Part 3 out of 4
hold on the other--he shudderingly thought of the ancient arbitress of Life
and Death--Fate the mighty, the relentless. The fancy passed and was
succeeded by the sense of her youth and loveliness. She wore a dress of
coarse snow-white homespun, narrow in the skirt and fitting close to her
arms and neck and to the outlines of her form. Her hair was parted simply
over her low beautiful brow. There was nowhere a ribbon or a trifle of
adornment: and in that primitive, simple, fearless revelation of itself her
figure had the frankness of a statue. While he spoke the anger died out of
her face. But in its stead came something worse--hardness; and something
that was worse still--an expression of revenge.
"If I was unfeeling with you," he implored, "only consider! You had broken
your engagement without giving any reason; I saw you at the party dancing
with Joseph; I believed myself trifled with, I said that if you could treat
in that way there was nothing you could say that I cared to hear. I was
blind to the truth; I was blinded by suffering.
"If you suffered, it was your own fault," she replied, calm as the Fate that
holds the shears and the thread. "I wanted to explain to you why I broke my
engagement and why I went with Joseph: you refused to allow me."
"But before that! Remember that I had gone to see you the night before. You
had a chance to explain then. But you did not explain. Still, I did not
doubt that your reason was good. I did not ask you to state it. But when I
saw you at the party with Joseph, was I not right, in thinking that the time
for an explanation had passed?"
"No," she replied. "As long as I did not give any reason, you ought not to
have asked for one; but when I wished to give it, you should have been ready
to hear it."
He drew himself up quickly.
"This is a poor pitiful misunderstanding. I say, forgive me! We will let it
pass. I had thought each of us was wrong--you first, I, afterward."
"I was not wrong either first or last!"
"Think so if you must! Only, try to understand me! Amy, you know I've loved
you. You could never have acted toward me as you have, if you had not
believed that. And that night--the night you would not see me alone--I went
to ask you to marry me. I meant to ask you the next night. I am here to ask
you now! . . ."
He told her of the necessity that had kept him from speaking sooner, of the
recent change which made it possible. He explained how he had waited and
planned and had shaped his whole life with the thought that she would share
it. She had listened with greater interest especially to what he had said
about the improvement in his fortunes. Her head had dropped slightly forward
as though she were thinking that after all perhaps she had made a mistake.
But she now lifted it with deliberateness:
"And what right had you to be so sure all this time that I would marry you
whenever you asked me? What right had you to take it for granted that
whenever you were ready, I would be?"
The hot flush of shame dyed his face that she could deal herself such a
wound and not even know it.
He drew himself up again, sparing her:
"I loved you. I could not love without hoping. I could not hope without
planning. Hoping, planning, striving,--everything!--it was all because I
loved you!" And then he waited, looking down on her in silence.
She began to grow nervous. She had stooped to pick up the thread of flax and
was passing it slowly between her fingers. When he spoke again, his voice
showed that he shook like a man with a chill:
"I have said all I can say. I have offered all I have to offer. I am
Still the silence lasted for the new awe of him that began to fall upon her.
In ways she could not fathom she was beginning to feel that a change had
come over him during these weeks of their separation. He used more
gentleness with her: his voice, his manner, his whole bearing, had finer
courtesy; he had strangely ascended to some higher level of character, and
he spoke to her from this distance with a sadness that touched her
indefinably--with a larger manliness that had its quick effect. She covertly
lifted her eyes and beheld on his face a proud passion of beauty and of pain
beyond anything that she had ever thought possible to him or to any man. She
quickly dropped her head again; she shifted her position; a band seemed to
tighten around her throat; until, in a voice hardly to be heard, she
"I have promised to marry Joseph."
He did not speak or move, but continued to stand leaning against the lintel
of the doorway, looking down on her. The colour was fading from the west
leaving it ashen white. And so standing in the dying radiance, he saw the
long bright day of his young hope come to its close; he drained to its dregs
his cup of bitterness she had prepared for him; learned his first lesson in
the victory of little things over the larger purposes of life, over the
nobler planning; bit the dust of the heart's first defeat and tragedy.
She had caught up the iron shears in her nervousness and begun to cut the
flaxen thread; and in the silence of the room only the rusty click was now
heard as she clipped it, clipped it, clipped it.
Then such a greater trembling seized her that she laid the shears back upon
the table. Still he did not move or speak, and there seemed to fall upon her
conscience--in insupportable burden until, as if by no will of her own, she
spoke again pitifully:
"I didn't know that you cared so much for me. It isn't my fault. You had
never asked me, and he had already asked me twice."
He changed his position quickly so that the last light coming in through the
window could no longer betray his face. All at once his voice broke through
the darkness, so unlike itself that she started:
"When did you give him this promise? I have no right to ask . . . when did
you give him this promise?"
She answered as if by no will of her own:"The night of the ball--as we were
She waited until she felt that she should sink to the ground.
Then he spoke again as if rather to himself than to her, and with the
deepest sorrow and pity for them both:
"If I had gone with you that night--if I had gone with you that night--and
had asked you--you would have married me."
Her lips began to quiver and all that was in her to break down before
him--to yearn for him. In a voice neither could scarce hear she said:
"I will marry you yet!"
She listened. She waited, Out of the darkness she could distinguish not the
rustle of a movement, not a breath of sound; and at last cowering back into
herself with shame, she buried her face in her hands.
Then she was aware that he had come forward and was standing over her. He
bent his head down so close that his lids touched her hair--so close that
his warm breath was on her forehead--and she felt rather than knew him
saying to himself, not to her:
He passed like a tall spirit out of the door, and she heard his footsteps
die away along the path--die slowly away as of one who goes never to return.
A JEST may be the smallest pebble that was ever dropped into the sunny
mid-ocean of the mind; but sooner or later it sinks to a hard bottom, sooner
or later sends it ripples toward the shores where the caves of the fatal
passions yawn and roar for wreckage. It is the Comedy of speech that forever
dwells as Tragedy's fondest sister, sharing with her the same unmarked
domain; for the two are but identical forces of the mind in gentle and in
ungentle action as one atmosphere holds within itself unseparated the zephyr
and the storm.
The following afternoon O'Bannon was ambling back to town--slowly and
awkwardly, he being a poor rider and dreading a horse's back as he would
have avoided its kick. He was returning from the paper mill at Georgetown
whither he had been sent by Mr. Bradford with an order for a further supply
of sheets. The errand had not been a congenial one; and he was thinking now
as often before that he would welcome any chance of leaving the editor's
What he had always coveted since his coming into the wilderness was the
young master's school; for the Irish teacher, afterwards so well known a
figure in the West, was even at this time beginning to bend his mercurial
steps across the mountains. Out of his covetousness had sprung perhaps his
enmity toward the master, whom he further despised for his Scotch blood, and
in time had grown to dislike from motives of jealousy, and last of all to
hate for his simple purity. Many a man nurses a grudge of this kind against
his human brother and will take pains to punish him accordingly; for success
in virtue is as hard for certain natures to witness as success in anything
else will irritate those whose nerveless or impatient or ill-directed grasp
it has wisely eluded.
On all accounts therefore it had fallen well to his purpose to make the
schoolmaster the dupe of a disagreeable jest. The jest had had unexpectedly
serious consequences: it had brought about the complete discomfiture of John
in his love affair; it had caused the trouble behind the troubled face with
which he had looked out upon every one during his illness.
The two young men had never met since; but the one was under a cloud; the
other was refulgent with his petty triumph; and he had set his face all the
more toward any further aggressiveness that occasion should bring happily to
The mere road might have shamed him into manlier reflections. It was one of
the forest highways of the majestic bison opened ages before into what must
have been to them Nature's most gorgeous kingdom, her fairest, most magical
Babylon: with hanging gardens of verdure
everywhere swung from the tree-domes to the ground; with the earth one vast
rolling garden of softest verdure and crystal waters: an ancient Babylon of
the Western woods, most alluring and in the end most fatal to the luxurious,
wantoning wild creatures, which know no sin and are never found wanting.
This old forest street of theirs, so broad, so roomy, so arched with hoary
trees, so silent now and filled with the pity and pathos of their ruin--it
may not after all have been marked out by them. But ages before they had
ever led their sluggish armies eastward to the Mississippi and, crossing,
had shaken its bright drops from their shaggy low-hung necks on the eastern
bank--ages before this, while the sun of human history was yet silvering the
dawn of the world--before Job's sheep lay sick in the land of Uz-- before a
lion had lain down to dream in the jungle where Babylon was to arise and to
become a name,--this old, old, old high road may have been a footpath of the
awful mastodon, who had torn his terrible way through the tangled, twisted,
gnarled and rooted fastnesses of the wilderness as lightly as a wild young
Cyclone out of the South tears his way through the ribboned corn.
Ay, for ages the mastodon had trodden this dust. And, ay, for ages later the
bison. And, ay, for ages a people, over whose vanished towns and forts and
graves had grown the trees of a thousand years, holding in the mighty claws
of their roots the dust of those long, long secrets. And for centuries later
still along this path had crept or rushed or fled the Indians: now coming
from over the moon-loved, fragrant, passionate Southern mountains; now from
the sad frozen forests and steely marges of the Lakes: both eager for the
chase. For into this high road of the mastodon and the bison smaller
pathways entered from each side, as lesser watercourses run into a river:
the avenues of the round-horned elk, narrow, yet broad enough for the
tossing of his lordly antlers; the trails of the countless migrating
shuffling bear; the slender woodland alleys along which buck and doe and
fawn had sought the springs or crept tenderly from their breeding coverts or
fled like shadows in the race for life; the devious wolf-runs of the
maddened packs as they had sprung to the kill; the threadlike passages of
the stealthy fox; the tiny trickle of the squirrel, crossing, recrossing,
without number; and ever close beside all these, unseen, the grass-path or
the tree-path of the cougar.
Ay, both eager for the chase at first and then more eager for each other's
death for the sake of the whole chase: so that this immemorial game-trace
had become a war-path--a long dim forest street alive with the advance and
retreat of plume-bearing, vermilion-painted armies; and its rich black dust,
on which hereand there a few scars of sunlight now lay like stillest
thinnest yellow leaves, had been dyed from end to end with the red of the
And last of all into this ancient woodland street of war one day there had
stepped a strange new-comer--the Anglo-Saxon. Fairhaired, blue-eyed, always
a lover of Land and of Woman and therefore of Home; in whose blood beat the
conquest of many a wilderness before this--the wilderness of Britain, the
wilderness of Normandy, the wildernesses of the Black, of the Hercinian
forest, the wilderness of the frosted marshes of the Elbe and the Rhine and
of the North Sea's wildest wandering foam and fury.
Here white lover and red lover had metand fought: with the same high spirit
and overstrung will, scorn of danger, greed of pain; the same vehemence of
hatred and excess of revenge; the same ideal of a hero as a young man who
stands in the thick of carnage calm and unconscious of his wounds or rushes
gladly to any poetic beauty of death that is terrible and sublime. And
already the red lover was gone and the fair-haired lover stood the quiet
owner of the road, the last of all its long train of conquerors brute and
human--with his cabin near by, his wife smiling beside the spinning-wheel,
his baby crowing on the threshold.
History was thicker here than along the Appian Way and it might well have
stirred O'Bannon; but he rode shamblingly on, un-touched, unmindful. At
every bend his eye quickly swept along the stretch of road to the next turn;
for every man carried the eye of an eagle in his head in those days.
At one point he pulled his horse up violently. A large buckeye tree stood on
the roadside a hundred yards ahead. Its large thick leaves already full at
this season, drew around the trunk a seamless robe of darkest green. But a
single slight rent had been made on one side as though a bough bad been
lately broken off to form an aperture commanding a view of the road; and
through this aperture he could see something black within-as black as a
O'Bannon sent his horse forward in the slowest walk: it was unshod; the
stroke of its hoofs was muffled by the dust; and he had approached quite
close, remaining himself unobserved, before he recognized the school-master.
He was reclining against the trunk, his hat off, his eyes closed; in the
heavy shadows he looked white and sick and weak and troubled. Plainly he was
buried deep in his own thoughts. If he had broken off those low boughs in
order that he might obtain a view of the road, he had forgotten his own
purpose; if he had walked all the way out to this spot and was waiting, his
vigilance had grown lax, his aim slipped from him.
Perhaps before his eyes the historic vision of the road had risen: that
crowded pageant, brute and human, all whose red passions, burning rights and
burning wrongs, frenzied fightings and awful deaths had left but the
sun-scarred dust, the silence of the woods clothing itself in green. And
from this panoramic survey it may have come to him to feel the shortness of
the day of his own life, the pitifulness of its earthly contentions, and
above everything else the sadness of the necessity laid upon him to come
down to the level of the cougar and the wolf.
But as O'Bannon struck his horse and would have passed on, he sprang up
quickly enough and walked out into the middle of the road. When the horse's
head was near he quietly took hold of the reins and throwing his weight
slightly forward, brought it to a stop.
"Let go!" exclaimed O'Bannon, furious and threatening.
He did let go, and stepping backward three paces, he threw off his coat and
waistcoat and tossed them aside to the green bushes: the action was a
pathetic mark of his lifelong habit of economy in clothes: a coat must under
all circumstances be cared for. He tore off his neckcloth so that his high
shirt collar fell away from his neck, showing the purple scar of his wound;
and he girt his trousers in about his waist, as a laboring man will trim
himself for neat, quick, violent work. Then with a long stride he came round
to the side of the horse's head, laid his hand on its neck and looked
O'Bannon in the eyes:
"At first I thought I'd wait till you got back to town. I wanted to catch
you on the street or, in a tavern where others could witness. I'm sorry. I'm
ashamed I ever wished any man to see me lay my hand on you.
"Since you came out to Kentucky, have I ever crossed you? Thwarted you in
any plan or purpose? Wronged you in any act? Ill-used your name? By
anything I have thought or wished or done taken from the success of your
life or made success harder for you to win?
"But you had hardly come out here before you began to attack me and you have
never stopped. Out of all this earth's prosperity you have envied me my
little share: you have tried to take away my school. With your own good name
gone, you have wished to befoul mine. With no force of character to rise in
the world, you have sought to drag me down. When I have avoided a brawl with
you, preferring to live my life in peace with every man, you have said I was
a coward, you unmanly slanderer! When I have desired to live the best life
I could, you have turned even that against me. You lied and you know you
lied--blackguard! You have laughed at the blood in my veins--the sacred
blood of my mother--"
His words choked him. The Scotch blood, so slow to kindle like a mass of
cold anthracite, so terrible with heat to the last ashes, was burning in him
now with flameless fury.
"I passed it all over, I only asked to go on my way and have you go yours.
But now--" He seemed to realize in an instant everything that he had
suffered in consequence of O'Bannon's last interference in his affairs. He
ground his teeth together and shook his head from side to side like an
animal that had seized its prey.
"Get down!" he cried, throwing his head back. "I can't fight you as an equal
but I will give you one beating for the low dog you are."
O'Bannon had listened immovable. He now threw the reins down and started to
throw his leg over the saddle but resumed his seat. "Let go!" he shouted. "I
will not be held and ordered."
The school-master tightened his grasp on the reins.
"Get down! I don't trust you."
O'Bannon held a short heavy whip. He threw this into the air and caught it
by the little end.
The school-teacher sprang to seize it; but O'Bannon lifted it backward over
his shoulder, and then raising himself high in his stirrups, brought it
down. The master saw it coming and swerved so that it grazed his ear; but it
cut into the wound on his neck with a coarse, ugly, terrific blow and the
blood spurted. With a loud cry of agony and horror, he reeled and fell
backward dizzy and sick and nigh to fainting. The next moment in the deadly
silence of a wild beast attacking to kill, he was on his feet, seized the
whip before it could fall again, flung it away, caught O'Bannon's arm and
planting his foot against the horse's shoulder, threw his whole weight
backward. The saddle turned, the horse sprang aside, and he fell again,
pulling O'Bannon heavily down on him.
There in the blood-dyed dust of the old woodland street, where bison and
elk, stag and lynx, wolf and cougar and bear had gored or torn each other
during the centuries before; there on the same level, glutting their
passion, their hatred, their revenge, the men fought out their strength--the
strength of that King of Beasts whose den is where it should be: in a man's
A few afternoons after this a group of rough young fellows were gathered at
Peter's shop. The talk had turned to the subject of the fight: and every one
had thrown his gibe at O'Bannon, who had taken it with equal good nature.
>From this they had chaffed him on his fondness for a practical joke and his
awkward riding; and out of this, he now being angry, grew a bet with Horatio
Turpin that he could ride the latter's filly, standing hitched to the fence
of the shop. He was to ride it three times around the enclosure, and touch
it once each time in the flank with the spur which the young horseman took
from his heel.
At the first prick of it, the high-spirited mettlesome animal, scarcely
broken, reared and sprang forward, all but unseating him. He dropped the
reins and instinctively caught its mane, at the same time pressing his legs
more closely in against the animal's sides, thus driving the spur deeper.
They shouted to him to lie down, to fall off, as they saw the awful danger
ahead; for the maddened filly, having run wildly around the enclosure
several times, turned and rushed straight toward the low open doors of the
smithy and the pasture beyond. But he would not release his clutch; and with
his body bent a little forward, he received the
blow of the projecting shingles full on his head as the mare shot from under
him into the shop, scraping him off.
They ran to him and lifted him out of the sooty dust and laid him on the
soft green grass. But of consciousness there was never to be more for him:
his jest had reached its end.
IT was early summer now.
In the depths of the greening woods the school-master lay reading:
"And thus it passed on from Candlemass until after Easter that the month of
May was come, when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom and to bring forth
fruit; for like as herbs and trees bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in
likewise, every lusty heart that is any manner a lover springeth and
flourisheth in lusty deeds. For it giveth unto all lovers courage--that
lusty month of May--in something to constrain him to some manner of thing
more in that month than in any other month. For diverse causes: For then all
herbs and trees renew a man and woman; and, in likewise, lovers call again
to their mind old gentleness and old service and many kind deeds that were
forgotten by negligence. For like as winter rasure doth always erase and
deface green summer, so fareth it by unstable love in man and woman. For in
many persons there is no stability;...for a little blast of winter's rasure,
anon we shall deface and lay apart true love (for little or naught), that
cost so much. This is no wisdom nor stability, but it is feebleness of
nature and great disworship whomever useth this. Therefore like as May month
flowereth and flourisheth in many gardens, so in likewise let every man of
worship flourish his heart in this world: first unto God, and next unto the
joy of them that he promised his faith unto; for there was never worshipful
man nor worshipful woman but they loved one better than the other. And
worship in arms may never be foiled; but first reserve the honour to God,
and secondly the quarrel must come of thy lady; and such love I call
virtuous love. But nowsdays men cannot love seven nights but they must have
all their desires... Right so fareth love nowadays, soon hot, soon cold:
this is no stability. But the old love was not so. Men and women could love
together seven years...and then was love truth and faithfulness. And lo! In
likewise was used love in King Arthur's days. Wherefore I liken love
nowadays unto summer and winter; for like the one is hot and the other cold,
so fareth love nowadays.".......
He laid the book aside upon the grass, sat up, and mournfully looked about
him. Effort was usually needed to withdraw his mind from those low-down
shadowy centuries over into which of late by means of the book, as by means
of a bridge spanning a known and an unknown land, he had crossed, and
wonder-stricken had wandered; but these words brought him swiftly home to
the country of his own sorrow.
Unstable love! feebleness of nature! one blast of a cutting winter wind and
lo! green summer defaced: the very phrases seemed shaped by living lips
close to the ear of his experience. It was in this spot a few weeks ago
that he had planned his future with Amy: these were the acres he would buy;
on this hill-top he would build; here, home-sheltered, wife-anchored, the
warfare of his flesh and spirit ended, he could begin to put forth all his
strength upon the living of his life.
Had any frost ever killed the bud of nature's hope more unexpectedly than
this landscape now lay blackened before him? And had any summer ever cost
so much? What could strike a man as a more mortal wound than to lose the
woman he had loved and in losing her see her lose her loveliness?
As the end of it all, he now found himself sitting on the blasted rock of
his dreams in the depths of the greening woods. He was well again by this
time and conscious of that retightened grasp upon health and redder stir of
life with which the great Mother-nurse, if she but dearly love a man, will
tend him and mend him and set him on his feet again from a bed of wounds or
sickness. It had happened to him also that with this reflushing of his blood
there had reached him the voice of Summer advancing northward to all things
and making all things common in their awakening and their aim.
He knew of old the pipe of this imperious Shepherd; sounding along the inner
vales of his being; herding him toward universal fellowship with seeding
grass and breeding herb and every heart-holding creature of the woods. He
perfectly recognized the sway of the thrilling pipe; he perfectly realized
the joy of the jubilant fellowship. And it was with eyes the more mournful
therefore that he gazed in purity about him at the universal miracle of old
life passing into new life, at the divinely appointed and divinely fulfilled
succession of forms, at the unrent mantle of the generations being visibly
woven around him under the golden goads of the sun. " ...for like as herbs
bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in likewise, every heart that is in
any manner a lover spingeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds." . . . But all
this must come, must spend itself, must pass him by, as a flaming pageant
dies away from a beholder who is forbidden to kindle his own torch and claim
his share of its innocent revels. He too had laid his plans to celebrate his
marriage at the full tide of the Earth's joy, and these plans had failed
But while the school-master thus was gloomily contemplating the end of his
relationship with Amy and her final removal from the future of his life, in
reality another and larger trouble was looming close ahead.
A second landscape had begun to beckon not like his poor little frost-killed
field, not of the earth at all, but lifted unattainable into the air, faint,
clear, elusive--the marriage of another woman. And how different she! He
felt sure that no winter's rasure would ever reach that land; no
instability, no feebleness of nature awaited him there; the loveliness of
its summer, now brooding at flood, would brood unharmed upon it to the
He buried his face guiltily in his hands as he tried to shut out the
remembrance of how persistently of late, whithersoever he had turned, this
second image had reappeared before him, growing always clearer, drawing
always nearer, summoning him more luringly. Already he had begun to know the
sensations of a traveller who is crossing sands with a parched tongue and a
weary foot, crossing toward a country that he will never reach, but that he
will stagger toward as long as he has strength to stand.
During the past several days--following his last interview with Amy--he had
realized for the first time how long and how plainly the figure of Mrs.
Falconer had been standing before him and upon how much loftier a level.
Many a time of old, while visiting the house, he had grown tired of Amy; but
he had never felt wearied by her. For Amy he was always making apologies to
his own conscience; she needed none. He had secretly hoped that in time Amy
would become more what he wished his wife to be; it would have pained him to
think of her as altered. Often he had left Amy's company with a grateful
sense of regaining the larger liberty of his own mind; by her he always felt
guided to his better self, he carried away her ideas with the hope of making
them his ideas, he was set on fire with a spiritual passion to do his utmost
in the higher strife of the world.
For this he had long paid her the guiltless tribute of his reverence and
affection. And between his reverence and affection and all the forbidden
that lay beyond rose a barrier which not even his imagination had ever
consciously overleaped. Now the forbidding barrier had disappeared, and in
its place had appeared the forbidden bond--he knew not how or when. How
could he? Love, the Scarlet Spider, will in a night hang between two that
have been apart a web too fine for either to see; but the strength of both
will never avail to break it.
Very curiously it had befallen him furthermore that just at the time when
all these changes were taking place around him and within him, she had
brought him the book that she had pressed with emphasis upon his attention.
In the backwoods settlements of Pennsylvania where his maternal Scotch-Irish
ancestors had settled and his own life been spent, very few volumes had
fallen into his hands. After coming to Kentucky not many more until of late:
so that of the world's history he was still a stinted and hungry student.
When,therefore, she had given him Malory's "LeMorte D'Arthur," it was the
first time that the ideals of chivalry had ever flashed their glorious light
upon him; for the first time the models of Christian manhood, on which
western Europe nourished itself for centuries, displayed themselves to his
imagination with the charm of story; he heard of Camelot, of the king, of
that company of men who strove with each other in arms, but strove also with
each other in grace of life and for the immortal mysteries of the spirit.
She had said that he should have read this book long before but that
henceforth he would always need it even more than in his past: that here
were some things he had looked for in the world and had never found;
characters such as he had always wished to grapple to himself as his abiding
comrades: that if he would love the best that it loved, hate what it hated,
scorn what it scorned, it would help him in the pursuit of his own ideals to
Of this and more he felt at once the truth, since of all earthly books known
to him this contained the most heavenly revelation of what a man may be in
manliness, in gentleness, and in goodness. And as he read the nobler
portions of the book, the nobler parts of his nature gave out their
Hungrily he hurried to and fro across the harvest of those fertile pages,
gathering of the white wheat of the spirit many a lustrous sheaf: the love
of courage, the love of courtesy, the love of honour, the love of high aims
and great actions, the love of the poor and the helpless, the love of a
spotless name and a spotless life, the love of kindred, the love of
friendship, the love of humility of spirit, the love of forgiveness, the
love of beauty, the love of love, the love of God. Surely, he said to
himself, within the band of these virtues lay not only a man's noblest life,
but the noblest life of the world.
While fondling these, he failed not to notice how the great book, as though
it were a living mouth, spat its deathless scorn upon the things that he
also--in the imperfect measure of his powers--had always hated: all
cowardice of mind or body, all lying, all oppression, all unfaithfulness,
all secret revenge and hypocrisy and double-dealing: the smut of the heart
But ah! the other things besides these.
Sown among the white wheat of the spirit were the red tares of the flesh;
and as he strode back and forth through the harvest, he found himself
plucking these also with feverish vehemence. There were things here that he
had never seen in print: words that he had never even named to his secret
consciousness; thoughts and desires that he had put away from his soul with
many a struggle, many a prayer; stories of a kind that he had always
declined to hear when told in companies of men: all here, spelled out,
barefaced, without apology, without shame: the deposits of those old, old
moral voices and standards long since buried deep under the ever rising
level of the world's whitening holiness.
With utter guilt and shame he did not leave off till he had plucked the last
red tare; and having plucked them, he had hugged the whole inflaming bundle
against his blood--his blood now flushed with youth, flushed with health,
flushed with summer.
And finally, in the midst of all these things, perhaps coloured by them,
there had come to him the first great awakening of his life in a love that
He upbraided himself the more bitterly for the influence of the book because
it was she who had placed both the good and the evil in his hand with
perfect confidence that he would lay hold on the one and remain unsoiled by
the other. She had remained spirit-proof herself against the influences that
tormented him; out of her own purity she had judged him. And yet, on the
other hand, with that terrible candour of mind which he used either for or
against himself as rigidly as for or against another person, he pleaded in
his own behalf that she had made a mistake in overestimating his strength,
in underestimating his temptations. How should she know that for years his
warfare had gone on direfully? How realize that almost daily he had stood as
at the dividing of two roads: the hard, narrow path ascending to the bleak
white peaks of the spirit; the broad, sweet, downward vistas of the flesh?
How foresee, therefore, that the book would only help to rend him in twain
with a mightier passion for each?
He had been back at the school a week now. He had never dared go to see her.
Confront that luminous face with his darkened one? Deal such a soul the
wound of such dishonour? He knew very well that the slightest word or glance
of self-betrayal would bring on the immediate severance of her relationship
with him: her wifehood might be her martyrdom, but it was martyrdom
inviolate. And yet he felt that if he were once with her, he could not be
responsible for the consequences: he could foresee no degree of self-control
that would keep him from telling her that he loved her. He had been afraid
But ah, how her image drew him day and night, day and night! Slipping
between him and every other being, every other desire. Her voice kept
calling to him to come to her--a voice new, irresistible, that seemed to
issue from the deeps of Summer, from the deeps of Life, from the deeps of
Love, with its almighty justification.
This was his first Saturday. To-day he had not even the school as a post of
duty, to which he might lash himself for safety. He had gone away from town
in an opposite direction from her home, burying himself alone in the forest.
But between him and that summoning voice he could put no distance. It sang
out afresh to him from the inviting silence of the woods as well as from its
innumerable voices. It sang to him reproachfully from the pages of the old
book: "In the lusty month of May lovers call again to their mind old
gentleness and old service and many deeds that were forgotten by
negligence:" he had never even gone to thank her for all her kindness to him
during his illness!
Still he held out, wrestling with himself. At last Love itself, the
deceiver, snaringly pleaded that she alone could cure him of all this folly.
It had grown up wholly during his absence from her, no doubt by reason of
this. Many a time before be had gone to her about other troubles, and always
he had found her carrying that steady light of right-mindedness which had
scatteredhis darkness and revealed his better pathway.
He sprang up and set off sternly through the woods. Goaded by love, he
fancied that the presence of the forbidden woman would restore him to his
old, blameless friendship.
SHE was at work in the garden: he had long ago noted that she never idled.
He approached the fence and leaned on it as when they had last talked
together; but his big Jacobin hat was pulled down over his eyes now. He was
afraid of his own voice, afraid of the sound of his knuckles, so that when
at last he had rapped on the fence, he hoped that she had not heard, so that
he could go away.
"Knock louder," she called out from under her bonnet. "I'm not sure that I
How sunny her voice was, how pure and sweet and remote from any suspicion of
hovering harm! It unshackled him as from a dreadful nightmare.
He broke into his old laugh--the first time since he had stood there
before--and frankly took off his hat.
"How did you know who it was? You saw me coming!"
"Did I? I don't like to contradict a stranger."
"Am I a stranger?"
"What makes a stranger? How long has it been since you were here?"
"A lifetime," he replied gravely.
"You are still living! Will you walk into my parlour?"
"Will you meet me at the door?"
It was so pleasant to seem gay, to say nothing, be nothing! She came
quietly over to the fence and gave him her hand with a little laugh."
"You have holiday of Saturdays. I have not, you see. But I can take a
recess: come in. You are looking well! Wounds agree with you."
He went trembling round to the gate, passed in, and they sat down on the
"How things grow in this soil," she said pointing to the garden. "It has
only been five or six weeks since you were here. Do you remember? I was
planting the seed: now look at the plants!"
"I, too, was sowing that afternoon," he replied musingly. "But my harvest
ripened before yours; I have already reaped it."
"What's that you are saying about me?" called out a hard, smooth voice from
over the fence at their back. "I don't like to miss anything!"
Amy had a piece of sewing, which she proceeded to spread upon the fence.
"Will you show me about this, Aunt Jessica?"
She greeted John without embarrassment or discernible remembrance of their
last meeting. Her fine blond hair was frowsy and a button was missing at the
throat of her dress. (Some women begin to let themselves go after marriage;
some after the promise of marriage.) There were cake-crumbs also in one
corner of her mouth.
"These are some of my wedding clothes," she said to him prettily. "Aren't
Mrs. Falconer drew her attention for a moment and they began to measure the
cloth over the back of her finger, counting the lengths under her breath.
Amy took a pin from the bosom of her dress and picked between her pearly
"Aunt Jessica," she suddenly inquired with mischievous look at John, "before
you were engaged to uncle, was there any one else you liked better?"
With a terrible inward start, he shot a covert glance at her and dropped his
eyes. Mrs. Falconer's answer was playful and serene.
"It has been a long time; it's hard to remember. But I've heard of such
There was something in the reply that surprised Amy and she peeped under
Mrs. Falconer's bonnet to see what was going on. She had learned that a
great deal went on under that bonnet.
"Well, after you were engaged to him, was there anybody else?"
"I don't think I remember. But I've known of such cases."
Amy peeped again, and the better to see for herself hereafter, coolly lifted
the bonnet off. "Well, after you were married to him," she said, "was there
anybody else? I've known of such cases," she added, with a dry imitation of
"You have made me forget my lengths," said Mrs. Falconer with unruffled
innocence. "I'll have to measure again."
Amy turned to John with sparkling eyes.
"Did you ever know a man who was in love with a married woman?"
"Yes," said John, secretly writhing, but too truthful to say "no."
"What did he do about it?" asked Amy.
"I don't know," replied John, shortly.
"What do you think he ought to have done? What would you do?" asked Amy.
"I don't know," replied John, more coolly, turning away his confused face.
Neither of you seems to know anything this afternoon," observed Amy, "and
I'd always been led to suppose that each of you knew everything."
As she departed with her sewing, she turned to send a final arrow, with some
"I think I'll send for uncle to come and talk tome."
"Stay and talk to us," Mrs. Falconer called to her with a sincere, pitying
laugh. "Come back!"
Amy's questions had passed high over her head like a little flock of
chattering birds they had struck him low, like bullets.
"Go on," she said quietly, when they were seated again, "what was it about
He could not reply at once; and she let him sit in silence, looking across
the garden while she took up her knitting from the end of the bench, and
leaning lightly toward him, measured a few rows of stitches across his
wrist. It gave way under her touch.
"These are your mittens for next winter," she said softly, more softly than
he had ever heard her speak. And the quieting melody of her mere tone!--how
unlike that other voice which bored joyously into you as a bright gimlet
twists its unfeeling head into wood. He turned on her one quick, beautiful
look of gratitude.
"What was it about the harvest?" she repeated, forbearing to return his
look, and thinking that all his embarrassment followed from the pain of
having thus met Amy.
He began to speak very slowly:
"The last time I was here I boasted that I had yet to meet my first great
defeat in life . . . that there was nothing stronger in the world than a
man's will and purpose . . . that if ideals got shattered, we shattered them
. . . that I would go on doing with my life as I had planned, be what I
wished, have what I wanted."
"Well?" she urged, busy with her needles.
"I know better now."
"Aren't you the better for knowing better?"
He made no reply; so that she began to say very simply and as a matter of
"It's the defeat more than anything else that hurts you! Defeat is always
the hardest thing for you to stand, even in trifles. But don't you know that
we have to be defeated in order to succeed? Most of us spend half our lives
in fighting for things that would only destroy us if we got them. A man who
has never been defeated is usually a man who has been ruined. And, of
course," she added with light raillery, "of course there are things stronger
than the strongest will and purpose: the sum of other men's wills and
purposes, for instance. A single soldier may have all the will and purpose
to whip an army, but he doesn't do it. And a man may have all the will and
purpose to whip the world, walk over it rough-shod, shoulder it out of his
way as you'd like to do, but he doesn't do it. And of course we do not
shatter our ideals ourselves--always: a thousand things outside ourselves do
that for us. And what reason had you to say that you would have what you
wanted? Your wishes are not infallible. Suppose you craved the forbidden?"
She looked over at him archly, but he jerked his face farther away. Then he
spoke out with the impulse to get away from her question:
"I could stand to be worsted by great things. But the little ones, the low,
the coarse, the trivial! Ever since I was here last--beginning that very
night--I have been struggling like a beast with his foot in a trap. I don't
mean Amy!" he cried apologetically.
"I'm glad you've discovered there are little things," she replied. "I had
feared you might never find that out. I'm not sure yet that you have. One of
your great troubles is that everything in life looks too large to you, too
serious, too important. You fight the gnats of the world as you fought your
panther. With you everything is a mortal combat. You run every butterfly
down and break it on an iron wheel; after you have broken it, it doesn't
matter: everything is as it was before, except that you have lost time and
strength. The only things that need trouble us very much are not the things
it is right to conquer, but the things it is wrong to conquer. If you ever
conquer in yourself anything that is right, that will be a real trouble for
you as long as you live--and for me!"
He turned quickly and sat facing her, the muscles of his face moving
convulsively. She did not look at him, but went on:
"The last time you were here, you told me that I did not appreciate Amy;
that I could not do her justice; but that no woman could ever understand why
a man loved any other woman."
"Did I say that?" he muttered remorsefully.
"It was because you did not appreciate he--it was because you would never be
able to do her justice--that I was so opposed to the marriage. And this was
largely a question of little things. I knew perfectly well that as soon as
you married Amy, you would begin to expect her to act as though she were
made of iron: so many pieces, so many wheels, so many cogs, so many
revolutions. All the inevitable little things that make up the most of her
life--that make up so large a part of every woman's life--the little moods,
the little play, little changes, little tempers and inconsistencies and
contradictions and falsities and hypocrisies which come every morning and go
every night,--all these would soon have been to you--oh! I'm afraid they'd
have been as big as a herd of buffalo! There would have been a bull fight
for every foible."
She laughed out merrily, but she did not look at him.
"Yes," she continued, trying to drain his cup for him, since he would not do
it himself, "you are the last man in the world to do a woman like Amy
justice. I'm afraid you will never do justice to any woman, unless you
change a good deal and learn a good deal. Perhaps no woman will ever
understand you--except me."
She looked up at him now with the clearest fondness in her exquisite eyes.
With a groan he suddenly leaned over and buried his face in his hands. His
hat fell over on the grass. Her knitting dropped to her lap, and one of her
hands went out quickly toward his big head, heavy with its shaggy reddish
mass of hair, which had grown long during his sickness. But at the first
touch she quickly withdrew it, and stooping over picked up his hat and put
it on her knees, and sat beside him silent and motionless.
He straightened himself up a moment later, and keeping his face turned away
reached for his hat and drew it down over his eyes.
"I can't tell you! You don't understand!" he said in a broken voice.
"I understand everything. Amy has told me-poor little Amy! She is not wholly
to blame. I blame you more. You may have been in love with your idea of her,
but anything like that idea she never has been and never will be; and who is
responsible for your idea, then, but yourself? It is a mistake that many a
man makes; and when the woman disappoints him, he blames her, and deserts
her or makes her life a torment. Of course a woman may make the same
mistake; but, as a rule, women are better judges of men than men are of
women. Besides, if they find themselves mistaken, they bear their
disappointment better and show it less: they alone know their tragedy; it is
the unperceived that kills."
The first tears that he had ever seen gathered and dimmed her eyes. She was
too proud either to acknowledge them or to hide them. Her lids fell quickly
to curtain them in, and the lashes received them in their long, thick
fringes. But she had suffered herself to go too far.
"Ah, if you had loved her! loved her!" she cried with an intensity of
passion, a weary, immeasurable yearning, that seemed to come from a life in
death. The strength of that cry struck him as a rushing wind strikes a young
eagle on the breast, lifting him from his rock and setting him afloat on the
billows of a rising storm. His spirit mounted the spirit of her unmated
confession, rode it as its master, exulted in it as his element and his
home. But the stricken man remained motionless on the bench a few feet from
the woman, looking straight across the garden, with his hands clinched about
his knees, his hat hiding his eyes, his jaws set sternly with the last grip
It was some time before either spoke. Then her voice was very quiet.
"You found out your mistake in time; suppose it had been too late? But this
is all so sad; we will never speak of it again. Only you ought to feel that
from this time you can go on with the plans of your life uninterrupted.
Begin with all this as small defeat that means a larger victory! There is no
entanglement now, not a drawback; what a future! It does look as though you
might now have everything that you set your heart on."
She glanced up at him with a mournful smile, and taking the knitting which
had lain forgotten in her lap leaned over again and measured the stitches
upon his wrist.
"When do you start?" she asked, seeing a terrible trouble gathering in his
face and resolved to draw his thoughts to other things.
The knitting fell again.
"And you have allowed all this time to go by without coming to see us! You
are to come everyday till you go: promise!"
He had been repeating that he would not trust himself to come at all again,
except to say good-bye.
"I can't promise that."
"But we want you so much! The major wants you, I want you more than the
major. Why should meeting Amy be so hard? Remember how long it will be
before you get back. When will you be back?"
He was thinking it were better never.
"It is uncertain," he said.
"I shall begin to look for you as soon as you are gone. I can hear your
horse's feet now, rustling in the leaves of October. But what will become of
me till then? Ah, you don't begin to realize how much you are to me!"
He stretched his arms out into vacancy and folded them again quickly.
"I'd better go."
He stood up and walked several paces into the garden, where he feigned to be
looking at the work she had left. Was he to break down now? Was the strength
which he had relied on in so many temptations to fail him now, when his need
In a few minutes he wheeled round to the bench and stopped full before her,
no longer avoiding her eyes. She had taken up the book which he had laid on
his end of the seat and was turning the pages.
"Have you read it?"
"Over and over."
"Ah! I knew I could trust you! You never disappoint. Sit down a little
"And haven't you a word? Bring this book back to me in silence? After all I
said to you? I want to know how you feel about it--all your thoughts."
She looked up at him with a reproachful smile--
The blood had rushed guiltily into his face, and she seeing this, without
knowing what it meant, the blood rushed into hers.
"I don't understand," she said proudly and coldly, dropping her eyes and
dropping her head a little forward before him, and soon becoming very pale,
as from a death-wound.
He stood before her, trembling, trying to speak, trying not to speak. Then
he turned and strode rapidly away.
THE next morning the parson was standing before his scant congregation of
It was the first body of these worshippers gathered together in the
wilderness mainly from the seaboard aristocracy of the Church of England. A
small frame building on the northern slope of the wide valley served them
for a meeting-house. No mystical half-lights there but the mystical
half-lights of Faith; no windows but the many-hued windows of Hope; no
arches but the vault of Love. What more did those men and women need in that
land, over-shadowed always by the horror of quick or
In addition to his meagre flock many an unclaimed goat of the world fell
into that meek valley-path of Sunday mornings and came to hear, if not to
heed, the voice of this quiet shepherd; so that now, as be stood delivering
his final exhortation, his eyes ranged over wild, lawless, desperate
countenances, rimming him darkly around. They glowered in at him through the
door, where some sat upon the steps; others leaned in at the windows on each
side of the room. Over the closely packed rough heads of these he could see
others lounging further away on the grass beside their rifles, listening,
laughing and talking. Beyond these stretched near fields green with maize,
and cabins embosomed in orchards and gardens. Once a far-off band of
children rushed across his field of vision, playing at Indian warfare and
leaving in the bright air a cloud of dust from an old Indian war trail.
As he observed it all--this singularly mixed concourse of God-fearing men
and women and of men and women who feared neither God nor man nor devil--as
he beheld the young fields and the young children and the sweet transition
of the whole land from bloodshed to innocence, the recollection of his
mission in it and of the message of his Master brough out upon his cold,
bleak, beautiful face the light of the Divine: so from a dark valley one may
sometime have seen a snow-clad peak of the Alps lit up with the rays of the
He had chosen for his text the words "My peace I give unto you," and long
before the closing sentences were reached, his voice was floating out with
silvery, flute-like clearness on the still air of the summer morning,
holding every soul, however unreclaimed, to intense and reverential silence:
"It is now twenty years since you scaled the mountains and hewed your path
into this wilderness, never again to leave it. Since then you have known but
war. As I look into your faces, I see the scar of many a wound; but more
than the wounds I see are the wounds I do not see: of the body as well as of
the spirit--the lacerations of sorrow, the strokes of bereavement. So that
perhaps not one of you here but bears some brave visible or invisible sin of
this awful past and of his share in the common strife. Twenty years are a
long time to fight enemies of any kind, a long time to bold out against such
as you have faced; and had you not been a mighty people sprung from the
loins of a mighty race, no one of you would be here this day to worship the
God of your fathers in the faith of your fathers. The victory upon which you
are entering at last is never the reward of the feeble, the cowardly, the
faint-hearted. Out of your strength alone you have won your peace.
"But, O my brethren, while your land is now at peace, are you at peace? In
the name of my Master, look each of you into his heart and answer: Is it not
still a wilderness? full of the wild beasts of the appetites? the favourite
hunting-ground of the passions? And is each of you, tried and faithful and
fearless soldier that he may be on every other field, is each of you doing
anything to conquer this?"
"My cry to-day then is the war-cry of the spirit. Subdue the wilderness
within you! Step by step, little by little, as you have fought your way
across this land from the Eastern mountains to the Western river, driven out
every enemy and now hold it as your own, begin likewise to take possession
of the other until in the end you may rule it also. If you are feeble; if
fainthearted; if you do not bring into your lonely, silent, unwitnessed
battles every virtue that you have relied on in this outward warfare of
twenty years, you may never hope to come forth conquerors. By your strength,
your courage, patience, watchfulness, constancy,--by the in-most will and
beholden face of victory you are to overmaster the evil within yourselves as
you have overmastered the peril in Kentucky."
"Then in truth you may dwell in green and tranquil pastures, where the will
of God broods like summer light. Then you may come to realize the meaning of
this promise of our Lord, 'My peace I give unto you': it is the gift of His
peace to those alone who have learned to hold in quietness their land of the
White, cold, aflame with holiness, he stood before them; and every beholder,
awe-stricken by the vision of that face, of a surety was thinking that this
man's life was behind his speech: whether in ease or agony, he had found for
his nature that victory of rest that was never to be taken from him.
But even as he stood thus, the white splendour faded from his countenance,
leaving it shadowed with care. In one corner of the room, against the wall,
shielding his face from the light of the window with his big black hat and
the palm of his hand, sat the school-master. He was violently flushed, his
eyes swollen and cloudy, his hair tossed, his linen rumpled, his posture
bespeaking wretchedness and self-abandonment. Always in preaching the
parson had looked for the face of his friend; always it had been his
mainstay, interpreter, steadfast advocate in every plea for perfection of
life. But to-day it had been kept concealed from him; nor until he had
reached his closing exhortation, had the school-master once looked him in
the eye, and he had done so then in a most remarkable manner: snatching the
hat from before his face, straightening his big body up, and transfixing him
with an expression of such resentment and reproach, that among all the wild
faces before him, he could see none to match this one for disordered and
evil passion. If he could have harboured a conviction so monstrous, he would
have said that his words had pierced the owner of that face like a spear and
that he was writhing under the torture.
As soon as he had pronounced the benediction he looked toward the corner
again, but the school-master had already left the room. Usually he waited
until the others were gone and the two men walked homeward together,
discussing the sermon.
To-day the others slowly scattered, and the parson sat alone at the tipper
end of the room disappointed and troubled.
John strode up to the door.
"Are you ready?" he asked in a curt unnatural voice.
"Ah!" The parson sprang up gladly. "I was hoping you'd come!"
They started slowly off along the path, John walking unconsciously in it,
the parson stumbling along through the grass and weeds on one side. It had
been John's unvarying wont to yield the path to him.
"It is easy to preach," he muttered with gloomy, sarcastic emphasis.
"If you tried it once, you might think it easier to practise," retorted the
"It might be easier to one who is not tempted."
"It might be easier to one who is. No man is tempted beyond his strength,
but a sermon is often beyond his powers. I let you know, young man, that a
homily may come harder than a virtue."
"How can you stand up and preach as you've been preaching, and then come out
of the church and laugh about it!" cried John angrily.
"I'm not laughing about what I preached on," replied the parson with
"You are in high spirits! You are gay! You are full of levity!"
"I am full of gladness. I am happy: is that a sin?"
John wheeled on him, stopping short, and pointing back to the church:
"Suppose there'd been a man in that room who was trying to some
temptation--more terrible than you've ever known anything about. You'd made
him feel that you were speaking straight at him -bidding him do right where
it was so much easier to do wrong. You had helped him; he had waited to see
you alone, hoping to get more help. Then suppose he had found you as you are
now--full of your gladness! He wouldn't have believed in you! He'd have been
"If he'd been the right kind of man," replied the parson, quickly facing an
arraignment had the rancour of denunciation, "he ought to have been more
benefited by the sight of a glad man than the sound of a sad sermon. He'd
have found in me a man who practises what he preaches: I have conquered my
wilderness. But, I think," he added more gravely, "that if any such soul had
come to me in his trouble, I could have helped him: if he had let me know
what it was, he would have found that I could understand, could sympathize.
Still, I don't see why you should condemn my conduct by the test of
imaginary cases. I suppose I'm happy now because I'm glad to be with you,"
and the parson looked the school-master a little reproachfully in the eyes.
"And do you think I have no troubles?" said John, his lips trembling. He
turned away and the parson walked beside him.
"You have two troubles to my certain knowledge," said he in the tone of one
bringing forward a piece of critical analysis that was rather mortifying to
exhibit. "The one is a woman and the other is John Calvin. If it's Amy,
throw it off and be a man. If it's Calvinism, throw it off and become an
Episcopalian." He laughed out despite himself.
"Did you ever love a woman?" asked John gruffly.
"Many a one--in the state of the first Adam!"
"That's the reason you threw it off: many a one!"
"Don't you know," inquired the parson with an air of exegetical candour,
"that no man can be miserable because some woman or other has flirted his
friend? That's the one trouble that every man laughs at--when it happens in
his neighbourhood, not in his own house!"
The school-master made no reply.
"Or if it is Calvin," continued the parson, "thank God, I can now laugh at
him, and so should you! Answer me one question: during the sermon, weren't
you thinking of the case of a man born in a wilderness of temptations that
he is foreordained never to conquer, and then foreordained to eternal
damnation because he didn't conquer it?"
"Well, you'd better've been thinking about it! For that's what you believe.
And that's what makes life so hard and bitter and gloomy to you. I know! I
carried Calvinism around within me once: it was like an uncorked ink-bottle
in a rolling snowball: the farther you go, the blacker you get! Admit it
now," he continued in his highest key of rarefied persistency, "admit that
you were mourning over the babies in your school that will have to go to
hell! You'd better be getting some of your own: the Lord will take care of
other people's! Go to see Mrs. Falconer! See all you can of her. There's a
woman to bring you around!"
They had reached the little bridge over the clear, swift Elkhorn. Their
paths diverged. John stopped at his companion's last words, and stood
looking at him with some pity.
"I thank you for your sermon," he said huskily; "I hope to get some help
from that. But you!--you are making things harder for me every word you
utter. You don't understand and I can't tell you."
He took the parson's cool delicate hand in his big hot one.
Alone in the glow of the golden dusk of that day he was sitting outside his
cabin on the brow of the hill, overlooking the town in the valley. How
peaceful it lay in the Sunday evening light! The burden of the parson's
sermon weighed more heavily than ever on his spirit. He had but to turn his
eye down the valley and there, flashing in the sheen of sunset, flowed the
great spring, around the margin of which the first group of Western hunters
had camped for the night and given the place its name from one of the
battle-fields of the Revolution; up the valley he could see the roof under
which the Virginia aristocracy of the Church of England had consecrated
their first poor shrine. What history lay between the finding of that spring
and the building of that altar! Not the winning of the wilderness simply;
not alone its peace. That westward penetrating wedge of iron-browed,
iron-muscled, iron-hearted men, who were now beginning to be known as the
Kentuckians, had not only cleft a road for themselves; they had opened a
fresh highway for the tread of the nation and found a vaster heaven for the
Star of Empire. Already this youthful gigantic West was beginning to make
its voice heard from Quebec to New Orleans while beyond the sea the three
greatest kingdoms of Europe had grave and troubled thoughts of the
on-rushing power it foretokened and the unimaginably splendid future for the
Anglo-Saxon race that it forecast.
He recalled the ardour with which he had followed the tramp of those wild
Westerners; footing it alone from the crest of the Cumberland; subsisting on
the game he could kill by the roadside; sleeping at night on his rifle in
some thicket of underbrush or cane; resolute to make his way to this new
frontier of the new republic in the new world; open his school, read law,
and begin his practice, and cast his destiny in with its heroic people.
And now this was the last Sunday in a long time, perhaps forever, that he
should see it all--the valley, the town, the evening land, resting in its
peace. Before the end of another week his horse would be climbing the ranges
of the Alleghanies, bearing him on his way to Mount Vernon and thence to
Philadelphia. By outward compact he was going on one mission for the
Transylvania Library Committee and on another from his Democratic Society to
the political Clubs of the East. But in his own soul he knew he was going
likewise because it would give him the chance to fight his own battle out,
alone and far away.
Fight it out here, he felt that he never could. He could neither live near
her and not see her, nor see her and not betray the truth. His whole life
had been a protest against the concealment either of his genuine dislikes or
his genuine affections. How closely he had come to the tragedy of a
confession, she to the tragedy of an understanding, the day before! Her
deathly pallor had haunted him ever since--that look of having suffered a
terrible wound. Perhaps she understood already.
Then let her understand! Then at least he could go away better satisfied: if
he never came back, she would know: every year of that long separation, her
mind would be bearing him the pardoning companionship that every woman must
yield the man who has loved her, and still loves her, wrongfully and
hopelessly: of itself that knowledge would be a great deal to him during all
Struggle against it as he would, the purpose was steadily gaining ground
within him to see her and if she did not now know everything then to tell
her the truth. The consequences would be a tragedy, but might it not be a
tragedy of another kind? For there were darker moments when he probed
strange recesses of life for him in the possibility that his confession
might open up a like confession from her. He had once believed Amy to be
true when she was untrue. Might he not be deceived here? Might she not
appear true, but in reality be untrue? If he were successfully concealing
his love from her, might she not be successfully concealing her love from
him? And if they found each other out, what then?
At such moments all through him like an alarm bell sounded her warning: "The
only things that need trouble us very much are not the things it is right to
conquer but the things it is wrong to conquer. If you ever conquer anything
in yourself that is right, that will be a real trouble for you as long as
you live--and for me!"
Had she meant this? But whatever mood was uppermost, of one thing he now
felt assured: that the sight of her made his silence more difficult. He had
fancied that her mere presence, her purity, her constancy, her loftiness of
nature would rebuke and rescue him from the evil in himself: it had only
stamped upon this the consciousness of reality. He had never even realized
until he saw her the last time how beautiful she was; the change in himself
had opened his eyes to this; and her greater tenderness toward him in their
talk of his departure, her dependence on his friendship, her coming
loneliness, the sense of a tragedy in her life--all these sweet half-mute
appeals to sympathy and affection had rioted in his memory every moment
Therefore it befell that the parson's sermon of the morning had dropped like
living coals on his conscience. It had sounded that familiar, lifelong,
best-loved, trumpet call of duty--the old note of joy in his strength
rightly and valiantly to be put forth--which had always kindled him and had
always been his boast. All the afternoon those living coals of divine
remonstrance had been burning into him deeper and deeper but in vain: they
could only torture, not persuade. For the first time in his life he had met
face to face the fully aroused worst passions of his own stubborn, defiant,
intractable nature: they too loved victory and were saying they would have
One by one the cabins disappeared in the darkness. One by one the stars
bloomed out yellow in their still meadows. Over the vast green sea of the
eastern wilderness the moon swung her silvery lamp, and up the valley
floated a wide veil of mist bedashed with silvery light.
The parson climbed the crest of the hill, sat down, laid his hat on the
grass, and slipped his long sensitive fingers backward over his shining
hair. Neither man spoke at first; their friendship put them at ease. Nor
did the one notice the shrinking and dread which was the other's only
"Did you see the Falconers this morning?"
The parson's tone was searching and troubled and gentler than it had been
earlier that day.
"They were looking for you. They thought you'd gone home and said they'd go
by for you. They expected you to go out with them to dinner. Haven't you
been there to-day?"
"I certainly supposed you'd go. I know they looked for you and must have
been disappointed. Isn't this your last Sunday?"
He answered absently. He was thinking that if she was looking for him, then
she had not understood and their relation still rested on the old innocent
footing. Whatever explanation of his conduct and leave-taking the day before
she had devised, it had not been in his disfavour. In all probability, she
had referred it, as she had referred everything else, to his affair with
Amy. His conscience smote him at the thought of her indestructible trust in
"If this is your last Sunday," resumed the parson in a voice rather
plaintive, "then this is our last Sunday night together. And that was my
last sermon. Well, it's not a bad one to take with you. By the time you get
back, you'll thank me more for it than you did this morning--if you heed
There was another silence before he continued, musingly:
"What an expression a sermon will sometimes bring out on a man's face!
While I was preaching, I saw many a thing that no man knew I saw. It was as
though I were crossing actual wilderness-es; I met the wild beasts of
different souls, I crept up on the lurking savages of the passions. I
believe some of those men would have liked to confess to me. I wish they
He forbore to speak of John's black look, though it was of this that he was
most grievously thinking and would have led the way to have explained. But
no answer came."
There was one face with no hidden guilt in it, no shame. I read into the
depths of that clear mind. It said: 'I have conquered my wilderness.' I have
never known another such woman as Mrs. Falconer. She never speaks of
herself; but when I am with her, I feel that the struggles of my life have
"Yes," he continued, out of kindness trying to take no notice of his
companion's silence, "she holds in quietness her land of the spirit; but
there are battle-fields in her nature that fill me with awe by their
silence. I'd dread to be the person to cause her any further trouble in this
The schoolmaster started up, went into the cabin, and quickly came out
again. The parson, absorbed in his reflections, had not noticed:
"You've thought I've not sympathized with you in your affair with Amy. It's
true. But if you'd ever loved this woman and failed, I could have
"Why don't you raise the money to build a better church by getting up a
lottery?" asked John, breaking in harshly upon the parson's gentleness.
The question brought on a short discussion of this method of aiding schools
and churches, then much in vogue. The parson rather favoured the plan (and
it is known that afterwards a better church was built for him through this
device); but his companion bore but a listless part in the talk: he was
balancing the chances, the honour and the dishonour, in a lottery of life.
"You are not like yourself to-day," said the parson reproachfully after
silence had come on again.
I know it," replied John freely, as if awaking at last.
"Well, each of us has his troubles. Sometimes I have likened the human race
to a caravan of camels crossing a desert--each with sore on his hump and
each with his load so placed as to rub that sore. It is all right for the
back to bear its burden, but I don't think there should have been any sore!"
"Let me ask you a question," said John, suddenly and earnestly. "Have there
ever been days in your life when, if you'd been the camel, you'd have thrown
the load and driver off?"
"Ah!" said the parson keenly, but gave no answer.
"Have there ever been days when you'd rather have done wrong than right?"
"Yes; there have been such days--when I was young and wild." The confession
"Have you ever had a trouble, and everybody around you fell upon you in the
belief that it was something else?"
"That has happened to me--I suppose to all of us."
"Were you greatly helped by their misunderstanding you?"
"I can't say that I was."
"You would have been glad for them to know the truth, but you didn't choose
to tell them?"
"Yes; I have gone through such an experience."
"So that their sympathy was in effect ridiculous?"
"That is true also."
"If you have been through all this," said John conclusively, "then without
knowing anything more, you can understand why I am not like myself, as you
say, and haven't been lately."
The parson moved his chair over beside the school-master's and took one of
his hands in both of his own, drawing it into his lap.
"John," he said with affection, "I've been wrong: forgive me! And I can
respect your silence. But don't let anything come between us and keep it
from me. One question now on this our last Sunday night together: Have you
anything against me in this world?"
"Not one thing! Have you anything against me?"
"Not one thing!"
Neither spoke for a while. Then the parson resumed:
"I not only have nothing against you, but I've something to say; we might
never meet hereafter. You remember the woman who broke the alabaster box for
the feet of the Saviour while he was living--that most beautiful of all the
appreciations? And you know what we do? Let our fellow-beings carry their
crosses to their Calvarys, and after each has suffered his agony and entered
into his peace, we go out to him and break our alabaster boxes above his
stiff cold feet. I have always hoped that my religion might enable me to
break my alabaster box for the living who alone can need it--and who always
do need it. Here is mine for your feet, John: Of all the men I have ever
known, you are the most sincere; of them all I would soonest pick upon you
to do what is right; of them all you have the cleanest face, because you
have the most innocent heart; of them all you have the highest notions of
what a man may do and be in this life. I have drawn upon your strength ever
since I knew you. You have a great deal. It is fortunate; you will need a
great deal; for the world will always be a battle-field to you, but the
victory will be worth the fighting. And my last words to you are: fight it
out to the end; don't compromise with evil; don't lower your ideals or your
aims. If it can be any help to you to know it, I shall always be near you
in spirit when you are in trouble; if you ever need me, I will come; and if
my poor prayers can ever bring you a blessing, you shall have that."
The parson turned his calm face up toward the firmament and tears glistened
in his eyes. Then perhaps from the old habit and need of following a sermon
with a hymn, he said quite simply:
"Would you like a little music? It is the Good-bye of the Flute to you and a
The school-master's head had dropped quickly upon his arms, which were
crossed over the back of his chair. While the parson was praising him, he
had put out his hand two or three times with wretched, imploring gestures.
Keeping his face still hidden, he moved his head now in token of assent; and
out upon the stillness of the night floated the Farewell of the Flute.
But no sermon, nor friendship, nor music, nor voice of conscience, nor voice
of praise, nor ideals, nor any other earthly thing could stand this day
against the evil that was in him. The parson had scarce gone away through
the misty beams before he sprang up and seized his hat.
There was no fog out on the clearing. He could not have said why he had
come. He only knew that he was there in the garden where he had parted from
her the day before. He sat on the bench where they had talked so often, he
strolled among her plants. How clear in the moonlight every leaf of the dark
green little things was, many of them holding white drops of dew on their
tips and edges! How plain the last shoe-prints where she had worked! How
peaceful the whole scene in every direction, how sacredly at rest! And the
cabin up there at the end of the garden where they were sleeping side by
side--how the moon poured its strongest light upon that: his eye could never
get away from it. So closely a man might live with a woman in this
seclusion! So entirely she must be his!
His passions leaped like dogs against their chains when brought too near.
They began to draw him toward the cabin until at last he had come opposite
to it, his figure remaining hidden behind the fence and under the heavy
shadow of a group of the wilderness trees. Then it was that taking one step
further, he drew back.
The low window of the cabin was open and she was sitting there near the foot
of her bed, perfectly still and looking out into the night. Her face rested
in one palm, her elbow on the window sill. Her nightgown had slipped down
from her arm. The only sleepless thing in all the peace of that summer
night: the yearning image of mated loneliness.
He was so close that he could hear the loud regular breathing of a sleeper
on the bed just inside the shadow. Once the breathing stopped abruptly; and
a moment later, as though in reply to a command, he heard her say without
turning her head:
"I am coming!"
The voice was sweet and dutiful; but to an ear that could have divined
everything, so dead worn away with weariness.
Then he saw an arm put forth. Then he heard the shutter being fastened on
THE closing day of school had come; and although he had waited in impatience
for the end, it was with a lump in his throat that he sat behind the desk
and ruler for the last time and looked out on the gleeful faces of the
children. No more toil and trouble between them and him from this time on; a
dismissal, and as far as he was concerned the scattering of the huddled
lambkins to the wide pastures and long cold mountain sides of the world. He
had grown so fond of them and he had grown so used to teach them by talking
to them, that his speech overflowed. But it had been his unbroken wont to
keep his troubles out of the schoolroom; and although the thought never left
him of the other parting to be faced that day, he spoke out bravely and
cheerily, with a smile:
"This is the last day of school, and you know that to-morrow I am going away
and may never come back. Whether I do or not, I shall never teach again, so
that I am now saying good-bye to you for life.
"What I wish to impress upon you once more is the kind of men and women your
fathers and mothers were and the kind of men and women you must become to be
worthy of them. I am not speaking so much to those of you whose parents have
not been long in Kentucky as to those whose parents were the first to fight
for the land until it was safe for others to follow and share it. Let me
tell you that nothing like that was ever done before in all this world. And
if, as I sit here, I can't help seeing that this one of you has no father
and this one no mother and this one neither father nor mother and that
almost none of you have both, still I cannot help saying, You ought to be
happy children! not that you have lost your parents, but that you have had
such parents to lose and to remember!
"All of you are still too young to know fully what they have done and how
the whole world will some day speak of them. Still, you can understand some
things. For nowadays, when you go to your homes at night, you can lie down
and sleep without fear or danger.
"And in the mornings your fathers go off to the fields to their work, your
mothers go off to theirs, you go off to yours, feeling sure that you will
all come together at night again. Some of you can remember when this was not
so. Your father would put his arms around you in the morning and you would
never see him again; your mother kissed you, and waved her hand to you as
she went out of the gate; and you never knew what became of her afterwards.
"And don't you recollect how you little babes in the wilderness could never
go anywhere? If you heard wild turkeys gobbling just inside the forest, or
an owl hooting, or a paroquet screaming, or a fawn bleating, you were warned
never to go there; it was the trick of the Indians. You could never go near
a clump of high weeds, or a patch of cane, or a stump, or a fallen tree. You
must not go to the sugar camp, to get a good drink, or to a salt lick for a
pinch of salt, or to the field for an ear of corn, or even to the spring for
a bucket of water: so that you could have neither bread nor water nor sugar
nor salt. Always, always, it was the Indians. If you cried in the night,
your mother came over to you and whispered 'Hush! they are coming! They will
get you!' And you forgot your pain and clung to her neck and listened.
"Now you are let alone, you go farther and farther away from your homes, you
can play hide-and-seek in the canebrakes, you can explore the woods, you
fish and you hunt, you are free for the land is safe.
"And then only think, that by the time you are men and women, Kentucky will
no longer be the great wilderness it still is. There will be thousands and
thousands of people scattered over it; and the forest will be cut down--can
you ever believe that?--cut through and through, leaving some trees here and
some trees there. And the cane will be cut down: can you believe that? And
instead of buffalo and wild-cats and bears and wolves and panthers there
will be flocks of the whitest sheep, with little lambs frisking about on the
green spring meadows. And under the big shady trees in the pastures there
will be herds of red cattle, so gentle and with backs so soft and broad that
you could almost stretch yourselves out and go to sleep on them, and they
would never stop chewing their cuds. Only think of the hundreds of orchards
with their apple-blossoms and of the big ripe, golden apples on the trees in
the fall! It will be one of the quietest, gentlest lands that a people ever
owned; and this is the gift of your fathers who fought for it and of your
mothers who fought for it also. And you must never forget that you would
never have had such fathers, had you not had such mothers to stand by them
and to die with them.
"This is what I have wished to teach you more than anything in your
books--that you may become men and women worthy of them and of what they
have left you. But while being the bravest kind of men and women, you should
try also to be gentle men and gentle women. You boys must get over your
rudeness and your roughness; that is all right in you now but it would be
all wrong in you afterwards. And the last and the best thing I have to say
to you is be good boys and grow up to be good men! That sounds very plain
and common but I can wish you nothing better for there is nothing better. As
for my little girls, they are good enough as they are!
"I have talked a long time. God bless you everyone. I wish you long and
happy lives and I hope we may meet again. And now all of you must come and
shake hands with me and tell me good-bye."
They started forward and swarmed toward him; only, as the foremost of them
rose and hid her from sight, little Jennie, with one mighty act of defiant
joy, hurled her arithmetic out of the window; and a chubby-cheeked veteran
on the end of the bench produced a big red apple from between his legs and
went for it with a smack of gastric rapture that made his toes curl and sent
his glance to the rafters. They swarmed on him, and he folded his arms
around the little ones and kissed them; the older boys, the warriors, brown
and barefoot, stepping sturdily forward one by one, and holding out a strong
hand that closed on his and held it, their eyes answering his sometimes with
clear calm trust and fondness, sometimes lowered and full of tears; other
little hands resting unconsciously on each of his shoulders, waiting for
their turns. Then there were softened echoes --gay voices, dying away in
one direction and another, and then--himself alone in the
room--school-master no longer.
He waited till there was silence, sitting in his old erect way behind his
desk, the bight smile still on his face though his eyes were wet. Then,
with the thought that now he was to take leave of her, he suddenly leaned
forward and buried his face on his arms.
IN the Country of the Spirit there is a certain high table-land that lies
far on among the out-posts toward Eternity. Standing on that calm clear
height, where the sun shines ever though it shines coldly, the wayfarer may
look behind him at his own footprints of self-renunciation, below on his
dark zones of storm, and forward to the final land where the mystery, the
pain, and the yearning of his life will either be infinitely satisfied or
infinitely quieted. But no man can write a description of this place for
those who have never trodden it; by those who have, no description is
desired: their fullest speech is Silence. For here dwells the Love of which
there has never been any confession, from which there is no escape, for
which there is no hope: the love of a man for a woman who is bound to
another, or the love of a woman for a man who is bound to another. Many
there are who know what that means, and this is the reason why the land is
always thronged. But in the throng no one signals another; to walk there is
to be counted among the Unseen and the Alone.
To this great wistful height of Silence he had struggled at last after all
his days of rising and falling, of climbing and slipping back. It was no
especial triumph for his own strength. His better strength had indeed gone
into it, and the older rightful habitudes of mind that always mean so much
to us when we are tried and tempted, and the old beautiful submission of
himself to the established laws of the world. But more than what these had
effected was what she herself had been to him and had done for him. Even his
discovery of her at the window that last night had had the effect of bidding
him stand off; for he saw there the loyalty and sacredness of wifehood that,
however full of suffering, at least asked for itself the privilege and the
dignity of suffering unnoticed.
Thus he had come to realize that life had long been leading him blindfold,
until one recent day, snatching the bandage from his eyes, she had cried:
"Here is the parting of three ways, each way a tragedy: choose your way and
If he confessed his love and found that she felt but friendship for him,
there was the first tragedy. The wrong in him would lack the answering wrong
in her, which sometimes, when the two are put together, so nearly makes up
the right. From her own point of view, he would merely be offering her a
delicate ineffaceable insult. If she had been the sort of woman by whose
vanity every conquest is welcomed as a tribute and pursued as an aim, he
could never have cared for her at all. Thus while his love took its very
origin from his belief of her nobility, he was premeditating the means of
having her prove to him that this did not exist.
If he told her everything and surprised her love for him, there was the
second tragedy. For over there, beyond the scene of such a confession, he
could not behold her as anything else than a fatally lowered woman. The
agony of this, even as a possibil-ity, overwhelmed him in advance. To
require of her that she should have a nature of perfect loyalty and at the
same time to ask her to pronounce her own falseness--what happiness could
that bring to him? If she could be faithless to one man because she loved
another, could she not be false to the second, if in time she grew to love a
third? Out of the depths even of his loss of her the terrible cry was wrung
from him that no love could long be possible between him and any woman who
was not free to love him.
And so at last, with that mingling of selfish and unselfish motives, which
is like the mixed blood of the heart itself, he had chosen the third
tragedy: the silence that would at least leave each of them blameless. And
so he had come finally to that high cold table-land where the sun of Love
shines rather as the white luminary of another world than the red quickener
Over the lofty table-land of Kentucky the sky bent darkest blue, and was
filled with wistful, silvery light that afternoon as he walked out to the
Falconers'. His face had never looked so clear, so calm; his very linen
never so spotless, or so careful about his neck and wrists; and his eyes
held again their old beautiful light--saddened.
>From away off he could descry her, walking about the yard in the pale
sunshine. He had expected to find her preoccupied as usual; but to-day she
was strolling restlessly to and fro in front of the house, quite near it and
quite idle. When she saw him coming, scarce aware of her own actions, she
went round the house and walked on quickly away from him.
As he was following and passing the cabin, a hand was quickly put out and
the shutter drawn partly to.
"How do you do!"
That hard, smooth, gay little voice!
"You mustn't come here! And don't you peep! When are you going?"
He told her.
"To-morrow! Why, have you forgotten that I'm married to-morrow! Aren't you
coming? Upon my word! I've given you to the widow Babcock, and you are to
ride in the procession with her. She has promised me not to laugh once on
the way or even to allude to anything cheerful! Be persuaded! . . . Well,
I'm sorry. I'll have to give your place to Peter, I suppose. And I'll tell
the widow she can be natural and gay: Peter'll not mind! Good-bye! I can't
shake hands with you."
Behind the house, at the foot of the sloping hill, there was a spring such
as every pioneer sought to have near his home; and a little lower down, in
one corner of the yard, the water from this had broadened out into a small
pond. Dark-green sedgy cane grew thick around half the margin.
One March day some seasons before, Major Falconer had brought down with his
rifle from out the turquoise sky a young lone-wandering swan. In those early
days the rivers and ponds of the wilderness served as resting places and
feeding-grounds for these unnumbered birds in their long flights between the
Southern waters and the Northern lakes. A wing of this one had been broken,
and out of her wide heaven of freedom and light she had floated down his
captive but with all her far-sweeping instincts throbbing on unabated. This
pool had been the only thing to remind her since of the blue-breasted waves
and the glad fellowship of her kind. On this she had passed her existence,
with a cry in the night now and then that no one heard, a lifting of the
wings that would never rise, an eye turned upward toward the turquoise sky
across which familiar voices called to each other, called down, and were
lost in the distance.
As he followed down the hill, she was standing on the edge of the pond,
watching the swan feeding in the edge of the cane. He took her hand without
a word, and looked with clear unfaltering eyes down into her face, now
swanlike in whiteness.
She withdrew her hand and gave him the gloves which she was holding in the
"I'm glad you thought enough of them to come for them."
"I couldn't come! Don't blame me!"
"I understand! Only I might have helped you in your trouble. If a friend
can't do that--may not do that! But it is too late now! You start for
"And to-morrow Amy marries, I lose you both the same day! You are going
straight to Mount Vernon?"
"Straight to Mount Vernon."
"Ah, to think that you will see Virginia so soon! I've been recalling a
great deal about Virginia during these days when you would not come to see
me. Now I've forgotten everything I meant to say!"
They climbed the hill slowly. Two or three times she stopped and pressed her
hand over her heart. She tried to hide the sound of her quivering breath and
glanced up once to see whether he were observing. He was not. With his old
habit of sending his thoughts on into the future, fighting its distant
battles, feeling its far-off pain, he was less conscious of their parting
than of the years during which he might not see her again. It is the woman
who bursts the whole grape of sorrow against the irrepressible palate at
such a moment; to a man like him the same grape distils a vintage of
yearning that will brim the cup of memory many a time beside his lamp in the
He would have passed the house, supposing they were to go to the familiar
seat in the garden; but a bench had been placed under a forest tree near the
door and she led the way to this. The significance of the action was lost on
"Yes," she continued, returning to a subject which furnished both an escape
and a concealment of her feelings, "I have been revisiting my girlhood. You
love Kentucky but I cannot make myself over."
Her face grew full of the finest memories and all the fibres of her nature
were becoming more unstrung. He had made sure of his strength before he had
ever dared see her this day, had pitted his self-control against every
possible temptation to betray himself that could arise throughout their
parting; and it was this very composure, so unlocked for, that unconsciously
drove her to the opposite extreme. Shades of colour swept over her neck and
brow, as though she were setting under wind-tossed blossoming peach boughs.
Her lustrous, excited eyes seemed never able to withdraw themselves from his
whitened solemn face. Its mute repressed suffering touched her; its
calmness filled her with vague pain that at such a time he could be so calm.
And the current of her words ran swift, as a stream loosened at last from
some steep height."Sometime you might be in that part of Virginia. I should
like you to know the country there and the place where my father's house
stood. And when you see the Resident, I wish you would recall my father to
him. And you remember that one of my brothers was a favourite young officer
of his. I should like you to hear him speak of them both: he has not
forgotten. Ah! My father! He had his faults, but they were all the faults of
a gentleman. And the faults of my brothers were the faults of gentlemen. I
never saw my mother; but I know how genuine she was by the books she liked
and her dresses and her jewels, and the manner in which she had things put
away in the closets. One's childhood is everything! If I had not felt I was
all there was in the world to speak for my father and my mother and my
brothers! Ah, sometimes pride is the greatest of virtues!"
He bowed his head in assent.
With a swift transition she changed her voice and manner and the
"That is enough about me. Have you thought that you will soon be talking to
the greatest man in the world--you who love ideals?"
"I have not thought of it lately."
"You will think of it soon! And that reminds me: why did you go away as you
did the last time you were here--when I wanted to talk with you about the
Her eyes questioned him imperiously.
"I cannot tell you: that is one of the things you'd better not wish to
She continued to look at him, and when she spoke, her voice was full of
"It was the first time you ever did anything that I could not understand: I
could not read your face that day."
"Can you read it now?" he asked, smiling at her sorrowfully.
"What do you read?"
"Everything that I have always liked you for most. Memories are a great deal
to me. Ah, if you had ever done anything to spoil yours!"
Do you think that if I loved a woman she would know it by looking at my
"You would tell her: that is your nature."
"Would I? Should I?"
There was silence.
"Let me talk to you about the book," he cried suddenly. He closed his eyes
and passed one hand several times slowly across his forehead; then facing
her but with his arm resting on the back of the seat and his eyes shaded by
his hand he began:
"You were right: it is a book I have needed. At first it appeared centuries
old to me and far away: the greatest gorgeous picture I had ever seen of
human life anywhere. I could never tell you of the regret with which it
filled me not to have lived in those days--of the longing to have been at
Camelot to have seen the King and to have served him; to have been friends
with the best of the Knights; to have taken their vows; to have gone out
with them to right what was wrong, to wrong nothing that was right."
The words were wrung from him with slow terrible effort, as though he were
forcing himself to draw nearer and nearer some spot of supreme mental
struggle. She listened, stilled, as she had never been by any words of his.
At the same time she felt stifled--felt that she should have to cry
out--that he could be so deeply moved and so self-controlled.
More slowly, with more composure, he went on. He was still turned toward
her, his hand shading the upper part of his face:
"It was not until--not until--afterwards--that I got something more out of
it than all that--got what I suppose you meant. . . . suppose you meant that
the whole story was not far away from me but present here--its right and
wrong--its temptation; that there was no vow a man could take then that a
man must not take now; that every man still has his Camelot and his King,
still has to prove his courage and his strength to all men . . . and that
after he has proved these, he has--as his last, highest act of service in
the world. . . to lay them all down, give them all up, for the sake of--of
his spirit. You meant that I too, in my life, am to go in quest of the
Grail: is it all that?"
The tears lay mute on her eyes. She rose quickly and walked away to the
garden. He followed her. When they had entered it, he strolled beside her
among the plants.
"You must see them once more," she said. Her tone was perfectly quiet and
careless. Then she continued with animation:
"Some day you will not know this garden. When we are richer, you will see
what I shall do: with it, with the house, with everything! I do not live
altogether on memories: I have hopes."
They came to the bench where they were used to talk, She sat down, and
waited until she could control the least tremor of her voice. Then she
turned upon him her noble eyes, the exquisite passionate tender light of
which no effort of the will could curtain in. Nor could any self-restraint
turn aside the electrical energy of her words:"I thought I should not let
you go away without saying something more to you about what has happened
lately with Amy. My interest in you, your future, your success, has caused
me to feel everything more than you can possibly realize. But I am not
thinking of this now: it is nothing, it will pass. What it has caused me to
see and to regret more than anything else is the power that life will have
to hurt you on account of the ideals that you have built up in secret. We
have been talking about Sir Thomas Malory and chivalry and ideals: there is
one thing you need to know--all of us need to know it--and to know it
well."Ideals are of two kinds. There are those that correspond to our
highest sense of perfection. They express what we might be were life, the
world, ourselves, all different, all better. Let these be high as they may!
They are not useless because unattainable. Life is not a failure because
they are never attained. God Himself requires of us the unattainable: 'Be ye
perfect, even as I am perfect! He could not do less. He commands perfection,
He forgives us that we are not perfect! Nor does He count us failures
because we have to be forgiven. Our ideals also demand of us perfection--the
impossible; but because we come far short of this we have no right to count
ourselves as failures. What are they like--ideals such as these? They are
like light-houses. But light-houses are not made to live in; neither can we
live in such ideals. I suppose they are meant to shine on us from afar, when
the sea of our life is dark and stormy, perhaps to remind us of a haven of
hope, as we drift or sink in shipwreck. All of your ideals are lighthouses.
"But there are ideals of another sort; it is these that you lack. As we
advance into life, out of larger experience of the world and of ourselves,
are unfolded the ideals of what will be possible to us if we make the best
use of the world and of ourselves, taken as we are. Let these be as high as
they may, they will always be lower than those others which are perhaps the
veiled intimations of our immortality. These will always be imperfect; but
life is not a failure because they are so. It is these that are to burn for
us, not like light-houses in the distance, but like candles in our hands.
For so many of us they are too much like candles!--the longer they burn, the
lower they burn, until before death they go out altogether! But I know that
it will not be thus with you. At first you will have disappoint-ments and
sufferings--the world on one side, unattainable ideals of perfection on the
other. But by degrees the comforting light of what you may actually do and
be in an imperfect world will shine close to you and all around you, more
and more. It is this that will lead you never to perfection, but always
He bowed his head: the only answer he could make.
It was getting late. The sun at this moment passed behind the western
tree-tops. It was the old customary signal for him to go. They suddenly
looked at each other in that shadow.
"I shall always think of you for your last words to me," he said in a thick
"Some day you will find the woman who will be a candle," she replied sadly,
rising also. Then with her lips trembling, she added piteously:
"Oh, if you ever marry, don't make the mistake of treating the woman as an
ideal Treat her in every way as a human being exactly like yourself! With
the same weakness, the same strug-les, the same temptations! And as you have
some mercy on yourself despite your faults, have some mercy on her despite
"Must I ever think of you as having been weak and tempted as I have been?"
he cried, the guilty blood rushing into his face in the old struggle to tell
"Oh, as for me--what do you know of me!" she cried, laughing. And then more
"I have read your face! What do you read in mine?"
He looked long into it:
"All that I have most wished to see in the face of any woman--except one
"What is that? But don't tell me!"
She turned away toward the garden gate. In silence they passed out--walking
toward the edge of the clearing. Half-way she paused. He lifted his hat and
held out his hand. She laid hers in it and they gave each other the long
clinging grasp of affection."Always be a good man," she said, tightening her
grasp and turning her face away.
As he was hurrying off, she called to him in a voice full of emotion:
He wheeled and walked towards her blindly.
She scanned his face, feature by feature.
"Take off your hat!" she said with a tremulous little laugh. He did so and
she looked at his forehead and his hair.
"Go now, dear friend!" she said calmly but quickly.
It was the morning of the wedding.
According to the usage of the time the marriage ceremony was to take place
early in the forenoon, in order that the guests, gathered in from distant
settlements of the wilderness, might have a day for festivity and still
reach home before night. Late in the afternoon the bridal couple, escorted
by many friends, were to ride into town to Joseph's house, and in the
evening there was to be a house-warming.
The custom of the backwoods country ran that a man must not be left to build
his house alone; and one day some weeks before this wagons had begun to roll
in from this direction and that
direction out of the forest, hauling the logs for Joseph's cabin.
Then with loud laughter and the writhing of tough backs and the straining of
powerful arms and legs, men old, middle-aged, and young had raised the house
like overgrown boys at play, and then had returned to their own neglected
business: so that to him was left only the finishing.He had finished it and
furnished it for the simple scant needs of pioneer life.But on this, his
wedding morning, he had hardly left the town, escorted by friends on
horseback, before many who had variously excused themselves from going began
to issue from their homes: women carrying rolls of linen and pones of bread;
boys with huge joints of jerked meat and dried tongues of the buffalo, bear,
and deer. There was a noggin, a piggin, a churn, a homemade chair; there was
a quilt from a grandmother and a pioneer cradle--a mere trough scooped out
of a walnut log. An old pioneer sent the antlers of a stag for a hat-rack,
and a buffalo rug for the young pair to lie warm under of bitter, winter
nights; his wife sent a spinning-wheel and a bundle of shingles for
johnny-cakes. Some of the merchants gave packages of Philadelphia groceries;
some of the aristo-cratic families parted with heirlooms that had been
laboriously brought over the mountains--a cup and saucer of Sevres, a pair
of tall brass candlesticks, and a Venus -mirror framed in ebony. It was
about three o'clock in the afternoon when John Gray jumped on the back of a
strong trusty horse at the stable of the Indian Queen, leaned over to shake
the hands of the friends who had met there to see him off, and turned his
horse's head in the direction of the path that led to the Wilderness Road.
But when he had gone about a mile, he struck into the forest at right angles
and rode across the country until he reached that green woodland pathway
which led from the home of the Falconers to the public road between
Lexington and Frankfort. He tied his horse some distance away, and walking
back, sat down on the roots of an oak and waited.
It was a day when the beauty of the earth makes itself felt like ravishing
music that has no sound. The air, warm and full of summer fragrance, was of
that ethereal untinged clearness which spreads over all things the softness
of velvet. The far-vaulted heavens, so bountiful of light, were an
illimitable weightless curtain of pale-blue velvet; the rolling clouds were
of white velvet; the grass, the stems of bending wild flowers, the drooping
sprays of woodland foliage, were so many forms of emerald velvet; the
gnarled trunks of the trees were gray and brown velvet; the wings and
breasts of the birds, flitting hither and thither, were of gold and scarlet
velvet; the butterflies were stemless, floating velvet blossoms."Farewell,
Kentucky! farewell!" he said, looking about him at it all.
Two hours passed. The shadows were lengthening rapidly. Over the forest,
like the sigh of a spirit, swept from out the west the first intimation of
waning light, of the mysteries of coming darkness. At last there reached his
ear from far down the woodland path the sounds of voices and laughter--again
and again--louder and louder--and then through the low thick boughs he
caught glimpses of them coming. Now beneath the darker arches of the trees,
now across pale-green spaces shot by slanting sunbeams. Once there was a
halt and a merry outcry. Long grape-vines from opposite sides of the road