Shandon Waters by Kathleen Norris
"For mercy's sakes, here comes Shandon Waters!" said Jane
Dinwoodie, of the post-office, leaving her pigeonholes to peer through
the one small window of that unpretentious building. "Mother, here's
Shandon Waters driving into town with the baby!" breathed pretty Mary
Dickey, putting an awed face into the sitting-room. "I declare that
looks terrible like Shandon!" ejaculated Johnnie Larabee,
straightening up at her wash-tubs and shading her eyes with her hand.
"Well, what on earth brought her up to town!" said all Deaneville,
crowding to the windows and doorways and halting the march of the busy
Monday morning to watch a mud-spattered cart come bumping up and down
over the holes in the little main street.
The woman—or girl, rather, for she was but twenty—who sat in the
cart was in no way remarkable to the eye. She had a serious, even
sullen face, and a magnificent figure, buttoned just now into a tan
ulster that looked curiously out of keeping with her close, heavy
widow's bonnet and hanging veil. Sprawled luxuriously in her lap,
with one fat, idle little hand playing above her own gauntleted one
on the reins, was a splendid child something less than a year old,
snugly coated and capped against the cool air of a California
February. She watched him closely as she drove, not moving her eyes
from his little face even for a glance at the village street.
Poor Dan Waters had been six months in his grave, now, and this was
the first glimpse Deaneville had had of his widow. For an unbroken
half year she had not once left the solitude of the big ranch down by
the marsh, or spoken to any one except her old Indian woman servant
and the various "hands" in her employ.
She had been, in the words of Deaneville, "sorta nutty" since her
husband's death. Indeed, poor Shandon had been "sorta nutty" all her
life. Motherless at six, and allowed by her big, half civilized
father to grow up as wild as the pink mallow that fringed the home
marshes, she was regarded with mingled horror and pity by the well-
ordered Deaneville matrons. Jane Dinwoodie and Mary Dickey could well
remember the day she was brought into the district school, her
mutinous black eyes gleaming under a shock of rough hair, her clumsy
little apron tripping her with its unaccustomed strings. The lonely
child had been frantic for companionship, and her direct, even
forceful attempts at friendship had repelled and then amused the
Deaneville children. As unfortunate chance would have it, it was shy,
spoiled, adored little Mary Dickey that Shandon instantly selected for
especial worship, and Mary, already bored by admiration, did not like
it. But the little people would have adjusted matters in their own
simple fashion presently had they been allowed to do so. It was the
well-meant interference of the teacher that went amiss. Miss Larks
explained to the trembling little newcomer that she mustn't smile at
Mary, that she mustn't leave her seat to sit with Mary: it was making
poor Mary cry.
Shandon listened to her with rising emotion, a youthful titter or
two from different parts of the room pointing the moral. When the
teacher had finished, she rose with a sudden scream of rage, flung
her new slate violently in one direction, her books in another, and
departed, kicking the stove over with a well-directed foot as she
left. Thus she became a byword to virtuous infancy, and as the years
went by, and her wild beauty and her father's wealth grew apace,
Deaneville grew less and less charitable in its judgment of her.
Shandon lived in a houseful of men, her father's adored companion and
greatly admired by the rough cattle men who came yearly to buy his
When her father died, a little wave of pity swept over Deaneville,
and more than one kind-hearted woman took the five-mile drive down to
the Bell Ranch ready to console and sympathize. But no one saw her.
The girl, eighteen now, clung more to her solitude than ever, spending
whole days and nights in lonely roaming over the marsh and the low
meadows, like some frantic sick animal.
Only Johnnie Larabee, the warm-hearted little wife of the village
hotel keeper, persevered and was rewarded by Shandon's bitter
confidence, given while they rode up to the ridge to look up some
roaming steer, perhaps, or down by the peach-cutting sheds, while
Shandon supervised a hundred "hands." Shandon laughed now when she
recounted the events of those old unhappy childish days, but Johnnie
did not like the laughter. The girl always asked particularly for
Mary Dickey, her admirers, her clothes, her good times.
"No wonder she acts as if there wasn't anybody else on earth but
her!" would be Shandon's dry comment.
It was Johnnie who "talked straight" to Shandon when big Dan Waters
began to haunt the Bell Ranch, and who was the only witness of their
little wedding, and the only woman to kiss the unbride-like bride.
After that even, Johnnie lost sight of her for the twelve happy
months that Big Dan was spared to her. Little Dan came, welcomed by
no more skillful hands than the gentle big ones of his wondering
father and the practised ones of the old Indian. And Shandon bought
hats that were laughed at by all Deaneville, and was tremulously
happy in a clumsy, unused fashion.
And then came the accident that cost Big Dan his life. It was all a
hideous blur to Shandon—a blur that enclosed the terrible, swift
trip to Sacramento, with the blinking little baby in the hollow of
her arm, and the long wait at the strange hospital. It was young
Doctor Lowell, of Deaneville, who decided that only an operation
could save Dan, and Doctor Lowell who performed it. And it was
through him that Shandon learned, in the chill dawn, that the gallant
fight was lost. She did not speak again, but, moving like a
sleepwalker, reached blindly for the baby, pushed aside the hands
that would have detained her, and went stumbling out into the street.
And since that day no one in Deaneville had been able to get close
enough to speak to her. She did not go to Dan's funeral, and such
sympathizers as tried to find her were rewarded by only desolate
glimpses of the tall figure flitting along the edge of the marshes
like a hunted bird. A month old, little Danny accompanied his mother
on these restless wanderings, and many a time his little mottled hand
was strong enough to bring her safely home when no other would have
Her old Chinese "boy" came into the village once a week, and paid
certain bills punctiliously from a little canvas bag that was stuffed
full of gold pieces; but Fong was not a communicative person, and
Deaneville languished for direct news. Johnnie, discouraged by
fruitless attempts to have a talk with the forlorn young creature, had
to content herself with sending occasional delicacies from her own
kitchen and garden to Shandon, and only a week before this bright
February morning had ventured a note, pinned to the napkin that
wrapped a bowl of cream cheese. The note read:
Don't shorten Danny too early, Shandy. Awful easy for babies to
ketch cold this weather.
Of all the loitering curious men and women at doors and windows and
in the street, Johnnie was the only one who dared speak to her to-
day. Mrs. Larabee was dressed in the overalls and jersey that
simplified both the dressing and the labor of busy Monday mornings;
her sleek black hair arranged fashionably in a "turban swirl." She
ran out to the cart with a little cry of welcome, a smile on her
thin, brown face that well concealed the trepidation this unheard-of
circumstance caused her. "Lord, make me say the right thing!" prayed
Johnnie, fervently. Mrs. Waters saw her coming, stopped the big
horse, and sat waiting. Her eyes were wild with a sort of savage
terror, and she was trembling violently.
"Well, how do, Shandon?" said Mrs. Larabee, cheerfully. Then her
eyes fell on the child, and she gave a dramatic start. "Never you
tell me this is Danny!" said she, sure of her ground now. "Well,
you—old—buster—you! He's IMMENSE, ain't he, Shandon?"
"Isn't he?" stammered Shandon, nervously.
"He's about the biggest feller for nine months I ever saw," said
Mrs. Larabee, generously. "He could eat Thelma for breakfast!"
"Johnnie—and he ain't quite seven yet!" protested Shandon,
Mrs. Larabee gave her an astonished look, puckered up her forehead,
"That's right," she said. Then she dragged the wriggling small body
from Shandon's lap and held the wondering, soft little face against
"You come to Aunt Johnnie a minute," said she, "you fat old
muggins! Look at him, Shandon. He knows I'm strange. Yes, 'course you
do! He wants to go back to you, Shandy. Well, what do you know about
that? Say, dearie," continued Mrs. Larabee, in a lower tone, "you've
got a terrible handsome boy, and what's more, he's Dan's image."
Mrs. Waters gathered the child close to her heart. "He's awful like
Dan when he smiles," said she, simply. And for the first time their
eyes met. "Say, thank you, for the redishes and the custard pie and
that cheese, Johnnie," said Shandon, awkwardly, but her eyes thanked
this one friend for much more.
"Aw, shucks!" said Johnnie, gently, as she dislodged a drying clod
of mud from the buggy robe. There was a moment's constrained silence,
then Shandon said suddenly:
"Johnnie, what d'you mean by 'shortening' him?"
"Puttin' him in short clothes, dearie. Thelma's been short since
Gran'ma Larabee come down at Christmas," explained the other,
"I never knew about that," said Mrs. Waters, humbly. "Danny's the
first little kid I ever touched. Lizzie Tom tells me what the Indians
do, and for the rest I just watch him. I toast his feet good at the
fire every night, becuz Dan said his mother useter toast his; and
whenever the sun comes out, I take his clothes off and leave him
sprawl in it, but I guess I miss a good deal." She finished with a
wistful, half-questioning inflection, and Mrs. Larabee did not fail
"Don't ask me, when he's as big and husky as any two of mine!" said
she, reassuringly. "I guess you do jest about right. But, Shandy,
you've got to shorten him."
"Well, what'll I get?" asked Shandon.
Mrs. Larabee, in her element, considered.
"You'll want about eight good, strong calico rompers," she began
authoritatively. Then suddenly she interrupted herself. "Say, why
don't you come over to the hotel with me now," she suggested
enthusiastically. "I'm just finishing my wash, and while I wrench out
the last few things you can feed the baby; than I'll show you Thelma's
things, and we can have lunch. Then him and Thel can take their naps,
and you 'n' me'll go over to Miss Bates's and see what we can git.
You'll want shoes for him, an' a good, strong hat—"
"Oh, honest, Johnnie—" Shandon began to protest hurriedly, in her
hunted manner, and with a miserable glance toward the home road.
"Maybe I'll come up next week, now I know what you meant—"
"Shucks! Next week nobody can talk anything but wedding," said
Johnnie, off guard.
"Whose wedding?" Shandon asked, and Johnnie, who would have
preferred to bite her tongue out, had to answer, "Mary Dickey's."
"Who to?" said Shandon, her face darkening. Johnnie's voice was
"To the doc', Shandy; to Arnold Lowell."
"Oh!" said Shandon, quietly. "Big wedding, I suppose, and white
dresses, and all the rest?"
"Sure," said Johnnie, relieved at her pleasant interest, and
warming to the subject. "There'll be five generations there. Parker's
making the cake in Sacramento. Five of the girls'll be
bridesmaids—Mary Bell and Carrie and Jane and the two Powell girls.
Poor Mrs. Dickey, she feels real bad. She—"
"She don't want to give Mary up?" said Shandon, in a hard voice.
She began to twist the whip about in its socket. "Well, some people
have everything, it seems. They're pretty, and their folks are crazy
about 'em, and they can stand up and make a fuss over marrying a man
who as good as killed some other woman's husband,—a woman who didn't
have any one else either."
"Shandy," said Johnnie, sharply, "ain't you got Danny?"
Something like shame softened the girl's stern eyes. She dropped
her face until her lips rested upon the little fluffy fringe that
marked the dividing line between Danny's cap and Danny's forehead.
"Sure I have," she said huskily. "But I've—I've always sort of had
it in for Mary Dickey, Johnnie, I suppose becuz she IS so perfect,
and so cool, and treats me like I was dirt—jest barely sees me,
Johnnie answered at random, for she was suddenly horrified to see
Dr. Lowell and Mary Dickey themselves come out of the post-office.
Before she could send them a frantic signal of warning, the doctor
came toward the cart.
"How do you do, Mrs. Waters?" said he, holding out his hand.
Shandon brought her startled eyes from little Danny's face. The
child, with little eager grunts and frowning concentration, was busy
with the clasp of her pocketbook, and her big, gentle hand had been
guarding it from his little, wild ones. The sight of the doctor's
face brought back her bitterest memories with a sick rush, at a
moment when her endurance was strained to the utmost. HE had decreed
that Dan should be operated on, HE had decided that she should not be
with him, HE had come to tell her that the big, protecting arm and
heart were gone forever—and now he had an early buttercup in his
buttonhole, and on his lips the last of the laughter that he had just
been sharing with Mary Dickey! And Mary, the picture of complacent
daintiness, was sauntering on, waiting for him.
Shandon was not a reasonable creature. With a sound between a snarl
and a sob she caught the light driving whip from its socket and
brought the lash fairly across the doctor's smiling face. As he
started back, stung with intolerable pain, she lashed in turn the
nervous horse, and in another moment the cart and its occupants were
racketing down the home road again.
"And now we never WILL git no closer to Shandon Waters!" said
Johnnie Larabee, regretfully, for the hundredth time. It was ten days
later, and Mrs. Larabee and Mrs. Cass Dinwoodie were high up on the
wet hills, gathering cream-colored wild iris for the Dickey wedding
"And serve her right, too!" said Mrs. Dinwoodie, severely. "A great
girl like that lettin' fly like a child."
"She's—she's jest the kind to go crazy, brooding as she does,"
Mrs. Larabee submitted, almost timidly. She had been subtly pleading
Shandon's cause for the past week, but it was no use. The last
outrage had apparently sealed her fate so far as Deaneville was
concerned. Now, straightening her cramped back and looking off toward
the valleys below them, Mrs. Larabee said suddenly:
"That looks like Shandon down there now."
Mrs. Dinwoodie's eyes followed the pointing finger. She could
distinguish a woman's moving figure, a mere speck on the road far
"Sure it is," said she. "Carryin' Dan, too."
"My goo'ness," said Johnnie, uneasily, "I wish she wouldn't take
them crazy walks. I don't suppose she's walking up to town?"
"I don't know why she should," said Mrs. Dinwoodie, dryly, "with
the horses she's got. I don't suppose even Shandon would attempt to
carry that great child that far, cracked as she seems to be!"
"I don't suppose we could drive home down by the marsh road?"
Johnnie asked. Mrs. Dinwoodie looked horrified.
"Johnnie, are you crazy yourself?" she demanded. "Why, child,
Mary's going to be married at half-past seven, and there's the
five-o'clock train now."
The older matron made all haste to "hitch up," sending not even
another look into the already shadowy valley. But Johnnie's thoughts
were there all through the drive home, and even when she started with
her beaming husband and her four young children to the wedding she was
still thinking of Shandon Waters.
The Dickey home was all warmth, merriment, and joyous confusion.
Three or four young matrons, their best silk gowns stretched to
bursting over their swelling bosoms, went busily in and out of the
dining-room. In the double parlors guests were gathering with the
laughter and kissing that marked any coming together of these hard-
working folk. Starched and awed little children sat on the laps of
mothers and aunts, blinking at the lamps; the very small babies were
upstairs, some drowsily enjoying a late supper in their mothers'
arms, others already deep in sleep in Mrs. Dickey's bed. The
downstairs rooms and the stairway were decorated with wilting smilax
and early fruit-blossoms.
To Deaneville it seemed quite natural that Dr. Lowell, across whose
face the scar of Shandon Waters' whip still showed a dull crimson,
should wait for his bride at the foot of the hall stairway, and that
Mary's attendants should keep up a continual coming and going between
the room where she was dressing and the top of the stairs, and should
have a great many remarks to make to the young men below. Presently a
little stir announced the clergyman, and a moment later every one
could hear Mary Dickey's thrilling young voice from the upper hallway:
"Arnold, mother says was that Dr. Lacey?"
And every one could hear Dr. Lowell's honest, "Yes, dear, it was,"
and Mary's fluttered, diminishing, "All right!"
Rain began to beat noisily on the roof and the porches. Johnnie
Larabee came downstairs with Grandpa and Grandma Arnold, and Rosamund
Dinwoodie at the piano said audibly, "Now, Johnnie?"
There was expectant silence in the parlors. The whole house was so
silent in that waiting moment that the sound of sudden feet on the
porch and the rough opening of the hall door were a startlingly loud
It was Shandon Waters, who came in with a bitter rush of storm and
wet air. She had little Dan in her arms. Drops of rain glittered on
her hanging braids and on the shawl with which the child was wrapped,
and beyond her the wind snarled and screamed like a disappointed
animal. She went straight through the frightened, parting group to
Mrs. Larabee, and held out the child.
"Johnnie," she said in a voice of agony, utterly oblivious of her
surroundings, "Johnnie, you've always been my friend! Danny's sick!"
"Shandon,—for pity's sake!" ejaculated little Mrs. Larabee,
reaching out her arms for Danny, her face shocked and protesting and
pitying all at once, "Why, Shandy, you should have waited for me over
at the hotel," she said, in a lower tone, with a glance at the
incongruous scene. Then pity for the anguished face gained mastery,
and she added tenderly, "Well, you poor child, you, was this where
you was walking this afternoon? My stars, if I'd only known! Why on
earth didn't you drive?"
"I couldn't wait!" said Shandon, hoarsely. "We were out in the
woods, and Lizzie she gave Danny some mushrooms. And when I looked
he—his little mouth—" she choked. "And then he began to have sorta
cramps, and kinda doubled up, Johnnie, and he cried so queer, and I
jest started up here on a run. He—JOHNNIE!" terror shook her voice
when she saw the other's face, "Johnnie, is he going to die?" she
"Mushrooms!" echoed Mrs. Larabee, gravely, shaking her head. And a
score of other women looking over her shoulder at the child, who lay
breathing heavily with his eyes shut, shook their heads, too.
"You'd better take him right home with me, dearie," Mrs. Larabee
said gently, with a significant glance at the watching circle. "We
oughtn't to lose any time."
Dr. Lowell stepped out beside her and gently took Danny in his
"I hope you'll let me carry him over there for you, Mrs. Waters,"
said he. "There's no question that he's pretty sick. We've got a hard
There was a little sensation in the room, but Shandon only looked
at him uncomprehendingly. In her eyes there was the dumb thankfulness
of the dog who knows himself safe with friends. She wet her lips and
tried to speak. But before she could do so, the doctor's mother
touched his arm half timidly and said:
"Arnold, you can't very well—surely, it's hardly fair to Mary—"
"Mary—?" he answered her quickly. He raised his eyes to where his
wife-to-be, in a startled group of white-clad attendants, was
standing halfway down the stairway.
She looked straight at Shandon, and perhaps at no moment in their
lives did the two women show a more marked contrast; Shandon muddy,
exhausted, haggard, her sombre eyes sick with dread, Mary's always
fragile beauty more ethereal than ever under the veil her mother had
just caught back with orange blossoms. Shandon involuntarily flung
out her hand toward her in desperate appeal.
"Couldn't you—could you jest wait till he sees Danny?" she
Mary ran down the remaining steps and laid her white hand on
"If it was ten weddings, we'd wait, Shandon!" said she, her voice
thrilling with the fellowship of wifehood and motherhood to come.
"Don't worry, Shandon. Arnold will fix him. Poor little Danny!" said
Mary, bending over him. "He's not awful sick, is he, Arnold? Mother,"
she said, turning, royally flushed, to her stupefied mother, "every
one'll have to wait. Johnnie and Arnold are going to fix up Shandon's
"I don't see the slightest need of traipsing over to the hotel,"
said Mrs. Dickey, almost offended, as at a slight upon her
hospitality. "Take him right up to the spare room, Arnold. There
ain't no noise there, it's in the wing. And one of you chil'ren run
and tell Aggie we want hot water, and—what else? Well, go ahead and
tell her that, anyway."
"Leave me carry him up," said one big, gentle father, who had
tucked his own baby up only an hour ago. "I've got a kimmoner in my
bag," old Mrs. Lowell said to Shandon. "It's a-plenty big enough for
you. You git dry and comfortable before you hold him." "Shucks! Lloydy
ate a green cherry when he wasn't but four months old," said one
consoling voice to Shandon. "He's got a lot of fight in him," said
another. "My Olive got an inch screw in her throat," contributed a
third. Mrs. Larabee said in a low tone, with her hand tight upon
Shandon's shaking one, "He'll be jest about fagged out when the
doctor's done with him, dearie, and as hungry as a hunter. Don't YOU
git excited, or he'll be sick all over again."
Crowding solicitously about her, the women got her upstairs and
into dry clothing. This was barely accomplished when Mary Dickey came
into the room, in a little blue cotton gown, to take her to Danny.
"Arnold says he's got him crying, and that's a good sign, Shandon,"
said Mary. "And he says that rough walk pro'bly saved him."
Shandon tried to speak again, but failed again, and the two girls
went out together. Mary presently came back alone, and the lessened
but not uncheerful group downstairs settled down to a vigil. Various
reports drifted from the sick-room, but it was almost midnight before
Mrs. Larabee came down with definite news.
"How is he?" echoed Johnnie, sinking into a chair. "Give me a cup
of that coffee, Mary. That's a good girl. Well, say, it looks like you
can't kill no Deaneville child with mushrooms. He's asleep now. But
say, he was a pretty sick kid! Doc' looks like something the cat
brought home, and I'm about dead, but Danny seems to feel real
chipper. And EAT! And of course that poor girl looks like she'd
inherited the earth, as the Scriptures say. The ice is what you might
call broken between the whole crowd of us and Shandon Waters. She's
sitting there holding Danny and smiling softly at any one who peeks
in!" And, her voice thickening suddenly with tears on the last words,
Mrs. Larabee burst out crying and fumbled in her unaccustomed grandeur
for a handkerchief.
Mary Dickey and Arnold Lowell were married just twenty-four hours
later than they had planned, the guests laughing joyously at the
wilted decorations and stale sandwiches. After the ceremony the bride
and bridegroom went softly up stairs, and the doctor had a last
approving look at the convalescent Danny.
Mary, almost oppressed by the sense of her own blessedness on this
day of good wishes and affectionate demonstration, would have gently
detached her husband's arm from her waist as they went to the door,
that Shandon might not be reminded of her own loss and aloneness.
But the doctor, glancing back, knew that in Shandon's thoughts to-
day there was no room for sorrow. Her whole body was curved about the
child as he lay in her lap, and her adoring look was intent upon him.
Danny was smiling up at his mother in a blissful interval, his soft
little hand lying upon her contented heart.