day before the rain.
She's making herself comfortable now in the corn-bin."
"She ought to be made an example of; that's the way of the world,
however,--retribution doesn't fall always on the right shoulders. I must go
now. We'll take your mother and Jimmy first, and then, if you _won't_ come,
you shall let me stay with you. The mill is safe enough, anyhow."
Evesham returned with the chaise and a man, who, he insisted, should drive
away old John and the cows, so that Dorothy should have less care. The
mother was packed into the chaise with a vast collection of wraps, which
almost obliterated Jimmy. As they started, Dorothy ran out in the rain with
her mother's spectacles and the five letters, which always lay in a box on
the table by her bed. Evesham took her gently by the arms and lifted her
back across the puddles to the stoop.
As the chaise drove off, she went back into the sitting-room and crouched
on the rug, her wet hair shining in the firelight. She took out her
chickens one by one and held them under her chin, with tender words and
finger-touches. If September chickens have feelings as susceptible as their
bodies, Dorothy's orphans must have been imperiled by her caresses.
"Look here, Dorothy! Where's my trousers?" cried Shep, opening the door at
the foot of the stairs.
Reuby was behind him, fully arrayed in his own garment aforesaid, and
carrying the bedroom candle.
"Here they are--with a needle in them," said Dorothy. "What are you getting
up in the middle of the night for?"
"Well, I guess it's time somebody's up. Who's that man driving off our
"Goosey! It's Walter Evesham's man. He came for mother and all of us, and
he's taken old John and the cows to save us so much foddering."
"Ain't we going too?"
"I don't see why we should, just because there happens to be a little water
in the kitchen. I've often seen it come in there before."
"Well, thee never saw anything like _this_ before--nor anybody else,
either," said Shep.
"I don't care," said Reuby, "I wish there'd come a reg'lar flood. We could
climb up in the mill-loft and go sailin' down over Jordan's meadows.
Wouldn't Luke Jordan open that big mouth of his to see us heave in sight
about cock-crow, wing and wing, and the old tackle a-swingin'!"
"Do hush!" said Dorothy. "We may have to try it yet."
"There's an awful roarin' from our window," said Shep. "Thee can't half
hear it down here. Come out on the stoop. The old ponds have got their
dander up this time."
They opened the door and listened, standing together on the low step. There
was, indeed, a hoarse murmur from the hills, which grew louder as they
"Now she's comin'! There goes the stable-door. There was only one hinge
left, anyway," said Reuby. "Mighty! Look at that wave!"
It crashed through the gate, swept across the garden and broke at their
feet, sending a thin sheet of water over the floor of the porch.
"Now it's gone into the entry. Why didn't thee shut the door, Shep?"
"Well, I think we'd better clear out, anyhow. Let's go over to the mill.
Say, Dorothy, shan't we?"
"Wait. There comes another wave."
The second onset was not so violent; but they hastened to gather together
a few blankets, and the boys filled their pockets with cookies, with a
delightful sense of unusualness and peril almost equal to a shipwreck or an
attack by Indians. Dorothy took her unlucky chickens under her cloak, and
they made a rush all together across the road and up the slope to the mill.
"Why didn't we think to bring a lantern?" said Dorothy, as they huddled
together on the platform of the scale. "Will thee go back after one, Shep?"
"If Reuby'll go, too."
"Well, _my_ legs are wet enough now. What's the use of a lantern? Mighty
Moses! What's that?"
"The old mill's got under way," cried Shep. "_She's_ going to tune up for
A furious head of water was rushing along the race; the great wheel creaked
and swung over, and with a shudder the old mill awoke from its long sleep.
The cogs clenched their teeth, the shafting shook and rattled, the stones
whirled merrily round.
"Now she goes it!" cried Shep, as the humming increased to a tremor, and
the tremor to a wild, unsteady din, till the timbers shook and the bolts
and windows rattled. "I just wish father could hear them old stones hum."
"Oh, this is awful!" said Dorothy. She was shivering and sick with terror
at this unseemly midnight revelry of her grandfather's old mill. It was
as if it had awakened in a fit of delirium, and given itself up to a wild
travesty of its years of peaceful work.
Shep was creeping about in the darkness.
"Look here! We've got to stop this clatter somehow. The stones are hot now.
The whole thing'll burn up like tinder if we can't chock her wheels."
"Shep! Does thee _mean_ it?"
"Thee'll see if I don't. Thee won't need any lantern either."
"Can't we break away the race?"
"Oh, there's a way to stop it. There's the tip-trough, but it's downstairs
and we can't reach the pole."
"I'll go," said Dorothy.
"It's outside, thee knows. Thee'll get awful wet, Dorothy."
"Well, I'd just as soon be drowned as burned up. Come with me to the head
of the stairs."
They felt their way hand in hand in the darkness, and Dorothy went down
alone. She had forgotten about the "tip-trough," but she understood its
significance. In a few moments a cascade shot out over the wheel, sending
the water far into the garden.
"Right over my chrysanthemum bed," sighed Dorothy.
The wheel swung slower and slower, the mocking tumult subsided, and the old
mill sank into sleep again.
There was nothing now to drown the roaring of the floods and the steady
drive of the storm.
"There's a lantern," Shep called from the door. He had opened the upper
half and was shielding himself behind it. "I guess it's Evesham coming back
for us. He's a pretty good sort of a fellow after all; don't thee think so,
Dorothy? He owes us something for drowning us out at the sheep-washing."
"What does all this mean?" said Dorothy, as Evesham swung himself over the
half-door and his lantern showed them to each other in their various phases
"There's a big leak in the lower dam; I've been afraid of it all along;
there's something wrong in the principle of the thing."
Dorothy felt as if he had called her grandfather a fraud, and her father
a delusion and a snare. She had grown up in the belief that the mill-dams
were part of Nature's original plan in laying the foundations of the hills;
but it was no time to be resentful, and the facts were against her.
"Dorothy," said Evesham, as he tucked the buffalo about her, "this is the
second time I've tried to save you from drowning, but you never will wait.
I'm all ready to be a hero, but you won't be a heroine."
"I'm too practical for a heroine," said Dorothy. "There! I've forgotten my
"I'm glad of it. Those chickens were a mistake. They oughtn't to be
Youth and happiness can stand a great deal of cold water; but it was not to
be expected that Rachel Barton would be especially benefited by her night
journey through the floods. Evesham waited in the hall when he heard the
door of her room open next morning. Dorothy came slowly down the stairs;
he knew by her lingering-step and the softly closed door that she was not
"Mother is very sick," she answered his inquiry. "It is like the turn of
inflammation and rheumatism she had once before. It will be very slow,--and
oh, it is such suffering! Why do the best women in the world have to suffer
"Will you let me talk things over with you after breakfast, Dorothy?"
"Oh yes," she said, "there is so much to do and think about. I wish father
would come home!"
The tears came into Dorothy's eyes as she looked at him. Rest, such as she
had never known or felt the need of till now, and strength immeasurable,
since it would multiply her own by an unknown quantity, stood within reach
of her hand, but she might not put it out.
Evesham was dizzy with the struggle between longing and resolution. He
had braced his nerves for a long and hungry waiting, but fate had yielded
suddenly; the floods had brought her to him,--his flotsam and jetsam more
precious than all the guarded treasures of the earth. She had come, with
all her girlish, unconscious beguilements, and all her womanly cares and
anxieties too. He must strive against her sweetness, while he helped her to
bear her burdens.
"Now about the boys, Dorothy," he said, two hours later, as they stood
together by the fire in the low, oak-finished room, which was his office
and book-room. The door was ajar so that Dorothy might hear her mother's
bell. "Don't you think they had better be sent to school somewhere?"
"Yes," said Dorothy, "they ought to go to school,--but--well, I may as well
tell thee the truth. There's very little to do it with. We've had a poor
summer. I suppose I've managed badly, and mother has been sick a good
"You've forgotten about the pond-rent, Dorothy."
"No," she said, with a quick flush, "I hadn't forgotten it, but I couldn't
_ask_ thee for it."
"I spoke to your father about monthly payments, but he said better leave
it to accumulate for emergencies. Shouldn't you call this an 'emergency,'
"But does thee think we ought to ask rent for a pond that has all leaked
"Oh, there's pond enough left, and I've used it a dozen times over this
summer. I should be ashamed to tell you, Dorothy, how my horn has been
exalted in your father's absence. However, retribution has overtaken me at
last; I'm responsible, you know, for all the damage last night. It was in
the agreement that I should keep up the dams."
"Oh!" said Dorothy; "is thee sure?"
"If your father was like any other man, Dorothy, he'd make me 'sure,' when
he gets home. I will defend myself to this extent; I've patched and propped
them all summer, after every rain, and tried to provide for the fall
storms; but there's a flaw in the original plan"--
"Thee said that once before," said Dorothy. "I wish thee wouldn't say it
"Because I love those old mill-dams. I've trotted over them ever since I
could walk alone."
"You shall trot over them still. We will make them as strong as the
everlasting hills. They shall outlast our time, Dorothy."
"Well, about the rent," said Dorothy. "I'm afraid it will not take us
through the winter, unless there is something I can do. Mother couldn't
possibly be moved now; and if she could, it will be months before the house
is fit to live in. But we cannot stay here in comfort, unless thy mother
will let me make up in some way. Mother will not need me all the time, and
I know thy mother hires women to spin."
"She'll let you do all you like if it will make you any happier. But you
don't know how much money is coming to you. Come, let us look over the
He lowered the lid of the black mahogany secretary, placed a chair for
Dorothy and opened a great ledger before her, bending down, with one hand
on the back of the chair, the other turning the leaves of the ledger.
Considering the index and the position of the letter B in the alphabet, he
was a long time finding his place. Dorothy looked out of the window over
the tops of the yellowing woods to the gray and turbid river below. Where
the hemlocks darkened the channel of the glen she heard the angry floods
rushing down. The formless rain mists hung low and hid the opposite shore.
"See!" said Evesham, his finger wandering rather vaguely down the page.
"Your father went away on the 3d of May. The first month's rent came due on
the 3d of June. That was the day I opened the gate and let the water down
on you, Dorothy. I'm responsible for everything, you see,--even for the old
ewe that was drowned."
His words came in a dream as he bent over her, resting his unsteady hand
heavily on the ledger.
Dorothy laid her cheek on the date that she could not see and burst into
"Don't,--please don't!" he said, straightening himself and locking his
hands behind him. "I am human, Dorothy."
The weeks of Rachel's sickness that followed were perhaps the best
discipline Evesham's life had ever known. He held the perfect flower of his
bliss unclosing in his hand; yet he might barely permit himself to breathe
its fragrance. His mother had been a strong and prosperous woman; there had
been little he had ever been able to do for her. It was well for him to
feel the weight of helpless infirmity in his arms as he lifted Dorothy's
mother from side to side of her bed, while Dorothy's hands smoothed the
coverings. It was well for him to see the patient endurance of suffering,
such as his youth and strength defied. It was bliss to wait on Dorothy
and follow her with little watchful homages, received with a shy wonder
which was delicious to him; for Dorothy's nineteen years had been too full
of service to others to leave much room for dreams of a kingdom of her
own. Her silent presence in her mother's sick-room awed him. Her gentle,
decisive voice and ways, her composure and unshaken endurance through
nights of watching and days of anxious confinement and toil, gave him a new
reverence for the powers and mysteries of her unfathomable womanhood.
The time of Friend Barton's return drew near. It must be confessed that
Dorothy welcomed it with something of dread, and that Evesham did not
welcome it at all. On the contrary, the thought of it roused all his latent
obstinacy and aggressiveness. The first day or two after the momentous
arrival wore a good deal upon every member of the family, except Margaret
Evesham, who was provided with a philosophy of her own, that amounted
almost to a gentle obtuseness and made her a comfortable non-conductor,
preventing more electric souls from shocking each other.
On the morning of the fourth day, Dorothy came out of her mother's room
with a tray of empty dishes in her hands. She saw Evesham at the stair-head
and hovered about in the shadowy part of the hall till he should go down.
"Dorothy," he said, "I'm waiting for you." He took the tray from her and
rested it on the banisters. "Your father and I have talked over all the
business. He's got the impression that I'm one of the most generous fellows
in the world. I intend to leave him in that delusion for the present. Now
may I speak to him about something else, Dorothy? Have I not waited long
enough for my heart's desire?"
"Take care," said Dorothy softly,--"thee'll upset the tea-cups."
"Confound the tea-cups!" He stooped to place the irrelevant tray on the
floor, but now Dorothy was halfway down the staircase. He caught her on the
landing, and taking both her hands drew her down on the step beside him.
"Dorothy, this is the second time you've taken advantage of my trusting
nature. This time you shall be punished. You needn't try to hide your face,
you little traitor. There's no repentance in you!"
"If I'm to be punished there's no need of repentance."
"Oh, is that your Quaker doctrine? Dorothy, do you know, I've never heard
you speak my name, except once, and then you were angry with me."
"When was that?"
"The night I caught you at the gate. You said, 'I had rather have one of
those dumb brutes for company than thee, Walter Evesham.' You said it in
the fiercest little voice. Even the 'thee' sounded as if you hated me."
"I did," said Dorothy promptly. "I had reason to."
"Do you hate me now, Dorothy?"
"Not so much as I did then."
"What an implacable little Quaker you are."
"A tyrant is always hated," said Dorothy, trying to release her hands.
"If you will look in my eyes, Dorothy, and call me by my name, just once,
I'll let 'thee' go."
"Walter Evesham," said Dorothy, with great firmness and decision.
"No, that won't do! You must look at me, and say it softly, in a little
"Will thee please let me go, Walter?"
Walter Evesham was a man of his word, but as Dorothy sped away, he looked
as if he wished that he was not.
The next evening Friend Barton sat by his wife's easy-chair drawn into the
circle of firelight, with his elbows on his knees and his head between his
The worn spot on the top of his head had widened considerably during the
summer, but Rachel looked stronger and brighter than she had done for many
a day. There was even a little flush on her cheek, but this might have come
from the excitement of a long talk with her husband.
"I'm sorry thee takes it so hard, Thomas. I was afraid thee would. But the
way didn't seem to open for me to do much. I can see now that Dorothy's
inclinations have been turning this way for some time; though it's not
likely she would own it, poor child; and Walter Evesham's not one who is
easily gainsaid. If thee could only feel differently about it, I can't say
but that it would make me very happy to see Dorothy's heart satisfied.
Can't thee bring thyself into unity with it, father? He's a nice young man.
They're nice folks. Thee can't complain of the blood. Margaret Evesham
tells me a cousin of hers married one of the Lawrences, so we are kind of
kin after all."
"I don't complain of the blood; they're well enough placed, as far as the
world is concerned. But their ways are not our ways, Rachel; their faith is
not our faith."
"Well, I can't see such a very great difference, come to live among
them. 'By their fruits ye shall know them.' To comfort the widow and the
fatherless, and keep ourselves unspotted from the world;--thee's always
preached that, father. I really can't see any more worldliness here than
among many households with us; and I'm sure if we haven't been the widow
and the fatherless this summer, we've been next to it."
Friend Barton raised his head: "Rachel," he said, "look at that!" He
pointed upward to an ancient sword with belt and trappings which gleamed on
the paneled chimney-piece, crossed by an old queen's-arm. Evesham had given
up his large, sunny room to Dorothy's mother, but he had not removed all
his lares and penates.
"Yes, dear; that's his grandfather's sword--Colonel Evesham, who was killed
"Why does he hang up that thing of abomination for a light and a guide to
his footsteps, if his way be not far from ours?"
"Why, father! Colonel Evesham was a good man. I dare say he fought for the
same reason that thee preaches, because he felt it to be his duty."
"I find no fault with him, Rachel. Doubtless he followed his light, as thee
says, but he followed it in better ways too. He cleared land and built a
homestead and a meeting-house. Why doesn't his grandson hang up his old
broadaxe and plowshare and worship them, if he must have idols, instead of
that symbol of strife and bloodshed. Does thee want our Dorothy's children
to grow up under the shadow of the sword?"
There was a stern light of prophecy in the old man's eyes.
"May be Walter Evesham would take it down," said Rachel simply, leaning
back and closing her eyes. "I never was much of a hand to argue, even if
I had the strength for it; but it would hurt me a good deal--I must say
it--if thee should deny Dorothy in this matter, Thomas. It's a very serious
thing for old folks to try to turn young hearts the way they think they
ought to go. I remember now,--I was thinking about it last night, and it
all came back as fresh--I don't know that I ever told thee about that young
Friend who visited me before I heard thee preach at Stony Valley? Well,
father, he was wonderful pleased with him, but I didn't feel any drawing
that way. He urged me a good deal, more than was pleasant for either of us.
He wasn't at all reconciled to thee, Thomas, if thee remembers."
"I remember," said Thomas Barton. "It was an anxious time."
"Well, dear, if father _had_ insisted and had sent thee away, I can't say
but life would have been a very different thing to me."
"I thank thee for saying it, Rachel." Friend Barton's head drooped. "Thee
has suffered much through me; thee's had a hard life, but thee's been well
The flames leaped and flickered in the chimney; they touched the wrinkled
hands whose only beauty was in their deeds; they crossed the room and lit
the pillows where, for three generations, young heads had dreamed and gray
heads had watched and wearied; then they mounted to the chimney and struck
a gleam from the sword.
"Well, father," said Rachel, "what answer is thee going to give Walter
"I shall say no more, my dear. Let the young folks have their way. There's
strife and contention enough in the world without my stirring up more. And
it may be I'm resisting the Master's will. I left her in his care; this may
be his way of dealing with her."
Walter Evesham did not take down his grandfather's sword. Fifty years later
another went up beside it, the sword of a young Evesham who never left the
field of Shiloh; and beneath them both hangs the portrait of the Quaker
grandmother, Dorothy Evesham, at the age of sixty-nine.
The golden ripples, silver now, are hidden under a "round-eared cap;" the
quick flush has faded in her cheek, and fold upon fold of snowy gauze and
creamy silk are crossed over the bosom that once thrilled to the fiddles of
Slocum's barn. She has found the cool grays and the still waters; but on
Dorothy's children rests the "Shadow of the Sword."
THE STORY OF THE ALCAZAR.
It was told by Captain John to a boy from the mainland who was spending the
summer on the Island, as they sat together one August evening at sunset, on
a broken bowsprit which had once been a part of the Alcazar.
It was dead low water in Southwest Harbor, a land-locked inlet that nearly
cut the Island in two, and was the gateway through which the fishing-craft
from the village at the harbor head found their way out into the great
Penobscot Bay. There were many days during the stern winter and bleak
spring months when the gate was blocked with ice or veiled in fog, but
nature relented a little toward the Island folk in the fall and sent them
sunny days for their late, scant harvesting, and steady winds for the
mackerel-fishing, to give them a little hope before the winter set in sharp
with the equinoctial. Now, at low tide, the bright gateway shone wide open,
as if to let out the waters that rise and fall ten feet in the inlet.
You could look far out, beyond the lighthouse on Creenlaw's Neck and the
islands that throng the mouth of the harbor, to the red spot of flame the
sunset had kindled below the rack of smoke-gray clouds. The color burned in
a dull gleam upon the water, broken by the dark shapes of shadowy islands;
the sail-boats at anchor in the muddy, glistening flats leaned over
disconsolately on their sides, in despair of ever again feeling the thrill
of the returning waters beneath their keels; and the gray, weather-beaten
houses crowded together on the brink of the cliff above the beach, looking
like a group of hooded old women watching for a belated sail, seemed to
have caught the expression of their inmates' lives. At high tide the hulk
of the Alcazar had been full of water, which was now pouring out through a
hole in the planking of her side in a continuous, murmurous stream, like
the voice of a persistent talker in a silent company. The old ship looked
much too big for her narrow grave at the foot of the green cliff, in which
her anchor was deeply sunk and half overgrown with thistles. Her blunt bow
and the ragged stump of the figure-head rose, dark and high, above the wet
beach where Captain John sat with his absorbed listener. There were rifts
about her rail where the red sunset looked through. Her naked sides, that
for years had been moistened only by the perennial rains and snows, showed
rough and scaly like the armor of some fabled sea-monster. She was tethered
to the cliff by her rusty anchor-chain that swung across the space between,
serving as a clothes-line for the draggled driftweed left by the receding
tide to dry.
"She was a big ship for these parts," Captain John was saying. "There wan't
one like her ever come into these waters before. Lord! folks come down
from the Neck, and from Green's Landin', and Nor'east Harbor, and I don't
know but they come from the main, to see her when she was fust towed in.
And such work as they made of her name! Some called it one way and some
another. It's a kind of a Cubian name, they say. I expect there ain't
anybody round here that can call it right. However 'twas, old Cap'n Green
took and pried it off her starboard quarter, and somebody got hold of it
and nailed it up over the blacksmith's shop; and there you can see it now.
The old cap'n named her the Stranger when he had her refitted. May be you
could make out the tail of an S on her stern if you could git around there.
That name's been gone these forty year; seem's if she never owned to it,
and it didn't stick to her. She was never called anythin' but the Alcazar,
long as ever I knew her, and I expect I know full's much about her as
anybody round here. 'Twas a-settin' here on this very beach at low water,
just's we be now, that the old man told me fust how he picked her up. It
took a wonderful holt on him, there's no doubt about that. He told it to
me more 'n once before the time come when he was to put the finish on to
it; but in a gen'ral way the cap'n wan't much of a talker, and he was
shy of this partic'lar business, for reasons that I expect nobody knows
much about. But a man most always likes to talk to somebody, no matter
how close-mouthed he may be. 'Twas just about this time o' year, fall
of '27, the year Parson Flavor was ordained, Cap'n Green had gone
a-mack'rel-fishin' with his two boys off Isle au Haut, and they did think
o' cruisin' out into Frenchman's Bay if the weather hel' steady. They was
havin' fair luck, hangin' round the island off and on for a matter of a
week, when it thickened up a little and set in foggy, and for two days
they didn't see the shore. The second evenin' the wind freshened from the
south'ard and east'ard and drove the fog in shore a bit, and the sun, just
before he set, looked like a big yellow ball through the fog and made a
sickly kind of a glimmer over the water. They was a-lyin' at anchor, and
all of a sudden, right to the wind'ard of 'em, this old ship loomed up,
driftin' in with the wind and flood-tide. They couldn't make her out,
and I guess for a minute the old cap'n didn't know but it was the Flyin'
Dutchman; but she hadn't a rag o' sail on her, and as she got nearer they
could see there wan't a man on board. The cap'n didn't like the looks of
her, but he knew she wan't no phantom, and he and one of his boys down with
the punt and went alongside. 'Twan't more 'n a quarter of a mile to her.
They hailed and couldn't git no answer. They knew she was a furriner by her
build, and she must 'a' been a long time at sea by her havin' barnacles
on her nigh as big's a mack'rel kit. Finally, they pulled up to her
fore--chains and clum aboard of her. I never see a ship abandoned at sea,
myself, but I ain't no doubt but what it made 'em feel kind o' shivery when
they looked aft along her decks, and not a soul in sight, and every-thin'
bleached, and gray, and iron-rusted, and the riggin' all slack and white's
though it had been chawed, and nothin' left of her sails but some old
rags flappin' like a last year's scarecrow. They went and looked in the
fo'k'sel: there wan't nothin' there but some chists, men's chists, with a
little old beddin' left in the bunks. They went down the companion-way:
cabin-door unlocked, everything in there as nat'ral's though it had just
been left, only 'twas kind o' mouldy-smellin'. I expect the cap'n give a
kind of a start as he looked around. 'Twan't no old greasy whaler's cabin,
nor no packet-ship neither. There wan't many craft like her on the seas in
them days. She was fixed up inside more like a gentleman's yacht is now.
Merchantmen in them days didn't have their Turkey carpets and their colored
wine-glasses jinglin' in the racks. While they was explorin' round in
there, movin' round kind o' cautious, the door of the cap'n's stateroom
swung open with a creak, just's though somebody was a-shovin' it slow like,
and the ship give a kind of a stir and a rustlin', moanin' sound, as if
she was a-comin' to life. The old man never made no secret but what he was
scairt when he went through her that night. 'Twan't so much what he said as
the way he looked when he told it. I expect he thought he'd seen enough,
about the time that door blew open. He said he knowed 'twas nothin' but a
puff o' wind struck her, and that he'd better be a-gittin' on to his own
craft before he lost her in the fog. So he went back and got under weigh,
and sent a line aboard of the stranger and took her in tow, and all that
night with a good southeast wind they kept a-movin' toward home. The old
man was kind o' res'less and wakeful, walkin' the decks and lookin' over
the stern at the big ship follerin' him like a ghost. The moonlight was a
little dull with fog, but he could see her, plain, a-comin' on before the
wind with her white riggin' and bare poles, and hear the water sousin'
under her bows. He said 'twas in his mind more 'n a dozen times to cut her
adrift. You see he had his misgivin's about her from the fust, though he
never let on what they was; but he hung on to her as a man will, sometimes,
agin feelin's that have more sense in 'em than reason, like as not. He knew
everybody at the Harbor would laugh at him for lettin' go such a prize as
that just for a notion, and it wan't his way, you may be sure; he didn't
need no one to tell him what she was wuth. Anyhow he hung to her, and next
day they beached her at high water, right over there by the old ship-yard.
He took Deacon S'lvine and his brother-in-law, Cap'n Purse--Pierce they
call it nowadays, but in the cap'n's time 'twas Purse. That sounds kind o'
broad and comfortable, like the cap'n's wescoat; but the family's thinnin'
down a good deal lately and gettin' kind o' sharp and lean, and may be
Pierce is more suitable. But 's I was sayin', Cap'n Green took them
two--cheerful, loud-talkin' men they was both of 'em--aboard of her to go
through her, for he hadn't no notion o' goin' into that cap'n's stateroom
alone, even in broad daylight; but 'twan't there the secret of her lay;
there wan't nothin' in there to scare anybody. She was trimmed up, I
tell you, just elegant. Real mahogany, none of your veneerin', but the
real stuff; lace curt'ins to the berth, lace on the pillows, and a satin
coverlid, rumpled up as though the cap'n had just turned out; and there was
his slippers handy--the greatest-lookin' slippers for a man you ever saw.
They wouldn't 'a' been too big for the neatest-footed woman in the Harbor.
But Land! they was just thick with mould, and so was everythin' in the
place, even to an old gittar with the strings most rotted off of it,
and the picters of fur-rin-lookin' women on the walls,--trinin'-lookin'
creeturs most of 'em. They hunted all through his desk, but couldn't find
no log. 'Twas plain enough that whoever'd left that ship had took pains
that she shouldn't tell no tales, and 'twan't long before they found out
"When they come to go below,--there was considerable of a crowd on deck by
that time, standin' round while they knocked out the keys and took off the
fore-hatch,--Cap'n Green called on Cap'n Purse and the deacon to go down
with him; but they didn't 'pear to be very anxious, and the old man wan't
goin' to hang back for company with everybody lookin' at him, so he lit a
candle and went down, and the folks crowded round and waited for him. I was
there myself, 's close to him as I be to that fish barrel, when he come up,
his face white 's a sheet and the candle shakin' in his hand, and sot down
on the hatch-combin'.
"'Give me room!' says he, kind o' leanin' back on the crowd. 'Give me air,
can't you? She's full o' dead niggers. She's a slaver.'
"Now, 'twas the talk pretty gen'rally that the cap'n had had a hand in that
business himself in his early days, and that it set uncomfortable on him
afterwards. It never was known how he'd got his money. He didn't have any
to begin with. He was always a kind of a lone bird and dug his way along up
somehow. Nobody knows what was workin' on him while he sot there; he looked
awful sick. It was kind of quiet for a minute, but them that couldn't see
him kep' pushin' for'ards and callin' out: 'What d'you see? What's down
there?' And them close by wanted to know, all talkin' to once, why he
thought she was a slaver, and how long the niggers had been dead. Lord!
what a fuss there was. Everybody askin' the foolishest questions, and
crowdin' and squeezin', and them in front pushin' back away from the
hatchway, as if they expected the dead would rise and walk out o' that
black hole where they'd laid so long. They couldn't get much out o' the old
man, except that there was skel'tons scattered all over the after hold,
and that he knew she was a slaver by the way she was fixed up. '_How_'d he
know?' folks asked amongst themselves; but nobody liked to ask the cap'n.
As for how long them Africans had been dead, they had to find that out for
themselves,--all they ever did find out,--for the cap'n wouldn't talk about
it, and he wouldn't go down in her again. It 'peared's if he was satisfied.
"Wal, it made a terrible stir in the place. As I tell you, they come from
fifty mile around to see her. They had it all in the papers. Some had
one idee and some another about the way she come to be abandoned, all in
good shape and them human bein's in her hold. Some said ship-fever, some
said mutiny; but when they come to look her over and found there wan't a
water-cask aboard of her that hadn't s'runk up and gone to pieces, they
settled down on the notion that she was a Spanish or a Cubian slaver, or
may be a Portagee, got short o' water in the horse-latitudes; cap'n and
crew left her in the boats, and the niggers--Lord! it makes a body sick to
think o' them. That was always my the'ry 'bout her--short o' water; but
some folks wan't satisfied 'thout somethin' more ex-citin'. 'Twan't enough
for 'em to have all them creeturs dyin' down there by inches. They stuck to
it about some blood-stains on the linin' in her hold, but I tell you the
difference between old blood-stains and rust that's may be ten or fifteen
years old's might' hard to tell.
"Nobody knows what the old cap'n was thinkin' about in them days. 'Twas
full three month or more 'fore he went aboard of her ag'in. He let it be
known about that he wanted to sell her, but he couldn't git an offer even;
nobody seemed to want to take hold of her. Winter set in early and the ice
blocked her in, and there she lay, the lonesomest thing in sight. You never
see no child'n climbin' 'round on her, and there was a story that queer
noises like moanin' and clankin' of chains come out of her on windy nights;
but it might 'a' been the ice, crowdin' as she careened over and back with
the risin' and fallin' tide. But when spring opened, folks used to see the
old cap'n hangin' round the ship-yard and lookin' her over at low tide,
where the ice had cut the barnacles off of her.
"One night in the store he figgered up how much lumber she'd carry from
Bangor, and 'twan't long 'fore he had a gang o' men at work on her. It
seemed's though he was kind of infatuated with her. He was 'fraid of her,
but he couldn't let her alone. And she was a mighty well-built craft.
Floridy pine and live-oak and mahogany from the Mosquito coast; built in
Cadiz, most likely. Look at her now--she don't look to home here, does
she? She never did. She's as much like our harbor craft as one o' them
big, yallow-eyed, bare-necked buzzards is to one o' these here little
sand-peeps. But she was a handsome vessel. Them live-oak ribs'll outlast
your time, if you was to live to be old."
The two faces looked up at the hulk of the Alcazar,--the blanched,
wave-worn messenger sent by the tropic seas into the far North with a tale
that the living had never dared to tell, and that had perished on the lips
of the dead. Its shadow, spreading broad upon the beach, made the gathering
twilight deeper. Out on the harbor the pale saffron light lingered, long
after the red had faded. How many tides had ebbed and flowed since the old
ship, chained at the foot of the cliff, had warmed in the waters of the
Gulf her bare, corrugated sides, warped by the frosts, stabbed by the ice
of pitiless Northern winters! Where were the sallow, dark-bearded faces
that had watched from her high poop the brief twilights die on that
"unshadowed main," which a century ago was the scene of some of the wildest
romances and blackest crimes in maritime history--the bright, restless
bosom that warmed into life a thousand serpents whose trail could be
traced through the hot, flower-scented Southern plazas and courts into the
peaceful white villages of the North!
"Sho! I'd no idee 'twas a-gittin' on so late," said Captain John. "There
ain't anybody watchin' out for me. I kin put my family under my hat, but I
don' know what your folks'll think's come o' you.
"Wal, the rest on 'twon't take long to tell. The old man had her fitted up
in good shape by the time the ice was out of the river, and run her up to
Bangor in ballast, and loaded her there for New York. He had an ugly trip
down the coast: lost his deck load and three men overboard in a southeaster
off Nantucket Shoals. It made the whole ship's company feel pretty solemn,
but the old man took it the hardest of any of 'em, and from that time seems
as if he lost his grip; the old scare settled back on him blacker 'n ever.
There wan't a man aboard of her that liked her. They all knew her story,
that she was the Alcazar from nobody knows where, instead of the Stranger
from Newburyport. The cap'n had Newburyport put on to her because he was a
Newburyport man and all his vessels was built there. But she hadn't more 'n
touched the dock in New York before every one on 'em left her, even to the
cook. 'I'm leery o' this 'ere ship,' says one big Cornishman. 'No better
than a floatin' coffin, anyway,' was what they all said of her; and I guess
the cap'n would 'a' left her right there himself if it hadn't been for the
money he'd put into her. I expect he was a little too fond of money, may
be; but I've knowed others just as sharp's the old cap'n that didn't seem
to have his luck. The mate saw him two or three times while he was a-lyin'
in New York, and noticed he was drinkin' more 'n usual. He come home
light and anchored off the bar, just as a southeaster was a-comin' on. It
wouldn't 'a' been no trouble for him to have laid there, if he'd had good
ground-gear; but there 'twas ag'in, he'd been a leetle too savin'. He'd
used the old cables he found in her. The new mate didn't know nothin' about
her, and he put out one anchor. The cap'n had taken a kag o' New England
rum aboard and been drawin' on it pretty reg'lar all the way up, and as
the gale come on he got kind o' wild and went at it harder 'n ever. About
midnight the cable parted. They let go the other anchor, but it didn't snub
her for a minute, and she swung, broadside to, on to the bar. The men clum
into the riggin' before she struck, but the old cap'n was staggerin' 'round
decks, kind o' dazed and dumb-like, not tryin' to do anythin' to save
himself. The mate tried to git him into the riggin', seein' he wan't in no
condition to look out for himself; but the old man struck loose from his
holt and cried out to him through the noise:--
"'Let me alone! I've got to go with her. I tell ye I've got to go with
"The mate just had time to swing himself back into the mizzen-shrouds
before the sea broke over her and left the decks bare. The old ship pounded
over the bar in an hour or so, and drifted up here on to the beach where
she is now. Every man on board was saved except the cap'n. He 'went with
her,' sure enough.
"There was talk enough about that thing before they got done with it to 'a'
made the old man roll in his grave. They raked up all the stories about his
cruisin' on the Spanish main when he was a young man. They wan't stories
_he_'d ever told; he wan't much of a hand to talk about what he'd seen and
done on his v'yages. They never let him rest till 'twas pretty much the
gen'ral belief, and is to this day, that he knew more about that slaver
from the first than he ever owned to.
"I never had much to say about it, but 'twas plain enough to me. I had my
suspicions the mornin' he towed her in. He looked terrible shattered. It
'peared to me he wan't ever the same man afterwards.
"'I've got to go with her!' Them was his last words. He knew that ship
and him belonged together, same as a man and his sins. He knew she'd been
a-huntin' him up and down the western ocean for twenty year, with them dead
o' his'n in her hold,--and she'd hunted him down at last."
Captain John paused with this peroration: he dug a hole in the wet sand
with the toe of his boot, and watched it slowly fill.
"'Twas a bait most any one would 'a' smelt of, a six-hundred-ton ship and
every timber in her sound; but you'd 'a' thought he'd been more cautious,
knowin' what he did of her. She was bound to have him, though."
"Captain John," said the boy, a little hoarse from his long silence, "what
do you suppose it _was_ he did? Anything except just leave them--the
negroes, I mean?"
"Lord! Wan't that _enough_? To steal 'em, and then leave 'em
there--battened down like rats in the hold! However, I expect there ain't
anybody that can tell you the whole of that story. It's one of them
mysteries that rests with the dead.
"The new mate--the young fellow he brought on from New York--he married the
cap'n's daughter. None o' the Harbor boys ever seemed to jibe in with her.
I always had a notion that she was a touch above most of 'em, but she and
her mother was as good as a providence to them shipwrecked men when they
was throwed ashore, strangers in the place and no money; and it ended in
Rachel's takin' up with the mate and the whole family's leavin' the place.
It was long after all the talk died away that the widow come back and lived
here in the same quiet way she always had, till she was laid alongside the
old cap'n. There wan't a better woman ever walked this earth than Mary
Green, that was Mary Spofford."
Captain John rose from the bowsprit and rubbed his cramped knees before
climbing the hill. He parted with his young listener at the top and took
a lonely path across the shore-pasture to a little cabin, where no light
shone, built like the nest of a sea-bird on the edge of high-water mark.
On the gray beach below, a small, dingy yawl, with one sail loosely bundled
over the thwarts, leaned toward the door-latch as if listening for its
click. It had an almost human expression of patient though wistful waiting.
It was the poorest boat in the Harbor; it had no name painted on its stern,
but Captain John, in the solitude of his watery wanderings among the
islands and channels of the bay, always called her the Mary Spofford. The
boy from the main went home slowly along the village street toward the
many-windowed house in which his mother and sisters were boarding. There
were voices, calling and singing abroad on the night air, reflected
from the motionless, glimmering sheet of dark water below as from a
sounding-board. Cow-bells tinkled away among the winding paths along the
low, dim shores. The night-call of the heron from the muddy flats struck
sharply across the stillness, and from the outer bay came the murmur of the
old ground-swell, which never rests, even in the calmest weather.
A CLOUD ON THE MOUNTAIN.
Ruth Mary stood on the high river bank, looking along the beach below to
see if her small brother Tommy was lurking anywhere under the willows with
his fishing-pole. He had been sent half an hour before to the earth cellar
for potatoes, and Ruth Mary's father, Mr. Tully, was waiting for his
She did not see Tommy; but while she lingered, looking at the river
hurrying down the shoot between the hills and curling up over the pebbles
of the bar, she saw a team of bay horses and a red-wheeled wagon come
rattling down the stony slope of the opposite shore. In the wagon she
counted four men. Three of them wore white, helmet-shaped hats that made
brilliant spots of light against the bank. The horses were driven half
their length into the stream and allowed to drink, as well as they could
for the swiftness of the current, while the men seemed to consult together,
the two on the front seat turning back to speak with the two behind, and
pointing across the river.
Ruth Mary watched them with much interest, for travelers such as these
seemed to be seldom came as far up Bear River valley as the Tullys' cattle
range. The visitors who came to them were mostly cow-boys looking up stray
cattle, or miners on their way to the "Banner district," or packers with
mule trains going over the mountains, to return in three weeks, or three
months, as their journey prospered. Fishermen and hunters came up into
the hills in the season of trout and deer, but they came as a rule on
horseback, and at a distance were hardly to be distinguished from the
cow-boys and the miners.
The men in the wagon were evidently strangers to that locality. They had
seen Ruth Mary watching them from the hill, and now one of them rose up in
the wagon and shouted across to her, pointing to the river.
She could not hear his words for the noise of the ripple and of the wind
which blew freshly down-stream, but she understood that he was inquiring
about the ford. She motioned up the river and called to him, though she
knew her words could not reach him, to keep on the edge of the ripple.
Her gestures, however, aided by the driver's knowledge of fords, were
sufficient; he turned his horses up-stream and they took water at the place
she had tried to indicate. The wagon sank to the wheel-hubs; the horses
kept their feet well, though the current was strong; the sun shone brightly
on the white hats and laughing faces of the men, on the guns in their
hands, on the red paint of the wagon and the warm backs of the horses
breasting the stream. When they were halfway across, one of the men tossed
a small, reluctant black dog over the wheel into the river, and all the
company, with the exception of the driver, who was giving his attention to
his horses, broke into hilarious shouts of encouragement to the swimmer
in his struggle with the current. It was carrying him down and would have
landed him, without effort of his own, on a strip of white sand beach under
the willows above the bend; but now the unhappy little object, merely a
black nose and two blinking anxious eyes above the water, had drifted into
an eddy, from which he cast forlorn glances toward his faithless friends in
the wagon. The dog was in no real peril, but Ruth Mary did not know this,
and her heart swelled with indignant pity. Only shyness kept her from
wading to his rescue. Now one of the laughing young men, thinking the joke
had gone far enough perhaps, and reckless of a wetting, leaped out into the
water, and, plunging along in his high boots, soon had the terrier by the
scruff of his neck, and waded ashore with his sleek, quivering little body
nestled in the bosom of his flannel hunting shirt.
A deep cut in the bank, through which the wagon was dragged, was screened
by willows. When the fording party had arrived at the top, Ruth Mary was
nowhere to be seen. "Where's that girl got to all of a sudden?" one of the
men demanded. They had intended to ask her several questions; but she was
gone, and the road before them plainly led to the low-roofed cabin, and
loosely built barn with straw and daylight showing through its cracks, the
newly planted poplar-trees above the thatched earth cellar, and all the
signs of a tentative home in this solitude of the hills.
They drove on slowly, the young man who had waded ashore, whom his comrades
addressed as Kirkwood or Kirk, walking behind the wagon with the dog in
his arms, responding to his whimpering claims for attention with teasing
caresses. The dog, it seemed, was the butt as well as the pet of the party.
As they approached the house he scrambled out of Kirkwood's arms and
lingered to take a roll in the sandy path, coming up a moment afterward
to be received with blighting sarcasms upon his appearance. After his
ignominious wetting he was quite unable to bear up under them, and slunk to
the rear with deprecatory blinks and waggings of his tail whenever one of
the men looked back.
Ruth Mary had run home quickly to tell her father, who was sitting in the
sun by the wood-pile, of the arrival of strangers from across the river.
Mr. Tully rose up deliberately and went to meet his guests, keeping between
his teeth the sliver of pine he had been chewing while waiting for his
dinner. It helped to bear him out in that appearance of indifference
he thought it well to assume, as if such arrivals were an every-day
"Hasn't Tommy got back yet, mother?" Ruth Mary asked as she entered the
house. Mrs. Tully was a stout, low-browed woman, with grayish yellow hair
of that dry and lifeless texture which shows declining health or want of
care. Her blue eyes looked faded in the setting of her tanned complexion.
She sat in a low chair, her knees wide apart, defined by her limp calico
draperies, rocking a child of two years, a fat little girl with flushed
cheeks and flaxen hair braided into tight knots on her forehead, who was
asleep in the large cushioned rocking-chair in the middle of the room. The
room was somewhat bare, for the shed-room outside was evidently the more
used part of the house. The cook stove was there in the inclosed corner,
and beside it a table and shelf with a tin hand-basin hanging beneath,
while the crannies of the logs on each side of the doorway were utilized
as shelves for all the household articles in frequent requisition that
were not hanging from nails driven into the logs, or from the projecting
roof-poles against the light.
Tommy had not returned, and Mrs. Tully suggested as a reason for his delay
that he had stopped somewhere to catch grasshoppers for bait.
"I should think he had enough of 'em in that bottle of his," Ruth Mary
said, "to last him till the 'hoppers come again. Some strange men forded
the river just now. Father's gone to speak to them. I guess he'll ask 'em
to stop to dinner."
Mrs. Tully got up heavily and went to the door. "Here, Angy,"--she
addressed a girl of eight or ten years who sat on the flat boulder that
was the cabin doorstep;--"you go get them taters; that's a good girl," she
added coaxingly, as Angy did not stir. "If your foot hurts you, you can
walk on your heel."
Angy, who was complaining of a stone-bruise, got up and limped away,
upsetting from her lap as she rose two kittens of tender years, who tumbled
over each other before getting their legs under them, and staggered off,
steering themselves jerkily with their tails.
"Oh, Angy!" Ruth Mary remonstrated, but she could not stay to comfort the
kittens. She ran up the short, crooked stairs leading to the garret bedroom
which she shared with Angy, hastily to put on her shoes and stockings and
brace her pretty figure, under the blue calico waist she wore, with her
first pair of stays, an important purchase made on her last visit to the
town in the valley, and to be worn now, if ever. It was hot at noon in the
bedroom under the roof, and by the time Ruth Mary had fortified herself
to meet the eyes of strangers she was uncomfortably flushed, and short of
breath besides from the pressure of the new stays. She went slowly down the
uneven stairs, wishing that she could walk as softly in her shoes as she
Her father was talking to the strangers in the shed-room. They seemed tall
and formidable, under the low roof, against the flat glare of the sun on
the hard-swept ground in front of the shed. She waited inside until her
mother reminded her of the dinner half cooked on the stove; then she went
out shyly, the light falling on her downcast face and full white eyelids,
on her yellow hair, sun-faded and meekly parted over her forehead, which
was low like her mother's, but smooth as one of the white stones of the
river beach. Her fair skin was burned to a clear, light red tint, and her
blonde eyebrows and lashes showed silvery against it, but her chin was very
white underneath, and there was a white space behind each of her little
ears where her hair was knotted tightly away from her neck.
"This is my daughter," Mr. Tully said briefly; and then he gave some
hospitable orders about dinner which the strangers interrupted, saying that
they had brought a lunch with them and would not trouble the family until
They gathered up their hunting gear, and lifting their hats to Ruth Mary,
followed Mr. Tully, who had offered to show them the best fishing on that
part of the river.
Mr. Tully explained to his wife and daughter, as the latter placed the
dinner on the table, that three of the strangers were the engineers from
the railroad camp at Moor's Bridge, and the fourth was a packer and
teamster from the same camp; that they were all going up the river to look
at timber, and wanted a little sport by the way. They had expected to keep
on the other side of the river, but seeing the ranch on the opposite shore,
with wheel-tracks going down to the water, they had concluded to try the
ford and the fishing and ask for a night's accommodation.
"They don't want we should put ourselves out any. They're used to roughin'
it, they say. If you can git together somethin' to feed 'em on, mother,
they say they'd as soon sleep on the straw in the barn as anywheres else."
"There's plenty to eat, such as it is, but Ruth Mary'll have it all to do.
I can't be on my feet." Mrs. Tully spoke in a depressed tone, but to her
no less than to her husband was this little break welcome in the monotony
of their life in the hills, even though it brought with it a more vivid
consciousness of the family circumstances, and a review of them in the
light of former standards of comfort and gentility: for Mrs. Tully had been
a woman of some social pretensions, in the small Eastern village where she
was born. To all that to her guests made the unique charm of her present
home she had grown callous, if she had ever felt it at all, while dwelling
with an incurable regret upon the neatly painted houses and fenced
door-yards, the gatherings of women in their best clothes in primly
furnished parlors on summer afternoons, the church-going, the passing in
the street, and, more than all, the housekeeping conveniences she had been
used to, accumulated through many years' occupancy of the same house.
"Seems as though I hadn't any ambition left," she often complained to her
daughter. "There's nothin' here to do with, and nobody to do for. The most
of the folks we ever see wouldn't know sour-dough bread from salt-risin',
and as for dressin' up, I might keep the same clothes on from Fourth July
till Christmas--your father'd never know."
But Ruth Mary was haunted by no fleshpots of the past. As she dressed the
chickens and mixed the biscuit for supper, she paused often in her work
and looked towards the high pastures with the pale brown lights and purple
shadows on them, rolling away and rising towards the great timbered ridges,
and these lifting here and there along their profiles a treeless peak or
bare divide into the regions above vegetation. She had no misgivings about
her home. Fences would not have improved her father's vast lawn, to her
mind, or white paint the low-browed front of his dwelling; nor did she feel
the want of a stair-carpet and a parlor-organ. She was sure that they,
the strangers, had never seen anything more lovely than her beloved river
dancing down between the hills, tripping over rapids, wrinkling over
sand-bars of its own spreading, and letting out its speed down the long
reaches where the channel was deep.
About four o'clock she found leisure to stroll along the shore with Tommy,
whose competitive energies as a fisherman had been stimulated by the advent
of strange craftsmen with scientific-looking tackle. Tommy must forthwith
show what native skill could do with a willow pole and grasshoppers for
bait. But Ruth Mary's sense of propriety would by no means tolerate Tommy's
intruding his company upon the strangers, and to frustrate any rash,
gregarious impulses on his part she judged it best to keep him in sight.
Tommy knew of a deep pool under the willows which he could whip, unseen,
in the shady hours of the afternoon. Thither he led Ruth Mary, leaving her
seated upon the bank above him lest she should be tempted to talk, and so
interfere with his sport. The moments went by in silence, broken only by
the river; Ruth Mary happy on the high bank in the sun, Tommy happy by
the shady pool below, and now and then slapping a lively trout upon the
stones. Across the river two Chinamen were washing gravel in a rude miner's
cradle, paddling about on the river's brink, and anon staggering down from
the gravel bank above, with large square kerosene cans filled with pay
dirt balanced on either end of a pole across their meagre shoulders.
Bare-headed, in their loose garments, with their pottering movements and
wrinkled faces shining with heat, they looked like two weird, unrevered old
women working out some dismal penance. High up in the sky the great black
buzzards sailed and sailed on slanting wing; the wood doves coo-oo-ed from
the willow thickets that gathered the sunlight close to the water's edge.
A few horses and cattle moved like specks upon the sides of the hills,
cropping the bunchgrass, but the greater herds had been driven up into the
high pastures where the snow falls early; and all these lower hills were
bare of life, unless one might fancy that the far-off processions of pines
against the sky, marching up the northern sides of the divides, had a
solemn personality, going up like priests to a sacrifice, or that the
restless river, flowing through the midst of all and bearing the light of
the white noonday sky deep into the bosom of the darkest hills, had a soul
as well as a voice. In its sparkle and ever-changing motion it was like a
child among its elders at play. The hills seemed to watch it, and the great
cloud-heads as they looked down between the parting summits, and the three
tall pines, standing about a young bird's flight from each other by the
shore and mingling their fitful crooning with the river's babble.
It is pleasant to think of Ruth Mary, sitting high above the river, in the
peaceful afternoon, surrounded by the inanimate life that to her brought
the fullness of companionship and left no room for vain cravings; the
shadow creeping upward over her hands folded in her lap, the light resting
on her girlish face and meek, smooth hair. For this was during that
unquestioning time of content which may not always last, even in a life as
safe and as easily predicted as hers. But even now this silent communion
was interrupted by the appearance of one of Tommy's rivals. It was the
young man whose comrades called him Kirk, who came along the shore,
stooping under the willow boughs and scattering all their shadows lightly
traced on the stones below. He held his fishing-rod, couched like a lance,
in one hand, and a string of gleaming fish in the other.
Tommy, with practiced eye, rapidly counted them and saw with chagrin that
he was outnumbered, but another look satisfied him that the stranger's
catch was nearly all "white-fish" instead of trout. He caressed his own
dappled beauties complacently.
Kirkwood stopped and looked at them; he was evidently impressed by Tommy's
"Those are big fellows," he said; "did you catch them?"
"You don't suppose _she_ did?" said Tommy, with a jerk of his head towards
Kirkwood looked up and smiled, seeing the young girl on her sunny perch.
The smile lingered pleasantly in his eyes as he seated himself on the
stones,--deliberately, as if he meant to stay.
Tommy watched him while he made himself comfortable, taking from his
pocket a short briar-wood pipe and a bag of tobacco, leisurely filling
the pipe and lighting it with a wax match held in the hollow of his
hands--apparently from habit, for there was no wind. He did not seem to
mind in the least that his legs were wet and that his trout were nearly
all white-fish. He was evidently a person of happy resources, and a
joy-compelling temperament that could find virtue in white-fish if it
couldn't get trout. He began to talk to Tommy, not without an amused
consciousness of Tommy's silent partner on the bank above, nor without an
occasional glance up at the maidenly head serenely exalted in the sunlight.
Nor did Ruth Mary fail to respond, with her down-bent looks, as simply and
unawares as the clouds turning their bright side to the sun.
Tommy, on his part, was stoutly withholding, in words, the admiration
his eyes could not help showing, of the strange fisherman's tools. He
cautiously felt the weight of the ringed and polished rod, and snapped it
lightly over the water; he was permitted to examine the book of flies and
to handle the reel, things in themselves fascinating, but to Tommy's mind
merely a hindrance and a snare to the understanding in the real business of
catching fish. Still, he admitted, where a man could take a whole day all
to himself like that, without fear of being called off at any moment by the
women on some frivolous household errand, he might afford to potter with
such things. Tommy kept the conservative attitude of native experience and
skill towards foreign innovation.
"If Joe Enselman was here," he said, "I bet he could ketch more fish in
half 'n hour, with a pole like this o' mine and a han'ful o' 'hoppers, than
any of you can in a whole week o' fishing with them fancy things."
"Oh, Tommy!" Ruth Mary expostulated, looking distressed.
"Who is this famous fisherman?" Kirkwood asked, smiling at Tommy's boast.
"Oh, he's a feller I know. He's a packer, and he owns ha'f o' father's
stock. He's goin' to marry our Sis soon's he gits back from Sheep Mountain,
and then he'll be my brother." Tommy had been a little reckless in his
desire for the distinction of a personal claim on the hero of his boyish
heart. He was even conscious of this himself, as he glanced up at his
Kirkwood's eyes involuntarily followed Tommy's. He withdrew them at once,
but not before he saw the troubled blush that reddened the girl's averted
face. It struck him, though he was not deeply versed in blushes, that it
was not quite the expression of happy, maidenly consciousness, when the
name of a lover is unexpectedly spoken.
It was the first time in her life that Ruth Mary had ever blushed at the
name of Joe Enselman. She could not understand why it should pain her to
have this young stranger hear of him in his relation to herself.
Before her blush had faded, Kirkwood had dismissed the subject of Ruth
Mary's engagement, with the careless reflection that Enselman was probably
not the right man, but that the primitive laws which decide such haphazard
unions doubtless provided the necessary hardihood of temperament wherewith
to meet their exigencies. She was a nice little girl, but possibly she was
not so sensitive as she looked.
His pipe had gone out, and after relighting it, he showed Tommy the gayly
pictured paper match-box from Havana, which opened with a spring, and
disclosed the matches lying in a little drawer within. Tommy's wistful
eyes, as he returned the box, prompted Kirkwood to make prudent search in
his pockets for a second box of matches before presenting Tommy with the
one his eyes coveted. Finding himself secure against want in the immediate
future, he gave himself up to the mild amusement of watching Tommy with his
Tommy could not resist lighting one of the little tapers, which burned in
the sunlight with a still, clear flame like a fairy candle. Then a second
one was sacrificed. By this time the attraction had proved strong enough
to bring Ruth Mary down from her high seat in the sun. She looked scarcely
less a child than Tommy, as, with her face close to his, she watched the
pale flame flower wasting its waxen stem. Then she must needs light one
herself and hold it, with a little fixed smile on her face, till the flame
crept down and warmed her finger-tips.
"There," she said, putting it out with a breath, "don't let us burn any
more. It's too bad to waste 'em in the daylight."
"We will burn one more," said Kirkwood, "not for amusement, but for
information." And while he whittled a piece of driftwood into the shape of
a boat, he told Ruth Mary how the Hindoo maidens set their lighted lamps
afloat at night on the Ganges, and watch them perilously voyaging, to
learn, by the fate of the traveling flame, the safety of their absent
He told it simply and gravely, as he might have described some fact in
natural history, for he rightly guessed that this little seed of sentiment
fell on virgin soil. According to Tommy, Ruth Mary was betrothed and soon
to be a wife, but Kirkwood was curiously sure that as yet she knew not
love, nor even fancy. Nor had he any deliberate intention of tampering with
her inexperience. He spoke of the lamps on the Ganges because they came
into his mind while Ruth Mary was bending over the wasting match flame;
any hesitation he might have had about introducing so delicate a topic was
conquered by an idle fancy that he would like to observe its effect upon
her almost pathetic innocence.
While he talked, interrupting himself as his whittling absorbed him, but
always conscious of her eyes upon his face, the boat took shape in his
hands. Tommy had failed to catch the connection between Hindoo girls and
boat-making, but was satisfied with watching Kirkwood's skillful fingers,
without paying much heed to his words. The stranger had, too, a wonderful
knife, with tools concealed in its handle, with one of which he bored a
hole for the mast. In the top of the mast he fixed a wax taper upright and
steady for the voyage.
Ruth Mary's cheeks grew red, as she suddenly perceived the intention of
"Now," he said, steadying the boat on the shallow ripple, "before we light
our beacon you must think of some one you care for, who is away. Perhaps
Tommy's friend, on Sheep Mountain?" he ventured softly, glancing at Ruth
The color in her cheeks deepened, and again Kirkwood fancied it was not a
happy confusion that covered her downcast face.
"No?" he questioned, as Ruth Mary did not speak; "that is too serious,
perhaps. Well, then, make a little wish, and if the light is still alive
when the boat passes that rock--the flat one with two stones on top--the
wish will come true. But you must have faith, you know."
Ruth Mary looked at Kirkwood, the picture of faith in her sweet
seriousness. His heart smote him a little, but he met her wide-eyed gaze
with a gravity equal to her own.
"I would rather not wish for myself," she said, "but I will wish something
for you, if you want me to."
"That is very kind of you. Am I to know what it is to be?"
"Oh yes. You must tell me what to wish."
"That is easily done," said Kirkwood gayly. "Wish that I may come back some
other day, and sit here with you and Tommy by the river."
It was impossible not to see that Ruth Mary was blushing again. But she
answered him with a gentle courtesy that rebuked the foolish blush: "That
will be wishing for us all."
"Shall we light up then, and set her afloat?"
"I've made a wish," shouted Tommy; "I've wished Joe Enselman would bring me
an Injun pony: a good one that won't buck!"
"You must keep your wish for the next trip. This ship is freighted deep
enough already. Off she goes then, and good luck to the wish," said
Kirkwood, as the current took the boat, with the light at its peak burning
clearly, and swept it away. The pretty plaything dipped and danced a
moment, while the light wavered but still lived. Then a breath of wind
shook the willows, and the light was gone.
"Now it's my turn," Tommy exclaimed, wasting no sentiment on another's
failure. He rushed down the bank and into the shallow water to catch the
wishing-boat before it drifted away.
"All the same I'm coming back again," said Kirkwood, looking at Ruth Mary.
Tommy's wish fared no better than his sister's, but he bore up briskly,
declaring it was "all foolishness anyway," and accused Kirkwood of having
"just made it up for fun."
Kirkwood only laughed, and, ignoring Tommy, said to Ruth Mary, "The game
was hardly worth the candle, was it?"
"Was it a game?" she asked. "I thought you meant it for true."
"Oh no," he said; "when we try it in earnest we must find a smoother river
and a stronger light. Besides, you know, I'm coming back."
Ruth Mary kept her eyes upon his face, still questioning his seriousness,
but its quick changes of expression baffled while fascinating her. She
could not have told whether she thought him handsome or not, but she had a
desire to look at him all the time.
Suddenly her household duties recurred to her, and, refusing the help of
Kirkwood's hand, she sprang up the bank and hurried back to the house.
Kirkwood could see her head above the wild-rose thickets as she went along
the high path by the shore. He was more sure than ever that Enselman was
not the right man.
At supper Ruth Mary waited on the strangers in silence, while Angy kept the
cats and dogs "corraled," as her father called it, in the shed, that their
impetuous appetites might not disturb the feast.
Mr. Tully stood in the doorway and talked with his guests while they ate,
and Mrs. Tully, with the little two-year-old in her lap, rocked in the
large rocking-chair and sighed apologetically between her promptings of
Ruth Mary's attendance on the table.
Tommy hung about in a state of complete infatuation with the person and
conversation of his former rival. He was even beginning to waver in his
allegiance to his absent hero, especially as the wish about the Indian pony
had not come true.
During the family meal the young men sat outside in the shed-room, and
smoked and lazily talked together. Their words reached the silent group at
the table. Kirkwood's companions were deriding him as a recreant sportsman.
He puffed his short-stemmed pipe and looked at them tranquilly. He was not
dissatisfied with his share of the day's pleasure.
When Mr. Tully had finished his supper, he took the young men down to the
beach to look at his boat. Kirkwood had pointed it out to his comrades,
where it lay moored under the bank, and ventured the opinion of a boating
man that it had not been built in the mountains. But there he had
generalized too rashly.
"I built her myself," said Mr. Tully; "rip-sawed the lumber up here. My
young ones are as handy with her!" he boasted cheerfully, warmed by the
admiration his work called forth. "You'd never believe, to see 'em knocking
about in her, they hadn't the first one of 'em ever smelt salt water. Ruth
Mary now, the oldest of 'em, is as much to home in that boat as she is on
a hoss--and that's sayin' enough. She looks quiet, but she's got as firm a
seat and as light a hand as any cow-boy that ever put leg over a cayuse."
Mr. Tully, on being questioned, admitted willingly that he was an Eastern
man,--a Down-East lumberman and boat-builder. He couldn't say just why he'd
come West. Got restless, and his wife's health was always poor back there.
He had mined it some and had had considerable luck,--cleaned up several
thousands, the summer of '63, at Junction Bar. Put it in a sawmill and
got burned out. Then he took up this cattle range and went into stock, in
partnership with a young fellow from Montana, named Enselman. They expected
to make a good thing of it, but it was a long ways from anywheres; and for
months of the year they couldn't do any teaming. Had no way out except by
the horseback trail. The women found it lonesome. In winter no team could
get up that grade in the canon they call the "freeze-out," even if they
could cross the river, on account of the ice; and from April to August the
river was up so you couldn't ford.
All this in the intervals of business, for Mr. Tully, in his circuitous
way, was agreeing to build a boat for the engineers, after the model of his
own. He would have to go down to the camp at Moor's Bridge to build it, he
said, for suitable lumber could not be procured so far up the river, except
at great expense. It would take him better'n a month, anyhow, and he didn't
know what his women-folks would say to having him so long away. He would
see about it.
The four men sauntered up the path from the shore, Tommy bringing up the
rear with the little black-and-tan terrier. In default of a word from his
master, Tommy tried to make friends with the dog, but the latter, wide
awake and suspicious after dozing under the wagon all the afternoon, would
none of him. Possibly he divined that Tommy's attentions were not wholly
The family assembled for the evening in the shed-room. The women were
silent, for the talk was confined to masculine topics, such as the quality
of the placer claims up the river, the timber, the hunting, the progress
and prospects of the new railroad. Tommy, keeping himself forcibly awake,
was seeing two Kirkwoods where there was but one. The terrier had taken
shelter between Kirkwood's knees, after trying conclusions with the mother
of the kittens,--a cat of large experience and a reserved disposition, with
only one ear, but in full possession of her faculties.
Betimes the young men arose and said good-night. Mr. Tully was loath to
have the evening, with its rare opportunity for conversation, brought to a
close, but he was too modest a host to press his company upon his guests.
He went with them to their bed, on the clean straw in the barn, and if good
wishes could soften pillows the travelers would have slept sumptuously.
They did not know, in fact, how they slept, but woke, strong and joyous
over the beauty of the morning on the hills, and the prospect of continuing
They parted from the family at the ranch with a light-hearted promise to
stop again on their way down the river. When they would return they were
gayly uncertain,--it might be ten days, it might be two weeks. It was a
promise that nestled with delusive sweetness in Ruth Mary's thoughts, as
she went silently about her work. She was helpful in all ways, and very
gentle with the children, but she lingered more hours dreaming by the
river, and often at twilight she climbed the hill back of the cabin and sat
there alone, her cheek in the hollow of her hand, until the great planes
of distance were lost, and all the hills drew together in one dark profile
against the sky.
* * * * *
Mrs. Tully had been intending to spare Ruth Mary for a journey to town,
on some errands of a feminine nature which could not be intrusted to Mr.
Tully's larger but less discriminating judgment. Ruth Mary had never before
been known to trifle with an opportunity of this kind. Her rides to town
had been the one excitement of her life; looked forward to with eagerness
and discussed with tireless interest for many days afterwards. But now she
hung back with an unaccountable apathy, and made excuses for postponing the
ride from day to day, until the business became too pressing to be longer
neglected. She set off one morning at daybreak, following the horseback
trail, around the steep and sliding bluffs high above the river, or across
beds of broken lava rock,--arrested avalanches from the slowly crumbling
cliffs which crowned the bluff,--or picking her way at a soft-footed pace
through the thickets of the river bottoms. In such a low and sheltered
spot, scarcely four feet above the river, she found the engineers' camp,
a group of white tents shining among the willows. She keenly noted its
location and surroundings. The broken timbers of the old bridge projected
from the bank a short distance above the camp; a piece of weather-stained
canvas stretched over them formed a kind of awning shading the rocks below,
where the Chinese cook of the camp sat impassively fishing. The camp had a
deserted appearance, for the men were all at work, tunneling the hill half
a mile lower down. Her errands kept her so late that she was obliged to
stay over night at the house of a friend of her father's, who owned a fruit
ranch near the town. They were prosperous, talkative people, who loudly
pitied the isolation of the family in the upper valley.
Ruth Mary reached home about noon the next day, tired and several shades
more deeply sunburned, to find that she had passed the engineers, without
knowing it, on their way down the river by the wagon road on the other
side. They had stopped over night at the ranch and made an early start that
morning. Ruth Mary was obliged to listen to enthusiastic reminiscences,
from each member of the family, of the visit she had missed.
This was the last social event of the year. The willow copses turned
yellow and leaf-bare; the scarlet hips of the rosebushes looked as if tiny
finger-tips had left their prints upon them. The wreaths of wild clematis
faded ashen gray, and were scattered by the winds. The wood dove's cooing
no longer sounded at twilight in the leafless thickets. They had gone down
the river and the wild duck with them.
But the voice of the river, rising with the autumn rains, was loud on the
bar; the sky was hung with clouds that hid the hilltops or trailed their
ragged pennants below the summits. The mist lay cold on the river; it rose
with the sun, dissolving in soft haze that dulled the sunshine, and at
night, descending, shrouded the dark, hoarse water without stilling its
lament. Then the first snow fell, and ghostly companies of deer came out
upon the hills, or filed silently down the draws of the canons at morning
and evening. The cattle had come down from the mountain pastures, and at
night congregated about the buildings with deep breathings and sighings;
the river murmured in its fretted channel; now and then the yelp of a
hungry coyote sounded from the hills.
The young men had said, among their light and pleasant sayings, that they
would like to come up again to the hills when the snow fell, and get a shot
at the deer; but they did not come, though often Ruth Mary stood on the
bank and looked across the swollen ford, and listened for the echo of
wheels among the hills.
About the 1st of November Mr. Tully went down to the camp at Moor's Bridge
to build the engineers' boat. The women were now alone at the ranch, but
Joe Enselman's return was daily expected. Mr. Tully, always cheerful, had
been confident that he would be home by the 5th.
The 5th of November and the 10th passed, but Enselman had not returned.
On the 12th, in the midst of a heavy fall of snow, his pack animals were
driven in by another man, a stranger to the women at the ranch, who said
that Enselman had changed his mind suddenly about coming home that fall,
and decided to go to Montana and "prove up" on his ranch there.
Mr. Tully's work was finished before the second week of December. On his
return to the ranch he brought with him a great brown paper bundle, which
the children opened by the cabin fire on the joyous evening of his arrival.
There were back numbers of the illustrated magazines and papers, stray
copies of which now and then had drifted into the hands of the voracious
young readers in the cabin. There were a few novels, selected by Kirkwood
from the camp library with especial reference to Ruth Mary. For Tommy there
was a duplicate of the wonderful pocket-knife that he had envied Kirkwood.
Angy was remembered with a little music-box, which played "Willie, we have
missed you" with a plaintive iteration that brought the sensitive tears
to Ruth Mary's eyes; and for Ruth Mary herself there was a lace pin of
"He said it must be your wedding present from him, as you'd be married
likely before he saw you again," Mr. Tully said, with innocent pride in the
gift with which his daughter had been honored.
"Who said that?" Ruth Mary asked.
"Why, Mr. Kirkwood said it. He's the boss one of the whole lot to my
thinkin'. He's got that way with him some folks has! We had some real good
talks, evenings, down on the rocks under the old bridge,--I told him about
you and Enselman"--
"Father, I wish you hadn't done that." The protest in Ruth Mary's voice was
stronger than her words.
She had become slightly pale when Kirkwood's name was mentioned, but now,
as she held out the box with the trinket in it, a deep blush covered her
"I cannot take it, father. Not with that message. He can wait till I am
married before he sends me his wedding present."
To her father's amazement, she burst into tears and went out into the
shed-room, leaving Kirkwood's ill-timed gift in his hands.
"What in all conscience' sake's got into her?" he demanded of his wife, "to
take offense at a little thing like that! She didn't use to be so techy."
Mrs. Tully nodded her head at him sagely and glanced at the children, a
hint that she understood Ruth Mary's state of mind, but could not explain
At bedtime, the father and mother being alone together, Mrs. Tully revealed
the cause of her daughter's sensitiveness, according to her theory of
it. "She's put out because Joe Enselman chose to wait till spring before
marryin', and went off to Montany instead of comin' home as he said he
"Sho, sho!" said Mr. Tully. "That don't seem like Ruth Mary. She ain't in
any such a hurry as all that comes to. I've had it on my mind lately that
she took it a little too easy."
"You'll see," said the mother. "_She_ ain't in any hurry, but she likes
_him_ to be. She feels's if he thought more of money-makin' than he does of
her. She's like all girls. She won't use her reason and see it's all for
her in the end he's doin' it."
"Why didn't you tell her 'twas my plan, his goin' to Montany this fall?
He wouldn't listen to it nohow then. He'd rather lose his ranch than wait
any longer for Sis, so he said; but I guess he's seen the sense of what I
told him. 'Ruth Mary ain't a-goin' to run away,' I says, 'even if ye don't
prove up on her this fall.' You ought to 'a' told her, mother, 'twas my
"I told her that and more too. I told her it showed he'd make a good
provider. She looked at me solemn as a graven image all the time I was
talkin' and not a word out of her. But that's Ruth Mary. I never said the
child was sullen, but she is just like your sister Ruth--the more she
feels, the less she talks."
"Well," said Mr. Tully, "that's all right, if that's it. That'll all
straighten out with time. It was natural perhaps she should fire up at
the talk about marryin' if she felt the bridegroom was hangin' back. Why,
Joe,--he'd eat the dirt she treads on, if he couldn't make her like him no
other way! He's most too foolish about her, to my thinkin'. That's what
took me so by surprise when word come back he'd gone to Montany after all;
I didn't expect anything so sensible of him."
"'Twas a reg'lar man's piece o' work anyhow," said Mrs. Tully
"And you'll be sorry for it, I'm afraid. I never knew any good come of
puttin' off a marriage, where everything was suitable, just for a few
hundred acres of wild land, more or less."
"No use your worryin'," said Mr. Tully. "Young folks always has their
little troubles before they settle down--besides, what sort of a marriage
would it be if you or I could make it or break it?" But he bore himself
with a deprecating tenderness towards his daughter, in whose affairs he had
meddled, perhaps disastrously, as his better half feared.
* * * * *
The winters of Idaho are not long, even in the higher valleys. Close upon
the cold footsteps of the retreating snows trooped the first wild flowers.
The sun seemed to laugh in the cloudless sky. The children were let loose
on the hills; their voices echoed the river's chime. Its waters, rising
with the melting snows, no longer babbled childishly on their way; they
shouted, and brawled, and tumbled over the bar, rolling huge pine trunks
along as if they were sticks of kindling wood.
One cool May evening, Ruth Mary, climbing the path from the beach, saw
there was a strange horse and two pack animals in the corral. She did not
stop to look at them, but, quickly guessing who their owner must be, she
went on to the house, her knees weak and trembling, her heart beating
heavily. Her father met her at the door and detained her outside. She was
prepared for his announcement. She knew that Joe Enselman had returned,
and that the time was come for her to prove her new resolve, born of the
winter's silent struggle.
"I thought I'd better have a few words with you, Ruthie, before you see
him--to prepare your mind. Set down here." Mr. Tully took his daughter's
hands in his own and held them while he talked.
"You thought it was queer Joe stayed away so long, didn't you?" Ruth
Mary opened her lips to speak, but no words came. "Well, I did," said
the father. "Though it was my plan first off. I might 'a' know'd it was
something more 'n business that kep' him. Joe's had an accident. It
happened to him just about the time he meant to 'a' started for home last
fall. It broke him all up,--made him feel like he didn't want to see any of
us just then. He was goin' along a trail through the woods one dark night;
he never knew what stunned him; must have been a twig or something struck
him in the eye; he was giddy and crazy-like for a spell; his horse took him
home. Well, he ain't got but one eye left, Joe ain't. There, Sis, I knew
you'd feel bad. But he's well. It's hurt his looks some, but what's looks!
We ain't any of us got any to brag on. Joe had some hopes at first he'd
git to seein' again out of the eye that was hurt, and so he sent home his
animals and put out for Salt Lake to show it to a doctor there; but it
wan't any use. The eye's gone; and it doos seem as if for the time bein'
some of Joe's grit had gone with it. He went up to Montany and tended to
his business, but it was all like a dumb show and no heart in it. It's cut
him pretty deep, through his bein' alone so long, perhaps, and thinkin'
about how you'd feel. And then he's pestered in his mind about marryin'. He
feels he's got no claim to you now. Says it ain't fair to ask a young girl
that's likely to have plenty good chances to tie up to what's left of him.
I wanted you should know about this before you go inside. It might hurt
him some to see a change in your face when you look at him first. As to
his givin' you your word back, that you'll settle between yourselves; but,
however you fix it, I guess you'll make it as easy as you can for Joe. I
don' know as ever I see a big strappin' fellow so put down."
Mr. Tully had waited, between his short and troubled sentences, for some
response from Ruth Mary, but she was still silent. Her hands felt cold
in his. As he released them she leaned suddenly forward and hid her face
against his shoulder. She shivered and her breast heaved, but she was not
"There, there!" said Mr. Tully, stroking her head clumsily with his large
hand. "I've made a botch of it. I'd ought to 'a' let your mother told ye."
She pressed closer to him, and wrapped her arms around him without
"I expect I better go in now," he said gently, putting her away from him.
"Will you come along o' me, or do you want to git a little quieter first?"
"You go in," Ruth Mary whispered. "I'll come soon."
It was not long before she followed her father into the house. No one was
surprised to see her white and tremulous. She seemed to know where Enselman
sat without raising her eyes; neither did he venture to look at her, as she
came to him, and stooping forward, laid her little cold hands on his.
"I'm glad you've come back," she said. Then sinking down suddenly on the
floor at his feet, she threw her apron over her head and sobbed aloud.
The father and mother wept too. Joe sat still, with a great and bitter
longing in his smitten countenance, but did not dare to comfort her.
"Pick her up, Joe," said Mr. Tully.
"Take hold of her, man, and show her you've got a whole heart if you ain't
got but one eye."
It was understood, as Ruth Mary meant that it should be, without more
words, that Enselman's misfortune would make no difference in their old
relation. The difference it had made in that new resolve born of the
winter's struggle she told to no one; for to no one had she confided her
* * * * *
Joe stayed two weeks at the ranch, and was comforted into a semblance of
his former hardy cheerfulness. But Ruth Mary knew that he was not happy.
One evening he asked her to go with him down the high shore path. He told
her that he was going to town the next day on business that might keep him
absent about a fortnight, and entreated her to think well of her promise
to him, for that on his return he should expect its fulfillment. For God's
sake he begged her to let no pity for his misfortune blind her to the
true nature of her feeling for him. He held her close to his heart and
kissed her many times. Did she love him so--and so?--he asked. Ruth Mary,
trembling, said she did not know. How could she help knowing? he demanded
passionately. Had her thoughts been with him all winter, as his had been
with her? Had she looked up the river towards the hills where he was
staying so long and wished for him, as he had gazed southward into the
valleys many and many a day, longing for the sweet blue eyes of his little
girl so far away?
Alas, Ruth Mary! She gazed almost wildly into his stricken face, distorted
by the anguish of his great love and his great dread. She wished that she
were dead. There seemed no other way out of her trouble.
The next morning, before she was dressed, Enselman rode away, and her
father went with him.
She was alone, now, in the midst of the hills she loved--alone as she
would never be again. She foresaw that she would not have the strength to
lay that last blow upon her faithful old friend,--the crushing blow that
perfect truth demanded. Her tenderness was greater than her truth.
* * * * *
The river was now swollen to its greatest volume. Its voice, that had been
the babble of a child and the tumult of a boy, was now deep and heavy like
the chest notes of a strong man. Instead of the sparkling ripple on the
bar, there was a continuous roar of yellow, turbid water that could be
heard a mile away. There had been no fording for six weeks, nor would there
be again until late summer. The useless boat lay in the shallow wash that
filled the deep cut among the willows. The white sand beach was gone; heavy
waves swirled past the banks and sent their eddies up into the channels of
the hills to meet the streams of melted snow. Thunder clouds chased each
other about the mountains, or met in sudden downfalls of rain.
One sultry noon, when the sun had come out hot on the hills after a wet
morning, Ruth Mary, at work in the shed-room, heard a sound that drove the
color from her cheek. She ran out and looked up the river, listening to a
distant but ever increasing roar which could be heard above the incessant
laboring of the waters over the bar. Above the summit of Sheep Mountain, as
it seemed, a huge turban-shaped cloud had rolled itself up, and from its
central folds was discharging gray sheets of water that veered and slanted
with the wind, but were always distinct in their density against the
rain-charged atmosphere. How far away the floods were descending she did
not know; but that they were coming in a huge wall of water, overtaking and
swallowing up the river's current, she was as sure as that she had been
bred in the mountains.
Bare-headed, bare-armed as she was, without a backward look, she ran down
the hill to the place where the boat was moored. Tommy was there, sitting
in the boat and making the shallow water splash as he rocked from side to
"Get out, Tommy, and let me have her, quick!" Ruth Mary called to him.
Tommy looked at her stolidly and kept on rocking. "What you want with her?"
"Come out, for mercy's sake! Don't you _hear_ it? There's a cloud-burst on
Tommy listened. He did hear it, but he did not stir. "It'll be a bully
thing to see when it comes. What you doin'? You act like you was crazy," he
exclaimed, as Ruth Mary waded through the water and got into the boat.
"Tommy, you will kill me if you stop to talk! Don't you know the camp at
Moor's Bridge? Go home and tell mother I've gone to give 'em warning."
Tommy was instantly sobered. "I'm going with you," he said. "You can't
handle her alone in that current."
Ruth Mary, wild with the delay, every second of which might be the price of
precious lives, seized Tommy in her arms, hugged him close and kissed him,
and by main strength rolled him out into the water. He grasped the gunwale
with both hands. "You're going to be drowned," he shrieked, as if already
she were far away. She pushed off his hands and shot out into the current.
"Don't cry, Tommy, I'll get there somehow," she called back to him. She
could see nothing for the first few minutes of her journey but his little
wet, dismal figure toiling, sobbing, up the hill. It hurt her to have had
to be rough with him. But all the while she sat upright with her eyes on
the current, plying her paddle right and left, as rocks and driftwood
and eddies were passed. She heard it coming, that distant roar from the
hills, and prayed with beating heart that the wild current might carry her
faster--faster--past the draggled willow copses--past the beds of black
lava rock, and the bluffs with their patches of green moss livid in the
sunshine--hurling along, past glimpses of the well-known trail she had
followed dreamily on those peaceful rides she might never take again. The
thought did not trouble her, only the fear that she might be overtaken
before she reached the camp. For the waters were coming--or was it the wind
that brought that dread sound so near! She dared not look round lest she
should see, through the gates of the canon, the black lifted head of the
great wave, devouring the river behind her. How it would come swooping
down, between those high narrow walls of rock, her heart stood still to
think of. If the hills would but open and let it loose, over the empty
pastures--if the river would only hurry, hurry, hurry! She whispered the
word to herself with frantic repetition, and the oncoming roar behind her
answered her whisper of fear with its awful intoning.
She trembled with joy as the canon walls lowered and fell apart, and she
saw the blessed plains, the low green flats and the willows, and the white
tents of the camp, safe in the sunshine. Now if she be given but one
moment's grace to swing into the bank! The roar behind her made her faint
as she listened. For the first time she turned and looked back, and the cry
of her despair went up and was lost, as boat and message and messenger were
lost,--gone utterly, gorged at one leap by the senseless flood.
* * * * *
At half past five o'clock that afternoon the men of the camp filed out of
the tunnel, along the new road-bed, with the low sunlight in their faces.
It was "Saturday night," and the whole force was in good humor. As they
tramped gayly along, tools and instruments glinting in the sun, word went
down the line that something unusual had been going on by the river. There
seemed to have been a wild uprising of its waters since they saw it last.
Then a shout from those ahead proclaimed the disaster at the bridge. The
Chinese cook, crouched among the rocks high up under the bluff, where he
had fled for safety when he heard the waters coming, rushed down to them
with wild wavings and gabblings, to tell them of a catastrophe that was
best described by its results. A few provisions were left them, stored in
a magazine under a rock on the hillside. They cooked their supper with the
splinters of the ruined blacksmith's hut. After supper, in the clear, pink
evening light, they wandered about on the slippery rocks, seeking whatever
fragments of their camp equipage the flood might have left them. Everything
had been swept away, and tons of mud and gravel covered the little green
meadow where their tents had stood. Kirkwood, straying on ahead of his
comrades, came to the rocks below the bridge timbers, from which the awning
had been torn away. The wet rocks glistened in the light, but there was a
whiter gleam which caught his eye. He stooped and crawled under the timbers
anchored in the bank, until he came to the spot of whiteness. Was this that
fair young girl from the hills, dragged here by the waters in their cruel
orgy, and then hidden by them as if in shame of their work? Kirkwood
recognized the simple features, the meek eyes, wide open in the searching
light. The mud that filled her garments had spared the pure young face.
Kirkwood gazed into it reverently, but the passionate sacrifice, the
useless warning, were sealed from him. She could not tell him why she was
The three young men watched in turn, that night, by the little motionless
heap covered with Kirkwood's coat. Kirkwood was very sad about Ruth Mary,
yet he slept when his watch was over.
In the morning they nailed together some boards into the shape of a long
box. There was not a boat left on the river; fording was impossible. They
could only take her home by the trail. So once more Ruth Mary traveled that
winding path, high in the sunlight or low in the shade of the shore. A log
of driftwood, left by the great wave, slung on one side of a mule's pack
saddle, balanced the rude coffin on the other. No one meeting the three
engineers and their pack-mule filing down the trail would have known that
they were a funeral procession; but they were heavy-hearted as they rode
along, and Kirkwood would fain it had not been his part to ride ahead and
prepare the family at the ranch for their child's coming.
The mother, with Tommy and Angy hiding their faces against her, stood on
the hill and watched for it, and broke into cries as the mule with its
burden came in sight.
Kirkwood walked with them down the hill to meet it. His comrades
dismounted, and the three young men, with heads uncovered, carried the
coffin over the hill and set it down in the shed-room. Then Tommy, in a
burst of childish grief, made them know that this piteous sacrifice had
been for them.
The tunnel made its way through the hill, the sinuous road-bed wound up the
valley, new camps were built along its course; but when the young men sat
together of an evening and looked at the hills in the strange pink light, a
spell of quietness rested upon them which no one tried to explain.