A MAN AND A WOMAN
By STANLEY WATERLOO
Way & Williams
Copyright, 1892, by Stanley Waterloo
All rights reserved
II CLOSE TO NATURE
III BOY, BIRD, AND SNAKE
IV GROWING UP WITH THE COUNTRY
V GRIM-VISAGED WAR
VI THE SPEARING OF ALFRED
VII HOW FICTION MADE FACT
VIII NEW FORCES AT WORK
IX MRS. POTIPHAR
X THE BUILDING OF THE FENCE
XI SETTLING WITH WOODELL
XII INCLINATION AGAINST CONSCIENCE
XIII FAREWELL TO THE FENCE
XIV A RUGGED LOST SHEEP
XV A STRANGE WORLD
XVI THE REALLY UGLY DUCKLING
XVII "EH, BUT SHE'S WINSOME"
XVIII THE WOMAN
XX TWO FOOLS
XXI "MY LITTLE RHINOCEROS-BIRD"
XXII TWO FOOLS STILL
XXIII JUST A PANG
XXIV "AS TO THOSE OTHERS"
XXV NATURE AGAIN
XXVI ADVENTURES MANIFOLD
XXVII THE HOUSE WONDERFUL
XXVIII THE APE
XXIX THE FIRST DISTRICT
XXX THE NINTH WARD
XXXI THEIR FOOLISH WAYS
XXXII THE LAW OF NATURE
XXXIII WHITEST ASHES
A MAN AND A WOMAN.
But for a recent occurrence I should certainly not be telling the story
of a friend, or, rather, I should say, of two friends of mine. What
that occurrence was I will not here indicate—it is unnecessary; but it
has not been without its effect upon my life and plans. If it be asked
by those who may read these pages under what circumstances it became
possible for me to acquire such familiarity with certain scenes and
incidents in the lives of one man and one woman,—scenes and incidents
which, from their very nature, were such that no third person could
figure in them,—I have only to explain that Grant Harlson and I were
friends from boyhood, practically from babyhood, and that never, during
all our lives together, did a change occur in our relationship. He has
told me many things of a nature imparted by one man to another very
rarely, and only when each of the two feels that they are very close
together in that which sometimes makes two men as one. He was proud
and glad when he told me these things—they were but episodes, and
often trivial ones—and I was interested deeply. They added the
details of a history much of which I knew and part of which I had
He was not quite the ordinary man, this Grant Harlson, close friend of
mine. He had an individuality, and his name is familiar to many people
in the world. He has been looked upon by the tactful as but one of a
type in a new nationality—a type with traits not yet clearly defined,
a type not large, nor yet, thank God, uncommon—one of the best of the
type; to me, the best. A close friend perhaps is blind. No; he is not
that: he but sees so clearly that the world, with poorer view, may not
always agree with him.
I hardly know how to describe this same Grant Harlson. At this stage
of my story it is scarcely requisite that I should, but the account is
loose and vagrant and with no chronology. Physically, he was more than
most men, six feet in height, deep of chest, broad-shouldered,
strong-legged and strong-featured, and ever in good health, so far as
all goes, save the temporary tax on recklessness nature so often
levies, and the other irregular tax she levies by some swoop of the
bacilli of which the doctors talk so much and know so little. I mean
only that he might catch a fever with a chill addition if he lay
carelessly in some miasmatic swamp on some hunting expedition, or that,
in time of cholera, he might have, like other men, to struggle with the
enemy. But he tossed off most things lightly, and had that vitality
which is of heredity, not built up with a single generation, though
sometimes lost in one. Forest and farm-bred, college-bred,
city-fostered and broadened and hardened. A man of the world, with
experiences, and in his quality, no doubt, the logical, inevitable
result of such experiences—one with a conscience flexile and seeking,
but hard as rock when once satisfied. One who never, intentionally,
injured a human being, save for equity's sake. One who, of course,
wandered in looking for what was, to him, the right, but who, having
once determined, was ever steadfast. A man who had seen and known and
fed and felt and risked, but who seemed to me always as if his religion
were: "What shall I do? Nature says so-and-so, and the Power beyond
rules nature." Laws of organization for political purposes, begun
before Romulus and Remus, and varied by the dale-grouped Angles or the
Northmen's Thing, did not seem to much impress him. He recognized
their utility, wanted to improve them, made that his work, and
eventually observed most of them. This, it seemed to me, was his
honest make-up—a Berseker, a bare-sark descendant of the Vikings, in a
dress-coat. He had passions, and gratified them sometimes. He had
ambitions, and worked for them. He had a conscience, and was guided by
It was always interesting to me to look at him in youthful fray, more
so, years afterward, in club or in convention, or anywhere, and try to
imagine him the country small boy. Keen, hard, alert in all the ways
of a great city, it was difficult to conceive him in his early youth,
well as I knew it; difficult to reflect that his dreams at night were
not of the varying results of some late scheme, nor of white shoulders
at the opera, nor the mood of the Ninth Ward, nor of the drift of
business, but of some farm-house's front yard in mid-summer with a boy
aiming a long shot-gun at a red-winged poacher in a cherry tree, or
that he saw, in sleep, the worn jambs beside the old-fashioned
fireplace where, winter mornings, he kicked on his frozen boots, and
the living-room where, later in the morning, he ate so largely of
buckwheat cakes. He was a figure, wicked some said, a schemer many
said, a rock of refuge for his friends said more. This was the man, no
uncommon type in the great cities of the great republic.
As for the woman, I write with greater hesitation. I can tell of her
in this place but in vague outline. She was slender, not tall,
brown-haired and with eyes like those of the deer or Jersey heifer,
save that they had the accompanying expression of thought or mood or
fancy which mobile human features with them give. She was a woman of
the city, with all that gentle craft which is a woman's heritage. She
was good. She was unlike all others in the world to one man—no, to
I have but tried to tell what these two people appeared to me. I can
see them as they were, but cannot tell it as I should. I have not
succeeded well in expressing myself in words. Even were I cleverer, I
should fail. We can picture characters but approximately.
CLOSE TO NATURE.
The great forest belt, oak, ash, beech and maple, sweeps southwestward
from New England through New York and trends westward and even to the
north again till one sees the same landscape very nearly reproduced in
Wisconsin wilds. Not far from where its continuity is broken by the
southern reach of Lake Huron was a clearing cut in the wood. The land
was rolling, and through the clearing ran a vigorous creek, already
alder-fringed—for the alder follows the chopper swiftly—and
glittering with countless minnows. In the spring great pickerel came
up, too, from the deep waters, miles away, to spawn and, sometimes, to
be speared. From either side of the creek the ground ascended
somewhat, and on one bank stood a little house. It was a house
pretentious for the time, since it was framed and boarded instead of
being made of logs, but it contained only three rooms: one, the general
living-room with the brick fireplace on one side, and the others,
smaller, for sleeping apartments. So close to the edge of the forest
was the house that the sweep of the wind through the tree-tops made
constant music, and the odd, squalling bark of the black squirrel, the
chatter of the red one, the drumming of the ruffed grouse, the pipe of
the quail and the morning gobble of the wild turkey were familiar
sounds. There were deer and bear in the depths of the green ocean, and
an occasional wolverine. Sometimes at night a red fox would circle
about the clearing and bark querulously, the cry contrasting oddly with
the notes of whippoorwills and the calls of loons. The trees were
largely oak and beech and ash and birch, and in the spring there were
great splashes of white where the Juneberry trees had burst into bloom.
In summer there was a dense greenness everywhere, and in autumn a great
blaze of scarlet and yellow leaves.
There was an outlined flower garden in front of the house, made in
virgin soil, and with the stumps of trees, close-hewn, still showing
above the surface. Beside the door were what they called "bouncing
Betties" and "old hen and chickens," and on each side of a short
pathway, that led to what was as yet little more than a trail through
the wood, were bunches of larkspur and phlox and old-fashioned pinks
and asters, and there were a few tall hollyhocks and sunflowers
standing about as sentinels. The wild flowers all about were so close
to these that all their perfumes blended, and the phlox and pinks could
see their own cousins but a few feet away. The short path ran through
a clump of bushes but a few yards from the creek. In these bushes
song-sparrows and "chippy-birds" built their nests.
In the doorway of the little house by the forests edge stood, one
afternoon in summer, a young man. He was what might perhaps be termed
an exceedingly young man, as his sixth birthday was but lately
attained, and his stature and general appearance did not contradict his
age. His apparel was not, strictly speaking, in keeping with the glory
of the general scene. His hat had been originally of the quality known
as "chip," but the rim was gone, and what remained had an air of
abandon about it. His clothing consisted of two garments, a striped,
hickory shirt and trousers of blue drilling. The trousers were
supported by suspenders, home-made, of the same material. Sometimes he
wore but one. It saved trouble. He was barefooted. He stood with a
hand in each pocket, his short legs rather wide apart, and looked out
upon the landscape. His air was that of a large landed proprietor,
one, for instance, who owned the earth.
This young man under consideration had not been in society to any great
extent, and of one world had seen very little. Of another he knew a
great deal, for his age. With people of the sort who live in towns he
was unacquainted, but with nature's people he was on closer terms. He
had a great friend and crony in a person who had been a teacher, and
who had come to this frontier life from a broader field. This person
was his mother. With his father he was also on a relationship of
familiarity, but the father was, necessarily, out with his axe most of
the time, and so it came that the young man and his mother were more
literally growing up together with the country. To her he went with
such problems as his great mind failed to solve, and he had come to
have a very good opinion of her indeed. Not that she was as wise as he
in many things; certainly not. She did not know how the new woodchuck
hole was progressing, nor where the coon tracks were thickest along the
creek, nor where the woodpecker was nesting; but she was excessively
learned, nevertheless, and could be relied upon in an emergency. He
approved of her, decidedly. Besides, he remembered her course on one
occasion when he was in a great strait. He was but three years old
then, but he remembered all about it. It was, in fact, this occurrence
which had given him his hobby.
The young man had a specialty. He had several specialties, but to one
yielded all the rest. He had an eye to chipmunks, and had made most
inefficient traps for them and hoped some day to catch one, but they
were nothing to speak of. As for the minnows in the creek, had he not
caught one with a dipper once, and had he not almost hit a big pickerel
with a stone? He knew where the liverwort and anemones grew most
thickly in the spring and had gathered fragrant bunches of them daily,
and he knew, too, of a hollow where there had been a snowy sheet of
winter-green blossoms earlier, and where there would soon be an
abundance of red berries such as his mother liked. At beech-nut
gathering, in the season, he admitted no superior. As for the habits
of the yellow-birds, particularly at the season when they were feeding
upon thistle-seed and made a golden cloud amid the white one as they
drifted with the down, well, he was the only one who really knew
anything about it! Who but he could take the odd-shaped pod of the
wild fleur-de-lis, the common flag, and, winding it up in the flag's
own long, narrow leaf, holding one end, and throwing the pod
sling-wise, produce a sound through the air like that of the swoop of
the night-hawk? And who better than he could pluck lobelia, and
smartweed, and dig wild turnips and bring all for his mother to dry for
possible use, should, he or his father or she catch cold or be ill in
any way? Hopes for the future had he, too. Sometimes a deer had come
in great leaps across the clearing, and once a bear had invaded the
hog-pen. The young man had an idea that as soon as he became a little
taller and could take down the heavy gun, an old "United States yager"
with a big bore, bloodshed would follow in great quantities. He had
persuaded his father to let him aim the piece once or twice, and had
confidence that if he could get a fair shot at any animal, that animal
would die. Were it a deer, he had concluded he would aim from a great
stump a few feet distant from the house. If a bear came, he would shut
the door and raise the window, not too far, and blaze away from there.
But in none of all these things, either present exploits or imaginings
for the future, was his interest most entangled. His specialty was
Not intended by nature for a naturalist was this youthful individual
whose specialty was snakes. Very much enamored was he of most of
nature's products, but not at all of the family ophidia. Snakes were
his specialty simply because he did not approve of them. All dated
back to the affair of three years before. Snakes were abundant in the
wood, but were not of many kinds. There were garter-snakes, dreaded of
the little frogs, but timid of most things; there was a small snake of
wonderful swiftness and as green as the grass into which it darted;
there were the water pilots, sunning themselves in coils upon the
driftwood in the water, swart of color, thick of form and offensive of
aspect; there were the milk-snakes, yellowish gray, with wonderful
banded sides and with checker-board designs in black upon their yellow
bellies. Sometimes a pan of milk from the solitary cow, set for its
cream in the dug-out cellar beneath the house, would be found with its
yellow surface marred and with a white puddling about the floor, and
then the milk remaining would be thrown away and there would be a
washing and scalding of the pan, because the thief was known. There
were, in the lowlands, the massasaugas; short, sluggish rattle-snakes,
venomous but cowardly, and, finally, there were the black-snakes
ranging everywhere, for no respecter of locality is bascanion
constrictor when in pursuit of prey. Largest of all the snakes of the
region, the only constrictor among them, at home in the lowlands, on
the hill-sides or in the tree-tops, the black-snake was the dread of
all small creatures of the wood. There was a story of how one of them
had dropped upon a hunter, coiled himself about his neck and strangled
This young man of six remembered how, one day, three years back, before
he had assumed trousers or become familiar with all the affairs of the
world, he was alone in the house, his mother having gone into the
little garden. He remembered how, looking up, he saw, lifted above the
doorsill, a head with beady, glittering eyes, and how, after a moment's
survey, the head was lifted higher and there came gliding over the
floor toward him a black monster, with darting tongue and long, curved
body and evident fierce intent. He remembered how he leaped for a high
stool which served him at the table, how he clambered to its top and
there set up a mighty yell for succor—for he had great lungs. He
could, by shutting his eyes, even now, see his mother as she came
running from the garden, see her look of terror as she caught sight of
the circling thing upon the floor, and then the look of desperation as
the mother instinct rose superior and she dashed into the room, seized
the great iron shovel that stood before the fireplace, and began
dealing reckless blows at the hissing serpent. A big black-snake is
not a pleasant customer, but neither—for a black-snake—is a frenzied
mother with an iron fire shovel in her hand, and this particular snake
turned tail, a great deal of it, by the way, since it extended to its
head, and disappeared over the doorsill in a cataract of black and into
the wood again.
From that hour the individual so beleaguered on a stool had been no
friend of snakes. Talk about vendettas! No Sicilian feud was ever
bitterer or more relentlessly pursued, as the boy increased in size and
confidence. Scores of garter-snakes had been his victims; once even a
milk-snake had yielded up the ghost, and once—a great day that—he had
seen a black-snake in the open and had assailed it valorously with
stones hurled from a distance. When it came toward him he retreated,
but did not abandon the bombardment, and finally drove it into a cover
of deep bushes. Come to close quarters with a black-snake he had never
done, for a double reason: firstly, because stones did almost as well
as a club, and, secondly, because his father, fearing for him, had
threatened him with punishment if he essayed such combat, and the firm
old rule of "spare the rod and spoil the child" was adhered to
literally by the father and indorsed by the mother with hesitation.
And, growing close to the house, were slender sprouts of birch and
willow, each of which leaned forward as if to say, "I am just the thing
to lick a boy with," and such a sprout as one of these, especially the
willow, does, under proper conditions, so embrace one's shoulders and
curl about one's legs and make itself familiar. But the feud was on,
and as a permanency, though, on this particular afternoon, the young
man, as he stood there in the doorway, had no thought of snakes.
Something else this summer was attracting much of his attention. He
had a family on his hands.
BOY, BIRD AND SNAKE.
The young man's family was not large, but a part of it was young, and
he felt the responsibility. The song-sparrow is the very light and
gladness of the woods and fields. There are rarer singers, and birds
of more brilliant plumage, but he is the constant quantity. His notes
may not rival those mellow, brief ones of the blue-birds in early
spring, so sweet in their quaint inflection, which suggest all hope,
and are so striking because heard while snow may be yet upon the
ground; he may not have the wild abandon of the bobolink with that
tinkle and gurgle and thrill; he is no pretentious songster, like a
score of other birds, but he is a great part of the soul of early
summer, for he is telling, morning, noon and night, how good the world
is, how he approves of the sunshine, and how everything is all right!
And so the young man approved much of the song-sparrow, and was
interested in the movements of all his kind.
One day in May, the boy had noted something in the clump of bushes,
between the house and creek, which very much resembled a small
bird's-nest, and had at once investigated. He found it, the nest of
the song-sparrow, and, when the little gray guardian had fluttered
away, he noted the four tiny eggs, and their mottled beauty. He did
not touch them, for he had been well trained as to what should be the
relations between human beings and all singing birds, but his interest
in the progress of that essay in summer housekeeping became at once
absorbing. He announced in the house that he intended to watch over
the nest all summer, and keep off the hawks, and that when the little
eggs were hatched, and the little birds were grown, maybe he would try
to tame one. He was encouraged in the idea. It is good to teach a boy
to be protective. And when the birds were hatched, his interest
He was half inclined, as he stood in the doorway on this particular
day, to visit the dense bushes and note the condition of affairs in
that vicinity, but, buoyant as he was, there was something in the
outlook which detained him. There was such a yellow glory to the
afternoon, and so many things were happening.
Balanced above the phlox, a humming-bird, green-backed and glittering,
hung and tasted for a moment, then flashed to where the larkspurs were.
A red-headed woodpecker swung downward on the wing to the white-brown
side of a dead elm, sounded a brief tattoo upon the surface, then dived
at a passing insect. A phoebe bird was singing somewhere. A red
squirrel sat perched squarely on the drooping limb of a hickory tree
and chewed into a plucked nut, so green that the kernel was not formed,
then dropped it to the ground, and announced in a chatter that he was a
person of importance. Great yellow butterflies, with black markings
upon their wings, floated lazily here and there, and at last settled in
a magnificent cluster upon a moist spot in a mucky place where
something pleased their fancy, and where they fed and fluttered
tremulously. There were myriads of wild bees, and a pleasant droning
filled the air, while from all about came the general soft clamor of
the forest, made up of many sounds.
The boy was satisfied with the prospect. Suddenly he started. There
was a call which was not of peacefulness. He knew the cry. He had
heard it when some bird of prey had seized a smaller one. It was the
call of the sparrow now, and it came from his clump of bushes. His
family was in danger. A hawk, perhaps, but he would have seen such a
foe in its descent. It might be a cat-bird or a weasel?
With a rush, the boy was across the garden, and as he ran he snatched
up what was for a person of such inches an ideal club, a cut of
hickory, perhaps two feet in length, not over an inch in thickness, but
tough and heavy enough for a knight errant of his years. He broke
through the slight herbage about the place where the bushes grew
thickest, and, getting into an open space, had a fair view of the
particular shrub wherein were the bird's-nest and his birdlings. He
stopped short and looked, then ran back a little, then looked again,
and straightway there rose from his throat a scream which, though
greater in volume, was almost in its character like that other wild cry
of the two sparrows who were fluttering pitifully and desperately about
their nest, tempting their own death each instant in defense of their
half-fledged young. He stood with his youthful limbs half paralyzed,
and screamed, for he saw what was most horrible, and what it seemed he
could not check nor hinder, though a cruel tragedy was going on before
Curled easily about the main stem of the bush, close to which, upon a
forked limb, rested the sparrow's nest, its dark coils reaching
downward and its free neck and head waving regularly to and fro, was a
monstrous black-snake, and in its jaws fluttered feebly one of the
youthful sparrows. Evidently the seizure had just been made when the
boy burst in upon the scene. The snake's eyes glittered wickedly, and
it showed no disposition to drop its prey because of the intruder. It
only reared its head and swung slowly from side to side. Lying almost
at full length upon a branching limb of the same bush, and on a level
with the nest, was a second serpent, its head raised slightly, but
motionless, awaiting, it seemed, its opportunity to seize another of
the tender brood. The parent birds flew about in converging circles in
their strait, clamoring piteously and approaching dangerously near to
the jaws of their repulsive enemies. The boy but stood and screamed.
They were the greatest black-snakes he had ever seen. Then, all at
once, he became another creature. His childish voice changed in its
key, and, club in hand, screaming still louder, he ran right at the
bush. At the same moment his frightened mother came running down the
pathway, screaming also.
As the boy leaped downward, both snakes, with wonderful swiftness,
dropped to the ground and darted across the open space of a few yards,
toward the creek. Side by side, with crests erect, they glided, and
one of them still held between his jaws the unfortunate young sparrow.
The boy did not hesitate a moment. Still making a great noise, but
hoarsely for a creature of his age, he ran to head them off and barely
passed them as they touched the water. He leaped in ahead of them and
they were beside him in an instant. The water was up to his waist. He
plunged deeper recklessly. With a cry of rage he struck at the serpent
with the bird, and struck and struck again, blindly, still giving
utterance to that odd sound, and with the fury of a young demon. The
woman had reached the bank and stood, unknowing what to do, shrieking
in maternal terror, while across the clearing a man was running. And
then a fierce chance blow, delivered with all the strength of the
maddened boy, alighted fairly, just below the head of the snake
carrying away the bird, and in a second it was done for, floating,
writhing down the stream with a broken neck, and its tiny prey loosened
and drifting away beside it.
The mother gasped in relief, but only for a moment. The boy cast one
glance at the floating reptile and the bird, and only one, then turned
to the other serpent. It had almost reached the shore, and between
that and the covert it might attain was a stretch of shrubless ground.
Already its black length was defined on the short grass when the boy
rushed from the water with uplifted club, just as his father came in
full view of the scene from the other side. With cries like those of
some young wild beast, the child ran at the snake, raining blows with
the stout club, and with rage in every feature. The black-snake,
checked in its course, turned with the constrictor's instinct and
sprang at the boy, whipping its strong coils about one of its
assailant's legs and rearing its head aloft to a level with his face.
The boy but struck and gasped and stumbled over some obstruction, and,
somehow, the snake was wrenched away, and then there was another rush
at it, another rain of blows, and it was hit as had been its mate, and
lay twisting with a broken back. The man dashed through the creek and
came upon the scene with a great stick in his hand, but its use was not
required. The only labor which devolved upon him was to tear away from
his quarry the boy who was possessed of a spirit of rage and vengeance
beyond all reasoning. Upon the heaving, tossing thing, so that he
would have been fairly in its coils had it possessed longer any power,
he leaped, striking fiercely and screaming out all the fearful terms he
knew—what would have been the wildest of all abandonment of profanity
had he but acquired the words for such performance. His father caught
him by the arm, and he struggled with him. It was simply a young
madman. Carried across the creek and held in bonds for a brief period,
he suddenly burst out sobbing, and then went to inspect the ravished
nest where the two old birds hovered mourningly about, and where the
remaining nestlings seemed dead at first, though they subsequently
recovered, so gruesomely had the fascination of their natural enemy
What happened then? What happens when any father and mother have
occasion to consider the matter of a son, a child, bone of their bone
and flesh of their flesh, who has transgressed some rule they have set
up for him wisely, thoughtfully, but with no provision for emotional or
extraordinary contingencies, because it would be useless, since he
could not comprehend exceptions. They took him to the house. The
father looked at him queerly, but with an expression that was far
removed from anger on his face, and his mother took the young man aside
and washed him, and put on another hickory shirt, and told him that his
sparrows would raise a pretty good family after all, and that it
wouldn't be so hard for the old birds to feed three as four.
Early that same evening a six-foot father strolled over to the place of
the nearest settler, a mile or so away, and the two men walked back,
talking together as neighbors will in a new country, though they do not
so well in cities, and when they reached the creek one of them, the
father, cut a forked twig and lifted the black-snake to its full
length. Its head, raised even with his, allowed its tail to barely
touch the ground. Evidently the men were interested, and evidently one
of them was rather proud of something. But he said nothing to his son
about it. That would, in its full consideration, have involved a
licking of somebody for disobedience of orders. It was a good thing
for the bereaved song-sparrows, though. Older heads than that of the
boy were now considerate of their welfare. Lucky sparrows were they!
As for the youth, he had, that night, queer dreams, which he remembered
all his life. He was battling with the snakes again, and the fortunes
of war shifted, and there was much trouble until daylight. Then, with
the sun breaking in a blaze upon the clearing, with the ground and
trees flashing forth illuminated dew-drops, with a clangor of thousands
of melodious bird-voices—even the bereaved father song-sparrow was
singing—he was his own large self again, and went forth conquering and
to conquer. He found the murdered nestling stranded down the creek,
and buried it with ceremony. He found both dead invaders, and punched
their foul bodies with a long stick. And he wished a bear would come
and try to take a pig!
This was the boy. This was the field he grew in, the nature of his
emergence into active entity, and this may illustrate somewhat his
unconscious bent as influenced by early surroundings, while showing
some of the fixed features of heredity, for he came of a battling race.
GROWING UP WITH THE COUNTRY.
Have you ever seen a buckwheat field in bloom? Have you stood at its
margin and gazed over those acres of soft eider-down? Have your
nostrils inhaled the perfume of it all, the heavy sweetness toned
keenly with the whiff of pine from the adjacent wood? Have you noted
the wild bees in countless myriads working upon its surface and
gathering from each tiny flower's heart that which makes the clearest
and purest and most wine-like of all honey? Have you stood at the
forest's edge, perched high upon a fence, maybe of trees felled into a
huge windrow when first the field was cleared, or else of rails of oak
or ash, both black and white—the black ash lasts the longer, for worms
invade the white—and looked upon a field of growing Indian corn, the
green spread of it deep and heaving, and noted the traces of the
forest's tax-collectors left about its margins: the squirrel's dainty
work and the broken stalks and stripped ears upon the ground, leavings
of the old raccoon, the small bear of the forest, knowing enough to
become a friend of man when caught and tamed, and almost human in his
ways, as curious as a scandal-monger and selfish as a money-lender?
Have you gone into the hard maple wood, the sugar bush, in early
spring, the time of frosty nights and sunny days, and driven home the
gouge and spile, and gathered the flowing sap and boiled it in such
pots and kettles as later pioneers have owned, and gained such
wildwood-scented product as no confectioner of the town may ever hope
to equal? Have you lain beside some pond, a broadening of the creek
above an ancient beaver-dam, at night, in mellowest midsummer, and
watched the muskrats at their frays and feeding? Have you hunted the
common wildcat, short-bodied demon, whose tracks upon the snow are
discernible each winter morning, but who is so crafty, so gifted with
some great art of slyness, that you may grow to manhood with him all
about you, yet never see him in the sinewy flesh unless with dog and
gun, and food and determination, you seek his trail, and follow it
unreasoningly until you terminate the stolid quest with a discovery of
the quarry lying close along the body of some eloping, stunted tree,
and with a lively episode in immediate prospect? Did you ever chase a
wolverine, last of his kind in a clearing-overflowed region, strange
combination in character and form of bear and lynx, gluttonous and
voracious, and strong and fearless, a beast descended almost unchanged
from the time of the earliest cave-men, the horror of the bravest dog,
and end his too uncivilized career with a rifle-shot at thoughtful
Have you seen the wild pigeons, before pot-hunters invaded their
southern roosts and breeding-grounds and slaughtered them by millions,
exterminating one of the most wonderful of American game birds, sweep
over in such dense clouds that the sun would be obscured, and at times
so close to earth that a long pole thrust aloft from tree or hillock
would stun such numbers as would make a gallant pot-pie? Have you
followed the deer in the dense forest, clinging doggedly to his track
upon the fresh snow from the dusk of early morning, startling him again
and again from covert, and shooting whenever you caught even so much as
a glimpse of his gray body through distant interstices of tree and
brush, until, late in the afternoon, human endurance, which always
surpasses that of the wild beast, overcame him, and he leaped less
strongly with each new alarm and grew more reckless before twilight,
and came within easy range and fed his enemies on the morrow? Have you
watched for him beside the brackish waters of the lick, where, perched
upon a rude, high scaffold built beside a tree, mosquito-bitten and
uneasy, you waited and suffered, preserving an absolute silence and
immobility until came ghost-like flitting figures from the forest to
the shallow's edge, when the great gun, carrying the superstitious
number of buckshot, just thirteen, roared out, awakening a thousand
echoes of the night, and, clambering down, found a great antlered thing
in its death agony?
Have you wandered through new clearings neglected for a season and
waded ankle-deep in strawberry blooms, and, later, fed there upon such
scarlet fruit, so fragrant and with such a flavor of its own that the
scientific horticulturist owns to-day his weakness? Have you looked
out upon the flats some bright spring morning and found them
transformed into a shallow lake by the creek's first flood, and seen
one great expanse of shining gold as the sun smote the thin ice made in
the night but to disappear long before mid-day and leave a surface all
ripples and shifting lights and shadows, upon which would come an
occasional splash and great out-extending circles, as some huge mating
pickerel leaped in his glee? Have you stood sometime, in sheer delight
of it, and drawn into distended lungs the air clarified by hundreds of
miles of sweep over an inland sea, the nearest shore not a score of
miles away, and filtered through aromatic forests to your senses, an
invisible elixir, exhilarating, without a headache as the price? Have
you seen the tiger-lilies and crimson Indian-tobacco blossoms flashing
in the lowlands? Have you trapped the mink and, visiting his haunts,
noticed there the old blue crane flitting ever ahead of you through
dusky corridors, uncanny, but a friend? Have you—but there are a
If you have not seen or known or felt all these fair things—so jumbled
together in the allusion here, without a natural sequence or thought or
reason or any art—if you have not owned them all and so many others
that may not here be mentioned, then you have missed something of the
gifts and glories of growth in a new land. Such experience comes but
to one generation. But one generation grows with the conquest, and it
is a great thing. It is man-making.
And from the east came more hewers of wood, not drawers of water, and
the axe swung all around, and new clearings were made and earlier ones
broadened, and where fireweed first followed, the burning of the logs
there were timothy and clover, though rough the mowing yet, and the
State was "settled." Roads through the woods showed wagon-ruts, now
well defined; houses were not so far apart, and about them were young
orchards. The wild was being subjugated. The tame was growing. The
boy was growing with it.
There was nothing particularly novel in the manner of this youth's
development, save that, as he advanced in years, he became almost a
young Indian in all woodcraft, and that the cheap, long,
single-barreled shotgun, which was his first great personal possession,
became, in his skilled hands, a deadly thing. Wild turkey and ruffed
grouse, and sometimes larger game, he contributed to the family larder,
and he had it half in mind to seek the remoter west when he grew older,
and become a mighty hunter and trapper, and a slaughterer of the Sioux.
The Chippewas of his own locality were scarcely to be shot at. Those
remaining had already begun the unpretending life most of them live
to-day, were on good terms with everybody, tanned buckskin admirably,
and he approved of them. With the Sioux it was quite different. He
had read of them in the weekly paper, which was now a part of progress,
and he had learned something of them at the district school—for the
district school had come, of course. It springs up in the United
States after forests have been cut away, just as springs the wheat or
corn. And the district school was, to the youth, a novelty and a vast
attraction. It took him into Society.
Through forest paths and from long distances in each direction came the
pupils to this first school of the region, and there were perhaps a
score of them in all, boys and girls, and the teacher was a fair young
woman from the distant town. The school-house was a structure of a
single room, built in the wood, and squirrels dropped nuts upon its
roof from overhanging boughs and peeped in at the windows, and
sometimes a hawk would chase a fleeing bird into the place, where it
would find a sure asylum, but create confusion. Once a flock of quail
came marching in demurely at the open door, while teacher and pupils
maintained a silence at the pretty sight. And once the place was
cleared by an invasion of hornets enraged at something. That was a
great day for the boys.
The studies were not as varied as in the cross-roads schools to-day.
There was the primer, and there were a few of the old Webster
spelling-books, but, while the stories of the boy in the apple tree and
the overweening milkmaid were familiar, the popular spelling-book was
Town's, and the readers were First, Second, Third and Fourth, and their
"pieces" included such classics as "Webster's Reply to Hayne" and
"Thanatopsis," and numerous clever exploits of S. P. Willis in blank
verse. Davie's Arithmetic was dominant, and, as for grammar, whenever
it was taught, Brown's was the favorite. There was, even then, in the
rural curriculum the outlining of that system of the common schools
which has made them of this same region unexcelled elsewhere in all the
world. There were strong men, men who could read the future,
controlling the legislation of some of the new States.
The studies mentioned, and geography were the duties now in hand, and
there was indifference or hopefulness or rivalry among those of the
little group as there is now in every school, from some new place in
Oklahoma to old Oxford, over seas. In all scholarship, it chanced that
this same boy, Grant Harlson, was easily in the lead. His mother, an
ex-teacher in another and older State, loving, regardful, tactful, had
taught him how to read and comprehend, and he had something of a taste
that way and a retentive memory. So, inside the rugged schoolroom, he
had a certain prestige. Outside, he took his chances.
It has been said that there were some twenty children in the school.
They were of various degrees and fortunes. There were the sons and
daughters of the land-owners, the pioneers, and there were the sons and
daughters of the men who worked for them, mostly the drifting class,
who occupied log houses on unclaimed ground and got flour or meal or
potatoes for their services with the steadier or more masterful. In
the school, though, there were no distinctions on this account. There
were but two measurements of standing among girls and boys together,
their relative importance in their classes, the teacher giving force to
this, and among the boys alone the equation resulting from the issue of
all personal encounter. Boys will be boys, and our fighting
Anglo-Saxon blood will tell.
There were Harrison Woodell and George Appleton and Frank Hoadly and
Mortimer Butler, among the older boys; and, among the second growth,
though varying somewhat in their ages, were Alf Maitland and Maurice
Shannon and Grant Harlson, and three or four others who ranked with
them. The girls differed more in age, for there were some who aspired
to be teachers, who, if boys, would have been home at work in
summer-time, and some who could come, while very young, since their
older sisters came with them to exercise all needed care. And among
the smaller ones, though not so young as some, was Katie Welwood, a
black-haired, black-eyed, evil-tempered little thing, who was the rage
among the boys. She had smiled upon Grant Harlson, and smiled upon
young Maitland, so early in her years is the female a coquette, and
they looked askance upon each other, though they were the best of
friends. Had they not together defied the big George Appleton, and
vanquished him in running fight, and were they not sworn allies, come
any weal or woe! But woman, even at the age of ten, has ever been the
cause of trouble between males, and those two had, on her account, a
mortal feud. It all came suddenly. There had been certain jealousies
and heartaches caused by the raven-locked young vixen with the winning
eyes, but there had been no outspoken words of anger between these
vassals in her train until there came excuse in other way, for your
country lad is modest, and never admits that his ailing has aught to do
with the grand passion. But there had been a sharp debate over the
proper ownership of a big gray squirrel at which they had shot their
arrows from strong hickory bows together, and, with this excuse for
fuel to the fire already smoldering, there soon came a great flame.
Neither would yield to one he knew in his heart addicted to winning,
villainously, the affections of the young woman, and so they fought.
Unfortunately for Grant, Napoleon was at least in a measure right when
he remarked that Providence always favored the heaviest battalions, and
equally unfortunate for him that Alf, as resolute as he, was just a
little heavier, was as tough of fiber at that stage of their young
careers, and was, in a general way, what a patron of the prize ring
would term the better man. Grant went home licked as thoroughly as any
country boy, not hyper-critical, could ask, and should have felt that
all was lost save honor. But he did not feel that way. He did not
consider honor at greater length than is generally done by any boy of
ten, on the way to eleven, but he did want vengeance. To lose his
siren and a portion of his blood—"-'twas from the nose," as Byron
says—together, was too much for his philosophy. He must have
vengeance! He was no lambkin, and he knew things. He had read the
Swiss Family Robinson. He resolved that on the morrow he would spear
his hated rival and successful adversary!
THE SPEARING OF ALFRED.
"The spears they carried, though entirely of wood, were dangerous
weapons," says the old writer in describing the armament of a tribe of
the South Sea islanders. "Their points are hardened by being subjected
to fire, and, in the hands of those fierce men, they are as deadly as
the assegai of the African."
This passage, which he had stumbled upon somewhere, was of deepest
interest to young Harlson. His armament, he felt, was not yet what it
should be. He had arrived at the dignity of a gun, it was true, but
that was quite another thing. What he needed was something especially
adapted for personal encounter and for any knight-errantry which
chanced to offer itself. He had imagined what might occur if he were
with Katie Welwood and they should be assailed by anything or anybody.
He had large ideas of what was a lover's duty, and was under the
impression, from what he had read, that a proper knight should go
always prepared for combat. So he had fashioned him a spear, a
formidable weapon contrived with great exactitude after the South Sea
island recipe. He had gone into the woods and selected a blue beech,
straight as could be found, and nearly an inch in thickness. From this
he had cut a length of perhaps ten feet, which, with infinite labor and
risk of jack-knife, he had whittled down to smoothness and to
whiteness. Upon one end he left as large a head as the sapling would
allow, and this, after shaving it into the fashion of a spear-blade, he
had plunged into the fire until it had begun to char. He had scraped
away the charring with a piece of broken glass, and, as a result of his
endeavors, had really a spear with a point of undoubted sharpness and
great hardness. He took huge pride in his new weapon, and carried it
to school with him for days and on his various woodland expeditions,
but there had come no chance to rescue any distressful maiden anywhere,
and the envy and admiration of the other boys had but resulted in
emulation and in the appearance of similar warlike gear among them.
He had tired of carrying the thing about, and had for some time left it
peacefully at home, leaning beside the hog-pen. Now all was different.
The time had come! He would have revenge, and have it in a gory way.
As the South Sea islanders treated their foes, his should be treated.
He would go upon the war-path, and as for Alf—well, he was sorry for
him in a general way, but all mercy was dead within his breast
specifically. He remembered something in the reader:
"'Die! spawn of our kindred! Die! traitor to Lara!'
As he spake, there was blood on the spear of Mudara!"
There must be blood, and he laid his plans with what he considered the
very height of savage craft and ingenuity.
The father of Alf was a sturdy man and good one, but he had a weakness.
He was the chief supporter in the neighborhood of the itinerant
minister who exhorted throughout this portion of the country, and he
had imbibed, perhaps, too much of a fancy for hearing himself talk at
revival meetings, and for hearing himself in long prayers at home. His
petitions covered a great range of subjects, and he was regular in
their presentation. The family prayers before breakfast every morning
were serious matters to the boys from one point of view, and not as
serious as they should have been from another. Present, and kneeling
at chairs about the room, they always were on these occasions, for the
order was imperative, and the father's arm was strong, and above the
door hung a strap of no light weight, constituting as it had once done
that portion of a horse's harness known technically as the bellyband.
So the boys were always there, each at his particular chair, and Grant
Harlson, who had been present at these orisons many a time, knew
exactly where Alf's chair was, and the attitude he must occupy. It was
close beside an open window, and his back was always toward the
opening, this particular attitude having been dictated by the father in
the vain hope of making his buoyant offspring more attentive if their
gaze were diverted from things outside. And all these circumstances
the dreadful savage from the South Sea islands was considering with
care. They are very regular in their habits in the country, and he
knew just the moment when the morning devotions would begin—some
fifteen minutes before the breakfast hour. He knew about how long he
would be in traversing the distance between his own house and the scene
of the coming tragedy, and the morning after his resolve was made he
bolted his own breakfast in a hurry, seized his spear, and scurried
down the wood road until he approached the verge of the Maitland
clearing. Then began a series of extraordinary movements.
Mr. Maitland's house stood close by the wood at one side of the
clearing, and Grant could easily have walked unperceived until within a
few yards of the place, had he but kept hidden by the trees; but such
was not his course. Right across the clearing, and passing near the
house, had been dug a great ditch a yard in depth, a year or two
before, with the intent of draining a piece of lowland lately
subjugated. This ditch had been overgrown with weeds until it was
almost hidden from sight, and now in summer time its bottom was but a
sandy surface. It was with the aid of this natural shelter that the
wily invader proposed to steal upon his enemy. Already he was lurking
near its entrance.
Just why he had to "lurk" at this particular juncture Grant could not
probably have told. There was not the slightest necessity for lurking.
There were no windows in the side of the house toward him, and no one
was visible about the place, but he knew what he had read, and he knew
that the savages of the South Sea islands were always addicted to
lurking just previous to springing upon their unsuspecting victims, and
he was bound to lurk and do it thoroughly. His manner of lurking
consisted, before he reached the clearing fence, in crouching very low
and creeping along in a most constrained and uncomfortable manner,
occasionally dropping to the ground slowly and with utter noiselessness
and rising again with equal caution. All this time the face of the
young man wore what he conceived to be an expression of most bloody
purpose craftily concealed. Upon reaching the fence, he shot his head
above it, and withdrew it with lightning-like rapidity, frightening
almost into convulsions, in her nest, a robin whose home was between
the rails in the immediate vicinity. Of course he could have looked
through the fence with greater ease, but that would have involved no
such dramatic effect. His sudden view of the landscape taken, the boy
climbed the fence, ran to the dry ditch, parted the overhanging weeds
and leaped down. Once in the dry waterway, he was utterly concealed
from view, even had any one been near; but that made no difference with
his precautions. He knew that after savages had lurked, they always
glided, and that what the writers describe as "a snake-like motion" was
something absolutely essential.
Spear in hand and creeping on his hands and knees, the destroyer
advanced along the drain, lying flat and wriggling with much patience
wherever a particularly clear stretch of sand presented itself. Half
way across the field he raised his head with a movement so slow that a
full minute was occupied in the performance, parted the weeds gently
and peered out to get his bearings and ascertain if any foemen were in
sight. There were no foemen, and his progress had been satisfactory.
The remainder of the desperate advance was made with no less adroitness
and success. At last there fell upon the ear of the avenger the sound
of a human voice. He was close to the house, and the morning exercises
Here was the moment for the exhibition of all South Sea island craft,
and the moment was about at hand, too, for exhibition of the full
measure of a South Sea islander's ferocity! The islander glided from
the ditch, crept to the house and slowly put forth his head until he
could see around the corner. There, within three feet of him, back to
the window, kneeling beside his chair, was Alf, ostensibly paying deep
attention to his father's unctuous and sonorous sentences, though
really, as Grant could see, engaged in flicking kernels of corn at his
brother in another corner. His jeans trousers were, as a result of his
present attitude, drawn tightly across that portion of his body nearest
to the window, and never fairer mark was offered savage spear! Not a
moment did the avenger hesitate. He poised his weapon, took deadly
aim, and lunged!
Never was quiet of a summer morning broken more suddenly and
startlingly. A yell so loud, so wild, so blood-curdling, ascended from
within the farm-house, that even nature seemed to shiver for a moment.
Then came the rush of feet and the clamor of many voices. Out of doors
ran all the household, the father included, so appalling had been Alf's
cry of apparently mortal agony, to learn the source of all the trouble.
There was nothing to be seen. Not a living being was in sight. It
dawned upon the elders gradually that nothing very serious had
occurred, and the father and the females of the household went in to
breakfast, the exercises of the morning not being now renewed, while
Alf and his brother scoured the wood. Upon one leg of Alf's jeans
trousers appeared an artistic dab of red. He had been wounded, and for
days the sitting down and the uprising of him would be acts of care.
And where was the South Sea islander? Almost as he lunged he had
leaped backward around the corner of the house and run for the covered
ditch. Once in that covert, he did not "lurk" to any great extent. He
crawled away as rapidly as his hands and knees would carry him,
reasoning that the boys would, upon finding no one near the house, run
naturally to the wood in search of the enemy. They never thought of
the old ditch, though, later in the day, the thing occurred to them,
and an examination of the sandy bottom told the story. The edge of the
field was reached, the islander lying very low until he could climb the
fence in safety. Then he examined his fatal spear-point. It appeared
incarnadined. There was certainly blood on the spear of Mudara!
A week later Alf caught Grant, and, despite another valiant struggle,
licked him mercilessly. A year later the fortunes of war had turned
the other way. As they grew, these boys, like race-horses
well-matched, passed each other, physically, time and again, one now
surging to the front and then another, with no great difference at any
time between them.
HOW FICTION MADE FACT.
What may become a streak of proper modern chivalry in the man is but a
fantastic imagining in the boy. Some one has said that but for the
reading of "Ivanhoe" in the South, there would have been no war of the
rebellion, that the sentiment of knightliness and desire to uphold
opinions in material encounter was so fostered by the presence of the
book in thousands of households that, when the issue came, a majority
was for war which might have been otherwise inclined under more
practical teaching. This may or may not have been the case. There
would be nothing strange in it were the theory correct; the influence
of great novels is always underrated; but certain it is that the
reading of the age influences much the youth, and that many a bent of
mind is made by the books that lie about the house when some strong
young intellect is forming. So with this boy. The same force which
made of him a great savage marauder of the South Sea islands, though
modified by a keener perception and a broader intelligence, affected
him as he grew older. There were a few books available to him; and
what a reader he was, and what a listener! His father would sometimes
read aloud at night from current weeklies, and then the boy would
sprawl along the floor, his feet toward the great fireplace, his head
upon a rolled-up sheepskin, and drink in every word. "East Lynne" was
running as a serial then, and he would have given all his worldly
possessions to have had Sir Francis Levison alone in the wood, and had
his spear, and at his back some half-dozen of the boys whom he could
name. In some publication, too, at about that time, appeared the tale
of the adventures of Captain Gardiner and Captain Daggett in antarctic
wastes, seeking the sea-lions' skins, and the story of pluckiness and
awful trial affected his imagination deeply. Years afterward, when he
himself was at death's portal once, because of a grievous injury, and
when ice was bound upon his head to keep away the fever from his brain,
he imagined in his delirium that he was Captain Gardiner, and called
aloud the orders to the crew which he had heard read when a boy, and
which had so long lain in his memory's storehouse among the
The boy's reading included all there was in his home, and the small
collection was not a bad one. "Chambers' Miscellany" was in the
accidental lot, and good for him it was. "Chambers' Miscellany" is
better reading than much that is given to the world to-day, and the boy
rioted in the adventure-flavored tales and sketches. Scott's poetical
works were there, and Shakespeare, but the latter was read only for the
story of the play, and "Titus Andronicus" outranked even "Hamlet" among
the tragedies. As for Scott, the stirring rhymes had marked effect,
and this had one curious sequence. Tales of the lance and tilting have
ever captivated boys, and Grant was no exception. Alf did not read so
much, was of a nature less imaginative, and his younger brother,
Valentine, read not at all, but among them was enacted a great scene of
chivalry which ended almost in a tragedy. Grant, his mind absorbed in
jousting and its laurels, explained the thing to Alf and induced him to
read the tales of various encounters. Alf was more or less affected by
the literature and ready to do his share toward making each of them a
proper warrior fit for any fray. They considered the situation with
much earnestness, and concluded that the only way to joust was to
joust, and that Valentine should act as marshal of the occasion, for a
marshal at a tourney, they discovered, was a prime necessity. As for
coursers, barbs, destriers, or whatever name their noble steeds might
bear, they had no choice. There were but a couple of clumsy farm mares
available to them, and these the knights secured, their only equipments
being headstalls abstracted from the harness in the barn, while the
course fixed upon was a meadow well out of sight from the houses and
the eyes of the elders. Valentine was instructed in his duties,
particularly in the manner of giving the word of command. Laissez
aller, as found in "Ivanhoe," Grant did not understand, but a passage
from "The Lady of the Lake":
"Now, gallants! for your ladies' sake,
Upon them with the lance!"
seemed to answer every purpose, and Valentine was instructed to commit
it to memory, as the event proved, with but indifferent success. He
comprehended, in a vague way, that the warriors were to do battle for
the honor of their true loves, but, at the critical moment, the lines
escaped him and he had to improvise. The lances were rake-handles,
and, as this was not to be a fray a l'outrance, about the end of each
formidable weapon was wadded and tied an empty flour bag.
The unwilling, lumbering mares were brought upon the ground, and
Valentine held the headstall reins while a preliminary ceremony was
performed, for your perfect knight omits no courteous detail. Gloves
were unknown about the farm, but Grant drew from his pocket a buckskin
mitten, and with it slapped Alf suddenly in the face. It was to be
regretted that the aggressor had somewhat exaggerated the mediaeval
glove idea, and had not previously explained to Alf that to fling one's
glove in a foeman's face was one proper form of deadly insult preceding
mortal combat, for, ignoring lances, steeds and all about them, the
assailed personage immediately "clinched," and the boys rolled over in
a struggle, earnest, certainly, but altogether commonplace. It was
with the greatest difficulty, while defending himself, that Grant was
enabled to explain that his act was one rendered necessary by the laws
of chivalry and a part of the preliminaries of the occasion, instead of
an attack in cold blood upon an unwarned adversary. Alf accepted the
apology gloweringly, and manifested great anxiety to secure his lance,
and mount. It was evident the encounter would be deadly.
Some hundred yards apart, with the perplexed, astonished old mares
facing each other, sat the warriors in their saddles, or, rather, in
the place where their saddles would have been had they possessed them.
Each grasped the headstall reins firmly in his left hand, and with his
right aimed his top-heavy lance in a somewhat wobbling manner at his
adversary. It must soon be known to all the world of knighthood which
was the grimmer champion! At middle distance and well to one side,
stood Grand Marshal Valentine, racking his brains for the lines which
should give the signal for the shock, but all in vain. Desperation
gave him inspiration. "Let 'er go for your girls!" he roared.
Never, even in the gentle and joyous passage of arms at Ashby, or on
the Field of the Cloth of Gold, was afforded a more thrilling spectacle
than when these two paladins rushed to the onset and met in mid-career.
Each gave a yell and dug his heels into his charger, and whacked her
with the butt end of his lance, and forced her into a ponderous gallop
for the meeting. It matters not now what was the precise intent of
either jouster, which of them aimed at gorget or head-piece, or at
shield, for—either because the flour bags made the lances difficult to
manage or of some unevenness in the ground—each missed his enemy in
the encounter! Not so the two old mares! They came together with a
mighty crash and rolled over in a great cloud of dust and grass and
mane and tail and boy and spear and flour-bag!
There is a providence that looks after reckless youth especially, else
there would have been broken bones, or worse; but out of the confusion
two warriors scrambled to their feet, dazed somewhat and dirty, but
unharmed, and two old mares floundered into their normal attitude a
little later, evidently much disgusted with the entire proceeding. And
Valentine, grand marshal, who had chanced to have a little difficulty
with his elder brother the day before, promptly awarded the honors of
the tournament to Grant on the ground that old Molly, the horse ridden
by Alfred, seemed a little more shaken up than the other.
Of course there were other books than those of chivalric doings which
appealed to this young reader so addicted to putting theory into
practice at all risks. "Robinson Crusoe," and Byron, and D'Aubigne's
"History of the Reformation," and "Midshipman Easy," and "Snarleyow,"
and the "Woman in White," "John Brent," and Josephus, and certain old
readers, such as the American First Class Book, made up the odd country
library, and there was not a book in the lot which was not in time
devoured. There was another book, a romance entitled "Don Sebastian,"
to which at length a local tragedy appertained. The scene was laid in
Spain or Portugal and the hero of the story was a very gallant
character, indeed, one to be relied upon for the accomplishment of
great slaughter in an emergency, but who was singularly unlucky in his
love affair, in the outcome of which Grant became deeply interested,
too deeply, as the event proved. Upon the country boy of eleven or
twelve devolve always, in a new country, certain responsibilities not
unconnected with the great fuel question,—the keeping of the wood-box
full,—and these duties, in the absorption of the novel, the youth
neglected shamefully. A casual allusion or two, followed by a direct
announcement of what must come, had been entirely lost upon him, and,
one day, as he was lying by the unreplenished fire, deep in the pages
of the book, the volume was lifted gently from his hands, and, to his
horror, dropped upon the blazing coals against the back-log. Many
things occurred to him in later life of the sort men would avoid, but
never came much greater mental shock than on that black occasion.
Stunned, dazed, he went outside and threw himself upon the grass and
tried to reason out what could be done. Was he never to know the fate
of Don Sebastian? It was beyond endurance! A cheap quality of
literature the book was, no doubt, but he was not critical at that age,
and in later years he often sought the volume out of curiosity to learn
what in his boyhood had entranced him, but he never found it. It was a
small, fat volume, very like a pocket Bible in shape, bound cheaply in
green cloth, and printed in England, probably somewhere in the '30's,
but it had disappeared. The bereaved youth was, henceforth, in as sore
a retrospective strait over "Don Sebastian" as Mr. Andrew Lang declares
he is, to-day, with his "White Serpent" story.
Byron—"Don Juan," in particular—had an effect upon the youth, and
"The Prisoner of Chillon" gave him dreams. "Snarleyow" was the book,
though, which struck him as something great in literature. The demon
dog tickled his fancy amazingly. He was somewhat older when he read
"Jane Eyre" and "John Brent," and could recognize a little of their
quality, but "Snarleyow" came to him at an age when there was nothing
in the world to equal it.
Meanwhile the whole face of nature was changing, and the boy was
necessarily keeping up with the procession of new things. Broad
meadows were where even he, a mere boy still, had seen dense woodland;
there were highways, and it was far from the farmhouse door to the
forests edge. The fauna had diminished. The bear and wolverine had
gone forever. The fox rarely barked at night; the deer and wild turkey
were far less plentiful, though the ruffed grouse still drummed in the
copses, and the quail whistled from the fences. Different, even, were
the hunters in their methods. The boy, whose single-barreled shot-gun
had known no law, now carried a better piece, and scorned to slay a
sitting bird. Both he and Alf became great wing shots, and clever
gentlemen sportsmen from the city who sometimes came to hunt with them
could not hope to own so good a bag at the day's end. Wise as to dogs
and horses were they, too, and keen riders at country races. And
ridges of good muscles stiffened now their loins, and their chests were
deepening, and at "raisings," when the men and boys of the region
wrestled after their work was done, the two were not uncounted. For
them the country school had accomplished its mission. The world's
geography was theirs. Grammar they had memorized, but hardly
comprehended. As for mathematics, they were on the verge of algebra.
Then came the force of laws of politics and trade, a shifting of
things, and Grant strode out of nature to learn the artificial. His
family was removed to town.
Western, or rather Northwestern, town life, when the town has less than
ten thousand people, varies little with the locality. There is the
same vigor everywhere, because conditions are so similar. It is odd,
too, the close resemblance all through the great lake region in the
local geography of the towns. Small streams run into larger ones, and
these in turn enter the inland seas, or the straits, called rivers,
which connect them. Where the small rivers enter the larger ones, or
where the larger enter the straits or lakes, men made the towns. These
were the water cross-roads, the intersections of nature's highways, and
so it comes that to so many of these towns there is the great blue
water front intersected at its middle by a river. There is a bridge in
the town's main street, and the smell of water is ever in the air.
Boys learn to swim like otters and skate like Hollanders, and their
sisters emulate them in the skating, though not so much in the swimming
as they should. There is a life full of great swing. The touch
between the town and country is exceedingly close, and the country
family which comes to the community blends swiftly with the current.
So with the family of Grant Harlson and so with him personally. A year
made him collared and cravatted, short-cropped of hair, mighty in
high-school frays, and with a new ambition stirring him, of a quality
to compare with that of one Lucifer of unbounded reputation and
doubtful biography. There was something beyond all shooting and riding
and wrestling fame and the breath of growing things. There was another
world with reachable prizes and much to feed upon. He must wear
medals, metaphorically, and eat his fill, in time.
The high-school is really the first telescope through which a boy so
born and bred looks fairly out upon this planet. The astronomer who
instructs him is often of just the sort for the labor, a being also
climbing, one not to be a high-school principal forever, but using this
occupation merely as a stepping-stone upon his ascending journey. If
he be conscientious, he instils, together with his information that all
Gaul is divided and that a parasang is not something to eat, also the
belief that the game sought is worth the candle, and that hard study is
not wasted time. Such a teacher found young Harlson; such a teacher
was Professor—they always call the high-school principal "Professor"
in small towns—Morgan, and he took an interest in the youth, not the
interest of the typical great educator, but rather that of an older and
aspiring jockey aiding a younger one with his first mount, or of a
railroad engineer who tells his fireman of a locomotive's moods and
teaches him the tricks of management. They might help each other some
day. Well equipped, too, was Morgan for the service. No shallow
graduate of some mere diploma-manufactory, but one who believed in the
perfection of means for an end,—an advocate of thoroughness.
So it came that for four years Grant Harlson studied
feverishly,—selfishly might be almost the word,—such was the impulse
that moved him under Morgan's teaching, and so purely objective all his
reasoning. In his vacations he hunted, fished, and developed the more
thews and sinews, and acquired new fancies as to whether an Irish
setter or a Gordon made the better dog with woodcock, and upon various
other healthful topics, but his main purpose never varied. In his
classes there were fair girls, and in high-schools there is much callow
gallantry; but at this period of his life he would have none of it. He
was not timid, but he was absorbed. Morgan told him one day that he
was ready for college.
NEW FORCES AT WORK.
"You will be kind enough, sir, to write upon the blackboard two
"'What do you think
I'll shave you for nothing and give you a drink.'
"'What do you think
I'll shave you for nothing and give you a drink.'
"You will observe that, while the wording is the same, the inflection
is different. Please punctuate them properly, and express the idea I
intend to convey."
This from a professor, keen-eyed and unassuming in demeanor, to a big,
long-limbed young fellow, facing, with misgivings despite himself, a
portion of the test of whether or not he were qualified for admission
as a freshman into one of our great modern universities. He had not
been under much apprehension until the moment for the beginning of the
trial. There was now to be met the first issue in the new field. He
plunged into his task.
Then the professor:
"Well, yes, you have caught my idea. How write upon the board: 'This
is the forest primeval,' and a dozen lines or so following, from this
slip. Scan that for me; parse it; show me the relations of words and
clauses, and all that sort of thing."
A pause; some only half-confident explanation, and enlargement upon the
subject by the young man.
The professor again:
"H-u-u-m—well—now you may write—no, you needn't—just tell me the
difference, in your opinion, between what are known as conjunctions and
prepositions. Say what you please. We ask no odds of them. Be
utterly free in your comment."
More explanations by the young man. The professor: "We'll not pursue
that subject. You might tell us, incidentally, what a trochaic foot
is?—Yes.—And who wrote that 'Forest primeval' you just
scanned?—Certainly—That will do, I think. Oh, by the way, who was
Becky Sharp?—The most desirable woman in 'Vanity Fair,' eh? I may be
half inclined to agree with you, but I was asking who, not what. Good
afternoon. You have passed your examination in English literature. I
trust you may be equally successful in other departments. Good
And this was all from a professor whose name was known on more than one
continent and who was counted one of the greatest of educators. Such
was his test of what of English literature was required in a freshman.
A lesser man than this great teacher would have taken an hour for the
task and learned less, for, after all, did not the examination cover
the whole ground? The droll range of the inquiry was such that the
questioner had gauged, far better than by some more ponderous and
detailed system, the quality of the young man's knowledge in one field.
One of the strong teachers this, one not afraid of a departure, and one
of those who, within the last quarter of a century, have laid the
foundations of new American universities deep and wide, and given to
the youth facilities for a learning not creed-bound, nor school-bound,
but both liberal and of all utility.
It was well for the particular freshman whose examination is here
described that his first experience with a professor was with such a
man. It gave confidence, and set him thinking. With others of the
examiners he did not, in each instance, fare so happily. What
thousands of men of the world there are to-day who remember with
something like a shudder still the inquisition of Prof. ——, whose
works on Greek are text-books in many a college; or the ferocity of
Prof. ——, to whom calculus was grander than Homer! But the woes of
freshmen are passing things.
What Grant Harlson did in college need not be told at any length. He
but plucked the fruit within his reach, not over-wisely in some
instances, yet with some industry. He had, at least, the intelligence
to feel that it is better to know all of some things than a little of
all things, and so surpassed, in such branches as were his by gift and
inclination, and but barely passed in those which went against the
It may be the professor of English literature had something to do with
this. Between Grant and him there grew up a friendship somewhat
unusual under all the circumstances. One day the professor was
overtaken by the student upon a by-way of the campus, and asked some
questions regarding certain changed hours of certain recitations, and,
having answered, detained the questioner carelessly in general
conversation. The elder became interested—perhaps because it was a
relief to him to talk with such a healthy animal—and, at the
termination of the interview, invited him to call. There grew up
rapidly, binding these two, between whose ages a difference of twenty
years existed, a friendship which was never broken, and which doubtless
affected to an extent the student's ways, for he at least accepted
suggestions as to studies and specialties. This relationship resulted
naturally in transplanting to the mind of the youth some of the fancies
and, possibly, the foibles of the man. One incident will illustrate.
The student, during a summer vacation, had devoted himself largely to
the copying of Macaulay's essays, for, in his teens, one is much
impressed by the rolling sentences of that great writer. Upon his
return Harlson told of his summer not entirely wasted, and expressed
the hope that he might have absorbed some trifle of the writer's style.
The professor of English literature laughed.
"Better have taken Carlyle's 'French Revolution' or any one of half a
dozen books which might be named. Let me tell a little story. Some
time ago a fellow professor of mine was shown by a Swedish servant girl
in his employ a letter she had just written, with the request that he
would correct it. He found nothing to correct. It was a wonderfully
clear bit of epistolary literature. He was surprised, and questioned
the girl. He learned that, though well educated, she knew but little
English, and had sought the dictionary, revising her own letter by
selecting the shortest words to express the idea. Hence the letter's
strength and clearness. Stick to the Saxon closely. Macaulay will
wear off in time." And this was better teaching than one sometimes
gets in class.
This is no tale of the inner life of an American university. It is but
a brief summary of young Harlson's ways there. But some day, I hope, a
Thomas Hughes will come who will write the story, which can be made as
healthful as "Tom Brown," though it will have a different flavor. What
a chance for character study! What opportunity for an Iliad of many a
gallant struggle! Valuable only in a lesser degree than what is
learned from books is what is learned from men in college, that is,
from young men, and herein lies the greater merit of the greater place.
In the little college, however high the grade of study, there is a lack
of one thing broadening, a lack of acquaintance with the youth of many
regions. The living together of a thousand hailing from Maine or
California, or Oregon or Florida, or Canada or England, young men of
the same general grade and having the same general object, is a great
thing for them all. It obliterates the prejudice of locality, and
gives to each the key-note of the region of another. It builds up an
acquaintance among those who will be regulating a land's affairs from
different vantage-grounds in years to come, and has its most practical
utility in this. When men meet to nominate a President this fact comes
out most strongly. The man from Texas makes a combination with the man
from Michigan, and two delegations swing together, for have not these
two men well known each other since the day their classes met in a rush
upon the campus twenty years ago?
No studious recluse was Harlson. His backwoods training would not
allow of that. In every class encounter, in every fray with townsmen,
it is to be feared in almost every hazing, after his own gruesome
experience—for they hazed then vigorously—he was a factor, and
beefsteak had been bound upon his cheek on more than one occasion. A
rollicking class was his, though not below the average in its
scholarship, and the sometimes reckless mood of it just suited him.
"There were three men of Babylon, of Babylon, of Babylon."
There is what some claim is an aristocracy in American colleges. It is
asserted that the leading Greek fraternities are this, and that the
existence of Alpha Delta Phi, Psi Upsilon or Delta Kappa Epsilon, or
others of the secret groups, is not a good thing for the students as a
whole. Yet in the existence of these societies is forged another of
the links of life to come outside, and all the good things to be gained
in college are not the ratings won in classes. Harlson was one of
those with badges and deep in college politics. He never had occasion
to repent it.
And so, with study, some rough encounter and much scheming and much
dreaming, time passed until the world outside loomed up again at close
quarters. The present view was a new struggle. The great money
question intervened. There had come a blight upon his father's dollar
crop, and when Grant Harlson left the university he was so nearly
penniless that the books he owned were sold to pay his railroad fare.
It must have been some person aged, say, twenty, who expressed to Noah
the opinion that there wasn't going to be much of a shower. At twenty
tomorrow is ever a clear day, and notes are easy things to meet, and
friends and women are faithful, and Welsh rarebit is digestible, and
sleep is rest, and air is ever good to breathe. Grant Harlson was not
particularly troubled by the condition of his finances. That the money
available had lasted till his schooling ended, was, at least, a good
thing, and, as for the future, was it not his business to attend to
that presently? Meanwhile he would dawdle for a week or two.
So the young man stretched his big limbs and lounged in hammocks and
advised or domineered over his sisters, as the case might be, and read
in a desultory way, and fished and shot, and ate with an appetite which
threatened to bring famine to the family. Your lakeside small town is
a fair place in July. He would loaf, he said, for a week or two. The
loafing was destined to have character, perhaps to change a character.
There had come to Harlson in college, as to most young men, occasional
packages from home, and in one of these he had found a pretty thing, a
man's silk tie, worked wonderfully in green and gold, and evidently the
product of great needlecraft. It was to his fancy, and he had thought
to thank whichever of his sisters had wasted such time upon him, but
had forgotten it when next he wrote, and so the incident had passed.
One day, wearing this same tie, he bethought him of his negligence
lying supine on the grass, while his sister Bess was meanwhile reading
in the immediate vicinity. He would be grateful, as a brother should.
"I say, Bess," he called, "I forgot to write about this tie and thank
you. Which of you did it?"
Bess looked up, interested.
"I thought I wrote you when I sent the other things. None of us did
it. It was Mrs. Rolfston."
"Certainly. She was here one day, when we were making up a lot of
things for you, and said that she'd make something herself to go with
the next lot. A week or two later she brought me that tie, and I
inclosed it. Pretty, isn't it?"
The young man on the grass was thinking.
He knew Mrs. Rolfston slightly; knew her as the wife of a well-to-do
man who saw but little of her husband.
Daughter of a poor man of none too good character in the little town,
she had grown up shrewd, self-possessed, and with much animal beauty.
At twenty she had married a man of fifty, a builder of steamboats, a
red-faced, riotous brute, who had bought her as he would buy a horse,
and to whom she went easily because she wanted the position money
gives. Within a week he had disgusted her to such an extent that she
almost repented of the bargain. Within a year, he had tired of her and
was openly unfaithful in every port upon the lakes, a vigorous, lawless
debauchee. His ship-building was done in a distant port, and he rarely
visited his wife. He rather feared her, mastiff as he was, for here
was the keener intelligence, and her moods, at times, were desperate as
his. So he furnished her abundant income and was content to let it go
at that. It pleased her, also, to have it that way.
Harlson thought of the woman, and wondered somewhat. Black-haired,
black-eyed, white-skinned, deep of bust and with a graceful and
powerful swing of movement, she was a woman, physically considered, not
of the common herd. She was a lioness, yet not quite the grand lioness
of the desert. She lacked somewhat of dignity and grandeur of
countenance, and had more of alertness and of craft. She was, though
dark, more like the tawny beast of the Rocky Mountains, the California
lion, as that great cougar is called, supple, full of moods and
passion, and largely cat-like. She had filled his eye casually. Why
had she sent him the tie, the silken thing in green and gold?
He thought and pulled his long limbs together and rose till he was
sitting, and decided that it was but courteous, but his duty as a
gentleman, to wander over to her house and thank her for her
remembrance of him. It was but an expression of good will toward the
family generally, this little act of hers; he knew that, but it was a
personal matter, after all, and he should thank her. It was well to be
thoughtful, to attend to the small amenities, and it took him more than
the usual time to dress. His apparently careless summer garb required
the adjustment of an expert here and there. He was an hour in the
doing of it. When he emerged he was not, taken in a comprehensive way,
bad-looking. He was clear-faced, strong-featured and of stalwart build.
The ordinary man he would not have feared in any meeting; of the woman
he was about to meet he had some apprehension. He knew her quality,
but—she had worked for him a tie! He went up the broad path to the
doorway, between flowers and trees and shrubbery. It was three o'clock
in the afternoon, and he would find her alone, he thought, for chances
of calls are not so great in the smaller towns as in the cities; there
is an average to be maintained, and Mrs. Jones or Mrs. Smith does not
receive on days particularized. He was compelled to wait in the parlor
but a moment. She came in, and he saw her for the first time in two
What a gift women have in producing physical effects upon the creature
male, no matter what the woman's status. Mrs. Rolfston came in with a
look of half inquiry on her face and with a presentation of herself
which was perfect in its way. She wore some soft and fluffy dress—a
man cannot describe a garb in detail—with that lace-surrounded
triangular bareness upon the bosom just below the chin which is as
irreproachable as it is telling. There was a relation between the
swing of her drapery and, the movements of her body. She was rich of
figure, and flexile. And she was glad to see Mr. Harlson, and said so.
He was not really embarrassed. The time had passed when that could be
his way. But he was puzzled as to what to say. Some comment he made
upon the quality of the season and upon Mrs. Rolfston's appearance of
good health. Then he entered upon his subject with no link of
connection with preceding sentences. "I but learned to-day," he said,
"that the tie I wear was made by you. All fellows have little fancies,
I suppose. I have, anyhow. I liked this, though I did not know who
made it. My sister told me, and I have come to thank you. Why did you
do it for me?"
That was putting the case plainly enough, certainly, and promptly
enough, but it was not of a nature to trouble Mrs. Rolfston. This was
a clever woman, married ten years, and of experiences which varied.
She even glanced over the visitor from head to heel before she
answered, and her color deepened and her eyes brightened, though he did
not note it.
"You have changed," she commented. "I should hardly have known you but
for your lips and eyes. You are broader and taller, and a big man, are
you not? How long do you stay in town? Will you spend the summer
"I wish I could," he answered. "It is pleasant here, but I must work,
you know. I may idle for a little time. You haven't said anything
about the tie."
"Oh, the tie? Don't speak of that. I had the whim to make something
for somebody—I have an embroidering mania on me sometimes—and there
was a chance to dispose of it, you see."
The young man's face fell a little as he looked upon the great,
handsome woman and heard her seemingly careless words. He did not want
to go away, yet what excuse was there for staying? He rose, hat in
Here, now, was the woman in a quandary. She had not anticipated such
"Don't go yet," she said, impetuously. "I want to talk with you. Tell
me all about the college, and yourself, and your plans. And—-about
the tie—I wouldn't have made one for any one else. I remembered your
face. You know I was go often at your home, and I wondered how it
would suit you. You should take that interest as a compliment. And I
am lonesome here, and you are idling, you say, and why should we not be
good friends for the summer? The men in town annoy me, and the girls
here are not bright enough for you. Let us be cronies, will you not?
Take me fishing to-morrow. I want you to teach me how to catch bass in
the river. I heard some one say once you knew better than any one else
how that is done. Is not this a good idea of mine? It will help both
of us kill time."
She sat there on the sofa, half stretched out, yet not carelessly nor
ungracefully, but in an assumed laziness of real felinishness, a woman
just ten years older than the man she was addressing, yet in all the
lushness of magnificent womanhood, and emanating all magnetism.
Harlson said he would call for her and that they would go fishing. And
The light is tawny upon the lily-pods in shady places on the river.
And rods, such as are used for bass, are light upon the wrist, and, in
the lazy hours of mid-afternoon, when bass bite rarely, demand but
slight attention. And two people idling in a boat get very close in
thought together and come soon to know each other well. And a ruthless
young man of twenty and a tempestuous woman of thirty are as the
conventional tow and tinder.
And there were books she had never read in Mrs. Rolfston's library—for
she was not a woman of books—which interested Harlson, and it was
easier to read them there than take them home. And Mrs. Rolfston
waited upon him—how gifted is a woman of thirty—and he felt bands
upon him, and liked it, and would not reason to himself concerning it.
And one night, late, came a panting servant—Mrs. Rolfston had no men,
only two women domestics, with her in her home—to say that her
mistress had heard some one evidently attempting to open a window on
the piazza, and that they were all in fear of their lives, and that she
had fled out of the back way to ask Mr. Harlson the elder, or his son,
to come over at once and look around.
The father laughed, and said that, had there been a burglar, he must
have fled already, and the young man, laughing too, said that some one
must go anyhow, in all courtesy to defenseless women, and that if Mrs.
Rolfston feared for her front porch, he would lie upon a blanket in the
lawn beside it to set her mind at rest. He had not slept beneath the
stars alone, he said, since the family had left the farm. And there
was much laughing, and Harlson took home the servant girl, and she,
growing bold as they approached the house, ran up the path ahead of
him. The lawn between the better house and street in the lake country
town is often a little forest, so dense the trees and their foliage.
And added to the fragrance of the leaves in later midsummer are the
mingled odors of petunias and pinks and rosemary and bergamot and musk,
for all these flourish late. And the moon comes through the tree-tops
in splashes, and there is a softness and a shade, and it is all like a
scented garden in some old Arabian story, and the senses are affected
and, maybe, the reason. Harlson went up the path, half dreaming, yet
alive in every vein. There was no burglar visible, but a wonderful
woman, in fleecy dishabille, was sure she had heard a sound most
sinister, and endangered women must be guarded of the strong.
And Grant Harlson returned not home that night; yet the moon, shining
through the trees, revealed no form upon a blanket in the garden.
And the summer days drifted by; and the young man fresh from college,
full of ambitions and dreams, found himself a creature he had never
known, a something conscience-stricken, yet half-abandoned, and with a
leaden weight upon his feet to keep them from carrying him away from
He would force himself to a solitary day at times, and go out into the
country with dog and gun, and tramp for miles, and wonder at himself.
He had all sorts of fancies. He thought of his wickedness and his
wasted time, and compared himself with the great men in the books who
had been in similar evil straits,—with Marc Antony, with King Arthur
in Gwendolen's enchanted castle, and with Geraint the strong but
slothful,—rather far-fetched this last comparison,—and of all the
rest. It was a grotesque variety, but amid it all he really suffered.
And he would make good resolves and, for the moment, firm ones, and
return to town when the dew was falling and the moonlight coming, and
the tale was but retold. And the woman was wise, as women are, and
conscienceless, yet suffering a little, too.
She had found more than a summer's toy, and she had grown to fear the
great boy in his moods, and to want to keep him, and to doubt the
measure of her art. This must be a hard thing, too, for such splendid
pirates to bear. They may not even scuttle all the craft they capture.
And the root of all evil is sometimes the root of all good. The dollar
pulls all ways. Harlson must earn his way. One day his father dropped
a chance word regarding some one, miles in the country, who wanted a
fence built inclosing a tract out of the wood. It was isolated work, a
task of a month or two for a strong man, a mere laborer. Young Harlson
"Why shouldn't I try it?" he asked.
His father laughed.
"It's work for a toughened man, my boy. You have softened with six
years of only study."
The boy laughed as well.
"You needn't fear," he said. "All strength is not attained upon a
farm, and I want to swing an ax and maul again."
And that day he set out afoot for the home of the man who needed a
fence. He told Mrs. Rolfston briefly. She paled a trifle, but made no
objection. He said he would make visits to the town.
THE BUILDING OF THE FENCE.
An ax, a maul, a yoke of oxen; these are the great requisites for him
who would build a rail fence through a forest. Grant Harlson made the
bargain for the work, hired a yoke of oxen, as you may do in the
country, and secured the right to eat plain food three times a day at
the cabin of a laborer. A bed he could not have, but the right to
sleep in a barn back in the field, and there also to house his oxen for
the night, was given him. He slept upon the hay-mow. He went into the
forest and began his work. The wood was dense, and what is known all
through the region as a black ash swale, lowland which once reclaimed
from nature makes, with its rich deposits, a wondrous meadow-land. He
"lined" the fence's course and cleared the way rudely through the
forest, a work of days, and then he made the maul.
The mace of the mediaeval knight is the maul of to-day. No longer it
cracks heads or helmets, but there is work for it. And it has
developed into a mighty weapon. There are two sorts of maul in the
lake country. As the stricken eagle is poetically described as
supplying the feather for the arrow by which itself was hurt to death,
the trees furnish forth the thing to rend them. Upon the side of the
curly maple, aristocrat of the sugar bush, grows sometimes a vast wart.
This wart has neither rhyme nor reason. It has no grain defined. It
is twisted, convoluted, a solid, tough and heavy mass, and hard,
almost, as iron. It is sawed away from the trunk with much travail,
and is seasoned well, and from it is fashioned a great head, into which
is set a hickory handle, and the thing will crush a rock if need be.
This is the maul proper.
There is another maul, or mace, made from a cut of heavy iron-wood, a
foot in length and half a foot in thickness, with the hickory handle
set midway between iron bands, sprung on by the country blacksmith.
This is sometimes called the beetle.
The beetle is a monster hammer, the maul a monster mace. Each serves
its purpose well, but the beetle never has the swing and mighty force
of the great heavy maple knot. Grant Harlson bought a seasoned knot of
an old woodman and shaped a maul. He had learned the craft in youth.
The ash trees fell beneath the ax, the trunks were cut to rail lengths,
and the oxen dragged logs through muck and mire and brush and bramble
to the line of fence, and there the maul swung steadily in great
strokes upon the iron and wooden wedges, the smell of timber newly
split was in the air, and the heavy rails were lifted, and the fence
began its growth.
And it was lonesome in the depths of the wood, for the black ash swale
is not tenanted by many birds and squirrels as are the ridges, and only
the striped woodpecker or a wandering jay fluttered about at times, or
a coon might seek the pools for frogs. Harlson had circumstance for
thought. Only the hard labor cleared his blood and brain, and helped
Could fortune come to him who had such a load upon his conscience? Was
not he a violator of all law, as he had learned it,—law of both God
and man? Had he an excuse at all, and what was the degree of it? He
could not endure the time when it became too dark in the wood for work,
and when he drove the jaded oxen out into the field and to the barn,
and it was yet too early for seeking the hay-mow, which was of clover,
and there seeking sleep. A clover mow is a wonderful sleep-compeller.
There are the softness and fragrance, but, sometimes, even with that,
he would be wakeful. To avoid himself, the young man would, at last,
go in early evening to the older farmers' homes,—for it was his own
country and he knew them all,—and there, with the sons and hired men,
pitch quoits in the road before the house.
Quoits is still a game of farmers' sons, and the horseshoe is superior
to the quoit of commerce and the town. The open side affords facility
for aggressive feats of cleverness in displacing an opponent's cast,
and the corks upon the shoes reduce some sliding chances, and the game
has quality. And Harlson found rather a distraction in the contests.
He found, maybe, distraction, too, in chatting with slim Jenny Bierce,
who was a very little girl when he was in the country school, but who
had grown into almost a woman, and who was a trifle more refined,
perhaps, than most of her associates. She had a sweetheart, a stalwart
young farmer named Harrison Woodell, one of the schoolmates of
Harlson's early youth, but she liked to talk with Harlson. He was
different from her own lover; no better, of course, but he had lived
another life, and could tell her many things.
And Woodell, who expected to marry her, glowered a little. She did not
care for that. Grant Harlson had not noticed it.
But neither quoits nor Jenny Bierce sufficed at all times for
forgetfulness. Harlson was in the grasp of that enemy—or friend—who
gives vast problems, and with them no solution. He could not rest. He
read his Bible, but that only puzzled him the more, because there
seemed to him, of necessity, degrees of wrong, and he could not find a
commandment which was flexible. He chafed because there was no measure
for his sentence.
A pebble at the rivulet's head will turn the tiny current either way,
and so change the course of eventual creek and river. The pebble fell
near the source in Grant Harlson's case, for never before in his life
had he studied much the moral problem. His had been the conventional
training, which is to-day the training which asks one to accept,
unreasoning, the belief of yielding predecessors, and, until he felt
the prick of conscience, he had never cared to question the
inheritance. Now he wanted proof. If he could not plead not guilty,
might he not, at least, find weakness in the law? Then fell the pebble.
It was only a country newspaper, and it was only the chance verses
clipped from some unknown source which turned the tide that might have
grown yet have run forever between narrow banks.
For the verses—who wrote them?—were those of that brief poem which
has made more doubters than any single revelation of the
hollow-heartedness of some famed godly one; than any effort of oratory
of some great agnostic; than any chapter of any book that was ever
I think till I'm weary of thinking,
Said the sad-eyed Hindoo king,
And I see but shadows around me,
Illusion in every thing.
How knowest thou aught of God,
Of His favor or His wrath?
Can the little fish tell what the lion thinks,
Or map out the eagle's path!
Can the Finite the Infinite search!
Did the blind discover the stars?
Is the thought that I think a thought,
Or a throb of a brain in its bars?
For aught that my eyes can discern,
Your God is what you think good—
Yourself flashed back from the glass
When the light pours on it in flood.
You preach to me to be just,
And this is His realm, you say;
And the good are dying with hunger,
And the bad gorge every day.
You say that He loveth mercy,
And the famine is not yet gone;
That He hateth the shedder of blood
And He slayeth us every one.
You say that my soul shall live,
That the spirit can never die:
If He was content when I was not,
Why not when I have passed by?
You say I must have a meaning:
So must dung, and its meaning is flowers;
What if our souls are but nurture
For lives that are greater than ours?
When the fish swims out of the water,
When the birds soar out of the blue,
Man's thoughts may transcend man's knowledge,
And your God be no reflex of you!
One night in after life I sat with Grant Harlson, in his rooms in a
great city, and he told me of this, his time of doubt and tribulation,
and repeated to me the poem.
"The questions it asks have not yet been answered, so far as I know,"
said he, "and I do not think they can be by the alleged experts in such
Then a sudden fancy seized him, and he broke out with a novel
"You have little to do to-morrow, nor have I much on my hands.
Speaking of this to you has awakened an old interest in me and made me
curious. Help me to-morrow. We'll make up now a list of twenty
leading clergymen. I know most of them personally, and some of them
can reason. We'll each take a cab and each visit ten, exhibiting these
verses, going over them stanza by stanza, explaining the doubts they
have aroused, and asking for such solution as the clergymen have, and
such solace as it may afford. That will be rather an interesting
experiment, will it not?"
I fell in with his whim, and the next day we made the rounds agreed
What a curious thing it was! How men of various creeds felt confident
and repeated the old platitudes, and would be anything but logical!
How one or two were honest, and said they could not answer.
And how absurd, we said at night, the keeping of men to tell us what
can no more be learned in a theological school than in a blacksmith
shop, and in neither place as well as in the woods or on the sea! Yet
there was no scoffing in it. We were neither irreligious.
To this young man building the fence there came a resisting mood, and
he was puzzled still, but slept more pleasantly again upon his
clover-mow. He was groping, but less despondent, that was all. It
seemed all strange to him, for the old farm life had become largely a
memory, and it was but yesterday that he was in college, one of a
thousand, full of all energy and lightsomeness, and here he was alone
in the wood as in a monastery, and all else was somehow like a dream.
Only the oxen and the logs and the ax and the maul and the growing
fence were real by day. But, in the evening, there was Jenny Bierce,
and she was very real, as well as charming.
Ho wondered if she cared for him. She was apparently pleased when he
found her, and they had taken long walks alone in the twilight. Once
he had kissed her, and she had not been angry. What sort of drift was
this, and why was he so carried by it? How different it all was from
even the life of a few weeks ago! Then there came before his eyes a
picture of the great, splendid animal in town, and it remained with
him. It bothered him for many a day and night.
If the Hindoo king were right, if all were so undefined, why not do as
did the birds and squirrels, and seek all sunny places? He could not
work at his fence Sunday. He had not done that yet, but he would walk
the miles Saturday night and spend his Sunday in the town.
As he thought, so he did. He did not swing the maul late the next
Saturday that came, but took up his journey and reached home in early
He had been absent but three weeks, yet his family had much to ask, and
his father laughed at his hardened palms, and congratulated him. He
changed his garb and took the way toward Mrs. Rolfston's. She had not
looked for him sooner, though she knew men well, for she had seen his
growing trouble and she knew his will. Her eyes blazed as might the
eyes of some hungry thing to which food is brought. It was late when
he reached his home again, and the next day he must read a book, he
said, that he had found at Mrs. Rolfston's. At night he was stalking
across the country again, to his couch on the dry clover; and he
thought not even of the Hindoo king. Mrs. Rolfston's school of
theology was not of the sort which worries one with puzzling things,
and he had been in a receptive mood.
The next day he worked like a giant. In the early evening he found
Jenny Bierce. She questioned him, but he had not much to answer.
"Is there some one in the town ?" she asked.
"There are several hundred people there."
"You know what I mean. Is there any one in particular?"—this
He said that of late the only one, to speak of, he had found anywhere
was a girl in a calico dress.
SETTLING WITH WOODELL.
So passed the days away. What added brawn came to the strong young
fellow's arms from the driving of the rails and lifting them to place!
Brown, almost, as the changing beech-leaves his face, and the palms of
his hands became like celluloid. He was unlike the farmers, though,
for he lacked the farmers' stoop—he had not to dig nor mow, nor rake
nor bind. He swung his ax or maul, and commanded the red oxen in
country speech, and deeper and deeper into the forest grew the fence.
And, of evenings, he was with Jenny, and Sundays he was in the town.
What days they were, with all their force, and health, and lawless
abandonment, though in the line of nature. He drank not, nor smoked,
nor ate made dishes. He was like an unreasoning bobolink, or hawk, or
fawn, or wolf. But there grew apace the problem of Jenny.
One night, as the two were walking, each caught a glimpse of something
dark, which moved swiftly through the bushes some distance from the
The girl started.
"What is the matter?" Harlson said.
"Did you not see it—that shadow in the bushes?"
"Yes. Some one was there. What of it? Some of the boys are
"It wasn't that," she whispered. "I know what it was. It was Harrison
Woodell, and he is watching."
"Well, he might be in much better business. Are you fond of him?"
"I like him very much," she answered, simply, "but sometimes I am
"He'll not hurt you. He dare not."
"But he may hurt you."
"Don't you think I can take care of myself?"
"Oh, yes"—hurriedly—"but one of you may get hurt, and I don't want
anything to happen to either of you. Oh, Grant! You must be careful!"
He was impressed, though he did not show it. There may have been some
of that magnetic connection, of which the scientists have told us so
little, between minds tending toward each other, with sinister intent
or otherwise, when all conditions are complete. Harlson felt in his
heart that the girl's apprehensions were not altogether groundless,
but, as was said, he was in perfect health and had a pride, and he cast
away the thought and but made love. And he prospered wickedly. It was
late when the girl reached her home again, and she went in tremblingly
and silently. So bent had been their footsteps that neither Harrison
Woodell nor other living thing could have been near them and unseen.
Down the tree-fringed roadway and across the field to the barn went
Harlson, and wondered somewhat at himself. Into what had he developed,
and how would it all end? He was elated, but uneasy. He was glad the
fence was nearing completion, and that with the money due him life in
the big city would begin. He clambered upon the clover-mow, and tossed
about uneasily on the blanket upon which he had thrown himself still
dressed. It was some time before he slept, and then odd dreams came.
He thought he had taken Jenny to the town, and that Mrs. Rolfston
seemed always near them, yet in hiding. They could not get away from
her. Then came a time when she had crept up behind them and over his
head had thrown a noose, and was drawing it tighter and tighter and
strangling him, and he could not, somehow, raise his hands to free
himself. He was suffocating! He struggled in his agony and
awoke—awoke to find his dream no dream at all! to feel a hand on his
throat, a knee upon his chest, and to know that he was being choked to
More than once in later life Grant Harlson felt himself very near the
line which men who have crossed once may not repass, but never later
came to him the feeling of this moment. It was but a flash of thought,
for the physical being's upheaval followed in an instant, but it was a
flash of horror. Then began an awful struggle.
Borne down deeply in the yielding clover, Harlson had little chance to
exert his strength, which, with that grip upon his throat, could not
last long at most; but he writhed with all the force of desperation,
and wrenched loose, at last, one arm, which had been pressed useless
against his side. With the free hand he clutched his adversary's
collar and strained at it, while he heaved with all his power to turn
himself below. The couch was not far from the edge of the great mow,
but of that he was not thinking, nor of the fact that the hay had, in
the stowing away, been built out, so that the mow well overhung the
barn floor. Well for him that it was so! There was a sudden loosening
and sliding as the struggle in the darkness became fiercer, and then,
parting from the mass, a section of the mow, a ton at least in weight,
shot downward, carrying upon it the two men, who, as it struck the
floor beneath, rolled from its surface through the great open doors,
down the steep incline, up which wagons were driven on occasion, and
leaped to their feet together, there in the clear moonlight.
They stood glaring at each other. Grant Harlson gasping, but himself
again, as he inhaled the blessed air. Each stood at bay and watchful.
The man glared at him savagely.
"What does it mean! What were you going to do?"
"I was going to kill you."
"Then they would have hung you."
"No, they wouldn't; they would never have found you."
"Did you have a knife?"
"I didn't need one—if the cursed hay hadn't come away."
"What are you going to do now?"
"I'm going to kill you."
There was a look in the man's eyes which showed he was not jesting.
Harlson thought very rapidly just then. He recognized the earnestness
of it all, but his sudden terror was now gone. Here were light and air
and even terms with the other. The effect of the choking had passed
away. He felt himself a match for Woodell.
With the revulsion of feeling came then suddenly upon him a rage
against this would-be midnight slayer so great that he was calm in his
very savagery. He laughed, as was his way.
"You were very foolish. You should have brought a knife or club. Kill
me! Why, man, do you suppose if you were to try to get away now I
would let you go? I want you, you murderer, I want you!" And he
reached out his hands toward the other and opened and shut them
clutchingly; and then with a snarl Woodell leaped forward and the two
men grappled like bull-dogs.
Well for Harlson was it that through all the weeks he had been swinging
the maul and ax, and that his muscles were hard and his endurance
great, for Woodell was counted one of the strong men of the region. As
it was, in point of sheer strength, the two were about evenly matched,
but there was a difference in their resources. One was
gymnasium-trained, the other not.
In country wrestling there are the side-hold, and square-hold, and
back-hold, and rough-and-tumble, the last the catch-as-catch-can of
stage struggles. In early boyhood Harlson had learned the tricks of
these, and in the college gymnasium he had supplemented this wisdom by
persistent training in every device of the professional gladiators. He
was there considered something better than the common. And this,
though a life depended on it, was but a wrestling-match. It was but a
struggle to see which should get the other in his power, and blows
count but little in a death-grapple.
They swayed and swung together, but so evenly braced and firm that
minutes passed, while, from a little distance, they would have seemed
but motionless. All who have watched two well-matched wrestlers will
recognize this situation.
In each man's mind was a different immediate aim. Woodell wanted
Harlson on the ground and underneath him; he wanted his hand upon his
throat, and to clutch that throat so savagely and so long that the
man's face would blacken and his tongue protrude, and his limbs finally
relax, and the work attempted on the hay-mow be done completely!
Harlson had but one thought: to overmaster in some way his assailant.
There was a sudden change, a mighty movement on the part of Woodell,
and in an instant the struggle was over.
Glorious are your possibilities, O pretty grip and heave, O
half-Nelson, beloved of wrestlers! What a leverage, what a perfection
of result is with you! What a friend you are in time of peril!
Woodell, too bloodthirsty to feint or dally, released his hold and
stooped and shot forward, his arms low down, to get the country hold,
which rarely failed when once secured. And, even as he did so, in that
very half-second of time, there was a half-turn of the other's body, an
arm about his neck, a wrench forward to a hip, and, big man though he
was, nothing could save him!
His feet left the earth; he whirled on a pivot, high and clear, and
came to the ground with a force to match his weight, his body, like a
whip-lash, cracking its whole length as he struck.
Stunned by the awful shock, he did not move. His adversary stood
glaring at the still form for a moment, dazed himself by the sudden
outcome, then dashed into the barn, came out with a harness
throat-latch and a pitchfork, strapped Woodell's hands together, pulled
them over his knees, and between the knees and wrists passed the long
ash fork-handle. The man, slowly recovering his senses, was "bucked"
in a manner known to any schoolboy; as securely bound as if with
handcuffs and with shackles; as helpless as a babe!
INCLINATION AGAINST CONSCIENCE.
The shock had affected Woodell very much as what is known as a
"knock-out" in sparring affects a man. Absolutely unconscious at
first, he recovered intelligence slowly, though practically uninjured.
Harlson stood beside the grotesquely trussed figure and watched the
return to consciousness with curiosity. The cool night air assisted
Woodell opened his eyes, seemed to be wondering where he was, and then,
as realization came, made an attempt to rise. The effort was
ridiculous, and he but flopped like a winged loon. The contortion of
his face was frightful as there came upon him full understanding of his
situation. He struggled fiercely once again, then lay quiet, looking
up at Harlson with malignant eyes.
Harlson's fit of rage had gone entirely. There had come upon him a
swift compunction. "Why did you try to murder me?" he asked.
"You know well enough, —— you!" came from between the teeth of the
man on the ground.
"I do not. I can't understand it! Have I ever injured you?"
"Injured me? You dodging, lying thief! What are you quibbling for?
You know just how you have injured me. Why don't you finish the thing?
Get a club and knock out my brains! They won't hang you, for you can
say it was in self-defense, and my being here will prove it. Do it!
Have a complete job of what you have done this summer!"
The man, writhed in his ignoble position, and tears gushed from his
eyes. Harlson reached forward and withdrew the pitchfork handle.
Woodell scrambled to his feet ungracefully, for his hands were still
strapped together before him.
"Look here, Woodell," said Harlson, "let us go to the road and walk
down toward your place. I'll not unstrap your hands just yet. I think
I'll feel a trifle more comfortable having you as you are. I want to
talk with you. I want you to be fair with me. Was it because of Jenny
"You know it was."
"But why haven't I as good a right to make love to Jenny as you or any
Woodell turned fiercely: "More quibbling." Then in a tone of demand:
"Tell me this: Are you going to marry her?"
Harlson hesitated. "I don't know."
"You do know! You know you haven't any idea of such a thing. You are
just amusing yourself until you get your cursed fence built."
"What is that to you?"
"To me! She was engaged to be married to me, and we were happy
together until you came; and you've come, broken up two lives and done
no one any good, not even yourself, you hungry wolf! She cares more
for me to-day than she does for you. She is better suited to me! But
with your trick of words and your ways you tickled her fancy at first,
and, finally, you charmed her somehow as they say snakes do birds. And
she'll not be fit for anybody when you go away!" The big man sobbed
like a baby.
Harlson made no immediate reply. Was not what Woodell was saying but
the truth? Did he really care for Jenny or she for him? What had it
been but pastime? He could give her up. It would be a little hard, of
course. It is always so when a man has to surrender those close
relations with a woman which are so fascinating, and which come only
when there has been established that sympathy between them which, if
not love, is involuntarily considered by each something that way.
There was a struggle in his mind between the instinct to be honorable
and straight-forward and fair, and to do what was right, and the
impulse, on the other hand, to refuse anything demanded by an
assailant. But the would-be murderer was not a murderer, after all.
He was only a temporary lunatic whom Harlson himself had driven mad.
That was the just way to look at it. As for Jenny, she would not
suffer much. There had not been time enough. Not in a day does a man
or woman have that effect produced upon the heart which lasts forever.
So, were he to disappear from the affair, nothing very serious, nothing
affecting materially the whole of any life would follow. The odds were
against him, or rather against the worst side of him, in the reflection.
He acted promptly. "I don't know about it," he said; "I'm puzzled. I
don't care much. I don't know just where I stand, anyhow. I want to
be decent, but it seems to me I have some rights; I'm all tangled up.
I don't think you imagine I am afraid—I wasn't when I was a little boy
in school with you as a bigger one. You know that—and I'm not now.
But that doesn't count. I've been studying over a lot of things, and I
don't know what to do. I think you may be right, and that I have been
all wrong. I give it up. But I do know that a fellow can't make any
mistake if he tries to do what is right, and, in figuring out the
thing, takes the side that seems to be against him. He can fight, he
can do anything better after he feels that he has done that. Hold on."
Woodell stopped, wonderingly. Harlson unbuckled the strap about the
man's hands and threw it into the bushes at the roadside.
The farmer straightened himself up, reached out his arms, clutched his
palms together, and looked at the other man. Harlson spoke bluntly.
"Yes, I know you want to try it again. But, as I feel now, it could
only end one way. I don't mind. I only wanted to loose you before I
say what I wanted to say, so that you wouldn't think I was making terms
on my own account."
"Go on," said Woodell, gruffly, still stretching his arms.
"Well, it is just this. I don't think I've been doing the right thing.
I am going to leave Jenny Bierce to you. She will not care much, and
it will be all right in a little time. That is all. No, not quite!
You tried to kill me. Maybe I would have been as big a fool, just such
a crazy, jealous man as you, if things had been the other way. I don't
know. But I do know this, that your coming here to-night, except that
it has made me think, has nothing to do with what I have made up my
mind to. Here we are in the road. I don't want to sleep uneasily in
the barn. You tried to kill me. I have tried to decide on what is
right, and I will do it. Now, I want it settled with you. Here I am!
Do you want to fight?"
Woodell's face had been something worth seeing while Harlson was
speaking. He had followed the words of his late antagonist closely.
He grasped in a general way the intent expressed. There was a radiance
on his rough features.
"Do you really mean that?"
"Of course I do. What should I say it for if I didn't?"
"Then it will be all right."
"But do you want to fight?"
"No, I don't. I won't say you could lick me. It was partly luck
before. I won't give up that way. But you might. That doesn't
matter. I'm sorry I tried to kill you. I was crazy. You would have
been, in my place. And you won't have anything to do with Jenny again?
And the two shook hands, and Harlson went back to his bed on the
clover-mow. He thought he had done a great and philosophically noble
deed—remember, this was but a boy little over twenty—and he slept
like a lamb. And next evening he went over to Woodell's home and said
he wanted some supper, and after the meal laughed at Woodell, and said
he was going off to another farm to pitch quoits until it got too dark,
and the two young men walked down the road together and exchanged some
confidences, and when they parted each was on good terms with the
other. This was strange, following an attempted murder, but such
things happen in real life. And it may be that Woodell had the worst
of the bargain in that conversation.
He was better equipped for the winning of Jenny, but the troubled man
with whom he had been talking had reached out blindly for aid in
another direction. Not much satisfaction was the result. Woodell was
of the kind who, if religious at all, believe without much reasoning,
but Harlson had repeated to him the reasoning of the Hindoo skeptic.
Woodell had at least intelligence enough to follow the line of thought,
and, in after time, when he was a family man and deacon, the lines
would recur to vex him sorely.
And Jenny did not pine away and die because she saw little more of
Harlson. He met her and explained briefly that they had been doing
wrong, and that he and Woodell had talked. She turned pale, then red,
but said little. Of the struggle in the night Jenny never learned.
She inferred, of course, that her lover had gone in a straightforward
way to Harlson, and that his demands had been acceded to. She was
gratified, perhaps, that she had become a person of much importance.
She thought more of Woodell and less of Harlson, because of the issue
of the debate, as she understood it, and, when the first pique and
passion were over, became resigned enough to the outlook. She had been
on the verge of sin, but she was not the only woman in the world to
carry a secret. Woodell's pleadings were met with yielding, and the
wedding occurred within a month. Perhaps she made a better wife
because her husband did not know the truth in detail, and she felt the
burden of a debt, but that is doubtful. Though fair of feature, she
was not deep enough of mind to even brood. Of course, too, by this
standard should be lessened the real degree of all erring. Harlson,
wiser, was much the more guilty of the two and deserved some
punishment, but, as an equation, it could, at least, since he was
young, be said in his defense that as he was to Jenny so had Mrs.
Rolfston been to him. The person who had changed things was that same
fair animal of the town.
And shallow-minded legislatures will enact preposterous social laws for
the regulation of the morals of boys, and imagine they have placed
another paving-stone in the road to the millennium, while the Mrs.
Rolfstons are having a riotous time of it.
FAREWELL TO THE FENCE.
When the first frosts of autumn come the black ash swales are dry, and
there is more life in them than in midsummer. Hickory trees grow in
the swales, and the squirrels are very busy with the ripened nuts. The
ruffed grouse, with broods well grown, find covert in the tops of
fallen trees, or strut along decaying logs. There are certain berries
which grow in the swales, and these have ripened and are sought by many
birds. The leaves are turning slowly to soft colors. There is none of
the blaze and glory of the ridges where the hard maples and beeches
are, but there is a general brownness and dryness and vigor of scene.
It is good. The fence was nearly done, and the money for its building
was almost owned. The rails stretched away in a long line through the
narrow lane hewed through the wood, the tree-tops meeting overhead, and
a new highway was built for the squirrels, who made famous use of the
fence in their many journeys. The woodpeckers patronized it much, and
tested every rail for food, but only in a merely incidental way, for
each woodpecker knew that every rail was green and tough, and sound and
tenantless as yet. There was a general chirp and twitter and pleasant
call, for all the young life of the year was out of nest and hole and
hollow, and now entering upon life in earnest. It was a season for
The great maul, firm and heavy still, showed an indentation round its
middle, where tens of thousands of impacts against the iron wedges had
worn their way, and even the heads of the wedges themselves were
rounded outward and downward with an iron fringe where particles of the
metal had been forced from place. The huge hook at the end of the log
chain was twisted all awry, though no less firm its grip. The fence,
the implements and all about showed mighty work, something of mind, but
more of muscle.
Most perfect of all tonics is physical, out-door labor, particularly in
the forest, and it is as well for mind as body. It eliminates what may
be morbid, and is healthful for a conscience. Why it is that, under
most natural conditions which may exist, the conscience is not so
nervously acute, is something for the theologians to decide,—they will
decide anything,—but the fact remains. The out-door conscience is
strong, but seldom retrospective.
Grant Harlson swung his maul and delighted in what was about him, and
breathed the crisp October air, scented with the spice bushes he cut to
clear the way, and pondered less and less upon the puzzles of the
Hindoo king. His mood was all robust, and when he visited the town he
was a wonder to Mrs. Rolfston, who was infatuated with the savagery of
his wooing and madly discontent with the certainty that she must lose
him. She made wild propositions, which he laughed at. She would
remove to the city; she would do many things. He said only that the
present was good, and that she was fair to look upon. And from her he
would go to his other sweetheart, the great maul, and be faithful for
six days of the seven. He did not work as late of afternoons now. He
was enjoying life again in the old healthful, boyish way.
He had a friend from town with him, too—a setter, with Titian hair and
big eyes, which slept on the clover beside him, and an afternoon or two
a week he would take dog and gun and go where the ruffed grouse were or
where a flock of wild turkeys had their haunts among the beech trees.
He would announce, with much presumption and assurance, at some
farm-house door, that he would be over for dinner to-morrow, and that
it would be a game dinner, and that he would leave the game with them
on his way back that same evening. There would be chaffings and
expressions of doubt as to reliance upon such promise and "First catch
your rabbit" comment, but they were not earnest words, for his ability
as a mighty hunter was well known.
Craft and patience are required when the wild turkey is to be secured,
for it is wise in its generation, and will carry lead, but it is worth
the trouble, for no pampered gobbler of the farm-yard has meat of its
rich flavor. Beech-nuts and berries make diet for a bird for kings to
eat. And when Harlson brought a couple of noble young turkeys to the
board the banquet was a great one, and the boys pitched quoits that
night no better for it. A good thing is the wild turkey, but even a
better thing, when his numbers and quality are considered, is the
ruffed grouse, the partridge of the North, the pheasant of the South.
How, in the lake region, he dawdles among the low-land thornberry
bushes in autumn, how he knows of many things to eat beside the
thorn-apples, and how plump he gets, and how cunning! How watchful he
is, how knowing of covert, and with what a burst he lifts himself from
his hiding-place and whirls away between the tree-trunks! How quick
the eye and hand to catch him when he rises from the underbrush and is
out of sight in the wood before the untrained sportsman stops him with
what is little more than a snapshot, so instantaneously must all be
done! Yet what a dignified thing is he, and how easy to find by one
who knows his ways and what hold habit has upon his gray-brown majesty.
Should the sudden shot fail, there is the fatal weakness of the bird of
flying, as the bee flies, straight as an arrow goes, and of alighting
high, say about two hundred yards away, and trusting to the trick which
fools all other enemies to fool the man. Following the straight line
of his flight, scanning the tree-tops, will you note at last, upon some
great limb and close to the tree's trunk, an upright thing, slender,
still-hued, silent and motionless. It is so like the wood it well
might miss the tyro. It is not unsportsmanlike, it is in fair chase to
shoot, and then there comes to the ground, with a great thump, the cock
of the northern woods, and you have one of the prizes man gets by
slaying. But this is only in the wood. In the open it is quite
another thing. What a toothsome bird, too, is your ruffed grouse, how
plump and yet gamey to the taste! You must know how to cook him,
though. He must be broiled, split open neatly and well larded with
good butter, for not so juicy even as the quail is the ruffed grouse,
and he must have aid. But, broiled and buttered and seasoned, well,
what a bird he is!
There were woodcock, too, in the lowlands, and Harlson found with them
such buoyant life as we men find in sudden death of those small,
succulent creatures. To stop a woodcock on the wing as it pitches over
the willows is no simple thing, and he who does it handily is, in one
respect, greater than he who ruleth a kingdom. And, at the table—but
why talk of the woodcock? There are other game birds for the eating,
good in their various degrees, but the woodcock is not classed with
them. In him is the flavoring drawn by his long bill from the very
heart of the earth, the very aroma of nature, and all richness. They
ate peacocks' brains in Caesar's time. Later, they found there was
something greater in the ortolan, and in some of the similar smaller
things which fly. But as the ages passed, and palates became
cultivated by heredity, and what made all flavors became known, the
woodcock rose and was given the rank of his great heritage—the most
perfect bird for him who knows of eating; the bird which is to others
what the long-treasured product of some Rhine hillside or Italian
vineyard is to the vintage of the day, what old Roquefort or Stilton is
to curd, what the sweet, dense, musky perfume of the hyacinth is to the
shallow scent of rhododendron. Even the Titian-haired setter
recognized the imperial nature of the woodcock, and was all emotion
about the willow-clumps.
Of course, from one point of view it is absurd, to thus depart from a
simple story upon the killing or the cooking or the flavor of a bird.
But I am telling of Grant Harlson and the woman he later found, and it
seems to me that even such matters as these, the sport he had, and the
facts and fancies he acquired, are part of the story, and have
something to do with defining and making clear the forming knowingness,
and character, and habits and inclinations of the man. Between him who
knows old Tokay and woodcock, and the other man, there is every
distinction. Harlson had learned his woodcock, but the Tokay was yet
And the fence neared its end. The young man almost regretted it, eager
as he had become to test his strength in the great city. Physically,
it was grand for him. What thews he gained; what bands of muscle
criss-crosses between and below his shoulders! What arms he had and
what full cushions formed upon his chest! That was the maul. How he
ate and drank and slept!
The days shortened, and the hoar frosts in the early morning made the
fence look a thing in silver-work strung through the woods. Where the
oxen had stepped in some soft place were now, at the beginning of the
day, thin flakes of ice. Even in the depth of the clover-mow the
change of temperature was manifest, and Harlson slept with a blanket
close about him. The autumn had come briskly. And the last ash was
felled, the oxen for the last time scrambled through the wood with the
heavy logs, and for the last time ax and maul and wedge did sturdy
service. One day Grant Harlson lifted the last rail into place; then
climbed upon the fence, looked critically along it, and knew his work
in the country was well done. He was absorbed in the material aspect
of it just then. It was a good fence. Fifteen years later he strolled
one afternoon, cigar in mouth, across the wheat-field where the wood
had been, and inspected the fence he had built alone that summer, away
back. The rails had grown gray from the effect of time and storms, and
a rider was missing here and there, but the structure was a sound one
generally, and still equal to all needs. It was a great fence, well
built. He looked at the wasting evidence of the great ax strokes upon
the rail ends, and said, as did Brakespeare, when he visited the castle
of Huguemont and noted where his sword had chipped the stairway stone
in former fight; "It was a gallant fray."
There was the getting of pay—the selling of a Morgan yearling colt
sufficed the owner of the land for that—and the end of one part of one
human being's life was reached. He went to town again and lived there
a week or two. A life not held in bonds, but somehow under all
control. It was curious; he could not understand it; but, even in the
wood, he had out-grown Mrs. Rolfston. He was with her much. There was
no let nor hindrance to their united reckless being, but all was
different from the beginning. He was not selfish with her; he grew
more courteous and thoughtful, yet the woman knew she could not keep
him. There were stormy episodes and tender ones, threats and tears,
and plottings and pleadings, and all to the same unavailing end. Your
woman of thirty of this sort is a Hecla ever in eruption, but becoming
sometimes, like Hecla, in the ages, ice-surrounded. She has her
trials, this woman, but her trials never kill her. The rending of the
earth, earthy, is never fatal. She recovers. With her, good digestion
ever waits on appetite, though an occasional appetite be faulty.
And one day Grant Harlson left the town, his face turned cityward. The
country boy—this later young man of the summer—was no more. To fill
his place among the mass of bipeds who conduct the affairs of the world
so badly and so blunderingly, was but one added to the throng of
strugglers in one of men's great permanent encampments.
A RUGGED LOST SHEEP.
The journal of Marie Bashkirtseff is a great revelation of the hopes
and imaginings and sufferings of a girl just entering that period of
life when woman's world begins. Many upon two continents have been
affected by the depths and sadness of it, yet it is but a primer, the
mere record of a kindergarten experience, in comparison with what would
be the picture showing as plainly a heart of some man of the city. Did
you ever read the diary, unearthed after his death, and printed in part
but recently, of Ellsworth, the young Zouave colonel, who was slain in
Alexandria, and avenged on the moment, at the very beginning of the
great civil war? That is a diary worth the reading. There is told the
story of not alone vain hopes and ungratified ambitions, but of an
empty stomach and dizzy head to supplement the mental agony and make
its ruthlessness complete. There were, too, the high courage which was
sorely tested—and an empty stomach is a dreadful shackle—and the
bulldog pertinacity which ever does things. That was a diary of real
life, with little room for dreams, and much blood upon the pen.
It befell Grant Harlson to learn how helpless in the great city is the
man as yet unlearned in all its heartlessness and devious ways and lack
of regard for strangers, and the story of Ellsworth was very nearly his.
It was well enough at first. He had some money, and had occupation at
a pittance, intended only by the law firm with whom he was a student to
serve for his car or cab-hire when on service outside the office. His
privilege of studying with the firm was counted remuneration for his
services, and he was, so far as this went, but in the position of other
young men of his age and value under such circumstances, but, unlike
others, he had relied upon the law of chance to aid him.
One hundred dollars does not last long when one is healthy and has a
mighty appetite, and, that gone, two dollars and fifty cents a week,
and hard work for it, is very little to live on, and Harlson found it
so. Not for all the comforts of the world would he have written home
for aid in the town. It seemed there was nothing for him to do. It
had become mid-winter, and the winter was a cold one. Gaunt men
followed the coal wagons or visited the places where charity is
bunglingly dispensed by the sort of people who drift into smug
officials at such agencies as naturally as some birds fly to
worm-besprinkled furrows for their gleanings.
Harlson saw much of this, and knew his fate was not the worst among so
many, and it aided him in his philosophy, but he had a mighty appetite.
He was a great creature, of much bone and brawn, and being hungry was
something he could not endure. He thought—how far back it seemed—of
the farmers' dinners, and the turkey and ruffed grouse and woodcock.
Woodcock! Why, his whole two dollars and fifty cents would not feed
him for a single time upon that glorious bird! He looked through the
fine restaurant windows, and it amused him. His own meals were taken
in restaurants of a poorer class. With thirty-five cents and a
fraction to live upon for a day, one does not care for game.
Harlson's dress became of the shabby genteel order. The binding upon
coat and vest had begun to show that little wound which is not wide nor
deep, but is past the healing, and the shininess at knees and elbows
reflected the light that never was on land or sea, or, at least, ought
not to be. He felt a degradation with it all, though it was with him
the result of folly, not of fault, and he made a struggle for reform in
his finances. He abandoned the cheap room in which he lived, and slept
upon the office floor at night, the place in decent weather being
The individual from China and the individual from more than one other
land, who comes to live with us, can exist on thirty-five cents a day
and think his provender the fat of the land. But he is not a great
meat-eater. The fiber of him is not our own. His style of tissue was
not fixed in northern bay and fjord and English and Norman forests, and
his ancestors transmitted to him a self-denying stomach. He can live
in the city upon thirty-five cents a day, and clasp his hands across
his abdomen and say, with the thankful, "I have dined." Not so the man
of Harlson's type, and of his size. The sum of two dollars and fifty
cents, the young man found, would not feed and clothe him for a week.
He was a boy still, in the freshness of his appetite, yet his demands
in quantity were manly, to a certainty. Six feet of maul-swinging
humanity had eaten much, even in midsummer. That same six feet
required more now, when the temperature was low and the system needed
carbon. Perhaps he got all that was good for him; it is well to train
down a little occasionally; but Harlson wandered about sometimes with a
feeling of sympathy for the wolf of the forest, the hawk of the air,
and the pickerel of the waters, all hungry ever and all refusing to
live by bread alone.
As time passed this condition of things wore upon the man. His
fancies, if not morbid, became a trifle ugly. He worked feverishly,
but he chafed at his own ignorance of city ways, such that he could not
increase his income. He sought manual labor which could be done at
night, but failed even in this, for at that time he lacked utterly the
way about him which fits the city, and persuades the man of business
when there is little labor to be done. It was almost a time of panic.
He would wander about the streets at night like a lost spirit.
Sometimes he would meet old college friends. He had classmates in the
city, some of them well-to-do and well established, and they were glad
to meet him, the man who had done a little to give the class its
record, and he was invited to swell dinners and to parties. He would
but feign excuses, and to none of them told bluntly, as he should have
done, just what his situation was, and how a trifling aid would make
his future different. He was very proud, this arrogant product of the
old Briton blending and the new world's new northwest, and he lacked
the sense which comes with experience in the bearings of a life all
novel, and so he remained silent, and, incidentally, hungry.
It was at this period of his career that Harlson was in closest
sympathy with the sad-eyed Hindoo king. He was not doing anything out
of the way; he was working hard, with clean ambitions, yet he was
hungry. He could not understand it. No doubt an empty stomach
inclines a man to much logic and the splitting of straws. There comes
with an empty stomach less of grossness and more of abstract reason,
and an exaltation which may be all impractical, but which is recklessly
"I want to do things, I want to help others—I don't know why, but I
do—I have ambitions, but I try to make them good. I am doing the best
I can with the brains I have. I get up in the morning from the office
floor and do my utmost all day, and try to do better when I get out,
but nothing helps me! Where is the God who, it is said, at worst,
helps those who help themselves.
"'You say that we have a meaning;
So has dung, and its meaning is flowers.'
"The Hindoo king must be right. I am, we all are but like horses, or
trees, or mushrooms; and it is only some sort of accident which makes
each thing with life successful or unsuccessful, happy or unhappy, as
the case may be."
So, at this time, Grant Harlson reasoned, blindly, yet in his heart
there was something which protested against his own deductions and kept
him in the path which was straightforward, and from staking all the
future on the morrow. So drifted away the days, and this strong-limbed
young fellow became hungrier and hungrier, and more shiny at knees and
elbows, and more lapsided of foot-gear, and more thoroughly puzzled at,
and disgusted with, the city world.
Sometimes the young man would resolve that in the morning he would
abandon all his plans, and seek the country again, and there, where he
could hold his own and more, live and die apart from all the
feverishness and chances of another way of living. And he would awake
and sniff in the morning air, and say to himself that he was a cur last
night, and that he would stay and hold his own, and, in the end, win
somehow. The bulldog strain asserted itself, and he was his own again.
At night, after a fruitless day, he might become again depressed, but
the morning restrung the bow. Sometimes—these were his weaker
days—he would abandon all effort, and seek the free public library,
and there plunge into books and find, for the passing time,
forgetfulness. These were his only draughts of absolute nepenthe, for
at night he dreamed of the yesterday or of the morrow, and it marred
his rest. The library gave him, for the time, another world, though it
had harsh suggestions. He would stop his reading to wonder how
Chatterton felt when starving, or if Hood had as miserable a time of it
as alleged, or if Goldsmith was jolly when, penniless, he argued his
way through Europe, or if even Shakespeare went without a meal. But
the library, on the whole, was a solace and a tonic. It rested him,
since it made him, for a time, forget.
It was but characteristic of Harlson that, in the midst of all this
test of endurance of a certain sort, he should do what deprived him of
all chance of greater ease and greater vantage-ground with time
expended out of the line he had established. One of his old college
friends, guessing, perhaps, his real condition, came to him with an
offer of what was more than a fair income, if he would teach one of the
city's high-schools. The hungry fellow only laughed, and said that was
not on his programme. He still went hungry and grew more shabby in
appearance, and then came to him what was, perhaps, a sear upon his
life—perhaps what broadened, educated, and made him wiser.
THE STRANGE WORLD.
One night Harlson, with a great appetite, as usual,—for he had not
eaten since his scant breakfast,—went out to get his supper. It was
not dinner, for he never, at that time, dined. He had in his pocket
twenty cents. The next day he would get his usual weekly stipend. He
would spend fifteen cents, he thought, upon his supper, then return to
the office to sleep, and would have five cents remaining for the
morning meal. That would do to buy buns with, and he would endure what
stomach clamor might come until evening, when he would be a capitalist,
and riot in all he could eat, even though he doubled a cheap order.
So he reasoned, as he went down the garish street, and looked right and
left for some new restaurant, for he chanced to want a change. One's
love for cheap restaurants is not perpetual. A mild illuminated sign
over a small building attracted his attention. It had the aspect of
what would be cheap, but clean.
Harlson entered the place and found what he had looked for. There was
the small front room with scattered tables, the partition at the back,
reaching but half way to the ceiling, with the usual curtained door,
and there was no one in the room. He took a seat beside one of the
tables and there waited. He had not long to wait. The curtains parted
and a woman entered. The woman who came into the room was possibly
thirty-five years of age. She was strong of frame, though not uncouth,
and had keen, laughing gray eyes, heavy eyebrows and chestnut hair.
She was a half jaunty, buxom amazon, with a brazen, comrade look about
her, and was evidently the proprietress of the place. She came to
where Harlson was seated and asked him what he wished to eat. The
patron of this restaurant was studying the bill of fare intently. He
wanted to get what was, as Sam Weller says, "werry fillin," at the
price, and yet he had certain fancies. He looked up at the woman and
"I have only fifteen cents to spend. What would you advise for the
For the first time the eyes of the two met. Harlson was interested in
the fraction of a second. In the fraction of a second he knew that it
was not a restaurant pure and simple that he had entered, for he had
learned much already in the city. The woman who looked at him was not
merely the proprietress of a place where food was sold.
The woman did not answer at once. She was looking at the customer.
She pulled out the chair opposite him and sat down.
"Have you lived here long?" she said.
Harlson had been so isolated, that to have an inquiry made in relation
to his personal affairs seemed droll. It seemed something like
humanity again, as well.
He studied more closely the woman opposite. She did not convey any
idea of a creature of innate dishonesty or treacherous character. She
had the appearance of being a shrewd, merry, healthy sinner. He forgot
that she owed him an answer as he met her question:
"No, I have not lived here long, but I am as hungry as if I had lived
here for half a century. What shall I order?"
She looked at him curiously. His language was not of the kind she had
been accustomed to. She measured him from head to heel, while he noted
her examination and was amused, and showed it in his face. She
blushed, or rather flushed, and measured him again. Then she told him
what he should order most wisely for the sum he had named. He was
surprised at the quantity and quality of it.
The woman, meanwhile, had left him without further comment. As he was
ending his meal, she came in again and took the seat in front of him.
"You are hungry," she said.
"I was, decidedly. I'm not now."
She looked him over.
"You have spent only fifteen cents. What is the matter?"
He was surprised. He looked into her eyes and was perplexed. Why
should this woman ask him this question? But he could see nothing in
those eyes save a gray inquisition.
"I had only that much to spend to-night, that's all. Do you see
anything absurd about it?"
The woman was puzzled in turn. She looked into the man's face in a
fearless way enough, but did not know what to say. Then again came
that odd way of looking over him. Finally she broke out:
"You haven't any more money, and yet you put on airs. I like it."
"I am much obliged," said he.
"That isn't fair. You know what I mean. And you know already—you're
not a fool—what this place is. It is mine. The little restaurant in
front is but a part. Women come here—and men. Two women live here.
Did you think that?"
Harlson said he had inferred, since he came in, that the restaurant was
not a restaurant alone.
"It's a funny world," he said.
She was bothered. "I don't know what you mean about the world, and I
don't care. But I would like to know what your business is, and how
you are doing?"
"I am not doing well, and get hungry sometimes. Had it not been for
that I should not have come here to-night. But what is it to you?"
"Can't you see? Why am I talking to you?"
"I don't know."
She looked at him steadily again.
"What do you want?" was his inquiry.
"Where do you live?"
"I have no bed. I am in a lawyer's office. I can't afford a
boarding-house just now, and I sleep on the office floor."
"How do you like that?" she asked.
"I don't like it."
"Then why do you stay there?"
"Where else would I sleep? I have only so much a week."
"Would you like to stay here to-night?"
"Maybe. This is better than the office floor; at least I imagine it
The curtains parted and there was a heavy step upon the floor. A man
came in. He stopped and looked at the couple grimly. He was a big man
whose cheeks had jowls and whose eyes were red. He had the air of a
bully. He seemed perfectly at ease and conscious of his status, and
the woman started, then looked up half anxiously and half defiantly.
The man spoke first:
"What are you doing here?"
"I am talking with this gentleman at the table."
"You mustn't talk with these fellows. Get out of here!" he said,
turning to Harlson.
Harlson was not really in a pleasant frame of mind; he had been too
hungry. It was not the occasion on which a flabby bully should have
thus addressed him. He did not answer the man, but turned to the woman.
"Is that your husband?" he asked.
"What is he, then?"
It was the intruder who answered, violently:
"She belongs to me, and you'd better get out of here."
"I don't belong to him! He has lived here, but I want to get away from
him! Now," turning recklessly to the man, "you may do what you please!"
The man paid little note to what the woman said. His attention was
bestowed upon Harlson.
"Look here, young fellow! Get out of this, and get out quick! You're
in the way!"
Now, upon this young man Harlson, during this conversation, had come a
certain increased ill humor. He was in no violent mood, as yet, but he
was not, as has been said, one for a big flabby brute to thus annoy.
He was quiet enough, though.
"I've come into a restaurant to get my supper."
The man's red face became redder still. "If you don't get out, I'll
throw you out!"
Harlson stood up. "I'll not go!" he said, and then the man rushed upon
It was only a clean, quick blow, but there was no check nor parry to
mar its full effectiveness. The man plunged forward too confidently,
the blow caught him fairly in the face, on the fullness of the cheek,
just under the eye, and those bronzed knuckles cut in to the bone. It
was a wicked blow, and its force was great enough to hurl the whole
body back. The man whirled away under it, and he went toppling down,
with his arms thrown up wildly. As he fell, he pitched still further
back, in his effort to save himself, and his head struck the
wainscoting as he reached the floor. Blood gushed from his cut cheek.
It was a moment or two before he clambered slowly to his feet.
"Shall I hit you just once more?" was Harlson's query.
The man did not answer. The woman stood looking on curiously, but
saying nothing. Harlson waited for a time, then told his assailant to
go away; and the man picked up his hat and stumbled out upon the street.
The woman sat down again. It was some time before she spoke.
"You are strong, and will fight," she said.
"I had nothing else to do."
"Do you want to stay here?"
"It is better than the office floor."
"Will you stay here?"
He hesitated. It was a turning-point in his life, and he knew it.
There was something rather startling to him in it.
Then came the swift reflection: He wanted to know all of life. This
was the under-life, the under-current, of which reformers prate so much
and know so little. Why not be greater than they? Why not have been a
part of it, and in time to come speak knowingly? He was but a part of
this world, as accident had made it. He hoped if the world wagged well
to be a protector for certain weak ones. It was a world wherein
immediate brute force told. Well, he could supply that easily enough.
And what would he not learn? He would learn the city, the ignorance of
which had resulted in his being hungry—he, a young man college-bred,
and with some knowledge of Quintilian's crabbedness, or the equations
of X and Y in this or that or the Witch of Agnesi. And were not these
people part of the world, and was not this life something of which he
ought to know the very heart?
Still, there were relations of things to be considered. There were
people at home, and it would not do.
Then, just as he turned to refuge the woman who sat looking at him, the
curtains parted again and a face appeared. It was the face of a woman,
not of the world about him. It was some accident, some sinister,
unexampled happening, which had brought the face to the surroundings.
It gave to the wavering man a new idea of this world of shame and sin,
and it may have been the deciding ounce.
THE REALLY UGLY DUCKLING.
He turned, to the woman across the table: "All right; I will stay."
I am but telling the story of a man of whose life from this time for
two years I know but little. He was always reticent about these years,
yet always said he had no occasion to regret them. With the life's
outlines, though, with what it really was, aside from details, I
became, in a degree, familiar.
What does the average person in one class know of the life in another?
There are "classes," certainly, with great bars between them here,
though this is a republic, and all men and women are supposed to be
free and equal and alike in most things. There are lower and wider
grades of existence, such that the story of them may never be told save
in patch-work or by inference, yet which have as full a history, and
where there are loves and hates and hopes and despairs as deep as are
ever felt in the mass where the creed-teachers and Mrs. Grundy and the
legislatures are greater factors.
And of this more reckless, hopeless people Harlson learned much. With
them he was; of them he could never fully be. The extent to which a
man is permanently defiled by pitch-touching cannot, of course, be
known. It depends upon the pitch and upon the man. It was not a quiet
life the young man led! On the contrary, it was a very feverish one,
for he labored hard in the office by day—he never for an instant
abandoned his ambitions and his plans—and at night he drifted into the
land where were warmth and light and lawlessness. He had his duty
there, such as it might be, for he was both a gambler and a protector,
and, young as he was, callow as he was, within a year he had become one
in demand, no trifler at the table, and an object of rivalry among
those whose regard means fee of body and of soul. He, himself, at that
time, did not appreciate the remarkable nature of his changing. So
rapidly he aged in knowledge of all undercurrents that he passed into
full maturity without a comprehension of the change. It is said that
some Indians teach their children to swim, not by repeated gentle
lessons, but by throwing them into a deep stream recklessly, saving
them only at the last moment. So had some power hurled Grant Harlson
into the black waters, and he had not drowned, and had taken rank among
It is, as I have said, difficult to write intelligently of this portion
of this man's life. I want to do him justice, for I have always cared
for him; yet, from the conventional point of view, at least, nothing
can excuse his lapse at this one time. He should have continued
starving, I suppose, as have so many others, and have either died or
won, as they did, instead of tasting all that is denied, and gaining
much knowledge of the world, of much use in the future, all at the
expense, perhaps, of that purity attaching to certain ignorances, as
much in the man as the woman, since between the sexes all things are
There were enough odd things in this most odd career. There were
friendships and feuds with those who were of the lower multitude
morally, but who were politicians and had their followings. There were
romances of the order which makes the story of Dumas such a success
upon the stage, and risks and escapes enough to satisfy the hungriest
of romance-readers. It was all grotesque in its grim reality, and the
young man did not know it. He was an unconscious desperado, and the
odd thing about it all was the ease with which he led the double life.
In the morning, clear-headed and competent—for he did not drink at all
of liquors—he appeared and was resolute at his work. He was becoming
more and more considered. That he, somehow, knew the town so well, was
in his favor. More than one case of importance was decided in another
way from which it might have been, because of his knowledge of the
outcasts and their connections, and how they had been used or trifled
with on this occasion or on that one. He was zealous and studied
furiously, and in the mere letter of the law became most confident.
His examination was a trifling thing, and, once admitted to the bar, he
did not remit his efforts. He was valuable to the firm. He was their
watch-dog, and he suggested many things.
One day the senior partner called Harlson in, and a long conference was
held. The younger man was offered a partnership on condition that he
would make a specialty of certain branches of the firm's varied
practice; but the offer had its disadvantages. It was not in the line
political at all, but in one with vexatious business demands and
requisites; yet it was accepted in a moment. And within the next week
all the wicked, nervous night-life was abandoned, all the friendships
formed there put upon probation, all the soiled sentiment made a thing
to be ended surely and forgotten, if possible.
There were some wrenches to it all. Camille learns to love sometimes,
and Oakhurst, the gambler, does not want to part with one who has stood
a friend in an emergency. But Camille knows that, for her, few flowers
are even annual, and Oakhurst is practical and a fatalist.
From that day, all his life, Grant Harlson kept away from close touch
with this ever-existing group who live from day to day because they
have been branded and do not care. Good friends he ever had among
them, but they never claimed him, though, on many occasions, the men
served him. They recognized the fact that he had never been more than
an adopted wanderer among them, and rather prided themselves upon him.
In later times he would occasionally exchange a word or two on that old
life with some one who had grown outwardly respectable, with some
one-time thug, later saloon-keeper and alderman and what may follow,
and would be reminded of what happened on the night when the mirrors
were all broken, and the Washington woman shot the man she was seeking,
or when "we did the Coulson gang;" but it had long grown to seem unreal
and dreamlike. He grew away from the memory, and there was no glamour
to him in what might attract some other men to evil-doing, because to
him there could be no novelty. He was a past-master in the ceremonials
of fallen, reckless human nature, and the ritual bored him. He
deserved no credit further than that. True, he was but young when he
learned the rites, but that he was not still a member of the order was
only because his ambition was dominant and his tastes had changed.
That his will was strong, that he had tastes to develop, was because of
the blood which filled his veins, and of nothing else. He had gone
with a current absolutely, though swimming and always keeping his head
above water until he swam ashore. Yet, as told in the beginning of
this chapter, he always said to me that he did not regret this
experience of abandonment. And he became a man seeking place and money.
He liked to visit his old home, and was faithful to his old crony, his
aging mother, still; and, for a time, after any of these sojourns among
the birds and squirrels and in the forest, he would be distrait and
preoccupied with something; but all this would wear off, and then would
come the press for place and pelf again. He was not entirely
unsuccessful, and finally he married, as a prospering young man
should—married a woman with money and presence for a hostess, and with
traits to make her potent. He lived with her for a season, and found
another, without his dreams and sympathies and understandings, but with
a will and a way.
I do not care to tell the story of it,—indeed, I do not know it,—but
the man learned the old-fashioned lesson, which seems to hold good
still, that for a really comfortable wedded life a little love, as a
preliminary, is a good thing always—usually a requisite. The woman
lacked neither perception nor good sense. It was she who proposed,
since they were ill-mated, they should live apart, and he consented,
with only such show of courtesy as might conceal his height of
gladness. There were money features to the arrangement made, and it
was all dignified and thoughtful. The world knew nothing of the
agreement, though that generation of vipers, the relations of Mrs.
Grundy, wondered why Mr. Harlson's wife and he so lived apart, and if
either of them were opium-eaters, or dangerous in insane moods. The
relations of Mrs. Grundy have the reputation of the universe on their
hands, and, the task being one so great, they must be pardoned if they
From the day he was alone, Grant Harlson appeared himself again, and I
speak knowingly, for I was with him then. His old self seemed then
restored. The buoyancy of boyhood was his as it had never been to me
since we were young together. It matters not what a chance,—this is a
land where all men drift about,—but I was in the city near him now,
and the old relationship was resumed. We rioted in the past of the
country, and we visited it together. As time went on, Harlson seemed
to forget that he was, or ever had been, a married man, and eventually
the woman found other things in life than awaiting old age without
social potency, and suggested, from a distance, that the separation be
completed. Perhaps there was another man. I know that Harlson did not
hesitate. He responded carelessly, and then reverted to things
The reflection came that the mismated in this present age must
ordinarily bear the burden to the end. Collusion, which in such case
is but a term for a mutual business agreement, is not allowable. The
social problem is a puzzle the solution of which is left to those whose
ideas were given to them stereotyped. The separation was delayed, but
was, vaguely, a thing possible. And Harlson laughed and threw out his
arms, and made friends of many women.
They were the variety of his life, which else was a hard-working one.
He was not a saint nor a deliberate sinner. He but drifted again.
"EH, BUT SHE'S WINSOME."
"Eh, but she's winsome!"
Grant Harlson entered my room one evening with this irrelevant
I have remained unmarried, and have learned how to live, as a man may,
after a fashion, who has no aid from that sex which alone knows how to
make a home.
Harlson, at this time, had apartments very near me, and we invaded each
other's rooms at will, and were a mutual comfort to each other, and a
help—at least I know that he was all this to me. I have never yet
seen a man so strong and self-reliant or secretive—save some few who
were misers or recluses, and not of the real world—who, if there were
no woman for him, would not tell things to some one man. We two knew
each other, and counted on each other, and while I could not do as much
for him as he for me, I could try as hard. He knew that.
"Eh, but she's winsome!"
He went to the mantel, took a cigar, and lit it, and turned to me
"You smoke-producing dolt, why are you silent? Didn't you hear my
earnest comment? Where is the trace of good behavior you once owned?"
"She, I tell you! She—the girl I met to-night. And you sit there and
inhale the fumes of a weed, and are no more stirred by my announcement
than the belching chimney of an exposition by the fair display around
"You big, driveling idiot, how can I know what you are talking about?
You come in with an obscure outburst of enthusiasm over something,—a
woman, I infer,—and because the particular tone, and direction, and
mood of your insanity is not recognized within a moment, you descend to
personalities. If your distemper has left you reason enough for the
comprehension of words, sit down and tell me about it. Who's winsome?
What's winsome? And have you been to a banquet?"
"There is a degree of reason in what you say—that is, from the point
of a clod. I'll tell you. I've met a woman."
"I dare say. There are a number in town, I understand."
"Spoken in the vein of your dullness. A person not sodden with
nicotine and dreams would have recognized the fact that I had met a
Woman, one deserving a large W whenever her name is spelled, a woman of
the sort to make one think that all poems are not trickery, and all
romances not romance."
"What's her name?"
"Do you suppose I'll tell you, you scheming wife-hunter! If I do,
you'll get an introduction somehow, and then you'll win her, for I'm
afraid she has good sense."
And Harlson laughed and looked down in the brotherly way he had.
"But this is nonsense. Why don't you tell me something about her? Is
she fat and fifty and rich, or bread-and-buttery and white-skinned and
promising, or twenty and just generally fair to look upon, or
twenty-five and piquant and knowing, or some big, red-haired lioness,
or some yellow-haired, blue-eyed innocent, with good digestion and
premature maternal ways, or——"
"Rot! She's a woman, I tell you!"
"All right. Answer questions now categorically."
"How old is she?"
"Twenty-seven or eight."
"Ever been married?"
"How do you know?"
Harlson looked surprised, and then he became indignant again.
"Alf," said he, "you have good traits, but you have paralysis of a
certain section of your brain. You don't remember things. Don't you
think I could tell whether or not a woman were married?"
I did not answer him off-hand. I could not very well. He knew that
his reply had set me thinking of many a curious test and many a curious
experience. Harlson had an odd fad over which we had many a debate.
It occurred usually upon the street cars. He would make a study of the
women in the car when we were together—it seemed to amuse him—and
tell me whether they were married or not. He would not look at their
hands—that would be a point of honor between us—but only at their
eyes, and then he would say whether any particular woman were married
or single, and we would leave it to the rings to decide.
Sometimes he would lose, but then he would only say: "Well, if she
didn't wear a wedding ring she should have done so," and would pay for
the cigars we smoked.
He had some sort of fancy about their eyes which I could never quite
understand. He said that a woman who had been very close to a man, who
had been part of him in any way, had nevermore the same look, and that
the difference was perceptible to one who knew the thing. I tested him
more than once, and I found that he had never actually failed.
Sometimes the woman with the look had proved unmarried, but there were
facts that made the difference.
One night Harlson and I were wandering about the city, mere driftwood,
after a dinner, and our mood carried us into the haunts of those
without the pale, not that we cared for any new emotion or excitement,
but that we wanted to look at something outside the commonplace. To me
there might be, of course, some novelty in the things that might
confront us, though to Harlson they were, at their utmost, but a
reminiscence. We went where a man alone was not in safe companionship,
but there were enough who knew my companion well, and all was curious
to me, without even the spice of care for self.
It chanced that at one period of the wandering, very late at night, or,
rather, early morning, Harlson became hungry, and insisted upon
entrance to a restaurant where were gathered the very refuse of the
reckless and non-law-abiding, and I went with him, perforce, and saw a
motley gathering. There were all sorts of people there, from thief to
pander, all save those who might retain a claim to faint
respectability. Harlson demanded comparative cleanliness at our table,
and the food was fairly decent. We ate, then smoked, and looked about
I have seen many people, and many strange faces, but never such a
person nor such a face as of an old woman who sat at that early hour of
the morning at a table near us. The figure was a warped and withered
caricature, the face that of a hag, a creature vixenish and viperish,
and mean and crafty. It was the face of a procuress of the lowest and
most desperate type, of a deformed she-wolf of the slums, of the worst
there is in all abandoned human nature, and Harlson was as interested
as I was disgusted and repelled. He noted the woman closely.
"By Jove! look there!" he said.
"What is it?"
"Look at her hand."
I looked. I saw a hand which was a claw, a strong, shriveled thing
with long, dirty nails and a vulturous suggestion. It was not a
pleasant sight. On the third finger of the left hand, though, was a
slight gleam amid the carnivorous dullness. There was a slender band
of gold there, a ring worn down to narrowness and thinness. I turned
to Harlson, but he spoke first:
"Do you see that old wedding ring?"
"It's queer. It's good, too. There's a streak of what was good left
in everything, it seems to me. I'm going to talk to her."
"Don't do it. She'll throw the plate in your face."
"No, she won't." And he rose and went over to the table of the beldame
and sat down beside her. She looked up at him glaringly. He did not
smile, nor, apparently, make any apology or excuse, but began talking
to her, looking at the ring, and saying I know not what. And I watched
that miserable old woman's face and wondered. There was more than one
emotion shown—fierce resentment at first, then the half fear of the
hound or the hound-bitch yielding to the master, and then the yielding
of the heart, not touched, perhaps, for a quarter of a century.
Harlson talked. The woman did not speak for minutes, then made some
short reply, and then, a little later, there were tears in her old foxy
He rose, glared at the one or two hard-faced waiters who had ventured
near him, and took upon a card something she said. Then he came back
to me as the old woman left the place.
"Queer-looking, wasn't she?" he said.
"Decidedly," said I. "What were you talking about?"
"Oh, nothing but the ring. It's wonderful how they always wear the
ring when they have the right to."
"But what was the use of it all? What came of your talk?"
"Nothing to speak of. It was only a fad of mine. I have a right to an
occasional whim, haven't I? I'll be hanged if I'll see a wedding ring
worn that way buried in unbought ground. The old hag was a marvel of
all that is unwomanly and sinful. But that ring shall be properly
buried, and the hand that wears it, because it does wear it. So I'm
going to take the woman out of this and put her where she will not have
to be a monster in order to live."
And he did what he said he would do. He found a place in some old
women's home for that aged demon, and one day he made me go with him to
see her. Maybe it was the different dress and the different
surroundings, but, it seemed to me, her eyes were not as they were in
the low restaurant. The hand that wore the thin gold ring was clean in
its pitiful shrunkenness. The creature looked neither hunted nor
hunting. She was but an old woman going to the grave so near her, and
going, I could not but imagine, to find the one who had given her that
gold circlet some half century ago. I rather fancied Harlson's fad.
As for him, when I told him so, he only said:
"Oh, of course. Peter told the third assistant bookkeeper to credit
Harlson with such or such an amount." And he added; "If those people
don't take good care of that old woman there'll be a new
superintendent." But they took good care of her.
This is lugging in an incident at great length as an illustration, but
I know of no other way to explain how Harlson so expressed himself when
I asked him how he knew whether the woman of whom he had been talking
was married or not. He felt confident enough.
"Well, what is she like? Can't you describe her? Has she seared your
eyes with her loveliness?"
"She hasn't seared my eyes. She has only opened them. Listen to me,
you thing of mud! She is just a little brown streak."
"That's an odd description of a woman."
"It's the correct one, though. She's just a little brown streak of a
"Well, I've heard of a man in love with a dream, and in love with a
shadow, but never before did I hear of one infatuated with a streak.
Where did you meet this creature? Have you known her long?"
"Only for a month or so, and but slightly. We have not met half a
dozen times. It was only tonight, you see, that I began to know her
well. We talked together, and I got a glimpse of her real self—of her
slender little body, of her earthly tenement, of course, I had an idea
before. She is a lissom thing, with eyes like wells, and with a way to
her which conveys the idea of wisdom without wickedness, and which
makes a man wish he were not what he is, and were more fitted to
associate with her."
"That's one good effect, anyhow. I don't know of any man who more
needed to meet such a woman. How long do you expect this influence to
"Longer than one of your good resolutions, my son; as long as she will
have anything to do with me."
"Does this brown streak of a saint live in the city? Is her shrine
easy of access? What are you going to do about it?"
"She's not a saint; she's a piquant, cultivated woman; but she is
different, somehow, from any other I've ever met."
"You've met a good many, my boy."
His face fell a little.
"Yes," he said, "and I almost wish it were different; but the past is
not all there is of being. There's a heap of comfort in that."
"Cupid has thumped you with his bird-bolt, certainly. Why, man, you
don't mean to say that you're in earnest—that you are really stricken;
that this promises to be something unlike all other heart or head
troubles with you?"
"I am inclined to believe that the gravest diagnosis is the correct
"But how about the present Mrs. Harlson?"
No friend less close than I could have asked such a question. I almost
repented it myself, when I noted the look which came upon the man's
face after its utterance.
I suppose such a look might come to one in prison, who, in the midst of
some pleasant fancy, has forgotten his surroundings, and is awakened to
reason and suddenly to a perception again of the grim walls about him,
and of his helplessness and, maybe, hopelessness. Harlson left the
mantel against which he bad been leaning, and walked about the room for
a moment or two before speaking.
"It's true," he said, "I am certainly a married man. The law allows
it, and the court awards it, as things are in this society, bound by
the tapes of Justice Shallow and the rest. I entered into a contract
which was a mistake on the part of two people. They discovered their
error, and rectified it as far as they could. Had they been two men or
two women who had gone into ordinary business together, and
subsequently discovered they were not fitted for a partnership, the law
would have assisted cheerfully in their absolute separation. But with
this, the gravest of all contracts, the one most affecting human
welfare, no such kindness of the statutes may exist. Some of the
churches say the contract is a sacrament, though the shepherd kings,
whose story is our Bible, had no such thought, nor was it taught by the
lowly Nazarene; but the law supports the legend, within certain limits.
What are we going to do about it?"
I told him that I didn't know, and there were several thousand
people—good people—in the city facing the same conundrum.
I called attention to the fact that the conventional band was a strong
one at this time, and could not be burst without a penalty, even by the
shrewdest. The dwarfs were so many that, united, they were stronger
than any Gulliver. And I added that, in my opinion, as a mere layman,
he was very well off; that he had been at least relieved of the great,
continued trouble which follows a mismating, and that it would be time
enough for him to chafe at the light chain still restraining him, when
he was sure he wanted to replace it by another.
"It's not your fashion," I said, "to fret over the morrow, and it is my
personal and profound conviction that you have no more real idea of
marrying again than you have of volunteering in the service of the
Akhoond of Swat—if there be an Akhoond of Swat at present. You're
only wandering mentally to-night, my boy, dreaming, because this wisp
of a young woman of whom you have been telling has turned your brain
for the time. You'll be wiser in the morning."
All this I said with much lofty arrogance, and a great assumption of
knowing all, and of being a competent adviser of a friend in trouble,
but, at heart, I knew that, in Harlson's place, I should not have shown
any particular degree of self-control. I have never felt the thing,
but it must be grinding to occupy a position like that of this man I
was addressing. The serving out of a society sentence must be a test
We dropped the discussion of the problem, and Harlson referred to it
again but incidentally.
"The fact is," said he, "I had almost forgotten that I was not as free
as other men. I have not regulated my course by my real condition.
I've drifted, and there have been happenings, as you know well.
There's Mrs. Gorse. I've never concealed anything. Those who know me
at all well know my relationships, but I imagine that I have been
deceiving myself. I am not a free agent—though I will be. It's not
right as it is."
"And when am I to see this woman who has interested you, and restored
the old colors to the rainbow? You will allow me to admire her, I
suppose, if only from a distance?"
"Oh, yes! Come with me to the Laffins' to-morrow night. She'll be
there, I learned, and I said I was going to be there too. Come with
me. Of course, you understand that if she smiles on you at all, or if
you appear to have produced a favorable impression upon her, I shall
assassinate you on our way home."
I told him that I thought my general appearance and style of
conversation would preserve me from the danger, and that I would take
the risk and accompany him.
The next night I met Jean Cornish. We were destined to become very
Only a little brown woman she.
Man of the world and profligate he,
Hard and conscienceless, cynical, yet,
Somehow, when he and the woman met,
He learned what other there is in life
Than passion-feeding and careless strife.
There came resolve and a sense of shame,
For she made as his motto but "Faith and fame."
The world is foolish: we cover truth;
We're barred by the gates that we built in youth.
Two were they surely, and two might stay,
But she turned him into the better way;
His thoughts were purified even when
He chafed and raged at the might-have-been;
He learned that living is not a whim,
For the soul in her entered into him.
He fights, as others, to win or fall,
And the spell of the Woman is over all.
Bravely they battle in their degree,
For—"The woman I love shall be proud of me!"
And the man and woman, the one in heart,
May be buried together or hurled apart,
But the strong will battle in his degree,
For—"The woman I love shall be proud of me!"
There were men and women, and music and flowers, and some of the people
had intelligence, and I drifted about at the Laffins' party, and rather
enjoyed myself. Of course I wanted to see the woman a fancy for whom
had gripped Harlson so hardly. I had forgotten about her until, with a
pleasant and clever person upon my arm, I had found something to eat
and had come upstairs again, and released her to another. I wandered
into an adjacent room, and there ran upon Harlson among a group. I was
presented to Miss Cornish.
I do not know how to describe a woman. This one, whom I have known
better than any other woman in the world, is most difficult of all for
me to picture. She stood there, not uninterested altogether, for, no
doubt, Harlson had been telling her already of his closest friend, his
lieutenant in many things, and I had an opportunity to study her with
all closeness as we exchanged the commonplaces. I understood, when I
saw her, how it was that he had referred to her so absurdly as a little
brown streak of a thing. Little she was, assuredly, and brown, and so
slender, that his simile was not bad, but the brownness and the
slenderness were by no means all there was noticeable of her. She was
not imposing, this woman, but she was not commonplace. Supple of
figure she was, and there were the big eyes this stricken friend of
mine had told me of, and rather pronounced eyebrows, and her lips were
full and red, and there was that fullness of the chin, or, rather, the
vague dream or hint or vision of a daintily double chin at fifty, which
means so much, but the forehead was what a woman's should be, and the
glance of the eyes was clean and pure, though, in a clever woman's way,
observant and comprehensive. It was a cultivated and fascinating woman
whom I met.
We talked together, and Grant Harlson looked on gratified, and she
seemed to like me. She made me feel, in her own way, that she liked me
because she knew of me, and as we were talking I felt that she was
paying, unconsciously, the greatest compliment she could to the man
beside us. I knew it was because of the other, and of something that
he had said of me, that she was so readily on terms of comradeship.
And I knew, in the same connection, and from the same reasoning, that
she had already begun to care as much for him as he for her—the man
who, the night before, had so comported himself with me. Of course, it
appears absurd that I could reach such a conclusion upon so little
basis, but to tell when people are interested in each other is not
difficult sometimes, even for so dull a man as I.
"You have known Mr. Harlson many years, I believe," she said, and added
smilingly: "What kind of a man is he?"
"A very bad man," I replied, gravely.
She turned to him in a charming, judicial way:
"If your friends so describe you, Mr. Harlson, what must your enemies
say? And what have you to say in your own defense? What you yourself
have owned to me in the past is recognition of the soundness of the
"I haven't a word to say. Of course, I had not expected this
unfriendly villain to be what he has proved himself, but what he says
is, no doubt, true. I'm going to reform, though. In fact, I've
"When was the revolution inaugurated?"
He looked at her so earnestly that there came a faint flush to her
cheek. "Since my eyes were opened, and I saw the light," he answered.
She diverted the conversation by turning to me, and saying that, while
the information I had given her was no doubt valuable, and that she
should regulate her course accordingly, and advise all her friends to
do the same, yet she felt it her duty to reprimand me for telling the
truth so bluntly. She knew that I had done it for the best, but if
there were really any hope for this wicked man, if he had really
decided upon a new life, we ought to encourage him. Did I think him in
I told her that it hurt me to say it, but that I had no great
confidence in Mr. Harlson's protestations. He was of the earth,
earthy. A friend, it was true, should bear a friend's infirmities, but
he should not ask other people to bear them, nor should he testify to
anything but the truth. Mr. Harlson might or might not be in earnest
in what he had declared, but, even if in earnest, there was the matter
of persistency. I doubted seriously his ability to overcome the habits
of a lifetime.
She was becoming really interested in the chaffing.
"What is the nature of Mr. Harlson's great iniquity?"
"There, Miss Cornish, I am justified in drawing the line in my reply.
I have conscientiously explained that he was, in a general way, a
villain of the deepest dye, but to make specifications would be
unfriendly, and I know you wouldn't have me that."
Harlson said that he was very much obliged for my toleration, or would
be until he got me alone, and Miss Cornish showed a proper spirit, and
so I left them. But I had no evidence that she believed what I had
As we walked home together in the early morning, Harlson told me more
of the young lady. She was living with an aunt, he said, and was,
otherwise, alone in the world. She had but a little income, barely
enough to live on, but she had courage unlimited, and tact, and was not
insignificant as a social factor. She had the sturdiness of her
ancestry, in which the name of Jean ran.
"I like it," Harlson said; "it fits her—'Jean Cornish'—little brown
'Jean Cornish'—little leopardess, little, wise, good woman."
I told him that he was mixing his similes, and that in a broad,
comprehensive way he had become a fool.
"I tell you I'm in love with her already," he blurted out, "and
somehow, some day, I will have her, and wear her and care for her!"
"But, my dear boy, don't be insane. There is the problem we were
discussing last night. Have you a solution of it? And first catch
your hare. Have you caught your pretty hare yet? I'll admit it's
possible. Women are fools over such fellows as you when they should be
adhesive to good, plodding members of society, like the friend who is
now advising you, but Miss Cornish is not a fool, you see, and I don't
think you deserve her."
"For that matter, neither do I," he answered; "but I will deserve her
yet. I must do more of many things, and cease to do many things. I
believe I comprehend better now than I ever did the words in the
service, 'We have done those things and left undone,' and all that.
But you'll see a difference. I'll make her proud of me. That's the
right way to become clean, isn't it, old man?"
I said I thought it a wholesome and commendable resolution, on general
principles, and, of course, the idol would gradually disintegrate. All
idols were of clay. But it didn't matter about the idol, so long as
the effect was produced. He might count on me any time for good
advice. He only glared at me, and called me hard names, and we dropped
in at the club and finished our cigars, and separated.
And Grant Harlson made love to Jean Cornish and won her heart.
But all the time, unconsciously, he was a man of false pretensions, one
dishonorable and unworthy of her. His friends knew of his marriage and
its sequel. He had never concealed nor thought of concealing his
condition, and it never occurred to him that Jean Cornish was not aware
of it. He had supposed her, if she cared for him as he hoped, to be
somewhat troubled, but to understand that he would do no mean thing,
and that all would be well in time. Then came the sorrow of it, for
Jean Cornish learned, quite accidentally, that Grant Harlson was a man
with a living wife.
She would not believe it at first, and, when convinced, was dazed and
could not understand. No such shock had ever before come into her
life. This man, of whom she had made a hero, a trickster and a liar!
It seemed as if the world were gone! There was a meeting and an
explanation, and she learned how wrong she had been, in one way.
He put the case earnestly and desperately. He would not yield her. He
knew she loved him, and he knew she was too good and wise to suffer
forever herself or let him suffer because, in society, there were
blunders. There was a way out—a clean, right way—and they must take
it. He could get a divorce on grounds of mere desertion, and three
people, at least, would be better off. It was pitiful, the scene, one
afternoon. He had called to see her, and was pleading with her. It
was in the drawing-room, and there were stained windows they both
remembered in later years. He had talked of his bondage and of his
hopes. She was not quite herself; she was suffering too much. I know
what happened. Grant told me once of the wrench of him then, and of
all the scene. There had been a fierce appeal from him. He had become
"And so," he said, "you would have a man's marriage like the black
biretta of Spain that is drawn over the prisoner's head before they
She did not move nor speak, but stood straight and silent, her hands
hanging at her sides with the palms loosely open, the very abandonment
of pathetic helplessness.
Such a little woman, to withstand a storm of passion!
As he wondered at her curiously blended strength and weakness, a
sun-shaft blazed through the crimson glass of the upper window. The
reddened light, falling on her up-springing almost coppery locks,
seemed to the man's excited fancy a crown, of thorns, crimsoned with
blood, and there was, oddly enough, a cross in the window.
The thought of another vicarious sacrifice awed him. Must this be one,
"Mistakes, dear, are not crimes. Can you not understand? I have been
mistaken, have suffered, have atoned for my error. Is that enough?"
"But," she said, and her voice seemed to have suddenly grown old and
thin, "you have no right to talk of mistakes. She is your wife."
"The biretta, that ends all, again! No, not so. It is as insane and
inhuman to force two people to remain in wedlock after it has become
odious to them, as it would be to force them into that marriage at
first. Oh, my tender-hearted little one, can you not see that the
bondage is more humiliating, more craven than is the idea of the
veriest chattel mortgage? Yet you refuse to let the injured one go
free, as you would not refuse the poorest prodigal whose one chance for
home and happiness was passing from his sight."
"I cannot answer you when you discuss learnedly on such questions," she
said, with a weary dignity, "for I have never thought about them. Why
should I? It has always seemed to me that a man with more than one
wife was a—a—Mormon. It is all so dreadful. Surely, if a marriage
is anything, it is a vow before God."
"It is you that make the mistake now," he said, "for the mere form of
marriage is nothing but the outward evidence of a union that has
already taken place. The first is the vow before God—not the latter.
I understand why you think all this; clergymen have so long been called
upon to officiate at marriage rites that, with the fatherly assumption
notable in the order all the world over, they have grown to regard
themselves as the especial and heaven-appointed guardians of the
institution. It is all so grotesque when one remembers how ready they
are to 'solemnize'—save the mark!—marriage, no matter what the
conditions. Have the candidates to be known as right and fitting
persons? Is there even the simplest formula of preparatory
examination? None! Two wholly unsuited people may rush into
marriage—and misery—any day by simply presenting themselves before a
sleek-faced person who mumbles drowsily over their clasped hands, and
calls it a vow before God!—as he hurries back to his dinner!"
Still she was silent.
An errand boy trudging by whistled a few bars of the wedding march,
doubtless heard that day at some open church door.
"Dear, there is a higher, holier law of the great Power, who made us
what we are, than this one of slavish obedience to a tradition. Why
must our feet go in the burning ruts?"
"It is not the well-worn ruts that burn, but the by-paths," she
answered, "and oh! how they burn!"
"Let me lift you in my arms and carry you over them, then, that your
feet may not touch. Do not be unjust to yourself. Cannot you see how
right, how good it is? It is not as if I came to you from another
The girl faced around on him almost fiercely.
"No, you could not be so bad as that! To have felt the morning kiss of
another woman, to have watched her good-night smile, and then to have
come to me—that would have been too base, too degrading—I should have
hated you because I despised you. I should have loathed you
"Of loving me! Be honest and true, little Jean—you do care."
"Yes, I have cared."
"And do still?"
Her tone was as cold and as clear as the sound of an icicle striking
the frozen earth in the fall. It angered him, and his voice shook
"A man who binds up his life in the love of a woman is a fool! Because
she is all the world to him, all he works to receive praise from, all
he fears in the blaming, he thinks her capable of as much love as
himself. And even as he watches, he sees her pass from fervor into
apathy. Her affection is but the dry husks of what he hoped to find.
You never cared!"
"Grant," she said, earnestly, "you have told me to be honest. I will
be. I think"—with a little laugh—"that if I had been a man I should
not have been a coward. I shall not be now. You wrong me and yourself
when you say that I never cared. It is because my caring has been so
much a part of myself that I have never been able to stand aloof and
look and comment upon it. It was just me. When I lived, it lived;
when I die——"
"When—no. I do not believe it can die even then! I think it is a
part of my soul, and will outstand all time."
She hesitated as if devising words to express herself with even more
sweet abandon. There was a certain loving recklessness in what she
"Not care? I wish you, too, would understand! Perhaps it is because
we care in such different ways. I don't know, but to me it has been
all! There is no joy, no pleasure, however petty, through all the day,
but it brings with it the swift desire to share it with you. Every
morning I waken with your half-uttered name on my lips, as though, when
I slipped hack through the portals of consciousness into the world of
reality, I came only to find you, as a timid child awakes and calls
feebly for its mother. Once, not long ago, in a street accident, such
as you know of in our busy city, I seemed very close to death, and in
an instant my spirit seemed to have overleaped the peril and the
terrible scene, and was with you. Afterward, one who sat near me said
that, while some screamed or prayed, I said only 'Grant,' and he asked,
lightly, now that danger was over: 'Is the great general your patron
saint?' And I—I did not know that I had said it, since the name can
never be as near to my lips as it is to my heart."
Harlson did not reply. He could not then. His head was bent.
"And when you were ill—ah! then it was the hardest of all! I dreamed
of the little things I could do for you—how your dear head could rest
on my shoulders, and it might help to ease the pain; how I could save
you from annoyances; how I could—love you!"
"Then come, love of me; I need you—we need each other."
"No, I think a woman who loves a man could scarcely bear that he had
ever been bound to another still living, or even dead."
"No. It is not right."
It is not always that even he who is right and strong in the
consciousness of it, and resolute toward the end he is seeking may
express himself as he would in protest against the object yielding to
what is in the social world, though it be wrong. Grant Harlson looked
down upon the slender figure and into the earnest face and was helpless
for the time. Yet he was fixed of mind.
He was very tender with her, but this was not a man to give up easily
what was his. He pleaded with her further, but in vain. She would not
And so the weeks passed, with the problem yet unsolved. They were
still much together, for she could not turn him away, and he would not
stay away. There was more pleading on his part, and more anger
sometimes. It seemed to him absurd that lives should be blighted
because of a legend.
And she was unhappy, and, it may be, gradually attaining to broader
views and moral bravery. Jean Cornish was courageous, but there was
And suddenly all was changed, the problem finding a solution not
expected. Grant Harlson's wife was, as has been said, a woman of
reason and of force, and she had her own life, with its objects. She
chafed under the bond which still connected her with Harlson, and she
broke it cleanly. It was she, not he, who sought divorce, and the
simple logical ground of incompatibility of temperament was all that
was required, in the State where she resided. There was no defense.
Grant Harlson became free, and Jean Cornish, since his freedom came in
this way, promised, at last, to become his wife.
They loved. They were to marry, but there were the conventionalities
to be observed, and they could not be wed at once. That was understood
by Grant Harlson, though he chafed at it a little.
There were certain months to be passed before the two would be as one
completely, and those months were very sweet months to the twain. They
were much together, this man and woman who were plighted to each other,
for why should they not be, since they were to become man and wife, and
since neither was so happy under other circumstances? They were not
what a profound, unsentimental person would consider models of
common-sense, but they were not depending upon the opinions of
profound, unsentimental persons for anything in particular; so this did
not affect them.
They exhibited no great interest in society, though each commanded a
place there, but they would go to church or theater together, and they
were much addicted to luncheons. She would come down town at noon to
meet him, and then—what banquets! Sometimes they would visit the
restaurants where there were fine things, and he would seek to make of
her a gourmet. He taught her the beauties of the bobolink in his later
attractive form, the form he assumes when, after having been
transformed into a reed bird, he comes back on ice to the region where,
in the midsummer, he disported himself, and stirs the heart of the good
liver, as in June he did the heart of the poet. He taught her the
difference between Roquefort cheese, that green garden of toothsome
fungi, that crumbly, piquant apotheosis of the best that comes from
curd, and all other cheeses, and taught, too, the virtues of each in
its own way. She learned the adjuncts of black coffee and hard
crackers. She even learned to criticise a claret, and once, with
Harlson, she tested a pousse cafe, but only once. He didn't approve
of it, he said, for ladies. And, besides, a pousse cafe was not of
merit in itself. It was but a thing spectacular.
And in the matter of made dishes from the man about town she acquired
The man in his great happiness was buoyant and fantastic, and well it
was that the woman, too, possessed the sense of humor which makes the
world worth occupancy, and that the two could understand together. He
was but a foolish boy in this, his delicious period of probation.
And she was but a loving woman who had given her heart to him, who
understood him, and who, in a woman's way, was of his mood. It was an
idyl of the clever.
At the more modest restaurants were the lunches of these two the most
delightful. He would, somehow, find queer little places where all was
clean and the cooking good, but far away from the haunts of men, that
is, far away from the haunts of the men and women they knew, and there
the two would have great feasts. At one unpretending place he had one
day found pork and beans,—not the molasses-colored abomination
ordinarily sold in town, but the white beans, baked in a deep pan, with
the slashed piece of pork browned in the middle of the dish,—and this
place became a great resort for them. They would sit at a small table,
and have the beans brought on, and mustard of the sharpest and
shrewdest, and dishes such as formed a halo about the beans, which were
the central figure, and then would they eat, being healthy, and look
into each other's face, and riot in present happiness, having certain
brains and being in love. The very rudeness of it pleased him mightily.
One evening they had dined together. She had been shopping or doing
what it is that women do down town of afternoons, and he had met her at
the close of business, and they had eaten together as usual, and when
they emerged into the open air it was but to learn that the mercury had
dropped some few degrees, and that the jacket she wore was light for
the occasion. She became cold before her home was reached, and he was
"I wish it were months later," he said.
"Because then I could care for you, and see to it that you did not
suffer from the chill. I don't know though, even with the admirable
supervision I'd have over you then, whether you would take proper care
of yourself, my Brownie. What would you do?"
"I don't know quite," she answered. "I think I should want to get
pretty near the grate. I'd pull one of the tiger-skins or bear-skins
on the rug, very close to the fire, and I'd curl down on the fur and
turn about a little, and get very warm."
He assumed a lofty air, and announced that he was under the impression
that, when chilled, she would do nothing of the sort! He had his own
ideas regarding the treatment of chills of small, brown women. What
would really occur, what the solid, tangible fact of the occasion would
be, required no effort to describe. He should merely draw a great
easy-chair before the grate. Then some one would be picked up and
turned about before the fire until thoroughly warmed and with full
circulation of the blood again. She should be simply, but
"I'd hold you thus before the brand,
To catch caloric blisses,
And you should be my muffin and
I'd butter you with kisses."
She responded that the gift of doggerel was not one to be desired, and,
furthermore, that she was not a muffin, nor anything in the culinary
All of which, of course, served but as provocation to further
flippancy, and, for days later, the lady was referred to as his own
sweetest soda biscuit, his bun, his precious fruit-cake, and so on,
until a bakery's terms were so exhausted. All this was, no doubt,
The woman, in her way, was not less inexcusable than the man. She was
as much in love as he, and the strictly personal equation was as strong
within her. She would watch him when they were at lunch together, and
if her gaze was not so bold and feeding as was his, it was at heart as
She wanted to do something, because of the passionately loving mood
within her. She wanted to "hurt" him just a little, and one day
occurred an odd thing.
They were chatting across a little table in a restaurant almost vacant
save for them, and he had made some grotesque sweetheart comment which
had pleased her fancy, lovingly alert, and she suddenly straightened in
her seat and looked at him with eyes which were becoming dewy, but said
never a word.
She looked all about the room in one swift, comprehensive glance, and
then, leaning over, with her small right hand she smote him hardly upon
the cheek. There was no occasion for such demonstration. It was but
the outpouring, the sweet, barbaric fancy of the woman, in line with
the man's grotesquerie, and not one whit less affectionate. And he,
thus smitten, made no remonstrance nor defense, further than to refer
incidentally to his slender sweet assailant as "a burly ruffian."
That evening, at her home, he suddenly, just before leaving, picked up
the woman, as if she were a baby, and threatened to carry her away with
him. She did not appear alarmed, at least to the extent of hysteria,
though she struggled feebly, and said that somebody was a big, brutal
gorilla, and that she did not propose to be snatched from the bosom of
her tribe to be conveyed to some tree-top refuge, and there become a
He would assert at times, and the idea was one he clung to with great
persistency, that the person with him was not even of the race, but had
been substituted in the cradle for a white child stolen by an Indian
woman with some great wrong to avenge. He would call her his Chippewa
Changeling, and at lunch would be most solicitous as to whether or not
the Wild Rose would have a little more of the chicken salad. Would the
Flying Pawn try the celery? Some of the jelly, he felt confident,
would please the palate of the Brown Dove. Might the white hunter help
her to a little more of this or that? Only once she rebelled. She was
laughing at something he had said, and he referred to her benignantly
as his Minnegiggle, which was, admittedly, an outrage.
A great fancy of these two it was to imagine themselves a couple apart
from the crowd, and unversed in city ways, and just from the country.
Not from the farm would they come, but from some town of moderate size,
for they prided themselves on not being altogether ignorant. Far from
it. Was there not a city hall in Blossomville, and a high-school, and
were there not social functions there? But, of course, it was a little
different in a great city, and it would be well not to mingle too
recklessly with the multitude.
They would even visit the circus when one of those "aggregations" made
the summer hideous, and he would buy her peanuts and observe all the
conventional rules laid down for rural deportment on such occasions.
The whimsicality, the childishness of it all, gave it a charm. They
appreciated anything together. Harlson said, one day:
"I believe that an old proverb should be changed. 'He laughs best who
laughs last,' is incorrect. It should be: 'He laughs best who laughs
with some one else.' And that is what will make us strong in life, my
love. Some trying times may come, but we shall be brave. We'll just
look at each other, and laugh, because we shall understand. We know.
We, somehow, comprehend together. Don't you see? Of course you do,
because, if you didn't understand, what I am saying would be nonsense."
She understood well enough. She understood his very heart-beats. It
had grown that way.
"I am getting very much like you, I think," she said, "and I want you
to understand, sir, that I do not regret it. I'm afraid I'm lost
totally. I'm not alarmed that it is as if your blood were in my veins.
What can a poor girl do?"
"You might as well abandon yourself," he answered. "What is it they do
in a part of Africa, when something to last forever is intended? I
think they drink a little of another's blood. Could you do that?"
She laughed. "I could drink yours."
He bared his arm in an instant, and sank the point of a pen-knife into
a small vein. The red current came out upon the smooth skin prettily.
She looked at Harlson's act in astonishment, and turned a little pale;
then, all at once, with a great resolve in her eyes, she bent swiftly
forward and applied the red of her lips to that upon the arm. She
raised her head proudly, and he looked at her delightedly.
"How did it taste?"
"Salty"—with a pucker of her lips and a desperate effort to keep from
"Yes, there is much saline matter in blood. Even such admirable blood
as that you have just tasted is, no doubt, a little salty. Are you
sorry you did it?"
"No," she said, bravely, but she was pallid still.
"Allow me to remind you that science has learned many things, and that
you will have, literally, some of my blood in your veins. Not much, it
is true, but there will be a little."
She replied that she was glad of it.
And henceforth, when her moods most pleased his lordship, he would
comment on the good effect of the experiment, and when they differed he
would regret that she had not taken more of him.
They were two fools.
"MY LITTLE RHINOCEROS-BIRD."
It was not all sweet nonsense, though, with this man and woman. Some
practical things of life became theirs soon, because of the love which
A curious thing, and to me a pleasant thing, occurred one night. I was
with Grant Harlson in his room, and he was lying on a sofa smoking,
while I lounged in an easy-chair. Harlson was pretty well fagged out,
for it was the end of a hard day for him, as, for that matter, it had
been for me. There was a ward to be carried against a ring, and
Harlson was in the midst of the fray for half a hundred reasons, and I
was aiding him. He headed the more reputable faction, but in the
opposition were many shrewd men and men of standing.
It was no simple task we had before us, and we had been working hard,
and we were not quite satisfied with the condition of things. The
relations of two men of prominence we wanted to know particularly. Had
there, or had there not, been a coalition between them? If there had,
it would change Harlson's policy, naturally, but work so far had been
conducted on the supposition that an ancient political feud between the
two was not yet ended, and that upon the support of one against the
other he could count with reasonable certainty. We were discussing
this very matter when there came a ring at the door, and a cab-driver
"There is a lady in my cab," said he, "who wants to see Mr. Harlson."
Harlson was puzzled.
"I don't know what it means," he said. "Come down with me and we'll
solve the mystery," and we went to where the cab was drawn close to the
The door was opened with some energy, and a woman's head appeared—a
head with brown hair.
"Jean! What is the matter? What brings you here at such a time? My
She laughed. "There is nothing the matter, you big baby. Only I heard
something I thought you would care to know, and which I thought you
should know at once, so I came to tell you."
"Yes, tell me."
"It was this way, you see." All this impetuously. "I was at Mrs.
Carlson's party, and among the guests were Mr. Gordon and Mr. Mason,
with their wives. I didn't listen intentionally, of course, but Mr.
Mason and Mr. Gordon came close to where I was sitting and I heard your
name mentioned, and I suppose that made my hearing suddenly acute, and
I heard in two sentences enough to know that those two gentlemen are
working together against you in something political. So, sir, knowing
your foolish interest in such things, and actuated by my foolish
interest in you, I told aunt I'd like to go home early, and a cab was
called and I was put into it, and I told the driver to come here,
and—you know the rest, you staring personage."
Women can read men's faces, and Jean Cornish must have been repaid for
what she had done by the mere look of the man before her. He said
nothing for a moment, and then uttered only these words softly:
"My little rhinoceros-bird."
"Will you kindly explain the meaning of that extraordinary phrase?"
He did not answer just then, but got into the cab with her and directed
the driver to her home.
She had removed her wraps in the drawing-room when she turned to him
and demanded further information as to the term applied to her. He
made comment on some people's general ignorance of natural history,
took a big arm-chair, placed the young lady in a low seat close beside
him, and, assuming a ponderous, pedagogical air, began:
"The rhinoceros, my child, as you may possibly be aware, is a huge
beast of uncouth appearance, with a horn on its nose, and inhabiting
the wild regions of certain wild countries, notably Africa. It is a
dangerous animal, and has enemies galore and friends but few. The
hunter counts it a noble prize, and steals upon it in its fastnesses,
and even a rhinoceros may not withstand the explosive bullet of modern
science. Somewhat sluggish and dull, at times, is the rhinoceros, and
it is in his careless, listless moods that he is liable to fall a
victim. Well for him is it on such occasions that he has a friend, a
guardian, a tiny lover. Well for him that the rhinoceros-bird exists!
The rhinoceros-bird is a little thing which never deserts the mighty
beast. It perches upon his head or back, and flutters about him, and
makes of him its world. To the rhinoceros-bird the rhinoceros is all
there is of earth. And well is the brute repaid for liking the bird
about him. Though the monster may have stupid periods, the bird has
none, and, hovering about bushes, fluttering over openings, ever alert,
watchful and solicitous, naught may escape its eye, and, danger once
discovered, swift is the warning to the slumbering giant, and then woe
to the intruder on his domain! And such, dear pupil, is the
rhinoceros-bird. And you are my rhinoceros-bird."
She understood, of course. The look in her eyes told that, but her
words belied her.
She said that, in a general way, the simile had application, the
rhinoceros being a huge beast of uncouth appearance.
And, so far as this conversation was concerned, he perished miserably.
But that was only the beginning of a practical exhibition of the
woman's earnestness and acuteness, and her great love. It was but
evidence that she was to be, what she became in time, his
rhinoceros-bird in all things, his right hand, prompter in such
relations as a woman's wit and woman's way best serve. She was of him.
But with two who blended, so there must be many added intervals of
delicious nonsense before the reality of marriage came.
They made odd names for things. They ate lobster together one day, and
he, in some mood, kept misquoting and distorting passages from the
Persian poet, and thenceforth broiled lobster was known to the two as
"a Rubaiyat." And there were a score or two of other bizarre titles
they had made for things or for localities, with the instinct of so
embalming a perfect recollection. And each had certain tricks of
speech, of course, as have all human beings, and these two, so living
in each other, caught all these, and mocked and gibed and imitated,
until there was little difference in their pronunciations. To some one
overhearing them they might have been deemed as of unsound mind, though
they were only talking in love's volapuk.
They resembled each other, these two beings, as nearly in bodily
fancies as in other ways. Each, for instance, was a great water lover,
each addicted to the bath and perfumes, he perhaps because of his long
gymnasium training, and she from the instinct of all purity which
appertains to all women worth the owning.
One afternoon they had fled from the city and were walking on the
beach, beside the lake, with no one near them. For a mile in either
direction, they could look up and down and see that no intruder was in
sight. He sent flat stones skipping and galloping over the waves with
some whirling trick of underthrow, and tried to teach her the device of
it, and they sat upon the sand and ate the luncheon he had secured
preparatory to this great excursion, a luncheon devised with great
skill by a great caterer, and packed in a paper box which would go in a
coat-pocket, and they talked of many things and delighted in being
together, and alone. And he, floundering in the sand, must needs get
much of it inside his shoe. And then this reckless person, having
removed the shoe to rid himself of the sand, must needs step in a
treacherous spot and wet his stocking dismally. And the sensible thing
to do was to remove the stocking and dry it in the sun.
There should be, so far as its relation to society is concerned, no
difference between the human hand and the human foot, but, somehow, the
average man is not, as a rule, ready to exhibit his bare feet
carelessly to the one woman, and to the average woman a similar
revelation would seem a thing indelicate; but these two were not of the
common sort. Harlson pulled off his stocking as carefully as he would
have done a glove, and spread it on the sand where it might dry, and,
laughing at his disaster, he dabbled with his foot in the sand.
She looked at him curiously. She looked at the foot, too, being a
woman, and this being the man above all others to her, and then she
laughed out joyously and frankly.
"I don't believe any one but you would have done that, Grant. And what
a foot you have!"
He replied, with much pomposity, that it was the far-famed Arabian
foot, the instep of which arched so beautifully that water could flow
beneath it without wetting the skin. Just at present, though, he
thought a little water might run over it to advantage, instead of
under, the sand being a trifle mucky. And why would no one else have
done such a thing? And he was glad she liked his foot; in fact, he was
glad she liked anything about him, and rather wondered that she did,
and the world had become to him a good place to live in.
All of which was but the sentimentalism which appertains to a man and a
woman in love with each other, but the drift of thought continued in
the direction suggested by his action and her comment. They looked at
the lake, with its shifting coloring of green and blue and purple, and
he told her how, some day, he would teach her to swim like a Sandwich
Island beauty, and she said she would like to learn. She liked the
"I'm very glad of that," he commented; "I like it myself. I am a great
bather. I admire the English for the 'tubbing' which is made such a
subject of jest against them by other people. There must be water into
which I may tumble when I rise in the morning, or water in abundance in
some way, else I should be a trifle uncomfortable all day long. I
don't mean just a mild lavatory business, you know, but a plunge or a
cataract, or something of that sort. It is barely possible, my dear,
that you are going to marry a man whose remote ancestors were the
product of evolution from otters, instead of monkeys. Think of that!"
And she confessed, half-blushingly, her own regard for water, and that
she had been laughed at by other women for what they deemed a fancy
carried to an extreme. And she said she was very glad that a great big
Somebody was dainty in his ways. While in many respects she could not
approve of him, it was a comfort, at least, to be enabled to think of
him as ever clean and wholesome, and as having one weakness of which
she could condone.
He looked at her majesty, as she sat enthroned upon a little mound, but
to her small oration made no reply. He was worshiping her bodily. And
from this conversation came a sequel, a day or two later, which was but
the worshiping put into things material. Of his love and the bath he
would have fancies, and he wanted what touched her to be from him. She
was surprised by a cumbrous package which, opened, revealed great
things for a woman's dalliance with water—the soft Turkish towel, vast
enough to envelop her, the perfumed soaps, and even the bath-mittens.
And she was a little frightened, maybe, at the personality of it all,
but she recognized the nature of his fancy, and but loved him the more
because he had it. It was an odd gift, it is true, but they were odd
people. They were very close together.
An eventful day in other respects, that is, from a lover's point of
view, was this one of the outing by the lake. The stocking dried, and
in its proper place upon the foot, and inside the shoe again, and the
lunch dispatched, there was more idle rambling by the lakeside, and, of
course, more lovers' talk. At one place there was a little wood which
extended to the water's edge, and there she perched herself in a seat
formed by the bent limb of an upturned tree, and he produced from his
coat-pocket a paper of macaroons for her dessert, and she sat there
munching them like a monkey, while he sprawled, again upon the sand.
She made a pretty picture, this small, brown woman, thus exalted; to
him a wonderful one. Suddenly she ceased her munching and spoke to him
"Come here, sir."
He rose and went to her, standing before her, obedient and waiting.
She reached up and took his face between her hands, and pulled his face
gently downward until the faces of the two were close together. She
looked into his eyes.
"I merely called you up, sir," she said, "to impart a certain piece of
information. I am in love with you."
TWO FOOLS STILL.
When a woman, who is all there is in the world to a man, falls into the
deliciously generous mood of abandonment, and is revealing what is in
her heart, the man, I understand from various excellent authorities,
gets about as near heaven as he may ever do in the flesh. And Harlson
formed no exception to the rule. The small personage on the limb of
the fallen tree owned him as absolutely and completely as ever
Cleopatra owned a slave, or Elizabeth a servitor.
"I don't know what to say," he murmured. "There aren't any
She pulled his face still closer and kissed him on the lips, though
blushing as she did so, for this young woman had fancies regarding lips
and regarding kisses which should be entertained by a greater number of
the women of the land. Then she told him to lie upon the sand again;
that she wanted to look at him. And he obeyed, machine-like.
She was in a fantastic mood assuredly. She watched him, her cheek
resting upon one little hand for a long time, a thoughtful look upon
her face. Then she broke out impetuously:
"How smooth and clean your face is! Do you—do you go to—you know
what I mean. Do you go to a barber every day?"
He answered that he shaved himself.
"Is it very hard?" she asked.
"Well, that depends."
She studied once more for a long time, then spoke again, on this
occasion blushing furiously:
"Grant, dear, I want to do things for you always. I want to take
care of you. It seems to me that, some time, I might learn, you know.
It seems to me that some time I might almost"—with a little
He wanted to gather her up in his arms and smother and caress her,
after that climax of tender admission, but she waved her hand as she
saw him rising. He fell back then upon his ignoble habit of talking
vast science to her.
"My dear, that dream may, I hope, be realized. I'd rather have my face
slashed by you than be shaved by the most careful, conscientious and
silent barber in all Christendom, but shaving is a matter of much
gravity. It is not the removal of the beard which tests the intellect;
it is the sharpening of the razors."
"How is that, sir?"
"All razors are feminine, and things of moods. The razor you sharpen
to-day may not be sharp, though manipulated upon hone or strap with all
persistence and all skill. The razor you sharpen to-morrow may be far
more tractable. Furthermore, the razor which is comparatively dull
to-day may be sharp to-morrow, without further treatment."
She said that, in her opinion, that was nonsense, and that he was
trying to impose upon a friendless girl, because the topic was one of
which men would, ordinarily, have a monopoly, and regarding which they
would assume all wisdom, and, perhaps, make jests.
"I am in earnest," he said. "Razors have moods, and are known to sulk.
But science has solved the conundrum of their antics. It has been
discovered that whetting changes the location of the molecules of
metal, that there is frequently left what is not a perfect edge after
the supposed sharpening, but that, given time, the molecules will
readjust themselves, and the edge return. My dear, you are now, or at
least should be, a woman rarely learned in one great mystery. Is there
no reward for merit?"
She scorned reply to such a screed, but slid down from her perch with
the remark that she had "et hearty." A man who had eaten near them in
a restaurant had used the expression, and they had both promptly
He rose, went to her side, and leaned over, and inhaled the perfume of
She looked up mischievously. "You are a big black animal!"
As already remarked, these two were very foolish.
That same evening, when Grant Harlson reached his office, he found a
note awaiting him. It was a pretty, perfumed thing, and he knew the
handwriting upon it well. He had not seen the writer for three months.
He had almost forgotten her existence, yet she had been one with whom
his life had been, upon a time, closely associated. He opened the
envelope and read the note:
MY DEAR GRANT: Yon know I am philosophical—for a woman—and that I
have never been exacting. I have formed habits, though, and have
certain foolish ways. One of these ways was to be much with Grant
Harlson, not very long ago. I lost him, somehow, but still have a
curiosity to see his face again, to note if it has changed. I have
something to say to him, too. Please call upon me to-night. ADA.
The effect of the note upon the man was not altogether pleasant. He
felt a certain guiltiness at his own indifference. This clever woman
of the social world he knew was not to be trifled with by one unarmored
or irresolute. He had hoped she would forget him, that his own
indifference would breed the same feeling upon her part, and now he
knew he was mistaken, as men have been mistaken before. There was an
interview to be faced, and one promising interesting features. He
started on the mission with a grimace.
JUST A PANG.
Mrs. Gorse was at home, the servant said, and Harlson found her
awaiting him in a room which was worth a visit, so luxurious were its
appointments and so delicate its colorings and its perfumes. A woman
of admirable taste was Mrs. Gorse, and one who knew how to produce
dramatic effect. But dramatic effects as between her and Grant Harlson
were things of the past. People sometimes know each other so well that
the introduction of anything but reality is absurd. Mrs. Gorse
attempted nothing as Harlson entered. She was not posed. She was
standing, and met him at the door smilingly.
"How do you do, Grant?"
"I'm well," he said, "and how are you? Certainly you are looking well."
"I am not ill. I think I am not plumper nor more thin than usual. I
imagine my weight is normal."
"And how much is that?"
The woman flushed a little.
"It is hardly worth the telling, since you do not remember. There was
a time, you know, when you had some whim about it, and when I had to
report to you. You professed to be solicitous about my health or
personal appearance, or whatever it was that led you to the demand.
And you have forgotten."
He was uneasy. "That is true, Ada. I did have that fad, didn't I?
Well, I forget the figures, but I see that you are still yourself, and
as you should be."
She shrugged her shoulders. "Take the big chair. It's the one you
like best. You see I don't forget certain trifles" (this with a slight
trembling inflection). "And tell me about yourself. I haven't seen
you for three months and over. Haven't you been out of town. Couldn't
you have written me a note."
"I've not been out of town. I might have written you a note, but I
didn't suppose it mattered."
"Yet there is a legend to the effect that men and women sometimes get
to be such friends, and have such relations, that a sudden unexplained
absence of three months matters a great deal."
"That is so. But—what is the use, Ada? It doesn't matter with us,
does it? Are we not each capable of taking care of ourselves? Were we
ever of the conventionally sentimental?"
She sighed. "I suppose not. But it grew that way a little, didn't it,
Grant? Has it all been nothing to you?"
"I won't say that," he answered. "It has been a great deal to me, but
isn't it wiser to make all in the past tense now? What have we to
She tried to smile. "Nothing, I suppose." Then breaking out fiercely:
"You are a strange man! You are like the creature Margrave, in
Bulwer's hard 'Strange Story,' with mind and body, but with no soul nor
The man in his turn became almost angry. He spoke more grimly:
"You are not just! Have I broken any pledge or violated any promise,
even an implied one? Have we not known each other on even terms? It
was but a pact for mutual enjoyment until either should be weary. We
have no illusions. You a Lilith of the red earth, not of Adam; you a
woman sweet and passionate and kind, but soulless, too, and fickle; and
I a trained man, made as soulless by experience, we met and agreed,
without words, to break a lance in a flirtation. And that both lances
were splintered doesn't matter now. We had joy in the encounter,
didn't we, and more after each surrendered captive? But it has been
only mimic warfare. It has not been the real thing."
"Evidently not—to you! Unfortunately one forgets sometimes, and then
one is endangered."
He was troubled. He rose and came to her side, and put his hand upon
her head, the usually proudly carried head of a handsome woman, now
bowed in the effort to hide a face which told too much. "It is all
unfortunate. It is unfortunate that we met, if you care as you
profess. I had counted us as equal; that you were, with me, caring for
the day and never for the morrow, so far as we two were concerned."
She raised her face. "Do you love me?" she said.
He hesitated. "I am fond of you."
"Do you love me?"
"In the sense that I suppose you mean, no."
She did not look at him for a moment; then she rose swiftly to her feet
and looked squarely in his face.
"Is there some one else?"
He did not answer.
"Is there some one else?"
"Then it is unfortunate, as you say—and for her."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I will not endure to be dropped by you as a child drops a
toy of which it is weary. I mean that I will not surrender you to some
new creature who has intervened! What does it matter that there has
been no pledge between us? You have made me love you! You know it!
The very being to each other what you and I have been is a pledge for
the future. Oh, Grant!"
The woman's eyes were full of tears, and her voice was a moan. The man
was suffering both shame and agony. He knew that, careless as he had
been, the relations had grown to imply a permanency. The woman was at
least justified in her claims that words are not always necessary to a
contract. What could he do? Then came the thought of Jean. One hair
of her brown head was more to him than this woman, or any other woman
he had ever known. He was decided.
"I am a brute, Ada," he said, "or, at least, I have to be brutal. We
do care for each other in a certain way, and we have found together
many of the good things in living, but we are not lovers in the greater
sense. We never could be. It means much. It means a knitting
together of lives, a oneness, a confluence of soul and heart and
passions, and a disposition to sacrifice, if need be. We have not been
that way, and are not. We have been more like two chess-players. We
have had a mutual pleasure in the game, but we have been none the less
antagonists. The playing is over, that is all. It doesn't matter who
has won the game. We will call it drawn, or you may have it. But it
She stood with one hand upon her breast. There came a shadow of pain
to her face, and a hard look followed.
"It is nonsense talking about the game. The playing ended a year ago,
and you were the winner. Now you are careless about the prize! Well"
(bitterly), "it may not be worth much—to you."
"It is worth a great deal. It has been worth a great deal to me. But
I must relinquish it."
"Why did you make me care for you?" she demanded, fiercely, again.
"I did not do more than you did. As I said before, we played the game
together. It is but the usual way of a flirting man and woman. We
should have each been more on guard."
The woman was silent for a little time, and it was evident that she was
making an effort at self-control. She succeeded. She had half-turned
her back to Harlson, and when she again faced him, she had assumed her
"You are right, after all," she said. "I did not consider your own
character well enough. You tire of things. You will tire of the woman
you love now. And you will come back to me, just because I have been
less sentimental, and, so, less monotonous than some others. Whether
or not I shall receive you time will determine. Is that the way you
want me to look at it?"
He bowed. "That is perhaps as good a way as any. It doesn't matter.
Will you shake hands, Ada?"
She reached out her hand listlessly, and he took it. A minute later
and he was on the street. And so the last link of one sort with the
past was broken. It was long—though he had no concealments from
her—before he told Jean of this interview. And then he did not tell
the woman's name, nor did she care to know.
AS TO THOSE OTHERS.
Time passes, even with an impatient lover, and so there came an end at
last to Grant Harlson's season of probation. There was nothing
dramatic about the wedding.
To him the ceremony was merely the gaining of the human title-deed to
the fortune which was his on earth, and to Jean Cornish it was but the
giving of herself fully to the man—that which she wished to do with
herself. There were few of us present, but we were the two's closest
friends. They were a striking pair as they stood together and plighted
their faith calmly: he big and strong, almost to the point of
burliness, and she slight, sweet and lissom. There was no nervousness
apparent in either, perhaps because there was such earnestness. And
then he carried her away from us.
They had not been long away, this newly wedded couple, when they
returned to the home he had prepared. As he remarked half grimly to
me, in comment on lost years, they had met so late in the nesting
season that time should not be wasted. Of that home more will be told
in other pages, but it is only of the two people I am talking now.
I noted a difference in their way when I first dined with them, which I
did, of course, as soon as they had returned. I had thought them very
close together before in thought and being, but I saw that there was
more. The sweet, sacred intimacy which marriage afforded had given the
greater fullness to what had seemed to me already perfect. But I was
one with much to learn of many things. And yet these two were to come
closer still—closer through a better mutual understanding and new
mutual hopes. It was long afterward when I understood.
It was after dinner one day, and in the sitting-room, which was a
library as well. They were going out that evening, but it was early
still, and he was leaning back in a big chair smoking the post-prandial
cigar, and she coiled upon a lower seat very near him, so near that he
could put his hand upon her head, and they were talking lightly of many
things. She looked up more earnestly at last.
"Will you ever tire of it, Grant?"
He laughed happily.
"Tire of what, Brownie?"
"Of this, of me, and of it all; will you never weary of the quietness
of it and want some change? You must care very much, indeed, if you
He spoke slowly.
"It seems to me that though we were to live each a thousand years, I
would never tire of this as it is. But, of course, it will not be just
this way. We could not keep it so if we would, and would not if we
"Why should it change?"
He drew her close to him and placed his hand upon her face and kissed
her on the forehead.
"I shall be more in the fray again. I must be. You would not have
your husband a sluggard among men, and that will sometimes take me from
you, though never for long, because I'm afraid I shall be selfish and
have you with me when there are long journeys. And it will change,
too, you know—because you see, dear, there may be the—the others.
You hope so, with me, do you not?"
Her face remained hidden for a little time. When she raised it, there
was a blush upon her cheeks, but her eyes had not the glance he had
"No!" she said.
He did not reply, because he could not comprehend. He looked at her,
astonished, and she broke forth recklessly:
"I love you so, Grant! I love you so! I want you, just you, and no
one else. Are we not happy as we are? Are you not satisfied with me,
just me? You are like all men! You are selfish! You—oh, love! You
love me so—I know that—but you think of me—it seems so, anyhow—as
but part of a scheme of life, of the life which will make you happy.
My love, my husband! why need it be that way? Why am I not enough?
Why may we not be one, just one, and be that way? I want nothing more.
Why should you? Are we not all our own world? I will be everything to
you. Oh, Grant!" And she ceased, sobbingly.
The man said nothing. He could not understand at first; then came upon
him, gradually, a comprehension of how different had been their dreams
in some ways. It was inexplicable. He thought of the mother instinct
which gives even to the little girl a doll. He had supposed that his
own fancies were but weak reflections of what was in the innermost
heart of the woman he loved so. He blurted out, almost roughly:
"'Portia is Brutus' harlot, not his wife.'" Then added, bitterly, "It
is the man who is saying it this time, you see."
A second later, shame-faced and repentant, he had caught the slender
figure in his arms and was holding it close to him.
"I'm a brute, dear," he said, "and there is no excuse for me. I
understand, I think. We dreamed differently. That was all. Had you
loved me less, dear heart, you would have been more like other women.
But it doesn't matter. It shall be as you say, as you may wish or
fancy. We thought unlike, yet you were as much the pivot of my thought
as I of yours. It was of you, for you, and because of you, I had my
visions. That is all. And we will not talk more of it."
She nestled closer to him, and he stroked the brown mass of her hair
and remained silent. Some moments passed that way. Then she roused
herself and sat up squarely, and looked him bravely in the face.
"I have been thinking," she said, "and I can think very well when I am
so close to you, with my head where it is now. I have been thinking,
and it has occurred to me that I was not a wise, good woman, and I want
you to forgive me."
His answer involved no words at all, but it was meet for every purpose.
She pushed him away from her, and spoke gravely:
"Will you do something for me, Grant?"
"Will you do it now?"
"Yes—if it be good for you."
"I want you to do this. I want you to imagine me some one else, some
one you regard, but for whom you do not care particularly. And then I
want you to tell me what you think, what you would think best about
the—'the others'"—blushing more fairly than any rose that ever grew
on stem. "Will you do that?"
His face was very earnest. "I will try," he said, "but it will be
difficult to imagine you someone else. How can I do that when I can
look into your eyes, my little wife? I'll try, though."
"Then talk to me, now."
He was troubled. He did not know how to express himself in the spirit
asked of him, and he did not look at her in the beginning.
"Sweetheart, you are a part of me, and you are the greatest of what
there is of my life. It is about you that all my thoughts converge. I
do not suppose there will be any happier, any dearer time ever than
this we are passing together, with none to molest us, or divert us from
each other. You know me well now. I am what I am, and never was a man
of stronger personal moods or one who so hungered for the one woman.
And you are the one woman, the one physical object in the world, I
worship. There is no need that I tell you anything. And you have
learned, too, how I care for you in all greater, and, it may be, purer
ways. We are happy together. But, love of me, we are a man and wife,
an American man and wife, of the social grade—for there are social
grades, despite all our democracy—where, it seems to me, a family has
come to be esteemed almost a disgrace, as something vulgar and
annoying. And it seems to me this is something unnatural, and all
wrong. Whatever nature indicates is best. To do what nature indicates
is to secure the greatest happiness. Trials may come, new sorrows and
incumbrances be risked, but nature brings her recompense. I want you
the mother of our child, of our children, as it may be. I know what
your thought has been, I understand it now, but how can children
separate us? When a man and woman look together upon a child, another
human being, a part of each of them, a being who would never have
existed had they not found each other, a being with the traits of each
combined, it seems to me as if their souls should blend somehow as
never before. They are one then, to a certainty. They have become a
unit in the great scheme of existence. And so, darling, I have thought
and thought much. I have dreamed of you as the little mother, the one
who would not be of the silly modern type, the one who, with me, would
not be ashamed any more than were our sturdy ancestors of a sturdy
family, should we be blessed so. The one who would be glad with me in
the womanhood and manhood of it. And, as I said, it could never part
us. It would but make me more totally your own, more watchful, if that
were possible, more tender, if that could be, more worshipful of you in
the greater life of us two together, us two more completely. And that
is all. It shall be as you say, and I will not complain, for I know
your impulse in what you said and all its lovingness."
She had listened to each word intently, and her face had flushed and
paled alternately. When he had done she snuggled more closely to him,
and still said nothing. When she did speak, this is what she said, and
she said it earnestly:
"I was wrong, my husband; I was a selfish, infatuated woman, who loved
with one foolish idea which marred its fullness. You have taught me
something, dear. You could not give me the thought I had again, even
were you to try yourself, for I see it now. And——"
She put her arms about his neck and buried her fair face upon the
pillow which afforded her such convenient shelter. As for the man,
there was something like a lump in his throat, but he spoke with an
effort at playfulness, though his voice wavered a little:
"It is right, my love. And we will visit this nature of ours together.
It is the season now, and next week we go camping. I want to show old
friends of mine, the spirits of the forest, how fair a wife I've won."
And, a few days later, there was a pretty little scene down town.
"Sportsmen's Goods," the sign above the doorway said, and in the
windows were numerous wooden ducks and dainty rods of split bamboo, and
glittering German silver reels and gaudy flies, and a thousand things
to delight the heart of a fisherman or hunter. Enter, a
broad-shouldered gentleman and a haughty wisp of a woman, the latter a
trifle embarrassed, despite her stateliness.
"How are you, Jack?"
This to the proprietor of the place, as he comes forward.
"How are you, Harlson?"
"This is Mrs. Harlson." The ceremony takes place. "Now, Jack, here's
a grave matter of business. Have you a private room? And I want you
to send in a lot of light wading-boots—the smallest sizes. And I want
some other things." And the list is given.
And the lady and gentleman disappear into a small room assigned them,
and a lot of wading-boots are taken in, and time elapses. And,
eventually, lady and gentleman emerge again, the man's eyes full of
laughter, and the woman's eyes full of laughter and confusion, and a
package is made up.
"Send it to my house, Jack," says the man, and the couple leave the
Michigan is divided into two peninsulas, the apexes of which meet.
The State is shaped like an hour-glass, with the upper portion twisted
to the left. About all the two peninsulas lie blue waters, the inland
seas, lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron. Upon the upper peninsula are
great mineral ranges, copper and iron, a stunted but sturdy forest
growth, and hundreds of little lakelets. The lower peninsula, at its
apex, is yet largely unclaimed from nature, but, toward the south,
broadens out into the great area of grain and apple blossoms, and big,
natty towns, once the country of oak openings, the haunt of Pontiac and
of Tecumseh, braided and crossed by one of Cooper's romances.
It is with the crest of the lower peninsula that this description
deals. There exist not the rigors of the northern peninsula; there the
timber has not tempted woodland plunderers, nor have dried brook-beds
followed shorn forests, nor the farmer invaded the region of light
soil. There is the dense but stunted growth of the hard maple and pine
and beech and fir, and there are windfalls and slashes which sometimes
bridge the creeks. There are still black ash swales and dry beech
ridges, but they are not as massive as further south. There are still
the haunting deer and the black bear and the ruffed grouse, the
"partridge" in the idiom of the country, the "pheasant" of the South
and Southwest. There are scores of tiny lakes, deep and pure and
tenanted, and babbling streams, and there are the knighted speckled
trout, the viking black bass and that rakish aristocrat, the grayling.
One way to cross from Michigan to Huron is in a canoe, threading one's
way from woodland lake to woodland lake, through brush-hidden
brooklets, without a portage. In this region the liverwort blooms
fragrantly beside the snow-bank in early spring, and here the arbutus
exists as in New England. The adder-tongues and violets and anemones
are here in rare profusion in their time, and the wandering gray wolf,
last of his kind, almost, treads softly over knolls carpeted with
wintergreen and decorated with scarlet berries. It is a country of
blue water and pure air, of forest depths and long alleys arching above
This is the southern peninsula of Michigan in its northern part, and
here came, as the first suspicion of a tinge of yellow came to the
leaves of certain trees, as the hard maple trees first flashed out in
faint red, two people.
There were three of them who came at first, for there was the man with
the wagon, engaged in the outlying settlement, who brought them fifteen
miles into the depths of the woodland. They came lumbering through an
archway over an old trail, the homesteader sitting jauntily, howbeit
uncertainly, upon the front seat—for the roadway tilted in spots—and
behind him a couple from the town, a man and a woman, the man laughing
and supporting his companion as the wagon swayed, and the woman
wondering and plucky, and laughing, too, at the oddness of it all. The
forest amazed her a little, and awed her a little, but from awe of it
soon came, as they plunged along, much friendliness. She was
receptive, this game woman, and knew Nature when she met her.
In the rear of the wagon crouched or stood upright, or laid down, as
the mood came upon his chestnut-colored grandness, a great Irish
setter, loved of the man because of many a day together in stubble or
over fallow, loved of the woman because he, the setter, had already
learned to love and regard the woman as an arbitrator, as queen of
something he knew not what.
And so the wagon rumbled on and pitched and tilted, and finally, in
mid-afternoon, reached a place where the road seemed to end. There was
a little open glade, but a few yards across, and there was dense forest
all around, and, just beyond the glade, the tree-tops seemed to all be
lowered, because there was a descent and a lake half a mile long, as
clear as crystal and as blue as the sky. A little way beyond the glade
could be heard the gurgling and ruffling of a creek, which, through a
deep hollow, came athwart the forest and plunged into the lake most
willingly. This was the place where these two people, this man and
woman, were to end their present journey, for the man had been there
before and knew what there to seek and what to find.
And there was a creaky turn of the wagon, a disembarkment, and an
unloading of various things. There was all the kit for a hunter of the
northern woods, and there were things in addition which indicated that
the hunter was not alone this time. There was a tent which had more
than ordinarily selected fixtures to it, and there were two real
steamer-chairs with backs, and there were four or five of what in the
country they call "comforts," or "comforters," great quilts, thickly
padded, generally covered with a design in white of stars or flowers on
beaming red, and there were rods and guns and numerous utensils for
The wagon with its horses and its driver turned about and tumbled along
the roadway on its return, and there were left alone in the forest,
miles from civilization, miles from any human being save the driver
fast leaving them, the man and woman and the setter dog.
They did not appear depressed or alarmed by the circumstance.
The load from the wagon had been left in a heap. The man pulled from
it a camp-chair with a back, and opened it, and set it up on the grass
very near the edge of the glade, and announced that the throne was
ready for the Empress, not of Great Britain and India, nor of any other
part of the earth, but of the World; it was ready, and would she take
He explained that, as, at present, there were some things she didn't
know anything about, she might as well sit in state. So the Empress,
who was not very big, sat in state.
The dog had pursued a rabbit, and was making a fool of himself. The
man selected from among the baggage left an ax, heavy and keen, and
attacked a young spruce tree near. It soon fell with a crash, and the
Empress leaped up, but to sit down again and look interestedly at what
was going on.
The man, the tree fallen, sheared off its wealth of fragrant tips, and
laid the mass of it by the side of the great tree. Then from out the
wagon's leavings he dragged a tent, a simple thing, and, setting up two
crotched sticks with a cross-pole, soon had it in its place. He
carried the mass of spruce-tips by armfuls to the tent and dumped them
within it until there was a great heap of soft, perfumed greenness
there. Then, over all, he spread a quilt or two, and announced, with
much form, to her majesty, that her couch was prepared for her, and
that she could sit in the front of the tent if she wished.
And he cut and put in place two more forked stakes, with a cross-bar,
and hung a kettle and built a fire beneath, and brought water and got
out a frying-pan and bread and prepared for supper. All articles not
demanded for immediate use were stowed away just back of the tent.
"And," he remarked, "there you are."
The Empress rose from her camp-chair and investigated.
"Are we to sleep in the tent, Grant?"
"What will we do if it rains?"
"Stay in the tent."
"But we'll get wet, won't we?"
"No; we'll be upon the spruce-tops; the water will run under us."
"Aren't there animals in the wood?"
"What will you do if they come about?"
"I think I'll kiss you."
The Empress of the World did not seem to fully enter into the spirit of
She had her imaginings, after all. She knew that she was all right,
somehow, yet she did not quite comprehend. But she knew her royalty.
She rose and went to the entrance of the tent, and stepped in daintily,
and sat down in another chair which had been placed there for her
reception, and then inhaled all the sweetness of the spruce-tips, and
pitched herself down upon the quilts, and curled herself up there for a
moment or two, and then rose and came out again into the open, where
her husband stood watching her.
"Do you like the woods, dear?" he said.
"Don't you see?"
He said nothing, but led her majesty to a seat for a time, while he got
ready for the evening meal—of food from the town for this first
time—and then, in a courtier's way, of course, suggested, that she aid
They cooked and ate the strips of bacon with the soft stale bread he
had brought, and drank the tea, and the shadows of the trees lengthened
across the glade, and the chestnut-hued setter came back to camp and
was gravely reprimanded by his master, and it soon became night, and
time passed, and the fire flashed against the greenery strangely, and
the man took the woman by the hand and led her to the entrance to the
tent, and said:
"We must rise early."
She entered the tent, and not long later he entered, also, or thought
to do so. He lifted the flap, which he had let down, and looked inside.
She lay there upon the cushioned spruce-tips, and, as he raised the
white curtain, the moonlight streamed in upon her.
She looked up at him, and smiled.
The loving face of her was all he saw—the face of the one woman.
He spoke to her. He tried to tell her what she was to him, and failed.
She answered gently and in few words. They understood.
He entered the tent and sat upon the couch beside her as she was lying
there, and took her small hand in his, but said no more. From the wood
about them—for it was into the night now—came many sounds, known of
old, and wonderfully sweet to him, but all new and strange to her.
"Ah-rr-oomp, ah-rr-oomp, ba-rr-oomp," came from the edge of the water
the deep cry of the bullfrog; from the further end of the lake came the
strange gobble, gurgle and gulp of the shitepoke, the small green heron
which is the flitting ghost of shaded creeks and haunting thing of
marshy courses everywhere. Night-hawks, far above, cried with a
pleasant monotony, then swooped downward with a zip and boom. It was
not so late in the season that the call of the whippoorwill might not
be heard, and there were odd notes of tree-toads and katydids from the
branches. There came suddenly the noise of a squall and scuffle from
the marshy edge of the lake, where 'coons were wrangling, and the weird
cry of the loon re-echoed up and down. The air was full of the
perfumes of the wood. The setter just outside the tent became uneasy,
and dashed into a thicket near, and there was a snort and the measured,
swift thud of feet flying in the distance. A deer had been attracted
by the fire-light. An owl hooted from a dead tree near by. There was
the hum of many insects of the night, and the soft sighing of the wind
through boughs. It was simply night in the northern woods.
The man rose and went outside, and stood with one hand upon the
tent-pole at the front. He seemed to himself to be in a dream. He
looked up at the moon and stars, and then at the glittering greenery
deepening further out into blackness about him. He looked down toward
the grass at his feet, and there appeared near him a flash of gold.
What Harlson saw was but a dandelion. That most home-like and
steadfast flower blooms in early springtime and later in the season,
with no regard to the chronology of the year. It was one of the
vagrant late gladdeners of the earth that his eye chanced to light upon.
It held him, somehow. It was wide open—so wide that there was a white
spot in its yellow center—and close above it drooped, a beech-tree's
branch, so close that one long green leaf hung just above the petals.
And upon this green leaf the dew was gathering.
The man looked at the flower.
"Is all the world golden?" he said to himself. And he straightened and
moved and went from the tent to where the open was. He stood in the
glade in the moonlight, and wondered at it all.
Here he was—he could not comprehend it—here, all alone, save for her,
in the forest, miles away from any other human being! He had wholly
loved but two things all his life—her and nature—and the three of
them—she, nature and he—were here together! It was wonderful!
And there in that preposterous covering of canvas, half hid in the
forest's edge, was Jean Cor—no, Jean Harlson, belonging to him—all
his—away from all the world, just part of him, in this solitude!
He wondered why he had deserved it. He wondered how he had won it. He
looked up at the pure sky, with the moon defined so clearly, and all
the stars, and was grateful, and reached out his hands and asked the
Being of it to tell him, if it might be, how to do something as an
The night passed, and the sun rose clearly over the forest. The
chestnut setter roused himself from behind the tent, and came in front
of it, and barked joyously at a yellow-hammer which had chosen a great
basswood tree with deadened spaces for an early morning experiment
toward a breakfast.
There issued from the white tent a man, who looked upward toward all
the greenness and all the glory, and was glad.
He looked downward at the sward, and there was the little flower. And
the dew had run its course, and had gathered in a jewel at the leaf's
tip, and there, fallen in the midst of the disk of yellow, was the
product from the skies. There, in the flower's heart, was the perfect
gem—a diamond in a setting of fine gold!
"I've et hearty," said the woman, saucily, as the breakfast, for which
the birds furnished the music, was done. And then he initiated her
into the brief art of washing tin things in the gravel at the water's
edge. Then he informed her that target practice was about to begin,
and brought out four guns from their cases.
Two of the pieces were rifles, and of each kind one was a light and
dainty piece. He said they would practice with the rifles; that when
she became an expert rifle-shot the rest would all be easy, and then
upon the boll of a tree at one side of the opening he pinned a red
scrap of paper, and shot at it.
With the report half the scrap was torn away, and then he taught her
how to hold the piece and how to aim.
She expressed, at last, a desire to shoot, and he gave her the little
rifle loaded. She aimed swiftly and desperately, and pressed the
trigger, and the echoes had not died away when she let fall the gun
upon the grass.
"I'm hurt," she said.
He sprang to her side, pale-faced, as she raised her hand to her
shoulder, but he brightened a moment later. He opened the dress at her
neck, and turned it down on one side, and there, on the round, white
shoulder, was a slight ruddy bruise. He kissed it, and laughed.
"It'll be all right in no time. Now, do as I tell you."
He put a cartridge in the piece again.
"Try it once more," he said; "aim more deliberately and hold the stock
of the gun very tightly against your shoulder as you fire."
"But it will hurt me."
"No, it won't. Do as I tell you."
She would have obeyed him had he told her to leap into the lake, and
the lake was deep.
She set her lips firmly, held the gun hard against her shoulder, aimed
carefully and fired.
The red spot flew from the gray trunk of the oak. She looked up amazed.
"Why, it didn't hurt me a bit!"
"Of course not. There is a law of impact, and you are learning it.
The strongest man in the world could not hurt you pushing you against
nothing. He could kill you with a blow. With the first shot your gun
gave you a blow. In the second it could only push you. Listen to the
wisdom of your consort!"
She made a mouth at him, and he told her she'd had her "baptism of
fire," and soon they sallied into the forest, hunting.
She was very pretty and piquant in her kilted dress and shooting jacket
and high boots. It was a formidable army of two.
There were myriads of bees in the openings, and the fall flowers were
yielding up the honey to be stored, in the hearts of great trees, and
at noon-time they sat down in one of the openings for luncheon.
He had shot only a couple of ruffed grouse, for it was a ramble rather
than a real hunt, this first mid-wood excursion of the pair, and she
had shot at various things, a grouse or two and squirrels, and missed
with regularity, and was piqued over it, but he had noted her
increasing courage and confidence and resolution with each successive
shot, and knew that he had with him, for the future, a "little
sportsman," as he called her.
They built a fire, just for the fun of it, and a grouse was plucked and
broiled with much ado, and never was greater feast. And, the meal
over, he produced a cigar and—which was not really good form for the
woods—lay on the grass and smoked it, looking at her and talking
She sat upon a log and delighted in the fragrance and the light, and
the droning sounds and bird-cries, and the new world of it to her. All
at once, her gaze became fixed upon some object a little distance away.
She reached out her hand to him appealingly.
"What is that?"
He rose and looked where she pointed.
Years of decay had made of the trunk of a fallen tree but a long ridge
of crumbling, brown chips, and, upon this ridge, where the sun streamed
down hotly, lay something coiled in a black mass, and there was a flat,
hideous head resting upon it all with beady eyes which seemed, to leer.
Harlson looked at it carelessly.
"Big one, isn't it?" he said.
"What is it?" she gasped.
"What is it, you small ignoramus! It's a blacksnake and a monster. It
is one of the dreads of the small life of the wood, and it was one of
the dreads of my youth, and its days are numbered."
He reached for his gun, then checked himself.
She picked up the little rifle and raised it to her shoulder, as calmly
as any Leather-Stocking in the land.
The report came like a whip-crack, and up from the dead log leaped a
great writhing mass, which coiled and twisted and thrashed about, and
finally lay still.
Harlson walked up and examined what he called the "remains." Half the
serpent's ugly head had been torn away by the bullet.
"It was a great shot! 'And the woman shall bruise the serpent's
head!'" he quoted. "Egad, you've done it with a vengeance, my
huntress! And you are a markswoman among many, and thy price is above
She informed him, with much dignity, that she never missed such
monsters as were blacksnakes, and that her undoubted skill with the
rifle was due to the quality of the tutor she had owned, and, at the
same time, would he mind moving to some other place to finish his
cigar, for the sight of the dead monster was not a pleasant thing?
And so was accomplished the woman's first feat with the gun; but on
that same day, before they had returned to camp, she had slain, at a
fair distance, a grouse which, when flushed, had sailed away with lofty
contempt for but a score of yards, and, alighting upon a limb close
beside the body of a tree, had stood awaiting, jauntily and ignorantly,
She was a proud woman when the bird came plunging to the ground, and of
that particular fowl he remarked, subsequently, when they were eating
it, that its flavor was a little superior to anything in the way of
game he had ever tasted, and he was more than half in earnest.
And the nights were poems and the days were full of life, and the brown
cheeks of the woman became browner still, and she was referred to more
frequently than even in the ante-wedded days as merely of the tribe of
In one respect, too, she excelled in deserving that same title, for
your Chippewa, of either sex, takes to the water like a duck, as
becomes a tribe of the lake regions. He took her to the lake and
taught her not to fear it, and they frolicked in its waves together,
and she learned to swim as well as he, and to dive as smoothly as a
loon or otter, and was a water nymph such as the creatures of the wood
had never seen. He was very vain of her art acquired so swiftly,
though in conversation he gave vast credit to her teacher. And in the
catching of the black bass there came eventually to the nine-ounce
split bamboo in her little hands as many trophies as to his heavier
lancewood. One day, after she had become at home in the water, and had
better luck than he, and was lofty in her demeanor, he upset the boat
in deep water, and her majesty was compelled to swim about it with him
and assist at one end while he was at the other, in righting it. So
mean of spirit was he.
All other things, though, were but the veriest trifle compared with the
adventure which came at last. He had made her wise in woodcraft, and
she could tell at the lake's margin or along the creek's bed the tracks
of the 'coon, like the prints of a baby's foot, the mink's twin pads,
or the sharp imprint of the hoofs of the deer. One day another track
was noted near the camp, a track resembling that of a small man,
shoeless, and Harlson informed her that a bear had been about.
She asked if the black bear of Michigan were dangerous, and he said the
black bear of Michigan ate only very bad people, or very small ones.
One afternoon they were some distance from the camp. They had been
shooting with fair success, and, returning, had seated themselves in
idle mood upon one end of a great fallen trunk, upon which they had
just crossed the gully, at the bottom of which a little creek tumbled
toward the lake. The gleam of a maple's leaves near by, already
turning scarlet, had caught her eye; she had expressed a wish for some
of the gaudy beauties, and he had climbed the tree and was plucking the
leaves for her, when, suddenly, the woods resounded with the fierce
barking of the dog in the direction from which they had just come. He
called to her to be ready to shoot, that a deer might have been
started, when there was a crashing through the bushes and the quarry
burst into sight.
Lumbering into the open, turning only to growl at the dog which was
yelping wildly in its rear, but keeping wisely out of its reach, was a
black bear. The beast did not see the woman opposite him, but rushed
at the log and was half way across it when she screamed. Then it
paused. Behind was the dog, before the woman; it advanced slowly,
Harlson, in the tree, saw it all, and, as a fireman drops with a rush
down the pole in the engine-house, he came down the maple's boll and
bounded toward the log. The bear hesitated.
"Shoot! you little fool, shoot!" shouted the man, as he ran.
Her courage returned in a moment, at least did partial presence of
mind. She raised the gun desperately, and the report rang out. The
bear clutched wildly at the log, then rolled off, and fell to the rocky
bottom, twenty feet below. Harlson seized his own gun and looked down.
The beast was motionless, and from a little hole in its head the blood
And the woman—well, the woman was sitting on the grass, very pale of
face and silent.
The man seized her, and half smothered her with kisses, and shouted
aloud to the forest and all its creatures that great was Diana of the
THE HOUSE WONDERFUL.
And the bear's skin was tanned with the glossy black fur still upon it,
the head with the white-fanged jaws still attached and made natural
with all the skill of an artist in such things, and it lay, a great,
soft, black rug, upon a couch in the House Wonderful, or, at least, the
house to which Harlson gave that name. It seemed to him the House
Therein was held all there was in the world for him, and he was
satisfied with it all, and content, save that he felt, at seasons, how
little man is worthy of the happiness which may come to him sometimes,
even in this world. Yet it was not all poetry in the House Wonderful;
there were many practical happenings, and many droll ones.
The House Wonderful, it is needless to say, was in the city. The
bear-skin was but one of many such soft trophies of the chase which
were spread upon the floors or upon soft lounges and divans. Over this
particular skin there was much said, at times, when there were guests.
Jean would explain to some curious person, that she herself had shot
the original wearer of the skin, and that her husband was up a tree at
the time, and there would be odd looks, and he would explain nothing,
and then she, woman-like, must needs spoil the mystery by telling all
about it, as if any one would not comprehend some jest in the matter!
It was a home of rugs and books, and very restful. I liked to go
there, where they both spoiled me, and where the softness and the
perfume of it all made me useless and dissatisfied after I had come
away. There is no reason in the average man. But in the Eden was one
great serpent—not a real serpent, but a glittering one, like the toy
snakes sold at Christmas time.
There is some weakness in our American training of girls. Visibly and
certainly the woman who marries a man engages herself to conduct his
household—to relieve him of all troubles there—because he is the
bread-winner. But very few girls seem trained with such idea, though
all girls look forward to a marriage and such mutually helpful compact
between two human beings. It is, of course, the fault of a social
growth, the fault of mothers, the fault of many conditions. And Jean
did not know how to cook! She was a woman of keen intelligence, of all
sweetness and all faithfulness, yet she found herself almost helpless
when she became the chatelaine of the castle where Grant was to come to
It is needless to tell of all that happened. The woman was adroit in
the engagement of domestics, and there were dinners certainly, and,
possibly, good ones, but the knowingness of it all was wanting. He
felt it, and wondered a little, but did not fret. He knew the woman.
One evening they were together, after dinner again, just as they had
been when he told her he would take her to the woods, and she lay
coiled up upon a divan, while he sat beside her. It was their
after-dinner way. She spoke up abruptly and very bravely:
"Grant, I'm a humbug."
"Certainly, dear; what of it?"
"I mean—and it's something serious—I really am, you know, and I want
to tell you."
"Go ahead, midget."
She did not seem altogether reassured, but plunged in gallantly:
"You thought I would be a good wife to you. You thought I knew
everything a woman should know who agreed to live together with the man
she loved, and make the most of life. But, Grant, I was and am really
a humbug! I don't know how to manage a house; I have to leave it to
the servants, and I can see enough, at least, to know that it isn't
what it should be. There are a thousand little fancies of yours I
don't know how to gratify, and I want to do it so, Grant! What shall I
He responded by saying that he was very fond of his little Dora
Copperfield and that he would buy her a poodle dog. He added, though,
that she mustn't die—he needed her!
There was a laugh in his eyes, and he was but the tyrant man enjoying
the discomfort of the one being to him; but when she curled a little
closer and looked up in earnestness, he relented.
"That is nothing, dear," he said, "save that I'm afraid you have a
little work ahead. Yes, it is right that you should know what you do
not. You must learn. It is nothing for a clever woman, such as the
one I have gained. I look to you, love, for the home and all the
sweetness of it, and I wouldn't do that if I did not think that in the
end there would be all pride and comfort for you. Down East they call
this or that woman 'house-proud.' I want you to be 'house-proud.' No
wife who is that but is doing very much for all about her, and I won't
say any more, except that you must let me help you."
And thenceforth ensued strange things. There were experiments, and
there was even a cooking-school episode, Harlson, at this period,
professing great weariness, and sometimes, after meals, simulating
pains which required much attention, though drugs were vigorously
refused. All he wanted was strictly personal care. It is to be feared
that he was not honest as to details, though honest as a whole. And he
would go marketing with the brown woman, who had become so practical,
and they became critical together, and the gourmands, wise old men
about town, whom he brought, occasionally, to dine with him, began to
wonder how it was that they found such perfection at a private table.
And, as for the woman, well, she passed so far beyond her clumsy Mentor
that he became but as the babe which doesn't know, and had nothing to
say in her august presence. He might talk about a cheese or a wine or
some such trifle, but how small a portion of living are cheese and wine!
The first year of wedded life is experimental, though it be with the
pair best mated since the world began. There is an unconscious
dropping of all surface traits and all disguises, and a showing of
heart and brain to the one other. Never lived the woman so
self-contained and tactful that, at the end of a year, her husband, if
he were a man of ordinary intelligence, did not know her for what she
was worth; never the man so thoughtful and discreet that he was not
estimated at his value by the one so near him. This I have been told
by men and women who should know. I lack the trial which should give
wisdom to myself, but I am inclined to accept the dictum of these
others. It must be so, from force of circumstances.
It was pleasant to me to watch this man and woman. It seemed to me
that the hard lines in Grant Harlson's face became, week by week and
month by month, less harshly and clearly defined, while upon the face
of his wife grew that new look of a content and ownership which marks
the woman who sleeps in some man's arms, the one who owns her—the same
look which Grant, with his broader experience and keener insight, used
to recognize when he puzzled me so in telling whimsically, in the
street cars, who were wedded, without looking at their rings. It may
have been a fancy, but it seemed to me the two grew very much to look
alike. It was in no feature, in nothing I can describe, but in
something beyond words, in a certain way which cannot be defined. It
may have been but the unconscious imitation by each of some trick of
the other's speech, or manner, but it appeared a deeper thing. I
cannot explain it.
They were not much apart, those two. Sometimes Harlson would be called
away by some business or political emergency, and then would occur what
impressed me as a silly thing, deeply as I cared, for each. He would
get railroad tickets for two, and they would go riotously across the
country, playing at keeping house in a state-room, and enjoying
themselves beyond all reason. I explained often to each of them that
it wasn't fair to the other; that he could attend to business better in
some distant city without having to report to her at a hotel, and that
it would be more comfortable for her in her own fair home; and the two
idiots would but laugh at me.
The library was their fad together, for Jean was as much of a
bibliomaniac, almost, as was her husband, and I confess I enjoyed
myself amid the rich collection, made without precedent or reason, but,
somehow, wonderfully attractive. They were whimsical, the pair, with
books as with regard to other things, but the few who might invade
their library were inclined to linger there. I always found a mingled
odor there of cigar-smoke and of some perfume which Jean preferred, and
I learned to like the combination. Maybe that was a perverted
taste,—cigar-smoke and delicate perfumes are not consorted in the code
of odor-lovers,—but, as I say, I learned to like it.
I have but little more to tell of this first wedded year of my dear
friends. One incident I may relate. It occurred less than a year from
the date of the outing in the woods. There were relations each of the
two should meet, and he was very busy with many things, and it was,
finally, after much thought, decided that Jean should go her way and he
his for two long weeks; so they bade good-by to each other and left the
city, in different directions, the same day.
It was just four days later when I got a note asking me to call at the
house. It was from Jean, and she was a little shame-faced when she met
me. Certain business complications had arisen in Grant's absence to
which I might attend, and it was for this that she had summoned me; but
she had an explanation to make. She did it, blushing.
"I went to my people, Alf," she said, "but it palled in a couple of
days. That is all. I'd rather be here alone, where he has been, and
await him here, than be anywhere else. It's foolish, of course, but
you, who know us both so well, may possibly understand." And she
blushed more than ever.
The next day there stalked into my office a man who asked me to lunch.
It was Grant Harlson. There was a quizzical look on his face, and a
rather happy one.
"I won't tell you anything, old man," he said. "I was only a few hours
behind the girl. That's all. I suppose we might as well keep up the
fool record we have begun. It suits me, anyhow."
And a single man, knowing nothing about such things, could give no
opinion. I was abusive and sarcastic, but he insisted on buying a
Given a man and a woman, married, loving each other, and what a recent
clever writer calls "the inevitable consequences" ordinarily come and
cause the inevitable anxiety, more, doubtless, to the man than to the
woman. There comes a time when she he loves must bear him their first
child. In primitive existence this trouble to the man must have been
much less, must have been little more than the sympathy of an hour,
because, in nature, unaffected, there is seldom much of suffering and
almost never death prematurely. But we have changed all this. We have
violated gentle Nature's laws in our ways of living, and inasmuch as we
have done this, we have lost, to such extent, her soft protecting hand.
We breathe too little of the pure air; we are lax in physical effort,
and, even though the individual man or woman be wise, he or she must
bear the burden of the errors of an ancestry or the evils of the
present. So, to the woman gentle-bred there comes a risk in the
undergoing of that which she has most hoped for since she loved a man,
and since she would be all there is of perfect womanhood. There is
peril, and she knows it, but is braver than man at this time. There is
peril, and he knows it, and he is helpless and clinging as a child.
What can he do? Nothing, save to bring in a hard hour the presence of
one who may not bear a portion of the real trial. Yet this is
something. It has saved dear women's lives. There is something—we do
not quite understand about it yet—which is a band of more than steel
between two close together, and which holds back the one sometimes from
even the grip of that force seldom denied, which is named Death, the
one who fills the graveyards.
And, one evening, there was a man in deep trouble, and in the morning
he sat beside a bed in which was his small wife and beside her a tiny
red thing, "rather underdone," he said, in the buoyant reaction which
came upon him, for that was Harlson's way when he had emerged from
trouble; and the small red thing was the son of the two of them. And
who can tell what the man said to the woman. There are precious,
sacred overflows of love, sweet outbursts of what makes life worth the
living, never yet in words for all, never yet written in black upon
some white surface. There is a sanctuary.
It was a healthy baby, and the mother was soon herself, and the most
foolish of small women over it. I rather liked the young animal
myself, for they let me see it when its days were few, and it clutched
at my fingers in a way that won me. It was a curious young animal to
me. It took to the water wonderfully, and all three of us together
sometimes, when I would call, would summon the nurse and see the young
villain bathe. This was when he was but a few months old. He was such
a royal fellow, so brave and buoyant, that I fell in love with him.
How could a lonely man help being foolish?
An odd name had the child. It all came from the hours, when, all
danger passed, a proud and happy man sat upon a bedside and looked down
into the face of a proud and happy woman, and, at times, studied the
quality of the odd mite beside her, half hidden in the waves of pillow
and of sheet. He would look at the thing's wonderful hands, and its
wonderful pink feet, and have remarks to make. One hour he came in and
examined the creature and repeated great words from some authority:
"How many people have ever taken notice of a baby's foot, except to
admire its pinkiness and its prettiness?" said he. "And yet, to the
anatomist, it is a revelation. Take, for example, the feet of a child
of ten months, that has never walked nor stood alone. It has a power
of grasping to some extent, and is used instinctively like a hand. The
great toe has a certain independent working, like a thumb, and the
wrinkles of the sole resemble those of the palm. These markings
disappear when the pedal extremity has come to be employed for purposes
"The hands and feet of a human being are strikingly like those of the
chimpanzee in conformation, while the gorilla's resemblance to man in
these respects is even more remarkable. The higher apes have been
classified as 'quadrumana,' or 'four-handed,' because their hind feet
are hand-shaped; but this designation is improperly applied, because
the ape's posterior extremities are not really hands at all. They
merely look like hands at the first glance, whereas, in fact, they are
but feet adapted for climbing. The big toes cannot be 'opposed' to
other toes, as thumbs are to the fingers, but simply act pincer-wise,
for the purpose of grasping. Now, oddly enough, the 'infant's' feet
have this same power of grasping, pincer-fashion, and the action is
performed in precisely the same way. Advocates of evolutionary
theories take this to signify that the human foot was originally
utilized for climbing trees also, before the species was so highly
developed as it is now. Also, they assert that the fact that the art
of walking erect is learned by the child with such difficulty proves
that the race has only acquired it recently.
"There, darling," he said, "you see how it is. We have but come into
possession of a little ape! What shall we do?"
She was not troubled. In his eyes she saw that which is worth more to
the young mother than all else the world can give, but she entered into
the spirit of his mood. She replied, gently, that she didn't know what
to do, but had he the bad taste to kiss an Ape? And he admitted that
he had, and kissed the object gently, as if afraid of breaking it, and
kissed the gentle mother a hundred to one.
I liked the Ape—for so they came to allude to that sturdy babe. He
may be my heir some day—though he was named, as Jean insisted, for his
father—and I had many a frolic with him in his babyhood, when I was
allowed to enter the sanctuary of that home. He was a little viking, a
little raider, this child, conceived in the forest. There seemed to
have come to him the daring and the vigor of outdoor things, and the
force of nature. A great man-child was this.
I was not alone in the rejoicing over the infant, though really he was,
it seems to me, as dear to me, the isolated man, as to his parents.
They rioted in their vast possession, and were very foolish people.
But why should I keep repeating that these two were very foolish people
They were like other fathers and mothers, in some respects, but one
difference I noted. They seemed almost to adore the child, but he was
never first with either of them. He but bound the two more closely
together, and the looks of the man were sometimes almost worshipful as
he looked upon the mother of his child. And she—she understood, and
they were glad together. Their kingdom had been but enlarged.
It is not to be supposed that this whimsical couple—for they were
really whimsical, these friends of mine, as must have appeared often in
my account could rear a child without grotesqueries. The woman, I am
afraid, was, before she became a mother, addicted to monkey tricks,
even to the extent of bounding leopard-like upon the man from
unexpected places, and the Ape was, in his early days, bred in a way
barbaric. They had great times with the Ape.
One day Grant Harlson had his business for the day concluded early. He
could reach home as a little after five o'clock, where dinner came at
six. One of the fiercest of summer rains was falling. He started
buoyantly. He wanted his wife and boy.
He reached the house and entered. No wife was there to greet him; no
drunken-footed babe, for the Ape had learned to walk now, albeit
unsteadily; not even a servant girl to make some explanation. He
stalked through the house wonderingly, back to the kitchen, which
looked out upon a green back-yard where they had erected a tent, and
had there had dinners and inhaled the odor of the grass. He found in
the kitchen the two girls, who were all delight, and exhibited but
slight awe at his presence. He recognized that all was well, and
looked out through the descending sheets of water.
There, beside the quaint tent set upon the green-sward, were two
people. One was a graceful woman, one a sturdy, shouting child.
Neither was garbed save in the simplest way. She wore a wrap of some
sort, a careless thing, the boy a night-gown, and they were moving
about in the warm rain and bathing in nature's way, and particularly
The man was righteously indignant at all desertion of him. He shouted
manfully, and at last attracted the attention of the pair. He told
them to come in to him. As well have talked to the wild winds. He
looked from the porch upon the riant, dissipated two, and commanded and
cajoled and made tremendous threats, but to no purpose. He reproached
his wife with unwifely disobedience, and with the crime of turning her
own offspring against his father, and the two but mocked him! Then he
disappeared, and appeared five minutes later in a frayed old swimming
suit, and there was terror in the camp of the foe! He made a charge
through sheets of rain, and a fair woman was, in most unmanly way, laid
in a puddle, and her son set aloft in pride upon his prostrate and
laughing mother. And high jinks ensued. So did these two conduct
But an hour later, when guests came to the dinner, the Ape had gone to
his nursery without a whimper, and no more grave and courteous man or
more stately and gracious dame sat down at table that evening in all
the city of a million people.
THE FIRST DISTRICT.
The trouble with us in the First Congressional District was that we
could not carry the Ninth Ward. But for this weak point we would have
felt assured at any time. With the Ninth Ward eliminated we could
control the district barely. With the Ninth Ward for us it would be a
walk-over. But the ward belonged to Gunderson.
Gunderson employed three thousand men. He was not a party man, but he
was a partisan; that is, he would get interested sometimes in a
campaign, and when he did, each workman in his big manufactory must
vote as indicated or go. And Gunderson did not like Harlson. The ways
of the big employer were not what Harlson admired, and he had never
tried much to conciliate him. So it came that in more than one
legislative and local contest we had lost the Ninth Ward. And now
Harlson was a candidate for Congress.
We were puzzled. "I'm afraid Jean will have to lock me out again,"
laughed Harlson, as we were discussing the problem one night after a
committee meeting, and herein he referred to a funny episode, dating
back to the time when the Ape was but a yearling. Jean, dignified,
chatelaine, sweet wife and fond mother, was as interested in politics
as in anything else that commanded her husband's attention at any time,
and had learned from our conversations all about the Ninth Ward. We
were confident one spring, and as Grant left home on the morning of
election day he was informed that unless he came as a victor he must
not expect admission to the home containing his wife and baby boy. He
said he would return in triumph or upon his shield, but he did neither.
At five o'clock in the afternoon we knew that we were whipped, whipped
beautifully and thoroughly, and all because of that same black demon of
a Ninth Ward, and the fact was so apparent that we became suddenly
philosophical, and Grant turned to me and said:
"Come to dinner with me, Alf, and let's go now. What's the use of
staying to the funeral? We'll eat a good dinner and smoke, and good
digestion will wait on appetite, and we'll plan and say we'll do better
So we left the hurly-burly and took the train, and were at Harlson's
home a little before the dinner hour. Grant tried his latch-key, but
it would not serve. He rang the bell, but there came no answer. Then
there came a tapping and clatter from inside a window, and both of us
left the porch to get down upon the sward and visit the window and
Inside the window, and smiling, was a small, brown woman, holding in
her arms a crowing youngster, who was making a great ado and reaching
out his hands toward his father. She raised the window just a little,
and put a question, gravely:
"What is it that you wish, gentlemen?"
Grant intimated, humbly, that we wanted to get in and be given some
"Are you the gentlemen who were going to carry the Ninth Ward?"
"Did you carry it?"
The laughing face fell a little, but the stately air was recovered in a
moment. "Well," she said, with dignity, "I'm very sorry. We do not
wish to seem inhospitable, neither the baby nor I, but really we do not
feel justified in harboring people incapable of carrying the Ninth
We explained and pleaded and apologized and promised, but for a long
time to no avail. At last, after the dinner-bell had sounded, and
after we had pledged ourselves to carry that ward yet or perish, we
were admitted, only then, though, as was explained, for the child's
sake. He was accustomed to climb upon his father after dinner.
So carrying the Ninth Ward became a synonym for any difficult feat with
us, and if Grant accomplished this or that, or I made a good turn, or
Jean gave her cook or dressmaker an inspiration, the Ninth Ward was
referred to as having been carried. And here was that ward before us
again in a greater emergency, and in its own proper person.
Gunderson had a wife. He would have owned two wives had the one in his
possession been surveyed and subdivided properly, for she was big
enough, abundantly, for two. She was the best illustration I ever saw
of what difficulties burden the ignorant rich who have social
ambitions. She was good-hearted, coarse, shy and hopeful. A woman may
be coarse and yet timid, as I have noted many a time, and Mrs.
Gunderson was of this type. She hungered for social status, but knew
not how to attain it. To her burly husband's credit, he wished, above
all things, to gratify his wife's ambition, but he was as ignorant as
she regarding ways and means. He had learned that there was a limit
even to the power of money.
Jean had met Mrs. Gunderson in a social way, but of course there could
be no affinity between the two, and the heavy-weight matron, anxious
for recognition, had hardly attracted a second thought from the small
aristocrat. I do not know, by the way, that I have told of the social
status of these friends of mine. I don't think either Grant or Jean
ever gave the matter much attention. Grant was democratic in every
principle, and yet, unknowingly, it seems to me, exclusive arbitrarily.
He had those about him whom he liked, and they were necessarily
somewhat of his kind. And Jean was, a little more thoughtfully,
perhaps, of the same sort. Unconsciously they were the center of a set
for admission to which rich men would have given money. But, as I
said, this key is one of the few things money cannot buy.
The political fight was on, and fierce. We did good work in that
campaign. The struggle was so keen, the supervision of everything so
searching, that daring fraud became a thing impossible. It was simply
a test of persuasion, of popularity and of relative skill in those
devices which are but the moves upon the chessboard in a game where
chances are nearly even. We were but moderately hopeful. Harlson was
immeasurably the better candidate. He was, at least, earnest and
honest, and would represent the district well. I asked once why he
wanted to go to Congress.
"I'll have to think," he said, "to answer you in full. Firstly, I
believe I want to go because I have some fool ideas about certain
legislation which I think I can accomplish. I believe they'll like me
better in this district, and, perhaps, in a broader way, after I have
been there. Then I want Jean to enjoy with me all the mummery and
absurdity of the most mixed social conditions on the face of the
civilized globe, and, besides that, I've been invited to take black
bass with her out of a certain stream in the Shenandoah Valley, and to
kill a deer or two, with headquarters at an old house up in West
He said this lightly, yet I knew it was not far from the full truth.
He had ideas of changes and reforms, and was prepared to fight for
them. As for Jean and the fishing and the shooting, that was a matter
of course. He must get out to nature, and he must have her with him
certainly. As for me, personally—well, we had fought the world
together for many a year, and I never knew him to fail me, and I could
not very well fail him. I worried about this battle, though we had
gained steadily. There was an element in the district, led by shrewd
politicians, of the graduated saloon-keeper type, which did not lack
large numbers. Outside one ward, though we had practically beaten
them, Grant had invoked everything. He had stood up squarely on every
platform, and as well in every drinking-shop and den, and almost
bagnio, and explained to whom he found the nature of the contest, and
told them what he wanted to do, and what all the hearings were, and
told them then to conduct themselves as they pleased—he had but put
his case as it was.
And there are men among the thugs, and humanity is not altogether bad,
even in the slums, and help had come to us from unexpected places.
More than one man, brutal-looking, but with lines in his countenance
showing that he had once been something better, came around and worked
well, and all to his future advantage, for Harlson's memory of such
things was as the memory of that cardinal—what was his name?—who
never forgot a face or incident or figure. We were what the
politicians call "on top," a week before election, save in that same
Ninth Ward. I had seen old Gunderson myself. He was not what we call
affable. I had to wander through many offices, and finally to send in
my card. I found this burly man in his private room, looking over
papers on his desk. He did not look up as I came in. I took a seat,
unasked, and waited. It was five minutes before he turned his head.
Then he muttered a "good-morning," for we had met before.
I tried to be companionable and easy. I returned his salutation,
somewhat too effusively, it may be, and asked him about his business,
and then wanted to know, in a general way, how be stood on the
Congressional issue. He hardened in a moment.
"I don't know why I should support Harlson," he said.
"Isn't he honest?" I asked.
"Oh, yes, I suppose so," he grunted; "but he's not my kind."
"Is the other man?" I asked.
Even the burly animal before me flushed. The other man was but a
tricky politician of the creeping sort, a caterer to all prejudices,
and a flatterer and favorer. This everybody knew. But he had become a
part of the machine, was shrewd, and, with the machine behind him, was
"I've nothing to say about that; but Harlson's not my kind. He's like
one of those stag-hounds. He has nothing to do with the other dogs."
"He's fought some of the other dogs," I suggested.
The man grunted, again: "He's not my kind." And I left the place. I
had little hope of the Ninth Ward.
THE NINTH WARD.
Unaccustomed to story-telling, it is possible that I have neglected
chronology in this account. I referred just now to the time we
couldn't get into Harlson's house because we hadn't carried the Ninth
Ward and to the Ape crowing at the window in his mother's arms. Time
passed after that, and, we all grew older, though, somehow, Jean did
not seem to change, nor, for that matter, did Grant, though he was
years her elder. But the Ape changed amazingly. He grew into a
stalwart youth of fourteen, and became, about that time, addicted to a
bad habit for which I reproved him in vain. He had discovered that he
could pick up his little mother and carry her about in his arms, and he
did so frequently. And his two younger brothers looked on enviously,
and his pretty sister, the youngest of the group, with gravest
apprehension. But Jean seemed rather to like it, though it was most
undignified, and Grant, though he ruled his children well, seemed
rather to approve of their treatment of her majesty. They were a happy
lot together. The Ape was a good deal interested in the election, but
was not allowed to talk outside the house. And Jean wore a serious
look. She lived for one man.
I attended a party soon after my visit to Gunderson, and a very pretty
affair it was. A very pretty incident I saw there, too.
What I saw was the advent of a big, blowsy woman, who was blazing with
diamonds, whose face was good-natured, but who seemed ill at ease. She
was like a Muscovy duck among game fowl. She was well received by the
mass and overlooked by the few, and, being a woman, though of no acute
comprehension, she understood vaguely her condition. She was unhappy,
and there was a flush, upon her face.
I saw a small woman, neat in a gown of the Directory, it seemed to me,
though of course not so pronounced, brought by apparent accident in
contact with the big, blazing creature. The smaller woman was
self-contained and of the blue-blooded in look and unconsciousness from
head to heel. The two engaged in conversation, the one affable and
interested, the other flushed and happy.
I do not know that I ever enjoyed a party more, yet I did nothing on
that occasion, save to watch at a distance the two people I have
mentioned. They drifted along together, and there was soon a group
about them. Was not Mrs. Grant Harlson a social power, and was not a
friend of hers fit friend and confidant for any one? I do not
understand the ways of women. I do not comprehend their manner of
doing things, but I know a thing when it is done. And when that party
ended I knew that fat Mrs. Gunderson had risen to a higher plane than
she had dared to covet for the time, and that she knew who had
accomplished it. Grant was not present at the party, and of the
incident I told him nothing then. I wanted him to note its possible
The day of election came, and a great day it was. Outside the Ninth
Ward we had passed beyond our hopes. That ward, though,—at least from
the first reports, and we paid slight attention to the later
ones,—remained, through Gunderson, sullen, incomprehensible,
uncommitted. And at night, the voting over, newspapers began to show
the bulletins as the ballots were counted and the returns came in. We
were at campaign headquarters and got the figures early.
The scattering returns were satisfactory. Through most of the district
they showed a gain for us over past encounters. The drift was all our
way, but it was not big enough to offset all contingencies. There was
nothing from the Ninth Ward yet. The counting was slow there.
It was eleven o'clock before the vote of any precinct from the Ninth
Ward came in. It stood as follows:
Harlson picked up the filled-out blank, glanced at it, and threw it
"It's some mistake," he said; "that precinct is one of the stiffest the
other way. Wait until we get more of them."
We waited, but not for long. The returns came fluttering in like
pigeons now. The second read:
There dawned a light upon me; but I said no word. I was interested in
watching Harlson's face. He was a trifle pale, despite his usual
self-control, and was noting the figures carefully. Added precincts
repeated the same story. Harlson would take up a return, glance at it,
compare it with another, and then examine a dozen of them together, for
once in his life he was taken unawares, and was at sea. He left the
table at length, lit a cigar, and came over to where I stood, leaning
against the wall.
"What does it mean, Alf? If those figures don't lie, the Ninth Ward
has swung as vigorously for us as it ever did against us. With an even
vote in the ward the chances were about even. Now, unless I'm
dreaming, we own the district."
"But how is it? What does it all mean?"
"I suppose it means that Gunderson is with you."
"But how can that be?"
"Were you at Mrs. Gorson's party?"
"Jean was there, though."
"So was Mrs. Gunderson."
The man's face was a study worth the scrutiny. For a moment or two he
uttered no word. The whole measurement of it was dawning on him. "The
little rhinoceros-bird!" he said, softly.
The room was thronged, and there was a roar of cheers. The issue was
decided beyond all question. The newspaper offices were flashing out
the fact from illuminated windows. There were shouting crowds upon the
streets. Hosts of people were grasping Harlson's hand. He had little
to say save to thank them in a perfunctory manner. He was in a hurry
to get home.
When I dined with Harlson the next day I hoped to learn some details,
but I was disappointed. Jean was herself a trifle radiant, perhaps,
for she remarked to me, apropos of nothing, and in the most casual way,
that men were dull, and Harlson had little to say. Judging from his
general demeanor, though, and the expression on his face, I would have
given something to know what he said to his wife when he reached home
the night before. Something no bachelor, I imagine, could comprehend.
And before the year ended Harlson had the Ninth Ward so that it
couldn't bolt him under any ordinary circumstances.
THEIR FOOLISH WAYS.
It is, as I have said so often, but the simple story of two friends of
mine I am trying to tell, but I wish I had more gift in that direction.
I wish I could paint, just as an artist with brush and colors
reproduces something, the home life in the house where much of my time
was spent. I can but give a mechanical idea of what it was, but to me
it was very pleasant.
A very shrewd politician Jean became, after the famous contest in which
the Ninth Ward aided us to victory, and we were accustomed to consult
her on the social bearings of many a struggle. In case she became too
arbitrary on any occasion Grant had fallen into the way of calling the
Ape, and asking him to remove her, whereupon the youth would carry off
his small mother in his arms and insist that, as he put it, from a
childhood expression, with a long "a," she "'have herself." There was
ever this quality of the whimsical about life in this home. And I am
inclined to believe that the world is better for such a flavor.
The children, were well grown now, the family was rounded out, and
Grant's mustache, gray when he was forty, was now grayer still, though
Jean's brown hair showed yet no glint of silver. I asked one day after
dinner, when we two were idling and smoking in the library, and Jean
was hovering about, if she hadn't a gray hair yet, and Grant said no,
without hesitation, though the lady herself seemed less assured. Then
happened a curious thing, at least to me. I asked Grant how he knew so
well, if even his wife, who, being a woman and fair to look upon, would
be naturally apprehensive of any change in aspect, could not tell if a
gray hair had come, and he but laughed at me. "Come here, Jean," he
She came and stood, beside him, close to me.
"Alf," said he, "I have a vast opinion of you, but there are some
things I imagine you do not comprehend. You should have blended your
life with that of some such creature as this, and you would have
developed a new faculty. Now I close my eyes. Ask me anything about
her—I don't mean about her dress, but about her head or hands, all you
can see of the real woman."
I accepted the challenge, and there was great sport, and a little-great
result. I made the inquest a most searching and minute affair. I
asked him to tell me if there were any mark upon the neck, near one
ear, and he described the precise locality and outline of a tiny brown
fleck, no larger than a pin's head. He told of any little dimple, of
any sweep of the downward growth of the brown hair, of any trifling
scar from childhood. And of her chin and neck he told the very
markings, in a way that was something wonderful. His eyes were closed,
and his face was turned away from us, but this made no difference. He
described to me even the character of the wonderful network in the
palms of her little hands. Then he opened his eyes and turned to me,
"You see how ignorant is a man of your sort. Having no world worth
speaking of, he knows nothing of geography."
I do not believe that even Jean herself knew, before, of how even the
physical being of her had been impressed upon the heart and brain of
this man. She listened curiously and wonderingly when, he was talking
with his eyes closed, and when he opened them and began his nonsense
with me she stood looking at him silently, then suddenly left the room.
It was a way of Jean's to flee to her own room for a little season when
something touched her, and I imagine this was one of the occasions.
She had known for long years how two souls could become knitted and
interwoven into one, but I do not believe that before this incident she
had ever comprehended how her physical self, as well, had become an
ever present picture upon the mind's retina of her lover and her
I am worried, and bothered. I am a man past middle age. I shall never
marry now, and shall but drift into a time of doing some little, I
hope, toward making things easier for some other men and some women,
and then—into a crematory. I have a fancy that my body, this machine
of flesh and muscle in which I live, should not be boxed and buried in
seeping earth to become a foul thing. That was an idea I learned from
this firm friend of mine. I want it burned, and all of it, save the
little urn full of white ashes which some one may care for, to go out
and mingle with the pure air, and there to be one of earth's good
things, and to be breathed in again and make part of the life of the
maple leaf, or the young girl going to school in the morning, or the
old-fashioned pinks in the front yard of the old-fashioned people, or
the red roses in the florist's hot-houses. I have that fancy.
I am worried because I, clumsy, dull-thinking man, cannot tell what I
wish to tell of a life I saw. I am worried because I cannot make
others understand it as it was. It seems to me it would do some good
in the world. It seems to me that many a man and woman, if they could
know about Grant and Jean, who really lived,—for this is but a tale of
fact,—would be now more loving and better men and women because of it.
But I do not know how to tell of what I saw and what I knew.
Grant was over sixty years old at this time of which I write, and I am
coming very near the end, and Jean was past forty, and the two were not
much different from what they were when I first saw them together. I
suppose it was partly because I had been with them so much that I did
not note the changes nature wrought in this pair of her children, but
certainly they were far younger than their years. They had found
together the only fountain of eternal youth which exists or ever will
exist upon this planet which threw off a barren moon and bred monsters
and, later, mastodons and apes, and finally made a specialty of men and
women. They laughed at time, and hoped for a future of souls after
this trial. I saw it with my eyes, I heard it with my ears, when they
spoke together. They were blended, and it made life worth the living.
What I learned conveyed to me new things. It taught me that all there
is in novels is not romance nor untrue. It taught me that a male and
female of this species of ours may meet, and from the two may come an
entity which is something very near divine. Why is it, I wonder, that
the right man and the right woman out of the hundreds of millions meet
so seldom at the fitting time, and that life is either so barren or so
jagged and hurtful because of the non-meeting of those who should be
mated? What a world this might be! Of course, though, there is some
higher thought, and it is all right in some way.
They were what you would call religious, Grant and Jean. They liked
the same church—it doesn't matter which it was—and attended
regularly, and worshiped without much regard for its more narrow
legends. They did not trouble themselves with the idea of the
everlasting punishment of babes, nor the fate of the untutored heathen.
They had, somehow, a simple idea that the human being who tried to do
right according to his or her views was all right as to the future.
They were not much in sympathy with what is called heretic-hunting.
They had each read the story of the gentle Nazarene, and had failed to
learn that there was more than one church—a church without either
spectacular effects or creed bickerings. A church of the group who, at
one time, clung to Him and His teachings, and so had shaped their
course. To them a narrow, grim old Presbyterian—were he but honest
and earnest according to his inherited brain and intelligence—might,
some time, a year or ten million years from now, be walking arm and arm
along the sidewalks of some glorious street of some New Jerusalem with
the Jesuit of to-day, honest and earnest according to his brain and his
intelligence. This is not reasoning. Was it a bad creed?
They were not afraid of old age as it came nearer, hour by hour and day
by day, these friends of mine. They had pondered of it much, of
course, for they were thoughtful people, and they had talked of it
doubtless many times, for there was little of which they thought that
the two did not reveal to each other in plain words; but they were not
troubled over the outlook. They seemed to realize that the flower is
no greater than what follows, that fruit is the sequel of all
fragrance, and that to those who reason rightly there is no difference
in the income of what is good in all the seasons of human being. I
remember well an incident of one evening.
We had been playing billiards, Grant and I. He had a table in his
house and had taught Jean how to play until she had become a terror,
though the Ape had nearly caught up with her in skill, and there was,
at this time, a great pretended struggle between them, and we had come
up into the library after a hard after-dinner game. Jean came in, and
we talked of various things, and looked at some old books, and,
somehow—I forget the connection—began talking of old age. It was in
the midst of our debate that Grant, after his insane way, suddenly
leaped up and, standing beside me as I sat, proceeded to make me an
oration. He talked of the friction of things and of the future of this
soul or mind of ours, concerning the luck of which we know so little.
And, while I may or may not have agreed with his general theories, I
did not disagree with the one that the autumn is as much a part of what
there is as is the spring, and that all trends toward a common end,
which must be for the best in some way we do not comprehend, because we
see, at least, enough to know that nature, wiser than we, makes no
mistakes. "The fruitage 'goes'!" Grant exclaimed larkingly, and then,
forgetting me for the moment, he caught up Jean, and, carrying her
gravely about, repeated to her these lines:
"Grow old, along with me;
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made!"
And they were at least exponents of the belief they had, and it was to
me an education and a comfort. I learned, what I could not profit by,
that a man and woman together are more than twice one man or twice one
woman, when the man and woman are the right two. It was like an
astronomer studying the sun. And what warmth and light there was to
I have tried in these rambling words to tell how these two people faced
the autumn and found it spring, since they were still together. I
wonder why I made the attempt? It is but a simple relation of certain
things which happened, yet I do not, somehow, get the pulse of it. It
must be because I have known the people all too well. My heart is so
much in what I try to say that I am not clear.
THE LAW OF NATURE.
Of what was the result of finally owning the Ninth Ward and the
district I have only to say that it, of course, added to the reputation
of one man—and of one woman as well, it may be added, for Jean in her
necessary social functions grew in her way with Grant; but otherwise it
made little difference. There was the family hegira to the capital,
and much enjoyment of the limited attractions of the semi-Ethiopian and
shabby but semi-magnificent city in a miasmatic valley, and it was, no
doubt, some education for the children. To Grant it was a fray, of
course, and to Jean it was enjoyment of his successes, and probably
more sorrow than he felt at his failures. The successes were the more
numerous. Jean herself never failed. She was an envied woman in the
social world. She was a strong man's wife, and possessed of all tact
and gentle wisdom in aiding him, but she was not a rival of the mere
self-advertisers among the queens of a shifting society. She could not
afford it, even had her inclination bent that way. She had absorbing
riches. They were a man and her children.
When I brightened up, because my friends were coming back to me, was
the great season of the year to me, as to them. When the family
returned from the capital and reoccupied the home there was rejoicing.
And what rioters we were! But once more, each time, it was said by
Grant, and by me as well, the battle must be fought, and so came
re-elections and the flittings. And, after all, it was good. It was
not the rusting in the sheath.
And it came that there was another gallant fight on. The city
Congressional district is not like the country one, where a man once
firmly in the saddle may stay there for a quarter of a century. The
city constituencies have the fault in make-up that their Congressmen
are not selected as those who will do best for the districts, but
because they have hands on the lever of some machine. Of course, there
are always exceptions, as in Grant's case, but the rule prevails. And
now there had been flung down the gauntlet of a clever adversary, and
the battle was a warm one.
We both enjoyed this contest, for, though the struggle was likely to be
sharp, we knew the issue was ours, from the beginning, and the whole
thing, as Grant said, was like a hunting trip. But how it ended!
He had been out much at night, for it was a large district and there
were many meetings, and had been as tireless as was usual with him.
His thought was never given much to the care of himself, and in this
campaign he appeared more than ordinarily reckless. Jean, watchful
ever, reproached him and made him change his ways a little. Perhaps it
was not all his fault that one day he felt ill. It was on the eve of
We carried the day as we had hoped, and easily, and there was a demand
for Harlson that night which could not be refused with grace. He was
compelled to speak, and in the open air of a chill November evening.
He told me he felt ill. When, late at night, we reached his home and
he found Jean awaiting him, he turned to me and said:
"It's all right, Alf. I'll be myself again by morning. I'm where all
that is good for me is, and should be well in no time. She will but
pass her hands above my head, and—there you are!"
And we parted, as carelessly as usual, and as I went home I was
speculating on what the revised returns would show the majority to be,
not as to the outcome of Grant Harlson's indisposition.
Jean sent for me the next morning. I found a look upon her face which
"Grant is not well," she said. "He came home late and spoke of an odd
feeling. We cared for him, but this morning he was listless and did
not want to dress and come to breakfast. He is in bed still. Please
go up and see him, and then come down to the library and tell me what
you think the matter is."
I went upstairs and found Grant lying in his bed and breathing heavily.
I shook him by the shoulder.
"What's the matter, old man?"
He turned over with an effort, though laughing. "I don't know," he
answered. "I only know I haven't been well since last night, and that
there is a queer feeling about my throat and chest. I ought to be up,
of course, but I'm listless and careless, somehow. By the way, what
were the totals?"
I gave him the figures, and he smiled, and then with an "Excuse me, old
man," turned his face to the wall. A moment later, as I sat watching
him, alarmed, he roused himself and turned toward me again. "Won't you
send Jean to me?" he asked.
I saw Jean, and she went upstairs, and when she came down her face was
white. The Ape, rugged young man as he was, had tears in his eyes, and
his brothers and sisters were crying quietly. I left the house, and an
hour later a physician, one of the most famous on the continent, was by
Grant Harlson's bedside. He was a personal friend of both of us. When
he came down his face was grave.
"What is it, Doctor?"
"It's pneumonia, and a bad case."
"What can we do?"
"Nothing, but to care for him and aid him with all hopefulness and
strength. He has vitality beyond one man in a thousand. He may throw
off all the incubus of it. But it has come suddenly and is growing."
Then he got mad in all his friendship, and blurted out: "Why didn't the
great blundering brute send for me when first he felt something he
couldn't meet nor understand?" And there were almost tears in his eyes.
The doctors have much to say about pneumonia. Doubtless they know of
what they talk, but pneumonia comes nevertheless, and defeats the
strong man and the doctors. The strong man it strangles. The doctors
it laughs at.
All that medical science could command was brought to the bedside of
Grant Harlson. The doctor, his friend, called in the wisest of
associates in consultation, and as for care—there was Jean! He was
cared for as the angels might care for a wandering soul. But the big
man in the bed tossed and muttered, and looked at Jean appealingly, and
grew worse. The strength seemed going from him at last—from him, the
bulwark of us all.
All that science could do was done. All that care could do was done,
but our giant weakened. The doctors talk of the croupous form of
pneumonia, and of some other form—I do not know the difference—but I
do know that this man had a great pain in his chest, and that his head
ached, and that he had alternate arctic chills and flames of fever.
His pulse was rapid, and he gasped as he breathed. Sometimes he would
become delirious, then weaker in the sane intervals. He would send us
from the room then, and call for Jean alone, and, when she
emerged—well—God help me!—I never want to see that awful look of
suspense and agony upon a human face again. It will stay with me until
I follow the roadway leading to my friends.
The doctor gave the sick man opiates or stimulants, as the case might
at any moment seem to need, and they had some slight effect; but there
came a shallower breathing, and the quilts tossed under the heaving of
the broad chest, fitfully. It reminded me in some strange way of the
imitation sea scenes at the theater, where a great cloth of some sort
is rocked and lifted to represent the waves. Only one lung was
congested in the beginning, but, later, the thing extended to each, and
the air-cells began filling, and the man suffered more and more. He
fought against it fiercely.
"Grant," said the doctor, after the administration of some strong
stimulant, "help us all you can. Cough! Force the air through those
huge lungs of yours, and see if you can't tear away that tissue which
is forming to throttle you!"
And Grant would summon all his strength, by no means yet exhausted, and
exert his will, and cough, despite the fearful pain of it; but the
human form held not the machinery to dislodge that growing web which
was filling the lung-chambers and cutting off, hour by hour, the oxygen
which makes pure blood and makes the being.
And the man who laughed at things grew weaker and weaker, and, though
he laughed still and was his old self and made us happy for a brief
interval, when he had not the fever and was clear-headed, and said that
it was nothing and that he would throw it off, we knew that there was
deadly peril. And one evening, when Grant was again delirious, the
doctor came to me and said there was very little hope.
What is the mood of fate? Must strong men die illogically? What does
it all mean, anyhow? About this I am but blind and reasonless. I wish
I knew! The world is more than hollow to me, yet I have a hope, I'll
say that. There was some one very like Jean, one whom I loved and who
loved me, thirty years ago. Will she and I meet some day, I wonder?
And what will she be to me then? I suppose I have the philosophy and
endurance of the average man; but this is, with any doubt, a black
world at times, and one in which there is no good. The breaking of
heart-strings mars all music. I am alone and dull and wondering, and
in a blind revolt. Why should all things change so, and what is this
death which comes? There must be some future world. If there be not,
what a failure is all the brutal material scheme.
One day Grant was clear of head, but weaker, and talked with me long of
"I'm afraid I can't fight it out after all," he said, "though you
mustn't let Jean and the children know that yet."
We talked more of what I should do if the worst came, and then he sent
for the children. He addressed himself to the Ape first, the brave
boy's eyes full of tears and his whole body trembling as he listened:
"My boy, you are hardly a man yet, but I know your manliness. If I
cannot stay with you, you will become the practical head of the family.
Make them all proud of you. And care for your mother always as you
would for your own life or whatever is greatest." Then he called the
others to him:
"You heard what I just said. I spoke to the Ape only because he is
oldest. Remember that I have said this thing to all of you. I needn't
say it, I know—my blessed boys and girls—you understand. But live
for your little mother always."
I cannot describe what those young people said or did. It was most
pitiful. It was brave and sweet, too. But they would not let their
father die. He must not! They could not face the fact.
Jean came then, and we three were left alone for a time. She sat
beside the bed, for he wanted his hand in hers when possible, and he
"Jean, I don't know. There must be another world, as we have trusted.
The great Power that fitted us to each other so will surely bring us
together again. Let us look at it that way. We'll imagine that I'm
only going to the country, and that you are to join me. That is all.
I know it. God knows. He will adjust it somehow."
Jean did not answer. She but clasped his hand and looked into his
face. I feared she would die of a bursting heart. From that time till
the end she never left his bedside.
Murderous Death has certain kindnesses in his killings. Just before
the end is peace. The struggles of this strong man became something
fearful as the lungs congested, and the most powerful of anti-pyretics
ceased to have effect, and then came the peace which follows nature's
virtual surrender, the armistice of the moment. What trick of
reversion to first impressions comes, and what causes it, none have yet
explained, but long before the time of Falstaff men, dying, had babbled
o' green fields. Grant Harlson, now, was surely dying. The physicians
had warned us all, and we were all about his bedside. As for me, thank
God, the tears could come as they did to the children. But there were
none upon the cheeks of Jean. Her sweet face was as if of stone;
whiter than that of the man in the bed.
The convulsions had ceased, but his mind was wandering and his speech
was rambling. It was easy to tell of what he was thinking. He was a
little boy in the woodland home with his mother again, and was telling
her delightedly of what he had seen and found, and of the yellow
mandrake apples he had stored in a hollow log. She should help him eat
them. And then the scene would shift, and he was older, and we were
together in the fields. He called to me excitedly to take the dog to
the other side of the brush-heap, for the woodchuck was slipping
through that way! There was the old merry ring in his voice, and I
knew where he was and how there came to him, in fancy, the sweet
perfumes of the fields, and how his eyes, which were opened wide but
saw us not, were blessed with all the greenness and the glory of the
summer of long ago. Then his manner changed, and the word "Jean" came
softly to his lips, and again I knew they were camping out together,
and he was teaching to his wife the pleasant mysteries of the forest,
and all woodcraft. There was love in his tones and in his features.
The breast of the woman holding his hand heaved, and the pallor on her
face grew more.
There was another struggle for breath, then a desperate one, and with
its end came consciousness. Grant smiled and spoke faintly:
"It must he pretty near the end. I am very tired. Jean, darling, get
closer to me. Kiss me."
She leaned over and kissed him passionately. He smiled again, then
feebly took one of her little hands in each of his and lifted them to
his face and kissed them; then held them down upon his eyes. There was
a single heave of his great chest, and he was dead.
And the woman who fell to the floor was, apparently, as lifeless as the
silent figure on the bed.
She was not dead. We carried her to her own room—hers and his, with
the dressing-rooms attached—and she woke at last to a consciousness of
her world bereft of one human being who had been to her nearly all
there was. She was not as we had imagined she would be when she
recovered. She was not hysterical, nor did she weep. She was
singularly quiet. But that set, thoughtful look had never left her
face. She seemed some other person. I talked to her of what was to be
done. What a task that was, for I could scarcely utter words myself.
She suddenly brightened when I spoke of the crematory and what Grant's
"It must be as he wished," she said—"as he wished, in each small
detail." Then she said no more, and all the rest was left to me.
She was quiet and grave at the funeral of her husband and my friend.
She shed no tears; she uttered not a word. She listened quietly while
I told her how I had arranged to carry out all his wishes about
himself, or, rather, about his tenement. She did not accompany me.
There came with me on that journey only the Ape, who was red of eye and
vainly trying to conceal it all. How the youth was suffering!
I came to the home one day with an urn of bronze. There were only
ashes in it, clean and white. Jean looked at them and asked me to go
away. The urn was put, at her request, in her own apartments. It was
sealed and stood upon a mantel of the room in which she slept. I do
not believe she thought much of the ashes as representing the man who
had gone away from her. She may have thought of them as precious, just
as she did of a pair of gloves she had mended for him just before his
illness, and which she kept always with her, but I believe that of the
ashes, as of the gloves, she thought only of what her love had used in
life and left behind. That was the total of it. It was the heart, the
soul, the knowing of her that was gone.
How the Ape, how all the children cared for the small mother now!
Never was woman more watched, and guarded and waited upon. She
recognized it all, too, but said very little. Her soft hands would
stroke the forehead of her first-born, or of her eldest daughter, or of
any of the offspring of the two, the product of their love, and she
would tell them that she was glad they were so good, but, gentle and
thoughtful as she was, there was something lacking. She seemed in
I talked to Jean. I tried to be a philosopher, to tell her of the
children and of the broadness of life, and that she must drift into it
again. She was kind and courteous as of old with me, but it was
somehow not the same. And she grew weaker day by day, and would lie
for hours, the children told me, in the room where Grant and she had
been together all those years.
How can I tell of it! Jean, who had become my sister, who was part of
Grant Harlson, drifted away before my eyes! It was harder, almost, for
us than the fierce fight with death of the one who had been the
mainstay of us all. Somehow, we knew she was going to leave us, and
the grief of the children was something terrible. She listened to them
and was kind to them, wildly affectionate at times, but she lapsed ever
into the same strange apathy. We had the best physicians again. I
talked with one of them. "What shall we do?" I asked.
He was a great man, a successful one, a man above the rut, and he
"I cannot advise. The mind governs the body beyond us sometimes,—very
often, I imagine. She does not want to live. That is all I can say.
Drugs are not in the treatment of the case."
She grew thinner and thinner and more listless, and finally, one day,
the Ape came to my office and said his mother had not left her room for
a day or two. I went with him to the home which had been almost as my
I was admitted to Jean's room as a matter of course. I was one of the
household. She was lying upon a great sofa, one Grant had liked. I
asked her to tell me what to do.
She was calm and quiet as she answered. "There is nothing," she said.
Then suddenly she seemed to be the Jean I had known one time. She
raised herself up: "Alf, you were very close to us. Cannot you see?"
She began another sentence, then stopped suddenly, and only smiled at
me and said I was the nest friend ever two people had in all this
world. She still spoke of two people. As if Grant were with us still!
How can one tell of the fading of a lily. No one ever told of it all.
One day they sent for me, and when I came the sweetest woman lay upon
her couch! She had talked with her children much that day, and told
them many things—of plannings for their futures. She had, for the
first time, told them of all their father had designed, or hoped, or
guessed for each of them. And they had been very happy, and thought
she would recover. And she had slept peacefully, and had not awakened.
I looked upon her face, and the smile upon it was something wonderful.
It was one of the things which makes me believe there is some great
story to it. There was none with her but her youngest daughter when
she left us, and the child could not tell when worlds were touching.
But upon that face was the expression which tells of what is all
beyond. I do believe that, even before she quitted her earthly frame,
dear Jean knew that she had found Grant again.
Why have I told this story of two people, which is no story at all, but
only what I know of what has happened to those closest to me? There is
no more of it. It ends with the deaths of them, and yet I do not know
that it is sad. They lived and loved and died. They had more
happiness than comes to one-half humanity. Their life was of the gold
of what is the inner life of the better ones of this great new nation
of a new continent. They lived and loved, and their children live, and
will be good men and women.
* * * * * *
I cannot understand the problem. No learning clears it. I only know
that there were Grant and I, that there were bees and perfumes, and
wild, boyish delights, and the older life, and the feverish life of a
city, and the rare, great love I looked upon.