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Title: A Lost Lady
Author: Cather, Willa
Language: English
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A LOST LADY


by


WILLA CATHER



". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . _Come, my coach!
Good night, ladies; good night, sweet ladies;
Good night, good night._"



MCMLXIII

ALFRED A KNOPF

New York



CONTENTS
PART I
PART II



PART ONE


I


Thirty or forty years ago, in one of those grey towns along the
Burlington railroad, which are so much greyer to-day than they were
then, there was a house well known from Omaha to Denver for its
hospitality and for a certain charm of atmosphere. Well known, that is
to say, to the railroad aristocracy of that time; men who had to do with
the railroad itself, or with one of the "land companies" which were its
by-products. In those days it was enough to say of a man that he was
"connected with the Burlington." There were the directors, the general
managers, vice-presidents, superintendents, whose names we all knew; and
their younger brothers or nephews were auditors, freight agents,
departmental assistants. Everyone "connected" with the Road, even the
large cattle and grain-shippers, had annual passes; they and their
families rode about over the line a great deal. There were then two
distinct social strata in the prairie States; the homesteaders and
hand-workers who were there to make a living, and the bankers and
gentlemen ranchers who came from the Atlantic seaboard to invest money
and to "develop our great West," as they used to tell us.

When the Burlington men were travelling back and forth on business not
very urgent, they found it agreeable to drop off the express and spend a
night in a pleasant house where their importance was delicately
recognized; and no house was pleasanter than that of Captain Daniel
Forrester, at Sweet Water. Captain Forrester was himself a railroad man,
a contractor, who had built hundreds of miles of road for the
Burlington,--over the sage brush and cattle country, and on up into the
Black Hills.

The Forrester place, as every one called it, was not at all remarkable;
the people who lived there made it seem much larger and finer than it
was. The house stood on a low round hill, nearly a mile east of town; a
white house with a wing, and sharp-sloping roofs to shed the snow. It
was encircled by porches, too narrow for modern notions of comfort,
supported by the fussy, fragile pillars of that time, when every honest
stick of timber was tortured by the turning-lathe into something
hideous. Stripped of its vines and denuded of its shrubbery, the house
would probably have been ugly enough. It stood close into a fine
cottonwood grove that threw sheltering arms to left and right and grew
all down the hillside behind it. Thus placed on the hill, against its
bristling grove, it was the first thing one saw on coming into Sweet
Water by rail, and the last thing one saw on departing.

To approach Captain Forrester's property, you had first to get over a
wide, sandy creek which flowed along the eastern edge of the town.
Crossing this by the foot-bridge or the ford, you entered the Captain's
private lane, bordered by Lombardy poplars, with wide meadows lying on
either side. Just at the foot of the hill on which the house sat, one
crossed a second creek by the stout wooden road-bridge. This stream
traced artless loops and curves through the broad meadows that were half
pasture land, half marsh. Any one but Captain Forrester would have
drained the bottom land and made it into highly productive fields. But
he had selected this place long ago because it looked beautiful to him,
and he happened to like the way the creek wound through his pasture,
with mint and joint-grass and twinkling willows along its banks. He was
well off for those times, and he had no children. He could afford to
humour his fancies.

When the Captain drove friends from Omaha or Denver over from the
station in his democrat wagon, it gratified him to hear these gentlemen
admire his fine stock, grazing in the meadows on either side of his
lane. And when they reached the top of the hill, it gratified him to see
men who were older than himself leap nimbly to the ground and run up the
front steps as Mrs. Forrester came out on the porch to greet them. Even
the hardest and coldest of his friends, a certain narrow-faced Lincoln
banker, became animated when he took her hand, tried to meet the gay
challenge in her eyes and to reply cleverly to the droll word of
greeting on her lips.

She was always there, just outside the front door, to welcome their
visitors, having been warned of their approach by the sound of hoofs and
the rumble of wheels on the wooden bridge. If she happened to be in the
kitchen, helping her Bohemian cook, she came out in her apron, waving a
buttery iron spoon, or shook cherry-stained fingers at the new arrival.
She never stopped to pin up a lock; she was attractive in dishabille,
and she knew it. She had been known to rush to the door in her
dressing-gown, brush in hand and her long black hair rippling over her
shoulders, to welcome Cyrus Dalzell, president of the Colorado & Utah;
and that great man had never felt more flattered. In his eyes, and in
the eyes of the admiring middle-aged men who visited there, whatever
Mrs. Forrester chose to do was "lady-like" because she did it. They
could not imagine her in any dress or situation in which she would not
be charming. Captain Forrester himself, a man of few words, told Judge
Pommeroy that he had never seen her look more captivating than on the
day when she was chased by the new bull in the pasture. She had
forgotten about the bull and gone into the meadow to gather wild
flowers. He heard her scream, and as he ran puffing down the hill, she
was scudding along the edge of the marshes like a hare, beside herself
with laughter, and stubbornly clinging to the crimson parasol that had
made all the trouble.

Mrs. Forrester was twenty-five years younger than her husband, and she
was his second wife. He married her in California and brought her to
Sweet Water a bride. They called the place home even then, when they
lived there but a few months out of each year. But later, after the
Captain's terrible fall with his horse in the mountains, which broke him
so that he could no longer build railroads, he and his wife retired to
the house on the hill. He grew old there,--and even she, alas! grew
older.



II


But we will begin this story with a summer morning long ago, when Mrs.
Forrester was still a young woman, and Sweet Water was a town of which
great things were expected. That morning she was standing in the deep
bay-window of her parlour, arranging old-fashioned blush roses in a
glass bowl. Glancing up, she saw a group of little boys coming along the
driveway, barefoot, with fishing-poles and lunch-baskets. She knew most
of them; there was Niel Herbert, Judge Pommeroy's nephew, a handsome boy
of twelve whom she liked; and polite George Adams, son of a gentleman
rancher from Lowell, Massachusetts. The others were just little boys
from the town; the butcher's red-headed son, the leading grocer's fat
brown twins, Ed Elliott (whose flirtatious old father kept a shoe store
and was the Don Juan of the lower world of Sweet Water), and the two
sons of the German tailor,--pale, freckled lads with ragged clothes and
ragged rust-coloured hair, from whom she sometimes bought game or
catfish when they appeared silent and spook-like at her kitchen door and
thinly asked if she would "care for any fish this morning."

As the boys came up the hill she saw them hesitate and consult together.
"You ask her, Niel."

"You'd better, George. She goes to your house all the time, and she
barely knows me to speak to."

As they paused before the three steps which led up to the front porch,
Mrs. Forrester came to the door and nodded graciously, one of the pink
roses in her hand.

"Good-morning, boys. Off for a picnic?"

George Adams stepped forward and solemnly took off his big straw hat.
"Good-morning, Mrs. Forrester. Please may we fish and wade down in the
marsh and have our lunch in the grove?"

"Certainly. You have a lovely day. How long has school been out? Don't
you miss it? I'm sure Niel does. Judge Pommeroy tells me he's very
studious."

The boys laughed, and Niel looked unhappy.

"Run along, and be sure you don't leave the gate into the pasture open.
Mr. Forrester hates to have the cattle get in on his blue grass."

The boys went quietly round the house to the gate into the grove, then
ran shouting down the grassy slopes under the tall trees. Mrs. Forrester
watched them from the kitchen window until they disappeared behind the
roll of the hill. She turned to her Bohemian cook.

"Mary, when you are baking this morning, put in a pan of cookies for
those boys. I'll take them down when they are having their lunch."

The round hill on which the Forrester house stood sloped gently down to
the bridge in front, and gently down through the grove behind. But east
of the house, where the grove ended, it broke steeply from high grassy
banks, like bluffs, to the marsh below. It was thither the boys were
bound.

When lunch time came they had done none of the things they meant to do.
They had behaved like wild creatures all morning; shouting from the
breezy bluffs, dashing down into the silvery marsh through the dewy
cobwebs that glistened on the tall weeds, swishing among the pale tan
cattails, wading in the sandy creek bed, chasing a striped water snake
from the old willow stump where he was sunning himself, cutting
sling-shot crotches, throwing themselves on their stomachs to drink at
the cool spring that flowed out from under a bank into a thatch of dark
watercress. Only the two German boys, Rheinhold and Adolph Blum,
withdrew to a still pool where the creek was dammed by a reclining tree
trunk, and, in spite of all the noise and splashing about them, managed
to catch a few suckers.

The wild roses were wide open and brilliant, the blue-eyed grass was in
purple flower, and the silvery milkweed was just coming on. Birds and
butterflies darted everywhere. All at once the breeze died, the air grew
very hot, the marsh steamed, and the birds disappeared. The boys found
they were tired; their shirts stuck to their bodies and their hair to
their foreheads. They left the sweltering marsh-meadows for the grove,
lay down on the clean grass under the grateful shade of the tall
cottonwoods, and spread out their lunch. The Blum boys never brought
anything but rye bread and hunks of dry cheese,--their companions
wouldn't have touched it on any account. But Thaddeus Grimes, the
butcher's red-headed son, was the only one impolite enough to show his
scorn. "You live on wienies to home, why don't you never bring none?" he
bawled.

"Hush," said Niel Herbert. He pointed to a white figure coming rapidly
down through the grove, under the flickering leaf shadows,--Mrs.
Forrester, bareheaded, a basket on her arm, her blue-black hair shining
in the sun. It was not until years afterward that she began to wear
veils and sun hats, though her complexion was never one of her beauties.
Her cheeks were pale and rather thin, slightly freckled in summer.

As she approached, George Adams, who had a particular mother, rose, and
Niel followed his example.

"Here are some hot cookies for your lunch, boys." She took the napkin
off the basket. "Did you catch anything?"

"We didn't fish much. Just ran about," said George.

"I know! You were wading and things." She had a nice way of talking to
boys, light and confidential. "I wade down there myself sometimes, when
I go down to get flowers. I can't resist it. I pull off my stockings and
pick up my skirts, and in I go!" She thrust out a white shoe and shook
it.

"But you can swim, can't you, Mrs. Forrester," said George. "Most women
can't."

"Oh yes, they can! In California everybody swims. But the Sweet Water
doesn't tempt me,--mud and water snakes and blood-suckers--Ugh!" she
shivered, laughing.

"We seen a water snake this morning and chased him. A whopper!" Thad
Grimes put in.

"Why didn't you kill him? Next time I go wading he'll bite my toes! Now,
go on with your lunch. George can leave the basket with Mary as you go
out." She left them, and they watched her white figure drifting along
the edge of the grove as she stopped here and there to examine the
raspberry vines by the fence.

"These are good cookies, all right," said one of the giggly brown Weaver
twins. The German boys munched in silence. They were all rather pleased
that Mrs. Forrester had come down to them herself, instead of sending
Mary. Even rough little Thad Grimes, with his red thatch and catfish
mouth--the characteristic feature of all the Grimes brood--knew that
Mrs. Forrester was a very special kind of person. George and Niel were
already old enough to see for themselves that she was different from the
other townswomen, and to reflect upon what it was that made her so. The
Blum brothers regarded her humbly from under their pale, chewed-off
hair, as one of the rich and great of the world. They realized, more
than their companions, that such a fortunate and privileged class was an
axiomatic fact in the social order.

The boys had finished their lunch and were lying on the grass talking
about how Judge Pommeroy's water spaniel, Fanny, had been poisoned, and
who had certainly done it, when they had a second visitor.

"Shut up, boys, there he comes now. That's Poison Ivy," said one of the
Weaver twins. "Shut up, we don't want old Roger poisoned."

A well-grown boy of eighteen or nineteen, dressed in a shabby corduroy
hunting suit, with a gun and gamebag, had climbed up from the marsh and
was coming down the grove between the rows of trees. He walked with a
rude, arrogant stride, kicking at the twigs, and carried himself with
unnatural erectness, as if he had a steel rod down his back. There was
something defiant and suspicious about the way he held his head. He came
up to the group and addressed them in a superior, patronizing tone.

"Hullo, kids. What are _you_ doing here?"

"Picnic," said Ed Elliott.

"I thought girls went on picnics. Did you bring teacher along? Ain't you
kids old enough to hunt yet?"

George Adams looked at him scornfully. "Of course we are. I got a 22
Remington for my last birthday. But we know better than to bring guns
over here. You better hide yours, Mr. Ivy, or Mrs. Forrester will come
down and tell you to get out."

"She can't see us from the house. And anyhow, she can't say anything to
me. I'm just as good as she is."

To this the boys made no reply. Such an assertion was absurd even to
fish-mouthed Thad; his father's business depended upon some people being
better than others, and ordering better cuts of meat in consequence. If
everybody ate round steak like Ivy Peters' family, there would be
nothing in the butcher's trade.

The visitor had put his gun and gamebag behind a tree, however, and
stood stiffly upright, surveying the group out of his narrow beady eyes
and making them all uncomfortable. George and Niel hated to look at
Ivy,--and yet his face had a kind of fascination for them. It was red,
and the flesh looked hard, as if it were swollen from bee-stings, or
from an encounter with poison ivy. This nickname, however, was given him
because it was well known that he had "made away" with several other
dogs before he had poisoned the Judge's friendly water spaniel. The boys
said he took a dislike to a dog and couldn't rest until he made an end
of him.

Ivy's red skin was flecked with tiny freckles, like rust spots, and in
each of his hard cheeks there was a curly indentation, like a knot in a
tree-bole,--two permanent dimples which did anything but soften his
countenance. His eyes were very small, and an absence of eyelashes gave
his pupils the fixed, unblinking hardness of a snake's or a lizard's.
His hands had the same swollen look as his face, were deeply creased
across the back and knuckles, as if the skin were stretched too tight.
He was an ugly fellow, Ivy Peters, and he liked being ugly.

He began telling the boys that it was too hot to hunt now, but later he
meant to steal down to the marsh, where the ducks came at sundown, and
bag a few. "I can make off across the corn fields before the old Cap
sees me. He's not much on the run."

"He'll complain to your father."

"A whoop my father cares!" The speaker's restless eyes were looking up
through the branches. "See that woodpecker tapping; don't mind us a bit.
That's nerve!"

"They are protected here, so they're not afraid," said precise George.

"Hump! They'll spoil the old man's grove for him. That tree's full of
holes already. Wouldn't he come down easy, now!"

Niel and George Adams sat up. "Don't you dare shoot here, you'll get us
all into trouble."

"She'd come right down from the house," cried Ed Elliott.

"Let her come, stuck-up piece! Who's talking about shooting, anyway?
There's more ways of killing dogs than choking them with butter."

At this effrontery the boys shot amazed glances at one another, and the
brown Weaver twins broke simultaneously into giggles and rolled over on
the turf. But Ivy seemed unaware that he was regarded as being
especially resourceful where dogs were concerned. He drew from his
pocket a metal sling-shot and some round bits of gravel. "I won't kill
it. I'll just surprise it, so we can have a look at it."

"Bet you won't hit it!"

"Bet I will!" He fitted the stone to the leather, squinted, and let fly.
Sure enough, the woodpecker dropped at his feet. He threw his heavy
black felt hat over it. Ivy never wore a straw hat, even in the hottest
weather. "Now wait. He'll come to. You'll hear him flutter in a minute."

"It ain't a he, anyhow. It's a female. Anybody would know that," said
Niel contemptuously, annoyed that this unpopular boy should come along
and spoil their afternoon. He held the fate of his uncle's spaniel
against Ivy Peters.

"All right, Miss Female," said Ivy carelessly, intent upon a project of
his own. He took from his pocket a little red leather box, and when he
opened it the boys saw that it contained curious little instruments:
tiny sharp knife blades, hooks, curved needles, a saw, a blow-pipe, and
scissors. "Some of these I got with a taxidermy outfit from the _Youth's
Companion_, and some I made myself." He got stiffly down on his
knees,--his joints seemed disinclined to bend at all,--and listened
beside his hat. "She's as lively as a cricket," he announced. Thrusting
his hand suddenly under the brim, he brought out the startled bird. It
was not bleeding, and did not seem to be crippled.

"Now, you watch, and I'll show you something," said Ivy. He held the
woodpecker's head in a vice made of his thumb and forefinger, enclosing
its panting body with his palm. Quick as a flash, as if it were a
practised trick, with one of those tiny blades he slit both the eyes
that glared in the bird's stupid little head, and instantly released it.

The woodpecker rose in the air with a whirling, corkscrew motion, darted
to the right, struck a tree-trunk,--to the left, and struck another. Up
and down, backward and forward among the tangle of branches it flew,
raking its feathers, falling and recovering itself. The boys stood
watching it, indignant and uncomfortable, not knowing what to do. They
were not especially sensitive; Thad was always on hand when there was
anything doing at the slaughter house, and the Blum boys lived by
killing things. They wouldn't have believed they could be so upset by a
hurt woodpecker. There was something wild and desperate about the way
the darkened creature beat its wings in the branches, whirling in the
sunlight and never seeing it, always thrusting its head up and shaking
it, as a bird does when it is drinking. Presently it managed to get its
feet on the same limb where it had been struck, and seemed to recognize
that perch. As if it had learned something by its bruises, it pecked and
crept its way along the branch and disappeared into its own hole.

"There," Niel Herbert exclaimed between his teeth, "if I can get it now,
I can kill it and put it out of its misery. Let me on your back, Rhein."

Rheinhold was the tallest, and he obediently bent his bony back. The
trunk of a cottonwood tree is hard to climb; the bark is rough, and the
branches begin a long way up. Niel tore his trousers and scratched his
bare legs smartly before he got to the first fork. After recovering
breath, he wound his way up toward the woodpecker's hole, which was
inconveniently high. He was almost there, his companions below thought
him quite safe, when he suddenly lost his balance, turned a somersault
in the air, and bumped down on the grass at their feet. There he lay
without moving.

"Run for water!"

"Run for Mrs. Forrester! Ask her for whiskey."

"No," said George Adams, "let's carry him up to the house. She will know
what to do."

"That's sense," said Ivy Peters. As he was much bigger and stronger than
any of the others, he lifted Niel's limp body and started up the hill.
It had occurred to him that this would be a fine chance to get inside
the Forresters' house and see what it was like, and this he had always
wanted to do.

Mary, the cook, saw them coming from the kitchen window, and ran for her
mistress. Captain Forrester was in Kansas City that day.

Mrs. Forrester came to the back door. "What's happened? It's Niel, too!
Bring him in this way, please."

Ivy Peters followed her, keeping his eyes open, and the rest trooped
after him,--all but the Blum boys, who knew that their place was outside
the kitchen door. Mrs. Forrester led the way through the butler's
pantry, the dining-room, the back parlour, to her own bedroom. She threw
down the white counterpane, and Ivy laid Niel upon the sheets. Mrs.
Forrester was concerned, but not frightened.

"Mary, will you bring the brandy from the sideboard. George, telephone
Dr. Dennison to come over at once. Now you other boys run out on the
front porch and wait quietly. There are too many of you in here." She
knelt by the bed, putting brandy between Niel's white lips with a
teaspoon. The little boys withdrew, only Ivy Peters remained standing in
the back parlour, just outside the bedroom door, his arms folded across
his chest, taking in his surroundings with bold, unblinking eyes.

Mrs. Forrester glanced at him over her shoulder. "Will you wait on the
porch, please? You are older than the others, and if anything is needed
I can call on you."

Ivy cursed himself, but he had to go. There was something final about
her imperious courtesy,--high-and-mighty, he called it. He had intended
to sit down in the biggest leather chair and cross his legs and make
himself at home; but he found himself on the front porch, put out by
that delicately modulated voice as effectually as if he had been kicked
out by the brawniest tough in town.

Niel opened his eyes and looked wonderingly about the big, half-darkened
room, full of heavy, old-fashioned walnut furniture. He was lying on a
white bed with ruffled pillow shams, and Mrs. Forrester was kneeling
beside him, bathing his forehead with cologne. Bohemian Mary stood
behind her, with a basin of water. "Ouch, my arm!" he muttered, and the
perspiration broke out on his face.

"Yes, dear, I'm afraid it's broken. Don't move. Dr. Dennison will be
here in a few minutes. It doesn't hurt very much, does it?"

"No'm," he said faintly. He was in pain, but he felt weak and contented.
The room was cool and dusky and quiet. At his house everything was
horrid when one was sick. . . . What soft fingers Mrs. Forrester had,
and what a lovely lady she was. Inside the lace ruffle of her dress he
saw her white throat rising and falling so quickly. Suddenly she got up
to take off her glittering rings,--she had not thought of them
before,--shed them off her fingers with a quick motion as if she were
washing her hands, and dropped them into Mary's broad palm. The little
boy was thinking that he would probably never be in so nice a place
again. The windows went almost down to the baseboard, like doors, and
the closed green shutters let in streaks of sunlight that quivered on
the polished floor and the silver things on the dresser. The heavy
curtains were looped back with thick cords, like ropes. The
marble-topped washstand was as big as a sideboard. The massive walnut
furniture was all inlaid with pale-coloured woods. Niel had a
scroll-saw, and this inlay interested him.

"There, he looks better now, doesn't he, Mary?" Mrs. Forrester ran her
fingers through his black hair and lightly kissed him on the forehead.
Oh, how sweet, how sweet she smelled!

"Wheels on the bridge; it's Doctor Dennison. Go and show him in, Mary."

Dr. Dennison set Niel's arm and took him home in his buggy. Home was not
a pleasant place to go to; a frail egg-shell house, set off on the edge
of the prairie where people of no consequence lived. Except for the fact
that he was Judge Pommeroy's nephew, Niel would have been one of the
boys to whom Mrs. Forrester merely nodded brightly as she passed. His
father was a widower. A poor relation, a spinster from Kentucky, kept
house for them, and Niel thought she was probably the worst housekeeper
in the world. Their house was usually full of washing in various stages
of incompletion,--tubs sitting about with linen soaking,--and the beds
were "aired" until any hour in the afternoon when Cousin Sadie happened
to think of making them up. She liked to sit down after breakfast and
read murder trials, or peruse a well-worn copy of "St. Elmo." Sadie was
a good-natured thing and was always running off to help a neighbour, but
Niel hated to have anyone come to see them. His father was at home very
little, spent all his time at his office. He kept the county abstract
books and made farm loans. Having lost his own property, he invested
other people's money for them. He was a gentle, agreeable man, young,
good-looking, with nice manners, but Niel felt there was an air of
failure and defeat about his family. He clung to his maternal uncle,
Judge Pommeroy, white-whiskered and portly, who was Captain Forrester's
lawyer and a friend of all the great men who visited the Forresters.
Niel was proud, like his mother; she died when he was five years old.
She had hated the West, and used haughtily to tell her neighbours that
she would never think of living anywhere but in Fayette county,
Kentucky; that they had only come to Sweet Water to make investments and
to "turn the crown into the pound." By that phrase she was still
remembered, poor lady.



III


For the next few years Niel saw very little of Mrs. Forrester. She was
an excitement that came and went with summer. She and her husband always
spent the winter in Denver and Colorado Springs,--left Sweet Water soon
after Thanksgiving and did not return until the first of May. He knew
that Mrs. Forrester liked him, but she hadn't much time for growing
boys. When she had friends staying with her, and gave a picnic supper
for them, or a dance in the grove on a moonlight night, Niel was always
invited. Coming and going along the road to the marsh with the Blum
boys, he sometimes met the Captain driving visitors over in the democrat
wagon, and he heard about these people from Black Tom, Judge Pommeroy's
faithful negro servant, who went over to wait on the table for Mrs.
Forrester when she had a dinner party.

Then came the accident which cut short the Captain's career as a
roadbuilder. After that fall with his horse, he lay ill at the Antlers,
in Colorado Springs, all winter. In the summer, when Mrs. Forrester
brought him home to Sweet Water, he still walked with a cane. He had
grown much heavier, seemed encumbered by his own bulk, and never
suggested taking a contract for the railroad again. He was able to work
in his garden, trimmed his snowball bushes and lilac hedges, devoted a
great deal of time to growing roses. He and his wife still went away for
the winter, but each year the period of their absence grew shorter.

All this while the town of Sweet Water was changing. Its future no
longer looked bright. Successive crop failures had broken the spirit of
the farmers. George Adams and his family had gone back to Massachusetts,
disillusioned about the West. One by one the other gentlemen ranchers
followed their example. The Forresters now had fewer visitors. The
Burlington was "drawing in its horns," as people said, and the railroad
officials were not stopping off at Sweet Water so often,--were more
inclined to hurry past a town where they had sunk money that would never
come back.

Niel Herbert's father was one of the first failures to be crowded to the
wall. He closed his little house, sent his cousin Sadie back to
Kentucky, and went to Denver to accept an office position. He left Niel
behind to read law in the office with his uncle. Not that Niel had any
taste for the law, but he liked being with Judge Pommeroy, and he might
as well stay there as anywhere, for the present. The few thousand
dollars his mother had left him would not be his until he was
twenty-one.

Niel fitted up a room for himself behind the suite which the Judge
retained for his law offices, on the second floor of the most
pretentious brick block in town. There he lived with monastic
cleanliness and severity, glad to be rid of his cousin and her
inconsequential housewifery, and resolved to remain a bachelor, like his
uncle. He took care of the offices, which meant that he did the janitor
work, and arranged them exactly to suit his taste, making the rooms so
attractive that all the Judge's friends, and especially Captain
Forrester, dropped in there to talk oftener than ever.

The Judge was proud of his nephew. Niel was now nineteen, a tall,
straight, deliberate boy. His features were clear-cut, his grey eyes, so
dark that they looked black under his long lashes, were rather moody and
challenging. The world did not seem over-bright to young people just
then. His reserve, which did not come from embarrassment or vanity, but
from a critical habit of mind, made him seem older than he was, and a
little cold.


One winter afternoon, only a few days before Christmas, Niel sat writing
in the back office, at the long table where he usually worked or
trifled, surrounded by the Judge's fine law library and solemn steel
engravings of statesmen and jurists. His uncle was at his desk in the
front office, engaged in a friendly consultation with one of his country
clients. Niel, greatly bored with the notes he was copying, was trying
to invent an excuse for getting out on the street, when he became aware
of light footsteps coming rapidly down the outside corridor. The door of
the front office opened, he heard his uncle rise quickly to his feet,
and, at the same moment, heard a woman's laugh,--a soft, musical laugh
which rose and descended like a suave scale. He turned in his screw
chair so that he could look over his shoulder through the double doors
into the front room. Mrs. Forrester stood there, shaking her muff at the
Judge and the bewildered Swede farmer. Her quick eye lighted upon a
bottle of Bourbon and two glasses on the desk among the papers.

"Is that the way you prepare your cases, Judge? What an example for
Niel!" She peeped through the door and nodded to the boy as he rose.

He remained in the back room, however, watching her while she declined
the chair the Judge pushed toward her and made a sign of refusal when he
politely pointed to the Bourbon. She stood beside his desk in her long
sealskin coat and cap, a crimson scarf showing above the collar, a
little brown veil with spots tied over her eyes. The veil did not in the
least obscure those beautiful eyes, dark and full of light, set under a
low white forehead and arching eyebrows. The frosty air had brought no
colour to her cheeks,--her skin had always the fragrant, crystalline
whiteness of white lilacs. Mrs. Forrester looked at one, and one knew
that she was bewitching. It was instantaneous, and it pierced the
thickest hide. The Swede farmer was now grinning from ear to ear, and
he, too, had shuffled to his feet. There could be no negative encounter,
however slight, with Mrs. Forrester. If she merely bowed to you, merely
looked at you, it constituted a personal relation. Something about her
took hold of one in a flash; one became acutely conscious of her, of her
fragility and grace, of her mouth which could say so much without words;
of her eyes, lively, laughing, intimate, nearly always a little mocking.

"Will you and Niel dine with us tomorrow evening, Judge? And will you
lend me Tom? We've just had a wire. The Ogdens are stopping over with
us. They've been East to bring the girl home from school,--she's had
mumps or something. They want to get home for Christmas, but they will
stop off for two days. Probably Frank Ellinger will come on from
Denver."

"No prospect can afford me such pleasure as that of dining with Mrs.
Forrester," said the Judge ponderously.

"Thank you!" she bowed playfully and turned toward the double doors.
"Niel, could you leave your work long enough to drive me home? Mr.
Forrester has been detained at the bank."

Niel put on his wolfskin coat. Mrs. Forrester took him by his shaggy
sleeve and went with him quickly down the long corridor and the narrow
stairs to the street.

At the hitch-bar stood her cutter, looking like a painted toy among the
country sleds and wagons. Niel tucked the buffalo robes about Mrs.
Forrester, untied the ponies, and sprang in beside her. Without
direction the team started down the frozen main street, where few people
were abroad, crossed the creek on the ice, and trotted up the
poplar-bordered lane toward the house on the hill. The late afternoon
sun burned on the snow-crusted pastures. The poplars looked very tall
and straight, pinched up and severe in their winter poverty. Mrs.
Forrester chatted to Niel with her face turned toward him, holding her
mull up to break the wind.

"I'm counting on you to help me entertain Constance Ogden. Can you take
her off my hands day after tomorrow, come over in the afternoon? Your
duties as a lawyer aren't very arduous yet?" She smiled teasingly. "What
can I do with a miss of nineteen? one who goes to college? I've no
learned conversation for her!"

"Surely I haven't!" Niel exclaimed.

"Oh, but you're a boy! Perhaps you can interest her in lighter things.
She's considered pretty."

"Do you think she is?"

"I haven't seen her lately. She was striking,--china blue eyes and heaps
of yellow hair, not exactly yellow,--what they call an ashen blond, I
believe."

Niel had noticed that in describing the charms of other women Mrs.
Forrester always made fun of them a little.

They drew up in front of the house. Ben Keezer came round from the
kitchen to take the team.

"You are to go back for Mr. Forrester at six, Ben. Niel, come in for a
moment and get warm." She drew him through the little storm entry, which
protected the front door in winter, into the hall. "Hang up your coat
and come along." He followed her through the parlour into the
sitting-room, where a little coal grate was burning under the black
mantelpiece, and sat down in the big leather chair in which Captain
Forrester dozed after his mid-day meal. It was a rather dark room, with
walnut bookcases that had carved tops and glass doors. The floor was
covered by a red carpet, and the walls were hung with large,
old-fashioned engravings; "The House of the Poet on the Last Day of
Pompeii," "Shakespeare Reading before Queen Elizabeth."

Mrs. Forrester left him and presently returned carrying a tray with a
decanter and sherry glasses. She put it down on her husband's
smoking-table, poured out a glass for Niel and one for herself, and
perched on the arm of one of the stuffed chairs, where she sat sipping
her sherry and stretching her tiny, silver-buckled slippers out toward
the glowing coals.

"It's so nice to have you staying on until after Christmas," Niel
observed, "You've only been here one other Christmas since I can
remember."

"I'm afraid we're staying on all winter this year. Mr. Forrester thinks
we can't afford to go away. For some reason, we are extraordinarily poor
just now."

"Like everybody else," the boy commented grimly.

"Yes, like everybody else. However, it does no good to be glum about it,
does it?" She refilled the two glasses. "I always take a little sherry
at this time in the afternoon. At Colorado Springs some of my friends
take tea, like the English. But I should feel like an old woman,
drinking teal Besides, sherry is good for my throat." Niel remembered
some legend about a weak chest and occasional terrifying hemorrhages.
But that seemed doubtful, as one looked at her,--fragile, indeed, but
with such light, effervescing vitality. "Perhaps I do seem old to you,
Niel, quite old enough for tea and a cap!"

He smiled gravely. "You seem always the same to me, Mrs. Forrester."

"Yes? And how is that?"

"Lovely. Just lovely."

As she bent forward to put down her glass she patted his cheek. "Oh,
you'll do very well for Constance!" Then, seriously, "I'm glad if I do,
though. I want you to like me well enough to come to see us often this
winter. You shall come with your uncle to make a fourth at whist. Mr.
Forrester must have his whist in the evening. Do you think he is looking
any worse, Niel? It frightens me to see him getting a little uncertain.
But there, we must believe in good luck!" She took up the half-empty
glass and held it against the light.

Niel liked to see the firelight sparkle on her earrings, long pendants
of garnets and seed-pearls in the shape of fleurs-de-lys. She was the
only woman he knew who wore earrings; they hung naturally against her
thin, triangular cheeks. Captain Forrester, although he had given her
handsomer ones, liked to see her wear these, because they had been his
mother's. It gratified him to have his wife wear jewels; it meant
something to him. She never left off her beautiful rings unless she was
in the kitchen.

"A winter in the country may do him good," said Mrs. Forrester, after a
silence during which she looked intently into the fire, as if she were
trying to read the outcome of their difficulties there. "He loves this
place so much. But you and Judge Pommeroy must keep an eye on him; when
he is in town, Niel. If he looks tired or uncertain, make some excuse
and bring him home. He can't carry a drink or two as he used,"--she
glanced over her shoulder to see that the door into the dining-room was
shut. "Once last winter he had been drinking with some old friends at
the Antlers,--nothing unusual, just as he always did, as a man must be
able to do,--but it was too much for him. When he came out to join me in
the carriage, coming down that long walk, you know, he fell. There was
no ice, he didn't slip. It was simply because he was unsteady. He had
trouble getting up. I still shiver to think of it. To me, it was as if
one of the mountains had fallen down."

A little later Niel went plunging down the hill, looking exultantly into
the streak of red sunset. Oh, the winter would not be so bad, this year!
How strange that she should be here at all, a woman like her among
common people! Not even in Denver had he ever seen another woman so
elegant. He had sat in the dining-room of the Brown Palace hotel and
watched them as they came down to dinner,--fashionable women from "the
East," on their way to California. But he had never found one so
attractive and distinguished as Mrs. Forrester. Compared with her, other
women were heavy and dull; even the pretty ones seemed lifeless,--they
had not that something in their glance that made one's blood tingle. And
never elsewhere had he heard anything like her inviting, musical laugh,
that was like the distant measures of dance music, heard through opening
and shutting doors.

He could remember the very first time he ever saw Mrs. Forrester, when
he was a little boy. He had been loitering in front of the Episcopal
church one Sunday morning, when a low carriage drove up to the door. Ben
Keezer was on the front seat, and on the back seat was a lady, alone, in
a black silk dress all puffs and ruffles, and a black hat, carrying a
parasol with a carved ivory handle. As the carriage stopped she lifted
her dress to alight; out of a swirl of foamy white petticoats she thrust
a black, shiny slipper. She stepped lightly to the ground and with a nod
to the driver went into the church. The little boy followed her through
the open door, saw her enter a pew and kneel. He was proud now that at
the first moment he had recognized her as belonging to a different world
from any he had ever known.

Niel paused for a moment at the end of the lane to look up at the last
skeleton poplar in the long row; just above its pointed tip hung the
hollow, silver winter moon.



IV


In pleasant weather Judge Pommeroy walked to the Forresters', but on the
occasion of the dinner for the Ogdens he engaged the liveryman to take
him and his nephew over in one of the town hacks,--vehicles seldom used
except for funerals and weddings. They smelled strongly of the stable
and contained lap-robes as heavy as lead and as slippery as oiled paper.
Niel and his uncle were the only townspeople asked to the Forresters'
that evening; they rolled over the creek and up the hill in state, and
emerged covered with horsehair.

Captain Forrester met them at the door, his burly figure buttoned up in
a frock coat, a flat collar and black string tie under the heavy folds
of his neck. He was always clean-shaven except for a drooping
dun-coloured moustache. The company stood behind him laughing while Niel
caught up the whisk-broom and began dusting roan hairs off his uncle's
broadcloth. Mrs. Forrester gave Niel a brushing in turn and then took
him into the parlour and introduced him to Mrs. Ogden and her daughter.

The daughter was a rather pretty girl, Niel thought, in a pale pink
evening dress which left bare her smooth arms and short, dimpled neck.
Her eyes were, as Mrs. Forrester had said, a china blue, rather
prominent and inexpressive. Her fleece of ashy-gold hair was bound about
her head with silver bands. In spite of her fresh, rose-like complexion,
her face was not altogether agreeable. Two dissatisfied lines reached
from the corners of her short nose to the corners of her mouth. When she
was displeased, even a little, these lines tightened, drew her nose
back, and gave her a suspicious, injured expression. Niel sat down by
her and did his best, but he found her hard to talk to. She seemed
nervous and distracted, kept glancing over her shoulder, and crushing
her handkerchief up in her hands. Her mind, clearly, was elsewhere.
After a few moments he turned to the mother, who was more easily
interested.

Mrs. Ogden was almost unpardonably homely. She had a pear-shaped face,
and across her high forehead lay a row of flat, dry curls. Her bluish
brown skin was almost the colour of her violet dinner dress. A diamond
necklace glittered about her wrinkled throat. Unlike Constance, she
seemed thoroughly amiable, but as she talked she tilted her head and
"used" her eyes, availing herself of those arch glances which he had
supposed only pretty women indulged in. Probably she had long been
surrounded by people to whom she was an important personage, and had
acquired the manner of a spoiled darling. Niel thought her rather
foolish at first, but in a few moments he had got used to her mannerisms
and began to like her. He found himself laughing heartily and forgot the
discouragement of his failure with the daughter.

Mr. Ogden, a short, weather-beaten man of fifty, with a cast in one eye,
a stiff imperial, and twisted moustaches, was noticeably quieter and
less expansive than when Niel had met him here on former occasions. He
seemed to expect his wife to do the talking. When Mrs. Forrester
addressed him, or passed near him, his good eye twinkled and followed
her,--while the eye that looked askance remained unchanged and committed
itself to nothing.

Suddenly everyone became more lively; the air warmed, and the lamplight
seemed to brighten, as a fourth member of the Denver party came in from
the dining-room with a glittering tray full of cocktails he had been
making. Frank Ellinger was a bachelor of forty, six feet two, with long
straight legs, fine shoulders, and a figure that still permitted his
white waistcoat to button without a wrinkle under his conspicuously
well-cut dinner coat. His black hair, coarse and curly as the filling of
a mattress, was grey about the ears, his florid face showed little
purple veins about his beaked nose,--a nose like the prow of a ship,
with long nostrils. His chin was deeply cleft, his thick curly lips
seemed very muscular, very much under his control, and, with his strong
white teeth, irregular and curved, gave him the look of a man who could
bite an iron rod in two with a snap of his jaws. His whole figure seemed
very much alive under his clothes, with a restless, muscular energy that
had something of the cruelty of wild animals in it. Niel was very much
interested in this man, the hero of many ambiguous stories. He didn't
know whether he liked him or not. He knew nothing bad about him, but he
felt something evil.

The cocktails were the signal for general conversation, the company drew
together in one group. Even Miss Constance seemed less dissatisfied.
Ellinger drank his cocktail standing beside her chair, and offered her
the cherry in his glass. They were old-fashioned whiskey cocktails.
Nobody drank Martinis then; gin was supposed to be the consolation of
sailors and inebriate scrub-women.

"Very good, Frank, very good," Captain Forrester pronounced, drawing out
a fresh, cologne-scented handkerchief to wipe his moustache. "Are
encores in order?" The Captain puffed slightly when he talked. His eyes,
always somewhat suffused and bloodshot since his injury, blinked at his
friends from under his heavy lids.

"One more round for everybody, Captain." Ellinger brought in from the
sideboard a capacious shaker and refilled all the glasses except Miss
Ogden's. At her he shook his finger, and offered her the little dish of
Maraschino cherries.

"No, I don't want those. I want the one in your glass," she said with a
pouty smile. "I like it to taste of something!"

"Constance!" said her mother reprovingly, rolling her eyes at Mrs.
Forrester, as if to share with her the charm of such innocence.

"Niel," Mrs. Forrester laughed, "won't you give the child your cherry,
too?"

Niel promptly crossed the room and proffered the cherry in the bottom of
his glass. She took it with her thumb and fore-finger and dropped it
into her own,--where, he was quick to observe, she left it when they
went out to dinner. A stubborn piece of pink flesh, he decided, and
certainly a fool about a man quite old enough to be her father. He
sighed when he saw that he was placed next her at the dinner table.

Captain Forrester still made a commanding figure at the head of his own
table, with his napkin tucked under his chin and the work of carving
well in hand. Nobody could lay bare the bones of a brace of duck or a
twenty-pound turkey more deftly. "What part of the turkey do you prefer,
Mrs. Ogden?" If one had a preference, it was gratified, with all the
stuffing and gravy that went with it, and the vegetables properly
placed. When a plate left Captain Forrester's hands, it was a dinner;
the recipient was served, and well served. He served Mrs. Forrester last
of the ladies but before the men, and to her, too, he said, "Mrs.
Forrester, what part of the turkey shall I give you this evening?" He
was a man who did not vary his formulae or his manners. He was no more
mobile than his countenance. Niel and Judge Pommeroy had often remarked
how much Captain Forrester looked like the pictures of Grover Cleveland.
His clumsy dignity covered a deep nature, and a conscience that had
never been juggled with. His repose was like that of a mountain. When he
laid his fleshy, thick-fingered hand upon a frantic horse, an hysterical
woman, an Irish workman out for blood, he brought them peace; something
they could not resist. That had been the secret of his management of
men. His sanity asked nothing, claimed nothing; it was so simple that it
brought a hush over distracted creatures. In the old days, when he was
building road in the Black Hills, trouble sometimes broke out in camp
when he was absent, staying with Mrs. Forrester at Colorado Springs. He
would put down the telegram that announced an insurrection and say to
his wife, "Maidy, I must go to the men." And that was all he did,--he
went to them.

While the Captain was intent upon his duties as host he talked very
little, and Judge Pommeroy and Ellinger kept a lively cross-fire of
amusing stories going. Niel, sitting opposite Ellinger, watched him
closely. He still couldn't decide whether he liked him or not. In Denver
Frank was known as a prince of good fellows; tactful, generous,
resourceful, though apt to trim his sails to the wind; a man who
good-humouredly bowed to the inevitable, or to the almost-inevitable. He
had, when he was younger, been notoriously "wild," but that was not held
against him, even by mothers with marriageable daughters, like Mrs.
Ogden. Morals were different in those days. Niel had heard his uncle
refer to Ellinger's youthful infatuation with a woman called Nell
Emerald, a handsome and rather unusual woman who conducted a house
properly licensed by the Denver police. Nell Emerald had told an old
club man that though she had been out behind young Ellinger's new
trotting horse, she "had no respect for a man who would go driving with
a prostitute in broad daylight." This story and a dozen like it were
often related of Ellinger, and the women laughed over them as heartily
as the men. All the while that he was making a scandalous chronicle for
himself, young Ellinger had been devotedly caring for an invalid mother,
and he was described to strangers as a terribly fast young man and a
model son. That combination pleased the taste of the time. Nobody
thought the worse of him. Now that his mother was dead, he lived at the
Brown Palace hotel, though he still kept her house at Colorado Springs.

When the roast was well under way, Black Tom, very formal in a white
waistcoat and high collar, poured the champagne. Captain Forrester
lifted his glass, the frail stem between his thick fingers, and glancing
round the table at his guests and at Mrs. Forrester, said:

"Happy days!"

It was the toast he always drank at dinner, the invocation he was sure
to utter when he took a glass of whiskey with an old friend. Whoever had
heard him say it once, liked to hear him say it again. Nobody else could
utter those two words as he did, with such gravity and high courtesy. It
seemed a solemn moment, seemed to knock at the door of Fate; behind
which all days, happy and otherwise, were hidden. Niel drank his wine
with a pleasant shiver, thinking that nothing else made life seem so
precarious, the future so cryptic and unfathomable, as that brief toast
uttered by the massive man, "Happy days!"

Mrs. Ogden turned to the host with her most languishing smile: "Captain
Forrester, I want you to tell Constance"-- (She was an East Virginia
woman, and what she really said was, "Cap'n Forrester, Ah wan' yew to
tell, etc." Her vowels seemed to roll about in the same way her eyes
did.)--"I want you to tell Constance about how you first found this
lovely spot, 'way back in Indian times."

The Captain looked down the table between the candles at Mrs. Forrester,
as if to consult her. She smiled and nodded, and her beautiful earrings
swung beside her pale cheeks. She was wearing her diamonds tonight, and
a black velvet gown. Her husband had archaic ideas about jewels; a man
bought them for his wife in acknowledgment of things he could not
gracefully utter. They must be costly; they must show that he was able
to buy them, and that she was worthy to wear them.

With her approval the Captain began his narrative: a concise account of
how he came West a young boy, after serving in the Civil War, and took a
job as driver for a freighting company that carried supplies across the
plains from Nebraska City to Cherry Creek, as Denver was then called.
The freighters, after embarking in that sea of grass six hundred miles
in width, lost all count of the days of the week and the month. One day
was like another, and all were glorious; good hunting, plenty of
antelope and buffalo, boundless sunny sky, boundless plains of waving
grass, long fresh-water lagoons yellow with lagoon flowers, where the
bison in their periodic migrations stopped to drink and bathe and
wallow.

"An ideal life for a young man," the Captain pronounced. Once, when he
was driven out of the trail by a wash-out, he rode south on his horse to
explore, and found an Indian encampment near the Sweet Water, on this
very hill where his house now stood. He was, he said, "greatly taken
with the location," and made up his mind that he would one day have a
house there. He cut down a young willow tree and drove the stake into
the ground to mark the spot where he wished to build. He went away and
did not come back for many years; he was helping to lay the first
railroad across the plains.

"There were those that were dependent on me," he said. "I had sickness
to contend with, and responsibilities. But in all those years I expect
there was hardly a day passed that I did not remember the Sweet Water
and this hill. When I came here a young man, I had planned it in my
mind, pretty much as it is to-day; where I would dig my well, and where
I would plant my grove and my orchard. I planned to build a house that
my friends could come to, with a wife like Mrs. Forrester to make it
attractive to them. I used to promise myself that some day I would
manage it." This part of the story the Captain told not with
embarrassment, but with reserve, choosing his words slowly, absently
cracking English walnuts with his strong fingers and heaping a little
hoard of kernels beside his plate. His friends understood that he was
referring to his first marriage, to the poor invalid wife who had never
been happy and who had kept his nose to the grindstone.

"When things looked most discouraging," he went on, "I came back here
once and bought the place from the railroad company. They took my note.
I found my willow stake,--it had rooted and grown into a tree,--and I
planted three more to mark the corners of my house. Twelve years later
Mrs. Forrester came here with me, shortly after our marriage, and we
built our house." Captain Forrester puffed from time to time, but his
clear account commanded attention. Something in the way he uttered his
unornamented phrases gave them the impressiveness of inscriptions cut in
stone.

Mrs. Forrester nodded at him from her end of the table. "And now, tell
us your philosophy of life,--this is where it comes in," she laughed
teasingly.

The Captain coughed and looked abashed. "I was intending to omit that
tonight. Some of our guests have already heard it."

"No, no. It belongs at the end of the story, and if some of us have
heard it, we can hear it again. Go on!"

"Well, then, my philosophy is that what you think of and plan for day by
day, in spite of yourself, so to speak--you will get. You will get it
more or less. That is, unless you are one of the people who get nothing
in this world. There are such people. I have lived too much in mining
works and construction camps not to know that." He paused as if, though
this was too dark a chapter to be gone into, it must have its place, its
moment of silent recognition. "If you are not one of those, Constance
and Niel, you will accomplish what you dream of most."

"And why? That's the interesting part of it," his wife prompted him.

"Because," he roused himself from his abstraction and looked about at
the company, "because a thing that is dreamed of in the way I mean, is
already an accomplished fact. All our great West has been developed from
such dreams; the homesteader's and the prospector's and the
contractor's. We dreamed the railroads across the mountains, just as I
dreamed my place on the Sweet Water. All these things will be everyday
facts to the coming generation, but to us--" Captain Forrester ended
with a sort of grunt. Something forbidding had come into his voice, the
lonely, defiant note that is so often heard in the voices of old
Indians.

Mrs. Ogden had listened to the story with such sympathy that Niel liked
her better than ever, and even the preoccupied Constance seemed able to
give it her attention. They rose from the dessert and went into the
parlour to arrange the card tables. The Captain still played whist as
well as ever. As he brought out a box of his best cigars, he paused
before Mrs. Ogden and said, "Is smoke offensive to you, Mrs. Ogden?"
When she protested that it was not, he crossed the room to where
Constance was talking with Ellinger and asked with the same grave
courtesy, "Is smoke offensive to you, Constance?" Had there been half a
dozen women present, he would have asked that question of each,
probably, and in the same words. It did not bother him to repeat a
phrase. If an expression answered his purpose, he saw no reason for
varying it.

Mrs. Forrester and Mr. Ogden were to play against Mrs. Ogden and the
Captain. "Constance," said Mrs. Forrester as she sat down, "will you
play with Niel? I'm told he's very good."

Miss Ogden's short nose flickered up, the lines on either side of it
deepened, and she again looked injured. Niel was sure she detested him.
He was not going to be done in by her.

"Miss Ogden," he said as he stood beside his chair, deliberately
shuffling a pack of cards, "my uncle and I are used to playing together,
and probably you are used to playing with Mr. Ellinger. Suppose we try
that combination?"

She gave him a quick, suspicious glance from under her yellow eyelashes
and flung herself into a chair without so much as answering him. Frank
Ellinger came in from the dining-room, where he had been sampling the
Captain's French brandy, and took the vacant seat opposite Miss Ogden.
"So it's you and me, Connie? Good enough!" he exclaimed, cutting the
pack Niel pushed toward him.

Just before midnight Black Tom opened the door and announced that the
egg-nog was ready. The card players went into the dining-room, where the
punch-bowl stood smoking on the table.

"Constance," said Captain Forrester, "do you sing? I like to hear one of
the old songs with the egg-nog."

"Ah'm sorry, Cap'n Forrester. Ah really haven't any voice."

Niel noticed that whenever Constance spoke to the Captain she strained
her throat, though he wasn't in the least deaf. He broke in over her
refusal. "Uncle can start a song if you coax him, sir."

Judge Pommeroy, after smoothing his silver whiskers and coughing, began
"Auld Lang Syne." The others joined in, but they hadn't got to the end
of it when a hollow rumbling down on the bridge made them laugh, and
everyone ran to the front windows to see the Judge's funeral coach come
lurching up the hill, with only one of the side lanterns lit. Mrs.
Forrester sent Tom out with a drink for the driver. While Niel and his
uncle were putting on their overcoats in the hall, she came up to them
and whispered coaxingly to the boy, "Remember, you are coming over
tomorrow, at two? I am planning a drive, and I want you to amuse
Constance for me."

Niel bit his lip and looked down into Mrs. Forrester's laughing,
persuasive eyes. "I'll do it for you, but that's the only reason," he
said threateningly.

"I understand, for me! I'll credit it to your account."

The Judge and his nephew rolled away on swaying springs. The Ogdens
retired to their rooms upstairs. Mrs. Forrester went to help the Captain
divest himself of his frock coat, and put it away for him. Ever since he
was hurt he had to be propped high on pillows at night, and he slept in
a narrow iron bed, in the alcove which had formerly been his wife's
dressing-room. While he was undressing he breathed heavily and sighed,
as if he were very tired. He fumbled with his studs, then blew on his
fingers and tried again. His wife came to his aid and quickly unbuttoned
everything. He did not thank her in words, but submitted gratefully.

When the iron bed creaked at receiving his heavy figure, she called from
the big bedroom, "Good-night, Mr. Forrester," and drew the heavy
curtains that shut off the alcove. She took off her rings and earrings
and was beginning to unfasten her black velvet bodice when, at a tinkle
of glass from without, she stopped short. Re-hooking the shoulder of her
gown, she went to the dining-room, now faintly lit by the coal fire in
the back parlour. Frank Ellinger was standing at the sideboard, taking a
nightcap. The Forrester French brandy was old, and heavy like a cordial.

"Be careful," she murmured as she approached him, "I have a distinct
impression that there is some one on the enclosed stairway. There is a
wide crack in the door. Ah, but kittens have claws, these days! Pour me
just a little. Thank you. I'll have mine in by the fire."

He followed her into the next room, where she stood by the grate,
looking at him in the light of the pale blue flames that ran over the
fresh coal, put on to keep the fire.

"You've had a good many brandies, Frank," she said, studying his
flushed, masterful face.

"Not too many. I'll need them . . . tonight," he replied meaningly.

She nervously brushed back a lock of hair that had come down a little.
"It's not tonight. It's morning. Go to bed and sleep as late as you
please. Take care, I heard silk stockings on the stairs. Good-night."
She put her hand on the sleeve of his coat; the white fingers clung to
the black cloth as bits of paper cling to magnetized iron. Her touch,
soft as it was, went through the man, all the feet and inches of him.
His broad shoulders lifted on a deep breath. He looked down at her.

Her eyes fell. "Good-night," she said faintly. As she turned quickly
away, the train of her velvet dress caught the leg of his broadcloth
trousers and dragged with a friction that crackled and threw sparks.
Both started. They stood looking at each other for a moment before she
actually slipped through the door. Ellinger remained by the hearth, his
arms folded tight over his chest, his curly lips compressed, frowning
into the fire.



V


Niel went up the hill the next afternoon, just as the cutter with the
two black ponies jingled round the driveway and stopped at the front
door. Mrs. Forrester came out on the porch, dressed for a sleigh ride.
Ellinger followed her, buttoned up in a long fur-lined coat, showily
befrogged down the front, with a glossy astrachan collar. He looked even
more powerful and bursting with vigour than last night. His
highly-coloured, well-visored countenance shone with a good opinion of
himself and of the world.

Mrs. Forrester called to Niel gaily. "We are going down to the Sweet
Water to cut cedar boughs for Christmas. Will you keep Constance
company? She seems a trifle disappointed at being left behind, but we
can't take the big sleigh,--the pole is broken. Be nice to her, there's
a good boy!" She pressed his hand, gave him a meaning, confidential
smile, and stepped into the sleigh. Ellinger sprang in beside her, and
they glided down the hill with a merry tinkle of sleighbells.

Niel found Miss Ogden in the back parlour, playing solitaire by the
fire. She was clearly out of humour.

"Come in, Mr. Herbert. I think they might have taken us along, don't
you? I want to see the river my own self. I hate bein' shut up in the
house!"

"Let's go out, then. Wouldn't you like to see the town?"

Constance seemed not to hear him. She was wrinkling and unwrinkling her
short nose, and the restless lines about her mouth were fluttering.
"What's to hinder us from getting a sleigh at the livery barn and going
down to the Sweet Water? I don't suppose the river's private property?"
She gave a nervous, angry laugh and looked hopefully at Niel.

"We couldn't get anything at this hour. The livery teams are all out,"
he said with firmness.

Constance glanced at him suspiciously, then sat down at the card table
and leaned over it, drawing her plump shoulders together. Her fluffy
yellow hair was wound round her head like a scarf and held in place by
narrow bands of black velvet.

The ponies had crossed the second creek and were trotting down the high
road toward the river. Mrs. Forrester expressed her feelings in a laugh
full of mischief. "Is she running after us? Where did she get the idea
that she was to come? What a relief to get away!" She lifted her chin
and sniffed the air. The day was grey, without sun, and the air was
still and dry, a warm cold. "Poor Mr. Ogden," she went on, "how much
livelier he is without his ladies! They almost extinguish him. Now
aren't you glad you never married?"

"I'm certainly glad I never married a homely woman. What does a man do
it for, anyway? She had no money,--and he's always had it, or been on
the way to it."

"Well, they're off tomorrow. And Connie! You've reduced her to a state
of imbecility, really! What an afternoon Niel must be having!" She
laughed as if the idea of his predicament delighted her.

"Who's this kid, anyway?" Ellinger asked her to take the reins for a
moment while he drew a cigar from his pocket. "He's a trifle stiff. Does
he make himself useful?"

"Oh, he's a nice boy, stranded here like the rest of us. I'm going to
train him to be very useful. He's devoted to Mr. Forrester. Handsome,
don't you think?"

"So-so." They turned into a by-road that wound along the Sweet Water.
Ellinger held the ponies in a little and turned down his high astrachan
collar. "Let's have a look at you, Marian."

Mrs. Forrester was holding her muff before her face, to catch the flying
particles of snow the ponies kicked up. From behind it she glanced at
him sidewise. "Well?" she said teasingly.

He put his arm through hers and settled himself low in the sleigh. "You
ought to look at me better than that. It's been a devil of a long while
since I've seen you."

"Perhaps it's been too long," she murmured. The mocking spark in her
eyes softened perceptibly under the long pressure of his arm. "Yes, it's
been long," she admitted lightly.

"You didn't answer the letter I wrote you on the eleventh."

"Didn't I? Well, at any rate I answered your telegram." She drew her
head away as his face came nearer. "You'll really have to watch the
ponies, my dear, or they'll tumble us out in the snow."

"I don't care. I wish they would!" he said between his teeth. "Why
didn't you answer my letter?"

"Oh, I don't remember! You don't write so many."

"It's no satisfaction. You won't let me write you love letters. You say
it's risky."

"So it is, and foolish. But now you needn't be so careful. Not too
careful!" she laughed softly. "When I'm off in the country for a whole
winter, alone, and growing older, I like to . . ." she put her hand on
his, "to be reminded of pleasanter things."

Ellinger took off his glove with his teeth. His eyes, sweeping the
winding road and the low, snow-covered bluffs, had something wolfish in
them.

"Be careful, Frank. My rings! You hurt me!"

"Then why didn't you take them off? You used to. Are these your cedars,
shall we stop here?"

"No, not here." She spoke very low. "The best ones are farther on, in a
deep ravine that winds back into the hills."

Ellinger glanced at her averted head, and his heavy lips twitched in a
smile at one corner. The quality of her voice had changed, and he knew
the change. They went spinning along the curves of the winding road,
saying not a word. Mrs. Forrester sat with her head bent forward, her
face half hidden in her muff. At last she told him to stop. To the right
of the road he saw a thicket. Behind it a dry watercourse wound into the
bluffs. The tops of the dark, still cedars, just visible from the road,
indicated its windings.

"Sit still," he said, "while I take out the horses."


When the blue shadows of approaching dusk were beginning to fall over
the snow, one of the Blum boys, slipping quietly along through the
timber in search of rabbits, came upon the empty cutter standing in the
brush, and near it the two ponies, stamping impatiently where they were
tied. Adolph slid bade into the thicket and lay down behind a fallen log
to see what would happen. Not much ever happened to him but weather.

Presently he heard low voices, coming nearer from the ravine. The big
stranger who was visiting at the Forresters' emerged, carrying the
buffalo robes on one arm; Mrs. Forrester herself was clinging to the
other. They walked slowly, wholly absorbed by what they were saying to
each other. When they came up to the sleigh, the man spread the robes on
the seat and put his hands under Mrs. Forrester's arms to lift her in.
But he did not lift her; he stood for a long while holding her crushed
up against his breast, her face hidden in his black overcoat.

"What about those damned cedar boughs?" he asked, after he had put her
in and covered her up. "Shall I go back and cut some?"

"It doesn't matter," she murmured.

He reached under the seat for a hatchet and went back to the ravine.
Mrs. Forrester sat with her eyes closed, her cheek pillowed on her muff,
a faint, soft smile on her lips. The air was still and blue; the Blum
boy could almost hear her breathe. When the strokes of the hatchet rang
out from the ravine, he could see her eyelids flutter . . . soft shivers
went through her body.

The man came back and threw the evergreens into the sleigh. When he got
in beside her, she slipped her hand through his arm and settled softly
against him. "Drive slowly," she murmured, as if she were talking in her
sleep. "It doesn't matter if we are late for dinner. Nothing matters."
The ponies trotted off.

The pale Blum boy rose from behind his log and followed the tracks up
the ravine. When the orange moon rose over the bluffs, he was still
sitting under the cedars, his gun on his knee. While Mrs. Forrester had
been waiting there in the sleigh, with her eyes closed, feeling so safe,
he could almost have touched her with his hand. He had never seen her
before when her mocking eyes and lively manner were not between her and
all the world. If it had been Thad Grimes who lay behind that log, now,
or Ivy Peters?

But with Adolph Blum her secrets were safe. His mind was feudal; the
rich and fortunate were also the privileged. These warm-blooded,
quick-breathing people took chances,--followed impulses only dimly
understandable to a boy who was wet and weather-chapped all the year;
who waded in the mud fishing for cat, or lay in the marsh waiting for
wild duck. Mrs. Forrester had never been too haughty to smile at him
when he came to the back door with his fish. She never haggled about the
price. She treated him like a human being. His little chats with her,
her nod and smile when she passed him on the street, were among the
pleasantest things he had to remember. She bought game of him in the
closed season, and didn't give him away.



VI


It was during that winter, the first one Mrs. Forrester had ever spent
in the house on the hill, that Niel came to know her very well. For the
Forresters that winter was a sort of isthmus between two estates; soon
afterward came a change in their fortunes. And for Niel it was a natural
turning-point, since in the autumn he was nineteen, and in the spring he
was twenty,--a very great difference.

After the Christmas festivities were over, the whist parties settled
into a regular routine. Three evenings a week Judge Pommeroy and his
nephew sat down to cards with the Forresters. Sometimes they went over
early and dined there. Sometimes they stayed for a late supper after the
last rubber. Niel, who had been so content with a bachelor's life, and
who had made up his mind that he would never live in a place that was
under the control of women, found himself becoming attached to the
comforts of a well-conducted house; to the pleasures of the table, to
the soft chairs and soft lights and agreeable human voices at the
Forresters'. On bitter, windy nights, sitting in his favourite blue
chair before the grate, he used to wonder how he could manage to tear
himself away, to plunge into the outer darkness, and run down the long
frozen road and up the dead street of the town. Captain Forrester was
experimenting with bulbs that winter, and had built a little glass
conservatory on the south side of the house, off the back parlour.
Through January and February the house was full of narcissus and Roman
hyacinths, and their heavy, spring-like odour made a part of the
enticing comfort of the fireside there.

Where Mrs. Forrester was, dulness was impossible, Niel believed. The
charm of her conversation was not so much in what she said, though she
was often witty, but in the quick recognition of her eyes, in the living
quality of her voice itself. One could talk with her about the most
trivial things, and go away with a high sense of elation. The secret of
it, he supposed, was that she couldn't help being interested in people,
even very commonplace people. If Mr. Ogden or Mr. Dalzell were not there
to tell their best stories for her, then she could be amused by Ivy
Peters' ruffianly manners, or the soft compliments of old man Elliott
when he sold her a pair of winter shoes. She had a fascinating gift of
mimicry. When she mentioned the fat iceman, or Thad Grimes at his meat
block, or the Blum boys with their dead rabbits, by a subtle suggestion
of their manner she made them seem more individual and vivid than they
were in their own person. She often caricatured people to their faces,
and they were not offended, but greatly flattered. Nothing pleased one
more than to provoke her laughter. Then you felt you were getting on
with her. It was her form of commenting, of agreeing with you and
appreciating you when you said something interesting,--and it often told
you a great deal that was both too direct and too elusive for words.

Long, long afterward, when Niel did not know whether Mrs. Forrester were
living or dead, if her image flashed into his mind, it came with a
brightness of dark eyes, her pale triangular cheeks with long earrings,
and her many-coloured laugh. When he was dull, dull and tired of
everything, he used to think that if he could hear that long-lost lady
laugh again, he could be gay.


The big storm of the winter came late that year; swept down over Sweet
Water the first day of March and beat upon the town for three days and
nights. Thirty inches of snow fell, and the cutting wind blew it into
whirling drifts. The Forresters were snowed in. Ben Keezer, their man of
all work, did not attempt to break a road or even to come over to the
town himself. On the third day Niel went to the post-office, got the
Captain's leather mail sack with its accumulation of letters, and set
off across the creek, plunging into drifts up to his middle, sometimes
up to his arm-pits. The fences along the lane were covered, but he broke
his trail by keeping between the two lines of poplars. When at last he
reached the front porch, Captain Forrester came to the door and let him
in.

"Glad to see you, my boy, very glad. It's been a little lonesome for us.
You must have had hard work getting over. I certainly appreciate it.
Come to the sitting-room fire and dry yourself. We will talk quietly.
Mrs. Forrester has gone upstairs to lie down; she's been complaining of
a headache."

Niel stood before the fire in his rubber boots, drying his trousers. The
Captain did not sit down but opened the glass door into his little
conservatory.

"I've something pretty to show you, Niel. All my hyacinths are coming
along at once, every colour of the rainbow. The Roman hyacinths, I say,
are Mrs. Forrester's. They seem to suit her."

Niel went to the door and looked with keen pleasure at the fresh, watery
blossoms. "I was afraid you might lose them this bitter weather,
Captain."

"No, these things can stand a good deal of cold. They've been company
for us." He stood looking out through the glass at the drifted
shrubbery. Niel liked to see him look out over his place. A man's house
is his castle, his look seemed to say. "Ben tells me the rabbits have
come up to the barn to eat the hay, everything green is covered up. I
had him throw a few cabbages out for them, so they won't suffer. Mrs.
Forrester has been on the porch every day, feeding the snow birds," he
went on, as if talking to himself.

The stair door opened, and Mrs. Forrester came down in her Japanese
dressing-gown, looking very pale. The dark shadows under her eyes seemed
to mean that she had been losing sleep.

"Oh, it's Niel! How nice of you. And you've brought the mail. Are there
any letters for me?"

"Three. Two from Denver and one from California." Her husband gave them
to her. "Did you sleep, Maidy?"

"No, but I rested. It's delightful up in the west room, the wind sings
and whistles about the eaves. If you'll excuse me, I'll dress and glance
at my letters. Stand closer to the fire, Niel. Are you very wet?" When
she stopped beside him to feel his clothes, he smelled a sharp odour of
spirits. Was she ill, he wondered, or merely so bored that she had been
trying to dull herself?

When she came back she had dressed and re-arranged her hair.

"Mrs. Forrester," said the Captain in a solicitous tone, "I believe I
would like some tea and toast this afternoon, like your English friends,
and it would be good for your head. We won't offer Niel anything else."

"Very well. Mary has gone to bed with a toothache, but I will make the
tea. Niel can make the toast here by the fire while you read your
paper."

She was cheerful now,--tied one of Mary's aprons about Niel's neck and
set him down with the toasting fork. He noticed that the Captain, as he
read his paper, kept his eye on the sideboard with a certain
watchfulness, and when his wife brought the tray with tea, and no
sherry, he seemed very much pleased. He drank three cups, and took a
second piece of toast.

"You see, Mr. Forrester," she said lightly, "Niel has brought back my
appetite. I ate no lunch to-day," turning to the boy, "I've been shut up
too long. Is there anything in the papers?"

This meant was there any news concerning the people they knew. The
Captain put on his silver-rimmed glasses again and read aloud about the
doings of their friends in Denver and Omaha and Kansas City. Mrs.
Forrester sat on a stool by the fire, eating toast and making humorous
comments upon the subjects of those solemn paragraphs; the engagement of
Miss Erma Salton-Smith, etc.

"At last, thank God! You remember her, Niel. She's been here. I think
you danced with her."

"I don't think I do. What is she like?"

"She's exactly like her name. Don't you remember? Tall, very animated,
glittering eyes, like the Ancient Mariner's?"

Niel laughed. "Don't you like bright eyes, Mrs. Forrester?"

"Not any others, I don't!" She joined in his laugh so gaily that the
Captain looked out over his paper with an expression of satisfaction. He
let the journal slowly crumple on his knees, and sat watching the two
beside the grate. To him they seemed about the same age. It was a habit
with him to think of Mrs. Forrester as very, very young.

She noticed that he was not reading. "Would you like me to light the
lamp, Mr. Forrester?"

"No, thank you. The twilight is very pleasant."

It was twilight by now. They heard Mary come downstairs and begin
stirring about the kitchen. The Captain, his slippers in the zone of
firelight and his heavy shoulders in shadow, snored from time to time.
As the room grew dusky, the windows were squares of clear, pale violet,
and the shutters ceased to rattle. The wind was dying with the day.
Everything was still, except when Bohemian Mary roughly clattered a pan.
Mrs. Forrester whispered that she was out of sorts because her
sweetheart, Joe Pucelik, hadn't been over to see her. Sunday night was
his regular night, and Sunday was the first day of the blizzard. "When
she's neglected, her tooth always begins to ache!"

"Well, now that I've got over, he'll have to come, or she will be in a
temper."

"Oh, he'll come!" Mrs. Forrester shrugged. "I am blind and deaf, but I'm
quite sure she makes it worth his while!" After a few moments she rose.
"Come," she whispered, "Mr. Forrester is asleep. Let's run down the
hill, there's no one to stop us. I'll slip on my rubber boots. No
objections!" She put her fingers on his lips. "Not a word! I can't stand
this house a moment longer."

They slipped quietly out of the front door into the cold air which
tasted of new-fallen snow. A clear arc of blue and rose colour painted
the west, over the buried town. When they reached the rounded breast of
the hill, blown almost bare, Mrs. Forrester stood still and drew in deep
breaths, looking down over the drifted meadows and the stiff, blue
poplars.

"Oh, but it is bleak!" she murmured. "Suppose we should have to stay
here all next winter, too, . . . and the next! What will become of me,
Niel?" There was fear, unmistakable fright in her voice. "You see there
is nothing for me to do. I get no exercise. I don't skate; we didn't in
California, and my ankles are weak. I've always danced in the winter,
there's plenty of dancing at Colorado Springs. You wouldn't believe how
I miss it. I shall dance till I'm eighty. . . . I'll be the waltzing
grandmother! It's good for me, I need it."

They plunged down into the drifts and did not stop again until they
reached the wooden bridge.

"See, even the creek is frozen! I thought running water never froze. How
long will it be like this?"

"Not long now. In a month you'll see the green begin in the marsh and
run over the meadows. It's lovely over here in the spring. And you'll be
able to get out tomorrow, Mrs. Forrester. The clouds are thinning. Look,
there's the new moon!"

She turned. "Oh, I saw it over the wrong shoulder!"

"No you didn't. You saw it over mine."

She sighed and took his arm. "My dear boy, your shoulders aren't broad
enough."

Instantly before his eyes rose the image of a pair of shoulders that
were very broad, objectionably broad, clad in a frogged overcoat with an
astrachan collar. The intrusion of this third person annoyed him as they
went slowly back up the hill.

Curiously enough, it was as Captain Forrester's wife that she most
interested Niel, and it was in her relation to her husband that he most
admired her. Given her other charming attributes, her comprehension of a
man like the railroad-builder, her loyalty to him, stamped her more than
anything else. That, he felt, was quality; something that could never
become worn or shabby; steel of Damascus. His admiration of Mrs.
Forrester went back to that, just as, he felt, she herself went back to
it. He rather liked the stories, even the spiteful ones, about the gay
life she led in Colorado, and the young men she kept dangling about her
every winter. He sometimes thought of the life she might have been
living ever since he had known her,--and the one she had chosen to live.
From that disparity, he believed, came the subtlest thrill of her
fascination. She mocked outrageously at the proprieties she observed,
and inherited the magic of contradictions.



VII


On the evenings when there was no whist at the Forresters', Niel usually
sat in his room and read,--but not law, as he was supposed to do. The
winter before, when the Forresters were away, and one dull day dragged
after another, he had come upon a copious diversion, an almost
inexhaustible resource. The high, narrow bookcase in the back office,
between the double doors and the wall, was filled from top to bottom
with rows of solemn looking volumes bound in dark cloth, which were kept
apart from the law library; an almost complete set of the Bohn classics,
which Judge Pommeroy had bought long ago when he was a student at the
University of Virginia. He had brought them West with him, not because
he read them a great deal, but because, in his day, a gentleman had such
books in his library, just as he had claret in his cellar. Among them
was a set of Byron in three volumes, and last winter, apropos of a
quotation which Niel didn't recognize, his uncle advised him to read
Byron,--all except "Don Juan." That, the Judge remarked, with a deep
smile, he "could save until later." Niel, of course, began with "Don
Juan." Then he read "Tom Jones" and "Wilhelm Meister" and raced on until
he came to Montaigne and a complete translation of Ovid. He hadn't
finished yet with these last,--always went back to them after other
experiments. These authors seemed to him to know their business. Even in
"Don Juan" there was a little "fooling," but with these gentlemen none.

There were philosophical works in the collection, but he did no more
than open and glance at them. He had no curiosity about what men had
thought; but about what they had felt and lived, he had a great deal. If
anyone had told him that these were classics and represented the wisdom
of the ages, he would doubtless have let them alone. But ever since he
had first found them for himself, he had been living a double life, with
all its guilty enjoyments He read the _Heroides_ over and over, and felt
that they were the most glowing love stories ever told. He did not think
of these books as something invented to beguile the idle hour, but as
living creatures, caught in the very behaviour of living,--surprised
behind their misleading severity of form and phrase. He was
eavesdropping upon the past, being let into the great world that had
plunged and glittered and sumptuously sinned long before little Western
towns were dreamed of. Those rapt evenings beside the lamp gave him a
long perspective, influenced his conception of the people about him,
made him know just what he wished his own relations with these people to
be. For some reason, his reading made him wish to become an architect.
If the Judge had left his Bohn library behind him in Kentucky, his
nephew's life might have turned out differently.


Spring came at last, and the Forrester place had never been so lovely.
The Captain spent long, happy days among his flowering shrubs, and his
wife used to say to visitors, "Yes, you can see Mr. Forrester in a
moment; I will send the English gardener to call him."

Early in June, when the Captain's roses were just coming on, his
pleasant labors were interrupted. One morning an alarming telegram
reached him. He cut it open with his garden shears, came into the house,
and asked his wife to telephone for Judge Pommeroy. A savings bank, one
in which he was largely interested, had failed in Denver. That evening
the Captain and his lawyer went west on the express. The Judge, when he
was giving Niel final instructions about the office business, told him
he was afraid the Captain was bound to lose a good deal of money.

Mrs. Forrester seemed unaware of any danger; she went to the station to
see her husband off, spoke of his errand merely as a "business trip."
Niel, however, felt a foreboding gloom. He dreaded poverty for her. She
was one of the people who ought always to have money; any retrenchment
of their generous way of living would be a hardship for her,--would be
unfitting. She would not be herself in straitened circumstances.

Niel took his meals at the town hotel; on the third day after Captain
Forrester's departure, he was annoyed to find Frank Ellinger's name on
the hotel register. Ellinger did not appear at supper, which meant, of
course, that he was dining with Mrs. Forrester, and that the lady
herself would get his dinner. She had taken the occasion of the
Captain's absence to let Bohemian Mary go to visit her mother on the
farm for a week. Niel thought it very bad taste in Ellinger to come to
Sweet Water when Captain Forrester was away. He must know that it would
stir up the gossips.

Niel had meant to call on Mrs. Forrester that evening, but now he went
back to the office instead. He read late, and after he went to bed, he
slept lightly. He was awakened before dawn by the puffing of the switch
engine down at the round house. He tried to muffle his ears in the sheet
and go to sleep again, but the sound of escaping steam for some reason
excited him. He could not shut out the feeling that it was summer, and
that the dawn would soon be flaming gloriously over the Forresters'
marsh. He had awakened with that intense, blissful realization of summer
which sometimes comes to children in their beds. He rose and dressed
quickly. He would get over to the hill before Frank Ellinger could
intrude his unwelcome presence, while he was still asleep in the best
bedroom of the Wimbleton hotel.

An impulse of affection and guardianship drew Niel up the
poplar-bordered road in the early light,--though he did not go near the
house itself, but at the second bridge cut round through the meadow and
on to the marsh. The sky was burning with the soft pink and silver of a
cloudless summer dawn. The heavy, bowed grasses splashed him to the
knees. All over the marsh, snow-on-the-mountain, globed with dew, made
cool sheets of silver, and the swamp milk-weed spread its flat,
raspberry-coloured clusters. There was an almost religious purity about
the fresh morning air, the tender sky, the grass and flowers with the
sheen of early dew upon them. There was in all living things something
limpid and joyous--like the wet, morning call of the birds, flying up
through the unstained atmosphere. Out of the saffron east a thin,
yellow, wine-like sunshine began to gild the fragrant meadows and the
glistening tops of the grove. Niel wondered why he did not often come
over like this, to see the day before men and their activities had
spoiled it, while the morning was still unsullied, like a gift handed
down from the heroic ages.

Under the bluffs that overhung the marsh he came upon thickets of wild
roses, with flaming buds, just beginning to open. Where they had opened,
their petals were stained with that burning rose-colour which is always
gone by noon,--a dye made of sunlight and morning and moisture, so
intense that it cannot possibly last . . . must fade, like ecstasy. Niel
took out his knife and began to cut the stiff stems, crowded with red
thorns.

He would make a bouquet for a lovely lady; a bouquet gathered off the
cheeks of morning . . . these roses, only half awake, in the
defencelessness of utter beauty. He would leave them just outside one of
the French windows of her bedroom. When she opened her shutters to let
in the light, she would find them,--and they would perhaps give her a
sudden distaste for coarse worldlings like Frank Ellinger.

After tying his flowers with a twist of meadow grass, he went up the
hill through the grove and softly round the still house to the north
side of Mrs. Forrester's own room, where the door-like green shutters
were closed. As he bent to place the flowers on the sill, he heard from
within a woman's soft laughter; impatient, indulgent, teasing, eager.
Then another laugh, very different, a man's. And it was fat and
lazy,--ended in something like a yawn.

Niel found himself at the foot of the hill on the wooden bridge, his
face hot, his temples beating, his eyes blind with anger. In his hand he
still carried the prickly bunch of wild roses. He threw them over the
wire fence into a mudhole the cattle had trampled under the bank of the
creek. He did not know whether he had left the house by the driveway or
had come down through the shrubbery. In that instant between stooping to
the window-sill and rising, he had lost one of the most beautiful things
in his life. Before the dew dried, the morning had been wrecked for him;
and all subsequent mornings, he told himself bitterly. This day saw the
end of that admiration and loyalty that had been like a bloom on his
existence. He could never recapture it. It was gone, like the morning
freshness of the flowers.

"Lilies that fester," he muttered, "_lilies that fester smell far worse
than weeds._"

Grace, variety, the lovely voice, the sparkle of fun and fancy in those
dark eyes; all this was nothing. It was not a moral scruple she had
outraged, but an aesthetic ideal. Beautiful women, whose beauty meant
more than it said . . . was their brilliancy always fed by something
coarse and concealed? Was that their secret?



VIII


Niel met his uncle and Captain Forrester when they alighted from the
morning train, and drove over to the house with them. The business on
which they had gone to Denver was not referred to until they were
sitting with Mrs. Forrester in the front parlour. The windows were open,
and the perfume of the mock-orange and of June roses was blowing in from
the garden. Captain Forrester introduced the subject, after slowly
unfolding his handkerchief and wiping his forehead, and his fleshy neck,
around his low collar.

"Maidy," he said, not looking at her, "I've come home a poor man. It
took about everything there was to square up. You'll have this place,
unencumbered, and my pension; that will be about all. The live-stock
will bring in something."

Niel saw that Mrs. Forrester grew very pale, but she smiled and brought
her husband his cigar stand. "Oh, well! I expect we can manage, can't
we?"

"We can just manage. Not much more. I'm afraid Judge Pommeroy considers
I acted foolishly."

"Not at all, Mrs. Forrester," the Judge exclaimed. "He acted just as I
hope I would have done in his place. But I am an unmarried man. There
were certain securities, government bonds, which Captain Forrester could
have turned over to you, but it would have been at the expense of the
depositors."

"I've known men to do that," said the Captain heavily, "but I never
considered they paid their wives a compliment. If Mrs. Forrester is
satisfied, I shall never regret my decision." For the first time his
tired, swollen eyes sought his wife's.

"I never question your decisions in business, Mr. Forrester. I know
nothing about such things."

The Captain put down the cigar he had taken but not lighted, rose with
an effort, and walked over to the bay window, where he stood gazing out
over his meadows. "The place looks very nice, Maidy," he said presently.
"I see you've watered the roses. They need it, this weather. Now, if
you'll excuse me, I'll lie down for a while. I did not sleep well on the
train. Niel and the Judge will stay for lunch." He opened the door into
Mrs. Forrester's room and closed it behind him.

Judge Pommeroy began to explain to Mrs. Forrester the situation they had
faced in Denver. The bank, about which Mrs. Forrester knew nothing but
its name, was one which paid good interest on small deposits. The
depositors were wage-earners; railroad employes, mechanics, and day
labourers, many of whom had at some time worked for Captain Forrester.
His was the only well known name among the bank officers, it was the
name which promised security and fair treatment to his old workmen and
their friends. The other directors were promising young business men
with many irons in the fire. But, the Judge said with evident chagrin,
they had refused to come up to the scratch and pay their losses like
gentlemen. They claimed that the bank was insolvent, not through unwise
investments or mismanagement, but because of a nation-wide financial
panic, a shrinking in values that no one could have foreseen. They
argued that the fair thing was to share the loss with the depositors; to
pay them fifty cents on the dollar, giving long-time notes for
twenty-five per cent, settling on a basis of seventy-five per cent.

Captain Forrester had stood firm that not one of the depositors should
lose a dollar. The promising young business men had listened to him
respectfully, but finally told him they would settle only on their own
terms; any additional refunding must be his affair. He sent to the vault
for his private steel box, opened it in their presence, and sorted the
contents on the table. The government bonds he turned in at once. Judge
Pommeroy was sent out to sell the mining stocks and other securities in
the open market.

At this part of his narrative the Judge rose and began to pace the
floor, twisting the seals on his watchchain. "That was what a man of
honour was bound to do, Mrs. Forrester. With five of the directors
backing down, he had either to lose his name or save it. The depositors
had put their savings into that bank because Captain Forrester was
president. To those men with no capital but their back and their two
hands, his name meant safety. As he tried to explain to the directors,
those deposits were above price; money saved to buy a home, or to take
care of a man in sickness, or to send a boy to school. And those young
men, bright fellows, well thought of in the community, sat there and
looked down their noses and let your husband strip himself down to
pledging his life insurance! There was a crowd in the street outside the
bank all day, every day; Poles and Swedes and Mexicans, looking scared
to death. A lot of them couldn't speak English,--seemed like the only
English word they knew was 'Forrester.' As we went in and out we'd hear
the Mexicans saying, 'Forrester, Forrester.' It was a torment for me, on
your account, Ma'm, to see the Captain strip himself. But, 'pon my
honour, I couldn't forbid him. As for those white-livered rascals that
sat there,--" the Judge stopped before Mrs. Forrester and ruffled his
bushy white hair with both hands, "By God, Madam, I think I've lived too
long! In my day the difference between a business man and a scoundrel
was bigger than the difference between a white man and a nigger. I
wasn't the right one to go out there as the Captain's counsel. One of
these smooth members of the bar, like Ivy Peters is getting ready to be,
might have saved something for you out of the wreck. But I couldn't use
my influence with your husband. To that crowd outside the bank doors his
name meant a hundred cents on the dollar, and by God, they got it! I'm
proud of him, Ma'm; proud of his acquaintance!"

It was the first time Niel had ever seen Mrs. Forrester flush. A quick
pink swept over her face. Her eyes glistened with moisture. "You Were
quite right, Judge. I wouldn't for the world have had him do otherwise
for me. He would never hold up his head again. You see, I know him." As
she said this she looked at Niel, on the other side of the room, and her
glance was like a delicate and very dignified rebuke to some
discourtesy,--though he was not conscious of having shown her any.

When their hostess went out to see about lunch, Judge Pommeroy turned to
his nephew. "Son, I'm glad you want to be an architect. I can't see any
honourable career for a lawyer, in this new business world that's coming
up. Leave the law to boys like Ivy Peters, and get into some clean
profession. I wasn't the right man to go with Forrester." He shook his
head sadly.

"Will they really be poor?"

"They'll be pinched. It's as he said; they've nothing left but this
place."

Mrs. Forrester returned and went to waken her husband for lunch. When
she opened the door into her room, they heard stertorous breathing, and
she called to them to come quickly. The Captain was stretched upon his
iron bed in the antechamber, and Mrs. Forrester was struggling to lift
his head.

"Quick, Niel," she panted. "We must get pillows under him. Bring those
from my bed."

Niel gently pushed her away. Sweat poured from his face as he got his
strength under the Captain's shoulders. It was like lifting a wounded
elephant. Judge Pommeroy hurried back to the sitting-room and telephoned
Dr. Dennison that Captain Forrester had had a stroke.


A stroke could not finish a man like Daniel Forrester. He was kept in
his bed for three weeks, and Niel helped Mrs. Forrester and Ben Keezer
take care of him. Although he was at the house so much during that time,
he never saw Mrs. Forrester alone,--scarcely saw her at all, indeed.
With so much to attend to, she became abstracted, almost impersonal.
There were many letters to answer, gifts of fruit and wine and flowers
to be acknowledged. Solicitous inquiries came from friends scattered all
the way from the Missouri to the mountains. When Mrs. Forrester was not
in the Captain's room, or in the kitchen preparing special foods for
him, she was at her desk.

One morning while she was seated there, a distinguished visitor arrived.
Niel, waiting by the door for the letters he was to take to the post,
saw a large, red-whiskered man in a rumpled pongee suit and a panama hat
come climbing up the hill; Cyrus Dalzell, president of the Colorado &
Utah, who had come over in his private car to enquire for the health of
his old friend Niel warned Mrs. Forrester, and she went to meet the
visitor, just as he mounted the steps, wiping his face with a red silk
bandanna.

He took both the lady's hands and exclaimed in a warm, deep voice, "Here
she is, looking as fresh as a bride! May I claim an old privilege?" He
bent his head and kissed her. "I won't be in your way, Marian," he said
as they came into the house, "but I had to see for myself how he does,
and how you do."

Mr. Dalzell shook hands with Niel, and as he talked he moved about the
parlour clumsily and softly, like a brown bear. Mrs. Forrester stopped
him to straighten his flowing yellow tie and pull down the back of his
wrinkled coat. "It's easy to see that Kitty wasn't with you this morning
when you dressed," she laughed.

"Thank you, thank you, my dear. I've got a green porter down there, and
he doesn't seem to realize the extent of his duties. No, Kitty wanted to
come, but we have two giddy nieces out from Portsmouth, visiting us, and
she felt she couldn't. I just had my car hitched on to the tail of the
Burlington flyer and came myself. Now tell me about Daniel. Was it a
stroke?"

Mrs. Forrester sat down on the sofa beside him and told him about her
husband's illness, while he interrupted with sympathetic questions and
comments, taking her hand between his large, soft palms and patting it
affectionately.

"And now I can go home and tell Kitty that he will soon be as good as
ever,--and that you look like you were going to lead the ball tonight.
You whisper to Daniel that I've got a couple cases of port down in my
car that will build him up faster than anything the doctors give him.
And I've brought along a dozen sherry, for a lady that knows a thing or
two about wines. And next winter you are both coming out to stay with us
at the Springs, for a change of air."

Mrs. Forrester shook her head gently. "Oh, that, I'm afraid, is a pretty
dream. But we'll dream it, anyway!" Everything about her had brightened
since Cyrus Dalzell came up the hill. Even the long garnet earrings
beside her cheeks seemed to flash with a deeper colour, Niel thought.
She was a different woman from the one who sat there writing, half an
hour ago. Her fingers, as they played on the sleeve of the pongee coat,
were light and fluttery as butterfly wings.

"No dream at all, my dear. Kitty has arranged everything. You know how
quickly she thinks things out. I am to come for you in my car. We'll get
my old porter Jim as a valet for Daniel, and you can just play around
and put fresh life into us all. We saw last winter that we couldn't do
anything without our Lady Forrester. Nothing came off right without her.
If we had a party, we sat down afterward and wondered what in hell we'd
had it for. Oh, no, we can't manage without you!"

Tears flashed into her eyes. "That's very dear of you. It's sweet to be
remembered when one is away." In her voice there was the heartbreaking
sweetness one sometimes hears in lovely, gentle old songs.



IX


After three weeks the Captain was up and around again. He dragged his
left foot, and his left arm was uncertain. Though he recovered his
speech, it was thick and clouded; some words he could not pronounce
distinctly,--slid over them, dropped out a syllable. Therefore he
avoided talking even more than was his habit. The doctor said that
unless another brain lesion occurred, he might get on comfortably for
some years yet.

In August Niel was to go to Boston to begin coaching for his entrance
examinations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he
meant to study architecture. He put off bidding the Forresters good-bye
until the very day before he left. His last call was different from any
he had ever made there before. Already they began to treat him like a
young man. He sat rather stiffly in that parlour where he had been so
much at home. The Captain was in his big chair in the bay window, in the
full glow of the afternoon sun, saying little, but very friendly. Mrs.
Forrester, on the sofa in the shadowy corner of the room, talked about
Niel's plans and his journey.

"Is it true that Mary is going to marry Pucelik this fall?" he asked
her. "Who will you get to help you?"

"No one, for the present. Ben will do all I can't do. Never mind us. We
will pass a quiet winter, like an old country couple,--as we are!" she
said lightly.

Niel knew that she faced the winter with terror, but he had never seen
her more in command of herself,--or more the mistress of her own house
than now, when she was preparing to become the servant of it. He had the
feeling, which he never used to have, that her lightness cost her
something.

"Don't forget us, but don't mope. Make lots of new friends. You'll never
be twenty again. Take a chorus girl out to supper--a pretty one, mind!
Don't bother about your allowance. If you got into a scrape, we could
manage a little cheque to help you out, couldn't we, Mr. Forrester?"

The Captain puffed and looked amused. "I think we could, Niel, I think
so. Don't get up, my boy. You must stay to dinner."

Niel said he couldn't. He hadn't finished packing, and he was leaving on
the morning train.

"Then we must have a little something before you go." Captain Forrester
rose heavily, with the aid of his cane, and went into the dining-room.
He brought back the decanter and filled three glasses with ceremony.
Lifting his glass, he paused, as always, and blinked.

"Happy days!"

"Happy days!" echoed Mrs. Forrester, with her loveliest smile, "and
every success to Niel!"

Both the Captain and his wife came to the door with him, and stood there
on the porch together, where he had so often seen them stand to speed
the parting guest. He went down the hill touched and happy. As he passed
over the bridge his spirits suddenly fell. Would that chilling doubt
always lie in wait for him, down there in the mud, where he had thrown
his roses one morning?

He burned to ask her one question, to get the truth out of her and set
his mind at rest: What did she do with all her exquisiteness when she
was with a man like Ellinger? Where did she put it away? And having put
it away, how could she recover herself, and give one--give even him--the
sense of tempered steel, a blade that could fence with anyone and never
break?



PART TWO


I


It was two years before Niel Herbert came home again, and when he came
the first acquaintance he met was Ivy Peters. Ivy got on the train at
one of the little stations east of Sweet Water, where he had been trying
a case. As he strolled through the Pullman he noticed among the
passengers a young man in a grey flannel suit, with a silk shirt of one
shade of blue and a necktie of another. After regarding this urban
figure from the rear for a few seconds, Ivy glanced down at his own
clothes with gloating satisfaction. It was a hot day in June, but he
wore the black felt hat and ready-made coat of winter weight he had
always affected as a boy. He stepped forward, his hands thrust in his
pockets.

"Hullo, Niel. Thought I couldn't be mistaken."

Niel looked up and saw the red, bee-stung face, with its two permanent
dimples, smiling down at him in contemptuous jocularity.

"Hello, Ivy. I couldn't be mistaken in you, either."

"Coming home to go into business?"

Niel replied that he was coming only for the summer vacation.

"Oh, you're not through school yet? I suppose it takes longer to make an
architect than it does to make a shyster. Just as well; there's not much
building going on in Sweet Water these days. You'll find a good many
changes."

"Won't you sit down?" Niel indicated the neighbouring chair. "You are
practising law?"

"Yes, along with a few other things. Have to keep more than one iron in
the fire to make a living with us. I farm a little on the side. I rent
that meadow-land on the Forrester place. I've drained the old marsh and
put it into wheat. My brother John does the work, and I boss the job.
It's quite profitable. I pay them a good rent, and they need it. I doubt
if they could get along without. Their influential friends don't seem to
help them out much. Remember all those chesty old boys the Captain used
to drive about in his democrat wagon, and ship in barrels of Bourbon
for? Good deal of bluff about all those old-timers. The panic put them
out of the game. The Forresters have come down in the world like the
rest. You remember how the old man used to put it over us kids and not
let us carry a gun in there? I'm just mean enough to like to shoot along
that creek a little better than anywhere else, now. There wasn't any
harm in the old Captain, but he had the delusion of grandeur. He's
happier now that he's like the rest of us and don't have to change his
shirt every day." Ivy's unblinking greenish eyes rested upon Niel's
haberdashery.

Niel, however, did not notice this. He knew that Ivy wanted him to show
disappointment, and he was determined not to do so. He enquired about
the Captain's health, pointedly keeping Mrs. Forrester's name out of the
conversation.

"He's only about half there . . . seems contented enough. . . . She
takes good care of him, I'll say that for her. . . . She seeks
consolation, always did, you know . . . too much French brandy . . . but
she never neglects him. I don't blame her. Real work comes hard on her."

Niel heard these remarks dully, through the buzz of an idea. He felt
that Ivy had drained the marsh quite as much to spite him and Mrs.
Forrester as to reclaim the land. Moreover, he seemed to know that until
this moment Ivy himself had not realized how much that consideration
weighed with him. He and Ivy had disliked each other from childhood,
blindly, instinctively, recognizing each other through antipathy, as
hostile insects do. By draining the marsh Ivy had obliterated a few
acres of something he hated, though he could not name it, and had
asserted his power over the people who had loved those unproductive
meadows for their idleness and silvery beauty.

After Ivy had gone on into the smoker, Niel sat looking out at the
windings of the Sweet Water and playing with his idea. The Old West had
been settled by dreamers, great-hearted adventurers who were unpractical
to the point of magnificence; a courteous brotherhood, strong in attack
but weak in defence, who could conquer but could not hold. Now all the
vast territory they had won was to be at the mercy of men like Ivy
Peters, who had never dared anything, never risked anything. They would
drink up the mirage, dispel the morning freshness, root out the great
brooding spirit of freedom, the generous, easy life of the great
land-holders. The space, the colour, the princely carelessness of the
pioneer they would destroy and cut up into profitable bits, as the match
factory splinters the primeval forest. All the way from the Missouri to
the mountains this generation of shrewd young men, trained to petty
economies by hard times, would do exactly what Ivy Peters had done when
he drained the Forrester marsh.



II


The next afternoon Niel found Captain Forrester in the bushy little plot
he called his rose garden, seated in a stout hickory chair that could be
left out in all weather, his two canes beside him. His attention was
fixed upon a red block of Colorado sandstone, set on a granite boulder
in the middle of the gravel space around which the roses grew. He showed
Niel that this was a sun-dial, and explained it with great pride. Last
summer, he said, he sat out here a great deal, with a square board
mounted on a post, and marked the length of the shadows by his watch.
His friend, Cyrus Dalzell, on one of his visits, took this board away,
had the diagram exactly copied on sandstone, and sent it to him, with
the column-like boulder that formed its base.

"I think it's likely Mr. Dalzell hunted around among the mountains a
good many mornings before he found a natural formation like that," said
the Captain. "A pillar, such as they had in Bible times. It's from the
Garden of the Gods. Mr. Dalzell has his summer home up there."

The Captain sat with the soles of his boots together, his legs bowed
out. Everything about him seemed to have grown heavier and weaker. His
face was fatter and smoother; as if the features were running into each
other, as when a wax face melts in the heat. An old Panama hat, burned
yellow by the sun, shaded his eyes. His brown hands lay on his knees,
the fingers well apart, nerveless. His moustache was the same straw
colour; Niel remarked to him that it had grown no grayer. The Captain
touched his cheek with his palm. "Mrs. Forrester shaved me for awhile.
She did it very nicely, but I didn't like to have her do it. Now I use
one of these safety razors. I can manage, if I take my time. The barber
comes over once a week. Mrs. Forrester is expecting you, Niel. She's
down in the grove. She goes down there to rest in the hammock."

Niel went round the house to the gate that gave into the grove. From the
top of the hill he could see the hammock slung between two cottonwoods,
in the low glade at the farther end, where he had fallen the time he
broke his arm. The slender white figure was still, and as he hurried
across the grass he saw that a white garden hat lay over her face. He
approached quietly and was just wondering if she were asleep, when he
heard a soft, delighted laugh, and with a quick movement she threw off
the lace hat through which she had been watching him. He stepped forward
and caught her suspended figure, hammock and all, in his arms. How light
and alive she was! like a bird caught in a net. If only he could rescue
her and carry her off like this,--off the earth of sad, inevitable
periods, away from age, weariness, adverse fortune!

She showed no impatience to be released, but lay laughing up at him with
that gleam of something elegantly wild, something fantastic and
tantalizing,--seemingly so artless, really the most finished artifice!
She put her hand under his chin as if he were still a boy.

"And how handsome he's grown! Isn't the old Judge proud of you! He
called me up last night and began sputtering, 'It's only fair to warn
you, Ma'm, that I've a very handsome boy over here.' As if I hadn't
known you would be! And now you're a man, and have seen the world! Well,
what have you found in it?"

"Nothing so nice as you, Mrs. Forrester."

"Nonsense! You have sweethearts?"

"Perhaps."

"Are they pretty?"

"Why they? Isn't one enough?"

"One is too many. I want you to have half a dozen,--and still save the
best for us! One would take everything. If you had her, you would not
have come home at all. I wonder if you know how we've looked for you?"
She took his hand and turned a seal ring about on his little finger
absently. "Every night for weeks, when the lights of the train came
swinging in down below the meadows, I've said to myself, 'Niel is coming
home; there's that to look forward to.'"

She caught herself as she always did when she found that she was telling
too much, and finished in a playful tone. "So, you see, you mean a great
deal to all of us. Did you find Mr. Forrester?"

"Oh, yes! I had to stop and look at his sun-dial."

She raised herself on her elbow and lowered her voice. "Niel, can you
understand it? He isn't childish, as some people say, but he will sit
and watch that thing hour after hour. How can anybody like to see time
visibly devoured? We are all used to seeing clocks go round, but why
does he want to see that shadow creep on that stone? Has he changed
much? No? I'm glad you feel so. Now tell me about the Adamses and what
George is like."

Niel dropped on the turf and sat with his back against a tree trunk,
answering her rapid questions and watching her while he talked. Of
course, she was older. In the brilliant sun of the afternoon one saw
that her skin was no longer like white lilacs,--it had the ivory tint of
gardenias that have just begun to fade. The coil of blue-black hair
seemed more than ever too heavy for her head. There were
lines,--something strained about the corners of her mouth that used not
to be there. But the astonishing thing was how these changes could
vanish in a moment, be utterly wiped out in a flash of personality, and
one forgot everything about her except herself.

"And tell me, Niel, do women really smoke after dinner now with the men,
nice women? I shouldn't like it. It's all very well for actresses, but
women can't be attractive if they do everything that men do."

"I think just now it's the fashion for women to make themselves
comfortable, before anything else."

Mrs. Forrester glanced at him as if he had said something shocking. "Ah,
that's just it! The two things don't go together. Athletics and going to
college and smoking after dinner--Do you like it? Don't men like women
to be different from themselves? They used to."

Niel laughed. Yes, that was certainly the idea of Mrs. Forrester's
generation.

"Uncle Judge says you don't come to see him any more as you used to,
Mrs. Forrester. He misses it."

"My dear boy, I haven't been over to the town for six weeks. I'm always
too tired. We have no horse now, and when I do go I have to walk. That
house! Nothing is ever done there unless I do it, and nothing ever moves
unless I move it. That's why I come down here in the afternoon,--to get
where I can't see the house. I can't keep it up as it should be kept,
I'm not strong enough. Oh, yes, Ben helps me; he sweeps and beats the
rugs and washes windows, but that doesn't get a house very far." Mrs.
Forrester sat up suddenly and pinned on her white hat. "We went all the
way to Chicago, Niel, to buy that walnut furniture, couldn't find
anything at home big and heavy enough. If I'd known that one day I'd
have to push it about, I would have been more easily satisfied!" She
rose and shook out her rumpled skirts.

They started toward the house, going slowly up the long, grassy
undulation between the trees.

"Don't you miss the marsh?" Niel asked suddenly.

She glanced away evasively. "Not much. I would never have time to go
there, and we need the money it pays us. And you haven't time to play
any more either, Niel. You must hurry and become a successful man. Your
uncle is terribly involved. He has been so careless that he's not much
better off than we are. Money is a very important thing. Realize that in
the beginning; face it, and don't be ridiculous in the end, like so many
of us." They stopped by the gate at the top of the hill and looked back
at the green alleys and the sharp shadows, at the quivering fans of
light that seemed to push the trees farther apart and made Elysian
fields underneath them. Mrs. Forrester put her white hand, with all its
rings, on Niel's arm.

"Do you really find a kind of pleasure in coming back to us? That's very
unusual, I think. At your age I wanted to be with the young and gay.
It's nice for us, though." She looked at him with her rarest smile, one
he had seldom seen on her face, but always remembered,--a smile without
archness, without gaiety, full of affection and wistfully sad. And the
same thing was in her voice when she spoke those quiet words,--the
sudden quietness of deep feeling. She turned quickly away. They went
through the gate and around the house to where the Captain sat watching
the sunset glory on his roses. His wife touched his shoulder.

"Will you go in, now, Mr. Forrester, or shall I bring your coat?"

"I'll go in. Isn't Niel going to stay for dinner?"

"Not this time. He'll come soon, and we'll have a real dinner for him.
Will you wait for Mr. Forrester, Niel? I must hurry in and start the
fire."

Niel tarried behind and accompanied the Captain's slow progress toward
the front of the house. He leaned upon two canes, lifting his feet
slowly and putting them down firmly and carefully. He looked like an old
tree walking.

Once up the steps and into the parlour, he sank into his big chair and
panted heavily. The first whiff of a fresh cigar seemed to restore him.
"Can I trouble you to mail some letters for me, Niel, as you go by the
post-office?" He produced them from the breast pocket of his summer
coat. "Let me see whether Mrs. Forrester has anything to go." Rising,
the Captain went into the little hall. There, by the front door, on a
table under the hatrack, was a scantily draped figure, an Arab or
Egyptian slave girl, holding in her hands a large flat shell from the
California coast. Niel remembered noticing that figure the first time he
was ever in the house, when Dr. Dennison carried him out through this
hallway with his arm in splints. In the days when the Forresters had
servants and were sending over to the town several times a day, the
letters for the post were always left in this shell. The Captain found
one now, and handed it to Niel. It was addressed to Mr. Francis Bosworth
Ellinger, Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

For some reason Niel felt embarrassed and tried to slip the letter
quickly into his pocket. The Captain, his two canes in one hand,
prevented him. He took the pale blue envelope again, and held it out at
arm's length, regarding it.

"Mrs. Forrester is a fine penman; have you ever noticed? Always was. If
she made me a list of articles to get at the store, I never had to hide
it. It was like copper plate. That's exceptional in a woman, Niel."

Niel remembered her hand well enough, he had never seen another in the
least like it; long, thin, angular letters, curiously delicate and
curiously bold, looped and laced with strokes fine as a hair and
perfectly distinct. Her script looked as if it had been done at a high
pitch of speed, the pen driven by a perfectly confident dexterity.

"Oh, yes, Captain! I'm never able to take any letters for Mrs. Forrester
without looking at them. No one could forget her writing."

"Yes. It's very exceptional." The Captain gave him the envelope, and
with his canes went slowly toward his big chair.

Niel had often wondered just how much the Captain knew. Now, as he went
down the hill, he felt sure that he knew everything; more than anyone
else; all there was to know about Marian Forrester.



III


Niel had planned to do a great deal of reading in the Forresters' grove
that summer, but he did not go over so often as he had intended. The
frequent appearance of Ivy Peters about the place irritated him. Ivy
visited his new wheat fields on the bottom land very often; and he
always took the old path, that led from what was once the marsh, up the
steep bank and through the grove. He was likely to appear at any hour,
his trousers stuffed into his top-boots, tramping along between the rows
of trees with an air of proprietorship. He shut the gate behind the
house with a slam and went whistling through the yard. Often he stopped
at the kitchen door to call out some pleasantry to Mrs. Forrester. This
annoyed Niel, for at that hour of the morning, when she was doing her
housework, Mrs. Forrester was not dressed to receive her inferiors. It
was one thing to greet the president of the Colorado & Utah _en
déshabille_, but it was another to chatter with a coarse-grained fellow
like Ivy Peters in her wrapper and slippers, her sleeves rolled up and
her throat bare to his cool, impudent eyes.

Sometimes Ivy strode through the rose plot where Captain Forrester was
sitting in the sun,--went by without looking at him, as if there were no
one there. If he spoke to the Captain at all, he did so as if he were
addressing someone incapable of understanding anything. "Hullo, Captain,
ain't afraid this sun will spoil your complexion?" or "Well, Captain,
you'll have to get the prayer-meetings to take up this rain question.
The drought's damned bad for my wheat."

One morning, as Niel was coming up through the grove, he heard laughter
by the gate, and there he saw Ivy, with his gun, talking to Mrs.
Forrester. She was bareheaded, her skirts blowing in the wind, her arm
through the handle of a big tin bucket that rested on the fence beside
her. Ivy stood with his hat on his head, but there was in his attitude
that unmistakable something which shows that a man is trying to make
himself agreeable to a woman. He was telling her a funny story, probably
an improper one, for it brought out her naughtiest laugh, with something
nervous and excited in it, as if he were going too far. At the end of
his story Ivy himself broke into his farm-hand guffaw. Mrs. Forrester
shook her finger at him and, catching up her pail, ran back into the
house. She bent a little with its weight, but Ivy made no offer to carry
it for her. He let her trip away with it as if she were a kitchen maid,
and that were her business.

Niel emerged from the grove, and stopped where the Captain sat in the
garden. "Good-morning, Captain Forrester. Was that Ivy Peters who just
went through here? That fellow hasn't the manners of a pig!" he blurted
out.

The Captain pointed to Mrs. Forrester's empty chair. "Sit down, Niel,
sit down." He drew his handkerchief from his pocket and began polishing
his glasses. "No," he said quietly, "he ain't overly polite."

More than if he had complained bitterly, that guarded admission made one
feel how much he had been hurt and offended by Ivy's rudeness. There was
something very sad in his voice, and helpless. From his equals, respect
had always come to him as his due; from fellows like Ivy he had been
able to command it,--to order them off his place, or dismiss them from
his employ.

Niel sat down and smoked a cigar with him. They had a long talk about
the building of the Black Hills branch of the Burlington. In Boston last
winter Niel had met an old mine-owner, who was living in Deadwood when
the railroad first came in. When Niel asked him if he had known Daniel
Forrester, the old gentleman said, "Forrester? Was he the one with the
beautiful wife?"

"You must tell her," said the Captain, stroking the warm surface of his
sun-dial. "Yes, indeed. You must tell Mrs. Forrester."


One night in the first week of July, a night of glorious moonlight, Niel
found himself unable to read, or to stay indoors at all. He walked
aimlessly down the wide, empty street, and crossed the first creek by
the foot-bridge. The wide ripe fields, the whole country, seemed like a
sleeping garden. One trod the dusty roads softly, not to disturb the
deep slumber of the world.

In the Forrester lane the scent of sweet clover hung heavy. It had
always grown tall and green here ever since Niel could remember; the
Captain would never let it be cut until the weeds were mowed in the
fall. The black, plume-like shadows of the poplars fell across the lane
and over Ivy Peters' wheat fields. As he walked on, Niel saw a white
figure standing on the bridge over the second creek, motionless in the
clear moonlight. He hurried forward. Mrs. Forrester was looking down at
the water where it flowed bright over the pebbles. He came up beside
her. "The Captain is asleep?"

"Oh, yes, long ago! He sleeps well, thank heaven! After I tuck him in, I
have nothing more to worry about."

While they were standing there, talking in low voices, they heard a
heavy door slam on the hill. Mrs. Forrester started and looked back over
her shoulder. A man emerged from the shadow of the house and came
striding down the driveway. Ivy Peters stepped upon the bridge.

"Good evening," he said to Mrs. Forrester, neither calling her by name
nor removing his hat. "I see you have company. I've just been up looking
at the old barn, to see if the stalls are fit to put horses in there
tomorrow. I'm going to start cutting wheat in the morning, and we'll
have to put the horses in your stable at noon. We'd lose time taking
them back to town."

"Why, certainly. The horses can go in our barn. I'm sure Mr. Forrester
would have no objection." She spoke as if he had asked her permission.

"Oh!" Ivy shrugged. "The men will begin down here at six o'clock. I
won't get over till about ten, and I have to meet a client at my office
at three. Maybe you could give me some lunch, to save time."

His impudence made her smile. "Very well, then; I invite you to lunch.
We lunch at one."

"Thanks. It will help me out." As if he had forgotten himself, he lifted
his hat, and went down the lane swinging it in his hand.

Niel stood looking after him. "Why do you allow him to speak to you like
that, Mrs. Forrester? If you'll let me, I'll give him a beating and
teach him how to speak to you."

"No, no, Niel! Remember, we have to get along with Ivy Peters, we simply
have to!" There was a note of anxiety in her voice, and she caught his
arm.

"You don't have to take anything from him, or to stand his bad manners.
Anybody else would pay you as much for the land as he does."

"But he has a lease for five years, and he could make it very
disagreeable for us, don't you see? Besides," she spoke hurriedly,
"there's more than that. He's invested a little money for me in Wyoming,
in land. He gets splendid land from the Indians some way, for next to
nothing. Don't tell your uncle; I've no doubt it's crooked. But the
Judge is like Mr. Forrester; his methods don't work nowadays. He will
never get us out of debt, dear man! He can't get himself out. Ivy Peters
is terribly smart, you know. He owns half the town already."

"Not quite," said Niel grimly. "He's got hold of a good deal of
property. He'll take advantage of anybody's necessity. You know he's
utterly unscrupulous, don't you? Why didn't you let Mr. Dalzell, or some
of your other old friends, invest your money for you?"

"Oh, it was too little! Only a few hundred dollars I'd saved on the
housekeeping. They would put it into something safe, at six per cent. I
know you don't like Ivy,--and he knows it! He's always at his worst
before you. He's not so bad as--as his face, for instance!" She laughed
nervously. "He honestly wants to help us out of the hole we're in.
Coming and going all the time, as he does, he sees everything, and I
really think he hates to have me work so hard."

"Next time you have anything to invest, you let me take it to Mr.
Dalzell and explain. I'll promise to do as well by you as Ivy Peters
can."

Mrs. Forrester took his arm and drew him into the lane. "But, my dear
boy, you know nothing about these business schemes. You're not clever
that way,--it's one of the things I love you for. I don't admire people
who cheat Indians. Indeed I don't!" She shook her head vehemently.

"Mrs. Forrester, rascality isn't the only thing that succeeds in
business."

"It succeeds faster than anything else, though," she murmured absently.
They walked as far as the end of the lane and turned back again. Mrs.
Forrester's hand tightened on his arm. She began speaking abruptly. "You
see, two years, three years, more of this, and I could still go back to
California--and live again. But after that . . . Perhaps people think
I've settled down to grow old gracefully, but I've not. I feel such a
power to live in me, Niel." Her slender fingers gripped his wrist. "It's
grown by being held back. Last winter I was with the Dalzells at
Glenwood Springs for three weeks (I owe _that_ to Ivy Peters; he looked
after things here, and his sister kept house for Mr. Forrester), and I
was surprised at myself. I could dance all night and not feel tired. I
could ride horseback all day and be ready for a dinner party in the
evening. I had no clothes, of course; old evening dresses with yards and
yards of satin and velvet in them, that Mrs. Dalzell's sewing woman made
over. But I looked well enough! Yes, I did. I always know how I'm
looking, and I looked well enough. The men thought so. I looked happier
than any woman there. They were nearly all younger, much. But they
seemed dull, bored to death. After a glass or two of champagne they went
to sleep and had nothing to say! I always look better after the first
glass,--it gives me a little colour, it's the only thing that does. I
accepted the Dalzell's invitation with a purpose; I wanted to see
whether I had anything left worth saving. And I have, I tell you! You
would hardly believe it, I could hardly believe it, but I still have!"

By this time they had reached the bridge, a bare white floor in the
moonlight. Mrs. Forrester had been quickening her pace all the while.
"So that's what I'm struggling for, to get out of this hole,"--she
looked about as if she had fallen into a deep well,--"out of it! When
I'm alone here for months together, I plan and plot. If it weren't for
that--"

As Niel walked back to his room behind the law offices, he felt
frightened for her. When women began to talk about still feeling young,
didn't it mean that something had broken? Two or three years, she said.
He shivered. Only yesterday old Dr. Dennison had proudly told him that
Captain Forrester might live a dozen. "We are keeping his general health
up remarkably, and he was originally a man of iron."

What hope was there for her? He could still feel her hand upon his arm,
as she urged him faster and faster up the lane.



IV


The weather was dry and intensely hot for several weeks, and then, at
the end of July, thunder-storms and torrential rains broke upon the
Sweet Water valley. The river burst out of its banks, all the creeks
were up, and the stubble of Ivy Peters' wheat fields lay under water. A
wide lake and two rushing creeks now separated the Forresters from the
town. Ben Keezer rode over to them every day to do the chores and to
take them their mail. One evening Ben, with his slicker and leather
mailbag, had just come out of the post-office and was preparing to mount
his horse, when Niel Herbert stopped him to ask in a low voice whether
he had got the Denver paper.

"Oh, yes. I always wait for the papers. She likes to have them to read
of an evening. Guess it's pretty lonesome over there." He swung into his
saddle and splashed off. Niel walked slowly around to the hotel for
dinner. He had found something very disconcerting in the Denver paper:
Frank Ellinger's picture on the society page, along with Constance
Ogden's. They had been married yesterday at Colorado Springs, and were
stopping at the Antlers.

After supper Niel put on his rubber coat and started for the
Forresters'. When he reached the first creek, he found that the
foot-bridge had been washed out from the far bank and lay obliquely in
the stream, battered at by the yellow current which might at any moment
carry it away. One could not cross the ford without a horse. He looked
irresolutely across the submerged bottom lands. The house was dark, no
lights in the parlour windows. The rain was beginning to fall again.
Perhaps she had rather be alone tonight. He would go over tomorrow.

He went back to the law office and tried to make himself comfortable,
though the place was in distracting disorder. The continued rain had set
one of the chimneys leaking, had brought down streams of soot and black
water and flooded the stove and the Judge's once handsome Brussels
carpet. The tinner had been there all afternoon, trying to find what was
the matter with the flue, cutting a new sheet-iron drawer to fit under
the stove-pipe. But at six o'clock he had gone away, leaving tools and
sheets of metal lying about. The rooms were damp and cold. Niel put on a
heavy sweater, since he could not have a fire, lit the big coal-oil
lamp, and sat down with a book. When at last he looked at his watch, it
was nearly midnight, and he had been reading three hours. He would have
another pipe, and go to bed. He had scarcely lit it, when he heard
quick, hurrying footsteps in the echoing corridor outside. He got to the
door in an instant, was there to open it before Mrs. Forrester had time
to knock. He caught her by the arm and pulled her in.

Everything but her wet, white face was hidden by a black rubber hat and
a coat that was much too big for her. Streams of water trickled from the
coat, and when she opened it he saw that she was drenched to the
waist,--her black dress clung in a muddy pulp about her.

"Mrs. Forrester," he cried, "you can't have crossed the creek! It's up
to a horse's belly in the ford."

"I came over the bridge, what's left of it. It shook under me, but I'm
not heavy." She threw off her hat and wiped the water from her face with
her hands.

"Why didn't you ask Ben to bring you over on his horse? Here, please
swallow this."

She pushed his hand aside. "Wait. Afterwards. Ben? I didn't think until
after he was gone. It's the telephone I want, long distance. Get me
Colorado Springs, the Antlers, quick!"

Then Niel noticed that she smelled strong of spirits; it steamed above
the smell of rubber and creek mud and wet cloth. She snatched up the
desk telephone, but he gently took it from her.

"I'll get them for you, but you're in no condition to talk now; you're
out of breath. Do you really want to talk tonight? You know Mrs. Beasley
will hear every word you say." Mrs. Beasley was the Sweet Water central,
and an indefatigable reporter of everything that went over the wires.

Mrs. Forrester, sitting in his uncle's desk chair, tapped the carpet
with the toe of her rubber boot. "Do hurry, please," she said in that
polite, warning tone of which even Ivy Peters was afraid.

Niel aroused the sleepy central and put in the call. "She asks whom you
wish to speak to?"

"Frank Ellinger. Say Judge Pommeroy's office wishes to speak to him."

Niel began soothing Mrs. Beasley at the other end. "No, not the
management, Mrs. Beasley, one of the guests. Frank Ellinger," he spelled
the name. "Yes. Judge Pommeroy's office wants to talk to him. I'll be
right here. As soon as you can, please."

He put down the instrument. "I'd rather, you know, publish anything in
the town paper than telephone it through Mrs. Beasley." Mrs. Forrester
paid no heed to him, did not look at him, sat staring at the wall. "I
can't see why you didn't call me up and ask me to bring a horse over for
you, if you felt you must get to a long distance telephone tonight."

"Yes; I didn't think of it. I only knew I had to get over here, and I
was afraid something might stop me." She was watching the telephone as
if it were alive. Her eyes were shrunk to hard points. Her brows, drawn
together in an acute angle, kept twitching in the frown which held
them,--the singular frown of one overcome by alcohol or fatigue, who is
holding on to consciousness by the strength of a single purpose. Her
blue lips, the black shadows under her eyes, made her look as if some
poison were at work in her body.

They waited and waited. Niel understood that she did not wish him to
talk. Her mind was struggling with something, with every blink of her
lashes she seemed to face it anew. Presently she rose as if she could
bear the suspense no longer and went over to the window, leaned against
it.

"Did you leave Captain Forrester alone?" Niel asked suddenly.

"Yes. Nothing will happen over there. Nothing ever _does_ happen!" she
answered wildly, wringing her hands.

The telephone buzzed. Mrs. Forrester darted toward the desk, but Niel
lifted the instrument in his left hand and barred her way with his
right. "Try to be calm, Mrs. Forrester. When I get Ellinger I will let
you talk to him,--and central will hear every word you say, remember."

After some exchanges with the Colorado office, he pointed her to the
chair. "Sit down and I'll give it to you. He is on the wire."

He did not dare to leave her alone, though it was awkward enough to be a
listener. He walked to the window and stood with his back to the desk
where she was sitting.

"Is that you, Frank? This is Marian. I won't keep you a moment. You were
asleep? So early? That's not like you. You've reformed already, haven't
you? That's what marriage does, they say. No, I wasn't altogether
surprised. You might have taken me into your confidence, though. Haven't
I deserved it?"

A long, listening pause. Niel stared stupidly at the dark window. He had
steeled his nerves for wild reproaches. The voice he heard behind him
was her most charming; playful, affectionate, intimate, with a thrill of
pleasant excitement that warmed its slight formality and burned through
the common-place words like the colour in an opal. He simply held his
breath while she fluttered on:

"Where shall you go for your honeymoon? Oh, I'm very sorry! So
soon . . . You must take good care of her. Give her my love. . . . I
should think California, at this time of the year, might be right . . ."

It went on like this for some minutes. The voice, it seemed to Niel, was
that of a woman, young, beautiful, happy,--warm and at her ease, sitting
in her own drawing-room and talking on a stormy night to a dear friend
far away.

"Oh, unusually well, for me. Stop and see for yourself. You will be
going to Omaha on business next week, before California. Oh, yes, you
will! Stop off between trains. You know how welcome you are, always."

A long pause. An exclamation from Mrs. Forrester made Niel turn sharply
round. Now it was coming! Her voice was darkening with every word. "I
think I understand you. You are not speaking from your own room? What,
from the office booth? Oh, then I understand you very well indeed!" Niel
looked about in alarm. It was time to stop her, but how? The voice went
on.

"Play safe! When have you ever played anything else? You know, Frank,
the truth is that you're a coward; a great, hulking coward. Do you hear
me? I want you to hear! . . . You've got a safe thing at last, I should
think; safe and pasty! How much stock did you get with it? A big block,
I hope! Now let me tell you the truth: I don't want you to come here! I
never want to see you again while I live, and I forbid you to come and
look at me when I'm dead. I don't want your hateful eyes to look at my
dead face. Do you hear me? Why don't you answer me? Don't dare to hang
up the receiver, you coward! Oh, you big . . . Frank, Frank, say
something! Oh, he's shut me off, I can't hear him!"

She flung the receiver down, dropped her head on the desk, and broke
into heavy, groaning sobs. Niel stood over her and waited with
composure. For once he had been quick enough; he had saved her. The
moment that quivering passion of hatred and wrong leaped into her voice,
he had taken the big shears left by the tinner and cut the insulated
wire behind the desk. Her reproaches had got no farther than this room.

When the sobs ceased he touched her shoulder. He shook her, but there
was no response. She was asleep, sunk in a heavy stupor. Her hands and
face were so cold that he thought there could not be a drop of warm
blood left in her body. He carried her into his room, cut off her
drenched clothing, wrapped her in his bathrobe and put her into his own
bed. She was absolutely unconscious. He blew out the light, locked her
in, and left the building, going as fast as he could to Judge Pommeroy's
cottage. He roused his uncle and briefly explained the situation.

"Can you dress and go down to the office for the rest of the night,
Uncle Judge? Some one must be with her. And I'll get over to the Captain
at once; he certainly oughtn't to be left alone. If she could get across
the bridge, I guess I can. By the way, she began talking wild, and I cut
the telephone wire behind your desk. So keep an eye on it. It might make
trouble on a stormy night like this. I'll get a livery hack and take
Mrs. Forrester home in the morning, before the town is awake."

When daylight began to break Niel went into Captain Forrester's room and
told him that his wife had been sent for in the night to answer a long
distance telephone call, and that now he was going to bring her home.

The Captain lay propped up on three big pillows. Since his face had
grown fat and relaxed, its ruggedness had changed to an almost Asiatic
smoothness. He looked like a wise old Chinese mandarin as he lay
listening to the young man's fantastic story with perfect composure,
merely blinking and saying, "Thank you, Niel, thank you."

As Niel went through the sleeping town on his way to the livery barn, he
saw the short, plump figure of Mrs. Beasley, like a boiled pudding sewed
up in a blue kimono, waddling through the feathery asparagus bed behind
the telephone office. She had already been next door to tell her
neighbour Molly Tucker, the seamstress, the story of her exciting night.



V


Soon afterward, when Captain Forrester had another stroke, Mrs. Beasley
and Molly Tucker and their friends were perfectly agreed that it was a
judgment upon his wife. No judgment could have been crueller. Under the
care of him, now that he was helpless, Mrs. Forrester quite went to
pieces.

Even after their misfortunes had begun to come upon them, she had
maintained her old reserve. She had asked nothing and accepted nothing.
Her demeanour toward the townspeople was always the same; easy, cordial,
and impersonal. Her own friends had moved away long ago,--all except
Judge Pommeroy and Dr. Dennison. When any of the housewives from the
town came to call, she met them in the parlour, chatted with them in the
smiling, careless manner they could never break through, and they got no
further. They still felt they must put on their best dress and carry a
card-case when they went to the Forresters'.

But now that the Captain was helpless, everything changed. She could
hold off the curious no longer. The townswomen brought soups and
custards for the invalid. When they came to sit out the night with him,
she turned the house over to them. She was worn out; so exhausted that
she was dull to what went on about her. The Mrs. Beasleys and Molly
Tuckers had their chance at last. They went in and out of Mrs.
Forrester's kitchen as familiarly as they did out of one another's. They
rummaged through the linen closet to find more sheets, pried about in
the attic and cellar. They went over the house like ants, the house
where they had never before got past the parlour; and they found they
had been fooled all these years. There was nothing remarkable about the
place at all! The kitchen was inconvenient, the sink was smelly. The
carpets were worn, the curtains faded, the clumsy, old-fashioned
furniture they wouldn't have had for a gift, and the upstairs bed-rooms
were full of dust and cobwebs.

Judge Pommeroy remarked to his nephew that he had never seen these women
look so wide-awake, so important and pleased with themselves, as now
when he encountered them bustling about the Forrester place. The
Captain's illness had the effect of a social revival, like a new club or
a church society. The creatures grew bolder and bolder,--and Mrs.
Forrester, apparently, had no power of resistance. She drudged in the
kitchen, slept, half-dressed, in one of the chambers upstairs, kept
herself going on black coffee and brandy. All the bars were down. She
had ceased to care about anything.

As the women came and went through the lane, Niel sometimes overheard
snatches of their conversation.

"Why didn't she sell some of that silver? All those platters and covered
dishes stuck away with the tarnish of years on them!"

"I wouldn't mind having some of her linen. There's a chest full of
double damask upstairs, every tablecloth long enough to make two. Did
you ever see anything like the wine glasses! I'll bet there's not as
many in both saloons put together. If she has a sale after he's gone,
I'll buy a dozen champagne glasses; they're nice to serve sherbet in."

"There are nine dozen glasses," said Molly Tucker, "counting them for
beer and whiskey. If there is a sale, I've a mind to bid in a couple of
them green ones, with long stems, for mantel ornaments. But she'll never
sell 'em all, unless she can get the saloons to take 'em."

Ed Elliott's mother laughed. "She'll never sell 'em, as long as she's
got anything to put in 'em."

"The cellar will go dry, some day."

"I guess there's always plenty that will get it for such as her. I never
go there now that I don't smell it on her. I went over late the other
night, and she was on her knees, washing up the kitchen floor. Her eyes
were glassy. She kept washing the place around the ice-box over and
over, till it made me nervous. I said, 'Mrs. Forrester, I think you've
washed that place several times already.'"

"Was she confused?"

"Not a particle! She laughed and said she was often absent-minded."

Mrs. Elliott's companions laughed, too, and agreed that absent-minded
was a good expression.

Niel repeated this conversation to his uncle. "Uncle," he declared, "I
don't see how I can go back to Boston and leave the Forresters. I'd like
to chuck school for a year, and see them through. I want to go over
there and clear those gossips out. Could you stay at the hotel for a few
weeks, and let me have Black Tom? With him to help me, I'd send every
one of those women trotting down the lane."

It was arranged quietly, and at once. Tom was put in the kitchen, and
Niel himself took charge of the nursing. He met the women with firmness:
they were very kind, but now nothing was needed. The Doctor had said the
house must be absolutely quiet and that the invalid must see no one.

Once the house was tranquil, Mrs. Forrester went to bed and slept for
the better part of a week. The Captain himself improved. On his good
days he could be put into a wheel-chair and rolled out into his garden
to enjoy the September sunlight and the last of his briar roses.

"Thank you, Niel, thank you, Tom," he often said when they lifted him
into his chair. "I value this quiet very highly." If a day came when
they thought he ought not to go out, he was sad and disappointed.

"Better get him out, no matter what," said Mrs. Forrester. "He likes to
look at his place. That, and his cigar, are the only pleasures he has
left."

When she was rested and in command of herself again, she took her place
in the kitchen, and Black Tom went back to the Judge.

At night, when he was alone, when Mrs. Forrester had gone to bed and the
Captain was resting quietly, Niel found a kind of solemn happiness in
his vigils. It had been hard to give up that year; most of his
classmates were younger than he. It had cost him something, but now that
he had taken the step, he was glad. As he put in the night hours,
sitting first in one chair and then in another, reading, smoking,
getting a lunch to keep himself awake, he had the satisfaction of those
who keep faith. He liked being alone with the old things that had seemed
so beautiful to him in his childhood. These were still the most
comfortable chairs in the world, and he would never like any pictures so
well as "William Tell's Chapel" and "The House of the Tragic Poet." No
card-table was so good for solitaire as this old one with a stone top,
mosaic in the pattern of a chess-board, which one of the Captain's
friends had brought him from Naples. No other house could take the place
of this one in his life.

He had time to think of many things; of himself and of his old friends
here. He had noticed that often when Mrs. Forrester was about her work,
the Captain would call to her, "Maidy, Maidy," and she would reply,
"Yes, Mr. Forrester," from wherever she happened to be, but without
coming to him,--as if she knew that when he called to her in that tone
he was not asking for anything. He wanted to know if she were near,
perhaps; or, perhaps, he merely liked to call her name and to hear her
answer. The longer Niel was with Captain Forrester in those peaceful
closing days of his life, the more he felt that the Captain knew his
wife better even than she knew herself; and that, knowing her, he,--to
use one of his own expressions,--valued her.



VI


Captain Forrester's death, which occurred early in December, was
"telegraphic news," the only State news that the discouraged town of
Sweet Water had furnished for a long while. Flowers and telegrams came
from east and west, but it happened that none of the Captain's closest
friends could come to his funeral. Mr. Dalzell was in California, the
president of the Burlington railroad was travelling in Europe. The
others were far away or in uncertain health. Doctor Dennison and Judge
Pommeroy were the only two of his intimates among the pallbearers.

On the morning of the funeral, when the Captain was already in his
coffin, and the undertaker was in the parlour setting up chairs, Niel
heard a knocking at the kitchen door. There he found Adolph Blum,
carrying a large white box.

"Niel," he said, "will you please give these to Mrs. Forrester, and tell
her they are from Rhein and me, for the Captain?"

Adolph was in his old working clothes, the only clothes he had,
probably, with a knitted comforter about his neck. Niel knew he wouldn't
come to the funeral, so he said:

"Won't you come in and see him, 'Dolph? He looks just like himself."

Adolph hesitated, but he caught sight of the undertaker's man, through
the parlour bay-window, and said, "No, thank you, Niel," thrust his red
hands into his jacket pockets, and walked away.

Niel took the flowers out of the box, a great armful of yellow roses,
which must have cost the price of many a dead rabbit. He carried them
upstairs, where Mrs. Forrester was lying down.

"These are from the Blum boys," he said. "Adolph just brought them to
the kitchen door."

Mrs. Forrester looked at them, then turned away her head on the pillow,
her lips trembling. It was the only time that day he saw her pale
composure break.

The funeral was large. Old settlers and farmer folk came from all over
the county to follow the pioneer's body to the grave. As Niel and his
uncle were driving back from the cemetery with Mrs. Forrester, she spoke
for the first time since they had left the house. "Judge Pommeroy," she
said quietly, "I think I will have Mr. Forrester's sun-dial taken over
and put above his grave. I can have an inscription cut on the base. It
seems more appropriate for him than any stone we could buy. And I will
plant some of his own rose-bushes beside it."

When they got back to the house it was four o'clock, and she insisted
upon making tea for them. "I would like it myself, and it is better to
be doing something. Wait for me in the parlour. And, Niel, move the
things back as we always have them."

The grey day was darkening, and as the three sat having their tea in the
bay-window, swift squalls of snow were falling over the wide meadows
between the hill and the town, and the creaking of the big cottonwoods
about the house seemed to say that winter had come.



VII


One morning in April Niel was alone in the law office. His uncle had
been ill with rheumatic fever for a long while, and he had been
attending to the routine of business.

The door opened, and a figure stood there, strange and yet familiar,--he
had to think a moment before he realized that it was Orville Ogden, who
used to come to Sweet Water so often, but who had not been seen there
now for several years. He didn't look a day older; one eye was still
direct and clear, the other clouded and oblique. He still wore a stiff
imperial and twisted moustache, the grey colour of old beeswax, and his
thin hair was brushed heroically up over the bald spot.

"This is Judge Pommeroy's nephew, isn't it? I can't think of your name,
my boy, but I remember you. Is the Judge out?"

"Please be seated, Mr. Ogden. My uncle is ill. He hasn't been at the
office for several months. He's had really a very bad time of it. Is
there anything I can do for you?"

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that! I'm sorry." He spoke as if he were. "I
guess all we fellows are getting older, whether we like it or not. It
made a great difference when Daniel Forrester went." Mr. Ogden took off
his overcoat, put his hat and gloves neatly on the desk, and then seemed
somewhat at a loss. "What is your uncle's trouble?" he asked suddenly.

Niel told him. "I was to have gone back to school this winter, but uncle
begged me to stay and look after things for him. There was no one here
he wanted to entrust his business to."

"I see, I see," said Mr. Ogden thoughtfully. "Then you do attend to his
business for the present?" He paused and reflected. "Yes, there was
something that I wanted to take up with him. I am stopping off for a few
hours only, between trains. I might speak to you about it, and you could
consult your uncle and write me in Chicago. It's a confidential matter,
and concerns another person."

Niel assured him of his discretion, but Mr. Ogden seemed to find the
subject difficult to approach. He looked very grave and slowly lit a
cigar.

"It is simply," he said at last, "a rather delicate suggestion I wish to
make to your uncle about one of his clients. I have several friends in
the Government at Washington just at present, friends who would go out
of their way to serve me. I have been thinking that we might manage it
to get a special increase of pension for Mrs. Forrester. I am due in
Chicago this week, and after my business there is finished, I would be
quite willing to go on to Washington to see what can be done; provided,
of course, that no one, least of all your uncle's client, knows of my
activity in the matter."

Niel flushed. "I'm sorry, Mr. Ogden," he brought out, "but Mrs.
Forrester is no longer a client of my uncle's. After the Captain's
death, she saw fit to take her business away from him."

Mr. Ogden's normal eye became as blank as the other.

"What's that? He isn't her lawyer? Why, for twenty years--"

"I know that, sir. She didn't treat him with much consideration. She
transferred her business very abruptly."

"To whom, may I ask?"

"To a lawyer here in town; Ivy Peters."

"Peters? I never heard of him."

"No, you wouldn't have. He wasn't one of the people who went to the
Forrester house in the old days. He's one of the younger generation, a
few years older than I. He rented part of the Forresters' land for
several years before the Captain's death,--was their tenant. That was
how Mrs. Forrester came to know him. She thinks him a good business
man."

Mr. Ogden frowned. "And is he?"

"Some people think so."

"Is he trustworthy?"

"Far from it. He takes the cases nobody else will take. He may treat
Mrs. Forrester honestly. But if he does, it will not be from principle."

"This is very distressing news. Go on with your work, my boy. I must
think this over." Mr. Ogden rose and walked about the room, his hands
behind him. Niel turned to an unfinished letter on his desk, in order to
leave his visitor the more free.

Mr. Ogden's position, he understood, was a difficult one. He had been
devoted to Mrs. Forrester, and before Constance had made up her mind to
marry Frank Ellinger, before the mother and daughter began to angle for
him, Mr. Ogden had come to the Forresters' more frequently than any of
their Denver friends. He hadn't been back, Niel believed, since that
Christmas party when he and his family were there with Ellinger. Very
soon afterward he must have seen what his women-folk were up to; and
whether he approved or disapproved, he must have decided that there was
nothing for him to do but to keep out. It hadn't been the Forresters'
reversal of fortune that had kept him away. One could see that he was
deeply troubled, that he had her heavily on his mind.

Niel had finished his letter and was beginning another, when Mr. Ogden
stopped beside his desk, where he stood twisting his imperial tighter
and tighter. "You say this young lawyer is unprincipled? Sometimes
rascals have a soft spot, a sentiment, where women are concerned."

Niel stared. He immediately thought of Ivy's dimples.

"A soft spot? A sentiment? Mr. Ogden, why not go to his office? A glance
would convince you."

"Oh, that's not necessary! I understand." He looked out of the window,
from which he could just see the tree-tops of the Forrester grove, and
murmured, "Poor lady! So misguided. She ought to have advice from some
of Daniel's friends." He took out his watch and consulted it, turning
something over in his mind. His train was due in an hour, he said.
Nothing could be done at present. In a few moments he left the office.

Afterward, Niel felt sure that when Mr. Ogden stood there uncertainly,
watch in hand, he was considering an interview with Mrs. Forrester. He
had wanted to go to her, and had given it up. Was he afraid of his
women-folk? Or was it another kind of cowardice, the fear of losing a
pleasant memory, of finding her changed and marred, a dread of something
that would throw a disenchanting light upon the past? Niel had heard his
uncle say that Mr. Ogden admired pretty women, though he had married a
homely one, and that in his deep, non-committal way he was very gallant.
Perhaps, with a little encouragement, he would have gone to see Mrs.
Forrester, and he might have helped her. The fact that he had done
nothing to bring this about, made Niel realize how much his own feeling
toward that lady had changed.

It was Mrs. Forrester herself who had changed. Since her husband's death
she seemed to have become another woman. For years Niel and his uncle,
the Dalzells and all her friends, had thought of the Captain as a drag
upon his wife; a care that drained her and dimmed her and kept her from
being all that she might be. But without him, she was like a ship
without ballast, driven hither and thither by every wind. She was
flighty and perverse. She seemed to have lost her faculty of
discrimination; her power of easily and graciously keeping everyone in
his proper place.

Ivy Peters had been in Wyoming at the time of Captain Forrester's
illness and death,--called away by a telegram which announced that oil
had been discovered near his land-holdings. He returned soon after the
Captain's funeral, however, and was seen about the Forrester place more
than ever. As there was nothing to be done on his fields in the winter,
he had amused himself by pulling down the old barn after office hours.
One was likely to come upon him, smoking his cigar on the front porch as
if he owned the place. He often spent the evening there, playing cards
with Mrs. Forrester or talking about his business projects. He had not
made his fortune yet, but he was on the way to it. Occasionally he took
a friend or two, some of the town boys, over to dine at Mrs.
Forrester's. The boys' mothers and sweethearts were greatly scandalized.
"Now she's after the young ones," said Ed Elliott's mother. "She's
getting childish."

At last Niel had a plain talk with Mrs. Forrester. He told her that
people were gossiping about Ivy's being there so much. He had heard
comments even on the street.

"But I can't bother about their talk. They have always talked about me,
always will. Mr. Peters is my lawyer and my tenant; I have to see him,
and I'm certainly not going to his office. I can't sit in the house
alone every evening and knit. If you came to see me any oftener than you
do, that would make talk. You are still younger than Ivy,--and
better-looking! Did that never occur to you?"

"I wish you wouldn't talk to me like that," he said coldly. "Mrs.
Forrester, why don't you go away? to California, to people of your own
kind. You know this town is no place for you."

"I mean to, just as soon as I can sell this place. It's all I have, and
if I leave it to tenants it will run down, and I can't sell it to
advantage. That's why Ivy is here so much, he's trying to make the place
presentable; pulling down the old barn that had become an eyesore,
putting new boards in the porch floor where the old ones had rotted.
Next summer, I am going to paint the house. Unless I keep the place up,
I can never get my price for it." She talked nervously, with exaggerated
earnestness, as if she were trying to persuade herself.

"And what are you asking for it now, Mrs. Forrester?"

"Twenty thousand dollars."

"You'll never get it. At least, not until times have greatly changed."

"That's what your uncle said. He wouldn't attempt to sell it for more
than twelve. That's why I had to put it into other hands. Times have
changed, but he doesn't realize it. Mr. Forrester himself told me it
would be worth that. Ivy says he can get me twenty thousand, or if not,
he will take it off my hands as soon as his investments begin to bring
in returns."

"And in the meantime, you are simply wasting your life here."

"Not altogether." She looked at him with pleading plausibility. "I am
getting rested after a long strain. And while I wait, I'm finding new
friends among the young men,--those your age, and a little younger. I've
wanted for a long while to do something for the boys in this town, but
my hands were full. I hate to see them growing up like savages, when all
they need is a civilized house to come to, and a woman to give them a
few hints. They've never had a chance. You wouldn't be the boy you are
if you'd never gone to Boston,--and you've always had older friends
who'd seen better days. Suppose you had grown up like Ed Elliot and Joe
Simpson?"

"I flatter myself I wouldn't be exactly like them, if I had! However,
there is no use discussing it, if you've thought it over and made up
your mind. I spoke of it because I thought you mightn't realize how it
strikes the townspeople."


"I know!" She tossed her head. Her eyes glittered, but there was no
mirth in them,--it was more like hysterical defiance. "I know; they call
me the Merry Widow. I rather like it!"

Niel left the house without further argument, and though that was three
weeks ago, he had not been back since. Mrs. Forrester had called to see
his uncle in the meantime. The Judge was as courtly as ever in his
manner toward her, but he was deeply hurt by her defection, and his
cherishing care for her would never be revived. He had attended to all
Captain Forrester's business for twenty years, and since the failure of
the Denver bank had never deducted a penny for fees from the money
entrusted to him. Mrs. Forrester had treated him very badly. She had
given him no warning. One day Ivy Peters had come into the office with a
written order from her, requesting that an accounting, and all funds and
securities, be turned over to him. Since then she had never spoken of
the matter to the Judge,--or to Niel, save in that conversation about
the sale of the property.



VIII


One morning when a warm May wind was whirling the dust up the street,
Mrs. Forrester came smiling into Judge Pommeroy's office, wearing a new
spring bonnet, and a short black velvet cape, fastened at the neck with
a bunch of violets. "Please be nice enough to notice my new clothes,
Niel," she said coaxingly. "They are the first I've had in years and
years."

He told her they were very pretty.

"And aren't you glad I have some at last?" she smiled enquiringly
through her veil. "I feel as if you weren't going to be cross with me
to-day, and would do what I ask you. It's nothing very troublesome. I
want you to come to dinner Friday night. If you come, there will be
eight of us, counting Annie Peters. They are all boys you know, and if
you don't like them, you ought to! Yes, you ought to!" she nodded at him
severely. "Since you mind what people say, Niel, aren't you afraid
they'll be saying you're a snob, just because you've been to Boston and
seen a little of the world? You mustn't be so stiff, so--so superior! It
isn't becoming, at your age." She drew her brows down into a level frown
so like his own that he laughed. He had almost forgotten her old talent
for mimicry.

"What do you want me for? You used always to say it was no good asking
people who didn't mix."

"You can mix well enough, if you take the trouble. And this time you
will, for me. Won't you?"

When she was gone, Niel was angry with himself for having been
persuaded.

On Friday evening he was the last guest to arrive. It was a warm night,
after a hot day. The windows were open, and the perfume of the lilacs
came into the dusky parlour where the boys were sitting about in chairs
that seemed too big for them. A lamp was burning in the dining-room, and
there Ivy Peters stood at the sideboard, mixing cocktails. His sister
Annie was in the kitchen, helping the hostess. Mrs. Forrester came in
for a moment to greet Niel, then excused herself and hurried back to
Annie Peters. Through the open door he saw that the silver dishes had
reappeared on the dinner table, and the candlesticks and flowers. The
young men who sat about in the twilight would not know the difference,
he thought, if she had furnished her table that morning, from the stock
in Wernz's queensware store. Their conception of a really fine dinner
service was one "hand painted" by a sister or sweetheart. Each boy sat
with his legs crossed, one tan shoe swinging in the air and displaying a
tan silk sock. They were talking about clothes; Joe Simpson, who had
just inherited his father's clothing business, was eager to tell them
what the summer styles would be.

Ivy Peters came in, shaking his drinks. "You fellows are like a bunch of
girls,--always talking about what you are going to wear and how you can
spend your money. Simpson wouldn't get rich very fast if you all wore
your clothes as long as I do. When did I get this suit, Joe?"

"Oh, about the year I graduated from High School, I guess!"

They all laughed at Ivy. No matter what he did or said, they
laughed,--in recognition of his general success.

Mrs. Forrester came back, fanning herself with a little sandalwood fan,
and when she appeared the boys rose,--in alarm, one might have thought,
from the suddenness of it. That much, at any rate, she had succeeded in
teaching them.

"Are your cocktails ready, Ivy? You will have to wait for me a moment,
while I put some powder on my nose. If I'd known how hot it would be
tonight, I'm afraid I wouldn't have had a roast for you. I'm browner
than the ducks. You can pour them though. I won't be long."

She disappeared into her own room, and the boys sat down with the same
surprising promptness. Ivy Peters carried the tray about, and they held
their glasses before them, waiting for Mrs. Forrester. When she came,
she took Niel's arm and led him into the dining-room. "Did you notice,"
she whispered to him, "how they hold their glasses? What is it they do
to a little glass to make it look so vulgar? Nobody could ever teach
them to pick one up and drink out of it, not if there were tea in it!"

Aloud she said, "Niel, will you light the candles for me? And then take
the head of the table, please. You can carve ducks?"

"Not so well as--as my uncle does," he murmured, carefully putting back
a candle-shade.

"Nor as Mr. Forrester did? I don't ask that. Nobody can carve now as men
used to. But you can get them apart, I suppose? The place at your right
is for Annie Peters. She is bringing in the dinner for me. Be seated,
gentlemen!" with a little mocking bow and a swinging of earrings.

While Niel was carving the ducks, Annie slipped into the chair beside
him, her naturally red face glowing from the heat of the stove. She was
several years younger than her brother, whom she obeyed unquestioningly
in everything. She had an extremely bad complexion and pale yellow hair
with white lights in it, exactly the colour of molasses taffy that has
been pulled until it glistens. During the dinner she did not once speak,
except to say, "Thank you," or "No, thank you." Nobody but Mrs.
Forrester talked much until the first helping of duck was consumed. The
boys had not yet learned to do two things at once. They paused only to
ask their hostess if she "would care for the jelly," or to answer her
questions.

Niel studied Mrs. Forrester between the candles, as she nodded
encouragingly to one and another, trying to "draw them out," laughing at
Roy Jones' heavy jokes, or congratulating Joe Simpson upon his new
dignity as a business man with a business of his own. The long earrings
swung beside the thin cheeks that were none the better, he thought, for
the rouge she had put on them when she went to her room just before
dinner. It improved some women, but not her,--at least, not tonight,
when her eyes were hollow with fatigue, and she looked pinched and worn
as he had never seen her. He sighed as he thought how much work it meant
to cook a dinner like this for eight people,--and a beefsteak with
potatoes would have pleased them better! They didn't really like this
kind of food at all. Why did she do it? How would she feel about it
tonight, when she sank dead weary into bed, after these stupid boys had
said good-night, and their yellow shoes had carried them down the hill?

She was not eating anything, she was using up all her vitality to
electrify these heavy lads into speech. Niel felt that he must help her,
or at least try to. He addressed them one after another with energy and
determination; he tried baseball, politics, scandal, the corn crop. They
answered him with monosyllables or exclamations. He soon realized that
they didn't want his polite remarks; they wanted more duck, and to be
let alone with it.

Dinner was soon over, at any rate. The hostess' attempts to prolong it
were unavailing. The salad and frozen pudding were dispatched as
promptly as the roast had been. The guests went into the parlour and lit
cigars.

Mrs. Forrester had the old-fashioned notion that men should be alone
after dinner. She did not join them for half an hour. Perhaps she had
lain down upstairs, for she looked a little rested. The boys were
talking now, discussing a camping trip Ed Elliot was going to take in
the mountains. They were giving him advice about camp outfits, trout
flies, mixtures to keep off mosquitoes.

"I'll tell you, boys," said Mrs. Forrester, when she had listened to
them for a moment, "when I go back to California, I intend to have a
summer cabin up in the Sierras, and I invite you, one and all, to visit
me. You'll have to work for your keep, you understand; cut the firewood
and bring the water and wash the pots and pans, and go out and catch
fish for breakfast. Ivy can bring his gun and shoot game for us, and
I'll bake bread in an iron pot, the old trappers' way, if I haven't
forgotten how. Will you come?"

"You bet we will! You know those mountains by heart, I expect?" said Ed
Elliot.

She smiled and shook her head. "It would take a life-time to do that,
Ed, more than a life-time. The Sierras,--there's no end to them, and
they're magnificent."

Niel turned to her. "Have you ever told the boys how it was you first
met Captain Forrester in the mountains out there? If they haven't heard
the story, I think they would like it."

"Really, would you? Well, once upon a time, when I was a very young
girl, I was spending the summer at a camp in the mountains, with friends
of my father's."

She began there, but that was not the beginning of the story; long ago
Niel had heard from his uncle that the beginning was a scandal and a
murder. When Marian Ormsby was nineteen, she was engaged to Ned
Montgomery, a gaudy young millionaire of the Gold Coast. A few weeks
before the date set for their marriage, Montgomery was shot and killed
in the lobby of a San Francisco hotel by the husband of another woman.
The subsequent trial involved a great deal of publicity, and Marian was
hurried away from curious eyes and sent up into the mountains until the
affair should blow over.

Tonight Mrs. Forrester began with "Once upon a time." Sitting at one end
of the big sofa, her slippers on a foot-stool and her head in shadow,
she stirred the air before her face with the sandalwood fan as she
talked, the rings glittering on her white fingers. She told them how
Captain Forrester, then a widower, had come up to the camp to visit her
father's partner. She had noticed him very little,--she was off every
day with the young men. One afternoon she had persuaded young Fred
Harney, an intrepid mountain climber, to take her down the face of Eagle
Cliff. They were almost down, and were creeping over a projecting ledge,
when the rope broke, and they dropped to the bottom. Harney fell on the
rocks and was killed instantly. The girl was caught in a pine tree,
which arrested her fall. Both her legs were broken, and she lay in the
canyon all night in the bitter cold, swept by the icy canyon draught.
Nobody at the camp knew where to look for the two missing members of the
party,--they had stolen off alone for their foolhardy adventure. Nobody
worried, because Harney knew all the trails and could not get lost. In
the morning, however, when they were still missing, search parties went
out. It was Captain Forrester's party that found Marian, and got her out
by the lower trail. The trail was so steep and narrow, the turns round
the jutting ledges so sharp, that it was impossible to take her out on a
litter. The men took turns carrying her, hugging the canyon walls with
their shoulders as they crept along. With her broken legs hanging, she
suffered terribly,--fainted again and again. But she noticed that she
suffered less when Captain Forrester carried her, and that he took all
the most dangerous places on the trail himself. "I could feel his heart
pump and his muscles strain," she said, "when he balanced himself and me
on the rocks. I knew that if we fell, we'd go together; he would never
drop me."

They got back to camp, and everything possible was done for her, but by
the time a surgeon could be got up from San Francisco, her fractures had
begun to knit and had to be broken over again.

"It was Captain Forrester I wanted to hold my hand when the surgeon had
to do things to me. You remember, Niel, he always boasted that I never
screamed when they were carrying me up the trail. He stayed at the camp
until I could begin to walk, holding to his arm. When he asked me to
marry him, he didn't have to ask twice. Do you wonder?" She looked with
a smile about the circle, and drew her finger-tips absently across her
forehead as if to brush away something,--the past, or the present, who
could tell?

The boys were genuinely moved. While she was answering their questions,
Niel thought about the first time he ever heard her tell that story: Mr.
Dalzell had stopped off with a party of friends from Chicago; Marshall
Field and the president of the Union Pacific were among them, he
remembered, and they were going through in Mr. Dalzell's private car to
hunt in the Black Hills. She had, after all, not changed so much since
then. Niel felt tonight that the right man could save her, even now. She
was still her indomitable self, going through her old part,--but only
the stage-hands were left to listen to her. All those who had shared in
fine undertakings and bright occasions were gone.



IX


With the summer months Judge Pommeroy's health improved, and as soon as
he was able to be back in his office, Niel began to plan to return to
Boston. He would get there the first of August and would go to work with
a tutor to make up for the months he had lost. It was a melancholy time
for him. He was in a fever of impatience to be gone, and yet he felt
that he was going away forever, and was making the final break with
everything that had been dear to him in his boyhood. The people, the
very country itself, were changing so fast that there would be nothing
to come back to.

He had seen the end of an era, the sunset of the pioneer. He had come
upon it when already its glory was nearly spent. So in the buffalo times
a traveller used to come upon the embers of a hunter's fire on the
prairie, after the hunter was up and gone; the coals would be trampled
out, but the ground was warm, and the flattened grass where he had slept
and where his pony had grazed, told the story.

This was the very end of the road-making West; the men who had put
plains and mountains under the iron harness were old; some were poor,
and even the successful ones were hunting for rest and a brief reprieve
from death. It was already gone, that age; nothing could ever bring it
back. The taste and smell and song of it, the visions those men had seen
in the air and followed,--these he had caught in a kind of afterglow in
their own faces,--and this would always be his.

It was what he most held against Mrs. Forrester; that she was not
willing to immolate herself, like the widow of all these great men, and
die with the pioneer period to which she belonged; that she preferred
life on any terms. In the end, Niel went away without bidding her
good-bye. He went away with weary contempt for her in his heart.

It happened like this,--had scarcely the dignity of an episode. It was
nothing, and yet it was everything. Going over to see her one summer
evening, he stopped a moment by the dining-room window to look at the
honeysuckle. The dining-room door was open into the kitchen, and there
Mrs. Forrester stood at a table, making pastry. Ivy Peters came in at
the kitchen door, walked up behind her, and unconcernedly put both arms
around her, his hands meeting over her breast. She did not move, did not
look up, but went on rolling out pastry.

Niel went down the hill. "For the last time," he said, as he crossed the
bridge in the evening light, "for the last time." And it was even so; he
never went up the poplar-bordered road again. He had given her a year of
his life, and she had thrown it away. He had helped the Captain to die
peacefully, he believed; and now it was the Captain who seemed the
reality. All those years he had thought it was Mrs. Forrester who made
that house so different from any other. But ever since the Captain's
death it was a house where old friends, like his uncle, were betrayed
and cast off, where common fellows behaved after their kind and knew a
common woman when they saw her.

If he had not had the nature of a spaniel, he told himself, he would
never have gone back after the first time. It took two doses to cure
him. Well, he had had them! Nothing she could ever do would in the least
matter to him again.

He had news of her now and then, as long as his uncle lived. "_Mrs.
Forrester's name is everywhere coupled with Ivy Peters'_," the Judge
wrote. "_She does not look happy, and I fear her health is failing, but
she has put herself in such a position that her husband's friends cannot
help her._"

And again: "_Of Mrs. Forrester, no news is good news. She is sadly
broken._"

After his uncle's death, Niel heard that Ivy Peters had at last bought
the Forrester place, and had brought a wife from Wyoming to live there.
Mrs. Forrester had gone West,--people supposed to California.

It was years before Niel could think of her without chagrin. But
eventually, after she had drifted out of his ken, when he did not know
if Daniel Forrester's widow were living or dead, Daniel Forrester's wife
returned to him, a bright, impersonal memory.

He came to be very glad that he had known her, and that she had had a
hand in breaking him in to life. He has known pretty women and clever
ones since then,--but never one like her, as she was in her best days.
Her eyes, when they laughed for a moment into one's own, seemed to
promise a wild delight that he has not found in life. "I know where it
is," they seemed to say, "I could show you!" He would like to call up
the shade of the young Mrs. Forrester, as the witch of Endor called up
Samuel's, and challenge it, demand the secret of that ardour; ask her
whether she had really found some ever-blooming, ever-burning,
every-piercing joy, or whether it was all fine play-acting. Probably she
had found no more than another; but she had always the power of
suggesting things much lovelier than herself, as the perfume of a single
flower may call up the whole sweetness of spring.


Niel was destined to hear once again of his long-lost lady. One evening
as he was going into the dining-room of a Chicago hotel, a
broad-shouldered man with an open, sunbrowned face, approached him and
introduced himself as one of the boys who had grown up in Sweet Water.

"I'm Ed Elliott, and I thought it must be you. Could we take a table
together? I promised an old friend of yours to give you a message, if I
ever ran across you. You remember Mrs. Forrester? Well, I saw her again,
twelve years after she left Sweet Water,--down in Buenos Ayres." They
sat down and ordered dinner.

"Yes, I was in South America on business. I'm a mining engineer, I spent
some time in Buenos Ayres. One evening there was a banquet of some sort
at one of the big hotels, and I happened to step out of the bar, just as
a car drove up to the entrance where the guests were going in. I paid no
attention until one of the ladies laughed. I recognized her by her
laugh,--that hadn't changed a particle. She was all done up in furs,
with a scarf over her head, but I saw her eyes, and then I was sure. I
stepped up and spoke to her. She seemed glad to see me, made me go into
the hotel, and talked to me until her husband came to drag her away to
the dinner. Oh, yes, she was married again,--to a rich, cranky old
Englishman; Henry Collins was his name. He was born down there, she told
me, but she met him in California. She told me they lived on a big stock
ranch and had come down in their car for this banquet. I made inquiries
afterward and found the old fellow was quite a character; had been
married twice before, once to a Brazilian woman. People said he was
rich, but quarrelsome and rather stingy. She seemed to have everything,
though. They travelled in a fine French car, and she had brought her
maid along, and he had his valet. No, she hadn't changed as much as
you'd think. She was a good deal made up, of course, like most of the
women down there; plenty of powder, and a little red, too, I guess. Her
hair was black, blacker than I remembered it; looked as if she dyed it.
She invited me to visit them on their estate, and so did the old man,
when he came to get her. She asked about everybody, and said, 'If you
ever meet Niel Herbert, give him my love, and tell him I often think of
him.' She said again, 'Tell him things have turned out well for me. Mr.
Collins is the kindest of husbands.' I called at your office in New York
on my way back from South America, but you were somewhere in Europe. It
was remarkable, how she'd come up again. She seemed pretty well gone to
pieces before she left Sweet Water."

"Do you suppose," said Niel, "that she could be living still? I'd almost
make the trip to see her."

"No, she died about three years ago. I know that for certain. After she
left Sweet Water, wherever she was, she always sent a cheque to the
Grand Army Post every year to have flowers put on Captain Forrester's
grave for Decoration Day. Three years ago the Post got a letter from the
old Englishman, with a draft for the future care of Captain Forrester's
grave, '_in memory of my late wife, Marian Forrester Collins._'"

"So we may feel sure that she was well cared for, to the very end," said
Niel. "Thank God for that!"

"I knew you'd feel that way," said Ed Elliot, as a warm wave of feeling
passed over his face. "I did!"



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