Part 2 out of 4
"Peter," he said with a soft smile, looking down at his gorgeous swan's-down
waistcoat and his well-shaped dove-coloured legs: "ain't I a beauty?"
"Yes, you are a beauty!" said Peter.
Suddenly lifting one of his bare feet, he shot O'Bannon as by the action of
a catapult against the printing-press.
He lay there all night.
HOW fine a thing it would be if all the faculties of the mind could be
trained for the battles of life as a modern nation makes every man a
soldier. Some of these, as we know, are always engaged in active service;
but there are times when they need to be strengthened by others,
constituting a first reserve; and yet graver emergencies arise in the
marchings of every man when the last defences of land and hearth should be
ready to turn out: too often even then the entire disciplined strength of
his forces would count as a mere handful to the great allied powers of the
world and the devil.
But so few of our faculties are of a truly military turn, and these wax
indolent and unwary from disuse like troops during long times of peace. We
all come to recognize sooner or later, of course, the unfailing little band
of them that form our standby, our battle-smoked campaigners, our Old Guard,
that dies, neversurrenders. Who of us also but knows his faithful artillery,
dragging along his big guns--and so liable to reach the scene after the
fighting is over? Who when worsted has not fought many a battle through
again merely to show how different the result would have been, if his
artillery had only arrived in time! Boom! boom! boom! Where are the enemy
now? And who does not take pride in his navy, sweeping the high seas of the
imagination but too often departed for some foreign port when the coast
defences need protecting?
Beyond this general dismemberment of our resources do we not all feel the
presence within us of certain renegades? Does there not exist inside every
man a certain big, ferocious-looking faculty who is his drum major--loving
to strut at the head of a peaceful parade and twirl his bawble and roll his
eyes at the children and scowl back at the quiet intrepid fellows behind as
though they were his personal prisoners? Let but a skirmish threaten, and
our dear, ferocious, fat major--! not even in the rear--not even on the
field! Then there is a rattling little mannikin who sleeps in the barracks
of the brain and is good for nothing but to beat the cerebral drum. There is
a certain awkward squad--too easily identified--who have been drafted again
and again into service only to be in the way of every skilled manoeuvre,
only to be mustered out as raw recruits at the very end of life. And,
finally, there is a miscellaneous crowd of our faculties scattered far and
near at their humdrum peaceful occupations; so that if a quick call for war
be heard, these do but behave as a populace that rushes into a street to
gaze at the national guard already marching past, some of the spectators not
even grateful, not even cheering.
All that day John had to fight a battle for which he had never been trained;
moreover he had been compelled to divide his forces: there was the far-off
solemn battle going on in his private thoughts; and there was the usual
siege of duties in the school. For once he would gladly have shirked the
latter; but the single compensation he always tried to wrest from the
disagreeable things of life was to do them in such a way that they would
never fester in his conscience like thorns broken off in the flesh.
During the forenoon, therefore, by an effort which only those who have
experienced it can understand, he ordered off all communication with larger
troubles and confined himself in that stifling prison-house of the mind
where the perplexities and toils of childhood become enormous and everything
else in the world grows small. Up under the joists there was the terrible
struggle of a fly in a web, at first more and more violent, then ceasing in
a strain so fine that the ear could scarce take it; a bee came in one
window, went out another; a rat, sniffing greedily at its hole, crept toward
a crumb under a bench, ran back, crept nearer, seized it and was gone; a
toiling slate-pencil grated on its way as arduously as a wagon up a hill; he
had to teach a beginner its letters. These were the great happenings. At
noon the same child that had brought him a note on the day before came with
"Kitty is going to the ball with Horatio. I shall be alone. We can have our
talk uninterrupted. How unreasonable you are! Why don't you understand
things without wanting to have them explained? If you wish to go to the
ball, you can do this afterwards. Don't come till Kitty has gone."
Duties in the school till near sunset, then letters. O'Bannon had told him
that Mr. Bradford's post-rider would leave at four o'clock next morning; if
he had letters to send, they must be deposited in the box that night. Gray
had letters of the utmost importance to write--to his lawyer regarding the
late decision in his will case, and to the secretary of the Democratic Club
in Philadelphia touching the revival of activity in the clubs throughout the
country on account of the expected treaty with England.
After he had finished them, he strolled slowly about the dark town--past his
school-house, thinking that his teaching days would soon be over--past
Peter's blacksmith shop, thinking what a good fellow he always was--past Mr.
Bradford's editorial room, with a light under the door and the curtain drawn
across the window. Two or three times he lingered before show-windows of
merchandise. He had some taste in snuff-boxes, being the inheritor of
several from his Scotch and Irish ancestors, and there were a few in the new
silversmith's window which he found little to his liking. As he passed a
tavern, a group of Revolutionary officers, not yet gone to the ball, were
having a time of it over their pipes and memories; and he paused to hear one
finish a yarn of strong fibre about the battle of King's Mountain. Couples
went hurrying by him beautifully dressed. Once down a dark street he fancied
that he distinguished Amy's laughter ringing faintly out on the still air;
and once down another he clearly heard the long cry of a pet panther kept by
a young backwoods hunter.
The Poythress homestead was wrapped in silence as he stepped upon the porch;
but the door was open, there was a light inside, and by means of this he
discovered, lying asleep on the threshold, a lad who was apprentice to the
new English silversmith of the town and a lodger at the minister's--the bond
of acquaintanceship being the memory of John Wesley who had sprinkled the
lad's father in England.
John laid a hand on his shoulder and tried to break his slumber. He opened
his eyes at last and said, "Nobody at home," and went to sleep again. When
thoroughly aroused, he sat up. Mr. and Mrs. Poythress had been called away
to some sick person; they had asked him to sit up till they came back; he
wished they'd come; he didn't see how he was ever to learn how to make
watches if he couldn't get any sleep; and be lay down again.
John aroused him again.
"Miss Falconer is here; will you tell her I wish to see her?"
The lad didn't open his eyes but said dreamily:
"She's not here; she's gone to the party."
John lifted him and set him on his feet. Then he put his hands on his
shoulders and shook him:
"You are asleep! Wake up! Tell Miss Falconer I wish to see her."
The lad seized Gray by the arms and shook him with all his might.
"You wake up," he cried. "I tell you she's gone to the party. Do you hear?
She's gone to the party! Now go away, will you? How am I ever to be a
silversmith, if I can't get any sleep?" And stretching himself once more on
the settee, he closed his eyes.
John turned straight to the Wilkinsons'. His gait was not hurried; whatever
his face may have expressed was hidden by the darkness. The tense quietude
of his mind was like that of a summer tree, not one of whose thousands of
leaves quivers along the edge, but toward which a tempest is rolling in the
The house was set close to the street. The windows were open; long bars of
light fell out; as he stepped forward to the threshold, the fiddlers struck
up "Sir Roger de Coverley"; the company parted in lines to the right and
left, leaving a vacant space down the middle of the room; and into this
vacant space he saw Joseph lead Amy and the two begin to dance.
She wore a white muslin dress--a little skillful work had restored its
freshness; a blue silk coat of the loveliest hue; a wide white lace tucker
caught across her round bosom with a bunch of cinnamon roses; and
straw-coloured kid gloves, reaching far up her snow-white arms. Her hair was
coiled high on the crown of her head and airily overtopped by a great
curiously carved silver-and-tortoise-shell comb; and under her dress played
the white mice of her feet. The tints of her skin were pearl and rose; her
red lips parted in smiles. She was radiant with excitement, happiness,
youth. She culled admiration, visiting all eyes with hers as a bee all
flowers. It was not the flowers she cared for.
He did not see her dress; he did not recognize the garments that had hung on
the wall of his room. What he did see and continued to see was the fact that
she was there and dancing with Joseph.
If he had stepped on a rattlesnake, he could not have been more horribly,
more miserably stung. He had the sense of being poisoned, as though actual
venom were coursing through his blood. There was one swift backward movement
of his mind over the chain of forerunning events.
"She is a venomous little serpent!" he groaned aloud. "And I have been
crawling in the dust to her, to be stung like this!" He walked quietly into
He sought his hostess first. He found her in the centre of a group of
ladies, wearing the toilet of the past Revolutionary period in the capitals
of the East. The vision dazzled him, bewildered him. But he swept his eye
over them with one feeling of heart-sickness and asked his hostess one
question: was Mrs. Falconer there? She was not.
In another room he found his host, and a group of Revolutionary officers and
other tried historic men, surrounding the Governor.
They were discussing the letters that had passed between the President and
his Excellency for the suppression of a revolution in Kentucky. During this
spring of 1795 the news had reached Kentucky that Jay had at last concluded
a treaty with England. The ratification of this was to be followed by the
surrender of those terrible Northwestern posts that for twenty years had
been the source of destruction and despair to the single-handed, maddened,
or massacred Kentuckians. Behind those forts had rested the inexhaustible
power of the Indian confederacies, of Canada, of England. Out of them,
summer after summer, armies that knew no pity had swarmed down upon the
doggedly advancing line of the Anglo-Saxon frontiersmen. Against them,
sometimes unaided, sometimes with the aid of Virginia or of the National
Government, the pioneers hurled their frantic retaliating armies: Clarke and
Boone and Kenton often and often; Harmar followed by St. Clair; St. Clair
followed by Wayne. It was for the old failure to give aid against these that
Kentucky had hated Virginia and resolved to tear herself loose from the
mother State and either perish or triumph alone. It was for the failure to
give aid against these that Kentucky hated Washington, hated the East, hated
the National Government, and plotted to wrest Kentucky away from the Union,
and either make her an independent power or ally her with France or Spain.
But over the sea now France--France that had come to the rescue of the
colonies in their struggle for independence--this same beautiful, passionate
France was fighting all Europe unaided and victorious. The spectacle had
amazed the world. In no other spot had sympathy been more fiercely kindled
than along that Western border where life was always tense with martial
passion. It had passed from station to station, like a torch blazing in the
darkness and with a two-forked fire--gratitude to France, hatred of
England--hatred rankling in a people who had come out of the very heart of
the English stock as you would hew the heart out of a tree. So that when,
two years before this, Citizen Genet, the ambassador of the French republic,
had landed at Charleston, been driven through the country to New York amid
the acclamations of French sympathizers, and disregarding the
President'sproclamation of neutrality, had begun to equip privateers and
enlist crews to act against the commerce of England and Spain, it was to the
backwoodsmen of Kentucky that he sent four agents, to enlist an army,
appoint a generalissimo, and descend upon the Spanish settlements at the
mouth of the Mississippi--those same hated settlements that had refused to
the Kentuckians the right of navigation for their commerce, thus shutting
them off from the world by water, as the mountains shut them off from the
world by land.
Hence the Jacobin clubs that were formed in Kentucky: one at Lexington, a
second at Georgetown, a third at Paris. Hence the liberty poles in the
streets of the towns; the tricoloured cockades on the hats of the men; the
hot blood between the anti-federal and the federalist parties of the State.
The actions of Citizen Genet had indeed been disavowed by his republic. But
the sympathy for France, the hatred of England and of Spain, had but grown
meantime; and when therefore in this spring of 1795 the news reached the
frontier that Jay had concluded a treaty with England--the very treaty that
would bring to the Kentuckians the end of all their troubles with the posts
of the Northwest--the flame of revolution blazed out with greater
During the hour that John Gray spent in that assemblage of men that night,
the talk led always to the same front of offence: the baser truckling to
England, an old enemy; the baser desertion of France, a friend. He listened
to one man of commanding eloquence, while he traced the treaty to the
attachment of Washington for aristocratic institutions; to another who
referred it to the jealousy felt by the Eastern congressmen regarding the
growth of the new power beyond the Alleghanies; to a third who foretold that
like all foregoing pledges it would leave Kentucky still exposed to the fury
of the Northern Indians; to a fourth who declared that let the treaty be
once ratified with Lord Granville, and in the same old faithless way,
nothing more would be done to extort from Spain for Kentucky the open
passage of the Mississippi.
At any other time he would have borne his part in these discussions. Now he
scarcely heard them. All the forces of his mind were away, on another
battle-field and he longed to be absent with them, a field strewn with the
sorrowful carnage of ideal and hope and plan, home, happiness, love. He was
hardly aware that his own actions must seem unusual, until one of the older
men took him affectionately by the hand and said:
"Marshall tells me that you teach school till sunset and read law till
sunrise; and tonight you come here with your eyes blazing and your skin as
pallid and dry as a monk's. Take off the leeches of the law for a good
month, John! They abstract too much blood. If the Senate ratifies in June
the treachery of Jay and Lord Granville, there will be more work than ever
for the Democratic Societies in this country, and nowhere more than in
Kentucky. We shall need you then more than the law needs you now, or than
you need it. Save yourself for the cause of your tricolour. You shall have a
chance to rub the velvet off your antlers."
"We shall soon put him beyond the reach of his law," said a member of the
Transylvania Library Committee. "As soon as his school is out, we are going
to send him to ask subscriptions from the President, the Vice-President, and
others, and then on to Philadelphia to buy the books."
A shadow fell upon the face of another officer, and in a lowered tone he
said, with cold emphasis:
"I am sorry that the citizens of this town should stoop to ask anything from
such a man as George Washington."
The schoolmaster scarcely realized what he had done when he consented to act
as a secret emissary of the Jacobin Club of Lexington to the club in
Philadelphia during the summer.
The political talk ended at last, the gentlemen returned to the ladies. He
found himself standing in a doorway beside an elderly man of the most
polished hearing and graceful manners, who was watching a minuet.
"Ah!" he said, waving his hand with delight toward the scene. "This is
Virginia and Maryland brought into the West! It reminds me of the days when
I danced with Martha Custis and Dolly Madison. Some day, with a beginning
like this, Kentucky will be celebrated for its beautiful women. The
daughters and the grand-daughters and the great-granddaughters of such
mothers as these--"
"And of fathers like these!" interposed one of the town trustees who came up
at that moment. "But for the sake of these ladies isn't it time we were
passing a law against the keeping of pet panthers? I heard the cry of one as
I came here to-night. What can we do with these young backwoods hunters?
Will civilization ever make pets of them--ever tame them?"
John felt some one touch his arm; it was Kitty with Horatio. Her cheeks were
like poppies; her good kind eyes welcomed him sincerely.
"You here! I'm so glad. Haven't you seen Amy? She is in the other room with
Joseph. Have they explained everything? But we will loose our place--"she
cried, and with a sweet smile of adieu to him, and of warning to her
partner, she glided away.
"We are entered for this horse race," remarked Mr. Turpin, lingering a
moment longer. "Weight for age, agreeable to the rules of New Market. Each
subscriber to pay one guinea, etc., etc., etc." He was known as the rising
young turfman of the town, having first run his horses down Water Street;
but future member of the first Jockey Club; so that in the full blossom of
his power he could name all the horses of his day with the pedigree of each:
beginning with Tiger by Tiger, and on through Sea Serpent by Shylock, and
Diamond by Brilliant, and Black Snake by Sky Lark: a type of man whom long
association with the refined and noble nature of the horse only vulgarizes
Once afterward Gray's glance fell on Amy and Joseph across the room. They
were looking at him and laughing at his expense and the sight burnt his eyes
as though hot needles had been run into them. They beckoned gaily, but he
gave no sign; and in a moment they were lost behind the shifting figures of
the company. While he was dancing, however, Joseph came up.
"As soon as you get away, Amy wants to see you."
Half and hour later he came a second time and drew Gray aside from a group
of gentlemen, speaking more seriously: "Amy wants to explain how all this
happened. Come at once."
"There is nothing to explain," said John, with indifference.
Joseph answered reproachfully:
"This is foolish, John! When you know what has passed, you will not censure
her. And I could not have done otherwise." Despite his wish to be serious,
he could not help laughing for he was very happy himself.
But to John Gray these reasonable words went for the very thing that they
did not mean. His mind had been forced to a false point of view; and from a
false point of view the truth itself always looks false. Moreover it was
intolerable that Joseph should be defending to him the very woman whom a few
hours before he had hoped to marry.
"There is no explanation needed from her," he replied, with the same
indifference. "I think I understand. What I do not understand I should
rather take for granted. But you, Joseph, you owe me an explanation. This
is not the place to give it." His face twitched, and he knotted the fingers
of his large hands together like bands of iron. "But by God I'll have it;
and if it is not a good one, you shall answer." His oath sounded like an
invocation to the Divine justice--not profanity.
Joseph fixed his quiet fearless eyes on Gray's. "I'll answer for myself--and
for her"--he replied and turned away.
Still later Gray met her while dancing--the faint rose of her cheeks a shade
deeper, the dazzling whiteness of her skin more pearl-like with warmth, her
gaiety and happiness still mounting, her eyes still wandering among the men,
culling their admiration.
"You haven't asked me to dance to-night. You haven't even let me tell you
why I had to come with Joseph, when I wanted to come with you." She gave a
little pout of annoyance and let her eyes rest on his with the old fondness.
"Don't you want to know why I broke my engagement with you?" And she danced
on, smiling back at him provokingly.
He did not show that he heard; and although they did not meet again, he was
made aware that a change had at last come over her. She was angry now. He
could hear her laughter oftener--laughter that was meant for his ear and she
was dancing oftener with Joseph. He looked at her repeatedly, but she
avoided his eyes.
"I am playing a poor part by staying here!" he said with shame, and left the
After wandering aimlessly about the town for some two hours, he went
resolvedly back again and stood out in the darkness, looking in at her
through the windows. There she was, unwearied, happy, not feigning; and no
more affected by what had taken place between them than a candle is affected
by a scorched insect. So it seemed to him.
This was the first time he had ever seen her at a ball. He had never
realized what powers she possessed in a field like this: what play, what
resources, what changes, what stratagems, what victories. He mournfully
missed for the first time certain things in himself that should have
corresponded with all those light and graceful things in her.
Perhaps what hurt him most were her eyes, always abroad searching for
admiration, forever filling the forever emptied honeycomb of self-love.
With him love was a sacred, a grim, an inviolate selection. He would no more
have wished the woman he had chosen to seek indiscriminate admiration with
her eyes than with her lips or her waist. It implied the same fatal flaw in
her refinement, her modesty, her faithfulness, her high breeding.
A light wind stirred the leaves of the trees overhead. A few drops of rain
fell on his hat. He drew his hand heavily across his eyes and turned away.
Reaching his room, he dropped down into a chair before his open window and
sat gazing absently into the black east.
Within he faced a yet blacker void--the ruined hopes on which the sun would
never rise again.
It was the end of everything between him and Amy: that was his one thought.
It did not occur to him even to reflect whether he had been right or wrong,
rude or gentle: it was the end: nothing else appeared worth considering.
Life to him meant a simple straightforward game played with a few well-known
principles. It must be as open as a chess-board: each player should see
every move of the other: and all who chose could look on.
He was still very young.
THE glimmer of gray dawn at last and he had never moved from his seat. A
fine, drizzling rain had set in. Clouds of mist brushed against the walls
of his cabin. In the stillness he could hear the big trees shedding their
drops from leaf to bending leaf and the musical tinkle of these as they took
their last leap into little pools below.
With the chilliness which misery brings he got up at last and wrapped his
weather-coat about him. If it were only day when he could go to his work and
try to forget! Restless, sleepless, unable to read, tired of sitting, driven
on by the desire to get rid of his own thoughts, he started out to walk.
As he passed his school-house he noticed that the door of it, always
fastened by a simple latch, now stood open; and he went over to see if
everything inside were in order. All his life, when any trouble had come
upon him, he had quickly returned to his nearest post of duty like a
soldier; and once in the school-room now, he threw himself down in his chair
with the sudden feeling that here in his familiar work he must still find
his home--the home of his mind and his affections--as so long in the past.
The mere aspect of the poor bare place had never been so kind. The very
walls appeared to open to him like a refuge, to enfold themselves around him
with friendly strength and understanding.
He sat at the upper end of the room, gazing blankly through the doorway at
the gray light and clouds of white mist trailing. Once an object came into
the field of his vision. At the first glimpse he thought it a dog--long,
lean, skulking, prowling, tawny--on the scent of his tracks. Then the mist
passed over it. When he beheld it again it had approached nearer and was
creeping rapidly toward the door. His listless eyes grew fascinated by its
motions--its litheness, suppleness, grace, stealth, exquisite caution. Never
before had he seen a dog with the step of a cat. A second time the fog
closed over it, and then, advancing right out of the cloud with more
swiftness, more cunning, its large feet falling as lightly as flakes of
snow, the weight of its huge body borne forward as noiselessly as the
trailing mist, it came straight on. It reached the hickory block, which
formed the doorstep; it paused there an instant, with its fore quarters in
the doorway, one fore foot raised, the end of its long tail waving; and then
it stole just over the threshold and crouched, its head pressed down until
its long, whitish throat lay on the floor; its short, jagged ears set
forward stiffly like the broken points of a javelin; its dilated eye blazing
with steady green fire--as still as death. And then with his blood become as
ice in his veins from horror and all the strength gone out of him in a
deathlike faintness, the school- master realized that he was face to face
unarmed with a cougar, gaunt with famine and come for its kill.
This dreaded animal, the panther or painter of the backwoodsman, which has
for its kindred the royal tiger and the fatal leopard of the Old World, the
beautiful ocelot and splendid unconquerable jaguar of the New, is now rarely
found in the Atlantic States or the fastnesses of the Alleghanies. It too
has crossed the Mississippi and is probably now best known as the savage
puma of more southern zones. But a hundred years ago it abounded throughout
the Western wilderness, making its deeper dens in the caverns of mountain
rocks, its lair in the impenetrable thickets of bramble and brakes of cane,
or close to miry swamps and watery everglades; and no other region was so
loved by it as the vast game park of the Indians, where reined a
semi-tropical splendour and luxuriance of vegetation and where, protected
from time immemorial by the Indian hunters themselves, all the other animals
thatconstitute its prey roved and ranged in unimaginable numbers. To the
earliest Kentuckians who cut their way into this, the most royal jungle of
the New World, to wrest it from the Indians and subdue it for wife and
child, it was the noiseless nocturnal cougar that filled their imaginations
with the last degree of dread. To them its cry--most peculiar and startling
at the love season, at other times described as like the wail of a child or
of a traveller lost in the woods--aroused more terror than the nearest bark
of the wolf; its stealth and cunning more than the strength and courage and
address of the bear; its attack more than the rush of the majestic,
resistless bison, or the furious pass with antlers lowered of the noble,
ambereyed, infuriated elk. Hidden as still as an adder in long grass of its
own hue, or squat on a log, or amid the foliage of a sloping tree, it waited
around the salt licks and the springs and along the woodland pathways for
the other wild creatures. It possessed the strength to kill and drag a
heifer to its lair; it would leap upon the horse of a traveller and hang
there unshaken, while with fang and claw it lacerated the hind quarters and
the flanks--as the tiger of India tries to hamstring its nobler,
unmanageable victims; or let an unwary bullock but sink a little way in a
swamp and it was upon him, rending him, devouring him, in his long agony.
Some hunter once had encamped at the foot of a tree, cooked his supper, seen
his fire die out and lain down to sleep, with only the infinite solitude of
the woods for his blanket, with the dreary, dismal silence for his pillow.
Opening his eyes to look up for the last time at the peaceful stars, what he
perceived above him were two nearer stars set close together, burning with a
green light, never twinkling. Or another was startled out of sleep by the
terrible cry of his tethered horse. Or after a long, ominous growl, the
cougar had sprung against his tent, knocking it away as a squirrel would
knock the thin shell from a nut to reach the kernel; or at the edge of the
thicket of tall grass he had struck his foot against the skeleton of some
unknown hunter, dragged down long before.
To such adventures with all their natural exaggeration John Gray had
listened many a time as they were recited by old hunters regarding earlier
days in the wilderness; for at this period it was thought that the cougar
had retreated even from the few cane-brakes that remained unexplored near
the settlements. But the deer, timidest of animals, with fatal persistence
returns again and again to its old-time ranges and coverts long after the
bison, the bear, and the elk have wisely abandoned theirs; and the cougar
besets the deer.
It was these stories that he remembered now and that filled him with horror,
with the faintness of death. His turn had come at last, he said; and as to
the others, it had come without warning. He was too shackled with weakness
to cry out, to stand up. The windows on each side were fastened; there was
no escape. There was nothing in the room on which he could lay hold--no
weapon or piece of wood, or bar of iron. If a struggle took place, it would
be a clean contest between will and will, courage and courage, strength and
strength, the love of prey and the love of life.It was well for him that
this was not the first time he had ever faced death, as he had supposed; and
that the first thought that had rushed into his consciousness before
returned to him now. That thought was this: that death had come far too
soon, putting an end to his plans to live, to act, to succeed, to make a
great and a good place for himself in this world before he should leave it
for another. Out of this a second idea now liberated itself with incredible
quickness and spread through him like a living flame: it was his lifelong
attitude of victory, his lifelong determination that no matter what opposed
him he must conquer. Young as he was, this triumphant habit had already
yielded him its due result that growth of character which arises silently
within us, built up out of a myriad nameless elements--beginning at the very
bottom of the ocean of unconsciousness; growing as from cell to cell, atom
to atom--the mere dust of victorious experience--the hardening deposits of
the ever-living, ever-working, ever-rising will; until at last, based on
eternal quietude below and lifting its wreath of palms above the waves of
life, it stands finished, indestructible, our inward rock of defence against
every earthly storm.
Soon his face was worth going far to see. He had grown perfectly calm. His
weakness had been followed by a sense of strength wholly extraordinary. His
old training in the rough athletics of the wilderness had made him supple,
agile, wary, long-winded. His eyes hadnever known what it was to be subdued;
he had never taken them from the cougar.
Keeping them on it still, he rose slowly from the chair, realizing that his
chances would be better if he were in the middle of the room. He stepped
round in front of his table and walked two paces straight forward and then
paused, his face as white, as terrible, as death. At the instant of his
moving he could see the tense drawing in of all the muscles of the cougar
and the ripple of its skin, as its whole body quivered with excitement and
desire; and he knew that as soon as he stopped it would make its spring.
With a growl that announces that all hiding and stealth are over, the leap
came. He had thrown his body slightly forward to meet it with the last
thought that whatever happened he must guard his throat. It was at this that
the cougar aimed, leaping almost perpendicularly, its widespread fore feet
reaching for his shoulders, while the hind feet grasped at his legs. The
under part of its body being thus exposed, he dealt it a blow with all his
strength--full in the belly with his foot, and hurled it backward. For a
second it crouched again, measuring him anew, then sprang again. Again he
struck, but this time the fore feet caught his arm as they passed backward;
the sharp, retractile nails tore their way across the back and palm of his
hand like dull knives and the blood gushed. Instantly the cougar leaped upon
the long, wooden desk that ran alone one side of the room, and from that
advantage, sprang again but he bent his body low so that it passed clean
over him. Instantly it was upon his desk at his back; and before he could
more than recover his balance and turn, it sprang for the fourth time. He
threw out his arm to save his throat, but the cougar had reached his left
shoulder, struck its claws deep into his heavy coat; and with a deafening
roar sounding close in his ears, had buried its fangs near the base of his
neck, until he heard them click as they met through his flesh.
He staggered, but the desk behind caught him. Straightening himself up, and
grappling the panther with all his strength as he would a man, he turned
with it and bent it over the sharp edge of the ponderous desk, lower, lower,
trying to break its back. One of the fore feet was beginning to tear through
his clothing, and straightening himself up again, he reached down and caught
this foot and tried to bend it, break it. He threw himself with all his
force upon the floor, falling with the cougar under him, trying to crush it.
He staggered to his feet again, but stepped on his own blood and fell. And
then, feeling his blood trickling down his breast and his strength going,
with one last effort he put up his hands and seizing the throat, fastened
his fingers like iron rivets around the windpipe. And then--with the long,
loud, hoarse, despairing roar with which a man, his mouth half full of
water, sinks far out in the ocean--he fell again.
IT was ten o'clock that morning of mid-May. The rain was over. Clouds and
mists were gone, leaving an atmosphere of purest crystal. The sun floated a
globe of gold in the yielding blue. Above the wilderness on a dead treetop,
the perch of an eagle now flashing like a yellow weather-vane, a thrush
poured the spray-like far-falling fountain of his notes over upon the bowed
woods. Beneath him the dull green domes of the trees flashed as though
inlaid with gems, white and rose. Under these domes the wild grapevines,
climbing the forest arches as the oak of stone climbs the arches of a
cathedral, filled the ceiling and all the shadowy spaces between with fresh
outbursts of their voluptuous dew-born fragrance. And around the
rough-haired Satyr feet of these vines the wild hyacinth, too full of its
own honey to stand, fell back on its couch of moss waiting to be visited by
the singing bee.
The whole woods emerged from the cloudy bath of Nature with the coolness,
the freshness, the immortal purity of Diana united to the roseate glow and
mortal tenderness of Venus; and haunted by two spirits: the chaste, unfading
youth of Endymion and the dust-born warmth and eagerness of Dionysus.
Through these woods, feeling neither their heat nor their cold, secured by
Nature against any passion for either the cooling star or the inflaming
dust, rode Amy--slowly homeward from the ball. Yet lovelier, happier than
anything the forest held. She had pushed her bonnet entirely off so that it
hung by the strings at the back of her neck; and her face emerged from the
round sheath of it like a pink and white tulip, newly risen and bursting
When she reached home, she turned the old horse loose with many pattings and
good-byes and promises of maple sugar later in the day; and then she bounded
away to the garden to her aunt, of whom, perhaps, she was more truly fond
than of any one in the world except herself.
Mrs. Falconer had quickly left off work and was advancing very slowly--with
mingled haste and reluctance--to meet her.
"Aunt Jessica! Aunt Jessica!" cried Amy in a voice that rang like a small
silver bell, "I haven't seen you for two whole nights and three whole days!"
Placing her hands on Mrs. Falconer's shoulders, she kissed her once on each
cheek and twice playfully on the pearly tip of the chin; and then she looked
into her eyes as innocently as a perfect tulip might look at a perfect rose.
Mrs. Falconer smilingly leaned forward and touched her lips to Amy's
forehead. The caress was as light as thistle-down--perhaps no warmer.
"Three entire days!" she said chidingly. "It has been three months," and she
searched through Amy's eyes onward along the tortuous little passages of her
heart as a calm blue air might search the chambers of a cold beautiful
Each of these women instantly perceived that since they had parted a change
had taken place in the other; neither was aware that the other noticed the
change in herself. Mrs. Falconer had been dreading to find one in Amy when
she should come home; and it was the one she saw now that fell as a chill
upon her. Amy was triumphantly aware of a decisive change in herself, but
chose for the present, as she thought, to keep it hidden; and as for any
change in her aunt--that was an affair of less importance.
"Why, Aunt Jessica!" she exclaimed indignantly, "I don't believe you are
glad to see me," and throwing her arms around Mrs. Falconer's neck, she
strained her closely. "But you poor dear auntie! Come, sit down. I'm going
to do all the work now--mine and yours, both. Oh! the beautiful gardening!
Rows and rows and rows! With all the other work beside. And me an idle
The two were walking toward a rough bench placed under a tree inside the
picket fence. Amy had thrown her arm around Mrs. Falconer's waist.
"But you went to the ball," said the elder woman. "You were not idle there,
I imagine. And a ball is good for a great deal. One ought to accomplish more
there than in a garden. Besides, you went with John Gray, and he is never
idle. Did--he--accomplish--nothing?""Indeed, he was not idle!" exclaimed Amy
with a jubilant laugh. "Indeed he did accomplish something--more than he
ever did in his life before!"
Mrs. Falconer made no rejoinder; she was too poignantly saying to herself:
"Ah! if it is too late, what will become of him? "
The bench was short. Instinctively they seated themselves as far apart as
possible; and they turned their faces outward across the garden, not toward
each other as they had been used when sitting thus.
The one was nineteen--the tulip: with springlike charm but perfectly hollow
and ready to be filled by east wind or west wind, north wind or south wind,
according as each blew last and hardest; the other thirty-six--the rose: in
its midsummer splendour with fold upon fold of delicate symmetric
structures, making a masterpiece.
"Aunt Jessica," Amy began to say drily, as though this were to be her last
concession to a relationship now about to end, "I might as well tell you
everything that has happened, just as I've been used to doing since I was a
child--when I've done anything wrong."
She gave a faithful story of the carrying off of her party dress, which of
course had been missed and accounted for, the losing of it and the breaking
of her engagement with John; the return of it and her going to the ball with
Joseph. This brought her mind to the scenes of the night, and she abandoned
herself momentarily to the delight of reviving them.
"Ah! if you had been there, Aunt Jessica! If they had seen you in a ball
dress as I've seen you without one: those shoulders! those arms! that skin!
You would have been a swan among the rough-necked, red-necked turkeys," and
Amy glanced a little enviously at a neck that rose out of the plain dress as
though turned by a sculptor.
The sincere little compliment beat on Mrs. Falconer's ear like a wave upon a
"But if you did not go with John Gray, you danced with him, you talked with
"No," replied Amy, quickly growing grave, "I didn't dance with him. But we
talked yes--not much; it was a little too serious for many words," and she
sank into a mysterious silence, seeming even to forget herself in some new
recess of happiness.
Mrs. Falconer was watching her.
"Ah!" she murmured to herself. "It is too late! too late!" She passed her
fingers slowly across her brow with a feeling that life had turned ashen,
cold, barren."How is Kitty?" she asked quickly.
"Well--as always; and stupid."
"She is always kind and good, isn't she? and faithful."
"Kindness is not always interesting, unfortunately; and goodness is
dreadful, and her faithfulness bores me to death."
"At least, she was your hostess, Amy." "I lent her my silk stockings or
she'd have had to wear cotton ones," exclaimed Amy, laughing. "We're even."
"If you were merely paying for a lodging, you should have gone to the inn."
"There was nobody at the tavern who could wear my silk stockings; and I had
spent all my money."
"Don't you expect Kitty to return your visit?
"I certainly do-- more's the pity. She has such big feet!" Amy put out her
toe and studied it with vixenish satisfaction.
"Aunt Jessica," she observed at length, looking round at her aunt. "You
have to work too hard. And I have always been such a care to you. Wouldn't
you like to get rid of me?"
Mrs. Falconer leaned quickly, imploringly, toward her.
"Is that a threat, Amy?"
Amy waited half a minute and then began with a composure that was tinged
"You have had so much trouble in your life, Aunt Jessica; so much sorrow."
Mrs. Falconer started and turned upon her niece her eyes that were always
exquisite with refinement.
"Amy, have I ever spoken to you of the troubles of my life?" The reproof was
majestic in dignity and gentleness.
"You have not."
"Then will you never speak of them to me never again--while you live!"
Amy began again with a dry practical voice, which had in it the sting of
revenge; her aunt's rebuke had nettled her.
"At least, I have always been a trouble to you. You sew for me, cook for me,
make the garden for me, spin and weave for me, and worry about me. Uncle has
to work for me and support me."
The turn of the conversation away from herself brought such relief that Mrs.
Falconer replied even warmly.
"You have been a great pleasure to him and to me! The little I have done,
you have repaid a thousand fold. Think of us at night without you! Your
uncle on one side of the fireplace--me on the other, and you away! Think of
us at the table--him at one end, me at the other, and you away! Think of me
alone in the house all day, while he is in the fields! Child, I have
depended on you--more than you will ever understand!" she added to herself.
"Aunt Jessica," observed Amy with the air of making a fine calculation,
"perhaps uncle would think more of you if I were not in the house."
"Perhaps you would think more of him!"
"Perhaps if neither of you had me to depend on, you might depend more on
each other and be happier."
"You speak to me in this way--on a subject like this! You'd better go!"
"Aunt Jessica," replied Amy, never budging, "the time has been when I would
have done so. But it is too late now for you ever to tell me to leave your
presence. I am a woman! If I had not been, I shouldn't have said what I just
Mrs. Falconer looked at her in silence. This rare gentlewoman had too
profound a knowledge of the human heart not to realize that she was
completely vanquished. For where in this world is not refinement instantly
beaten by coarseness, gentleness by rudeness, all delicacy by all that is
indelicate? What can the finest consideration avail against no
consideration? the sweetest forbearance against intrusiveness? the beak of
the dove against the beak of the hawk? And yet all these may have their
victory; for when the finer and the baser metal are forced to struggle with
each other in the same field, the finer may always leave it.
With unruffled dignity and with a voice that Amy had never heard--a voice
that brought the blood rushing into her cheeks--Mrs. Falconer replied:"Yes;
it is true: you are a woman. This is the first day that you have ever made
me feel this. For I have always known that as soon as you became one, you
would begin to speak to me as you have spoken. I shall never again request
you to leave my presence: when it becomes unavoidable, I shall leave yours."
She rose and was moving away. Amy started up and caught her.
"Aunt Jessica, I've something to tell you!" she cried, her face dyed scarlet
with the sting.
Mrs. Falconer released herself gently and returned to her seat.
"You know what I mean by what I said?" inquired Amy, still confused but
regaining self command rapidly.
"I believe I know: you are engaged to be married."
The words were very faint: they would have reached the subtlest ear with the
suggestiveness of a light dreary wind blowing over a desolation.
"Yes; I am engaged to be married."
Amy affirmed it with a definite stress.
"It is this that has made you a woman?
"It is this that has made me a woman."
After the silence of a moment Mrs. Falconer inquired:
"You do not expect to ask my consent--my advice?"
"I certainly do not expect to ask your consent--your advice."
Amy was taking her revenge now--and she always took it as soon as possible.
"Nor your uncle's?"
"Nor my uncle's."
After another, longer silence:
"Do you care to tell me how long this engagement has lasted?"
"Certainly!--Since last night."
"Thank you for telling me that. I think I must go back to my work now."
She walked slowly away. Amy sat still, twirling her bonnet strings and
smiling to herself.
This outburst of her new dignity--this initial assertion of her
womanhood--had come almost as unexpectedly to herself as to her aunt. She
had scarcely known it was in herself to do such a thing. Certain
restrictions had been chafing her for a long time: she had not dreamed that
they could so readily be set aside, that she had only to stamp her foot
violently down on another foot and the other foot would be jerked out of the
way. In the flush of elation, she thought of what had just taken place as
her Declaration of Independence. She kept on celebrating it in a sort of
intoxication at her own audacity:
"I have thrown off the yoke of the Old Dynasty! Glory for the thirteen
colonies! A Revolution in half an hour! I'm the mother of a new country!
Washington, salute me!"
Then, with perhaps somewhat the feeling of a pullet that has whipped a hen
in a barnyard and that after an interval will run all the way across the
barnyard to attack again and see whether the victory is complete, she rose
and went across the garden, bent on trying the virtue of a final peck.
"But you haven't congratulated me, Aunt Jessica! You have turned your back
on the bride elect--you with all your fine manners! She presents herself
once more to your notice the future Mrs. Joseph Holden, Junior, to be
married one month from last night!" And unexpectedly standing in front of
Mrs. Falconer, Amy made one of her low bows which she had practised in the
minuet. But catching the sight of the face of her aunt, she cried
"Oh, I have been so rude to you, Aunt Jessica! Forgive me!" There was
something of the new sense of womanhood in her voice and of the sisterhood
in suffering which womanhood alone can bring.
But Mrs. Falconer had not heard Amy's last exclamation.
"What do you mean?" she asked with quick tremulous eagerness. She had
regained her firmness of demeanour, which alone should have turned back any
expression of sympathy before it could have been offered.
"That I am to become Mrs. Joseph Holden--a month from last night," repeated
"You are serious?"
"I am serious!"
Mrs. Falconer did not take Amy's word: she searched her face and eyes with
one swift scrutiny that was like a merciless white flame of truth, scorching
away all sham, all play, all unreality. Then she dropped her head quickly,
so that her own face remained hidden, and silently plied her work. But how
the very earth about the rake, how the little roots and clods, seemed to
come to life and leap joyously into the air! All at once she dropped
everything and came over and took Amy's hand and kissed her cheek. Her
lovely eyes were glowing; her face looked as though it had upon it the rosy
shadow of the peach trees not far away.
"I do congratulate you," she said sweetly, but with the reserve which Amy's
accession to womanhood and the entire conversation of the morning made an
unalterable barrier to her. "You have not needed advice: you have chosen
wisely. You shall have a beautiful wedding. I will make your dress myself.
The like of it will never have been seen in the wilderness. You shall have
all the finest linen in the weaving-room. Only a month! How shall we ever
get ready!--if we stand idling here! Oh, the work, the work!" she cried and
turned to hers with a dismissing smile--unable to trust herself to say more.
"And I must go and take the things out of my bundle," cried Amy, catching
the contagion of all this and bounding away to the house. Some five minutes
later Mrs. Falconer glanced at the sun: it was eleven o'clock--time to be
When she reached her room, Amy was standing beside the bed, engaged in
lifting out of the bundle the finery now so redolent of the ball.
"Aunt Jessica," she remarked carelessly, without looking round, "I forgot to
tell you that John Gray had a fight with a panther in his schoolroom this
morning," and she gave several gossamer-like touches to the white lace
Mrs. Falconer had seated herself in a chair to rest. She had taken off her
bonnet, and her fingers were unconsciously busy with the lustrous edges of
her heavy hair. At Amy's words her hands fell to her lap. But she had long
ago learned the value of silence and self-control when she was most deeply
moved: Amy had already surprised her once that morning.
"The panther bit him in the shoulder close to the neck," continued Amy,
folding the tucker away and lifting out the blue silk coat. "They were on
the floor of the school-house in the last struggle when Erskine got there.
He had gone for Phoebe Lovejoy's cows, because it was raining and she
couldn't go herself; and he heard John as he was passing. He said his voice
sounded like the bellow of a dying bull."
"Is he much hurt? Where is he? Did you go to see him? ho dressed his wound?
Who is with him?"
"They carried him home," said Amy, turning round to the light and pressing
the beautiful silk coat in against her figure with little kicks at the
skirt. "No; I didn't go; Joseph came round and told me. He didn't think the
wound was very dangerous--necessarily. One of his hands was terribly
"A panther? In town? In his schoolroom?"--
"You know Erskine keeps a pet panther. I heard him tell Mrs. Poythress it
was a female," said Amy with an apologetic icy, knowing little laugh. "And
he said this one had been prowling about in the edge of the canebrakes for
several days. He had been trying to get a shot at it. He says it was nearly
starved: that was why it wanted to eat John whole before breakfast."
Amy turned back to the bed and shook out delicately the white muslin
dress--the dress that John had hung on the wall of his cabin--that had wound
itself around his figure so clingingly.
There was silence in the room. Amy had now reached the silk stockings; and
taking up one, she blew down into it and quickly peeped over the side, to
see whether it would fill out to life-size--with a mischievous wink.
"I am going to him at once."
Amy looked up in amazement.
"But, Aunt Jessica," she observed reproachfully; "who will get uncle's
dinner? You know I can't."
"Tell your uncle what has happened as soon as he comes."
She had risen and was making some rapid preparations.
"I want my dinner," said Amy ruefully, seating herself on the edge of the
bed and watching her aunt with disapproval.
"You can't go now!" she exclaimed. "Uncle has the horses in the field."
Mrs. Falconer turned to her with simple earnestness.
"I hoped you would lend me your horse?"
"But he is tired; and beside I want to use him this afternoon: Kitty and I
are going visiting."
"Tell your uncle when he comes in," said Mrs. Falconer, turning in the
doorway a minute later, and speaking rapidly to her niece, but without the
least reproach, "tell your uncle that his friend is badly hurt. Tell him
that we do not know how badly. Tell him that I have gone to find out and to
do anything for him that I can. Tell him to follow me at once. He will
find me at his bedside. I am sorry about the dinner."
SEVERAL days had slipped by.
At John's request they had moved his bed across the doorway of his cabin;
and stretched there, he could see the sun spring every morning out the
dimpled emerald ocean of the wilderness; and the moon follow at night,
silvering the soft ripples of the multitudinous leaves lapping the shores of
silence: days when the inner noises of life sounded like storms; nights when
everything within him lay as still as memory.
His wounds had behaved well from the out-set. When he had put forth all his
frenzied despairing strength to throttle the cougar, it had let go its hold
only to sink its fangs more deeply into his flesh, thus increasing the
laceration; and there was also much laceration of the hand. But the rich
blood flowing in him was the purest; and among a people who for a quarter of
a century had been used to the treatment of wounds, there prevailed a rough
but genuine skill that stood him in good stead. To these hardy fighting
folk, as to him, it was a scratch and he would have liked to go on with his
teaching. Warned of the danger of inflammation, however, he took to his bed;
and according to our own nervous standards which seem to have intensified
pain for us beyond the comprehension of our forefathers, he was sick and a
Those long cool, sweet, brilliant days! Those long still, lonely, silvery
nights! His cabin stood near the crest of the hill that ran along the
southern edge of the settlement; and propped on his bed, he could look down
into the wide valley--into the town. The frame of his door became the frame
of many a living picture. Under a big shady tree at the creek-side, he could
see some of his children playing or fishing: their shouts and laughter were
borne to his ear; he could recognize their shrill voices--those always
masterful voices of boys at their games. Sometimes these little figures were
framed timidly just outside the door--the girls with small wilted posies,
the boys with inquiries. But there was no disguising the dread they all felt
that he might soon be well: he had felt himself once; he did not blame them.
Wee Jennie even came up with her slate one day and asked him to set her a
sum in multiplication; he did so; but he knew that she would rub it out as
soon as she could get out of sight, and he laughed quietly to himself at
this tiny casuist, who was trying so hard to deceive them both.
Two or three times, now out in the sunlight, now under the shadow of the
trees, he saw an old white horse go slowly along the distant road; and a
pink skirt and a huge white bonnet--two or three times; but he watched for
it a thousand times till his eyes grew weary.
One day Erskine brought the skin of the panther which he was preparing for
him, to take the place of the old one under his table. He brought his rifle
along also,--his "Betsy," as he always called it; which, however, he
declared was bewitched just now; and for a while John watched him curiously
as he nailed a target on a tree in front of John's door, drew on it the face
of the person whom he charged with having bewitched his gun, and then,
standing back, shot it with a silver bullet; after which, the spell being
now undone, he dug the bullet out of the tree again and went off to hunt
with confidence in his luck.
And then the making of history was going on under his eyes down there in the
town, and many a thoughtful hour he studied that. The mere procession of
figures across his field of vision symbolized the march of destiny, the
onward sweep of the race, the winning of the continent. Now the barbaric
paint and plumes of some proud Indian, peaceably come to trade in pelts but
really to note the changes that had taken place in his great hunting ground,
loved and ranged of old beyond all others: this figure was the Past--the
old, old Past. Next, the picturesque, rugged outlines of some backwoods
rifleman, who with his fellows had dislodged and pushed the Indian westward:
this figure was the Present--the short-lived Present. Lastly, dislodging
this figure in turn and already pushing him westward as he had driven the
Indian, a third type of historic man, the fixed settler, the land-loving,
house-building, wife-bringing, child-getting, stock-breeding yeoman of the
new field and pasture: this was the figure of the endless Future. The
retreating wave of Indian life, the thin restless wave of frontier life, the
on-coming, all-burying wave of civilized life--he seemed to feel close to
him the mighty movements of the three. His own affair, the attack of the
panther, the last encounter between the cabin and the jungle looked to him
as typical of the conquest; and that he should have come out of the struggle
alive, and have owed his life to the young Indian fighter and hunter who had
sprung between him and the incarnate terror of the wilderness, affected his
imagination as an epitome of the whole winning of the West.
One morning while the earth was still fresh with dew, the great Boone came
to inquire for him, and before he left, drew from the pocket of his hunting
shirt a well-worn little volume.
"It has been my friend many a night," he said. "I have read it by many a
camp-fire. I had it in my pocket when I stood on the top of Indian Old
Fields and saw the blue grass lands for the first time. And when we
encamped on the creek there, I named it Lulbegrud in honour of my book. You
can read it while you have nothing else to do;" and he astounded John by
leaving in his hand Swift's story of adventures in new worlds.
He had many other visitors: the Governor, Mr. Bradford, General Wilkinson,
the leaders in the French movement, all of whom were solicitous for his
welfare as a man, but also as their chosen emissary to the Jacobin Club of
Philadelphia. In truth it seemed to him that everyone in the town came
sooner or later, to take a turn at his bedside or wish him well.
Except four persons: Amy did not come; nor Joseph, with whom he had
quarrelled and with whom he meant to settle his difference as soon as he
could get about; nor O'Bannon, whose practical joke had indirectly led to
the whole trouble; nor Peter, who toiled on at his forge with his wounded
Betrothals were not kept secret in those days and engagements were short.
But as he was sick and suffering, some of those who visited him forbore to
mention her name, much less to speak of the preparations now going forward
for her marriage with Joseph. Others, indeed, did begin to talk of her and
to pry; but he changed the subject quickly.
And so he lay there with the old battle going on in his thoughts, never
knowing that she had promised to become the wife of another: fighting it all
over in his foolish, iron-minded way: some days hardening and saying he
would never look her in the face again; other days softening and resolving
to seek her out as soon as he grew well enough and learn whether the fault
of all this quarrel lay with him or wherein lay the truth: yet in all his
moods sore beset with doubts of her sincerity and at all times passing sore
over his defeat--defeat that always went so hard with him.
Meantime one person was pondering his case with a solicitude that he wist
not of: the Reverend James Moore, the flute-playing Episcopal parson of the
town, within whose flock this marriage was to take place and who may have
regarded Amy as one of his most frisky wayward fleeces. Perhaps indeed as
not wearing a white spiritual fleece at all but as dyed a sort of
merino-brown in the matter of righteousness.
He had long been fond of John--they both being pure-minded men, religious,
bookish, and bachelors; but their friendship caused one to think of the pine
and the palm: for the parson, with his cold bleak face, palish straight hair
put back behind white ears, and frozen smile, appeared always to be
inhabiting the arctic regions of life while John, though rooted in a
tropical soil of many passions, strove always to bear himself in character
like a palm, up-right, clean-cut; having no low or drooping branches; and
putting forth all the foliage and blossoms of the mind at the very summit of
The parson and the school-master had often walked out to the Falconers'
together in the days when John imagined his suit to be faring prosperously;
and from Amy's conduct, and his too slight knowledge of the sex, this arctic
explorer had long since adjusted his frosted faculties to the notion that
she expected to become John's wife. He was sorry; it sent an extra chill
through the icebergs of his imagination; but perhaps he gathered comforting
warmth from the hope that some of John's whiteness would fall upon her and
that thus from being a blackish lambkin she would at least eventually turn
into a light-gray ewe.
When the tidings reached his far-inward ear that she was to marry Joseph
instead of his friend, a general thaw set in over the entire landscape of
his nature: it was like spring along the southern fringes of Greenland.
The error must not be inculcated here that the parson had no passions: he
had three-ruling ones: a passion for music, a passion for metaphysics, and a
passion for satirizing the other sex.
Dropping in one afternoon and glancing with delicate indirection at John's
short shelf of books, he inquired whether he had finished with his Paley.
John said he had and the parson took it down to bear away with him. Laying
it across his stony knees as he sat down and piling his white hands on it,
"Do you believe Paley?" he asked, turning upon John a pair of the most
beautiful eyes, which looked a little like moss agates.
"I believe St. Paul," replied John, turning his own eyes fondly on his open
"Do you believe Paley?" insisted the parson, who would always have his
questions answered directly.
"There's a good deal of Paley: what do you mean?" said John, laughing
"I mean his ground idea-the corner stone of his doctrine -his pou sto. I
mean do you believe that we can infer the existence and character of God
from any evidences of design that we see in the universe "
"I'm not so sure about that," said John. "What we call the evidences of
design in the universe may be merely certain laws of our own minds, certain
inward necessities we are under to think of everything as having an order
and a plan and a cause. And these inner necessities may themselves rest on
nothing, may be wrong, may be deceiving us."
"Oh, I don't mean that!" said the parson. "We've got to believe our own
minds. We've got to do that even to disbelieve them. If the mind says of
itself it is a liar, how does it know this to be true if it is a liar
itself? No; we have to believe our own minds whether they are right or
wrong. But what I mean is: can we, according to Paley, infer the existence
and character of God from anything we see?"
"It sounds reasonable," said John.
"Does it! Then suppose you apply this method of reasoning to a woman: can
you infer her existence from anything you see? Can you trace the evidences
of design there? Can you derive the slightest notion of her character from
As the parson said this, he turned upon the sick man a look of such logical
triumph that John, who for days had been wearily trying to infer Amy's
character from what she had done, was seized with a fit of laughter--the
parson himself remaining perfectly grave.
Another day he examined John's wound tenderly, and then sat down by him with
his beautiful moss-agate eyes emitting dangerous little sparkles.
"It's a bad bite," he said, "the bite of a cat--felis concolor. They are a
bad family--these cats--the scratchers." He was holding John's wounded hand.
"So you've had your fight with a felis. A single encounter ought to be
enough! If some one hadn't happened to step in and save you!--What do you
suppose is the root of the idea universal in the consciousness of our race
that if a man had not been a man he'd have been a lion; and that if a woman
hadn't been a woman she'd have been a tigress? "
"I don't believe there's any such idea universal in the consciousness of the
race," replied John, laughing.
"It's universal in my consciousness," said the parson doggedly, "and my
consciousness is as valid as any other man's. But I'll ask you an easier
question: who of all men, do you suppose, knew most about women?"
"Women or Woman?" inquired John.
"Women," said the parson. "We'll drop the subject of Woman: she's beyond us!
"I don't know," observed John. "St. Paul knew a good deal, and said some
"St. Paul!" exclaimed the parson condescendingly. "He knew a few noble
Jewesses--superficially--with a scattering acquaintance among the pagan
sisters around the shores of the Mediterranean. As for what he wrote on
that subject--it may have been inspired by Heaven: it never could have been
inspired by the sex."
"Shakspeare, I suppose," said John.
"The man in the Arabian Nights," cried the parson, who may have been put in
mind of this character by his own attempts to furnish daily entertainment.
"He knew a thousand of them--intimately. And cut off the heads of nine
hundred and ninety-nine! The only reason he did not cut off the head of the
other was that he had learned enough: he could not endure to know any more.
All the evidence had come in: the case was closed."
"I suppose there are men in the world," he continued, "who would find it
hard to stand a single disappointment about a woman. But think of a thousand
disappointments! A thousand attempts to find a good wife--just one woman who
could furnish a man a little rational companionship at night. Bluebeard also
must have been a well-informed person. And Henry the Eighth--there was a man
who had evidently picked up considerable knowledge and who made considerable
use of it. But to go back a moment to the idea of the felis family. Suppose
we do this: we'll begin to enumerate the qualities of the common house cat.
I'll think of the cat; you think of some woman; and we'll see what we come
"I'll not do it," said John. "She's too noble."
"Just for fun!"
"There's no fun in comparing a woman to a cat."
"There is if she doesn't know it. Come, begin!" And the parson laid one long
forefinger on one long little finger and waited for the first specification.
"Fineness," said John, thinking of a certain woman.
"Fondness for a nap," said the parson, thinking of a certain cat.
"Grace," said John.
"Inability to express thanks," said the parson.
"A beautiful form," said John."A desire to be stroked," said the parson.
"Sympathy," said John.
"Oh, no!" said the parson; "no cat has any sympathy. A dog has: a man is
more of a dog."
"Noble-mindedness," said John.
"That will not do either," said the parson. "Cats are not noble-minded; it's
"Perfect case of manner," said John.
"Perfect indifference of manner," said the parson."
"No vanity," said John.
"No sense of humour," said the parson.
"Plenty of wit," said John.
"You keep on thinking too much about some woman," remonstrated the parson,
"Fastidiousness," said John.
"Soft hands and beautiful nails," said the parson, nodding encouragingly.
"A gentle footstep," said John with a softened look coming into his eyes. "A
"Beautiful taste in music," said John.
"Oh! dreadful!" said the parson. "What on earth are you thinking about?"
"The love of rugs and cushions," said John, groping desperately.
"The love of a lap," said the parson fluently.
"The love of playing with its victim," said John, thinking of another woman.
"Capital!" cried the parson. "That's the truest thing we've said. We'll not
spoil it by another word;" but he searched John's face covertly to see
whether this talk had beguiled him.
All this satire meant nothing sour, or bitter, or ignoble with the parson.
It was merely the low, far-off play of the northern lights of his mind,
irradiating the long polar night of his bachelorhood. But even on the polar
night the sun rises--a little way; and the time came when he married--as one
might expect to find the flame of a volcano hidden away in a mountain of
Toward the end of his illness, John lay one night inside his door, looking
soberly, sorrowfully out into the moonlight. A chair sat outside, and the
parson walked quietly up the green hill and took it. Then he laid his hat on
the grass; and passed his delicate hands slowly backward over his long fine
straight hair, on which the moonbeams at once fell with a luster as upon
still water or the finest satin.
They talked awhile of the best things in life, as they commonly did. At
length the parson said in his unworldly way:
"I have one thing against Aristotle: he said the effect of the flute was bad
and exciting. He was no true Greek. John, have you ever thought how much of
life can be expressed in terms of music? To me every civilization has given
out its distinct musical quality; the ages have their peculiar tones; each
century its key, its scale. For generations in Greece you can hear nothing
but the pipes; during other generations nothing but the lyre. Think of the
long, long time among the Romans when your ear is reached by the trumpet
"Then again whole events in history come down to me with the effect of an
orchestra, playing in the distance; single lives sometimes like a great
solo. As for the people I know or have known, some have to me the sound of
brass, some the sound of wood, some the sound of strings. Only--so few, so
very, very few yield the perfect music of their kind. The brass is a little
too loud; the wood a little too muffled; the strings--some of the strings
are invariably broken. I know a big man who is nothing but a big drum; and I
know another whose whole existence has been a jig on a fiddle; and I know a
shrill little fellow who is a fife; and I know a brassy girl who is a pair
of cymbals; and once--once," repeated the parson whimsically, "I knew an old
maid who was a real living spinet. I even know another old maid now who is
nothing but an old music book--long ago sung through, learned by heart, and
laid aside: in a faded, wrinkled binding--yellowed paper stained by
tears--and haunted by an odour of rose-petals, crushed between the leaves of
memory: a genuine very thin and stiff collection of the rarest original
songs--not songs without words, but songs without sounds--the ballads of an
undiscovered heart, the hymns of an unanswered spirit."
After a pause during which neither of the men spoke, the parson went on:
"All Ireland--it is a harp! We know what Scotland is. John," he exclaimed,
suddenly turning toward the dark figure lying just inside the shadow, "you
are a discord of the bagpipe and the harp: there's the trouble with you.
Sometimes I can hear the harp alone in you, and then I like you; but when
the bagpipe begins, you are worse than a big bumblebee with a bad cold."
"I know it," said John sorrowfully. "My only hope is that the harp will
outlast the bee."
"At least that was a chord finely struck," said the parson warmly. After
another silence he went on.
"Martin Luther--he was a cathedral organ. And so it goes. And so the whole
past sounds to me: it is the music of the world: it is the vast choir of the
ever-living dead." He gazed dreamily up at the heavens: "Plato! he is the
music of the stars."
After a little while, bending over and looking at the earth and speaking in
a tone of unconscious humility, he added:
"The most that we can do is to begin a strain that will swell the general
volume and last on after we have perished. As for me, when I am gone, I
should like the memory of my life to give out the sound of a flute."
He slipped his hand softly into the breastpocket of his coat and more softly
drew something out.
"Would you like a little music?" he asked shyly, his cold beautiful face all
at once taking on an expression of angelic sweetness.
John quickly reached out and caught his hand in a long, crushing grip: he
knew this was the last proof the parson could ever have given him that he
loved him. And then as he lay back on his pillow, he turned his face back
into the dark cabin.
Out upon the stillness of the night floated the parson's passion--
silver-clear, but in an undertone of such peace, of such immortal
gentleness. It was as though the very beams of the far-off serenest moon,
falling upon his flute and dropping down into its interior through its
little round openings, were by his touch shorn of all their lustre, their
softness, their celestial energy, and made to reissue as music. It was as
though his flute had been stuffed with frozen Alpine blossoms and these had
been melted away by the passionate breath of his soul into the coldest
invisible flowers of sound.
At last, as though all these blossoms in his flute had been used up--blown
out upon the warm, moon-lit air as the snow-white fragrances of the ear--the
parson buried his face softly upon his elbow which rested on the back of his
And neither man spoke again.
WHEN Mrs. Falconer had drawn near John's hut on the morning of his
misfortune, it was past noon despite all her anxious, sorrowful haste to
reach him. His wounds had been dressed. The crowd of people that had
gathered about his cabin were gone back to their occupations or their
homes--except a group that sat on the roots of a green tree several yards
from his door. Some of these were old wilderness folk living near by who had
offered to nurse him and otherwise to care for his comforts and needs. The
affair furnished them that renewed interest in themselves which is so liable
to revisit us when we have escaped a fellow-creature's suffering but can
relate good things about ourselves in like risks and dangers; and they were
drawing out their reminiscences now with unconscious gratitude for so
excellent an opportunity befalling them in these peaceful unadventurous
days. Several of John's boys lay in the grass and hung upon these
narratives. Now and then they cast awe-stricken glances at his door which
had been pushed to, that he might be quiet; or, if his pain would let him,
drop into a little sleep. They made it their especial care, when any
new-comer hurried past, to arrest him with the command that he must not go
in; and they would thus have stopped Mrs. Falconer but she put them gently
aside without heed or hearing.
When she softly pushed the door open, John was not asleep. He lay in a
corner on his low hard bed of skins against the wall of logs-- his eyes wide
open, the hard white glare of the small shutter-less window falling on his
face. He turned to her the look of a dumb animal that can say nothing of why
it has been wounded or of how it is suffering; stretched out his hand
gratefully; and drew her toward him. She sat down on the edge of the bed,
folded her quivering fingers across his temples, smoothed back his heavy,
coarse, curling hair, and bending low over his eyes, rained down into them
the whole unuttered, tearless passion of her distress, her sympathy.
Major Falconer came for her within the hour and she left with him almost as
soon as he arrived.
When she was gone, John lay thinking of her.
"What a nurse she is!" he said, remembering how she had concerned herself
solely his about life, his safety, his wounds. Once she had turned quickly:
"Now you can't go away!" she had said with a smile that touched him deeply.
"I wish you didn't have to go!" he had replied mourningfully, feeling his
sudden dependence on her.
This was the first time she had ever been in room--with its poverty, its
bareness. She must have cast about it a look of delicate inquiry--as a woman
is apt to do in a singleman's abode; for when she came again, in addition to
pieces of soft old linen for bandages brought fresh cool fragrant
sheets--the work of her own looms; a better pillow with a pillow-case on it
that was delicious to his cheek; for he had his weakness about clean, white
linen. She put a curtain over the pitiless window. He saw a wild rose in a
glass beside his Testament. He discovered moccasin slippers beside his bed.
"And here," she had said just before leaving, with her hand on a pile of
things and with an embarrassed laugh--keeping her face turned away--"here
are some towels."
Under the towels he found two night shirts--new ones.
When she was gone, he lay thinking of her again.
He had gratefully slipped on one of the shirts. He was feeling the new sense
of luxury that is imparted by a bed enriched with snow-white, sweet-smelling
pillows and sheets. The curtain over his window strained into his room a
light shadowy, restful. The flower on his table,--the transforming touch in
his room--her noble brooding tenderness--everything went into his gratitude,
his remembrance of her. But all this--he argued with a sudden taste for fine
discrimination--had not been done out of mere anxiety for his life: it was
not the barren solicitude of a nurse but the deliberate, luxurious regard of
a mother for his comfort: no doubt it represented the ungovernable overflow
of the maternal, long pent-up in her ungratified. And by this route he came
at last to a thought of her that novel for him--the pitying recollection of
"What a mother she would have been!" he said rebelliously. "The mother of
sons who would have become great through her--and greater through the memory
of her after she was gone."
When she came again, seeing him out of danger and seeing him comfortable,
she seated herself beside his table and opened her work."It isn't good for
you to talk much," she soon said reprovingly, "and I have to work--and to
And so he lay watching her--watching her beautiful fingers which never
seemed to rest in life--watching her quiet brow with its ripple of lustrous
hair forever suggesting to him how her lovely neck and shoulders would be
buried by it if its long light waves were but loosened. To have a woman
sitting by his table with her sewing--it turned his room into something
vaguely dreamed of heretofore: a home. She finished a sock for Major
Falconer and began on one of his shirts. He counted the stitches as they
went into a sleeve. They made him angry. And her face!--over it had come a
look of settled weariness; for perhaps if there is ever a time when a woman
forgets and the inward sorrow steals outward to the surface as an unwatched
shadow along a wall, it is when she sews.
"What a wife she is!" he reflected enviously after she was gone; and he
tried not to think of certain matters in her life. "What a wife! How
unfaltering in duty!"
The next time she came, it was early. She seemed to him to have bathed in
the freshness, the beauty, the delight of the morning. He had never seen her
so radiant, so young. She was like a woman who holds in her hand the
unopened casket of life--its jewels still ungazed on, still unworn. There
was some secret excitement in her as though the moment had at last come for
her to open it. She had but a few moments to spare.
"I have brought you a book," she said, smiling and laying her cheek against
a rose newly placed by his Testament. For a moment she scrutinized him with
intense penetration. Then she added:
"Will you read it wisely?"
"I will if I am wise," he replied laughing. "Thank you," and he held out his
hand for the book eagerly.
She clasped it more tightly with the gayest laugh of irresolution. Her
colour deepened. A moment later, however, she recovered the simple and noble
seriousness to which she had grown used as the one habit of her life with
"You should have read it long ago," she said. "But it is not too late for
you. Perhaps now is your best time. It is a good book for a man, wounded as
you have been; and by the time you are well, you will need it more than you
have ever done. Hereafter you will always need it more."
She spoke with partly hidden significance, as one who knows life may speak
to one who does not.
He eyed the book despairingly.
"It is my old Bible of manhood," she continued with rich soberness, " part
worthless, part divine. Not Greek manhood--nor Roman manhood: they were too
pagan. Not Semitic manhood: that--in its ideal at least--was not pagan
enough. But something better than any of these--something that is
The subject struck inward to the very heart's root of his private life. He
listened as with breath arrested.
"We know what the Greeks were before everything else," she said resolutely:
" hey were physical men: we think less of them spiritually in any sense of
the idea that is valued by us and of course we do not think of them at all
as gentlemen: that involves of course the highest courtesy to women. The
Jews were of all things spiritual in the type of their striving. Their
ancient system, and the system of the New Testament itself as it was soon
taught and passed down to us, struck a deadly blow at the development of the
body for its own sake--at physical beauty: and the highest development of
the body is what the race can never do without. It struck another blow at
the development of taste--at the luxury and grace of the intellect: which
also the race can never do without. But in this old book you will find the
starting-point of a new conception of ideal human life. It grew partly out
of the pagan; it grew partly out of the Christian; it added from its own age
something of its own. Nearly every nation of Europe has lived on it ever
since--as its ideal. The whole world is being nourished by that ideal more
and more. It is the only conception of itself that the race can never fall
away from without harm, because it is the ideal of its own perfection. You
know what I mean?" she asked a little imperiously as though she were talking
to a green boy.
"What do you mean?" he asked wonderingly. She had never spoken to him in
this way. Her mood, the passionate, beautiful, embarrassed stress behind all
this, was a bewildering revelation.
"I mean," she said, "that first of all things in this world a man must be a
man--with all the grace and vigour and, if possible, all the beauty of the
body. Then he must be a gentleman--with all the grace, the vigour, the good
taste of the mind. And then with both of these--no matter what his creed,
his dogmas, his superstitions, his religion--with both of these he must try
to live a beautiful life of the spirit."
He looked at her eagerly, gratefully.
"You will find him all these," she resumed, dropping her eyes before his
gratitude which was much too personal. "You wil1 find all these in this
book: here are men who were men; here are men who were gentlemen; and here
are gentlemen who served the unfallen life of the spirit."
She kept her eyes on the book. Her voice had become very grave and reverent.
She had grown more embarrassed, but at last she went on as though resolved
"So it ought to help you! It will help you. It will help you to be what you
are trying to be. There are things here that you have sought and have never
found. There are characters here whom you have wished to meet without ever
having known that they existed. If you will always live by what is best in
this book, love the best that it loves, hate what it hates, scorn what it
scorns, follow its ideals to the end of the world, to the end of your
"Oh, but give it to me!" he cried, lifting himself impulsively on one elbow
and holding out his hand for it.
She came silently over to the bedside and placed it on his hand. He studied
the title wonderingly, wonderingly turned some of the leaves, and at last,
smiling with wonder still, looked up at her. And then he forgot the
book--forgot everything but her.
Once upon a time he had been walking along a woodland path with his eyes
fixed on the ground in front of him as was his studious wont. In the path
itself there had not been one thing to catch his notice: only brown
dust--little stones--a twig--some blades of withered grass.
Then all at once out of this dull, dead motley of harmonious nothingness, a
single gorgeous spot had revealed itself, swelled out, and disappeared: a
butterfly had opened its wings, laid bare their inside splendours, and
closed them again--presenting to the eye only the adaptive, protective,
exterior of those marvellous swinging doors of its life. He had wondered
then that Nature could so paint the two sides of this thinnest of all
canvases: the outside merely daubed over that it might resemble the dead and
common and worthless things amid which the creature had to live--a
masterwork of concealment; the inside designed and drawn and coloured with
lavish fullness of plan, grace of curve, marvel of hue--all for the purpose
of the exquisite self revelation which should come when the one great
invitation of existence was sought or was given.
As the young school-master now looked up--too quickly--at the woman who
stood over him, her eyes were like a butterfly's gorgeous wings that for an
instant had opened upon him and already were closing--closing upon the
hidden splendours of her nature--closing upon the power to receive upon
walls of beauty all the sunlight of the world.
"What a woman!" he said to himself, strangely troubled a moment later when
she was gone. He had not looked at the book again. It lay forgotten by his
"What a woman!" he repeated, with a sigh that was like a groan.
Her bringing of the book--her unusual conversation--her excitement--her
seriousness--the impression she made upon him that a new problem was
beginning to work itself out in her life--most of all that one startling
revelation of herself at the instant of turning away: all these occupied his
thoughts that day.
She did not return the next or the next or the next. And, it was during
these long vacant hours that he began to weave curiously together all that
he had ever heard of her and of her past; until, in the end, he accomplished
something like a true restoration of her life--in the colour of his own
emotions. Then he fell to wandering up and down this long vista of scenes as
he might have sought unwearied secret gallery of pictures through which he
alone had the privilege of walking.
At the far end of the vista he could behold her in her childhood as the
daughter of a cavalier land-holder in the valley of the James: an heiress of
a vast estate with its winding creeks and sunny bays, its tobacco
plantations worked by troops of slaves, its deer parks and open country for
the riding to hounds. There was the manor-house in the style of the grand
places of the English gentry from whom her father was descended; sloping
from the veranda to the river landing a wide lawn covered with the silvery
grass of the English parks, its walks bordered with hedges of box, its
summer-house festooned with vines, its terraces gay with the old familiar
shrubs and flowers loyally brought over from the mother land. He could see
her as, some bright summer morning, followed by a tame fawn, she bounded
down the lawn to the private landing where a slow frigate had stopped to
break bulk on its way to Williamsburg-perhaps to put out with other
furniture a little mahogany chair brought especially for herself over the
rocking sea from London or where some round-sterned packet from New England
or New Amsterdam was unloading its cargo of grain or hides or rum in
exchange for her father's tobacco. Perhaps to greet her father himself
returning from a long absence amid old scenes that still could draw him back
to England; or standing lonely on the pier, to watch in tears him and her
brothers--a vanishing group--as they waved her a last good-bye and drifted
slowly out to the blue ocean on their way "home" to school at Eton.
He liked to dwell on the picture of her as a little school-girl herself:
sent fastidiously on her way, with long gloves covering her arms, a white
linen mask tied over her face to screen her complexion from tan, a sunbonnet
sewed tightly on her head to keep it secure from the capricious winds of
heaven and the more variable gusts of her own wilfulness; or on another
picture of her--as a lonely little lass--begging to be taken to court, where
she could marvel at her father, an awful judge in his wig and his robe of
scarlet and black velvet; or on a third picture of her--as when she was
marshalled into church behind a liveried servant bearing the family
prayer-book, sat in the raised pew upholstered in purple velvet, with its
canopy overhead and the gilt letters of the family name in front; and a
little farther away on the wall of the church the Lord's Prayer and the
Commandments put there by her father at the cost of two thousand pounds of
his best tobacco; finally to be preached to by a minister with whom her
father sometimes spilt wine on the table-cloth, and who had once fought a
successful duel behind his own sanctuary of peace and good will to all men.
Here succeeded other scenes; for as his interest deepened, he never grew
tired of this restorative image-building by which she could be brought
always more vividly before his imagination.
Her childhood gone, then, he followed her as she glided along the shining
creeks from plantation to plantation in a canoe manned by singing black
oarsmen: or rode abroad followed by her greyhound, her face concealed by a
black velvet riding mask kept in place by a silver mouth-piece held between
her teeth; or when autumn waned, went rolling slowly along towards
Williamsburg or Annapolis in the great family coach of mahogany, with its
yellow facings, Venetian windows, projection lamps, and high seat for
footmen and coachman --there to take a house for the winter season--there to
give and to be given balls, where she trod the minuet, stiff in blue
brocade, her white shoulders rising out of a bodice hung with gems, her
beautiful head bearing aloft its tower of long white feathers.
Yet with most of her life passed at the great lonely country-house by the
bright river: qazing wistfully out of the deep-mullioned windows of diamond
panes; flitting up and down the wide staircase of carven oak; buried in its
library, with its wainscoted walls crossed with swords and hung with
portraits of soldierly faces: all of which pleased him best, he being a
home-lover. So that when facts were lacking, sometimes he would kindle true
fancies of her young life in this place: as when she reclined on mats and
cushions in the breeze-swept balls, fanned by a slave and reading the Tatler
or the Spectator; or if it were the chill twilights of October, perhaps came
in from a walk in the cool woods with a red leaf at her white throat, and
seated herself at the spinet, while a low blaze from the deep chimney seat
flickered over her face, and the low music flickered with the shadows; or
when the white tempests of winter raved outside, gave her nights to the
reading of "Tom Jones," by the light of myrtleberry candles on a
slender-legged mahogany table.
But he had heard a great deal of her visits at the other great country
places of the day. Often at Greenway Court, where her father went to ride to
hounds with Lord Fairfax and Washington; at Carter's Grove; at the homes of
the Berkeleys, the Masons, the Spottswoods; once, indeed, at Castlewood
itself, where the stately Madam Esmond Warrington had placed her by her own
side at dinner and had kissed her check at leaving; but oftenest at Brandon
Mansion where one of her heroines had lived--Evelyn Byrd; so that, Sir
Godfrey Knell having painted that sad young lady, who now lies with a heavy
stone on her heavier heart in the dim old burying-ground at Westover, she
would have it that hers must be painted in the same identical fashion, with
herself sitting on a green bank, a cluster of roses in her hand, a
shepherd's crook across her knees.
And then, just as she was fairly opening into the earliest flower of
womanhood, the sudden, awful end of all this half-barbaric,
half-aristocratic life--the revolt of the colonies, the outbreak of the
Revolution, the blaze of way that swept the land like a forest fire, and
that enveloped in its furies even the great house on the James. One of her
brothers turned Whig, and already gone impetuously away in his uniform of
buff and blue, to follow the fortunes of Washington; the other siding with
the "home" across the sea, and he too already ridden impetuously away in
scarlet. Her proud father, his heart long torn between these two and
between his two countries, pacing the great hall, his face flushed with
wine, his eyes turning confusedly, pitifully, on the soldierly portraits of
his ancestors; until at last he too was gone, to keep his sword and his
conscience loyal to his king.
And then more dreadful years and still sadder times; as when one dark
morning toward daybreak, by the edge of a darker forest draped with snow
where the frozen dead lay thick, they found an officer's hat half filled
with snow, and near by, her father fallen face downward; and turning him
over, saw a bullet-hole over his breast, and the crimson of his blood on the
scarlet of his waistcoat; so departed, with manfulness out of this world and
leaving behind him some finer things than his debts and mortgages over dice
and cards and dogs and wine and lotteries. Then not long after that, the
manor-house on the James turned into the unkindest of battlefields; one
brother defending at the head of troops within, the other attacking at the
head of troops without; the snowy bedrooms becoming the red-stained wards of
a hospital; the staircase hacked by swords; the poor little spinet and the
slender-legged little mahogany tables overturned and smashed, the portraits
slashed, the library scattered. Then one night, seen from a distance, a vast
flame licking the low clouds; and afterwards a black ruin where the great
house had stood, and so the end of it all forever.
During these years, she, herself, had been like a lily in a lake, never
uprooted, but buried out of sight beneath the storm that tosses the waves
back and forth.
Then white and heavenly Peace again, and the liberty of the Anglo-Saxon race
in the New World. But with wounds harder to heal than those of the flesh;
with memories that were as sword-points broken off in the body; with glory
to brighten more and more, as time went on, but with starvation close at
hand. Virginia willing to pay her heroes but having naught wherewith to pay,
until the news comes from afar, that while all this has been going on in the
East, in the West the rude border-folk, the backwoodsmen of the Blue Ridge
and the Alleghanies, without generals, without commands, without help or
pay, or reward of any kind, but fighting of their own free will and dyeing
every step of their advance with their blood, had entered and conquered the
great neutral game-park of the Northern and the Southern Indians, and were
holding it against all plots: in the teeth of all comers and against the
frantic Indians themselves; against England, France, Spain,--a new land as
good as the best of old England--Kentucky! Into which already thousands upon
thousands were hurrying in search of homes --a new movement of the race--its
first spreading-out over the mighty continent upon its mightier destiny.
So had come about her hasty marriage with her young officer, whom Virginia
rewarded for his service with land; so had followed the breaking of all
ties, to journey by his side into the wilderness, there to undergo hardship,
perhaps death itself after captivity and torture such that no man who has
ever loved a woman can even look another man in the face and name.
Thus ever on and on unwittingly he wove the fibres of her life about him as
his shirt of destiny: following the threads nearer, always nearer, toward
the present, until he reached the day on which he had first met her on his
in the wilderness. From that time, he no longer relied upon hearsay, but
drew from his own knowledge of her to fill out and so far to end all these
fond tapestries of his memory and imagination.
But as one who has traversed a long gallery of pictures, and, turning to
look back upon all that he has passed, sees a straight track narrowing away
into the dimming distance, and only the last few life scenes standing out
lustrous and clear, so the school-master, gazing down this long vista,
beheld at the far end of it a little girl, whom he did not know, playing on
the silvery ancestral lawns of the James; at the near end, watching by his
bedside on this rude border of the West, a woman who had become
indispensable to his friendship.
More days passed, and still she did not return. His eagerness for her rose
and followed, and sorrowfully set with every sun.
Meantime he read the book, beginning it with an effort through finding it
hard to withdraw his mind from his present. But soon he was clutching it
with a forgotten hand and lay on his bed for hours joined fast to it with
unreleasing eyes; draining its last words into his heart, with a thirst
newly begotten and growing always the more quenchless as it was always being
quenched. So that having finished it, he read it again, now seeing the high
end of it all from the low beginning. And then a third time, more
clingingly, more yearningly yet, thrice lighting the fire in his blood with
the same straw. Like a vital fire it was left in him at last, a red and
white of flame; the two flames forever hostile, and seeking each to burn the
other out. And while it stayed in him thus as a fire, it had also filled all
tissues of his being as water fills a sponge--not dead water a dead
sponge--but as a living sap runs through the living sponges of a young oak
on the edge of its summer. So that never should he be able to forget it;
never henceforth be the same in knowledge or heart or conscience; and
nevermore was the lone spiritual battle of his life, if haply waged at all,
to be fought out by him with the earlier, simpler weapons of his innocence
and his youth, but with all the might of a tempted man's high faith in the
beauty and the right and the divine supremacy of goodness.
One morning his wounds had begun to require attention. No one had yet come
to him: it was hardly the customary hour: and moreover, by rising in bed he
could see that something unusual had drawn the people into the streets. The
news of a massacre on the western frontier, perhaps; the arrival of the
post-rider with angry despatches from the East; or the torch of revolution
thrown far northward from New Orleans. His face had flushed with feverish
waiting and he lay with his eyes turned restlessly toward the door.
It was Mrs. Falconer who stepped forward to it with hesitation. But as soon
as she caught sight of him, she hurried to the bed.
"What is the trouble? Have you been worse?"
"Oh, nothing! It is nothing."
"Why do you say that--to me?"
"My shoulder. But it is hardly time for them to come yet."
She hesitated and her face showed how serious her struggle was.
"Let me," she said firmly.
He looked up quickly, confusedly, at her with a refusal on his lips; but she
had already turned away to get the needful things in readiness, and he
suffered her, if for no other reason than to avoid letting her see the
painful rush of blood to his face. As she moved about the room, she spoke
only to ask unavoidable questions; he, only to answer them; and neither
looked at the other.
Then he sat up in the bed and bared his neck and shoulder, one arm and half
his chest; and with his face crimson, turned his eyes away. She had been
among the women in the fort during that summer thirteen years before, when
the battle of the Blue Licks had been fought; and speaking in the quietest,
most natural of voices, she now began to describe how the wounded had
straggled in from the battle-field; one rifleman reeling on his horse and
held in his seat by the arm of a comrade, his bleeding, bandaged head on
that comrade's shoulder; another borne on a litter swung between two horses;
others --footmen--holding out just long enough to come into sight of the
fort, there to sink down; one, a mere youth, fallen a mile back in the hot
dusty buffalo trace with an unspoken message to some one in his brave,
beautiful, darkening eyes. But before this, she told him how the women had
watched all that night and the day previous inside the poor little
earth-mound of a defence against artillery, built by order of Jefferson and
costing $37.5O; the women taking as always the places of the men who were
gone away to the war; becoming as always the defenders of the land, of the
children, of those left behind sick or too old to fight. How from the black
edge of dawn they had strained their eyes in the direction of the battle
until at last a woman's cry of agony had rent the air as the first of the
wounded had ridden slowly into sight. How they had rushed forth through the
wooden gates and heard the tidings of it all and then had followed the
scenes and the things that could never be told for pity and grief and love
After a little pause she began to speak of Major Falconer as the
school-master had never known her to speak; tremulously of his part in that
battle, a Revolutionary officer serving as a common backwoods soldier;
eloquently of his perfect courage then and always, of his perfect manliness;
and she ended by saying that the worst thing that could ever befall a woman
was to marry an unmanly man.
"If any one single thing in life could ever have killed me," she said, "it
would have been that."
With her last words she finished the dressing of his wounds. Spots of the
deepest rose were on her cheeks; her eyes were lighted with proud fire.
Confusedly he thanked her and, lying back on his pillow, closed his eyes and
turned his face away.
When she had quickly gone he sat up in the bed again. He drew the book
guiltily from under his pillow, looked long and sorrowfully at it, and then
with a low cry of shame--the first that had ever burst from his lips--he
hurled it across the room and threw himself violently down again, with his
forehead against the logs, his eyes hidden, his face burning.
THE first day that John felt strong enough to walk as far as that end of the
town, he was pulling himself unsteadily past the shop when he saw Peter and
turned in to rest and chat.The young blacksmith refused to speak to him.
"Peter!" said John with a sad, shaky voice, holding out his hand, "have I
changed so much? Don't you know me?"
"Yes; I know you," said Peter. "I wish I didn't."
"I don't think I recognize you any more," replied John, after a moment of
silence. "What's the matter?"
"Oh, you get along," said Peter. "Clear out!"
John went inside and drank a gourd of water out of Peter's cool bucket, came
back with a stool and sat down squarely before him.
"Now look here," he said with the candour which was always the first law of
nature with him, "what have I done to you?"
Peter would neither look nor speak; but being powerless before kindness, he
was beginning to break down.
"Out with it," said John. "What have I done?""You know what you've said."
"What have I said about you?" asked John, now perceiving that some mischief
had been at work here. "Who told you I had said anything about you?"
"It's no use for you to deny it."
"Who told you?"
"O'Bannon!" exclaimed John with a frown. "I've never talked to O'Bannon
about you--about anything."
"You haven't abused me?" said Peter, wheeling on the schoolmaster, eyes and
face and voice full of the suffering of his wounded self-love and of his
"I hope I've abused nobody!" said John proudly.
"Come in here!" cried Peter, springing up and hurrying into his shop.
Near the door stood a walnut tree with wide-spreading branches wearing the
fresh plumes of late May, plumes that hung down over the door and across the
windows, suffusing the interior with a soft twilight of green and brown
shadows. A shaft of sunbeams penetrating a crevice fell on the white neck of
a yellow collie that lay on the ground with his head on his paws, his eyes
fixed reproachfully on the heels of the horse outside, his ears turned back
toward his master. Beside him a box had been kicked over: tools and shoes
scattered. A faint line of blue smoke sagged from the dying coals of the
forge toward the door, creeping across the anvil bright as if tipped with
silver. And in one of the darkest corners of the shop, near a bucket of
water in which floated a huge brown gourd, Peter and John sat on a bench
while the story of O'Bannon's mischief-making was begun and finished. It was
told by Peter with much cordial rubbing of his elbows in the palms of his
hands and much light-hearted smoothing of his apron over his knees. At times
a cloud, passing beneath the sun, threw the shop into heavier shadow; and
then the school-master's dark figure faded into the tone of the sooty wall
behind him and only his face, with the contrast of its white linen collar
below and the bare discernible lights of his auburn hair above--his face,
proud, resolute, astounded, pallid, suffering--started out of the gloom like
a portrait from an old canvas.
"And this is why you never came to see me." He had sprung up like a man made
well, and was holding Peter's hand and looking reproachfully into his eyes.
"I'd have seen you dead first," cried Peter gaily, giving him a mighty slap
on the shoulder. "But wait! O'Bannon's not the only man who can play a
John hurriedly left the shop with a gesture which Peter did not understand.
The web of deceptive circumstances that had been spun about him had been
brushed away at last: he saw the whole truth now--saw his own blindness,
blundering, folly, injustice.
He was on his way to Amy already.
When he had started out, he had thought he should walk around a little and
then lie down again. Now with his powerful stride come back to him, he had
soon passed the last house of the town and was nearing the edge of the
wilderness. He took the same straight short course of the afternoon on which
he had asked Mrs. Falconer's consent to his suit. As he hurried on, it
seemed to him a long time since then! What experiences he had undergone!
What had he not suffered! How he was changed!
"Yes," he said over and over to himself, putting away all other thoughts in
a resolve to think of this nearest duty only. "If I've been unkind to her,
if I've been wrong, have I not suffered?"
He had not gone far before his strength began to fail. He was forced to sit
down and rest. It was near sundown when he reached the clearing.
"At last!" he said gratefully, with his old triumphant habit of carrying out
whatever he undertook. He had put out all his strength to get there.
He passed the nearest field--the peach trees--the garden--and took the path
toward the house.
"Where shall I find her?" he thought. "Where can I see her alone?"
"Between him and the house stood a building of logs and plaster. It was a
single room used for the spinning and the weaving of which she had charge.
Many a time he had lain on the great oaken chest into which the homespun
cloth was stored while she sat by her spinning-wheel; many a talk they had
had there together, many a parting; and many a Saturday twilight he had put
his arms around her there and turned away for his lonely walk to town,
planning their future. "If she should only be in the weaving-room!"
He stepped softly to the door and looked in. She was there-- standing near
the middle of the room with her face turned from him. The work of the day
was done. On one side were the spinning-wheels, farther on a loom; before
her a table on which the cloth was piled ready to be folded away; on the
other the great open chest into which she was about to store it. She had
paused in revery, her hands clasped behind her head.
At the sight of her and with the remembrance of how he had misjudged and
mistreated her--most of all swept on by some lingering flood of the old
tenderness--he stepped forward put his arms softly around her, drew her
closely to him, and buried his check against hers:
"Amy!" he murmured, his voice quivering his whole body trembling, his heart
knocking against his ribs like a stone.
She struggled out of his arms with a cry and recognizing him, drew her
figure up to its full height. Her eyes filled with passion, cold and
He made a gesture.
"Wait!" he cried. "Listen."
He laid bare everything--from his finding of the bundle to the evening of
He was standing by the doorway. A small window in the opposite wall of the
low room opened toward the West. Through this a crimson light fell upon his
face revealing its pallor, its storm, its struggle for calmness.
She stood a few yards off with her face in shadow. As she had stepped
backward, one of her hands had struck against her spinning-wheel and now
rested on it; with the other she had caught the edge of the table. From the
spinning-wheel a thread of flax trailed to the ground; on the table lay a
pair of iron shears.
As he stood looking at her facing him thus in cold half-shadowy anger--at
the spinning wheel with its trailing flax--at, the table with its iron
shears--at her hands stretched forth as if about to grasp the one and to lay