Out of Sympathy by Florence Finch Kelly

"Sympathy with his kind and well-doing for its welfare, direct or indirect, are the essential conditions of the existence and development of the more complex social organism; and no mortal can transcend these conditions with any success."—HENRY MAUDSLEY.


Our party was going from the Yosemite Valley to Lake Tenaiya—that beautiful bit of shining, liquid sapphire ringed by its mighty setting of granite peaks and domes—by the long and roundabout way of Cloud's Rest. It would be an all-day trip, but we knew that at the end would be the cabin of Henry Moulton, a lone mountaineer, to receive us, with such comfort as it could give, and Henry Moulton himself to cook for us a supper of fresh fish and game. The thoughts of the whole party began to turn longingly in that direction as the afternoon of the late summer day waned, and in straggling, silent file we hurried our horses, with such speed as was possible, over the blind trail. The Artist, who was next in front of me, turned in his saddle and said:

"We ought to get a warm welcome at Moulton's cabin. For this is the first party that has been up here for two months, and it's not likely that he has seen another human being in all that time."

"Does he live all alone, then?"

"Absolutely alone. He has a cabin on the banks of Lake Tenaiya—it is only about three or four miles farther, now—and whenever parties of tourists come up from the Valley to stay a day or two, he cooks for them and lets them sleep in his shanty if they wish. He is a very strange man, and I hope you will be able to draw him into conversation, for I 'm sure you would find him an interesting character. His life story is the queerest thing I 've run across on the Pacific Coast, and if you won't give away to him that you know anything about it, I 'll tell it to you."

At once I scented big game, for the Artist had spent many summers in that region and knew all that was strange or weird or startling in its history. Already he had told me many tales, and if this was to be the strangest of them all I wanted to hear it. So I urged my horse on and by dint of circling around trees and jumping over logs and occasionally falling into single file, we managed to keep within talking distance of each other while he told me this tale of the lone man at Lake Tenaiya:

"I knew Moulton years ago—thirty, yes, thirty-five of them—in Cambridge, where we were boys together. He went to Harvard and was graduated from both the academic and the law departments, and was looked upon as a promising young man. If any prophet had foretold to me, in those days, that Henry Moulton would become a hermit in the Sierras and do cooking for tourists, I would have told him he was the father of lies, and had better retreat to his natural home. Moulton married a handsome young woman of an influential family—his own people were poor—and all his friends were confident that a brilliant future awaited him.

"A few years after his marriage he came West, intending to settle in San Francisco and practise law. His wife stayed behind until he should get a start. The gold fever was n't dead yet in those days, and Moulton had a bad attack of it. When I came to the Coast he was working in some played-out placer mines, and feeling perfectly sure that he was going to strike a fortune almost any day. When a man has once dug gold out of the ground with his own hands, he seems to be unfitted for doing anything else. It's as bad as the gambler's mania. Well, the fever got into Moulton's blood, and he gave himself up to it, drifting about, prospecting, and sometimes striking a good thing, but often quite the contrary.

"Finally his wife came on, and she persuaded him to give up the gold hunt and his roving life and settle down in San Francisco to the practice of his profession. He got on remarkably well, had all the business he could attend to, and was making a heap more money than there was the slightest probability of his ever digging out of the ground. But the fever of his vagrant, irresponsible life was still in his veins, and with all that promise of a successful career before him he was restless and unhappy. He could not forget the camp fire in the mountains and the whispering of the pine trees and the life of the woods. I don't know if you understand—" and the Artist hesitated, turning upon me an uncertain, questioning glance.

"I know what you mean," I answered. "Go on and say what you had in mind. It's a fascinating question."

"That it is," he replied, "and I never can decide whether it is something fine and high in a man's nature which makes him want to yield to that sort of a yearning, or whether it is mere latent savagery, coming out all the stronger for having been long repressed.

"But what's the use of speculating? The bald truth is that if a man has a strong feeling for Nature and once knows the charm of wandering alone in wild places, he 'll have a string tied to him forever after, that will give him some mighty hard jerks.

"Moulton felt all that fascination very keenly, and the mountains and the forests seemed to be always calling him and commanding him to return to them. The follies and the faults of men and the baseness of human nature, of which, of course, the practice of his profession gave him special knowledge, irritated him, and every new case made him more impatient with civilization and more contemptuous of his fellow men.

"I was in the courtroom once when he won a big case which had been bitterly contested. A crowd of lawyers was there, and they were all enthusiastic about the way he had conducted it and the brilliant victory he had won. They pressed around to congratulate him, but he got away from them as soon as he could and went into the street with me. We walked a block or more before he spoke, and then he burst out bitterly:

"'I 've won some thousands of dollars and a lot of prestige in this case, but what is it all worth? I 'd give it all to lie just one night, perfectly free, under the pine trees in the mountains, beside a worthless prospect hole, watching a bear shambling through the brush, and listening to the coyotes yelping in the distance. Even a coyote is better than most men, and a bear is noble company beside them!'

"Moulton's wife was as dissatisfied as he, but in a different way. She was of Puritan stock—and the sturdy moral sense of those old fellows, their rock-ribbed principles, and their determination to make other people think as they thought, came out strong in her character.

"Of course, that kind of a woman was bound to be shocked by the more free and easy life of the Pacific Coast. Her constant mental state was one of stern disapproval. And the gypsy outcropping in her husband's nature filled her with anxiety. It was quite impossible for her to understand it or to sympathize with it in the least.

"Their marriage had been an ardent love match, and notwithstanding the way their natures had been drifting apart they still loved each other devotedly. At home, where she had been in harmony with her surroundings, she had been a very charming woman. And so she was still—only—well, I must admit that she did seem out of place here. She was so uncompromising, you know.

"I did n't wonder, though, that she was amazed and confounded by the change in her husband's character. It would have shocked any of his old friends and it must have been an awful blow to his wife, who was still as ambitious for him as he had once been for himself.

"She had one general name for this unexpected development in him and called it all his 'bearism.' At first she applied it in fun, when he told her how much he had enjoyed watching and hunting the wild animals in the mountains, but she soon decided that it was a pretty good name for his new characteristics. And so his 'bearism' came to be more and more of a division between them. Not that they ever quarrelled—I am sure they did not. They just agonized over the hopeless state of affairs, and each one seemed to be always pained and grieved because it was impossible to come round to the other one's way of thinking.

"Finally, Dorothy—his wife—went home on a visit. I think she did it in a last desperate hope that she might induce him to follow her and stay in the East. For a little while after she left, Moulton braced up and put more heart into his work. He seemed to feel, at last, some pride in his really splendid capacities, and to have some revival of his old ambitions.

"I thought he had overcome the gypsy longing, and had buckled down to work for good. And so I was much surprised one day, when I found him in an unusually gloomy mood, to see him take down both of his diplomas and fling them into the fire.

"'Gewgaws!' he exclaimed, contemptuously. 'Trinkets! No sensible man ought to care a snap of his finger either for them or for what they represent.'

"We had a long talk after that, and he told me fully what shape his thoughts had been taking. It was that same story, which so many people have been telling of late years, of sneering pessimism as to the human race and its possibilities, and of contempt for the labors and rewards of life. We argued the matter for hours, and each one of us convinced himself that the other was entirely wrong.

"Moulton was then finishing up an important case, and as soon as it was concluded, he and some friends went away to have a few days of hunting in the mountains. He did not return with the others, who said that he had not quite finished his hunt, but that he expected to be back within a week. I went East just then and stayed a year, and when I reached San Francisco again I found he had not yet returned. And he has not been back to this day.

"I heard of him occasionally, sometimes in one part of the State, sometimes in another, prospecting, hunting, trapping, roaming about, but always in the mountains, and always keeping pretty well away from signs of civilization.

"Six years ago, when I first came to the Yosemite, I found Moulton here, acting as a guide. The loveliness and the majesty of the place had entranced him, just as they have entranced many another, and he stayed here, working as a guide, for several years. But he let me know at once that he did n't want me to speak about his past life, either to him or to others, and so no one here ever knew that we were anything more than the merest roadside acquaintances.

"Four or five years ago he tired of even the civilization of the Valley, and built a cabin up here at Lake Tenaiya, so that he would not see so many people. He is willing to cook for the occasional parties that go up to the lake, and very glad, I guess, when they leave him alone again with the trees and the mountains. When the snow drives him out in the fall he goes down to the Valley and lives as caretaker during the winter in one of the hotels—which is quite as lonely as his summer life—until it is possible to come up to his cabin again in the spring."

"And his wife?" I asked. "What has become of her?"

"After she found that she could not induce him to return to civilization she got a divorce; and the last I knew of her she was devoting herself to the advancement—Whoa, there! What's the matter with you?"

Both his horse and mine gave a sudden snort and a bound, and started to run. We checked them at the second leap and peered through the underbrush to see what had frightened them. A dark object was rustling the leaves on the ground beside a clump of bushes.

"It's a bear!" the Artist whispered excitedly, drawing his revolver. "I know this is reckless, but—you are n't afraid, are you?—the temptation is too much for my prudence. If he comes for us we 'll give our horses the rein and they 'll outrun him."

I leaned forward, trying to get a better view, and just as I heard the click of the trigger I caught a glimpse of a white human foot.

"Stop!" I cried. "It's a man!"

It was too late to stop the discharge, but a quick turn of his wrist sent the bullet whistling harmlessly through the trees. The creature scrambled hurriedly away through the dead leaves, and our horses, trembling and snorting, tried again to run.

"It is a bear!" he cried as we saw its shaggy bulk awkwardly climbing the slope between two clumps of bushes. "No, by Jove, it's got hands and feet! Now, what in the—"

Then the thing half turned toward us, and we saw that it had a man's head and face, covered with hair and beard.

"Good God! It's Henry Moulton!" cried the Artist. "Moulton! Moulton! Come back here! What's the matter with you!"

At the sound of his name the man sprang to his feet, facing us. The bearskin which wrapped his body slipped down and left him entirely nude. In an instant he dropped upon all fours again, drew the skin over him and shambled away.

We turned our staring eyes upon each other, and there was no need to speak the appalling thought that was in both our minds. With one accord we plied our whips and drove our unwilling and terrified horses in the direction he had taken. We came near enough to see that he was digging among the dry leaves for acorns, and that his beard and mouth were defiled with earth, and full of fragments of leaves and acorn shells. But as soon as he saw us he darted off into the thick underbrush, whither we could not follow him.

We hurried on to his shack, where the rest of the party had already arrived, and the men all started back at once with ropes and lariats for Moulton's capture and garments for his covering.

The cabin was a rough affair, made of logs and chinked with fir boughs, and having an earthen floor. A bunk made of rough timbers and mattressed with twigs of fur was covered with some blankets and clothing, tossed into heaps. Under the blankets at the head of the bunk I found a little pile of books—a Shakespeare, a volume of Emerson's essays, Thoreau's "Walden," and a well-worn "Iliad," in the Greek text.

"How queer," said one of the women, as she looked curiously at the volumes, "that an ignorant creature such as this crazy mountaineer must be should have such books as these in his cabin! They must have been left here by some tourist, and he has put them away and kept them. It shows how much respect even the ignorant have for learning."

Some torn scraps of paper were scattered over the floor, and I picked them all up and tried to piece them together.

When the men returned with the lunatic he was quiet and obedient, except when they tried to substitute proper clothing for his bearskin. Against this he fought with all his strength, striking, scratching, and kicking with hands and feet, snapping and biting viciously, and all the time either roaring with fury, or, when they succeeded in pulling the hide a little away from him, groaning, shrieking, and writhing as if he were being flayed.

So they desisted and left him wrapped in the skin and tied to a tree near the cabin door. There he constantly walked back and forth on all fours, the length of his rope, restlessly and in silence, as caged animals do. If any one approached too near he sprang at the intruder with a savage growl and a snap of his jaws. But otherwise he paid no attention to any of those who had expected to be his guests. He refused to eat, unless they offered him acorns or dry oak leaves. These he devoured voraciously.

There was some scrawled writing on the scraps of paper I had pieced together and the Artist and I made out some disjointed sentences. We agreed that the lunatic must have written them himself, in the first beclouding of his mind, and we thought the words might have some effect upon him. So we went out to where the poor, crazed creature was tied, and, looking him squarely in the eyes, the Artist spoke very slowly:

"Dorothy. Dorothy. She said I am a bear. Where is Dorothy?"

He stopped and stared and a puzzled, human look came into his eyes. He rose slowly to his feet and stood upright, leaning against the tree. For the moment he forgot his bearskin covering and it half fell off. He stared at us, mumbling strange sounds, which presently became incoherent words of human speech. But he spoke thickly and uncertainly, like one long unused to the sound of his voice:

"Where is—Dorothy? I want—she said—Dorothy—Dorothy—she said—I—a bear—I—I—am—a bear."

Then he dropped to all fours again and drew his bearskin closely about him and that was the last flicker of human intelligence that he showed.

The next morning the men made a small platform of some loose boards to which they tied the lunatic. He fought desperately against his bonds, and it required the combined strength of all the men of the party to fasten him securely to the platform. Then the guide improvised a harness of ropes and hitched to this primitive sled the horse which he himself rode. Watching the poor creature closely, our little party went slowly back to the Valley, whence he was sent to an asylum. The Artist wrote to Mrs. Moulton an account of his condition, and told her also its probable cause.

Some months afterward I went to the asylum, purposely to learn what had become of him. The physician said his mental condition was steadily improving, that there was a pretty sure prospect of his recovery, and that he would probably be sane all the rest of his life, if—and the doctor put a significant emphasis upon that little word—"if he lives as a sane man should, among men, and busies himself as other men do."

Then the man of healing took from a shelf a book and read to me the words which I have put at the beginning of this account.

He told me also that Mrs. Moulton was there, that she had been there almost from the first, and that she spent all the time with the unfortunate man that the physicians would allow.

"Her presence," the doctor added, "has had a singularly helpful effect upon him."