Part 4 out of 4
him very deeply! Don't be offended, but don't you think that perhaps you
could manage it to somehow keep Ned from flinging out of the house
desperate and foolish every once in a while, on some Sunday or holiday?
I'll tell you! Begin early--begin sometimes before he is awake--to get
things ready, and keep them going so that Ned won't start out, a
reckless, emotional maniac before nightfall!"
Oldfield paused, struck by his own earnestness and plain speaking, and
Mrs. Chester arose, and Oldfield's heart ached for her. "Madame," he
said, "any man who leaves wife and child to worry over him for days
while he carouses is to an extent a brute. There is no comprehensive
excuse for him. But when one is living with, and intends to go on living
with a man who at times becomes such a brute, it is as well to know and
acknowledge his weak points, and forbear to press him too far, even in
the best cause, even when you are perfectly right, as I am sure you
always are, for example. But let us come back to our original topic of
conversation. I am afraid you cannot see Ned to-day. I will call upon
him, and then telephone you his exact condition, telling you if he needs
anything. And to-morrow, after the doctor has made his morning visit, I
will send you another message. Ned will be all right and at home in a
day or two.
"In the mean time you might think over what I have said to you, and make
up your mind whether I am right or not. About what, you ask, Miss
Chester? Oh! only some nonsense I have been talking to your mother, a
sort of theory of mine with which she has no patience, I can see.
Good-by, ladies--no, don't waste time thanking me; I am glad if I have
been of any use. Good-by."
He bowed them into the elevator, and slowly drifted back into the club
library. "Of all fools I am the prize fool!" he murmured to himself. And
he called Joseph, and with him set forth to the Barrett House to see Ned
John Gray, civil engineer, good looking and aged twenty-eight, was
engaged in the service of the United States of America. He had, upon
emerging from college, been fortunate enough to secure a place among the
new graduates who are utilized in making what is called the "lake
survey," that is, the work upon the great inland seas we designate as
lakes, and had finally from that drifted into work for the Agricultural
Department--a department which, though latest established, is bound,
with its force for good upon this great producing continent, to rank
eventually with any place in the cabinet of the President. In the
Agricultural Department John Gray, being clever and a hard worker, had
risen rapidly, and had finally been appointed assistant to the ranking
official whose duty it was to visit certain arid regions of Arizona and
there seek by scientific methods to produce a sudden rainfall over
parched areas, and so make the desert blossom as the rose.
Mr. John Gray went with the expedition, and distinguished himself from
the beginning. He could endure hard work; he was a good civil engineer
and comprehended the theory upon which his superiors were working, and
above all, he was an enthusiast in the thing they were undertaking, and
had independent devices of his own, to be submitted at the proper time,
for the attainment of certain mechanical ends which had puzzled the
pundits at Washington. He had ideas as to how should be flown the new
form of kite which should carry into the upper depths explosives to
shatter and compress the atmosphere and produce the condensation which
makes rain, just as concussions from below--as after the cannonading of
a great battle--produce the same effect. He had fancies about a lot of
things connected with the work of the rain-making expedition, and his
fancies were practicalities. He proved invaluable to his superiors in
office when came the experiments the reports of which at first declared
that rain-making was a success, and later admitted something to the
There had been, as all the world knows, certain experiments of the
government rain-makers followed by rains, and certain experiments after
which the earth had remained as parched and the sky as brazen as before.
The one successful experiment had, as it chanced, been conducted under
Mr. Gray's personal and ardent supervision. He had overseen the flying
of the kites, the impudent invasion of the upper depths when a button
was touched, and then he had seen the white cumulus clouds gather and
become nimbus, followed by a brief rainfall upon a hot and yellow land.
He had felt as Moses may have felt when he smote the rock, as De
Lesseps may have felt when he brought the seas together. He thought one
of the man-helping problems of the ages almost solved.
So far John Gray, civil engineer in the service of the Government, had
been lost in his avocation. He saw no flower beside his path; he dreamed
of no woman he had known. But there came a change, for which he was not
responsible. There was delay in the shipping of additional supplies
needed for the expedition's work--as there usually is delay and bad
management in whatever is intrusted to certain encrusted bureaus in
Washington--and in the interval, with nothing to do, this civil
engineer spent necessarily most of his time in the little town about the
railroad station, and there fell in love. It was an odd location for
such luxury or risk as the one denned; but the thing happened. John Gray
fell in love, and fell far.
Arizona is said, by its present inhabitants, to have a climate which
makes the faces of women wonderfully fair, given a face whose features
are not distorted to start with. This assertion may be attributed rather
to territorial pride than to conviction; but it doesn't matter. There
was assuredly one pretty girl in Cougarville, and Gray had begun to feel
a more than passing interest in her. He had even gone so far in his
meditations as to conceive the idea of taking her East with him when he
went back (he had laid up a little money), and though he had not yet
suggested this to the young lady, he felt reasonably confident. She had
been with him much and seemed very fond of him. Once he had kissed her
at the door. Certainly he was fond of her.
The little town upon the railroad was not new, and Miss Fleming belonged
to one of the old families of the place--that is, her father had come
there at least twenty-five years ago. He had mined and dealt in timber
and taken tie contracts, and was now considered as fairly ranking among
the twenty-five or thirty "warm" men of the place. There were castes in
Cougarville, and the society made up of these families was exclusive.
Their parties in town were as select as their picnics in the foothills,
and the foothill picnics were the occasions where Cougarville society
really came out. It was a foothill picnic which brought an end to all
relations between John Gray and Miss Molly Fleming. It came about in
There had been a party in Cougarville, and Gray, finally abandoning
himself to all the risk of falling in love and marrying this flower of
the frontier, had committed himself deeply. He had declared himself. The
girl was reserved, but beaming. He had to leave his apparently more than
half-acquiescent inamorata to whom he was an escort. At 11 P.M. he left
her temporarily in charge of one Muggles, the curled darling and easily
most imposing clerk among all those employed in the big "emporium" of
the frontier town. He felt safe. Such a character as Molly Fleming could
never be attracted by such a person as that scented floor-walker, even
if he did chance to have a small interest in the concern and reasonably
good prospects. He left them with equanimity; he saw them together an
hour later with just a shade of apprehension. They seemed to understand
each other too well, and their eyes, as they looked each into the
other's face, seemed a trifle too soulful and trusting. He asked Miss
Fleming on the way home if she would go with him to the picnic to be
held in the wooded foothills on the following day. She laughed in his
face, and said she was going with Mr. Muggles. He saw it all. Civil
engineering and devotion had been cast over for a general store
interest, home relatives, Muggles, and devotion. He was jilted.
The reflections of John Gray that night, described by colors, may be
referred to as simply green and red--green for jealousy, red for
vengeance. He slept and had nightmares, and waked and made plans. It was
an awful night for him. But as morning came and his head cleared, the
instinct of jealousy lessened and that of vengeance increased. He arose
in the morning a more or less dangerous human being.
The picnic had no attraction for John Gray. He attended to business
about the headquarters of the expedition, and when noon came sat aside
and brooded. He thought to himself, "They are up there together, and
she has discarded me for this storekeeper, who knows nothing save how to
make close little trades and make and save money." Then a new and
broader range of thought came to him: "She is but following the instinct
of her family. Blood will tell. Both her father and mother are below the
grade which means the average of my own kind. She will in time show her
blood, who ever may marry her. That is the law of nature." This
As his reasoning process became more smooth and true, he realized what
an escape he had had, and then, as he reviewed the story of the past
months, his desire for "evening up" things grew. It was low and mean, he
knew, but that made no difference. He must get even.
He thought over the situation. There they were, the elite of
Cougarville, up in a canyon of the foothills, beside a creek, where were
trees and turf and picturesque rocks, and were having a good time.
Muggles and Molly had no doubt withdrawn from the mass of picnickers,
and were billing and cooing together. His veins burned at the thought.
Oh, for some means of settling them! Then came an inspiration to him!
Gray's superior was away, but there had come to hand at last all the
material necessary for a renewed experiment. He had the kites, the
explosives, and the assistants. He had authority to act should his
superior not return on time. His superior was not on time. Was it not
more than his inclination but really his duty to try to make rain at
once, and in the particular locality just suited in his judgment for
securing an effect? As to the locality, there was no doubt. It was up
the foothills a mile or two above, and just beside the valley in which
were the picnickers. The men about the post were summoned, burros were
loaded, and at 2 P.M. the whole rain-making force was far up the
foothills unloading and preparing to fly gigantic kites and explode in
the upper vaults of the atmosphere bombs and rockets and all sorts of
things to make a rainstorm.
All went well. The wind was right, and the huge kites, bomb-laden,
climbed into the sky like vultures. The electric wires were in order,
and when at last the buttons were touched and the explosion came, it
seemed as if the very vaults of heaven were riven. It was a great
success. Gray, elated and hopeful, but not fully assured, stood and
watched and waited.
He did not have to wait long. Not far to the north in the hard blue sky
suddenly appeared a little dab of woolly white. Another showed in the
east. They showed all about, and grew and grew in size until they became
great, over-toppling, blending mountains, a new and mysterious world
against the sky. Then came a darkening of the mass. The cumulus was
changing to the nimbus. Then came a distant rumble, and, preceding
another, a great blaze of lightning went across the zenith. To those in
the region the world darkened. A mountain thunderstorm was on.
The darkness increased; the clouds hung lower and lower, the lightning
flashed more frequently and fiercely, and finally the flood-gates of the
clouds were opened and the rain fell with such denseness that the mass
of drops made literal sheets. The little brooks were filled, and tumbled
into the creek which ran down the canyon where were the picnickers. Bred
in the region, the picnickers knew what such a flood meant, and with the
first sound of thunder had clambered up the canyon side, where they sat
unsheltered and awaiting events. The very first downpour wetted every
young man and woman to the bone and filled thin boots with water. The
worst of it was that they had not yet eaten. They had brought up with
them two burros laden with supplies, and two mule teams, which had
dragged them up into the wooded elysium beside the tumbling creek of the
canyon. When the storm gathered it was at a moment when the burros
stood, still unloaded, and the mules attached to the two wagons still
unhitched. They, the four-footed things, knew what the thunder and the
darkness meant. They knew, somehow, that the upper canyon was no place
for them, and, reasoning in the four-footed way, they exercised the
limbs they had, obeying the orders of such brains as they owned, and
gathering themselves together for independent action, went down the
canyon clatteringly in a bunch.
Foodless and scared, the picnickers huddled far up the little canyon's
side and sat awed and watchful as the lightning flashed about them and
the waters rose beneath them. The torrent of rain loosened the soil
above, and they were so drenched in clay-colored water coming down, and
sat so still beneath it, that they looked like cheap terra cotta images.
Suddenly the thunder ceased, the rainfall ended, and this particular
slight area of Arizona was Arizona again. The power of the rain-maker
was limited. Through four yellow miles of yellow muck, beside a
temporarily yellow stream, waded for hours wearily a dreadful picnic
party, seeking in disgust the town of Cougarville. They reached their
separate homes somehow, and washed and went to bed.
In the Cougarville Screamer of the following morning appeared a graphic
account of the great exploit of "Professor" Gray, of the Department of
Agriculture, who on the preceding day had, after taking his force into
the foothills and utilizing the means at his command, attained the
greatest rainfall of the season. Of course it was to be regretted that a
picnic including the elite of Cougarville was in progress beside the
creek of the canyon alongside which Professor Gray operated, but
scientists could not be expected to know anything of social functions,
and all was for the best. One of the mules and one of the burros had
been recovered. It was a great day for Cougarville. "Now," concluded the
account, "since the means for irrigation are assured, the valleys about
our promising city will bloom eternally fresh, and no one doubts the
location of the metropolis of the region."
As for Gray, he met Miss Fleming on the day succeeding, and if withering
glances ever really withered anything, he would have been as a dry leaf.
But he did not wither. He went East, and is now connected with the
Pennsylvania Broad Gauge. Miss Fleming married Mr. Muggles, and I
understand the store is doing only moderately well. What puzzles me is
that after Gray's triumph up the canyon on this occasion, the United
States Government should have abandoned the rain-making experiments. The
facts related in this very brief account are respectfully submitted to
the consideration of the Department of Agriculture.
WITHIN ONE LIFE'S SPAN
A river flows through green prairies into a vast blue lake. There are
log houses along the banks, and near the lake a more pretentious
structure, also built of logs. Quaint as an old Dutch mill, with its
overhanging second story, this fort of rude type answers its purpose
well, for only Indians are likely to assail it, and Indians bring no
A summer morning comes, an August morning in the year 1812. There is
war, and there have been disgraces and defeats and wavering counsels. To
the soldiers in the fort has been given the advice of a weakling in
peril, and it has had unhappy weight. About the fort are gathering a
host of Indians, dark Pottowatomies, treacherous and sullen. Yet the
fort is to be abandoned. The scanty garrison will venture forth with its
women and its children.
To the south, along the lake, are reaches of yellow sand and a mile or
more away are trees and scanty shrubbery. From the fort file slowly out
the soldiers with their baggage-wagons, in which the weaker are
bestowed. Among the young is a boy of eight--a waif, the orphan of a
hunter. Forest-bred, he is alert and in some things older than his
years. He is old enough to have a sense of danger. From his covert in
the wagon he watches all intently.
The few musicians play a funeral march, and the procession moves
apprehensively, though it moves steadily, for there are brave men in the
ranks, men who will not flinch, though they rage at the evil folly to
which they have been driven. They do not doubt the issue, though they
face it. They have not long to wait. The bushes which fringe the rising
ground do not conceal the shifting enemy. The marching column huddles.
There are sharp commands and the reports of muskets. The Indians are
attacking. The massacre has begun!
Hampered, unsheltered, outnumbered by a vengeful host, the whites must
die. The men die fighting, as men in such straits should. The Indians
are close upon the women and children in the wagon. Into one of them,
that which contains the hunter's child, leaps a savage, in whose beady
eyes are all cruelty and ferocity. His tomahawk sinks into the brain of
the nearest helpless one, and at the same instant, swift as an otter
gliding into water, the boy is out and darting away among the bushes.
Oddly enough he is unnoticed--a remnant of the soldiers are dying
hardly--and he escapes to where the bushes are more dense. About a
cottonwood tree in the distance appears greater covert. Around the tree
has been part of the struggle, but the ghastly tide has passed, and
there are only dead men there. The boy is in mortal terror, but his
instinct does not fail him. There is a heap of brush, the top of some
tree felled by a storm, and beneath the mass he writhes and wriggles and
is lost from view.
There is a rush of returning footsteps; there is a clamor of many Indian
voices about the brush-heap, but the boy is undiscovered. The savages
are not seeking him. They count all the whites as slain or captured, and
are now but intent on plunder. Night falls. The child slips from his
hiding place, and runs to the southward. Suddenly a dark figure rises in
his path, and the grasp of a strong hand is upon his shoulder. He
struggles frantically, but only for a moment. His own language is
spoken. It is in the voice of a friendly Miami fleeing, like the boy,
from the Pottowatomies. The Indian takes the boy by the hand, and
hurries him to the westward, to the Mississippi.
It is the year 1835. One of a band of trappers venturing up the Missouri
is a slender, quiet man, the deadliest shot in the party. Good trapper
he is, but the fame he has earned among adventurers of his class is not
from fur-getting. He is a lonely man, but a creature of action. He never
seeks to avoid the Indian trails. Cautious and crafty he is, certainly,
but he follows closely the westward drift of the red men, and when
opportunity comes he spares not at all. He is a hunter of Indians,
vengeance personified. He is the boy who hid beneath the brush-heap; the
memory of that awful day and night is ever with him, and he seeks
blindly to make the equation just. To his single arm have fallen more
savages than fell whites on the day of the massacre by the lake. Still
he moves westward.
It is the year 1893 now. An old man occupies a farm in the remote
Northwest. He has lost none of his faculties, nor nearly all his
strength, though he is eighty-nine years of age. The long battle with
the dangers of the wilds is done. The old man listens to the talk of
those about him, of how a great nation is inviting all the nations of
the world to take part in a monster jubilee, because of the
quadri-centennial of a continent's discovery. He hears them tell of a
place where this mighty demonstration will be made, and a torrent of
memory sweeps him backward over eighty years. He thinks of one awful day
and night. An irresistible longing to look again upon the regions he has
not seen for more than three-quarters of a century, a wild desire to
revisit the junction of the river and the great blue lake, and to wander
where the sandreaches and the cottonwood tree were, possesses him. And,
resolute as ever, he acts upon the impulse which now becomes a plan.
An old man, as strangely placed as some old gray elk among a herd of
buffalo, is hurried along the swarming, roaring thoroughfares of a
great city. He has found the river and the lake, but nothing else save
pandemonium. He is seeking now the place where the cottonwood tree
stood, though he scarcely hopes to find it. He asks what his course
shall be, and is answered kindly. He finds his way to a broad
thoroughfare bearing the blue lake's name, and is told to seek
Eighteenth Street, and there walk toward the water. He does as he is
directed, and--marvelous to him, now--he finds the Tree.
There it stands, the cottonwood of the massacre, with blunt white limbs
outstretched and dead, as dead as those who were slaughtered at its base
and whose very bones have long been dust. The old man walks about it as
in a dream. He finds the spot where was the brush-heap beneath which he
passed shuddering hours so long ago, and he stands there upon a modern
pavement. The marble piles of rich men loom above him on each side.
Where were the sand ridges cast up by the lake, rush by the burdened
railroad trains. He cannot comprehend it--but there is more to come.
The old man has sought the oak-dotted prairie miles to the south.
Surely, something, somewhere must be unchanged! He has attained the spot
where the trees were densest. He is in a swirl of hosts. He looks upon
vast, splendid structures, such as the world has never seen before.
Through shining thoroughfares are surging the people of all nations.
And here was where the Miami Indian found the boy!
An old man is sitting again in his cabin in the far Northwest. He is
wondering, wondering if it has been but a dream, his old-age journey.
How could it be real? Surely there was once the fort where the river
joined the lake, and there were the yellow sand-ridges, and the low,
green prairie and the wilderness. He had seen them. They were there,
familiar to the pioneers, the features of a landscape where was the
outpost in the wilderness of the race which conquers. He knew there
could be no mistake about it, that what he remembered was something
real, for the river was in its ancient channel; though dark its waters,
the lake was blue and vast as of old, and the tree with its stark
branches was still the Tree. Those who had lived with him in his old age
in the far Northwest had seemed never to doubt in him the retained
possession of all his faculties, and he knew that he could not be
mistaken as to the things that were. He had lived with them. How could
such changes have come within the span of a single lifetime? Yet he had
seen the new! How could it be? And the old man could not tell.