by Ben Ames
From Saturday Evening Post
I telephoned down the hill to Hazen Kinch. “Hazen,” I asked, “are
you going to town to-day?”
“Yes, yes,” he said abruptly in his quick, harsh fashion. “Of course
I'm going to town.”
“I've a matter of business,” I suggested.
“Come along,” he invited brusquely. “Come along.”
There was not another man within forty miles to whom he would have
given that invitation.
“I'll be down in ten minutes,” I promised him; and I went to pull on
my Pontiacs and heavy half boots over them and started downhill through
the sandy snow. It was bitterly cold; it had been a cold winter. The
bay—I could see it from my window—was frozen over for a dozen miles
east and west and thirty north and south; and that had not happened in
close to a score of years. Men were freighting across to the islands
with heavy teams. Automobiles had beaten a rough road along the course
the steamers took in summer. A man who had ventured to stock one of the
lower islands with foxes for the sake of their fur, counting on the
water to hold them prisoners, had gone bankrupt when his stock in trade
escaped across the ice. Bitterly cold and steadily cold, and deep snow
lay upon the hills, blue-white in the distance. The evergreens were
blue-black blotches on this whiteness. The birches, almost
indistinguishable, were like trees in camouflage. To me the hills are
never so grand as in this winter coat they wear. It is easy to believe
that a brooding God dwells upon them. I wondered as I ploughed my way
down to Hazen Kinch's farm whether God did indeed dwell among these
hills; and I wondered what He thought of Hazen Kinch.
This was no new matter of thought with me. I had given some thought
to Hazen in the past. I was interested in the man and in that which
should come to him. He was, it seemed to me, a problem in fundamental
ethics; he was, as matters stood, a demonstration of the essential
uprightness of things as they are. The biologist would have called him
a sport, a deviation from type, a violation of all the proper laws of
life. That such a man should live and grow great and prosper was not
fitting; in a well-regulated world it could not be. Yet Hazen Kinch did
live; he had grown—in his small way—great; and by our lights he had
prospered. Therefore I watched him. There was about the man the
fascination which clothes a tight-rope walker above Niagara; an
aeronaut in the midst of the nose dive. The spectator stares with
half-caught breath, afraid to see and afraid to miss seeing the
ultimate catastrophe. Sometimes I wondered whether Hazen Kinch
suspected this attitude on my part. It was not impossible. There was a
cynical courage in the man; it might have amused him. Certainly I was
the only man who had in any degree his confidence.
I have said there was not another within forty miles whom he would
have given a lift to town; I doubt if there was another man anywhere
for whom he would have done this small favour.
He seemed to find a mocking sort of pleasure in my company.
When I came to his house he was in the barn harnessing his mare to
the sleigh. The mare was a good animal, fast and strong. She feared and
she hated Hazen. I could see her roll her eyes backward at him as he
adjusted the traces. He called to me without turning:
“Shut the door! Shut the door! Damn the cold!”
I slid the door shut behind me. There was within the barn the
curious chill warmth which housed animals generate to protect
themselves against our winters.
“It will snow,” I told Hazen. “I was not sure you would go.”
He laughed crookedly, jerking at the trace.
“Snow!” he exclaimed. “A man would think you were the personal
manager of the weather. Why do you say it will snow?”
“The drift of the clouds—and it's warmer,” I told him.
“I'll not have it snowing,” he said, and looked at me and cackled.
He was a little, thin, old man with meager whiskers and a curious
precision of speech; and I think he got some enjoyment out of watching
my expression at such remarks as this. He elaborated his assumption
that the universe was conducted for his benefit, in order to see my
silent revolt at the suggestion. “I'll not have it snowing.” he said.
“Open the door.”
He led the mare out and stopped by the kitchen door.
“Come in,” he said. “A hot drink.”
I went with him into the kitchen. His wife was there, and their
child. The woman was lean and frail; and she was afraid of him. The
countryside said he had taken her in payment of a bad debt. Her father
had owed him money which he could not pay.
“I decided it was time I had a wife,” Hazen used to say to me.
The child was on the floor. The woman had a drink of milk and egg
and rum, hot and ready for us. We drank, and Hazen knelt beside the
child. A boy baby, not yet two years old. It is an ugly thing to say,
but I hated this child. There was evil malevolence in his baby eyes. I
have sometimes thought the grey devils must have left just such
hate-bred babes as this in France. Also, he was deformed—a twisted
leg. The women of the neighbourhood sometimes said he would be better
dead. But Hazen Kinch loved him. He lifted him in his arms now with a
curious passion in his movement, and the child stared at him sullenly.
When the mother came near the baby squalled at her, and Hazen said
“Stand away! Leave him alone!”
She moved back furtively; and Hazen asked me, displaying the child:
“A fine boy, eh?”
I said nothing, and in his cracked old voice he mumbled endearments
to the baby. I had often wondered whether his love for the child
redeemed the man; or merely made him vulnerable. Certainly any harm
that might come to the baby would be a crushing blow to Hazen.
He put the child down on the floor again and he said to the woman
curtly: “Tend him well.” She nodded. There was a dumb submission in her
eyes; but through this blank veil I had seen now and then a blaze of
Hazen went out of the door without further word to her, and I
followed him. We got into the sleigh, bundling ourselves into the robes
for the six-mile drive along the drifted road to town. There was a
feeling of storm in the air. I looked at the sky and so did Hazen
Kinch. He guessed what I would have said and he answered me before I
“I'll not have it snowing,” he said, and leered at me.
Nevertheless, I knew the storm would come. The mare turned out of
the barnyard and ploughed through a drift and struck hard-packed road.
Her hoofs beat a swift tattoo; our runners sang beneath us. We dropped
to the little bridge and across and began the mile-long climb to the
top of Rayborn Hill. The road from Hazen's house to town is compounded
of such ups and downs.
At the top of the hill we paused for a moment to breathe the mare;
paused just in front of the big old Rayborn house, that has stood there
for more years than most of us remember. It was closed and shuttered
and deserted; and Hazen dipped his whip toward it and said meanly:
“An ugly, improvident lot, the Rayborns were.”
I had known only one of them—the eldest son. A fine man, I had
thought him. Picking apples in his orchard, he fell one October and
broke his neck. His widow tried to make a go of the place, but she
borrowed of Hazen and he had evicted her this three months back. It was
one of the lesser evils he had done. I looked at the house and at him,
and he clucked to the mare and we dipped down into the steep valley
below the hill.
The wind had a sweep in that valley and there was a drift of snow
across it and across the road. This drift was well packed by the wind,
but when we drove over its top our left-hand runner broke through the
coaming and we tumbled into the snow, Hazen and I. We were well
entangled in the rugs. The mare gave a frightened start, but Hazen had
held the reins and the whip so that she could not break away. We got up
together, he and I, and we righted the sleigh and set it upon the road
again. I remember that it was becoming bitter cold and the sun was no
longer shining. There was a steel-grey veil drawn across the bay.
When the sleigh was upright Hazen went forward and stood beside the
mare. Some men, blaming the beast without reason, would have beaten
her. They would have cursed, cried out upon her. That was not the cut
of Hazen Kinch. But I could see that he was angry and I was not
surprised when he reached up and gripped the horse's ear. He pulled the
mare's head down and twisted the ear viciously. All in a silence that
The mare snorted and tried to rear back and Hazen clapped the butt
of his whip across her knees. She stood still, quivering, and he
wrenched at her ear again.
“Now,” he said softly, “keep the road.”
And he returned and climbed to his place beside me in the sleigh. I
said nothing. I might have interfered, but something had always
impelled me to keep back my hand from Hazen Kinch.
We drove on and the mare was lame. Though Hazen pushed her, we were
slow in coming to town and before we reached Hazen's office the
swirling snow was whirling down—a pressure of driving, swirling flakes
like a heavy white hand.
I left Hazen at the stair that led to his office and I went about my
business of the day. He said as I turned away:
“Be here at three.”
I nodded. But I did not think we should drive home that afternoon. I
had some knowledge of storms.
That which had brought me to town was not engrossing. I found time
to go to the stable and see Hazen's mare. There was an ugly welt across
her knees and some blood had flowed. The stablemen had tended the welt,
and cursed Hazen in my hearing. It was still snowing, and the stable
boss, looking out at the driving flakes, spat upon the ground and said
“Them legs'll go stiff. That mare won't go home to-night.”
“I think you are right,” I agreed.
“The white-whiskered skunk!” he said, and I knew he spoke of Hazen.
At a quarter of three I took myself to Hazen Kinch's office. It was
not much of an office; not that Hazen could not have afforded a better.
But it was up two flights—an attic room ill lighted. A small air-tight
stove kept the room stifling hot. The room was also air-tight. Hazen
had a table and two chairs, and an iron safe in the corner. He put a
pathetic trust in that safe. I believe I could have opened it with a
screwdriver. I met him as I climbed the stairs. He said harshly:
“I'm going to telephone. They say the road's impassable.”
He had no telephone in his office; he used one in the store below. A
small economy fairly typical of Hazen.
“I'll wait in the office,” I told him.
“Go ahead,” he agreed, halfway down the stairs.
I went up to his office and closed the drafts of the stove—it was
red-hot—and tried to open the one window, but it was nailed fast. Then
Hazen came back up the stairs grumbling.
“Damn the snow!” he said. “The wire is down.”
“Where to?” I asked.
“My house, man! To my house!”
“You wanted to telephone home that you—”
“I can't get home to-night. You'll have to go to the hotel.”
I nodded good-naturedly.
“All right. You, too, I suppose.”
“I'll sleep here,” he said.
I looked round. There was no bed, no cot, nothing but the two stiff
chairs. He saw my glance and said angrily: “I've slept on the floor
I was always interested in the man's mental processes.
“You wanted to telephone Mrs. Kinch not to worry?” I suggested.
“Pshaw, let her fret!” said Hazen. “I wanted to ask after my boy.”
His eyes expanded, he rubbed his hands a little, cackling. “A fine boy,
sir! A fine boy!”
It was then we heard Doan Marshey coming up the stairs. We heard his
stumbling steps as he began the last flight and Hazen seemed to cock
his ears as he listened. Then he sat still and watched the door. The
steps climbed nearer; they stopped in the dim little hall outside the
door and someone fumbled with the knob. When the door opened we saw who
it was. I knew Marshey. He lived a little beyond Hazen on the same
road. Lived in a two-room cabin—it was little more—with his wife and
his five children; lived meanly and pitiably, grovelling in the soil
for daily bread, sweating life out of the earth—life and no more. A
thin man, racking thin; a forward-thrusting neck and a bony face and a
sad and drooping moustache about his mouth. His eyes were meek and
He stood in the doorway blinking at us; and with his gloved
hands—they were stiff and awkward with the cold—he unwound the ragged
muffler that was about his neck and he brushed weakly at the snow upon
his head and his shoulders. Hazen said angrily:
“Come in! Do you want my stove to heat the town?”
Doan shuffled in and he shut the door behind him. He said: “Howdy,
Mr. Kinch.” And he smiled in a humble and placating way.
Hazen said: “What's your business? Your interest is due.”
“Yeah. I know, Mr. Kinch. I cain't pay it all.”
Kinch exclaimed impatiently: “An old story! How much can you pay?”
“Eleven dollars and fifty cents,” said Doan.
“You owe twenty.”
“I aim to pay it when the hens begin to lay.”
Hazen laughed scornfully.
“You aim to pay! Damn you, Marshey, if your old farm was worth
taking I'd have you out in this snow, you old scamp!”
Doan pleaded dully: “Don't you do that, Mr Kinch! I aim to pay.”
Hazen clapped his hands on the table.
“Rats! Come! Give me what you've got! And Marshey, you'll have to
get the rest. I'm sick of waiting on you.”
Marshey came shuffling toward the table. Hazen was sitting with the
table between him and the man and I was a little behind Hazen at one
side. Marshey blinked as he came nearer, and his weak nearsighted eyes
turned from Hazen to me. I could see that the man was stiff with the
When he came to the table in front of Hazen he took off his thick
gloves. His hands were blue. He laid the gloves on the table and
reached into an inner pocket of his torn coat and drew out a little
cloth pouch and he fumbled into this and I heard the clink of coins. He
drew out two quarters and laid them on the table before Hazen, and
Hazen picked them up. I saw that Marshey's fingers moved stiffly; I
could almost hear them creak with the cold. Then he reached into the
Something dropped out of the mouth of the little cloth bag and fell
soundlessly on the table. It looked to me like a bill, a piece of paper
currency. I was about to speak, but Hazen, without an instant's
hesitation, had dropped his hand on the thing and drawn it
unostentatiously toward him. When he lifted his hand the money—if it
was money—was gone.
Marshey drew out a little roll of worn bills. Hazen took them out of
his hand and counted them swiftly.
“All right.” he said. “Eleven-fifty. I'll give you a receipt. But
you mind me, Doan Marshey, you get the rest before the month's out.
I've been too slack with you.”
Marshey, his dull eyes watching Hazen write the receipt, was folding
the little pouch and putting it away. Hazen tore off the bit of paper
and gave it to him. Doan took it and he said humbly: “Thank'e, sir.”
“Mind now,” he exclaimed, and Marshey said: “I'll do my best, Mr.
Then he turned and shuffled across the room and out into the hall
and we heard him descending the stairs.
When he was gone I asked Hazen casually: “What was it that he
dropped upon the table?”
“A dollar,” said Hazen promptly. “A dollar bill. The miserable
Hazen's mental processes were always of interest to me.
“You mean to give it back to him?” I asked.
He stared at me and he laughed. “No! If he can't take care of his
own money—that's why he is what he is.”
“Still it is his money.”
“He owes me more than that.”
“Going to give him credit for it?”
“Am I a fool?” Hazen asked me. “Do I look like so much of a fool?”
“He may charge you with finding it.”
“He loses a dollar; I find one. Can he prove ownership? Pshaw!”
Hazen laughed again.
“If there is any spine in him he will lay the thing to you as a
theft,” I suggested. I was not afraid of angering Hazen. He allowed me
open speech; he seemed to find a grim pleasure in my distaste for him
and for his way of life.
“If there were any backbone in the man he would not be paying me
eighty dollars a year on a five-hundred-dollar loan—discounted.”
Hazen grinned at me triumphantly.
“I wonder if he will come back,” I said.
“Besides,” Hazen continued, “he lied to me. He told me the
eleven-fifty was all he had.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “There is no doubt he lied to you.”
Hazen had a letter to write and he bent to it. I sat by the stove
and watched him and considered. He had not yet finished the letter when
we heard Marshey returning. His dragging feet on the stair were
unmistakable. At the sound of his weary feet some tide of indignation
surged up in me.
I was minded to do violence to Hazen Kinch. But—a deeper impulse
held my hand from the man.
Marshey came in and his weary eyes wandered about the room. They
inspected the floor; they inspected me; they inspected Hazen Kinch's
table, and they rose at last humbly to Hazen Kinch.
“Well?” said Hazen.
“I lost a dollar,” Marshey told him. “I 'lowed I might have dropped
“You told me eleven-fifty was all you had.”
“This here dollar wa'n't mine.”
The money-lender laughed.
“Likely! Who would give you a dollar? You lied to me, or you're
lying now. I don't believe you lost a dollar.”
Marshey reiterated weakly: “I lost a dollar.”
“Well,” said Hazen, “there's no dollar of yours here.”
“It was to git medicine,” Marshey said. “It wa'n't mine.”
Hazen Kinch exclaimed: “By God, I believe you're accusing me!”
Marshey lifted both hands placatingly.
“No, Mr. Kinch. No, sir.” His eyes once more wandered about the
room. “Mebbe I dropped it in the snow,” he said.
He turned to the door. Even in his slow shuffle there was a hint of
trembling eagerness to escape. He went out and down the stairs. Hazen
looked at me, his old face wrinkling mirthfully.
“You see?” he said.
I left him a little later and went out into the street. On the way
to the hotel I stopped for a cigar at the drug store. Marshey was
there, talking with the druggist.
I heard the druggist say: “No, Marshey, I'm sorry. I've been stung
Marshey nodded humbly.
“I didn't 'low you'd figure to trust me.” he agreed. “It's all
right. I didn't 'low you would.”
It was my impulse to give him the dollar he needed, but I did not do
it. An overpowering compulsion bade me keep my hands off in this
matter. I did not know what I expected, but I felt the imminence of the
fates. When I went out into the snow it seemed to me the groan of the
gale was like the slow grind of millstones, one upon the other.
I thought long upon the matter of Hazen Kinch before sleep came that
Toward morning the snow must have stopped; and the wind increased
and carved the drifts till sunrise, then abruptly died. I met Hazen at
the postoffice at ten and he said: “I'm starting home.”
I asked: “Can you get through?”
“I will get through,” he told me.
“You're in haste.”
“I want to see that boy of mine,” said Hazen Kinch. “A fine boy,
man! A fine boy!”
“I'm ready,” I said.
When we took the road the mare was limping. But she seemed to work
out the stiffness in her knees and after a mile or so of the hard going
she was moving smoothly enough. We made good time.
The day, as often happens after a storm, was full of blinding
sunlight. The glare of the sun upon the snow was almost unbearable. I
kept my eyes all but closed but there was so much beauty abroad in the
land that I could not bear to close them altogether. The snow clung to
twigs and to fences and to wires, and a thousand flames glinted from
every crystal when the sun struck down upon the drifts. The pine wood
upon the eastern slope of Rayborn Hill was a checkerboard of rich
colour. Green and blue and black and white, indescribably brilliant.
When we crossed the bridge at the foot of the hill we could hear the
brook playing beneath the ice that sheathed it. On the white pages of
the snow wild things had writ here and there the fine-traced tale of
their morning's adventuring. We saw once where a fox had pinned a big
snowshoe rabbit in a drift.
Hazen talked much of that child of his on the homeward way. I said
little. From the top of the Rayborn Hill we sighted his house and he
laid the whip along the mare and we went down that last long descent at
a speed that left me breathless. I shut my eyes and huddled low in the
robes for protection against the bitter wind, and I did not open them
again till we turned into Hazen's barnyard, ploughing through the
When we stopped Hazen laughed.
“Ha!” he said. “Now, come in, man, and warm yourself and see the
baby! A fine boy!”
He was ahead of me at the door; I went in upon his heels. We came
into the kitchen together.
Hazen's kitchen was also living-room and bedroom in the cold of
winter. The arrangement saved firewood. There was a bed against the
wall opposite the door. As we came in a woman got up stiffly from this
bed and I saw that this woman was Hazen's wife. But there was a change
in her. She was bleak as cold iron and she was somehow strong.
Hazen rasped at this woman impatiently: “Well, I'm home! Where is
She looked at him and her lips moved soundlessly. She closed them,
opened them again. This time she was able to speak.
“The boy?” she said to Hazen. “The boy is dead!”
The dim-lit kitchen was very quiet for a little time. I felt myself
breathe deeply, almost with relief. The thing for which I had
waited—it had come. And I looked at Hazen Kinch.
He had always been a little thin man. He was shrunken now and very
white and very still. Only his face twitched. A muscle in one cheek
jerked and jerked and jerked at his mouth. It was as though he
controlled a desire to smile. That jerking, suppressed smile upon his
white and tortured countenance was terrible. I could see the blood
drain down from his forehead, down from his cheeks. He became white as
After a little he tried to speak. I do not know what he meant to
say. But what he did was to repeat—as though he had not heard her
words—the question which he had flung at her in the beginning. He said
huskily: “Where is the boy?”
She looked toward the bed and Hazen looked that way; and then he
went across to the bed with uncertain little steps. I followed him. I
saw the little twisted body there. The woman had been keeping it warm
with her own body. It must have been in her arms when we came in. The
tumbled coverings, the crushed pillows spoke mutely of a ferocious
intensity of grief.
Hazen looked down at the little body. He made no move to touch it,
but I heard him whisper to himself: “Fine boy.”
After a while he looked at the woman. She seemed to feel an
accusation in his eyes. She said: “I did all I could.”
He asked “What was it?”
I had it in me—though I had reason enough to despise the little
man—to pity Hazen Kinch.
“He coughed,” said the woman. “I knew it was croup. You know I asked
you to get the medicine—ipecac. You said no matter—no need—and you
She looked out of the window.
“I went for help—to Annie Marshey. Her babies had had it. Her
husband was going to town and she said he would get the medicine for
me. She did not tell him it was for me. He would not have done it for
you. He did not know. So I gave her a dollar to give him—to bring it
out to me.
“He came home in the snow last night. Baby was bad by that time, so
I was watching for Doan. I stopped him in the road and I asked for the
medicine. When he understood he told me. He had not brought it.”
The woman was speaking dully, without emotion.
“It would have been in time, even then,” she said. “But after a
while, after that, baby died.”
I understood in that moment the working of the mills. And when I
looked at Hazen Kinch I saw that he, too, was beginning to understand.
There is a just mercilessness in an aroused God. Hazen Kinch was driven
“Why—didn't Marshey fetch it?” he asked.
She said slowly: “They would not trust him—at the store.”
His mouth twitched, he raised his hands.
“The money!” he cried. “The money! What did he do with that?”
“He said,” the woman answered, “that he lost it—in your office;
lost the money there.”
After a little the old money-lender leaned far back like a man
wrenched with agony. His body was contorted, his face was terrible. His
dry mouth opened wide.
* * * * *
Halfway up the hill to my house I stopped to look back and all
round. The vast hills in their snowy garments looked down upon the
land, upon the house of Hazen Kinch. Still and silent and inscrutable.
I knew now that a just and brooding God dwelt among these hills.