Habakkuk by Katharine Fullerton Gerould
From Scribner's Magazine
When they carried Kathleen Somers up into the hills to die where her
ancestors had had the habit of dyingthey didn't gad about, those
early Somerses; they dropped in their tracks, and the long grass that
they had mowed and stacked and trodden under their living feet
flourished mightily over their gravesit was held to be only a
question of time. I say to die, not because her case was absolutely
hopeless, but because no one saw how, with her spent vitality, she
could survive her exile. Everything had come at once, and she had gone
under. She had lost her kin, she had lost her money, she had lost her
health. Even the people who make their meat of tragedyand there are a
great many of them in all enlightened centres of thoughtshook their
heads and were sorry. They thought she couldn't live; and they also
thought it much, much better that she shouldn't. For there was nothing
left in life for that sophisticated creature but a narrow cottage in a
stony field, with Nature to look at.
Does it sound neurotic and silly? It wasn't. Conceive her if you
canKathleen Somers, whom probably you never knew. From childhood she
had nourished short hopes and straightened thoughts. At least: hopes
that depend on the Ã¦sthetic passion are short; and the long
perspectives of civilized history are very narrow. Kathleen Somers had
been fed with the Old World: that is to say, her adolescent feet had
exercised themselves in picture-galleries and cathedrals and palaces;
she had seen all the right views, all the right ceremonies, and all the
censored picturesqueness. Don't get any Cook's tourist idea, please,
about Miss Somers. Her mother had died young, and her gifted father had
taken her to a hundred places that the school-teacher on a holiday
never gets to and thinks of only in connection with geography lessons.
She had followed the Great Wall of China, she had stood before the tomb
of Tamburlaine, she had shaded her eyes from the glare of KaÃ¯rouan the
Holy, she had chaffered in Tiflis and in Trebizond. All this before she
was twenty-five. At that time her father's health broke, and they
proceeded to live permanently in New York. Her wandering life had
steeped her in delights, but kept her innocent of love-affairs. When
you have fed on historic beauty, on the great plots of the past, the
best tenor voices in the world, it is pretty hard to find a man who
doesn't in his own person, leave out something essential to romance.
She had herself no particular beauty, and therefore the male sex could
get on without her. A few fell in love with her, but she was too
enchanted and amused with the world in general to set to work at the
painful process of making a hero out of any one of them. She was a
sweet-tempered creature; her mental snobbishness was not a pose, but
perfectly inevitable; she had a great many friends. As she had a quick
wit and the historic imagination, you can imagineremembering her
bringing upthat she was an entertaining person when she entered upon
middle age: when, that is, she was proceeding from the earlier to the
It was natural that Kathleen Somers and her fatherwho was a bit
precious and pompous, in spite of his ironiesshould gather about them
a homogeneous group. The house was pleasant and comfortablethey were
too sophisticated to be periodicand there was always good talk
going, if you happened to be the kind that could stand good talk. Of
course you had to pass an examination first. You had at least to show
that you caught on. They were high-brow enough to permit themselves
sudden enthusiasms that would have damned a low-brow. You mustn't like
Peter Pan, but you might go three nights running to see some really
perfect clog-dancing at a vaudeville theatre. Do you see what I mean?
They were eclectic with a vengeance. It wouldn't do for you to
cultivate the clog-dancer and like Peter Pan, because in that
case you probably liked the clog-dancer for the wrong reasonfor
something other than that sublimated skill which is art. Of course this
is only a wildly chosen example. I never heard either of them mention
Peter Pan. And the proper hatreds were ever more difficult than the
proper devotions. You might let Shakespeare get on your nerves,
provided you really enjoyed Milton. I wonder if you do see what I mean?
It must be perfect of its kind, its kind being anything under heaven;
and it must never, never, never be sentimental. It must have art, and
parti pris, and point of view, and individuality stamped over it.
No, I can't explain. If you have known people like that, you've known
them. If you haven't, you can scarcely conceive them.
By this time you are probably hating the Somerses, father and
daughter, and I can't help itor rather, I've probably brought it
about. But when I tell you that I'm not that sore myself, and that I
loved them both dearly and liked immensely to be with them, you'll
reconsider a little, I hope. They were sweet and straight and generous,
both of them, and they knew all about the grand manner. The grand
manner is the most comfortable thing to live with that I know. I used
to go there a good deal, and Arnold Withrow went even more than I did,
though he wasn't even hanging on to Art by the eyelids as I do. (I
refer, of course, to my little habit of writing for the best magazines,
whose public considers me intellectual. So I seem to myself, in the
magazines ... but out in pantry, good Lord! Anyhow, I generally knew
at least what the Somerses were talking aboutthe dears!) Withrow was
a stock-broker, and always spent his vacations in the veritable wilds,
camping in virgin forests, or on the edge of glaciers, or in the dust
of American deserts. He had never been to Europe, but he had been to
Buenos Aires. You can imagine what Kathleen Somers and her father felt
about that: they thought him too quaint and barbaric for words; but
still not barbaric enough to be really interesting.
I was just beginning to suspect that Withrow was in love with
Kathleen Somers in the good old middle-class way, with no drama in it
but no end of devotion, when the crash came. Mr. Somers died, and
within a month of his death the railroad the bonds of which had
constituted his long-since diminished fortune went into the hands of a
receiver. There were a pitiful hundreds a year left, besides the
ancestral cottagewhich had never even been worth selling. His
daughter had an operation, and the shock of that, plus the shock
of his death, plus the shock of her impoverishment, brought the
curtain down with a tremendous rush that terrified the house. It may
make my metaphor clearer if I put it that it was the asbestos curtain
which fell suddenly and violently; not the great crimson drop that
swings gracefully down at the end of a play. It did not mark the end;
it marked a catastrophe in the wings to which the plot must give place.
Then they carried Kathleen Somers to the hills.
* * * * *
It was Mildred Thurston who told me about it first. Withrow would
have rushed to the hills, I think, but he was in British Columbia on an
extended trip. He had fought for three months and got them, and he
started just before Kathleen Somers had her sudden operation. Mildred
Thurston (Withrow's cousin, by the way) threw herself nobly into the
breach. I am not going into the question of Mildred Thurston here.
Perhaps if Withrow had been at home, she wouldn't have gone. I don't
know. Anyhow, when she rushed to Kathleen Somers's desolate retreat she
did it, apparently, from pure kindness. She was sure, like every one
else, that Kathleen would die; and that belief purged her, for the time
being, of selfishness and commonness and cheap gayety. I wouldn't take
Mildred Thurston's word about a state of soul; but she was a good
dictograph. She came back filled with pity; filled, at least, with the
means of inspiring pity for the exile in others.
After I had satisfied myself that Kathleen Somers was physically on
the mend, eating and sleeping fairly, and sitting up a certain amount,
I proceeded to more interesting questions.
What is it like?
Mildred's large blue eyes popped at me with sincere sorrow.
Well, there's no plumbing, and no furnace.
Is it in a village?
It isn't 'in' anything. It's a mile and a half from a station
called Hebron. You have to change three times to get there. It's
half-way up a hillthe house isand there are mountains all about,
and the barn is connected with the house by a series of rickety
woodsheds, and there are places where the water comes through the roof.
They put pails under to catch it. There are queer little contraptions
they call Franklin stoves in most of the rooms and a brick oven in the
kitchen. When they want anything from the village, Joel Blake gets it,
if he doesn't forget. Ditto wood, ditto everything except meat. Some
other hick brings that along when he has 'killed.' They can only see
one house from the front yard, and that is precisely a mile away by the
road. Joel Blake lives nearer, but you can't see his house. You can't
see anythingexcept the woods and the 'crick' and the mountains. You
can see the farmers when they are haying, but that doesn't last long.
Is it a beautiful view?
My dear man, don't ask me what a beautiful view is. My education
Does Kathleen Somers think it beautiful?
She never looks at it, I believe. The place is all run down, and
she sits and wonders when the wall-paper will drop off. At least, that
is what she talks about, when she talks at all. That, and whether Joel
Blake will remember to bring the groceries. The two women never speak
to each other. Kathleen's awfully polite, butwell, you can't blame
her. And I was there in the spring. What it will be in the winter!But
Kathleen can hardly last so long, I should think.
Who is the other woman?
An heirloom. Melora Meigs. Miss Meigs, if you please. You
know Mr. Somers's aunt lived to an extreme old age in the place. Miss
Meigs 'did' for her. And since then she has been living on there. No
one wanted the housethe poor Somerses!and she was used to it. She's
an old thing herself, and of course she hasn't the nerves of a sloth.
Now she 'does' for Kathleen. Of course later there'll have to be a
nurse again. Kathleen mustn't die with only Melora Meigs. I'm not sure,
either, that Melora will last. She all crooked over with rheumatism.
That was the gist of what I got out of Mildred Thurston. Letters to
Miss Somers elicited no real responseonly a line to say that she
wasn't strong enough to write. None of her other female friends could
get any encouragement to visit her. It was perhaps due to Miss
Thurston's mimicry of Melora Meigsshe made quite a stunt of
itthat none of them pushed the matter beyond the first rebuff.
By summer-time I began to get worried myself. Perhaps I was a little
worried, vicariously, for Withrow. Remember that I thought he cared for
her. Miss Thurston's pity for Kathleen Somers was the kind that shuts
the door on the pitied person. If she had thought Kathleen Somers had a
future, she wouldn't have been so kind. I may give it to you as my
private opinion that Mildred Thurston wanted Withrow herself. I can't
swear to it, even now; but I suspected it sufficiently to feel that
some one, for Withrow's sake had better see Kathleen besides his
exuberant and slangy cousin. She danced a little too much on Kathleen
Somers's grave. I determined to go myself, and not to take the trouble
of asking vainly for an invitation. I left New York at the end of June.
With my perfectly ordinary notions of comfort in traveling, I found
that it would take me two days to get to Hebron. It was beyond all the
resorts that people flock to: beyond, and cross country at that. I
must have journeyed on at least three small, one-track railroads after
leaving the Pullman at some junction or other.
It was late afternoon when I reached Hebron; and nearly an hour
later before I could get myself deposited at Kathleen Somers's door.
There was no garden, no porch; only a long, weed-grown walk up to a
stiff front door. An orchard of rheumatic apple-trees was cowering
stiffly to the wind in a far corner of the roughly fenced-in lot; there
was a windbreak of perishing pines.
In the living-room Kathleen Somers lay on a cheap wicker
chaise-longue, staring at a Hindu idol that she held in her thin hands.
She did not stir to greet me; only transferred her stare from the
gilded idol to dusty and ungilded me. She spoke, of course; the first
time in my life, too, that I had ever heard her speak ungently.
My good man, you had better go away. I can't put you up.
That was her greeting. Melora Meigs was snuffling in the hallway
outsidelistening, I suppose.
Oh, yes, you can. If you can't I'm sure Joel Blake will. I've come
to stay a while, Miss Somers.
Can you eat porridge and salt pork for supper?
I can eat tenpenny nails, if necessary. Also I can sleep in the
Melora! The old woman entered, crooked and grudging of aspect.
This friend of my father's and mine has come to see me. Can he sleep
in the barn?
I cannot describe the hostility with which Melora Meigs regarded me.
It was not a pointed and passionate hatred. That, one could have
examined and dealt with. It was, rather, a vast disgust that happened
to include me.
There's nothing to sleep on. Barn's empty.
He could move the nurse's cot out there, if he really wants to. And
I think there's an extra washstand in the woodshed. You'll hardly need
more than one chair, just for a night, she finished, turning to me.
Not for any number of nights, of course, I agreed suavely. I was
angry with Kathleen Somers, I didn't know quite why. I think it was the
Hindu idol. Nor had she any right to address me with insolence, unless
she were mad, and she was not that. Her eyes snapped very sanely. I
don't think Kathleen Somers could have made her voice snap.
Melora Meigs grunted and left the room. The grunt was neither assent
nor dissent; it was only the most inclusive disapproval: the snarl of
an animal, proceeding from the topmost of many layers of dislike.
I'll move the things before dark, I think. I was determined to be
cheerful, even if I had to seem impertinent; though the notion of her
sticking me out in the barn enraged me.
You won't mind Melora's locking the door between, of course. We
always do. I'm such a cockney, I'm timid; and Melora's very sweet about
It was almost too much, but I stuck it out. Presently, indeed, I got
my way; and movedyes, actually lugged and lifted and draggedthe
cot, the chair, and the stand out through the dusty, half-rotted
corridors and sheds to the barn. I drew water at the tap in the yard
and washed my perspiring face and neck. Then I had supper with Miss
Somers and Melora Meigs.
After supper my hostess lighted a candle. We go to bed very early,
she informed me. I know you'll be willing to smoke out-of-doors, it's
so warm. I doubt if Melora could bear tobacco in the house. And you
won't mind her locking up early. You can get into the barn from the
yard any time, of course. Men are never timid, I believe; but there's a
horn somewhere, if you'd like it. We have breakfast at six-thirty.
Yes, it was Kathleen Somers's own voice, saying these things to me.
I was still enraged, but I must bide my time. I refused the horn, and
went out into the rheumatic orchard to smoke in dappled moonlight. The
pure air soothed me; the great silence restored my familiar scheme of
things. Before I went to bed in the barn, I could see the humor of this
sour adventure. Oh, I would be up at six-thirty!
Of course I wasn't. I overslept; and by the time I approached the
house (the woodshed door was still locked) their breakfast was long
over. I fully expected to fast until the midday meal, but Kathleen
Somers relented. With her own hands she made me coffee over a little
alcohol lamp. Bread and butter had been austerely left on the table.
Miss Somers fetched me eggs, which I ate raw. Then I went out into the
orchard to smoke.
When I came back, I found Miss Somers as she had been the day
before, crouched listlessly in her long chair fondling her idol. I drew
up a horsehair rocking-chair and plunged in.
Why do you play with that silly thing?
This? She stroked the idol. It is rather lovely, Father got it in
Benares. The carving is very cunningly done. Look at the nose and
mouth. The rank Hinduism of the thing amuses me. Perhaps it was cruel
to bring it up here where there are no other gods for it to play with.
But it's all I've got. They had to sell everything, you know. When I
get stronger, I'll send it back to New York and sell it too.
Why did you keep it out of all the things you had?
I don't know. I think it was the first thing we ever bought in
India. And I remember Benares with so much pleasure. Wasn't it a pity
we couldn't have been there when everything happened?
Much better not, I should think. You needed surgeons.
Just what I didn't need! I should have liked to die in a country
that had something to say for itself. I don't feel as though this place
had ever existed, except in some hideous dream.
It's not hideous. It's even very beautifulso wild and untouched;
such lovely contours to the mountains.
Yes, it's very untouched. She spoke of it with just the same scorn
I had in old days heard her use for certain novelists. Scarcely worth
the trouble of touching I should thinkshouldn't you?
The beauty of it last night and this morning has knocked me over,
I replied hardily.
Oh, really! How very interesting! By which she meant that she was
not interested at all.
You mean that you would like it landscape-gardened? Really, she
was perverse. She had turned her back to the viewwhich was ripping,
out of her northern window. I could tell that she habitually turned her
back on it.
Oh, landscape-gardened? Well, it would improve it, no doubt. But it
would take generations to do it. The generations that have been here
already don't seem to have accomplished much. Humanly speaking, they
have hardly existed at all.
Kathleen Somers was no snob in the ordinary sense. She was an angel
to peasants. I knew perfectly what she meant by humanly. She meant
there was no castle on the next hill.
Are you incapable of caring for naturejust scenery?
Quite. She closed her eyes, and stopped her gentle, even stroking
of the idol.
Of course you never did see America first, I laughed.
Kathleen Somers opened her eyes and spoke vehemently. I've seen all
there is of it to see, in transit to better places. Seeing America
first! That can be borne. It's seeing America last that kills me.
Seeing nothing else forever, till I die.
You don't care for just beauty, regardless, I mused.
Not a bit. Not unless it has meant something to man. I'm a
humanist, I'm afraid.
Whether she was gradually developing remorse for my night in the
cobwebby barn, I do not know. But anyhow she grew more gentle, from
this point on. She really condescended to expound.
I've never loved natureshe's a brute, and crawly besides. It's
what man has done with nature that counts; it's nature with a human
past. Peaks that have been fought for, and fought on, crossed by the
feet of men, stared at by poets and saints. Most of these peaks aren't
even named. Did you know that? Nature! What is Nature good for, I
should like to know, except to kill us all in the end? Don't Ruskinize
to me, my dear man.
I won't. I couldn't. But, all the same, beauty is beauty, wherever
and whatever. And, look where you will here, your eyes can't go wrong.
I never look. I looked when I first came, and the stupidity, the
emptiness, the mere wood and dirt and rock of it seemed like a personal
insult. I should prefer the worst huddle of a Chinese city, I verily
You've not precisely the spirit of the pioneer, I can see.
I should hope not. 'But, God if a God there be, is the substance of
men, which is man.' I have to stay in the man-made ruts. They're sacred
to me. I'll look with pleasure at the Alps, if only for the sake of
Hannibal and Goethe; but I never could look with pleasure at your
untutored Rockies. They're so unintentional, you know. Nature is
nothing until history has touched her. And as for this geological
display outside my windowsyou'll kindly permit me to turn my back on
it. It's not peevishness. She lifted her hand protestingly. Only, for
weeks, I stared myself blind to see the beauty you talk of. I can't see
it. That's honest. I've tried. But there is none that I can see. I am
very conventional, you know, very self-distrustful. I have to wait for
a Byron to show it to me. American mountainspoor hulking thingshave
never had a poet to look at them. At least, Poe never wasted his time
that way. I don't imagine that Poe would have been much happier here
than I am. I haven't even the thrill of the explorer, for I'm not the
first one to see them. A few thin generations of people have stared at
these hillsand much the hills have done for them! Melora Meigs is the
child of these mountains; and Melora's sense of beauty is amply
expressed in the Orthodox church in Hebron. This landscape, I assure
youshe smiledhasn't made good. So much for the view. It's no use
to me, absolutely no use. I give you full and free leave to take it
away with you if you want it. And I don't think the house is much
better. But I'm afraid I shall have to keep that for Melora Meigs and
me to live in. It was her old smile. The bitterness was all in the
words. No, it was not bitterness, precisely, for it was fundamentally
as impersonal as criticism can be. You would have thought that the
mountains were low-brows. I forebore to mention her ancestors who had
lived here: it would have seemed like quibbling. They had created the
situation; but they had only in the most literal sense created her.
Why don't you get out?
I simply haven't money enough to live anywhere else. Not money
enough for a hall bedroom. This place belongs to me. The taxes are
nothing. The good farming land that went with it was sold long since.
And I'm afraid I haven't the strength to go out and work for a living.
I'm very ineffectual, besides. What could I do even if health returned
to me? I've decided it's more decent to stay here and die on three
dollars a year than to sink my capital in learning stenography.
You could, I suppose, be a companion. Of course I did not mean it,
but she took it up very seriously.
The people who want companions wouldn't want me. And the one thing
this place gives me is freedomfreedom to hate it, to see it
intelligently for what it is. I couldn't afford my blessed hatreds if I
were a companion. And there's no money in it, so that I couldn't even
plan for release. It simply wouldn't do.
Well, of course it wouldn't do. I had never thought it would. I
tried another opening.
When is Withrow coming back?
I don't know. I haven't heard from him. She might have been
telling a squirrel that she didn't know where the other squirrel's nuts
He has been far beyond civilization, I know. But I dare say he'll
be back soon. I hope you won't put him in the barn. I don't mind, of
course, but his feelings might be hurt.
I shall certainly not let him come, she retorted. He would have
the grace to ask first, you know.
I shall make a point of telling him you want him. But even that
could strike no spark from her. She was too completely at odds with
life to care. I realized, too, after an hour's talk with her, that I
had better gotake back my fine proposition about making a long visit.
She reacted to nothing I could offer. I talked of books and plays,
visiting virtuosos and picture exhibitions. Her comments were what they
would always have been, except that she was already groping for the
cue. She had been out of it for months; she had given up the fight. The
best things she said sounded a little stale and precious. Her wit
perished in the face of Nature's stare. Nature was a lady she didn't
recognize: a country cousin she'd never met. She couldn't even sit and
play with similes. If she lived, she would be an old lady with a
clever past: an intolerable bore. But there was no need to look so far
ahead. Kathleen Somers would die.
Before dinner I clambered up or down (I don't remember which) to a
brook and gathered a bunch of wild iris for her. She had loved flowers
of old; and how deftly she could place a spray among her treasures! She
shuddered. Take those things away! How dare you bring It inside the
house? By It I knew she meant the wild natural world. Obediently I
took the flowers out and flung them over the fence. I knew that
Kathleen Somers was capable of getting far more pleasure from their
inimitable hue than I; but even that inimitable hue was poisoned for
her because it came from the world that was torturing herthe world
that beat upon her windows, so that she turned her back to the day;
that stormed her ears, so that she closed them even to its silence;
that surrounded her, so that she locked every gate of her mind.
I left, that afternoon, very desolate and sorry. Certainly I could
do nothing for her. I had tried to shock her, stir her, into another
attitude, but in vain. She had been transplanted to a soil her tender
roots could not strike into. She would wither for a little under the
sky, and then perish. If she could only have fallen in love! I
thought, as I left her, huddled in her wicker chair. If I had been a
woman, I would have fled from Melora Meigs even into the arms of a
bearded farmer; I would have listened to the most nasal male the hills
had bred. I would have milked cows, to get away from Melora. But I am a
crass creature. Besides, what son of the soil would want her:
unexuberant, delicate, pleasant in strange ways, and foreign to all
familiar things? She wouldn't even fall in love with Arnold Withrow,
who was her only chance. For I saw that Arnold, if he ever came, would,
fatally, love the place. She might have put up with the stock-broking,
but she never could have borne his liking the view. Yes, I was very
unhappy as I drove into Hebron; and when I finally achieved the Pullman
at the Junction, I was unhappier still. For I felt towards that Pullman
as the lost child feels toward its nurse; and I knew that Kathleen
Somers, ill, poor, middle-aged, and a woman, was a thousand times more
the child of the Pullman than I.
I have told this in detail, because I hate giving things at
second-hand. Yet there my connection with Kathleen Somers ceased, and
her tragedy deepened before other witnesses. She stayed on in her
hills; too proud to visit her friends, too sane to spend her money on a
flying trip to town, too bruised and faint to fight her fate. The only
thing she tried for was apathy. I think she hopedwhen she hoped
anythingthat her mind would go, a little: not so much that she would
have to be put away; but just enough so that she could see things in
a mistso that the hated hills might, for all she knew, be Alps, the
rocks turn into castles, the stony fields into vineyards, and Joel
Blake into a Tuscan. Just enough so that she could re-create her world
from her blessed memories, without any sharp corrective senses to
interfere. That, I am sure, was what she fixed her mind upon through
the prolonged autumn; bending all her frail strength to turn her brain
ever so little from its rigid attitude to fact. Pretending was no
good: it maddened. If her mind would only pretend without her help!
That would be heaven, until heaven really came.... You can't sympathize
with her, probably, you people who have been bred up on every kind of
Nature cult. I can hear you talking about the everlasting hills. Don't
you see, that was the trouble? Her carefully trained imagination was
her religion, and in her own way she was a ritualist. The mountains she
faced were unbaptized: the Holy Ghost had never descended upon them.
She was as narrow as a nun; but she could not help it. And remember,
you practical people who love woodchucks, that she had nothing but the
view to make life tolerable. The view was no mere accessory to a normal
existence. She lived, half-ill, in an ugly, not too comfortable
cottage, as far as the moon from any world she understood, in a
solitude acidulated by Melora Meigs. No pictures, no music, no plays,
no talkand this, the whole year round. Would you like it yourselves,
you would-be savages with Adirondack guides? Books? Well: that was one
of life's little stupidities. She couldn't buy them, and no one knew
what to send her. Besides, books deferred the day when her mind should,
ever so little, go back on her. She didn't encourage gifts of
literature. She was no philosopher; and an abstraction was of no use to
her unless she could turn it to a larger concreteness, somehow
enhancing, let us say, a sunset from the Acropolis. I never loved
Kathleen Somers, as men love women, but many a time that year I would
have taken her burden on myself, changed lives with her, if that had
been possible. It never could have been so bad for any of us as for
her. Mildred Thurston would have gone to the church sociables and
flirted as grossly as Hebron conventions permitted; I, at least, could
have chopped wood. But to what account could Kathleen Somers turn her
Withrow felt it, toonot as I could feel it, for, as I foretold, he
thought the place glorious. He went up in the autumn when everything
was crimson and purple and gold. Yet more, in a sense, than I could
feel it, for he did love her as men love women. It shows you how far
gone she was that she turned him down. Many women, in her case, would
have jumped at Withrow for the sake of getting away. But she was so
steeped in her type that she couldn't. She wouldn't have married him
before; and she wasn't going to marry him for the sake of living in New
York. She would have been ashamed to. A few of us who knew blamed her.
I didn't, really, though I had always suspected that she cared for him
personally. Kathleen Somers's love, when it came, would be a very
complicated thing. She had seen sex in too many countries, watched its
brazen play on too many stages, within theatres and without, to have
any mawkish illusions. But passion would have to bring a large retinue
to be accepted where she was sovereign. Little as I knew her, I knew
that. Yet I always thought she might have taken him, in that flaming
October, if he hadn't so flagrantly, tactlessly liked the place. He
drank the autumn like wine; he was tipsy with it; and his loving her
didn't tend to sober him. The consequence was that she drew awayas if
he had been getting drunk on some foul African brew that was good only
to befuddle woolly heads with; as if, in other words, he had not been
getting drunk like a gentleman.... Anyhow, Arnold came back with a bad
headache. She had found a gentle brutality to fit his case. He would
have been wise, I believe, to bring her away, even if he had had to
chloroform her to do it. But Withrow couldn't have been wise in that
way. Except for his incurable weakness for Nature, he was the most
delicate soul alive.
He didn't talk much to me about it, beyond telling me that she had
refused him. I made out the rest from his incoherences. He had not
slept in the barn, for they could hardly have let a cat sleep in the
barn on such cold nights; but Melora Meigs had apparently treated him
even worse than she had treated me. Kathleen Somers had named some of
the unnamed mountains after the minor prophets; as grimly as if she had
been one of the people they cursed. I thought that a good sign, but
Withrow said he wished she hadn't: she ground the names out so between
her teeth. Some of her state of mind came out through her talknot
much. It was from one or two casually seen letters that I became aware
of her desire to go a littlejust a littlemad.
In the spring Kathleen Somers had a relapse. It was no wonder. In
spite of the Franklin stoves, her frail body must have been chilled to
the bone for many months. Relief settled on several faces, when we
heardI am afraid it may have settled on mine. She had been more dead
than alive, I judged, for a year; and yet she had not been able to cure
her sanity. That was chronic. Death would have been the kindest friend
that could arrive to her across those detested hills. Wethe we is a
little vague, but several of us scurried aboutsent up a trained
nurse, delaying somewhat for the sake of getting the woman who had been
there before; for she had the advantage of having experienced Melora
Meigs without resultant bloodshed. She was a nice woman, and sent
faithful bulletins; but the bulletins were bad. Miss Somers seemed to
have so little resistance: there was no interest there, she said, no
willingness to fight. The will was slack. Ah, she little knew
Kathleen Somers's will! None of us knew, for that matter.
The spring came late that year, and in those northern hills there
were weeks of melting snow and raw, deep slushthe ugliest season we
have to face south of the Arctic circle. The nurse did not want any of
her friends to come; she wrote privately, to those of us who champed at
the bit, that Miss Somers was fading away, but not peacefully; she was
better unvisited, unseen. Miss Somers did not wish any one to come, and
the nurse thought it wiser not to force her. Several women were held
back by that, and turned with relief to Lenten opera. The opera,
however, said little to Withrow at the best of times, and he was crazed
by the notion of not seeing her before she achieved extinction. I
thought him unwise, for many reasons: for one, I did not think that
Arnold Withrow would bring her peace. She usually knew what she
wantedwasn't that, indeed, the whole trouble with her?and she had
said explicitly to the nurse that she didn't want Arnold Withrow. But
by the end of May Withrow was neither to hold nor to bind: he went. I
contented myself with begging him at least not to poison her last hours
by admiring the landscape. I had expected my earnest request to shock
him; but, to my surprise, he nodded understandingly. I shall curse the
whole thing out like a trooper, if she gives me the chance. And he got
into his daycoachthe Pullmans wouldn't go on until much latera
mistaken and passionate knight.
Withrow could not see her the first evening, and he talked long and
deeply with the nurse. She had no hope to give him: she was mystified.
It was her opinion that Kathleen Somers's lack of will was killing her,
speedily and surely. Is there anything for her to die of? he asked.
There's nothing, you might say, for her to live of, was her
reply. The nurse disapproved of his coming, but promised to break the
news of his presence to her patient in the morning.
Spring had by this time touched the hills. It was that divine first
moment when the whole of earth seems to take a leap in the night; when
things are literally new every morning. Arnold walked abroad late,
filling his lungs and nostrils and subduing his pulses. He was always
faunishly wild in the spring; and for years he hadn't had a chance to
seek the season in her haunts. But he turned in before midnight,
because he dreaded the next day supremely. He didn't want to meet that
face to face until he had to. Melora Meigs lowered like a thunderstorm,
but she was held in check by the nurse. I suppose Melora couldn't give
notice: there would be nothing but the poor-farm for her if she did.
But she whined and grumbled and behaved in general like an electrical
disturbance. Luckily, she couldn't curdle the milk.
Withrow waked into a world of beauty. He walked for an hour before
breakfast, through woods all blurred with buds, down vistas brushed
with faint color. But he would have given the spring and all springs to
come for Kathleen Somers, and the bitter kernel of it was that he knew
it. He was sharp-faced and sad (I know how he looked) when he came
back, with a bunch of hepaticas, to breakfast.
The nurse was visibly trembling. You see, Kathleen Somers's heart
had never been absolutely right. It was a terrible responsibility to
let her patient face Withrow. Still, neither she nor any other woman
could have held Withrow off. Besides, as she had truly said, there was
nothing explicitly for Kathleen Somers to die of. It was that low
vitality, that whispering pulse, that listlessness; then, a draught, a
shock, a bit of over-exertion and something real and organic could
speedily be upon her. No wonder the woman was troubled. In point of
fact, though she had taken up Miss Somers's breakfast, she hadn't dared
tell her the news. And finally, after breakfast, she broke down. I
can't do it, Mr. Withrow, she wailed. Either you go away or I do.
Withrow knew at first only one thing: that he wouldn't be the one to
go. Then he realized that the woman had been under a long strain, what
with the spring thaws, and a delicate patient who wouldn't mendand
Melora to fight with, on behalf of all human decency, every day.
You go, then, he said finally. I'll take care of her.
The nurse stared at him. Then she thought, presumably, of Kathleen
Somers's ineffable delicacy, and burst out laughing. Hysteria might, in
all the circumstances, be forgiven her.
Then they came back to the imminent question.
I'll tell her when I do up her room, she faltered.
All right. I'll give you all the time in the world. But she must be
told I'm hereunless you wish me to tell her myself. Withrow went out
to smoke. But he did not wish to succumb again to the intoxication
Kathleen Somers so disdained, and eventually he went into the barn, to
shut himself away from temptation. It was easier to prepare his
vilifying phrases there.
To his consternation, he heard through the gloom the sound of
sobbing. The nurse, he saw, after much peering, sat on a dusty
chopping-block, crying unhealthily. He went up to her and seized her
arm. Have you told her?
My good woman, you'd better leave this afternoon.
Notthe tone itself was firm, through the shaky sobsuntil
there is some one to take my place.
I'll telegraph for some one. You shan't see her again. But I will
see her at once.
Then the woman's training asserted itself. She pulled herself
together, with a little shake of self-disgust. You'll do nothing of
the sort. I'll attend to her until I go. It has been a long strain,
and, contrary to custom, I've had no time off. I'll telegraph to the
Registry myself. And if I can't manage until then, I'll resign my
profession. She spoke with sturdy shame.
That's better. Withrow approved her. I'm awfully obliged. But
honestly, she has got to know. I can't stand it, skulking round, much
longer. And no matter what happens to the whole boiling, I'm not going
to leave without seeing her.
I'll tell her. The nurse rose and walked to the barn-door like a
heroine. But you must stay here until I come for you.
I promise. Only you must come. I give you half an hour.
I don't need half an hour, thank you. She had recovered her
professional crispness. In the wide door she stopped. It's a pity,
she said irrelevantly, that she can't see how lovely this is. Then
she started for the house.
I believe you, muttered Withrow under his breath.
In five minutes the nurse came back, breathless, half-running.
Arnold got up from the chopping-block, startled. He believed for an
instant (as he has since told me) that it was all over. With her hand
on her beating heart the woman panted out her words:
She has come downstairs in a wrapper. She hasn't been down for
weeks. And she has found your hepaticas.
Oh, hell! Withrow was honestly disgusted. He had never meant to
insult Kathleen Somers with hepaticas. Is it safe to leave her alone
with them? He hardly knew what he was saying. But it shows to what a
pass Kathleen Somers had come that he could be frightened at the notion
of her being left alone with a bunch of hepaticas.
She's all right, I think. She seemed to like them.
Oh, Lord! Withrow's brain was spinning. Here, I'll go. If she can
stand those beastly flowers, she can stand me.
No, she can't. The nurse had recovered her breath now. I'll go
back and tell her, very quietly. If she could get down-stairs, she can
stand it, I think. But I'll be very careful. You come in ten minutes.
If she isn't fit, I'll have got her back to bed by that time.
She disappeared, and Withrow, his back to the view, counted out the
minutes. When the large hand of his watch had quite accomplished its
journey, he turned and walked out through the yard to the side door of
the house. Melora Meigs was clattering dish-pans somewhere beyond, and
the noise she made covered his entrance to the living-room. He drew a
deep breath: they were not there. He listened at the stairs: no sound
up thereno sound, at least, to rise above Melora's dish-pans, now a
little less audible. But this time he was not going to waitfor
anything. He already had one foot on the stairs when he heard voices
and stopped. For just one second he paused, then walked cat-like in the
direction of the sounds. The front door was open. On the step stood
Kathleen Somers, her back to him, facing the horizon. A light shawl
hung on her shoulders, and the nurse's arm was very firmly round her
waist. They did not hear him, breathing heavily there in the hall
He saw Kathleen Somers raise her arm slowlywith difficulty, it
seemed. She pointed at the noble shoulder of a mountain.
That is Habakkuk, said her sweet voice. I named them all, you
know. But I think Habakkuk is my favorite; though of course he's not so
stunning as Isaiah. Then they run down to Obadiah and Malachi. Joel is
just peeping over Habakkuk's left shoulder. That long bleak range is
Jeremiah. She laughed, very faintly. You know, Miss Willis, they are
really very beautiful. Isn't it strange, I couldn't see it? For I
honestly couldn't. I've been lying there, thinking. And I found I could
remember all their outlines, under snow ... and this morning it seemed
to me I must see how Habakkuk looked in the spring. She sat down
suddenly on the top step; and Miss Willis sat down too, her arm still
about her patient.
It's very strangeWithrow, strain though he did, could hardly
make out the words, they fell so softlythat I just couldn't see it
before. It's only these last days.... And now I feel as if I wanted to
see every leaf on every tree. It wasn't so last year. They say
something to me now. I don't think I should want to talk with them
forever, but you've no ideayou've no ideahow strange and welcome it
is for my eyes to find them beautiful. She seemed almost to murmur to
herself. Then she braced herself slightly against the nurse's shoulder,
and went on, in her light, sweet, ironic voice. They probably never
told youbut I didn't care for Nature, exactly. I don't think I care
for it now, as some people do, but I can see that this is beautiful. Of
course you don't know what it means to me. It has simply changed the
world. She waved her hand again. They never got by, before. I always
knew that line was line, and color was color, wherever or whoever. But
my eyes went back on me. My father would have despised me. He wouldn't
have preferred Habakkuk, but he would have done Habakkuk justice from
the beginning. Yes, it makes a great deal of difference to me to see it
once, fair and clear. Whyshe drew herself up as well as she could,
so firmly heldit is a very lovely place. I should tire of it some
time, but I shall not tire of it soon. For a little while, I shall be
up to it. And I know that no one thinks it will be long.
Just then, Withrow's absurd fate caught him. Breathless, more
passionately interested than he had ever been in his life, he sneezed.
He had just time, while the two women were turning, to wonder if he had
ruined it allif she would faint, or shriek, or relapse into apathy.
She did none of these things. She faced him and flushed, standing
unsteadily. How long have you been cheating me? she asked coldly. But
she held out her hand before she went upstairs with the nurse's arm
still round her.
Later he caught at Miss Willis excitedly. Is she better? Is she
worse? Is she well? Or is she going to die?
She's shaken. She must rest. But she's got the hepaticas in water
beside her bed. And she told me to pull the shade up so that she could
look out. She has a touch of temperaturebut she often has that. The
exertion and the shock would be enough to give it to her. I found her
leaning against the door-jamb. I hadn't a chance to tell her you were
here. I can tell you later whether you'd better go or stay.
I'm going to stay. It's you who are going.
You needn't telegraph just yet, the nurse replied dryly. She
looked another woman from the nervous, sobbing creature on the
The end was that Miss Willis stayed and Arnold Withrow went. Late
that afternoon he left Kathleen Somers staring passionately at the
sunset. It was not his moment, and he had the grace to know it. But he
had not had to tell her that the view was beastly; and, much as he
loved her, I think that was a relief to him.
None of us will ever know the whole of Kathleen Somers's miracle, of
course. I believe she told as much of it as she could when she said
that she had lain thinking of the outlines of the mountains until she
felt that she must go out and face them: stand once more outside, free
of walls, and stare about at the whole chain of the earth-lords.
Perhaps the spring, which had broken up the ice-bound streams, had
melted other things besides. Unwittinglyby unconscious
cerebrationby the long inevitable storing of disdained
impressionsshe had arrived at vision. That which had been, for her,
alternate gibberish and silence, had become an intelligible tongue. The
blank features had stirred and shifted into a countenance; she saw a
face, where she had seen only odds and ends of modelling grotesquely
flung abroad. With no stupid pantheism to befuddle her, she yet felt
the earth a living thing. Wood and stone, which had not even been an
idol for her, now shaped themselves to hold a sacrament. Put it as you
please; for I can find no way to express it to my satisfaction.
Kathleen Somers had, for the first time, envisaged the cosmic, had seen
something less passionate, but more vital, than history. Most of us are
more fortunate than she: we take it for granted that no loom can rival
the petal of a flower. But to some creatures the primitive is a cipher,
hard to learn; and blood is spent in the struggle. You have perhaps
seen (and not simply in the old legend) passion come to a statue. Rare,
oh, rare is the necessity for such a miracle. But Kathleen Somers was
in need of one; and I believe it came to her.
The will was slack, the nurse had said; yet it sufficed to take her
from her bed, down the stairs, in pursuit of the voicestraight out
into the newly articulate world. She moved, frail and undismayed, to
the source of revelation. She did not cower back and demand that the
oracle be served up to her by a messenger. A will like that is not
Now I will shuffle back into my own skin and tell you the rest of it
very briefly and from the rank outsider's point of view. Even had I
possessed the whole of Arnold Withrow's confidence, I could not deal
with the delicate gradations of a lover's mood. He passed the word
about that Kathleen Somers was not going to diethough I believe he
did it with his heart in his mouth, not really assured she wouldn't. It
took some of us a long time to shift our ground and be thankful.
Withrow, with a wisdom beyond his habit, did not go near her until
autumn. Reports were that she was gaining all the time, and that she
lived out-of-doors staring at Habakkuk and his brethren, gathering wild
flowers and pressing them between her palms. She seemed determined to
face another winter there alone with Melora, Miss Willis wrote. Withrow
set his jaw when that news came. It was hard on him to stay away, but
she had made it very clear that she wanted her convalescent summer to
herself. When she had to let Miss Willis goand Miss Willis had
already taken a huge slice of Kathleen's capitalhe might come and see
her through the transition. So Withrow sweltered in New York all
summer, and waited for permission.
Then Melora Meigs was gracious for once. With no preliminary
illness, with just a little gasp as the sun rose over the long range of
Jeremiah, she died. Withrow, hearing this, was off like a sprinter who
hears the signal. He found laughter and wit abiding happily in
Kathleen's recovered body. Together they watched the autumn deepen over
the prophets. Habakkuk, all insults forgiven, was their familiar.
So they brought Kathleen Somers back from the hills to live. It was
impossible for her to remain on her mountainside without a Melora
Meigs; and Melora, unlike most tortures, was unreplaceable. Kathleen's
world welcomed her as warmly as if her exile had been one long
suspense: a gentle hyprocrisy we all forgave each other. Some one went
abroad and left an apartment for her use. All sorts of delicate little
events occurred, half accidentally, in her interest. Soon some of us
began to gather, as of old. Marvel of marvels, Withrow had not spoken
in that crimson week of autumn. Without jealousy he had apparently left
her to Habakkuk. It was a brief winterfor Kathleen Somers's body, a
kind of spring. You could see her grow, from week to week: plump out
and bloom more vividly. Then, in April, without a word, she left
usdisappeared one morning, with no explicit word to servants.
Withrow once morepoor Withrowshot forth, not like a runner, but
like a hound on a fresh scent. He needed no time-tables. He leaped from
the telephone to the train.
He found her there, he told me afterward, sitting on the step, the
door unlocked behind her but shut.
Indeed, she never entered the house again; for Withrow bore her away
from the threshold. I do not think she minded, for she had made her
point: she had seen Habakkuk once more, and Habakkuk had not gone back
on her. That was all she needed to know. They meant to go up in the
autumn after their marriage, but the cottage burned to the ground
before they got back from Europe. I do not know that they have ever
been, or whether they ever will go, now. There are still a few exotic
places that Kathleen Withrow has not seen, and Habakkuk can wait. After
all, the years are very brief in Habakkuk's sight. Even if she never
needs him again, I do not think he will mind.
Copyright, 1919, by Charles Scribner's Sons. Copyright, 1921, by
Katharine Fullerton Gerould.