Mr. Macglowrie's Widow by Bret Harte
Very little was known of her late husband, yet that little was of a
sufficiently awe-inspiring character to satisfy the curiosity of Laurel
Spring. A man of unswerving animosity and candid belligerency, untempered
by any human weakness, he had been actively engaged as survivor in two or
three blood feuds in Kentucky, and some desultory dueling, only to
succumb, through the irony of fate, to an attack of fever and ague in San
Francisco. Gifted with a fine sense of humor, he is said, in his last
moments, to have called the simple-minded clergyman to his bedside to
assist him in putting on his boots. The kindly divine, although pointing
out to him that he was too weak to rise, much less walk, could not resist
the request of a dying man. When it was fulfilled, Mr. MacGlowrie crawled
back into bed with the remark that his race had always "died with their
boots on," and so passed smilingly and tranquilly away.
It is probable that this story was invented to soften the ignominy of
MacGlowrie's peaceful end. The widow herself was also reported to be
endowed with relations of equally homicidal eccentricities. Her two
brothers, Stephen and Hector Boompointer, had Western reputations that
were quite as lurid and remote. Her own experiences of a frontier life had
been rude and startling, and her scalp—a singularly beautiful one of
blond hair—had been in peril from Indians on several occasions. A
pair of scissors, with which she had once pinned the intruding hand of a
marauder to her cabin doorpost, was to be seen in her sitting room at
Laurel Spring. A fair-faced woman with eyes the color of pale sherry, a
complexion sallowed by innutritious food, slight and tall figure, she gave
little suggestion of this Amazonian feat. But that it exercised a
wholesome restraint over the many who would like to have induced her to
reenter the married state, there is little reason to doubt. Laurel Spring
was a peaceful agricultural settlement. Few of its citizens dared to
aspire to the dangerous eminence of succeeding the defunct MacGlowrie; few
could hope that the sister of living Boompointers would accept an obvious
mesalliance with them. However sincere their affection, life was still
sweet to the rude inhabitants of Laurel Spring, and the preservation of
the usual quantity of limbs necessary to them in their avocations. With
their devotion thus chastened by caution, it would seem as if the charming
mistress of Laurel Spring House was secure from disturbing attentions.
It was a pleasant summer afternoon, and the sun was beginning to strike
under the laurels around the hotel into the little office where the widow
sat with the housekeeper—a stout spinster of a coarser Western type.
Mrs. MacGlowrie was looking wearily over some accounts on the desk before
her, and absently putting back some tumbled sheaves from the stack of her
heavy hair. For the widow had a certain indolent Southern negligence,
which in a less pretty woman would have been untidiness, and a
characteristic hook and eyeless freedom of attire which on less graceful
limbs would have been slovenly. One sleeve cuff was unbuttoned, but it
showed the blue veins of her delicate wrist; the neck of her dress had
lost a hook, but the glimpse of a bit of edging round the white throat
made amends. Of all which, however, it should be said that the widow, in
her limp abstraction, was really unconscious.
"I reckon we kin put the new preacher in Kernel Starbottle's room," said
Miss Morvin, the housekeeper. "The kernel's going to-night."
"Oh," said the widow in a tone of relief, but whether at the early
departure of the gallant colonel or at the successful solution of the
problem of lodging the preacher, Miss Morvin could not determine. But she
went on tentatively:—
"The kernel was talkin' in the bar room, and kind o' wonderin' why you
hadn't got married agin. Said you'd make a stir in Sacramento—but
you was jest berried HERE."
"I suppose he's heard of my husband?" said the widow indifferently.
"Yes—but he said he couldn't PLACE YOU," returned Miss Morvin.
The widow looked up. "Couldn't place ME?" she repeated.
"Yes—hadn't heard o' MacGlowrie's wife and disremembered your
"The colonel doesn't know everybody, even if he is a fighting man," said
Mrs. MacGlowrie with languid scorn.
"That's just what Dick Blair said," returned Miss Morvin. "And though he's
only a doctor, he jest stuck up agin' the kernel, and told that story
about your jabbin' that man with your scissors—beautiful; and how
you once fought off a bear with a red-hot iron, so that you'd have admired
to hear him. He's awfully gone on you!"
The widow took that opportunity to button her cuff.
"And how long does the preacher calculate to stay?" she added, returning
to business details.
"Only a day. They'll have his house fixed up and ready for him to-morrow.
They're spendin' a heap o' money on it. He ought to be the pow'ful
preacher they say he is—to be worth it."
But here Mrs. MacGlowrie's interest in the conversation ceased, and it
In her anxiety to further the suit of Dick Blair, Miss Morvin had scarcely
reported the colonel with fairness.
That gentleman, leaning against the bar in the hotel saloon with a
cocktail in his hand, had expatiated with his usual gallantry upon Mrs.
MacGlowrie's charms, and on his own "personal" responsibility had
expressed the opinion that they were thrown away on Laurel Spring. That—blank
it all—she reminded him of the blankest beautiful woman he had seen
even in Washington—old Major Beveridge's daughter from Kentucky.
Were they sure she wasn't from Kentucky? Wasn't her name Beveridge—and
not Boompointer? Becoming more reminiscent over his second drink, the
colonel could vaguely recall only one Boompointer—a blank skulking
hound, sir—a mean white shyster—but, of course, he couldn't
have been of the same breed as such a blank fine woman as the widow! It
was here that Dick Blair interrupted with a heightened color and a glowing
eulogy of the widow's relations and herself, which, however, only
increased the chivalry of the colonel—who would be the last man,
sir, to detract from—or suffer any detraction of—a lady's
reputation. It was needless to say that all this was intensely diverting
to the bystanders, and proportionally discomposing to Blair, who already
experienced some slight jealousy of the colonel as a man whose fighting
reputation might possibly attract the affections of the widow of the
belligerent MacGlowrie. He had cursed his folly and relapsed into gloomy
silence until the colonel left.
For Dick Blair loved the widow with the unselfishness of a generous nature
and a first passion. He had admired her from the first day his lot was
cast in Laurel Spring, where coming from a rude frontier practice he had
succeeded the district doctor in a more peaceful and domestic
ministration. A skillful and gentle surgeon rather than a general
household practitioner, he was at first coldly welcomed by the gloomy
dyspeptics and ague-haunted settlers from riparian lowlands. The few
bucolic idlers who had relieved the monotony of their lives by the
stimulus of patent medicines and the exaltation of stomach bitters, also
looked askance at him. A common-sense way of dealing with their ailments
did not naturally commend itself to the shopkeepers who vended these
nostrums, and he was made to feel the opposition of trade. But he was
gentle to women and children and animals, and, oddly enough, it was to
this latter dilection that he owed the widow's interest in him—an
interest that eventually made him popular elsewhere.
The widow had a pet dog—a beautiful spaniel, who, however, had
assimilated her graceful languor to his own native love of ease to such an
extent that he failed in a short leap between a balcony and a window, and
fell to the ground with a fractured thigh. The dog was supposed to be
crippled for life even if that life were worth preserving—when Dr.
Blair came to the rescue, set the fractured limb, put it in splints and
plaster after an ingenious design of his own, visited him daily, and
eventually restored him to his mistress's lap sound in wind and limb. How
far this daily ministration and the necessary exchange of sympathy between
the widow and himself heightened his zeal was not known. There were those
who believed that the whole thing was an unmanly trick to get the better
of his rivals in the widow's good graces; there were others who averred
that his treatment of a brute beast like a human being was sinful and
unchristian. "He couldn't have done more for a regularly baptized child,"
said the postmistress. "And what mo' would a regularly baptized child have
wanted?" returned Mrs. MacGlowrie, with the drawling Southern intonation
she fell back upon when most contemptuous.
But Dr. Blair's increasing practice and the widow's preoccupation
presently ended their brief intimacy. It was well known that she
encouraged no suitors at the hotel, and his shyness and sensitiveness
shrank from ostentatious advances. There seemed to be no chance of her
becoming, herself, his patient; her sane mind, indolent nerves, and calm
circulation kept her from feminine "vapors" of feminine excesses. She
retained the teeth and digestion of a child in her thirty odd years, and
abused neither. Riding and the cultivation of her little garden gave her
sufficient exercise. And yet the unexpected occurred! The day after
Starbottle left, Dr. Blair was summoned hastily to the hotel. Mrs.
MacGlowrie had been found lying senseless in a dead faint in the passage
outside the dining room. In his hurried flight thither with the messenger
he could learn only that she had seemed to be in her usual health that
morning, and that no one could assign any cause for her fainting.
He could find out little more when he arrived and examined her as she lay
pale and unconscious on the sofa of her sitting room. It had not been
thought necessary to loosen her already loose dress, and indeed he could
find no organic disturbance. The case was one of sudden nervous shock—but
this, with his knowledge of her indolent temperament, seemed almost
absurd. They could tell him nothing but that she was evidently on the
point of entering the dining room when she fell unconscious. Had she been
frightened by anything? A snake or a rat? Miss Morvin was indignant! The
widow of MacGlowrie—the repeller of grizzlies—frightened at
"sich"! Had she been upset by any previous excitement, passion, or the
receipt of bad news? No!—she "wasn't that kind," as the doctor knew.
And even as they were speaking he felt the widow's healthy life returning
to the pulse he was holding, and giving a faint tinge to her lips. Her
blue-veined eyelids quivered slightly and then opened with languid wonder
on the doctor and her surroundings. Suddenly a quick, startled look
contracted the yellow brown pupils of her eyes, she lifted herself to a
sitting posture with a hurried glance around the room and at the door
beyond. Catching the quick, observant eyes of Dr. Blair, she collected
herself with an effort, which Dr. Blair felt in her pulse, and drew away
"What is it? What happened?" she said weakly.
"You had a slight attack of faintness," said the doctor cheerily, "and
they called me in as I was passing, but you're all right now."
"How pow'ful foolish," she said, with returning color, but her eyes still
glancing at the door, "slumping off like a green gyrl at nothin'."
"Perhaps you were startled?" said the doctor.
Mrs. MacGlowrie glanced up quickly and looked away. "No!—Let me see!
I was just passing through the hall, going into the dining room, when—everything
seemed to waltz round me—and I was off! Where did they find me?" she
said, turning to Miss Morvin.
"I picked you up just outside the door," replied the housekeeper.
"Then they did not see me?" said Mrs. MacGlowrie.
"Who's they?" responded the housekeeper with more directness than
"The people in the dining room. I was just opening the door—and I
felt this coming on—and—I reckon I had just sense enough to
shut the door again before I went off."
"Then that accounts for what Jim Slocum said," uttered Miss Morvin
triumphantly. "He was in the dining room talkin' with the new preacher,
when he allowed he heard the door open and shut behind him. Then he heard
a kind of slump outside and opened the door again just to find you lyin'
there, and to rush off and get me. And that's why he was so mad at the
preacher!—for he says he just skurried away without offerin' to
help. He allows the preacher may be a pow'ful exhorter—but he ain't
worth much at 'works.'"
"Some men can't bear to be around when a woman's up to that sort of
foolishness," said the widow, with a faint attempt at a smile, but a
return of her paleness.
"Hadn't you better lie down again?" said the doctor solicitously.
"I'm all right now," returned Mrs. MacGlowrie, struggling to her feet;
"Morvin will look after me till the shakiness goes. But it was mighty
touching and neighborly to come in, Doctor," she continued, succeeding at
last in bringing up a faint but adorable smile, which stirred Blair's
pulses. "If I were my own dog—you couldn't have treated me better!"
With no further excuse for staying longer, Blair was obliged to depart—yet
reluctantly, both as lover and physician. He was by no means satisfied
with her condition. He called to inquire the next day—but she was
engaged and sent word to say she was "better."
In the excitement attending the advent of the new preacher the slight
illness of the charming widow was forgotten. He had taken the settlement
by storm. His first sermon at Laurel Spring exceeded even the extravagant
reputation that had preceded him. Known as the "Inspired Cowboy," a common
unlettered frontiersman, he was said to have developed wonderful powers of
exhortatory eloquence among the Indians, and scarcely less savage border
communities where he had lived, half outcast, half missionary. He had just
come up from the Southern agricultural districts, where he had been,
despite his rude antecedents, singularly effective with women and young
people. The moody dyspeptics and lazy rustics of Laurel Spring were
stirred as with a new patent medicine. Dr. Blair went to the first
"revival" meeting. Without undervaluing the man's influence, he was
instinctively repelled by his appearance and methods. The young
physician's trained powers of observation not only saw an overwrought
emotionalism in the speaker's eloquence, but detected the ring of
insincerity in his more lucid speech and acts. Nevertheless, the hysteria
of the preacher was communicated to the congregation, who wept and shouted
with him. Tired and discontented housewives found their vague sorrows and
vaguer longings were only the result of their "unregenerate" state; the
lazy country youths felt that the frustration of their small ambitions lay
in their not being "convicted of sin." The mourners' bench was crowded
with wildly emulating sinners. Dr. Blair turned away with mingled feelings
of amusement and contempt. At the door Jim Slocum tapped him on the
shoulder: "Fetches the wimmin folk every time, don't he, Doctor?" said
"So it seems," said Blair dryly.
"You're one o' them scientific fellers that look inter things—what
do YOU allow it is?"
The young doctor restrained the crushing answer that rose to his lips. He
had learned caution in that neighborhood. "I couldn't say," he said
"'Tain't no religion," said Slocum emphatically; "it's jest pure
fas'nation. Did ye look at his eye? It's like a rattlesnake's, and them
wimmin are like birds. They're frightened of him—but they hev to do
jest what he 'wills' 'em. That's how he skeert the widder the other day."
The doctor was alert and on fire at once. "Scared the widow?" he repeated
"Yes. You know how she swooned away. Well, sir, me and that preacher,
Brown, was the only one in that dinin' room at the time. The widder opened
the door behind me and sorter peeked in, and that thar preacher give a
start and looked up; and then, that sort of queer light come in his eyes,
and she shut the door, and kinder fluttered and flopped down in the
passage outside, like a bird! And he crawled away like a snake, and never
said a word! My belief is that either he hadn't time to turn on the hull
influence, or else she, bein' smart, got the door shut betwixt her and it
in time! Otherwise, sure as you're born, she'd hev been floppin' and
crawlin' and sobbin' arter him—jist like them critters we've left."
"Better not let the brethren hear you talk like that, or they'll lynch
you," said the doctor, with a laugh. "Mrs. MacGlowrie simply had an attack
of faintness from some overexertion, that's all."
Nevertheless, he was uneasy as he walked away. Mrs. MacGlowrie had
evidently received a shock which was still unexplained, and, in spite of
Slocum's exaggerated fancy, there might be some foundation in his story.
He did not share the man's superstition, although he was not a skeptic
regarding magnetism. Yet even then, the widow's action was one of
repulsion, and as long as she was strong enough not to come to these
meetings, she was not in danger. A day or two later, as he was passing the
garden of the hotel on horseback, he saw her lithe, graceful, languid
figure bending over one of her favorite flower beds. The high fence
partially concealed him from view, and she evidently believed herself
alone. Perhaps that was why she suddenly raised herself from her task, put
back her straying hair with a weary, abstracted look, remained for a
moment quite still staring at the vacant sky, and then, with a little
catching of her breath, resumed her occupation in a dull, mechanical way.
In that brief glimpse of her charming face, Blair was shocked at the
change; she was pale, the corners of her pretty mouth were drawn, there
were deeper shades in the orbits of her eyes, and in spite of her broad
garden hat with its blue ribbon, her light flowered frock and frilled
apron, she looked as he fancied she might have looked in the first
crushing grief of her widowhood. Yet he would have passed on, respecting
her privacy of sorrow, had not her little spaniel detected him with her
keener senses. And Fluffy being truthful—as dogs are—and
recognizing a dear friend in the intruder, barked joyously.
The widow looked up, her eyes met Blair's, and she reddened. But he was
too acute a lover to misinterpret what he knew, alas! was only confusion
at her abstraction being discovered. Nevertheless, there was something
else in her brown eyes he had never seen before. A momentary lighting up
of RELIEF—of even hopefulness—in his presence. It was enough
for Blair; he shook off his old shyness like the dust of his ride, and
galloped around to the front door.
But she met him in the hall with only her usual languid good humor.
Nevertheless, Blair was not abashed.
"I can't put you in splints and plaster like Fluffy, Mrs. MacGlowrie," he
said, "but I can forbid you to go into the garden unless you're looking
better. It's a positive reflection on my professional skill, and Laurel
Spring will be shocked, and hold me responsible."
Mrs. MacGlowrie had recovered enough of her old spirit to reply that she
thought Laurel Spring could be in better business than looking at her over
her garden fence.
"But your dog, who knows you're not well, and doesn't think me quite a
fool, had the good sense to call me. You heard him."
But the widow protested that she was as strong as a horse, and that Fluffy
was like all puppies, conceited to the last degree.
"Well," said Blair cheerfully, "suppose I admit you are all right,
physically, you'll confess you have some trouble on your mind, won't you?
If I can't make you SHOW me your tongue, you'll let me hear you USE it to
tell me what worries you. If," he added more earnestly, "you won't confide
in your physician—you will perhaps—to—to—a—FRIEND."
But Mrs. MacGlowrie, evading his earnest eyes as well as his appeal, was
wondering what good it would do either a doctor, or—a—a—she
herself seemed to hesitate over the word—"a FRIEND, to hear the
worriments of a silly, nervous old thing—who had only stuck a little
too closely to her business."
"You are neither nervous nor old, Mrs. MacGlowrie," said the doctor
promptly, "though I begin to think you HAVE been too closely confined
here. You want more diversion, or—excitement. You might even go to
hear this preacher"—he stopped, for the word had slipped from his
But a swift look of scorn swept her pale face. "And you'd like me to
follow those skinny old frumps and leggy, limp chits, that slobber and cry
over that man!" she said contemptuously. "No! I reckon I only want a
change—and I'll go away, or get out of this for a while."
The poor doctor had not thought of this possible alternative. His heart
sank, but he was brave. "Yes, perhaps you are right," he said sadly,
"though it would be a dreadful loss—to Laurel Spring—to us all—if
"Do I look so VERY bad, doctor?" she said, with a half-mischievous,
The doctor thought her upturned face very adorable, but restrained his
feelings heroically, and contented himself with replying to the pathetic
half of her smile. "You look as if you had been suffering," he said
gravely, "and I never saw you look so before. You seem as if you had
experienced some great shock. Do you know," he went on, in a lower tone
and with a half-embarrassed smile, "that when I saw you just now in the
garden, you looked as I imagined you might have looked in the first days
of your widowhood—when your husband's death was fresh in your
A strange expression crossed her face. Her eyelids dropped instantly, and
with both hands she caught up her frilled apron as if to meet them and
covered her face. A little shudder seemed to pass over her shoulders, and
then a cry that ended in an uncontrollable and half-hysterical laugh
followed from the depths of that apron, until shaking her sides, and with
her head still enveloped in its covering, she fairly ran into the inner
room and closed the door behind her.
Amazed, shocked, and at first indignant, Dr. Blair remained fixed to the
spot. Then his indignation gave way to a burning mortification as he
recalled his speech. He had made a frightful faux pas! He had been fool
enough to try to recall the most sacred memories of that dead husband he
was trying to succeed—and her quick woman's wit had detected his
ridiculous stupidity. Her laugh was hysterical—but that was only
natural in her mixed emotions. He mounted his horse in confusion and rode
For a few days he avoided the house. But when he next saw her she had a
charming smile of greeting and an air of entire obliviousness of his past
blunder. She said she was better. She had taken his advice and was giving
herself some relaxation from business. She had been riding again—oh,
so far! Alone?—of course; she was always alone—else what would
Laurel Spring say?
"True," said Blair smilingly; "besides, I forgot that you are quite able
to take care of yourself in an emergency. And yet," he added, admiringly
looking at her lithe figure and indolent grace, "do you know I never can
associate you with the dreadful scenes they say you have gone through."
"Then please don't!" she said quickly; "really, I'd rather you wouldn't.
I'm sick and tired of hearing of it!" She was half laughing and yet half
in earnest, with a slight color on her cheek.
Blair was a little embarrassed. "Of course, I don't mean your heroism—like
that story of the intruder and the scissors," he stammered.
"Oh, THAT'S the worst of all! It's too foolish—it's sickening!" she
went on almost angrily. "I don't know who started that stuff." She paused,
and then added shyly, "I really am an awful coward and horribly nervous—as
He would have combated this—but she looked really disturbed, and he
had no desire to commit another imprudence. And he thought, too, that he
again had seen in her eyes the same hopeful, wistful light he had once
seen before, and was happy.
This led him, I fear, to indulge in wilder dreams. His practice, although
increasing, barely supported him, and the widow was rich. Her business had
been profitable, and she had repaid the advances made her when she first
took the hotel. But this disparity in their fortunes which had frightened
him before now had no fears for him. He felt that if he succeeded in
winning her affections she could afford to wait for him, despite other
suitors, until his talents had won an equal position. His rivals had
always felt as secure in his poverty as they had in his peaceful
profession. How could a poor, simple doctor aspire to the hand of the rich
widow of the redoubtable MacGlowrie?
It was late one afternoon, and the low sun was beginning to strike athwart
the stark columns and down the long aisles of the redwoods on the High
Ridge. The doctor, returning from a patient at the loggers' camp in its
depths, had just sighted the smaller groves of Laurel Springs, two miles
away. He was riding fast, with his thoughts filled with the widow, when he
heard a joyous bark in the underbrush, and Fluffy came bounding towards
him. Blair dismounted to caress him, as was his wont, and then, wisely
conceiving that his mistress was not far away, sauntered forward
exploringly, leading his horse, the dog hounding before him and barking,
as if bent upon both leading and announcing him. But the latter he
effected first, for as Blair turned from the trail into the deeper woods,
he saw the figures of a man and woman walking together suddenly separate
at the dog's warning. The woman was Mrs. MacGlowrie—the man was the
Amazed, mystified, and indignant, Blair nevertheless obeyed his first
instinct, which was that of a gentleman. He turned leisurely aside as if
not recognizing them, led his horse a few paces further, mounted him, and
galloped away without turning his head. But his heart was filled with
bitterness and disgust. This woman—who but a few days before had
voluntarily declared her scorn and contempt for that man and his admirers—had
just been giving him a clandestine meeting like one of the most infatuated
of his devotees! The story of the widow's fainting, the coarse surmises
and comments of Slocum, came back to him with overwhelming significance.
But even then his reason forbade him to believe that she had fallen under
the preacher's influence—she, with her sane mind and indolent
temperament. Yet, whatever her excuse or purpose was, she had deceived him
wantonly and cruelly! His abrupt avoidance of her had prevented him from
knowing if she, on her part, had recognized him as he rode away. If she
HAD, she would understand why he had avoided her, and any explanation must
come from her.
Then followed a few days of uncertainty, when his thoughts again reverted
to the preacher with returning jealousy. Was she, after all, like other
women, and had her gratuitous outburst of scorn of THEIR infatuation been
prompted by unsuccessful rivalry? He was too proud to question Slocum
again or breathe a word of his fears. Yet he was not strong enough to keep
from again seeking the High Ridge, to discover any repetition of that
rendezvous. But he saw her neither there, nor elsewhere, during his daily
rounds. And one night his feverish anxiety getting the better of him, he
entered the great "Gospel Tent" of the revival preacher.
It chanced to be an extraordinary meeting, and the usual enthusiastic
audience was reinforced by some sight-seers from the neighboring county
town—the district judge and officials from the court in session,
among them Colonel Starbottle. The impassioned revivalist—his eyes
ablaze with fever, his lank hair wet with perspiration, hanging beside his
heavy but weak jaws—was concluding a fervent exhortation to his
auditors to confess their sins, "accept conviction," and regenerate then
and there, without delay. They must put off "the old Adam," and put on the
flesh of righteousness at once! They were to let no false shame or worldly
pride keep them from avowing their guilty past before their brethren. Sobs
and groans followed the preacher's appeals; his own agitation and
convulsive efforts seemed to spread in surging waves through the
congregation, until a dozen men and women arose, staggering like drunkards
blindly, or led or dragged forward by sobbing sympathizers towards the
mourners' bench. And prominent among them, but stepping jauntily and
airily forward, was the redoubtable and worldly Colonel Starbottle!
At this proof of the orator's power the crowd shouted—but stopped
suddenly, as the colonel halted before the preacher, and ascended the
rostrum beside him. Then taking a slight pose with his gold-headed cane in
one hand and the other thrust in the breast of his buttoned coat, he said
in his blandest, forensic voice:—
"If I mistake not, sir, you are advising these ladies and gentlemen to a
free and public confession of their sins and a—er—denunciation
of their past life—previous to their conversion. If I am mistaken I—er—ask
your pardon, and theirs and—er—hold myself responsible—er—personally
The preacher glanced uneasily at the colonel, but replied, still in the
hysterical intonation of his exordium:—
"Yes! a complete searching of hearts—a casting out of the seven
Devils of Pride, Vain Glory"—
"Thank you—that is sufficient," said the colonel blandly. "But might
I—er—be permitted to suggest that you—er—er—SET
THEM THE EXAMPLE! The statement of the circumstances attending your own
past life and conversion would be singularly interesting and exemplary."
The preacher turned suddenly and glanced at the colonel with furious eyes
set in an ashy face.
"If this is the flouting and jeering of the Ungodly and Dissolute," he
screamed, "woe to you! I say—woe to you! What have such as YOU to do
with my previous state of unregeneracy?"
"Nothing," said the colonel blandly, "unless that state were also the
STATE OF ARKANSAS! Then, sir, as a former member of the Arkansas BAR—I
might be able to assist your memory—and—er—even
corroborate your confession."
But here the enthusiastic adherents of the preacher, vaguely conscious of
some danger to their idol, gathered threateningly round the platform from
which he had promptly leaped into their midst, leaving the colonel alone,
to face the sea of angry upturned faces. But that gallant warrior never
altered his characteristic pose. Behind him loomed the reputation of the
dozen duels he had fought, the gold-headed stick on which he leaned was
believed to contain eighteen inches of shining steel—and the people
of Laurel Spring had discretion.
He smiled suavely, stepped jauntily down, and made his way to the entrance
But here he was met by Blair and Slocum, and a dozen eager questions:—
"What was it?" "What had he done?" "WHO was he?"
"A blank shyster, who had swindled the widows and orphans in Arkansas and
escaped from jail."
"And his name isn't Brown?"
"No," said the colonel curtly.
"What is it?"
"That is a matter which concerns only myself and him, sir," said the
colonel loftily; "but for which I am—er—personally
A wild idea took possession of Blair.
"And you say he was a noted desperado?" he said with nervous hesitation.
The colonel glared.
"Desperado, sir! Never! Blank it all!—a mean, psalm-singing,
crawling, sneak thief!"
And Blair felt relieved without knowing exactly why.
The next day it was known that the preacher, Gabriel Brown, had left
Laurel Spring on an urgent "Gospel call" elsewhere.
Colonel Starbottle returned that night with his friends to the county
town. Strange to say, a majority of the audience had not grasped the full
significance of the colonel's unseemly interruption, and those who had, as
partisans, kept it quiet. Blair, tortured by doubt, had a new delicacy
added to his hesitation, which left him helpless until the widow should
take the initiative in explanation.
A sudden summons from his patient at the loggers' camp the next day
brought him again to the fateful redwoods. But he was vexed and mystified
to find, on arriving at the camp, that he had been made the victim of some
stupid blunder, and that no message had been sent from there. He was
returning abstractedly through the woods when he was amazed at seeing at a
little distance before him the flutter of Mrs. MacGlowrie's well-known
dark green riding habit and the figure of the lady herself. Her dog was
not with her, neither was the revival preacher—or he might have
thought the whole vision a trick of his memory. But she slackened her
pace, and he was obliged to rein up abreast of her in some confusion.
"I hope I won't shock you again by riding alone through the woods with a
man," she said with a light laugh.
Nevertheless, she was quite pale as he answered, somewhat coldly, that he
had no right to be shocked at anything she might choose to do.
"But you WERE shocked, for you rode away the last time without speaking,"
she said; "and yet"—she looked up suddenly into his eyes with a
smileless face—"that man you saw me with once had a better right to
ride alone with me than any other man. He was"—
"Your lover?" said Blair with brutal brevity.
"My husband!" returned Mrs. MacGlowrie slowly.
"Then you are NOT a widow," gasped Blair.
"No. I am only a divorced woman. That is why I have had to live a lie
here. That man—that hypocrite—whose secret was only half
exposed the other night, was my husband—divorced from me by the law,
when, an escaped convict, he fled with another woman from the State three
years ago." Her face flushed and whitened again; she put up her hand
blindly to her straying hair, and for an instant seemed to sway in the
But Blair as quickly leaped from his horse, and was beside her. "Let me
help you down," he said quickly, "and rest yourself until you are better."
Before she could reply, he lifted her tenderly to the ground and placed
her on a mossy stump a little distance from the trail. Her color and a
faint smile returned to her troubled face.
"Had we not better go on?" she said, looking around. "I never went so far
as to sit down in the woods with HIM that day."
"Forgive me," he said pleadingly, "but, of course, I knew nothing. I
disliked the man from instinct—I thought he had some power over
"He has none—except the secret that would also have exposed
"But others knew it. Colonel Starbottle must have known his name? And yet"—as
he remembered he stammered—"he refused to tell me."
"Yes, but not because he knew he was my husband, but because he knew he
bore the same name. He thinks, as every one does, that my husband died in
San Francisco. The man who died there was my husband's cousin—a
desperate man and a noted duelist."
"And YOU assumed to be HIS widow?" said the astounded Blair.
"Yes, but don't blame me too much," she said pathetically. "It was a wild,
a silly deceit, but it was partly forced upon me. For when I first arrived
across the plains, at the frontier, I was still bearing my husband's name,
and although I was alone and helpless, I found myself strangely welcomed
and respected by those rude frontiersmen. It was not long before I saw it
was because I was presumed to be the widow of ALLEN MacGlowrie—who
had just died in San Francisco. I let them think so, for I knew—what
they did not—that Allen's wife had separated from him and married
again, and that my taking his name could do no harm. I accepted their
kindness; they gave me my first start in business, which brought me here.
It was not much of a deceit," she continued, with a slight tremble of her
pretty lip, "to prefer to pass as the widow of a dead desperado than to be
known as the divorced wife of a living convict. It has hurt no one, and it
has saved me just now."
"You were right! No one could blame you," said Blair eagerly, seizing her
But she disengaged it gently, and went on:—
"And now you wonder why I gave him a meeting here?"
"I wonder at nothing but your courage and patience in all this suffering!"
said Blair fervently; "and at your forgiving me for so cruelly
"But you must learn all. When I first saw MacGlowrie under his assumed
name, I fainted, for I was terrified and believed he knew I was here and
had come to expose me even at his own risk. That was why I hesitated
between going away or openly defying him. But it appears he was more
frightened than I at finding me here—he had supposed I had changed
my name after the divorce, and that Mrs. MacGlowrie, Laurel Spring, was
his cousin's widow. When he found out who I was he was eager to see me and
agree upon a mutual silence while he was here. He thought only of
himself," she added scornfully, "and Colonel Starbottle's recognition of
him that night as the convicted swindler was enough to put him to flight."
"And the colonel never suspected that you were his wife?" said Blair.
"Never! He supposed from the name that he was some relation of my husband,
and that was why he refused to tell it—for my sake. The colonel is
an old fogy—and pompous—but a gentleman—as good as they
A slightly jealous uneasiness and a greater sense of shame came over
"I seem to have been the only one who suspected and did not aid you," he
said sadly, "and yet God knows"—
The widow had put up her slim hand in half-smiling, half-pathetic
"Wait! I have not told you everything. When I took over the responsibility
of being Allen MacGlowrie's widow, I had to take over HER relations and
HER history as I gathered it from the frontiersmen. I never frightened any
grizzly—I never jabbed anybody with the scissors; it was SHE who did
it. I never was among the Injins—I never had any fighting relations;
my paw was a plain farmer. I was only a peaceful Blue Grass girl—there!
I never thought there was any harm in it; it seemed to keep the men off,
and leave me free—until I knew you! And you know I didn't want you
to believe it—don't you?"
She hid her flushed face and dimples in her handkerchief.
"But did you never think there might be another way to keep the men off,
and sink the name of MacGlowrie forever?" said Blair in a lower voice.
"I think we must be going back now," said the widow timidly, withdrawing
her hand, which Blair had again mysteriously got possession of in her
"But wait just a few minutes longer to keep me company," said Blair
pleadingly. "I came here to see a patient, and as there must have been
some mistake in the message—I must try to discover it."
"Oh! Is that all?" said the widow quickly. "Why?"—she flushed again
and laughed faintly—"Well! I am that patient! I wanted to see you
alone to explain everything, and I could think of no other way. I'm afraid
I've got into the habit of thinking nothing of being somebody else."
"I wish you would let me select who you should be," said the doctor
"We really must go back—to the horses," said the widow.
"Agreed—if we will ride home together."
They did. And before the year was over, although they both remained, the
name of MacGlowrie had passed out of Laurel Spring.