Arcadia in Avernus by Will Lillibridge
For they have sown the wind, and
they shall reap the whirlwind.
Silence, the silence of double doors and of padded walls was upon
the private room of the down-town office. Across the littered,
ink-stained desk a man and a woman faced each other. Threads of gray
lightened the hair of each. Faint lines, delicate as pencillings,
marked the forehead of the woman and radiated from the angles of her
eyes. A deep fissure unequally separated the brows of the man, and on
his shaven face another furrow added firmness to the mouth. Their eyes
met squarely, without a motion from faces imperturbable in middle age
and knowledge of life.
The man broke silence slowly.
You mean, he hesitated, what that would seem to mean?
Why not? A shade of resentment was in the answering voice.
But you're a woman
The note of resentment became positive. What difference does that
It ought to. The man spoke almost mechanically. You took oath
before man and higher than man
The woman interrupted him shortly.
Another took oath with me and broke it. She leaned gracefully
forward in the big chair until their eyes met. I'm no longer bound.
I love you! she interjected.
The man's eyebrows lifted.
Love? he inflected.
Yes, love. What is love but good friendshipand sex?
The man was silent.
A strong white hand slid under the woman's chin and her elbow met
I meant what you thought, she completed slowly.
But I cannot
It destroys all my ideas of things. Your promise to another
I say he's broken his promise to me.
But your being a woman
Why do you expect more of me because I'm a woman? Haven't I
feelings, rights, as well as you who are a man? She waited until he
looked up. I ask you again, won't you come?
The man arose and walked slowly back and forth across the narrow
room. At length he stopped by her chair.
In swift motion his companion stood up facing him.
Don't you wish to? she challenged.
The hand of the man dropped in outward motion of deprecation.
The question is useless. I'm human.
Why shouldn't we do what pleases us, then? The voice was
insistent. What is life for if not for pleasure?
Would it be pleasure, though? Wouldn't the future hold for us more
of pain than of pleasure?
No, never. The words came with a slowness that meant finality.
Why need to-morrow or a year from now be different from to-day unless
we make it so?
But it would change unconsciously. We'd think and hate ourselves.
For what reason? Isn't it Nature that attracts us to each other and
can Nature be wrong?
We can't always depend upon Nature, commented the man absently.
That's an artificial argument, and you know it. A reprimand was in
her voice. If you can't depend upon Nature to tell you what is right,
what other authority can you consult?
But Nature has been perverted, he evaded.
Isn't it possible your judgment instead is at fault?
It can't be at fault, here. The voice was neutral as before.
Something tells us both it would be wrongto doas we want to do.
Once more they sat down facing each other, the desk between them as
Artificial convention, I tell you again. In motion graceful as
nature the woman extended her hand, palm upward, on the polished desk
top. How could we be other than right? What do we mean by right,
anyway? Is there any judge higher than our individual selves, and don't
they tell us pleasure is the chief aim of life and as such must be
The muscles at the angle of the man's jaw tightened involuntarily.
But pleasure is not the chief end of life.
What is, then?
Evolution to what? she insisted.
That we cannot answer as yet. Future generations must and will give
It's for this then that you deny yourself? A shade almost of
contempt was in the questioning voice.
The taunt brought no change of expression to the man's face.
The woman walked over to a bookcase, and, drawing out a volume,
turned the pages absently. Without reading a word, she came back and
looked the man squarely in the face.
Will denying yourself help the world to evolve?
I think so.
My determination makes me a positive force. It is my Karma for
good, that makes my child stronger to do things.
But you have no child,swiftly.
Their eyes met again without faltering.
I shall havesometime.
Silence fell upon them.
Where were you a century ago? digressed the woman.
I wasn't born.
Where will your child be a hundred years from now?
Dead likewise, probably; but the force for good, the Karma of the
life, will be passed on and remain in the world.
Unconsciously they both rose to their feet.
Was man always on the earth? she asked.
The question was answered almost before spoken.
Will he always be here?
Science says 'no.'
The woman came a step forward until they almost touched.
What then becomes of your life of denial? she challenged.
You make it hard for me, said the man, simply.
But am I not right? She came toward him passionately. I come near
you, and you start. She laid her hand on his. I touch you, and your
eyes grow warm. Both our hearts beat more quickly. Look at the
sunshine! It's brighter when we're so close together. What of life?
It's soon goneand then? What of convention that says 'no'? It's but a
farce that gives the same thing we askat the price of a few words of
mummery. Our strongest instincts of nature call for each other. Why
shouldn't we obey them when we wish? She hesitated, and her voice
became tender. We would be very happy together. Won't you come?
The man broke away almost roughly.
Don't you know, he demanded, it's madness for us to be talking
like this? We'll be taking it seriously, and then
The woman made a swift gesture of protest.
Don't. Let's be honestwith each other, at least. I'm tired of
pretending to be other than I am. Why did you say 'being true to my
husband'? You know it's mockery. Is it being true to live with a man I
hate because man's law demands it, rather than true to you whom
Nature's law sanctions? Don't speak to me of society's right and wrong!
I despise it. There is no other tribunal than Nature, and Nature says
The man sat down slowly and dropped his head wearily into his hands.
I say again, I cannot. I respect you too much. We're intoxicated
now being together. In an hour, after we're separate
She broke in on him passionately.
Do you think a woman says what I have said on the spur of the
moment? Do you think I merely happened to see you to-day, merely
happened to say what I've said? You know better. This has been coming
for months. I fought it hard at first; with convention, with your idea
of right and wrong. Now I laugh at them both. Life is life, and short,
and beyond is darkness. Think what atoms we are; and we struggle so
hard. Our life that seems to us so shortand so long! A thousand,
perhaps ten thousand such, end to end, and we have the life of a world.
And what is that? A cycle! A thing self-created, self-destructive: then
of human lifenothingness. Oh, it's humorous! Our life, a ten
thousandth part of that nothingness; and so full of tinygreat
struggles and worries! She was silent a moment, her throat trembling,
a multitude of expressions shifting swiftly on her face.
Do you believe in God? she questioned suddenly.
I hardly know. There must be
Don't you suppose, then, He's laughing at us now? She hesitated
again and then went on, almost unconsciously. I had a dream a few
nights ago. The voice was low and very soft. It seemed I was alone in
a desert place, and partial darkness was about me. I was conscious only
of listening and wondering, for out of the shadow came sounds of human
suffering. I waited with my heart beating strangely. Gradually the
voices grew louder, until I caught the meaning of occasional words and
distinctly saw coming toward me the figure of a man and a woman bearing
a great burden, a load so great that both together bent beneath the
weight and sweat stood thick upon their brows. The edges of the burden
were very sharp so that the hands of the man and the woman bled from
the wounds and their shoulders were torn grievously where the load had
shifted: those of the woman more than the man, for she bore more of the
weight. I marvelled at the sight.
Suddenly an intense brightness fell about me and I saw, near and
afar, other figures each bearing similar burdens. The light passed
away, and I drew near the man and questioned him.
'What rough load is that you carry?' I asked.
'The burden of conventionality,' answered the man, wearily and with
a note of surprise in his voice.
'Why do you bear it needlessly?' I remonstrated.
'We dare not drop it,' said the woman, hopelessly, 'lest that
light, which is the searchlight of public opinion, return, showing us
different from the others.'
Even as she spoke the illumination again fell upon us, and by its
brightness I saw a drop of blood gather slowly from the wounds on the
woman's hand and fall into the dust at her feet.
A silence fell upon the inmates of the tiny muffled office.
But the burden isn't useless, said the man, gently. The
condemnation of society is an hourly reality. From the patronage of
others we live. The sun burns us, but we submit, for in return it gives
The woman arose with an abrupt movement, and looked down at him
Are you a man, and use those arguments? An expression akin to
contempt formed about her mouth. Are you afraid of a united voice the
individuals of which you despise?
The first hint of restrained passion was in the answering voice.
You taunt me in safety, for you know I love you. He looked up at
her unhesitatingly. Man's law is artificial, that I know; but it's
made for conditions which are artificial, and for such it's right. Were
we as in the beginning, Nature's law, which beside the law of man is no
law, would be right; but we're of the world as it is now. Things are as
they are, and we must conform or pay the price. He hesitated. His face
settled back into a mask. And that price of non-conformity is too
high, he completed steadily.
The eyes of the woman blazed and her hands tightened convulsively.
Oh, you're frozenfossilized, man! I called you man! You're not a
man at all, but a nineteenth century machine! You're run like a motor,
from a power house; by the force of conventional thought, over wires of
red tape. Fie on you! I thought to meet a human being, not a lifeless
thing. She looked at him steadily, her chin in the air, a world of
scorn in her face. Go on sweating beneath the useless load! Go on
building your structure of artificiality that ends centuries from now
in nothingness! Here's happiness to you in your empty life of
self-effacement, with your machine prompted acts, years considered!
Without looking at him, one hand made scornful motion of dismissal.
Good-bye, ghost of man; I wash my hands of you.
Wait, Eleanor! The man sprang to his feet, the mask lifting from
his face, and there stood revealed a multitude of emotions, unseen of
the world, that flashed from the depths of his brown eyes and quivered
in the angles of his mouth. He came quickly over and took her hand
between his own.
I'm proud of you,a world of tenderness was in his
voiceunspeakably proudfor I love you. I've done my best to keep us
apart, yet all the time I believed with you. Nature is higher than man,
and no power on earth can prove it otherwise. He looked into the
softest of brown eyes, and his voice trembled. Beside you the world is
nothing. Its approval or its condemnation are things to be laughed at.
With you I challenge conventionalitysocietyeverything. He bent
over her hand almost reverently and touched it softly with his lips.
Farewelluntil I come, he said.
CHAPTER IITHE LEAP
A man and a woman emerged from the dilapidated day-car as it drew up
before the tiny, sanded station which marked the terminus of the
railway. The man was tall, clean-shaven, quick of step and of glance.
The woman was likewise tall, well-gloved, and, strange phenomenon at a
country station, carried no parcels.
Though easily the centre of attention, the couple were far from
being alone. On the contrary, the car and platform fairly swarmed with
humanity. Men mostly composed the throng that alightedbig,
weather-stained fellows in rough jeans and denims. In the background,
as spectators moved or lounged a sprinkling of others: thinner,
lighter, enveloped in felt, woollen and buckskin, a fringe of heavy
hair peeping out at their backs beneath the broad hat-brims. A few
women were intermingled. Coarsely gowned, sun-browned, they stood;
themselves like suns, but each the centre of a system of bleach-haired
minor satellites. It was into this heterogeneous mass that the tall man
elbowed his way, a neat grip in either hand; the woman following
closely in his wake, her skirts carefully lifted.
Clear of the out-flowing stream the man put down the satchels, and
looked over the heads of the motley crowd into the still more motley
street beyond. Two short rows of one-story buildings, distinctive by
the brightness of new lumber on their sheltered side, bordered a narrow
street, half clogged by the teams of visiting farmers. Not the faintest
clue to a hostelry was visible, and the eyes of the man wandered back,
interrupting by the way another pair of eyes frankly inquisitive.
The curious one was short; by comparison his face was still shorter,
and round. From his chin a tiny tuft of whiskers protruded, like the
handle of a gourd. Never was countenance more unmistakably labelled
good-humored, Americanized German.
The eyes of the tall man stopped.
Is there a hotel in thishe groped for a classificationthis
city? he asked.
A rattling sound, startlingly akin to the agitated contents of
over-ripe vegetables, came from somewhere in the internal mechanism of
the small man. Inferentially, the inquiry was amusing to the
questioned, likewise the immediately surrounding listeners who became
suddenly silent, gazing at the stranger with the wonder of young
At length the innate spirit of courtesy in the German triumphed over
Hans Becher up by the postoffice takes folks in. The inward
commotion showed indications of resumption. I never heard, though,
that he called his place a hotel!
Thank you, and the circle of silence widened.
The man and the woman walked up the street. Beneath their feet the
cottonwood sidewalk, despite its newness, was warped in agony under sun
and storm. Big puddles of water from a recent rain stood in the hollows
of the roadway, side by side with tufts of native grasses fighting
bravely for life against the intruderMan. A fresh, indescribable odor
was in their nostrils; an odor which puzzled them then, but which later
they learned to recognize and never forgotthe pungent scent of
buffalo grass. A stillness, deeper than of Sabbath, unbelievable to
urban ears, wrapped all things, and united with an absence of broken
sky line, to produce an all-pervading sense of loneliness.
Hans Becher did not belie his name. He was very German. Likewise the
little woman who courtesied at his side. Ditto the choice assortment of
inquisitive tow-heads, who stared wide-eyed from various corners. He
shook hands at the door with each of his guests,which action also was
You would in my houseput up, you call it? he inquired in labored
English, while the little woman polished two speckless chairs with her
apron, and with instinctive photographic art placed them stiffly side
by side for the visitors.
Yes, we'd like to stay with you for a time, corroborated the tall
The little German ran his fingers uncertainly through his hair for a
moment; then his round face beamed.
We should then become to each other known. Is it not so? Without
pausing for an answer, he put out a big hand to each in turn. I am
Hans Becher, and thiswith elaborate indicationsthis my wife
Minna courtesied dutifully, lower than before. The little Bechers
were not classified, but their connection was apparent. They calmly
sucked their thumbs.
The lords of creation obviously held the rostrum. It was the tall
man who responded.
My name is Maurice, Ichabod Maurice. He looked at the woman, his
companion, from the corner of his eye. Allow me, Camilla, to present
Mr. Becher. Then turning to his hosts, Camilla Maurice: Mr. and Mrs.
The tall lady shook hands with each.
Pleased to meet you, she said, and smiled a moment into their
eyes. Thus Camilla Maurice made friends.
There were a few low-spoken words in German and Minna vanished.
She will dinner make ready, Hans explained.
The visitors sat down in their chairs, with Hans opposite studying
them narrowly; singly and together.
The town is very new, suggested Ichabod.
One year ago it was not. The German's short legs crossed each
other nervously and their owner seized the opportunity to make further
inspection. It is very new, he repeated absently.
Camilla Maurice stood up.
Might we wash, Mr. Becher? she asked.
The ultimate predicament was all at once staring the little man in
To be sure.... I might have known.... You will a roomdesire. ...
He ran his fingers through his hair, and inspiration came. Mr.
Maurice, he motioned, might I a moment with youspeak?
Certainly, Mr. Becher.
The German saw light, and fairly beamed as he sought the safe
seclusion of the doorway.
She is your sister or cousinnein? he asked.
There was the faintest suggestion of a smile in the corners of
No, she is neither my sister nor my cousin, Mr. Becher.
Hans heaved a sigh of relief: it had been a close corner.
She is your wife. One must know, and he mopped his brow.
Certainlyone must know, very soberly.
Alone together in the little unfinished room under the rafters, the
woman sat down on the corner of the bed, physical discomfort forgotten
in feminine curiosity.
Those nameswhere did you get them? she queried.
They came to meat the moment, smiled the man.
But the cold-blooded horror of them!... Ichabod!
The glory has departed.
His companion started, and the smile left the man's face.
Attendant at a sacrifice.
Of a sudden the room became very still.
Ichabod, exploring, discovered a tiny wash basin and a bucket of
You wished to wash, Camilla?
The woman did not move.
They were very kindshe looked through the window with the tiny
panes: have we any right tolie to them?
We have not lied.
No. I'm Ichabod Maurice and you're Camilla Maurice. We have not
The past is dead, dead!
The woman's face dropped into her hands. Woman ever weeps
instinctively for the dead.
You are sorry that it isso? There was no bitterness in the man's
voice, but he did not look at her, and Camilla misunderstood.
Sorry! She came close, and a soft warm face pressed tightly
against his face. Sorry! Her arms were around him. Sorry! again
repeated. No! No! No! No, without end! I'm not sorry. I'm Camilla
Maurice, the happiest woman in the world!
Later they utilized the tin basin and the mirror with a crack across
its centre. Dinner was waiting when they went below.
To a casual observer, Hans had been very idle while they were gone.
He sat absently on the doorstep, watching the grass that grew almost
visibly in the warm spring sun. Occasionally he tapped his forehead
with his finger tips. It helped him to think, and just now he sadly
Who were these people, anyway? he wondered. Not farmers,
certainly. Farmers did not have hands that dented when you pressed
them, and farmers' wives did not lift their skirts daintily from
behind. Hans had been very observant as his visitors came up the muddy
street. No, that was not the way of farmers' wives: they took hold at
the sides with both hands, and splashed right through on their heels.
Hans pulled the yellow tuft on his chin. What could they be, then?
Not summer boarders. It was only early spring; and, besides, although
the little German was an optimist, even he could not imagine any one
selecting a Dakota prairie for an outing. Yet ... No, they could not be
But what then? In his intensity Hans actually forgot the grass and,
unfailing producer of inspiration, ran his fingers frantically through
Ahat lastof course! The round face beamed and a hard hand
smote a harder knee, joyously. That he had not remembered at once! It
was the new banker, to be sure. He would tell Minna, quite as a matter
of fact, for there could be no mistake. Hank Judge, the machine agent,
and Eli Stevens, the proprietor of the corner store, had said only
yesterday there was to be a bank. Looking up the street the little man
spied a familiar figure, and sprang to his feet as though released by a
spring, his hand already in the air. There was Hank Judge, now, and he
Dinner, Hans, announced Minna at his elbow.
Holding the child of his brain hard in both hands lest it should
escape prematurely, the little German went inside to preside over a
repast, the distinctively German incense of which ascended most
Hans, junior, in a childish treble, spoke an honest little German
blessing, beginning Mein Vater von Himmel, and emphasized by
the raps of Hans senior's knuckles on certain other small heads to keep
their owners quiet.
Fresh lettuce and radishes! commented Camilla, joyously.
Raised in our own garden hinein, bobbed Minna, in ecstasy.
And sauerkraut began Ichabod.
From cabbages so large, completed Hans, spreading his arms to
designate an imaginary vegetable of heroic proportions.
They must have grown very fast to be so large in May, commented
Hans and Minna exchanged glancespitying, superior glancessuch as
we give behind the backs of the infirm, or the very old; and the
subject of vegetables dropped.
A great country for a bank, this, commented Mr. Becher, with
infinite finesse and between intermittent puffs at a hot potato.
Is that so?
Hans nodded violent confirmation, then words, English words, being
valuable to him, he came quickly to the test.
You will build for the bank yourself, is it not so?
It was not the German and Minna who exchanged glances this time.
No, I shall not build for the bank myself, Mr. Becher.
You will rent, perhaps? Hans's faith was beautiful.
No, I shall not rent.
The German's face fell. To have wasted all that thought; for after
all it was not the banker!
Minna, senior, stared in surprise, and her attention being diverted,
Minna the younger seized the opportunity to inundate herself with a cup
of hot coffee.
The spell was broken.
I'm going to take a homestead, explained Ichabod.
Hans's fork paused in mid-air and his mouth forgot to close. At the
point where the German struck, the earth was very hard.
So? he interrogated, weakly.
At this juncture the difference between the two Minnas, which had
been transferred from the table to the kitchen, was resumed; and
although Ichabod ate the remaining kraut to the last shred, and Camilla
talked to Hans of the Vaterland in his native German, each knew
the occasion was a failure. An ideal had been raised, the ideal of a
Napoleon of finance, a banker; and that ideal materializing, lo there
stood forth a farmer! Ach Gott von Himmel!
After dinner Hans stood in the doorway and pointed out the
land-office. Ichabod thanked him, and under the impulse of habit felt
in his pocket for a cigar. None was there, and all at once he
remembered Ichabod Maurice did not smoke. Strange he should have such
an abominable inclination to do so just then; but nevertheless the fact
remained. Ichabod Maurice never had smoked.
He started up the street.
A small man, with very high boots and a very long moustache, sat
tipped back in the sun in front of the land-office. He was telling a
story; a good one, judging from the attention of the row of listeners.
He grasped the chair tightly with his left hand while his right,
holding a cob pipe, gesticulated actively. The story halted abruptly as
Ichabod came up.
Howdy! greeted the little man.
Don't let me interrupt you, he temporized.
Not at all, courtesied the teller of stories, as he led the way
inside. I've told that one until I'm tired of it, anyway. He tapped
the ashes from his pipe-bowl, meditatively. A fellow has to kill the
time some way, though, you know.
Yes, I know, acquiesced Ichabod.
The agent took a chair behind the battered pine desk, and pointed to
Any way I can help you? he suggested.
Yes, answered Maurice. I'm thinking of taking a homestead.
The agent looked his visitor up and down and back again; then, being
native born, his surprise broke forth in idiom.
Well, I'm jiggered! he avowed.
It was Ichabod's turn to make observation.
I believe you; you look it, he corroborated at length.
Again the little man stared; and in the silence following, a
hungry-looking bird-dog thrust his thin muzzle in at the door, and
Get out, shouted the owner at the intruder, adding in extenuation:
I'm busy. He certainly was jiggered.
Ichabod came to the rescue.
I called to learn how one goes at it to take a claim, he
explained. The modus operandi isn't exactly clear in my mind.
The agent braced up in his chair.
I suppose you'll say it's none of my business, he commented, but
as a speculation you'd do a lot better to buy up the claims of poor
cusses who have to relinquish, than to settle yourself.
I'm not speculating. I expect to build a house, and live here.
As a friend, then, let me tell you you'll never stand it. A stubby
thumb made motion up the narrow street. You see this town. I won't say
what it isyou realize for yourself; but bad as it is, it's advanced
civilization alongside of the country. You'll have to go ten miles out
to get any land that's not taken. He stopped and lit his pipe. Do you
know what it means to live alone ten miles out on the prairie?
I've never lived in the country.
I'll tell you, then, what it means. He put down his pipe and
looked out at the open door. His face changed; became softer, milder,
younger. His voice, when he spoke, added to the impression of
reminiscence, bearing an almost forgotten tone of years ago.
The prairie! he apostrophized. It means the loneliest place on
God's earth. It means that living there, in life you bury yourself,
your hopes, your ambitions. It means you work ever to forget the
pastand fail. It means self, always; morning, noon, night; until the
very solitude becomes an incubus. It means that in time you die, or,
from being a man, become as the cattle. The speaker turned for the
first time to the tall man before him, his big blue eyes wide open and
round, his voice an entreaty.
Don't move into it, man. It's death and worse than death to such as
you! You're too old to begin. One must be born to the life; must never
have known another. Don't do it, I say.
Ichabod Maurice, listening, read in that appeal, beneath the words,
the wild, unsatisfied tale of a disappointed human life.
You are dissatisfied, lonesomeThere was a time years ago
I don't know. The glow had passed and the face was old again, and
heavy. I remember nothing. I'm dead, dead. He drew a rough map from
his pocket and spread it out before him.
If you'll move close, please, I'll show you the open lands.
For an hour he explained homesteads, preemptions and tree claims,
and the method of filing and proving up. At parting, Ichabod held out
I thank you for your advice, he said.
The man behind the desk puffed stolidly.
But don't intend to follow it, he completed.
Instinctively, metaphor sprang to the lips of Ichabod Maurice.
A small speck of circumstance, which is near, obliterates much that
is in the distance. He turned toward the door. I shall not be alone.
The little agent smoked on in silence for some minutes, gazing
motionless at the doorway through which Ichabod had passed out. Again
the lean bird-dog thrust in an apologetic head, dutifully awaiting
recognition. At length the man shook his pipe clean, and leaned back in
Man, woman, human nature; habit, solitude, the prairie. He spoke
each word slowly, and with a shake of his head. He's mad, mad; but I
pity hima pausefor I know.
The dog whined an interruption from the doorway, and the man looked
Come in, boy, he said, in recognition.
CHAPTER IIITHE WONDER OF PRAIRIE
Ichabod and Camilla selected their claim together. A fair day's
drive it was from the little town; a half-mile from the nearest
neighbor, a Norwegian, without two-score English words in his
vocabulary. Level it was, as the surface of a lake or the plane of a
Together, too, they chose the spot for their home. Camilla sobbed
over the word; but she was soon dry-eyed and smiling again. Afterwards,
side by side, they did much journeying to and from the nearest
sawmilleach trip through a day and a nightthirty odd miles away.
The mill was a small, primitive affair, almost lost in the straggling
box-elders and soft maples that bordered the muddy Missouri, producing,
amid noisy protestations, the most despisable of all lumber on the face
of the globetwisting, creeping, crawling cottonwood.
Having the material on the spot, Ichabod built the house himself,
after a plan never before seen of man; joint product of his and
Camilla's brains. It took a month to complete; and in the meantime,
each night they threw their tired bodies on the brown earth,
indifferent to the thin canvas, which alone was spread between them and
Too utterly weary for immediate sleep, they listened to the sounds
of animal lifewholly unfamiliar to ears urban trainedas they stood
out distinct by contrast with a silence otherwise absolute as the
... The sharp bark of the coyote, near or far away; soft as an echo,
the gently cadenced tremolo of the prairie owl. To these, the mere
opening numbers of the nightly concerts, the two exotics would listen
wonderingly; then, of a sudden, typical, indescribable, lonely as
death, there would boom the cry which, as often as it was repeated,
recalled to Ichabod's mind the words of the little man in the
land-office, loneliest sound on earththe sound which, once heard,
remains forever vividthe night call of the prairie rooster. Even now,
new and fascinating as it all was, at the last wailing cry the two
occupants of the tent would reach out in the darkness until their hands
met. Not till then would they sleep.
In May, they finished and moved their few belongings into the odd
little two-room house. True to instinct, Ichabod had built a fireplace,
though looking in any direction until the earth met the sky, not a tree
was visible; and Camilla had added a cozy reading corner, which soon
developed into a sleeping corner,out-of-door occupations in sun and
wind being insurmountable obstacles to mental effort.
But what matter! One straggling little folio, the local newspaper,
made its way into the corner each weekand that was all. They had cut
themselves off from the world, deliberately, irrevocably. It was but
natural that they should sleep. All dead things sleep!
Month after month slipped by, and the first ripple of local
excitement and curiosity born of their advent subsided. Ichabod knew
nothing of farming, but to learn was simple. It needed only that he
watch what his neighbors were doing, and proceed to do likewise. He
learned soon to hold a breaking-plough in the tough prairie sod, and to
swear mightily when it balked at an unusually tough root. As well, he
came to know the oily feel of flax as he scattered it by hand over the
brown breaking. Later he learned the smell of buckwheat blossoms, and
the delicate green coloring of sod corn, greener by contrast with its
Nor was Camilla idle. The dresses she had brought with her, dainty
creations of foreign make, soon gave way to domestic productions of
gingham and print. In these, the long brown hands neatly gloved, she
struggled with a tiny garden, becoming in ratio as passed the weeks,
warmer, browner, and healthier.
Are you happy? asked Ichabod, one day, observing her thus amid the
fruits of her hands.
Camilla hesitated. Catching her hand, Ichabod lifted her chin so
that their eyes met.
Tell me, are you happy? he repeated.
Another pause, though her eyes did not falter.
Happier than I ever thought to be. She touched his sleeve
tenderly. But not completely so, for she was not looking at him
now,for I love you, andandI'm a woman.
They said no more; and though Ichabod went back to his team, it was
not to work. For many minutes he stood motionless, a new problem of
right and wrong throbbing in his brain.
Fall came slowly, bringing the drowsy, hazy days of so-called Indian
Summer. It was the season of threshing, and all day long to the drowse
of the air was added, near and afar, all-pervading through the
stillness, the sleepy hum of the separator. Typical voice of the
prairie was that busy drone, penetrating to the ears as the ubiquitous
odor of the buffalo grass to the nostril, again bearing resemblance in
that, once heard, memory would reproduce the sound until recollection
was no more.
Winter followed, and they, who had thought the earth quiet before,
found it still now indeed. Even the voice of the prairie-chicken was
hushed; only the sharp knife-like cutting of spread wings told of a
flock's passage at night. The level country, mottled white with
occasional drifts, and brown from spots blown bare by the wind,
stretched out seemingly interminable, until the line of earth and sky
Idle perforce, the two exotics would stand for hours in the sunshine
of their open doorway, shading their eyes from the glare and looking
out, out into the distance that was as yet only a nameand that the
borrowed name of an Indian tribe.
What a country! Camilla would say, struck each time anew with a
Yes, what a country, Ichabod would echo, unconscious that he had
repeated the same words in the same way a score of times before.
In January, a blizzard settled upon them, and for two days and
nights they took turns keeping the big kitchen stove red hot. The West
knows no such storms, now. Man has not only changed the face of the
earth, but, in so doing, has annihilated that terror of the pastthe
In those days, though, it was very real, as Ichabod learned. He had
prepared for winter, by hauling a huge pile of cordwood and stacking
it, as a protection to windward, the full length of the little cabin,
thinking the spot always accessible; but he had builded in ignorance.
The snow first commenced falling in the afternoon. By the next
morning the tiny house was buried to the window sashes. Looking out,
there could be seen but an indistinct slanting white wall, scarcely ten
feet away: a screen through which the sunlight filtered dimly, like the
solemn haze of a church. The earth was not silent, now. The falling of
the sleet and snow was as the striking of fine shot, and the sound of
the wind a steady unceasing moan, resembling the sigh of a big dynamo
at a distance.
Slowly, inch by inch, during that day the snow crept up the window
panes until, before the coming of darkness without, it fell within.
Banked though they were on three sides, on the fourth side,
unprotected, the cold penetrated bitterly,a cold no living thing
could withstand without shelter. Then it was that Ichabod and Camilla
feared to sleep, and that the long vigil began.
By the next morning there was no light from the windows. The snow
had drifted level with the eaves. Ichabod stood in the narrow window
frame, and, lowering the glass from the top, beat a hole upward with a
pole to admit air. Through the tunnel thus formed there filtered the
dull gray light of day: and at its end, obstructing, there stood
revealed a slanting drab wall,a condensed milky way.
The storm was yet on, and he closed the window. To get outside for
fuel that day was impossible, so with an axe Ichabod chopped a hole
through the wall into the big pile, and on wood thus secured sawed
steadily in the tiny kitchen, while the kerosene lamp at his side
sputtered, and the fire crackled in a silence, like that surrounding a
hunted animal in its den.
Many usual events had occurred in the lives of the wandering Ichabod
and Camilla, which had been forgotten; but the memory of that day, the
overwhelming, incontestible knowledge of the impotency of wee,
restless, inconsequent man, they were never to forget.
Tiny, tiny, mortal! laughed the storm. To think you would combat
Nature, would defy her, the power of which I am but one of many, many
manifestations! And it laughed again. The two prisoners, listening,
their ears to the tunnel, heard the sound, and felt to the full its
Next day the siege was raised, and the sun smiled as only the sun
can smile upon miles and miles of dazzling snow crystals. Ichabod
climbed outby way of the window routeand worked for hours with a
shovel before he had a channel from the tiny, submerged shanty to the
light of day beyond. Then together he and Camilla stood side by side in
the doorway, as they had done so many times before, looking about them
at the boundless prairie, drifted in waves of snow like the sea: the
wonder of it all, ever new, creeping over them.
What a country! voiced Camilla.
What a country, indeed, echoed Ichabod.
Lonely and mysterious as Death.
Yes, as Death orLife.
CHAPTER IVA REVELATION
Time, unchanging automaton, moved on until late spring. Paradox of
nature, the warm brown tints of chilly days gave place under the heat
of slanting suns to the cool green of summer. All at once, sudden as
though autochthonal, there appeared meadow-larks and blackbirds: dead
weeds or man-erected posts serving in lieu of trees as vantage points
from which to sing. Ground squirrels whistled cheerily from newly
broken fields and roadways. Coveys of quail, tame as barn-yard fowls,
played about the beaten paths, and ran pattering in the dust ahead of
each passing team. Again, from its winter's rest, lonely, uncertain as
to distance, came the low, booming call of the prairie rooster. Nature
had awakened, and the joy of that awakening was upon the land.
Of a morning in May the faded, dust-covered day-coach drew in at the
tiny prairie village. A little man alighted. He stood a moment on the
platform, his hands deep in his pockets, a big black cigar between his
teeth, and looked out over the town. The coloring of the short
straggling street was more weather-stained than a year ago, yet still
very new, and the newcomer smiled as he looked; a big broad smile that
played about his lips, turning up the corners of his brown moustache,
showing a flash of white teeth, and lighting a pair of big blue eyes
which lay, like a woman's, beneath heavy lashes. In youth, that smile
would have been a grin; but it was no grin now. The man was far from
youth, and about the mouth and eyes were deep lines, which told of one
who knew of the world.
Slowly the smile disappeared, and as it faded the little man puffed
harder at the cigar. Evidently something he particularly wished to
explain would not become clear to his mind.
Of all places, he soliloquized, to have chosenthis!
He started up the street, over the irregular warping sidewalk.
Hotel, sir-r? The formula was American, the trilling r's
The traveller turned at the sound, to make acquaintance with Hans
Becher; for it was Hans Becher, very much metamorphosed from the
retiring German of a year ago. He made the train regularly now.
The small man nodded and held out his grip; together they walked up
the street. In front of the hotel they stopped, and the stranger pulled
out his watch.
Is there a livery here? he asked.
Yes; at the street endthe side to the left hand.
Thanks. I'll be back with you this evening.
Hans Becher stared, open-mouthed, as the man moved off.
You will not to dinner return?
The little man stopped, and smiled without apparent reason.
No. Keep the grip. I expect to lunch, again he smiled without
provocation, elsewhere. By the way, he added, as an afterthought,
can you tell me where Mr. MauriceIchabod Mauricelives?
The German nodded violent confirmation of a direction indicated by
his free hand.
Straight out, eight miles. Little house with paintstrong
emphasis on the lastwhite paint.
Hans saw the escape of an opportunity.
They are friends of yours, perhaps?he grasped at it.
The little man did not turn, but the smile that seemed almost a
habit, sprang to his face.
Yes, they'refriends of mine, he corroborated.
Hans, personification of knowledge, stood bobbing on the doorstep,
until the trail of smoke vanished from sight, then brought the satchel
inside and set it down hard.
Her brother has come, he announced to the wide-eyed Minna.
Wessen Bruder? Minna was obviously excited, as attested by
the lapse from English.
Are we not now Americans naturalized? rebuked Hans, icily.
Suddenly he thawed. Whose brother! The brother of Camilla Maurice, to
Minna scrutinized the bag, curiously.
Did he soinform you? she questioned unadvisedly.
It was not necessary. I have eyes.
Offended masculine dignity clumped noisily toward the door;
instinctive feminine diplomacy sprang to the rescue.
You are so wise, Hans!
And Peace, sweet Peace, returned to the household of Becher.
Meanwhile the little man had secured a buggy, and was jogging out
into the country. He drove very leisurely, looking about him curiously.
Of a sudden he threw down his cigar, and sniffed at the air.
Buffalo grass, I'll wager! I've heard of it, and in the
instinctive action of every newcomer he sniffed again.
Camilla Maurice sat in front of her tiny house, the late morning sun
warm about her; one hand supported a book, slanted carefully to avoid
the light, the other held the crank of a barrel-churn. As she read, she
turned steadily, the monotonous chug! chug! of the
tumbling cream drowning all other sounds.
Suddenly the shadow of a horse passed her and a rough livery buggy
stopped at her side. She looked up. Instinctively her hand dropped the
crank, and her face turned white; then equally involuntarily she
returned to her work, and the chug! chug! continued.
Does Ichabod Maurice, drawling emphasis on the name, live here?
asked a voice.
He does. Camilla's chin was trembling; her answer halted abruptly.
The man looked down at her, genuine amusement depicted upon his
Won't you please stop your work for a moment, Camilla?
With the name, one hand made swift movement of deprecation. Pardon
if I mistake, but I take it you're Camilla Maurice?
Yes, I'm Camilla Maurice.
Quite so! You see, Ichabod and I were old chums together in
collegeall that sort of thing; consequently I've always wanted to
The woman stood up. Her face still was very white, but her chin did
not tremble now.
Let's stop this farce, she insisted. What is it you wish?
The man in the buggy again made a motion of deprecation.
I was just about to say, that happening to be in town, and
incidentally hearing the name, I wondered if it were possible.... But,
pardon, I haven't introduced myself. Allow me and he bowed
elaborately. Arnold, Asa Arnold.... You've heard Ichabod mention my
The woman held up her hand.
Again I ask, what do you wish?
Since you insist, first of all I'd like to speak a moment with
Ichabod. His face changed suddenly. For Heaven's sake, Eleanor, if he
must alter his name, why did he choose such a barbaric substitute as
Were he hereevenlyhe'd doubtless explain that himself.
He's not here, then? No banter in the voice now.
Never fearquicklyhe'll return.
A moment they looked into each other's eyes; challengingly, as they
had looked unnumbered times before.
As you suggest, Eleanor, said the man, slowly, this farce has
gone far enough. Where may I tie this horse? I wish to speak with you.
Camilla pointed to a post, and silently went toward the house. Soon
the man followed her, stopping a moment to take a final puff at his
cigar before throwing it away.
Within the tiny kitchen they sat opposite, a narrow band of warm
spring sunshine creeping in at the open door separating them. The woman
looked out over the broad prairie, her color a trifle higher than
usual, the lids of her eyes a shade nearer togetherthat was all. The
man crossed his legs and waited, looking so small that he seemed almost
boyish. In the silence, the drone of feeding poultry came from the
back-yard, and the sleepy breathing of the big collie on the steps
sounded plainly through the room.
A minute passed. Neither spoke. Then, with a shade of annoyance, the
man shifted in his chair.
I thought, perhaps, you'd have something you wished to say. If not,
however He paused meaningly.
You said a moment ago, you wished to speak to me.
As usual, you make everything as difficult as possible. The shade
of annoyance became positive. Such being the case, we may as well come
to the point. How soon do you contemplate bringing thisthis incident
to a close?
The answer to that question concerns me alone.
An ordinary man would have laughed; but Asa Arnold was not an
ordinary mannot at this time.
As your husband, I can't agree with you.
Camilla Maurice took up his words, quickly.
You mistake. You're the husband of Eleanor Owen. I'm not she.
The man went on calmly, as though there had been no interruption.
I don't want to be hard on you, Eleanor. I don't think I have been
hard on you. A year has passed, and I've known you were here from the
first day. But this sort of thing can't go on indefinitely; there's a
limit, even to good nature. I ask you again, when are you coming back?
The woman looked at her companion, for the first time steadily. Even
she, who knew him so well, felt a shade of wonder at the man who could
adjust all the affairs of his life in the same voice with which he
ordered his dinner. Before, she had always thought this attitude of his
pure affectation. Now she knew better, knew it mirrored the man
himself. He had done this thing. Knowing her whereabouts all the time,
he had allotted her the past year, as an employer would grant a holiday
to an assistant. Now he asked her to return to the old life, as calmly
as one returns in the fall to the city home after an outing! Only one
man in the world could have done that thing, and that man was before
herher husband by lawAsa Arnold!
The wonder of it all crept into her voice.
I'm not coming back, can't you understand? I'm never coming back,
The man arose and stood in the doorway.
Don't say that, he said very quietly. Not yet. I won't begin,
now, after all these years to make protestations of love. The thing
called Love we've discussed too often already, and without result.
Anyway, that's not the point. We never pretended to be lovers, even
when we were married. We were simply useful, very useful to each
Camilla started to interrupt him, but, preventing, he held up his
We talked over a certain possibilityone now a realitybefore we
were married. He caught the look upon her face. I don't say it was
ideal. It simply was, he digressed slowly in answer, then
hurried on: That was only five years ago, Eleanor, and we were far
from young. He looked at her, searchingly. You've not forgotten the
contract we drew up, that stood above the marriage obligation, above
everything, supreme law for you and me? Instinctively his hand went to
an inner pocket, where the rustle of a paper answered his touch.
Remember; it's not a favor I ask of you, but the fulfilment of your
own word. Think a moment before you say you'll never return.
Camilla Maurice found an answer very difficult. Had he been angry,
or abusive, it would have been easy; but as it was
You overlook the fact of change. A lifetime isn't required for
I overlook nothing. The man went back to his chair. You remember,
as well as I, that we considered the problem of changeand laughed at
it. I repeat, we're no longer in swaddling clothes.
Be that as it may, I tell you the whole world looks different to me
now. The speaker struggled bravely, but the ghastliness of such a
discussion wore on her nerves, and her face twitched. No power on
earth could make me keep that contract since I've changed.
The suggestion of a smile played about the man's mouth.
You've succeeded, perhaps, in finding that for which we searched so
long in vain, an æsthetic, non-corporeal love?
I refuse to answer a question which was intended as an insult.
The words out of her mouth, the woman regretted them.
Though quick yourself to take offence, you seem at no great pains
to avoid giving affront to another. The man voiced the reprimand
without the twitch of an eyelid, and finished with another question:
Have you any reason for doing as you've done, other than the one you
Reason! Reason! Camilla Maurice stared again. Isn't it reason
enough that I love him, and don't love you? Isn't it sufficient reason
to one who has lived until middle life in darkness that a ray of light
is in sight? Of all people in the world, you're the one who should
understand the reason best!
Would any of those arguments be sufficient to break another
No, but one I didn't mention would. Even when I lived with you, I
was of no more importance than a half-dozen other women.
You didn't protest at time of the agreement. You knew then my
belief and, Arnold paused meaningly, your own.
A memory of the past came to the woman; the dark, lonely past,
which, even yet, after so many years, came to her like a nightmare; the
time when she was a stranger in a strange town, without joy of past or
hope of future; most lonely being on God's earth, a woman with an
ambitionand without friends.
I was madI see it nowlonely mad. I met you. Our work was alike,
and we were very useful to each other. One white hand made motion of
repugnance at the thought. I was mad, I say.
Is that your excuse for ignoring a solemn obligation? Arnold
looked her through. Is that your excuse for leaving me for another,
without a word of explanation, or even the conventional form of a
It was just that explanationthisI wished to avoid. It's hard
for us both, and useless.
Useless! The man quickly picked up the word. Useless! I don't
like the suggestion of that word. It hints of death, and old age, and
hateful things. It has no place with the living.
He drew a paper from his pocket, slowly, and spread it on his knee.
Pardon me for again recalling past history, Eleanor; but to use a
word that is dead!... You must have forgotten The writing, a dainty,
feminine hand, was turned toward her, tauntingly, compellingly.
The man waited for some response; but Camilla Maurice was silent.
That bit of paper, the shadow of a seemingly impossible past, made her,
for the time, question her identity, almost doubt it.
Five years ago, almost to the day, high up in a city building, in a
dainty little room, half office, half atelier, a man and a woman
had copied an agreement, each for the other, and had sworn an oath ever
to remain true to that solemn bond.... She had brought nothing to him,
but herself; not even affection. He, on the other hand, had saved her
from a life of drudgery by elevating her to a position where, free of
the necessity of struggling for a bare existence, she might hope to
consummate the fruition of at least a part of her dreams. On her
Witnesseth: The said Eleanor Owen is at liberty to follow her
own inclinations as she may see fit; she is to remain free of any and
all responsibilities and restrictions such as customarily attach to the
supervision of a household, excepting as she may elect to exercise her
wifely prerogatives; being absolutely free to pursue whatsoever
occupation or devices she may desire or choose, the same as if she were
yet a spinster....
In Consideration of Which: The said Eleanor Owen agrees never so
to comport herself that by word or conduct will she bring ridicule....
dishonor upon the name....
Recollection of it all came to her with a rush; but the words ran
together and swam in a maddening blurthe roar from the street below,
dull with distance; the hum of the big building, with its faint
concussions of closing doors; the air from the open window, not like
the sweet prairie air of to-day, but heavy, smoky, typical breath of
the town, yet pregnant with the indescribable throb of spring,
impossible to efface or to disguise! The compelling intimacy and
irrevocability of that memory overwhelmed her, now; a dark, evil flood
that blotted out the sunshine of the present.
The paper rustled, as the man smoothed it flat with his hand.
Shall I read? he asked.
The woman's face stood clearcruelly clearin the sunlight; about
her mouth and eyes there was an expression which, from repetition, we
have learned to associate with the circle surrounding a new-made grave:
an expression hopelessly desperate, desperately hopeless.
Of a sudden her chin trembled and her face dropped into her hands.
Read, if you wish; and the smooth brown head, with its thread of
gray, trembled uncontrollably.
Eleanor! with a sudden vibration of tenderness in his voice.
Eleanor, he repeated.
But the woman made no response.
The man had taken a step forward; now he sat down again, looking
through the open doorway at the stretch of green prairie, with the
road, a narrow ribbon of brown, dividing it fair in the middle. In the
distance a farmer's wagon was rumbling toward town, a trail of fine
dust, like smoke, suspended in the air behind. It rattled past, and the
big collie on the step woke to give furious chase in its wake, then
returned slowly, a little conscious under the stranger's eye, to sleep
as before. Asa Arnold sat through it all, still as one devitalized; an
expression on his face no man had ever seen before; one hopeless,
lonely, akin to that of the woman.
Read, if you wish, repeated Camilla, bitterly.
For a long minute her companion made no motion.
It's unnecessary, he intoned at last. You know as well as I that
neither of us will ever forget one word it contains. He hesitated and
his voice grew gentle. Eleanor, you know I didn't come here to insult
you, or to hurt you needlessly;but I'm human. You seem to forget
this. You brand me less than a man, and then ask of me the
unselfishness of a God!
Camilla's white face lifted from her hands.
I ask nothing except that you leave me alone.
For the first time the little man showed his teeth.
At last you mention the point I came here to arrange. Were you
alone, rest assured I shouldn't trouble you.
I mean just this. I wouldn't be human if I did what you askif I
condoned what you've done and are still doing. He was fairly started
now, and words came crowding each other; reproachful, tempestuous.
Didn't you ever stop to think of the pastthink what you've done,
Eleanor? He paused without giving her an opportunity to answer. Let
me tell you, then. You've broken every manner of faith between man and
woman. If you believe in God, you've broken faith with Him as well.
Don't think for a moment I ever had respect for marriage as a divine
institution, but I did have respect for you, and at your wish we
conformed. You're my wife now, by your own choosing. Don't interrupt
me, please. I repeat, God has no more to do with ceremonial marriage
now than he had at the time of the Old Testament and polygamy. It's a
man-made bond, but an obligation nevertheless, and as such, at the
foundation of all good faith between man and woman. It's this good
faith you've broken. A look of bitterness flashed over his face.
Still, I could excuse this and release you at the asking, remaining
your friend, your best friend as before; but to be thrown aside without
even a 'by your leave,' and that for another man He hesitated and
You know me well enough, Eleanor, to realize that I'm in earnest
when I say that while I live the man has yet to be born who can take
something of mine away from me.
Camilla gestured passionately.
In other words: while growling hard at the dog who approached your
bone, you have no hesitation in stealing from another! The accumulated
bitterness of years of repression spoke in the taunt.
Across the little man's face there fell an impenetrable mask, like
the armor which dropped about an ancient ship of war before the shock
I'm not on trial. I've not changed my name he nodded
significantly toward the view beyond the open door,and sought
Again the bitterness of memory prompted Camilla to speak the
harshest words of her life.
No, you hadn't the decency. It was more pleasure to thrust your
shame daily in my face.
Arnold's color paled above the dark beard line; but the woman took
Why did you wait a year, continued the bitter voice, to end
inthis? If it must have beenwhy not before?
I repeat, I'm not on trial. If you've anything to say, I'll
Something new in the man's face caught Camilla's attention, softened
the tone of her voice.
I've only this to say. You've asked for an explanation and a
promise; but I can give you neither. If there ever comes a time when I
feel they're due you, and I'm able to comply, I'll give them both
gladly. The absent look of the past returned to her eyes. Even if I
wished, I couldn't give you an explanation now. I can't make myself
understand the contradiction. Somehow, knowing you so long, your
beliefs crept insistently into my loneliness. It seems hideous now, but
I was honest then. I believed them, too. I don't blame you; I only pity
you. You were the embodiment of protest against the established, of the
non-responsibility of the individual, of skepticism in everything. Your
eternal 'why' covered my horizon. Every familiar thing came to bear a
question I couldn't answer. My whole life seemed one eternal doubt. One
thing I'd never known, and I questioned it most of all; the one thing I
know now to be the truth,the greatest truth in the world. For an
instant the present crowded the past from Camilla's mind, but only for
an instant. Whatever I was at the time, you'd made mewith your
deathless 'why.' When I signed the obligation of that day, I believed
it was of my own free will; but I know now it was you who wrote it for
both of usyou, with your perpetual interrogation. I don't accuse you
of doing this deliberately, maliciously. We were both deceived; but
none the less the fact remains. A shadow, almost of horror, passed
over her face.
Time passed, and though you didn't know, I was in Hell. Reason told
me I was right. Instinct, something, called me a drag. I tried to
compromise, and we were married. Then, for the first time, came
realization. We were the best of friends,but only friends.
You wonder how I knew. I didn't tell you then. I couldn't. I could
only feel, and that not clearly. The shadow of your 'why' was still
dark upon me. What I vaguely felt then, though, I know now; as I
recognize light or cold or pain. Her voice assumed the tone of one who
speaks of mysteries; slow, vibrant. In every woman's mind the maternal
instinct should be uppermost; before everything, before
God,unashamed, inevitable. It's unmistakably the distinction of a
good woman from a bad. The choosing of the father of her child is a
woman's unfailing test of love.
The face of the man before her dropped into his hands, but she did
Gropingly I felt this, and the knowledge came almost as an
inspiration. It gave a clue to
Stop! The man's eyes blazed, as he leaped from his chair. Stop!
He took a step forward, his hand before him, his face twitching
uncontrollably. The collie on the step awoke, and seeing his mistress
threatened, growled ominously.
Stop, I tell you! Arnold choked for words. This the man of why,
whom nothing before could shake!
Camilla paled as her companion arose, and the dog, bristling, came
inside the room.
Get out! blazed the man, with a threatening step, and the collie
The interruption loosed words which came tumbling forth in a
torrent, as Arnold returned to face her.
You think I'm human, and yet tell me that to my face? His voice
was terrible. You women brand men cruel! No man on earth would speak
as you have spoken to a woman he'd lived with for four years! The
sentences crowded over each other, like water over a fallhis eyes
flashing like a spray.
I told you before, I'm not on trial; that it was not my place to
defend. I don't do so now; but since you've spoken, I'll answer your
question. You ask why I didn't come a year ago, hinting that I wanted
to be more cruel. God! the blindness and injustice of you women!
Because we men don't showBah!... I was paying my own price. We
weren't living by the marriage vow; it was but a farce. Our own
contract was the vital thing, and it had saidBut I won't repeat. God,
it was bitter! But I thought you'd come back. I loved you still. He
paused for words, breathing hard.
You say, I'll never know what love is. Blind! I've always loved you
until this moment, when you killed my love. You say I was untrue. It's
false. I swear it beforeyou, as you were once,when you were my god.
Had you trusted me, as I trusted you, there'd have been no thought of
unfaithfulness in your mind.
The woman sank back in the chair, her face covered, her whole body
trembling; but Asa Arnold went on like the storm.
Yes, I was ever true to you. From the first moment we met, and
against my own beliefs. You didn't see. You expected me to protest it
daily: to repeat the tale as a child repeats its lesson for a comfit.
Blind, I say, blind! You'll charge that I never told you that I loved
you. You wouldn't have believed me, even had I done so. Besides, I
didn't realize that you doubted, until the time when you were
learning he walked jerkily across the room and took up his
hat,learning the thing you threw in my face. He started to leave,
but stopped in the doorway, without looking back. You tell me you've
suffered. For the first time in my life I say to another human being: I
hope so. He turned, unsteadily, down the steps.
Wait, pleaded the woman. Wait!
The man did not stop, or turn.
Camilla Maurice sank back in the chair, weak as one sick unto death,
her mind a throbbing, whirling chaos,as of a patient under an
anæsthetic. Something she knew she ought to do, intended doing, and
could not. She groped desperately, but overwhelming, insistent, there
had developed in her a sudden, preventing tumultin paradox, a
confusion in rhythmlike the beating of a great hammer on an anvil,
only incredibly more swift than blows from human hands. Over and over
again she repeated to herself the one word: wait, wait, wait, but
mechanically now, without thought as to the reason. Then, all at once,
soft, all-enfolding, kindly Nature wrapped her in darkness.
She awoke with the big collie licking her hand, and a numbness of
cramped limbs that was positive pain. A long-necked pullet was standing
in the doorway, with her mouth open; others stood wondering, beyond.
The sun had moved until it no longer shone in at the tiny south
windows, and the shadow of the house had begun to lengthen.
Camilla stood up in the doorway; uncertain, dazed. A great lump was
on her forehead, which she stroked absently, without surprise at its
presence. She looked about the yard, and, her breath coming more
quickly, at the prairie. A broad green plain, parted by the road
squarely in the centre, smiled at her in the sunlight. That was all.
She stepped outside and shaded her eyes with her hand. Not a wagon nor
a human being was in sight.
Again the weakness and the blackness came stealing over her; she
sank down on the doorstep.
O God, what have I done! she wailed.
The hens returned to their search for bugs; but the big collie
stayed by her side, whimpering and fondling her hand.
CHAPTER VTHE DOMINANCE OF THE EVOLVED
The keen joy of life was warmly flooding Ichabod Maurice this spring
day. Not life for the sake of an ambition or a duty, but delight in the
mere animal pleasure of existence. He had risen early, and, a neighbor
with him, they had driven forth: stars all about, perpendicular,
horizontal, save in the reddening east, upon their long day's drive to
the sawmill. The two teams plodded along steadily, their footfall
muffled in the soft prairie loam; the earth elsewhere soundless, with a
silence which even yet was a marvel to the city man.
The majesty of it held him silent until day dawned, and with the
coming of the sun there woke in unison the chorus of joyous animal
life. Then Ichabod, his long legs dangling over the dashboard, lifted
up a voice untrained as the note of a loon, and sang lustily, until his
companion on the wagon ahead,boy-faced, man-bodied,grinned
The long-visaged man was near happiness that morning,unbelievably
near. By nature unsocial, by habit, city inbred, artificially taciturn,
there came with the primitive happiness of the moment the concomitant
primitive desire for companionship. He smiled self-tolerantly when,
obeying an instinct, he wound the lines around the seat, and went ahead
to the man, who grinned companionably as he made room beside him.
God's country, this. Ichabod's hand made an all-including gesture,
as he seated himself comfortably, his hat low over his eyes.
Yes, sir, and the grin was repeated.
The tall man reflected. Sunburned, roughly dressed, unshaven as he,
Maurice, was, this boy-man never failed the word of respect. Ichabod
examined him curiously out of his shaded lids. Big brown hands; body
strong as a bull; powerful shoulders; neck turned like a model; a soft
chin under a soft, light beard; gentle blue eyesall in all, a face so
open that its very legibility seemed a mark. It reddened now, under the
Pardon, said Ichabod. I was thinking how happy you are.
Yes, sir. And the face reddened again.
When is it to be, Ole?
The big body wriggled in blissful embarrassment.
As soon as the house is built,confusedly.
You're building very fast, eh?
The Swede grinned confirmation. Words were of value to Ole.
I see the question was superfluous, and Ichabod likewise smiled in
genial comradery. A moment later, however, the smile vanished.
You're very content as it is, Ole, he digressed, equivocally;
butsupposingMinna were already the wife of a friend?
The Swede stared in breathless astonishment.
She isn't, though he gasped at length in startled protest.
It would be so. I couldn't help it.
You'd do nothing? rank anarchy in the suggestion.
What would there be to do?
Supposing again, she loved you, and didn't love her husband? Ole
scratched his head, seeing very devious passages beyond. That would be
different, and he crossed his legs.
Ichabod smiled. The world over, human nature is fashioned from one
Supposing, once more, it's a year from now,five years from now.
You've married Minna, but you're not happy. She's grown to hate
you,to love another man?
Ole's faith was beautiful.
It's not to be thought of. It's impossible!
But supposing, urged Ichabod.
The boy-man was silent for a very long minute; then his face
darkened, and the soft jaw grew hard.
I don't know he said slowly,I don't know, but I think I kill
Ichabod did not smile this time.
We're all much alike, Ole. I think you would.
They drove on; far past the town, now; the sun high in the sky; dew
sparkling like prisms innumerable; the prairie colorings soft as a
rugits varied greens of groundwork blending with the narrow line of
fresh breaking rolling at their feet.
You were born in this country? asked Ichabod suddenly.
In Iowa. It's much like thisonly rougher.
You'll live here, always?
The Swede shook his head and the boy's face grew older.
No; some day, we're going to the cityMinna and I. We've planned.
Ichabod was thoughtful a minute.
I'm a friend of yours, Ole.
A very good friend, repeated the mystified Swede.
Then, listen, and don't forget. The voice was vibrant, low, but
the boy heard it clearly above the noise of the wagon. Don't do it,
Ole; in God's name, don't do it! Stay here, you'll be happy. He looked
the open-mouthed listener deep in the eyes. If you ever say a prayer,
let it be the old one, even though it be an insult to a just
God:'Lead us not into temptation.' Avoid, as you would avoid death,
the love of money, the fever of unrest, the desire to become greater
than your fellows, the thirst to know and to taste all things, which is
the spirit of the city. Live close to Nature, where all is equal and
all is good; where sleep comes in the time of sleep, and work when it
is day. Do that labor which comes to you at the moment, leaving
to-morrow to Nature. He crossed his long legs, and pressed his hat
down over his eyes. Accept life as Nature gives it, day by day. Don't
question, and you'll find it good. He repeated himself slowly. That's
the secret. Don't doubt, or question anything.
In the Swede's throat there was a rattling, which presaged speech,
but it died away.
Do you love children, Ole? asked Ichabod, suddenly.
The boy face flushed. Ole was very young.
I he lagged.
Of course you do. Every living human being does. It's the one good
instinct, which even the lust of gain doesn't down. It's the tie that
binds,the badge of brotherhood which makes the world one. He gently
laid his hand on the broad shoulder beside him.
Don't be ashamed to say you love children, boy, though the rest of
the world laugh,for they're laughing at a lie. They'll tell you the
parental instinct is dying out with the advance of civilization; that
the time will come when man will educate himself to his own extinction.
It's false, I tell you, absolutely false. Ichabod had forgotten
himself, and he rushed on, far above the head of the gaping Swede.
There's one instinct in the world, the instinct of parenthood,
which advances eternal, stronger, infinitely, as man's mind grows
stronger. So unvarying the rule that it's almost an index of
civilization itself, advancing from a crude instinct of the body-base
and animaluntil it reaches the realm of the mind: the highest, the
holiest of man's desires: yet stronger immeasurably, as with the
educated, things of the mind are stronger than things of the body.
Those who deny this are fools, or imposters,I know not which. To do
so is to strike at the very foundation of human nature,but
impotently,for in fundamentals, human nature is good. Unconsciously,
a smile flashed over the long face.
Talk about depopulating the earth! All the wars of primitive man
were inadequate. The vices of civilization have likewise failed. Even
man's mightiest weapon, legislation, couldn't stay the tide for a
moment, if it would. While man is man, and woman is woman, that long,
above government, religion,life and death itself,will reign supreme
the eternal instinct of parenthood.
Ichabod caught himself in his own period and stopped, a little
ashamed of his earnestness. He sat up in the seat preparatory to
returning to his own wagon, then dropped his hand once more on the
I'm old enough to be your father, boy, and have done, in all
things, the reverse of what I advised you. Therefore, I know I was
wrong. We may sneer and speak of poetry when the words proceed from
another, my boy; but, as inevitable as death, there comes to every man
the knowledge that he stands accursed of Nature, who hasn't heard the
voice of his own child call 'father!'
He clambered down, leaving the speechless Ole sprawling on the
wagon-seat. Back in his own wagon, he smiled broadly to himself.
Strange, how easily the apple falls when it's ripe, he
They drove on clear to the mill without another word; without even a
grin from the broad-faced Ole, who sat in ponderous thought in the
wagon ahead. To a nature such as his the infrequency of a new idea
gives it the force of a cataclysm; during its presence, obliterating
It was nearly noon when they reached the narrow fringe of trees and
underbrushdeciduous and wind-tortured allwhich bordered the big,
muddy, low-lying Missouri; and soon they could hear the throb of the
engine at the mill, and the swish of the saw through the green lumber;
a sound that heard near by, inevitably carries the suggestion of
scalpel and living flesh. Nothing but green timber was sawed thereabout
in those days. The country was settling rapidly, lumber was imperative,
and available timber very, very limited.
Returning, the heavy loads grumbled slowly along, so slowly that it
was nearly evening, and their shadows preceded them by rods when they
reached the little prairie town. They stopped to water their teams; and
Ole, true to the instincts of his plebeian ancestry, went in search of
a glass of beer. He returned, quickly, his face very red.
A fellow in there is talking aboutabout Mrs. Maurice, he
In the saloon, Ole?
The Swede repeated the story, watching the tall man from the corner
of his eye.
A man, very drunk, was standing by the bar, and telling how, in
coming to town, he had seen a buggy drive away from the Maurice home
very fast. He had thought it was the doctor's buggy and had stopped in
to see if any one was sick.
The fellow had grinned here and drank some more, before finishing
the story; the surrounding audience winking at each other meanwhile,
and drinking in company.
Then he went on to tell how Camilla Maurice had sat just inside the
doorway, her face in her hands, sobbing,so hard she hadn't noticed
him; andandit wasn't the doctor who had been there at all!
Ichabod had been holding a pail of water so that a horse might
drink. At the end he motioned Ole very quietly, to take his place.
Finish watering them, andwait for me, please.
It was far from what the Swede had expected; but he accepted the
The only saloon of the town stood almost exactly opposite Hans
Becher's place, flush with the street. A long, low building,
communicating with the outer world by one doorsans glassits single
window in front and at the rear lit it but imperfectly at midday, and
now at early evening made faces almost indistinguishable, and cast
kindly shadow over the fly specks and smoke stains of a low roof. A
narrow pine bar, redolent of tribute absorbed from innumerable passing
schooners, stretched the entire length of the room at one side; and
back of it, in shirt sleeves and stained apron, presided the typical
bar-keeper of the frontier. All this Ichabod saw as he stepped inside;
then, himself in shadow, he studied the group before him.
Railroad and cattle men, mostly, made up the gathering, with a scant
sprinkling of farmers and others unclassified. A big, ill-dressed
fellow was repeating the tale of scandal for the benefit of a newcomer;
the narrative moving jerkily over hiccoughs, like hurdles.
I drew up to th' house quick, an' went up th' path quiet
like,he tapped thunderously on the bar with a heavy glass for
silencequietsh-hlike; an' when I come t' th' door, ther' 't was
open, an'as I hopehope t' die,... drink on me, b'ys, aller y'set
'm up, Barney ol' b'y, m' treat,... hope t' die, ther' she sat, like
this He looked around mistily for a chair, but none was convenient,
and he slid flat to the floor in their midst, his face in his hands,
blubbering dismally in imitation.... Sat (hic) like this; rockin' an'
moanin' n' callin' his name: AsaAsaAsa(hic) Arnold'shure 's I'm
a sinner she
He did not finish. Very suddenly the surrounding group had
scattered, and he peered up through maudlin tears to learn the cause.
One man alone stood above him. The room had grown still as a church.
The drunken one blinked his watery eyes and showed his yellow teeth
in a convivial grin.
G'd evnin', pard.... Serve th'th' gem'n, Barney; m' treat. Again
the teeth obtruded. Was jes'
He of the story winked harder than before.
Bless m' He paused for an expletive, hiccoughed, and forgetting
what had caused the halt, stumbled on:Didn' rec'gniz' y' b'fore.
Shake, ol' boy. Ssh-sorry for y'. Tears rose copiously. Toughwhen
Interrupting suddenly a muffled sound like the distant exhaust of a
big enginethe meeting of a heavy boot with an obstacle on the floor.
A very mountain of human brawn resolved itself upward; a hand on its
hips; a curse on its lips.
[Illustration: You'll apologize.]
You damned lantern-faced No hiccough now, but a pause from pure
physical impotence, pending a doubtful struggle against a half-dozen
Order, gentlemen! demanded the bar-keeper, adding emphasis by
hammering a heavy bottle on the bar.
Let him go, commanded Ichabod very quietly; but they all heard
through the confusion. Let him go.
The country was by no means the wild West of the story-papers, but
it was primitive, and no man thought, then, of preventing the obviously
Ichabod held up his hand, suggestively, imperatively, and the crowd
fell back, silent,leaving him facing the big man.
You'll apologize! The thin jaw showed clear, through the shade of
brown stubble on Ichabod's face.
For answer, the big man leaning on the bar exhibited his discolored
teeth and breathed hard.
How shall it be? asked Ichabod.
A grimy hand twitched toward a grimier hip.
You've seen the likes of this
Ichabod turned toward the spectators.
Will any man lend me
And give us a little light.
Outside, suggested the saloon-keeper.
We're not advertising patent medicine, blazed Ichabod, and the
lamps were lit immediately.
Once more the long-visaged man appealed to the group lined up now
against the bar.
GentlemenI never carried a revolver a half-hour in my life. Is it
any more than fair that I name the details?
Name 'm and be quick, acquiesced his big opponent before the
others could speak.
Thanks, Mr. Duggin, with equal swiftness. These, then, are the
conditions. For three seconds, that seemed a minute, Ichabod looked
steadily between his adversary's bushy eyebrows. The conditions, he
repeated, are, that starting from opposite ends of the room, we don't
fire until our toes touch in the middle line.
Good! commended a voice; but it was not big Duggin who spoke.
I'll see that it's done, too,added a listening cattleman,
grasping Ichabod by the hand.
The building had been designed as a bowling-alley and was built the
entire length of the lot. With an alacrity born of experience, the long
space opposite the bar was cleared, and the belligerents stationed one
at either end, their faces toward the wall. Midway between them a heavy
line had been drawn with chalk, and beside it stood a half-dozen grim
men, their hands resting suggestively on their hips. The room was again
very quiet, and from out-of-doors penetrated the shrill sound of a
schoolboy whistling Annie Laurie with original variations. So exotic
seemed the entire scene in its prairie setting, that it might have been
transferred bodily from the stage of a distant theatre and set down
Now, directed a voice. You understand, men. You're to face and
walk to the line. When your feet touchfire; and,
warninglyremember, not before. Ready, gentlemen. Turn.
Ichabod faced about, the cocked revolver in his hand, the name Asa
Arnold singing in his ears. A terrible cold-white anger was in his
heart against the man opposite, who had publicly caused the
resurrection of this hated, buried thing. For a moment it blotted out
all other sensations; then, rushing, crowding came other
thoughts,vision from boyhood down. In the space of seconds, faded
scenes of the dead past took on sudden color and as suddenly vanished.
Faces, he had forgotten for years, flashed instantaneously into view.
Voices long hushed in oblivion, re-embodied, spoke in accents as
familiar as his own. Inwardly he was seething with the myriad shifting
pictures of a drowning man. Outwardly he walked those half-score steps
to the line, unflinchingly; came to certain death,and waited:
personification of all that is cool and deliberateof the sudden
abundant nerve in emergencies which comes only to the highly evolved.
Duggin, the big man, turned likewise at the word and came part way
swiftly; then stopped, his face very pale. Another step he took, with
another pause, and with great drops of perspiration gathering on his
face, and on the backs of his hands. Yet another start, and he came
very near; so near that he gazed into the blue of Ichabod's eyes. They
seemed to him now devil's eyes, and he halted, looking at them,
fingering the weapon in his hand, his courage oozing at every pore.
Out of those eyes and that long, thin face stared death; not hot,
sudden death, but nihility, cool, deliberate, that waited for one! The
big beads on his forehead gathered in drops and ran down his cheeks. He
tried to move on, but his legs only trembled beneath him. The hopeless,
unreasoning terror of the frightened animal, the raw recruit, the
superstitious negro, was upon him. The last fragment of self-respect,
of bravado even, was in tatters. No object on earth, no fear of
hereafter, could have made him face death in that way, with those eyes
looking into his.
The weapon shook from Duggin's hand to the floor,with a sound like
the first clatter of gravel on a coffin lid; and in abasement absolute
he dropped his head; his hands nerveless, his jaw trembling.
I beg your pardonand your wife's, he faltered.
It was all a lie? You were drunk? Ichabod crossed the line,
standing over him.
A rustle and a great snort of contempt went around the room; but
Duggin still felt those terrible eyes upon him.
I was very drunk. It was all a lie.
Without another word Ichabod turned away, and almost immediately the
other men followed, the door closing behind them. Only the bar-keeper
stood impassive, watching.
That instant the red heat of the liquor returned to the big man's
brain and he picked up the revolver. Muttering, he staggered over to
Dn himthe hide-faced he cursed. Gimme a drink, Barney.
Not a drop.
Never another drop in my place so long as I live.
Barney, damn you!
Get out! You coward!
Not another word. Go.
Again Duggin was sober as he stumbled out into the evening.
* * * * *
Ichabod moved slowly up the street, months aged in those last few
minutes. Reaction was inevitable, and with it the future instead of the
present, stared him in the face. He had crowded the lie down the man's
throat, but well he knew it had been useless. The story was true, and
it would spread; no power of his could prevent. He could not deceive
himself, even. That name! Again the white anger born of memory, flooded
him. Curses on the name and on the man who had spoken it! Why must the
fellow have turned coward at the last moment? Had they but touched feet
over the line
Suddenly Ichabod stopped, his hands pressed to his head. Camilla,
homealone! And he had forgotten! He hurried back to the waiting
Swede, an anathema that was not directed at another, hot on his lips.
All ready, Ole, he announced, clambering to the seat.
The boy handed up the lines lingeringly.
Here, sir. Then uncontrollable, long-repressed curiosity broke the
bounds of deference. Youheard him, sir?
Ole edged toward his own wagon.
It wasn't so?
Duggin swore it was a lie.
He swore it was false, I say.
They drove out into the prairie and the night; the stars looking
down, smiling, as in the morning which was so long ago, the man had
Tiny, tiny mortal, they twinkled, each to the other. So small and
hot, and rebellious. Tiny, tiny, mortal!
But the man covered his face with his hands, shutting them out.
CHAPTER VIBY A CANDLE'S FLAME
Asa Arnold sat in the small upstairs room at the hotel of Hans
Becher. It was the same room that Ichabod and Camilla had occupied when
they first arrived; but he did not know that. Even had he known,
however, it would have made slight difference; nothing could have kept
them more constantly in his mind than they were at this time. He had
not slept any the night before; a fact which would have spoken loudly
to one who knew him well; and this morning he was very tired. He
lounged low in the oak chair, his feet on the bed, the usual big cigar
in his mouth.
This morning, the perspective of the little man was anything but
normal. Worse than that, he could not reduce it to the normal, try as
His meeting with Camilla yesterday had produced a deep and abiding
shock; for either of them to have been so moved signified the stirring
of dangerous forces. Theyand especially himselfwho had always
accepted life, even crises, so calmly; who had heretofore laughed at
all display of emotionfor them to have acted as they had, for them to
have spoken to each other the things they had spoken, the things they
could not forget, that he never could forgiveit was unbelievable! It
upset all the established order of things!
His anger of yesterday against Camilla had died out. She was not to
blame; she was a woman, and women were all alike. He had thought
differently before; that she was an exception; but now he knew better.
One and all they were mere puppets of emotion, and fickle.
In a measure, though, as he had excused Camilla he had incriminated
Ichabod. Ichabod was the guilty one, and a man. Ichabod had filched
from him his possession of most value; and without even the form of a
by-your-leave. The incident of last evening at the saloon (for he had
heard of it in the hour, as had every one in the little town) had but
served to make more implacable his resentment. By the satire of
circumstances it had come about that he again, Asa Arnold, had been the
cause of another's defending the honor of his own wife,for she was
his wife as yet,and that other, the defender, was Ichabod Maurice!
The little man's face did not change at the thought. He only smoked
harder, until the room was blue; but though he did not put the feeling
in words even to himself, he knew in the depths of his own mind that
the price of that last day was death. Whether it was his own death, or
the death of Ichabod, he did not know; he did not care; but that one of
them must die was inevitable. Horrible as was the thought, it had no
terror for him, now. He wondered that it did not have; but, on the
contrary, it seemed to him very ordinary, even logicalas one orders a
dinner when he is hungry.
He lit another cigar, calmly. It was this very imperturbability of
the little man which made him terrible. Like a great movement of
Nature, it was awful from its very resistlessness; its imperviability
to appeal. Steadily, as he had lit the cigar, he smoked until the air
became bluer than before. In a ghastly way, he was trying to decide
whose death it should be,as one decides a winter's flitting, whether
to Florida or California; only now the question was: should it be
suicide, or,as in the saloon yesterday,leave the decision to
Chance? For the time the personal equation was eliminated; the man
weighed the evidence as impartially as though he were deciding the fate
He sat long and very still; until even in the daylight the red
cigar-end grew redder in the haze. Without being conscious of the fact,
he was probably doing the most unselfish thinking of his life. What the
result of that thought would have been no man will ever know, for of a
sudden, interrupting, Hans Becher's round face appeared in the doorway.
Ichabod Maurice to see you, coughed the German, obscured in the
cloud of smoke which passed out like steam through the opening.
It cannot be said that Asa Arnold's face grew impassive; it was that
already. Certain it was, though, that behind the mask there occurred,
at that moment, a revolution. Born of it, the old mocking smile sprang
to his lips.
The devil fights for his own, he soliloquized. I really believe
I,again the smile,I was about to make a sacrifice.
Thank you, Hans.
The German's jaw dropped in inexpressible surprise.
Sir? he repeated.
You made a decision for me, then. Thank you.
I do not you understand.
Tell Mr. Maurice I shall be pleased to see him.
The round face disappeared from the door.
Donnerwetter! commented the little landlord in the safe
seclusion of the stairway. Later, in relating the incident to Minna, he
tapped his forehead, suggestively.
Ichabod climbed the stair alone. To your old room, Hans had said;
and Ichabod knew the place well. He knocked on the panel, a voice
answered: Come, and he opened the door. Arnold had thrown away his
cigar and opened the window. The room was clearing rapidly.
Ichabod stepped inside and closed the door carefully behind him. A
few seconds he stood holding it, then swung it open quickly and glanced
down the hallway. Answering, there was a sudden, scuttling sound, not
unlike the escape of frightened rats, as Hans Becher precipitately
disappeared. The tall man came back and for the second time slowly
closed the door.
Asa Arnold had neither moved nor spoken since that first
word,come; and the self-invited visitor read the inaction
correctly. No man, with the knowledge Ichabod possessed, could have
misunderstood the challenge in that impassive face. No man, a year ago,
would have accepted that challenge more quickly. NowBut God only knew
whether or no he would forget,now.
For a minute, which to an onlooker would have seemed interminable,
the two men faced each other. Up from the street came the ring of a
heavy hammer on a sweet-voiced anvil, as Jim Donovan, the blacksmith,
sharpened anew the breaking ploughs which were battling the prairie sod
for bread. In the street below, a group of farmers were swapping yarns,
an occasional chorus of guffaws interrupting to punctuate the
narrative. The combatants heard it all, as one hears the drone of the
cicada on a sleepy summer day; at the moment, as a mere colorless
background which later, Time, the greater adjuster, utilizes to
harmonize the whole memory.
Ichabod had been standing; now he sat down upon the bed, his long
legs stretched out before him.
It would be useless for us to temporize, he initiated. I've
intruded my presence in order to ask you a question. The long fingers
locked slowly over his knees. What is your object here?
The innate spirit of mockery sprang to the little man's face.
You're mistaken, he smiled; so far mistaken, that instead of your
visit being an intrusion, I expected youan amending memory came to
himalthough I wasn't looking for you quite so soon, perhaps. He
paused for an instant, and the smile left his lips.
As to the statement of object. I thinkslowlya disinterested
observer would have put the question you ask into my mouth. He stared
his tall visitor up and down critically, menacingly. Of a sudden,
irresistibly, a very convulsion shot over his face. God, man, you're
brazen! he commented cumulatively.
Ichabod had gambled with this man in the past, and had seen him lose
half he possessed without the twitch of an eyelid. A force which now
could cause that sudden change of expressionno man on earth knew,
better than Ichabod, its intensity. Perhaps a shade of the same feeling
crept into his own answering voice.
We'll quarrel later, if you wish,swiftly. Neither of us can
afford to do so now. I ask you again, what are your intentions?
And I repeat, the question is by right mine. It's not I who've
changed my name andand in other things emulated the hero of the
Ichabod's face turned a shade paler, though his answer was calm.
We've known each other too well for either to attempt explanation
or condemnation. You wish me to testify first. The long fingers
unclasped from over his knee. You know the story of the past year:
it's the key to the future.
A smile, sardonic, distinctive, lifted the tips of Arnold's big
Your faith in your protecting gods is certainly beautiful.
Ichabod nursed a callous spot on one palm.
I understand,very slowly. At least, you'll answer my question
now, perhaps, he suggested.
With pleasure. You intimate the future will be but a repetition of
the past. It'll be my endeavor to give that statement the lie.
You insist on quarrelling?
I insist on but one thing,swiftly. That you never again come
into my sight, or into the sight of my wife.
One of Ichabod's long hands extended in gesture.
And I insist you shall never again use the name of Camilla Maurice
as your wife.
The old mocking smile sprang to Asa Arnold's face.
Unconsciously, you're amusing, he derided. The old story of the
mouse who forbids the cat.... You forget, man, she is my wife.
Ichabod stood up, seemingly longer and gaunter than ever before.
Good God, Arnold, he flashed, haven't you the faintest element of
pride, or of consistency in your make-up? Is it necessary for a woman
to tell you more than once that she hates you? By your own statement
your marriage, even at first, was merely of convenience; but even if
this weren't so, every principle of the belief you hold releases her.
Before God, or man, you haven't the slightest claim, and you know it.
I love her.
Asa Arnold did not stir, but the pupils of his eyes grew wider,
until the whole eye seemed black.
You fool! he accented slowly. You brazen egoist! Did it never
occur to you that others than yourself could love?
Score for the little man. Ichabod had been pinked first.
You dare tell me to my face you loved her?
You lie! blazed Ichabod. Every word and action of your life gives
you the lie!
Not five minutes had passed since he came in and already he had
Asa Arnold likewise was upon his feet and they two faced each
other,a bed length between; in their minds the past and future a
blank, the present with its primitive animal hate blazing in their
You know what it means to tell me that. Arnold's voice was a full
note higher than usual. You'll apologize?
Never. It's true. You lied, and you know you lied.
The surrounding world turned dark to the little man, and the
dry-goods box with the tin dipper on its top, danced before his eyes.
For the first time in his memory he felt himself losing self-control,
and by main force of will he turned away to the window. For the instant
all the savage of his nature was on the surface, and he could fairly
feel his fingers gripping at the tall man's throat.
A moment he stood in the narrow south window, full in the smiling
irony of Nature's sunshine; but only a moment. Then the mocking smile
that had become an instinctive part of his nature spread over his face.
I see but one way to settle this difficulty, he intimated.
A taunt sprang to Ichabod's tongue, but was as quickly repressed.
There is but one, unless with meaning pause.
I repeat, there is but one.
Ichabod's long face held like wood.
Consider yourself, then, the challenged party.
They were both very calm, now; the immediate exciting cause in the
mind of neither. It seemed as if they had been expecting this time for
years, had been preparing for it.
Perhaps, as yesterday, in the saloon? The points of the big
moustaches twitched ironically. I promise you there'll be no
procrastination asat certain cases recorded.
The mockery, malice inspired, was cleverly turned, and Ichabod's big
chin protruded ominously, as he came over and fairly towered above the
Most assuredly it'll not be as yesterday. If we're going to reverse
civilization, we may as well roll it away back. We'll settle it alone,
Asa Arnold smiled up into the blue eyes.
You'd prefer to make the adjustment with your hands, too, perhaps?
There'd be less risk, considering He stopped at the look on the face
above his. No man vis-à-vis with Ichabod Maurice ever made
accusation of cowardice. Instead, instinctive sarcasm leaped to his
Not being of the West, I don't ordinarily carry an arsenal with me,
in anticipation of such incidents as these. If you're prepared,
however, and he paused again.
Ichabod turned away; a terrible weariness and disgust of it allof
life, himself, the little man,in his face. A tragedy would not be so
bad, but this lingering comedy of deathOne thing alone was in his
mind: to have it over, and quickly.
I didn't expectthis, either. We'll find another way.
He glanced about the room. A bed, the improvised commode, a chair, a
small table with a book upon it, and a tallow candlean idea came to
him, and his search terminated.
I maysuggest he hesitated.
Ichabod took up the candle, and, with his pocket-knife, cut it down
until it was a mere stub in the socket, then lit a match and held the
flame to the wick, until the tallow sputtered into burning.
You can estimate when that light will go out? he intimated
Asa Arnold watched the tall man, steadily, as the latter returned
the candle to the table and drew out his watch.
I think so, sotto voce.
Ichabod returned to his seat on the bed.
You are not afraid, perhaps, to go into the dark alone?
By your own hand?
No, again, very slowly. Arnold understood now.
You swear? Ichabod flashed a glance with the question.
A moment they both studied the sputtering candle.
It'll be within fifteen minutes, randomed Ichabod.
Arnold drew out his watch slowly.
It'll be longer.
That was all. Each had made his choice; a trivial matter of one
second in the candle's life would decide which of these two men would
die by his own hand.
For a minute there was no sound. They could not even hear their
breathing. Then Arnold cleared his throat.
You didn't say when the loser must pay his debt, he suggested.
Ichabod's voice in answer was a trifle husky.
It won't be necessary. A vision of the future flashed, sinister,
inevitable. The man who loses won't care to face the necessity long.
Five minutes more passed. Down the street the blacksmith was
hammering steadily. Beneath the window the group of farmers had
separated; their departing footsteps tapping into distance and silence.
Minna went to the street door, calling loudly for Hans, Jr., who had
strayed,and both men started at the sound. The quick catch of their
breathing was now plainly audible.
Arnold shifted in his chair.
You swear his voice rang unnaturally sharp, and he paused to
moisten his throat,you swear before God you'll abide by this?
I swear before God, repeated Ichabod slowly.
A second, and the little man followed in echo.
And II swear, I, too, will abide.
Neither man remembered that one of this twain, who gave oath before
the Deity, was an agnostic, the other an atheist!
A lonely south wind was rising, and above the tinkle of the
blacksmith's hammer there sounded the tap of the light shade as it
flapped in the wind against the window-pane. Low, drowsy,
moaning,typical breath of prairie,it droned through the loosely
built house, with sound louder, but not unlike the perpetual roar of a
Ten minutes passed, and the men sat very still. Both their faces
were white, and in the angle of the jaw of each the muscles were locked
hard. Ichabod was leaning near the candle. It sputtered and a tiny
globule of hot tallow struck his face. He winced and wiped the drop off
quickly. Observing, Arnold smiled and opened his lips as if to make
comment; then closed them suddenly, and the smile passed.
Two minutes more the watches ticked off; very, very slowly. Neither
of the men had thought, beforehand, of this time of waiting. Big drops
of sweat were forming on both their faces, and in the ears of each the
blood sang madly. A haze, as from the dropping of a shade, seemed to
have formed and hung over the room, and in unison sounds from without
acquired a certain faintness, like that born of distance. Through it
all the two men sat motionless, watching the candle and the time, as
the fascinated bird watches its charmer; as the subject watches the
hypnotist,as if the passive exercise were the one imperative thing in
Unconsciously, Arnold was counting aloud. The flame was very low,
now, and he started to move his chair closer, then sank back, a smile,
almost ghastly, upon his lips. The blaze had reached the level of the
socket, and was growing smaller and smaller. Two minutes yet to burn!
He had lost.
He tried to turn his eyes away, but they seemed fastened to the
spot, and he powerless. It was as though death, from staring him in the
face, had suddenly gripped him hard. The panorama of his past life
flashed through his mind. The thoughts of the drowning man, of the
miner who hears the rumble of crumbling earth, of the prisoner helpless
and hopeless who feels the first touch of flame,common thought of all
these were his; and in a space of time which, though seeming to him
endless, was in reality but seconds.
Then came the duller reaction and the events of the last few minutes
repeated themselves, impersonally, spectacularly,as though they were
the actions of another man; one for whom he felt very sorry. He even
went into the future and saw this same man lying down with a tiny
bottle in his hand, preparing for the sleep from which there would be
no awakening,the sleep which, in anticipation, seemed so pleasant.
Concomitant with this thought the visionary shaded into the real,
and there came the determination to act at once, this very afternoon,
as soon as Ichabod had gone. He even felt a little relief at the
decision. After all, it was so much simpler than if he had won, for
thenthenHe laughed gratingly at the thought. Cursed if he would
have known what to have done, then!
The sound roused him and he looked at his watch. A minute had
passed, fourteen from the first and the flame still sputtered. Was it
possible after allafter he had decidedthat he was not to lose, that
the decision was unnecessary? There was not in his mind the slightest
feeling of personal elation at the prospect, but rather a sense of
injury that such a scurvy trick should be foisted off upon him. It was
like going to a funeral and being confronted, suddenly, with the
grinning head of the supposed dead projecting through the coffin lid.
It was unseemly!
Only a minute more: a half nowyes, he would win. For the first
time he felt that his forehead was wet, and he mopped his face with his
handkerchief jerkily; then sank back in the chair, instinctively
shooting forward his cuffs in motion habitual.
Fifteen seconds. There could be no question now of the result; and
the outside world, banished for the once, returned. The blacksmith was
hammering again, the strokes two seconds apart, and the fancy seized
the little man to finish counting by the ring of the anvil.
Twelve, ten, eight, he counted slowly. Six was forming on the
tip of the tongue when of a sudden the tiny flame veered far over
toward the holder, sputtered and went out. For the first time in those
interminable minutes, Arnold looked at his companion. Ichabod's face
was within a foot of the table, and in line with the direction the
flame had veered. Swift as thought the small man was on his feet, white
anger in his face.
You blew that candle! he challenged.
Ichabod's head dropped into his hands. An awful horror of himself
fell crushingly upon him; an abhorrence of the selfishness that could
have forgottenwhat he forgot; and for so long,almost irrevocably
long. Mingled with this feeling was a sudden thanksgiving for the boon
of which he was unworthy; the memory at the eleventh hour, in time to
do as he had done before his word was passed. Arnold strode across the
room, his breath coming fast, his eyes flashing fire. He shook the tall
man by the shoulder roughly.
You blew that flame, I say!
Ichabod looked up at the furious, dark face almost in surprise.
Yes, I blew it, he corroborated absently.
It would have burned longer.
PerhapsI don't know.
Arnold moved back a step and the old smile, mocking, maddening,
spread over his face; tilting, perpendicular, the tips of the big
After all very slowlyafter all, then, you're a coward.
The tall man stood up; six-feet-two, long, bony, immovable: Ichabod
You know that's a lie.
You'll meet me again,another way, then?
I repeat, you're a cursed coward.
I'd be a coward if I did meet you, quickly.
Something in Ichabod's voice caught the little man's ear and held
him silent, as, for a long half-minute, the last time in their lives,
the two men looked into each other's eyes.
You'll perhaps explain. Arnold's voice was cold as death. You
have a reason?
Ichabod walked slowly over to the window and leaned against the
frame. Standing there, the spring sunshine fell full upon his face,
drawing clear the furrows at the angles of his eyes and the gray
threads of his hair. He paused a moment, looking out over the broad
prairie shimmering indistinctly in the heat, and the calm of it all
took hold of him, shone in his face.
I've a reason, very measuredly, but it's not that I fear death,
or you. He took up his hat and smoothed it absently. In future I
shall neither seek, nor avoid you. Do what you wishand God judge us
both. Without a glance at the other man, he turned toward the door.
Arnold moved a step, as if to prevent him going.
I repeat, it's my right to know why you refuse. His feet shifted
uneasily upon the floor. Is it because of anotherEleanor?
Yes, very slowly. It's because of Eleanorand another.
The tall man's hand was upon the knob, but this time there was no
interruption. An instant he hesitated; then absently, slowly, the door
opened and closed. A moment later indistinct, descending steps sounded
on the stairway.
Alone, Asa Arnold stood immovable, looking blindly at the closed
door, listening until the tapping feet had passed into silence. Then,
in a motion indescribable, of pain and of abandon, he sank back into
the single chair.
His dearest enemy would have pitied the little man at that moment!
CHAPTER VIITHE PRICE OF THE LEAP
In the chronology of the little town, day followed day, as
monotonously as ticks the tall clock on the wall. Only in multiple they
merged into the seasons which glided so smoothly, one into the other,
that the change was unnoticed, until it had taken place.
Thus three months passed by, and man's work for the year was nearly
done. The face of the prairie had become one of many colors; eternal
badge of civilization as opposed to Nature, who paints each season with
its own hue. Beside the roadways great, rank sunflowers turned their
glaring yellow faces to the light. In every direction stretched broad
fields of flax; unequally ripening, their color scheme ranging from sky
blue of blossoms to warm browns of maturity. Blotches of sod corn added
here and there a dash of green to the picture. Surrounding all, a
setting for all, the unbroken virgin prairie, mottled green and brown,
stretched, smiling, harmonious, beneficent; a land of promise and of
plenty for generations yet unborn.
All through the long, hot summer Asa Arnold had stayed in town,
smoking a big pipe in front of the hotel of Hans Becher. Indolent,
abnormally indolent, a stranger seeing him thus would have commented;
but, save Hans the confiding, none other of the many interested
observers were deceived. No man merely indolent sleeps neither by night
nor by day; and it seemed the little man never slept. No man merely
indolent sits wide-eyed hour after hour, gazing blankly at the earth
beneath his feetand uttering never a word. Brooding, not dreaming,
was Asa Arnold; brooding over the eternal problem of right and wrong.
And, as passed the slow weeks, he moved backback on the trail of
civilization, back until Passion and not Reason was the god enthroned;
back until one thought alone was with him morning, noon, and
night,and that thought preponderant, overmastering, deadly hate.
Observant Curtis, the doctor, shrugged his shoulders.
The old, old trail, he satirized.
It was to Bud Evans, the little agent, that he made the observation.
Which has no ending, completed the latter.
The doctor shrugged afresh.
That has one inevitable termination, he refuted.
The agent was silent a moment.
And the end of that? he suggested.
Curtis pursed his lips.
Tragedy, or a strait-jacket. The former, in this instance.
Evans was silent longer than before.
Do you really mean that? he queried at last, significantly.
I've warned Maurice,sententiously. I can do no more.
And he? quickly.
That was all?
That was all.
The two friends looked at each other, steadily; yet, though they
said no more, each knew the thought of the other, each knew that in
future no move of Asa Arnold's would pass unnoticed, unchallenged.
Again, weeks, a month, passed without incident. It was well along in
the fall and of an early evening that a vague rumor of the unusual
passed swiftly, by word of mouth, throughout the tiny town. Only a
rumor it was, but sufficient to set every man within hearing in motion.
On this night Hans Becher had eaten his supper and returned to the
hotel office, as was his wont, for an evening smoke, when, without
apparent reason, Bud Evans and Jim Donovan, the blacksmith, came
quietly in and sat down.
Evening, they nodded, and looked about them.
A minute later Dr. Curtis and Hank Judge, the machine man, dropped
unostentatiously into chairs. They likewise muttered Evening, and
made observation from under their hat-brims. Others followed rapidly,
until the room was full and dark figures waited outside. At last Curtis
Your boarder, Asa Arnold, where is he, Hans?
The unsuspecting German blew a cloud of smoke.
He a while ago went out. Then, as an afterthought: He will return
Silence once more for a time, and a steadily thickening haze of
smoke in the room.
Did he have supper, Hans? queried Bud Evans, impatiently.
Again the German's face expressed surprise.
No, it is waiting for him. He went to shoot a rabbit he saw.
The men were on their feet.
He took a gun, Hans?
A rifle, to be sure. The mild brown eyes glanced up reproachfully.
A man does not go hunting without... What is this! he completed in
consternation, as, finding himself suddenly alone, he hurried outside
and stood confusedly scratching his bushy poll, in the block of light
surrounding the open doorway.
The yard was deserted. As one snuffs a candle, the men had vanished.
Hans' pipe had gone out and he went inside for a match. Though the
stars fell, the German must needs smoke. Only a minute he was gone, but
during that time a group of horsemen had gathered in the street. Others
were coming across lots, and still others were emerging from the
darkness of alleys. Some were mounted; some led by the rein, wiry
little bronchos. Watching, it almost seemed to the German that they
sprang from the ground.
Are you all ready? called a voice, Bud Evans' voice.
We're off, then.
There was a sudden, confused trampling, as of cattle in stampede; a
musical creaking of heavy saddles; a knife-like swish of many quirts
through the air; a chorus of dull, chesty groans as the rowels of long
spurs bit the flanks of the mustangs, and they were gonedown the
narrow street, out upon the prairie, their hoof beats pattering
diminuendo into silence; a cloud of dust, grayish in the starlight,
marking the way they had taken.
Jim Donovan, the blacksmith, came running excitedly up from a side
street. He stopped in front of the hotel, breathlessly. Holding his
sides, he followed with his eyes the trail of dust leading out into the
Have they gone? he panted. I can't find another horse in town.
Where is it to? sputtered the German.
Have they gone, I say?
Yes, to be sure.
They'll never make it. The blacksmith mopped his brow with
conviction. He has an hour's start.
Hans grasped the big man by the coat.
Who is too late? he emphasized. Where are they going?
Jim Donovan turned about, great pity for such density in his eyes.
Is it possible you don't understand? It's to Ichabod Maurice's
they're going, to tell him of Arnold. The speaker mopped his face
anew. It's useless though. They're too late, he completed.
But Arnold is not there, protested the German. He went for a
rabbit, out on the breaking. He so told me.
He lied to you. He's mad. I tell you they're too late, repeated
the smith, obstinately.
Hans clung tenaciously to the collar.
Some one knew and told them? He pointed in the direction the dust
Yes, Bud Evans; but they wouldn't believe him at first,
andbitterlyand waited. Donovan shook himself free, and started
down the walk. I'm going to bed, he announced conclusively.
Meanwhile the cloud of dust was moving out over the prairie like the
wind. The pace was terrific, and the tough little ponies were soon
puffing steadily. Small game, roused from its sleep by the roadside,
sprang winging into the night. Once a coyote, surprised, ran a distance
confusedly ahead in the roadway; then, an indistinct black ball, it
vanished amongst the tall grass.
Well out on the prairie, Bud Evans, the leader, raised in his
stirrups and looked ahead. There was no light beyond where the little
cottage should be. The rowels of his spur dug anew at the flank of his
pony as he turned a voice like a fog-horn back over his shoulder.
The place is dark, boys, he called. Hurry.
Answering, a muttering sound, not unlike an approaching storm,
passed along the line, and in accompaniment the quirts cut the air
Silent as the grave was the little farmstead when, forty odd minutes
from the time of starting, they steamed up at the high fence bounding
the yard. One of Ichabod's farm horses whinnied a lone greeting from
the barn as they hastily dismounted and swarmed within the inclosure.
We're too late, prophesied a voice.
I'm glad my name's not Arnold, if we are, responded another,
Hurrying up the path in advance, the little land-agent stumbled over
a soft, dark object, and a curse fell from his lips as he recognized
the dead body of the big collie.
Yes, we're too late, he echoed.
The door of the house swung ajar, creaking upon its hinges; and, as
penetrates the advance wave of a flood, the men swarmed through the
doorway inside, until the narrow room was blocked. Simultaneously, like
torches, lighted matches appeared aloft in their hands, and the tiny
whitewashed room flashed into light. As simultaneously there sprang
from the mouth of each man an oath, and another, and another. Waiting
outside, not a listener but knew the meaning of that sound; and big,
hairy faces crowded tightly to the one small window.
For a moment not a man in the line stirred. Death was to them no
stranger; but death such as this
In more than one hand the match burned down until it left a mark
like charcoal, and without calling attention. One and all they stood
spellbound, their eyes on the floor, their lips unconsciously uttering
the speech universal of anger and of horror, the instinctive language
On the floor, sprawling, as falls a lifeless body, lay the long
Ichabod. On his forehead, almost geometrically near the centre, was a
tiny, black spot, around it a lighter red blotch; his face otherwise
very white; his hair, on the side toward which he leaned, a little
matted; that was all.
Prostrate across him, in an attitude of utter abandon, reposed the
body of a woman, soft, graceful, motionless now as that of the man: the
body of Camilla Maurice. One hand had held his head and was stained
dark. On her lips was another stain, but lighter. The meaning of that
last mark came as a flash to the spectators, and the room grew still as
the figures on the floor.
Suddenly in the silence the men caught their breath, with the quick
guttural note that announces the unexpected. That there was no
remaining life they had taken for grantedand Camilla's lips had
moved! They stared as at sight of a ghost; all except Curtis, the
A lamp, men, he demanded, pressing his ear to Camilla's chest.
Help me here, Evans, he continued without turning. I think she's
fainted is all, and together they carried their burden into the tiny
sleeping-room, closing the door behind.
That instant Ole, the Swede, thrust a curious head in at the outer
doorway. He had noticed the light and the gathering, and came to
ascertain their meaning. Wondering, his big eyes passed around the
waiting group and from them to the floor. With that look
self-consciousness left him; he crowded to the front, bending over the
tall man and speaking his name.
Mr. Maurice, he called. Mr. Maurice.
He snatched off his own coat, rolling it under Ichabod's head, and
with his handkerchief touched the dark spot on the forehead. It was
clotted already and hardening, and realization came to the boy Swede.
He stood up, facing the men, the big veins in his throat throbbing.
Who did this? he thundered, crouching for a spring like a great
dog. Who did this, I say?
It was the call to action. In the sudden horror of the tragedy the
big fellows had momentarily forgotten their own grim epilogue. Now, at
the words, they turned toward the door. But the Swede was in advance,
blocking the passage.
Tell me first who did this thing, he challenged, threateningly.
A hand was laid gently upon his shoulder.
Asa Arnold, my boy, answered a quiet voice, which continued, in
response to a sudden thought, You live near here; have you seen him
The Swede dropped the bar.
The little man who stays with Hans Becher?
The questioner nodded.
Yes, a half-hour ago. The boy-man understood now. He stopped at
my house, and
Which direction did he go?
Ole stepped outside, his arm stretched over the prairie, white now
in the moonlight.
That way, he indicated. East.
As there had been quiescence before, now there was action. No charge
of cavalry was ever more swift than their sudden departure.
East, toward Schooner's ranch, was called and repeated as they
made their way back to the road; and, following, the wiry little
bronchos groaned in unison as the back cinch to each one of the heavy
saddles, was, with one accord, drawn tight. Then, widening out upon the
reflected whiteness of prairie, there spread a great black crescent. A
moment later came silence, broken only by the quivering call of a lone
Ole watched them out of sight, then turned back to the door; the
mood of the heroic passed, once more the timid, retiring Swede. But now
he was not alone. Bud Evans was quietly working over the body on the
floor, laying it out decently as the quick ever lay out the dead.
Evans, called the doctor from the bedroom. As the agent responded,
Ole heard the smothered cry of a woman in pain.
The big boy hesitated, then sat down on the doorstep. There was
nothing now for him to do, and suddenly he felt very tired. His head
dropped listlessly into his hands; like a great dog, he waited,
Minutes passed. On the table the oil lamp sputtered and burned
lower. Out in the stable the horse repeated its former challenging
whinny. Once again through the partition the listener caught the
choking wail of pain, and the muffled sound of the doctor's voice in
At last Bud Evans came to the door, his face very white. Water, he
requested, and Ole ran to the well and back. Then, impassive, he sat
down again to wait.
Time passed, so long a time it seemed to the watcher that the riders
must soon be returning. Finally Evans emerged from the side room,
walking absently, his face gray in the lamplight.
The Swede stood up.
Camilla Maurice, is she hurt? he asked.
The little agent busied himself making a fire.
She's dead, he answered slowly.
Dead, you say?
Yes, dead,very quietly.
The fire blazed up and lit the room, shining unpityingly upon the
face of the man on the floor.
Evans noticed, and drawing off his own coat spread it over the face
and hands, covering them from sight; then, uncertain, he returned and
sat down, mechanically holding his palms to the blaze.
A moment later Dr. Curtis appeared at the tiny bedroom entrance;
and, emerging as the little man had done before him, he closed the door
softly behind. In his arms he carried a blanket, carefully rolled. From
the depths of its folds, as he slowly crossed the room toward the
stove, there escaped a sudden cry, muffled, unmistakable.
The doctor sank down wearily in a chair. Ole, the boy-faced, without
a question brought in fresh wood, laying it down on the floor very,
Will helive? asked Bud Evans, suddenly, with an uncertain glance
at the obscuring blanket; and hearing the query, the Swede paused in
his work to listen.
The big doctor hesitated, and cleared his throat.
I think so; thoughGod forgive meI hope not. And he cleared his