But I stop, to think this over. If these are the small things, then what are the big things of life? What is it that other women get? I have sung and been happy; I have known great joy and walked big with Hope. I have loved and been loved. I have known sorrow, and I have known birth, and I have sat face to face with death. I have, after all, pretty well run the whole gamut, without perhaps realizing it. For these, after all, are the big things, the elemental things, of life. They are the basic things which leave scant room for the momentary fripperies and the hand-made ornaments of existence....
Heigho! I seem to grow into a melancholy Jacques with the advancing years. That's the way of life, I suppose. But I've no intention of throwing up the sponge. If I can no longer get as much fun out of the game as I want, I can at least watch my offspring taking their joy out of it. God be thanked for giving us our children! We can still rest our tired old eyes on them, just as the polisher of precious stones used to keep an emerald in front of him, to relieve his strained vision by gazing at its soft and soothing greenness.
I have just crept in to take a look at my precious Dinkie, fast asleep in the old cast-iron crib that is growing so small for him he has to lie catercornered on his mattress. He seemed so big, stretched out there, that he frightened me with the thought he couldn't be a child much longer. There are no babies left now in my home circle. And I still have a shamefaced sort of hankering to hold a baby in my arms again!
Wednesday the Thirty-First
Susie has promised to stay with us until after Christmas. And the holidays, I realize, are only a few weeks away. Struthers is knitting a sweater of flaming red and rather grimly acknowledged, when I pinned her down, that it was for Whinstane Sandy. There was a snow-flurry Sunday, and Gershom took Susie riding in the old cutter, scratching grittily along the half-covered trails but apparently enjoying it. My poor little Poppsy, who rather idolizes Gershom, is transparently jealous of his attentions to Susie. Yet Gershom, I know, is nice to Susie and nothing more. He is still my loyal but carefully restrained knight. It's a shame, I suppose, to bobweasel him the way I occasionally do. But I can't quite help it. His goody-goodiness is as provocative to my baser nature as a red flag to an Andulasian bull. And a woman who was once reckoned as a heart-breaker has to keep her hand in with something. I've got to convince myself that the last shot hasn't gone from the locker which Duncan Argyll McKail once rifled. I spoiled Gershom's supper for him the other night by asking what it was made some people have such a mysterious influence over other people. And I caught him up short, last Sunday morning, when he tried to argue that I was a sort of paragon in petticoats.
"Don't you run away with the idea I'm that kind of an angel," I promptly assured him. "I'm an outlaw, from saddle to sougan, and I can buck like a bear fightin' bees. I'm a she-devil crow-hopping around in skirts. And I could bu'st every commandment slap-bang across my knee, once I got started, and leave a trail of crime across the fair face of nature that would make an old Bow-Gun vaquero's back-hair stand up. I'm just a woman, Gershom, a little lonely and a little loony, and there's so much backed-up bad in me that once the dam gives way there'll be a hell-roaring old whoop-up along these dusty old trails!"
Gershom turned white.
"But there's your little ones to think of," he quaveringly reminded me.
"Yes, there's my little ones to think of," I echoed, wondering where I'd heard that familiar old refrain before. My bark, after all, is much worse than my bite. About all I can do is take things out in talk. I'm only a faded beauty, brooding over my antique adventures as a heart-breaker. But I know of one heart I'd still like to break—if I had the power. No; not break; but bend up to the cracking point!
Monday the Nineteenth
How Time takes wing for the busy! It's only six days to Christmas and I've still my box to get off for Olga and her children. We've sent to Peter some really charming snap-shots of the children, which Susie took. The general effect of one, I must acknowledge, is seriously damaged by the presence of their Mummy.
Dinky-Dunk doubts if he'll be able to get home for the holidays. But I sent him a box, on Saturday, made up of those things which he likes best to eat and a set of the children's pictures, nicely mounted. I've also had Dinkie and Poppsy write a long letter to their dad, a task which they performed with more constraint than I had anticipated. I had my own difficulties, along the same line, for I had taken a photograph of poor little Pee-Wee's grave with a snow-drift across one end of it, and had written on the bottom of the mounting-card: "We must remember." But as I stood studying this, before putting it in next to Poppsy's huge Christmas-card gay with powdered mica I felt a foolish tear or two run down my cheek. And I realized it would never do to cloud my Dinky-Dunk's day with memories which might not be altogether happy. So I've kept the picture of the little white-fenced bed with the white snow-drift across its foot....
Susie is in bed with a bad cold, which she caught studying astronomy with Gershom. Poppsy was not in the least put out when she watched me preparing a mustard-plaster for the invalid. My daughter, I am persuaded, has a revived faith in the operation of retributive justice. But I hope Susie is better by the holiday. Whinnie has the Christmas Tree hidden away in the stable, and already a number of mysterious parcels have arrived at Casa Grande. Bud Teetzel very gallantly sent me over a huge turkey, an eighteen-pounder, and to-morrow I have to go into Buckhorn for my mail-order shipments. We have decorated the house with a whole box of holly from Victoria and I've hung a sprig of mistletoe in the living-room doorway. The children, of course, are on tiptoe with expectation. But I can't escape the impression that I'm merely acting a part, that I'm a Pagliacci in petticoats. Heaven knows I clown enough; no one can accuse me of not going through the gestures. But it seems like fox-trotting along the deck of a sinking ship.
I stood under the mistletoe, this morning, and dared Gershom to kiss me. He turned quite white and made for the door. But I caught him by the coat, like Potiphar's wife, and pulled him back to the authorizing berry-sprig and gave him a brazen big smack on the cheek-bone. He turned a sunset pink, at that, and marched out of the room without saying a word. But he was shaking his head as he went, at my shamelessness, I suppose. Poor old Gershom! I wish there were more men in the world like him. The other day Susie intimated that he was too homosexual and that it was the polygamous wretches who really kept the world going. But I refuse to subscribe to that sophomoric philosophy of hers which would divide the race into fools and knaves. "It's safer being sane than mad; it's better being good than bad!" as Robert remarked. And I know at least one strong man who is not bad; and one bad man who is not strong.
Tuesday the Twenty-Seventh
The great Day has come and gone. And I'm not sorry. There was a cloud over my heart that kept me from getting the happiness out of it I ought. I hoped we would hear from Peter, but for the first time in history he overlooked us.
Dinky-Dunk, as he had warned us, could not get home for the holidays. But he surprised me by sending a really wonderful box for the kiddies, and even a gorgeous silver-mounted collar for Scotty. Susie is up again, but she is still feeling a bit listless. I heard Gershom informing her to-night that her blood travels at the rate of seven miles per hour and that if all the energy of Niagara Falls were utilized it could supply the world with seven million horse-power. I do wish Gershom would get over trying to pat the world on the head, instead of shaking hands with it! I'm afraid I'm losing my lilt. I can't understand why I should keep feeling as blue as indigo. I am a well of acid and a little sister to the crab-apple. I think I'll make Susie come down so we can humanize ourselves with a little music. For I feel like a Marie Bashkirtseff with a bilious attack....
Whinstane Sandy has just come in with Peter's box, two days late. I felt sure that Peter would not utterly forget us. There is still a great deal of shouting down in the kitchen, where that most miraculous of boxes has been unpacked. As for myself, I've had a hankering to be alone, to think things over. But my meditations don't seem to get me anywhere.... Dinkie has just come up to show me his brand-new bridle for Buntie. It is a magnificent bridle, as shiny and jingly as any lad could desire. I tried to get him to put it down, so that I could draw him over close to me and talk to him. But Dinkie is too excited for any such demonstration. He's beginning, I'm afraid, to consider emotion a bit unmanly. He seems to be losing his craving to be petted and pampered. There are times, I can see, when he desires his fence-lines to be respected.
Sunday the Twenty-Ninth
Nearly six weeks, I notice, have slipped by. For a month and a half, apparently, the impulse to air my troubles went hibernating with the bears. Yet it has been a mild winter, so far, with very little snow and a great deal of sunshine—a great deal of sunshine which doesn't elate me as it ought. I can't remember who it was said a happy people has no history. But that's not true of a happy woman. It's when her heart is full that she makes herself heard, that she sings like a lark to the world. When she's wretched, she retires with her grief....
I haven't been altogether wretched, it's true, just as I haven't been altogether hilarious, but it disturbs me to find that for a month and a half I haven't written a line in this, the mottled old book of my life. It's not that the last month or two has been empty, for no months are really empty. They have to be filled with something. But there are times, I suppose, when lives lie fallow, the same as fields lie fallow, times when the days drag like harrow-teeth across the perplexed loam of our soul and nothing comes of it at all. Not, I repeat, that I have been momentously unhappy. It's more that a sort of sterilizing indifferency took possession of me and made the little ups and downs of existence as unworthy of record as the ups and downs of the waves on the deadest shores of the Dead Sea. It's not that I'm idle, and it's not that I'm old, and it's not that there's anything wrong with this disappointingly healthy body of mine. But I rather think I need a change of some kind. I even envy Susie, who has ambled on to the Coast and is staying with the Lougheeds in Victoria, playing golf and picking winter roses and writing back about her trips up Vancouver Island and her approaching journey down into California.
"What do we know of the New World," she parodied in her last letter that came to me, "who only the old East know?" Then she goes on to say: "I'm just back from a West Coast trip on the roly-poly Maquinna and if my thoughts go wobbly and my hand goes crooked it's because my head is so prodigiously full of
SEALS SALMON SUNSETS STARS SURF SOLANDER ISLAND SIWASHES SAGHALIE LAMONTIS SKOOKUM CHUCK SEA-LIONS
[Transcriber's note: In original, initial "S" was one very large decorative letter, 10 letter-heights tall.]
and alas, also Seasickness, that I can't think straight!"
Susie's soul, apparently, has had the dry-shampoo it was in need of. But as for me, I'm like an old horse-shoe with its calks worn off. The Master-Blacksmith of Life should poke me deep into His fires and fling me on His anvil and make me over!
I've been worrying about my Dinkie. It's all so trivial, in a way, and yet I can't persuade myself it isn't also tragic. He told Susie, before she left, that he was quite willing to go to bed a little earlier one night, because then "he could dream about Doreen." And I noticed, not long ago, that instead of taking just one of our Newton Pippins to school with him, he had formed the habit of taking two. On making investigation, I discovered that this second apple ultimately and invariably found its way into the hands of Mistress Doreen O'Lone. And last week Dinkie autocratically commanded Whinstane Sandy to hitch Mudski up in the old cutter, to go sleigh-riding with the lady of his favor to the Teetzels' taffy-pull. Dinkie's mother was not consulted in the matter—and that is the disturbing feature of it all. I can't help remembering what Duncan once said about my boy growing out of my reach. If I ever lost my Dinkie I would indeed be alone, terribly and hopelessly alone.
Wednesday the Eighth
Dinkie, who has been disturbing me the last few days by going about with an air of suppressed excitement, brought my anxiety to a head yesterday by staring into my face and then saying:
"Mummy, I've got a secret!"
"What secret?" I asked, doing my best to appear indifferent.
But Dinkie was not to be trapped.
"It wouldn't be a secret, if I told you," he sagaciously explained.
I studied my child with what was supposed to be a reproving eye.
"You mean you can't even tell your own Mummy?" I demanded.
He shook his head, in solemn negation.
"But can you, some day?" I pursued.
He thought this over.
"Yes, some day," he acknowledged, squeezing my knee.
"How long will I have to wait?" I asked, wondering what could bring such a rhapsodic light into his hazel-specked eye. I thought, of course, of Doreen O'Lone. And I wished the O'Lones would follow in the footsteps of so many other successful ranchers and trek off to California. Then, as I sat studying Dinkie, I countermanded that wish. For its fulfillment would bring loneliness to the heart of my laddie—and loneliness is hell! So, instead, I struggled as best I could to banish all thought of the matter from my mind. But it was only half a success. I remembered that Gershom himself had been going about as abstracted as an ant-eater and as gloomy as a crow, during the last week; and I kept sniffing something unpropitious up-wind. I even hoped that Dinkie would return to the subject, as children with a secret have the habit of doing. But he has been as tight-lipped on the matter as his reticent old dad might have been.
Wednesday the Fifteenth
I got an altogether unlooked-for Valentine yesterday. It was a brief but a significant letter from Dinky-Dunk, telling me that he had "taken over" the Goodhue house in Mount Royal and asking me if I intended to be its mistress. He has bought the house, apparently, completely furnished and is getting ready to move into it the first week in March.
The whole thing has rather taken my breath away. I don't object to an ultimatum, but I do dislike to have it come like a bolt from the blue. I have arrived at my Rubicon, all right, and about everything that's left of my life, I suppose, will hang on my decision. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry, to be horrified or hilarious. At one moment I have a tendency to emulate Marguerite doing the Jewel-Song in Faust. "This isn't me! This isn't me!" I keep protesting to myself. But Marguerite, I know, would never be so ungrammatical. And then I begin to foresee difficulties. The mere thought of leaving Casa Grande tears my heart. When we go away, as that wise man of Paris once said, we die a little. This will always seem my home. I could never forsake it utterly. I dread to forsake it for even a portion of each year. I am a part of the prairie, now, and I could never be entirely happy away from it. And to accept that challenge—for however one may look at it, it remains a challenge—and go to the new home in Calgary would surely be another concession. And I have been conceding, conceding, for the sake of my children. How much more can I concede?
Yet, when all is said and done, I am one of a family. I am not a free agent. I am chained to the oar for life. When we link up with the race we have more than the little ring of our own Ego to remember. It is not, as Dinky-Dunk once pointed out to me, a good thing to get "Indianized." We have our community obligations and they must be faced. The children, undoubtedly, would have advantages in the city. And to find my family reunited would be "le desir de paraitre." But I can't help remembering how much there is to remember. I'm humbler now, it's true, than I once was. I no longer say "One side, please!" to life, while life, like old Major Elmes on Murray Hill, declines to vary its course for one small and piping voice. Instead of getting gangway, I find, I'm apt to get an obliterating thump on the spine. Heaven knows, I want to do the right thing. But the issue seems so hopelessly tangled. I have brooded over it and I have even prayed over it. But it all seems to come to nothing. I sometimes nurse a ghostly sort of hope that it may be taken out of my hands, that some power outside myself may intervene to decide. For it impresses me as ominous that I should be able to hesitate at such a time, when a woman, for once in her life, should know her own mind, should see her own fixed goal and fight her way to it. I've been wondering if I haven't ebbed away into that half-warm impersonality which used to impress me as the last stage in moral decay.
But I'm not the fishy type of woman. I know I'm not. And I'm not a hard-head. I've always had a horror of being hard, for fear my hardness might in some way be passed on to my Dinkie. I want to keep my boy kindly and considerate of others, and loyal to the people who love him. But I balk at that word "loyal." For if I expect loyalty in my offspring I surely must have it myself. And I stood up before a minister of God, not so many years ago, and took an oath to prove loyal to my husband, to cleave to him in sickness and in health. I also took an oath to honor him. But he has made that part of the compact almost impossible. And my children, if I go back to him, will come under his influence. And I can't help questioning what that influence will be. I have only one life to live. And I have a human anxiety to get out of it all that is coming to me. I even feel that it owes me something, that there are certain arrears of happiness to be made up.... I wish I had a woman, older and wiser than myself, to talk things over with. I have had the impulse to write to Peter, and tell him everything, and ask him what I ought to do. But that doesn't impress me as being quite fair to Peter. And, oddly enough, it doesn't impress me as being quite fair to Dinky-Dunk. So I'm going to wait a week or two and let the cream of conviction rise on the pan of indecision. There's a tiny parliament of angels, in the inner chambers of our heart, who talk these things over and decide them while we sleep.
Friday the Seventeenth
We had to dig in, like bears, for two whole days while the first real snow-storm of the winter raged outside. But the skies have cleared, the wind has gone, and the weather is crystal-clear again. Dinkie and Poppsy, furred to the ears, are out on the drifts learning to use the snow-shoes which Percy and Olga sent down to them for Christmas. Dinkie has made himself a spear by lashing his broken-bladed jack-knife to the handle of my headless dutch-hoe and has converted himself into a stealthy Iluit stalking a polar bear in the form of poor old Scotty, who can't quite understand why he is being driven so relentlessly from crevice to Arctic crevice. They have also built an igloo, and indulged in what is apparently marriage by capture, with the reluctant bride making her repeated escape by floundering over drifts piled even higher than the fence-tops. It makes me hanker to get my own snow-shoes on my moccasined feet again and go trafficking over that undulating white world of snow, where barb-wire means no more than a line-fence in Noah's Flood. No one could remain morose, in weather like this. You must dress for it, of course, since that arching blue sky has sword-blades of cold sheathed in its velvety soft azure. But it goes to your head, like wine, and you wonder what makes you feel that life is so well worth living.
Tuesday, the Twenty-First
The armistice continues. And I continue to sit on my keg of powder and sing "O Sole Mio" to the northern moon.
I have had Whinstane Sandy build a toboggan-slide out of the old binder-shed, which has been pretty well blown to pieces by last summer's wind-storms. He picked out the soundest of the two-by-fours and made a framework which he boarded over with the best of the weather-bleached old siding. For when you haven't the luxury of a hill on your landscape, you can at least make an imitation one. Whinnie even planed the board-joints in the center of the runway and counter-sunk every nail-head—and cussed volubly when he pounded his heavily mittened thumb with the hammer. The finished structure could hardly be called a thing of beauty. We have only one of the stable-ladders to mount it from the rear, and instead of toboggans we have only Poppsy's home-made hand-sleigh and Dinkie's somewhat dilapidated "flexible coaster." But when water had been carried out to that smooth runway and the boards had been coated with ice, like brazil-nuts glace, and the snow along the lower course had been well packed down, it at least gave you a run for your money.
The tip-top point of the slide couldn't have been much more than fourteen or fifteen feet above the prairie-floor, but it seemed perilous enough when I tried it out—much to the perturbation of Whinstane Sandy—by lying stomach-down on Dinkie's coaster and letting myself shoot along that well-iced incline. It was a kingly sensation, that of speed wedded to danger, and it took me back to Davos at a breath. Then I tried it with Dinkie, and then with Poppsy, and then with Poppsy and Dinkie together. We had some grand old tumbles, in the loose snow, and some unmentionable bruises, before we became sufficiently expert to tool our sleigh-runners along their proper trail. But it was good fun. The excitement of the thing, in fact, rather got into my blood. In half an hour the three of us were covered with snow, were shouting like Comanches, and were having an altogether wild time of it. There was climbing enough to keep us warm, for all the sub-zero weather, and I was finally allowed to escape to the house only on the promise that I risk my neck again on the morrow.
Friday the Twenty-Fourth
My Dinkie's secret is no longer a secret. It divulged itself to me to-day with the suddenness of a thunder-clap. Peter Ketley has been back at Alabama Ranch for nearly three weeks.
I was out with the kiddies this afternoon, having another wild time on the toboggan-slide, dressed in an old Mackinaw of Dinky-Dunk's buckled in close around my waist and a pair of Whinnie's heaviest woolen socks over my moccasins and a mangy old gray-squirrel cap on by head. The children looked like cherubs who'd been rolled in a flour-barrel, with their eyes shining and their cheeks glowing like Richmond roses, but I must have looked like something that had been put out to frighten the coyotes away. At any rate, there we were, all squealing like pigs and all powdered from tip to toe with the dry snow and all looking like Piutes on the war-path. And who should walk calmly about the corner of the buildings but Peter himself!
My heart stopped beating and I had to lean against the end of the toboggan-slide until I could catch my breath.
He called out, "Hello, youngsters!" as quietly as though he had seen us all the day before. I said "Peter!" in a strangled sort of whisper, and wondered what made my knees wabble as I stood staring at him as though he had been a ghost.
But Peter was no ghost. He was there before me, in the body, still smoking his foolish little pipe, wearing the familiar old coonskin cap and coat that looked as though the moths had made many a Roman holiday of their generously deforested pelt. He took the pipe out of his mouth as he stepped over to me, and pulled off his heavy old gauntlet before he shook hands.
"Peter!" I repeated in my ridiculous small whisper.
He didn't speak. But he smiled, a bit wistfully, as he stared down at me. And for just a moment, I think, an odd look of longing came into his searching honest eyes which studied my face as though he were counting every freckle and line and eyelash there. He continued to X-ray me with that hungry stare of his until I took my hand away and could feel the blood surging back to my face.
"It's a long time," he said as he puffed hard on his pipe, apparently to keep it from going out. The sound of his voice sent a little thrill through my body. I felt as rattle-headed as a rabbit, and was glad when Dinkie and Poppsy captured him by each knee and hung on like catamounts.
"Where did you come from?" I finally asked, trying in vain to be as collected as Peter himself.
Then he told me. He told me as nonchalantly as though he were giving me a piece of news of no particular interest. He had rather a difficult book to finish up, and he concluded the quietness of Alabama Ranch would suit him to a T. And when spring came he wanted to have a look about for a nest of the whooping crane. It has been rather a rarity, for some sixteen or seventeen years, this whooping crane, and the American Museum was offering a mighty handsome prize for a specimen. Then he was compelled to give his attention to Dinkie and Poppsy, and tried the slide a couple of times, and announced that our coaster was better than the chariot of Icarius. And by this time I had recovered my wits and my composure and got some of the snow off my Mackinaw.
"Have I changed?" I asked Peter as he turned to study my face for the second time.
"To me," he said as he brushed the snow from his gauntlets, "you are always adorable!"
"Verboten!" I retorted to that, wondering why anything so foolish could have the power to make my pulses sing.
"Why?" he asked, as his eyes met mine.
"For the same old reason," I told him.
"Reasons," he said, "are like shoes: Time has the trick of wearing them out."
"When that happens, we have to get new ones," I reminded him.
"Then what is the new one?" he asked, with an unexpectedly solemn look on his face.
"My husband has just asked me to join him in Calgary," I said, releasing my bolt.
"Are you going to?" he asked, with his face a mask.
"I think I am," I told him. For I could see, now, how Peter's return had simplified the situation by complicating it. Already he had made my course plainer to me. I could foresee what this new factor would imply. I could understand what Peter's presence at Alabama Ranch would come to mean. And I had to shut my eyes to the prospect. I was still the same old single-track woman with a clear-cut duty laid out before her. There were certain luxuries, for the sake of my own soul's peace, I could never afford.
"Why are you going back to your husband?" Peter was asking, with real perplexity on his face.
"Because he needs me," I said as I stood watching the children go racing down the slide.
"Why?" he asked, with what impressed me as his first touch of harshness.
"Must I explain?" I inquired with my own first movement in self-defense, for it had suddenly occurred to me that any such explaining would be much more difficult than I dreamed.
"Of course not," said Peter, changing color a little. "It's only that I'm so tremendously anxious to—to understand."
"To understand what?" I questioned, both hoping and dreading that he would go on to the bitter end.
"That you understand," was his cryptic retort. And for once in his life Peter disappointed me.
"I can't afford to," I said with an effort at lightness which seemed to hurt him more than it ought. Then I realized, as I stood looking up into his face, that I was doing little to merit that humble and magnificent loyalty of Peter's. He would play fair to the end. He was too big of heart to think first of himself. It was me he was thinking of; it was me he wanted to see happy. But I had my own road to go, and no outsider could guide me.
"It's no use, Peter," I said as I put my mittened hand on his gauntleted arm without quite knowing I was doing it. And I went on to warn him that he must not confront me with kindness, that I was a good deal like an Indian's dog which neither looks for kindness nor understands it. He laughed a trifle bitterly at that and reminded me, as he stood staring at me, of a Pribilof seal staring into an Arctic sun. Then he said an odd thing. "I wish I could make it a bit easier for you," he remarked as impersonally as though he were meditating aloud.
I asked him why he said that. He evasively explained that he thought it was because I had what the Romans called constantia. So I asked him to explain constantia. And he said, with a shrug, that we might regard it as firm consideration of a question before acting on it. I explained, at that, that it wasn't a matter of choice, but of character. He was willing to acknowledge that I was right. But before that altogether unsatisfactory little debate was over Peter made me promise him one thing. He has made me promise that before I leave we have a tramp over the prairie together. And we have agreed that Sunday would be as good a day as any.
Saturday the Twenty-Fifth
I have sent word to Duncan to expect me in Calgary as soon as I can get things ready. My decision is made. And it is final. Two ghostly hands have reached out and turned me toward my husband. One is the Past. The other is the Proprieties. If life out here were a little more like the diamond-dyed Westerns, Peter Ketley and Duncan McKail would fight with hammerless Colts, the victor would throw me over the horn of his saddle, and vanish in a cloud of dust, while Struthers was turning Casa Grande into a faro-hall and my two kiddies were busy holding up the Elk Crossing stage-coach.
But life, alas, isn't so dramatic as we dream it. It cross-hobbles us and hog-ties us and leaves us afraid of our own wilted impulses. I have a terror of failure. And it's plain enough I have only one mission on God's green footstool. I'm a home-maker, and nothing more. I'm a home-maker confronted by the last chance to make good at my one and only calling. And whatever it costs, I'm going to make my husband recognize me as a patient and long-suffering Penelope....
But enough of the rue! To-morrow I'm going snow-shoeing with Peter. I'm praying that the weather will be propitious. I want one of our sparkling-burgundy days with the sun shining bright and a nip in the air like a stiletto buried in rose leaves. For it may be the last time in all my life I shall walk on the prairie with my friend, Peter Ketley. The page is going to be turned over, the candle snuffed out, and the singing birds of my freedom silenced. I have met my Rubicon, and it must be crossed. But last night, for the first time in a month, I plastered enough cold cream on my nose to make me look like a buttered muffin, and rubbed enough almond-oil meal on my arms to make them look like a miller's. And I've been asking myself if I'm the sedate old lady life has been trying to make me. There are certain Pacific Islands, Gershom tells me, where the climate is so stable that the matter of weather is never even mentioned, where the people who bathe in that eternal calm are never conscious of the conditions surrounding them. That's the penalty, I suppose, that humanity pays for constancy. There are no lapses to record, no deviations to be accounted for, no tempests to send us tingling into the shelters of wonder. And I can't yet be quite sure whether this rebellious old heart of mine wants to be a Pacific Islander or not.
Monday the Twenty-Seventh
Peter and I have had our tramp in the snow. It wasn't a sunny day, as I had hoped. It was one of those intensely cold northern days without wind or sun, one of those misted days which Balzac somewhere describes as a beautiful woman born blind. It was fifty-three below zero when we left the house, with the smoke going up in the gray air as straight and undisturbed as a pine-tree and the drifts crunching like dry charcoal under our snow-shoes. We were woolened and mittened and capped and furred up to the eyes, however, and I was warmer than I've been many a time on Boston Common in March, even though we did look like a couple of deep-sea divers and steamed like fire-engines when we breathed.
We tramped until we were tired, swung back to Casa Grande, and Peter came in for a cup of tea and then trudged off to Alabama Ranch again. And that was the lee and the long of it, as the Irish say. What did we talk about? Heaven knows what we didn't talk about! Peter told me about a rancher named Bidwell, north of The Crossing, being found frozen to death in a snow-drift, frozen stiff, with the horse still standing and the rider still sitting upright in the saddle. He said there was a lot of rot talked about the great clean outdoors. The sentimentalists found that they naturally felt a bit niftier in fresh air, but the great outdoors, according to Peter, is an arena of endless murder and rapine and warfare, and the cleanest acre of forest or prairie under the sun somewhere has its stains of blood and its record of cruelty. We talked about Susie and the negative phrasing of the ten moral laws and the Horned Dinosaur from Sand Hill Creek (whose bones Peter reckoned to be at least three million years old) and the marriage customs of the Innuits. And we talked about Matzenauer and Kreisler and the best cure for chilblains and about Gershom and Poppsy and Dinkie—but most of all about Dinkie.
Peter asked me if I'd seen Dinkie's school essays on The Flag and The Capture of Quebec, and rather surprised me by handing over crumpled copies of the same, Dinkie having proudly despatched these masterpieces all the way to Philadelphia for his "Uncle Peter's" approval. It hurt me, for just one foolish fraction of a second, to think my boy had confidences with an outsider which he could not have with his own mother. And then I remembered that Peter wasn't an outsider. I realized how much he had brought into my laddie's life, how much, in a different way, he had brought into my own. I even tried to tell him about this. But he stopped me short by saying something in Latin which he later explained meant "by taking the middle course we shall not go amiss." So I came back to Casa Grande, not exactly with a feeling of frustration, but with a feeling of possibilities withheld and issues deferred. It was a companionable enough tramp, I suppose. But I'm afraid I was a disappointment to Peter. His gaiety impressed me as a bit forced. I am slightly mystified by his refusal, while taking serious things seriously, to take anything tragically. Even at tea, with all its air of the valedictory hanging over us, he was nice and gay, like the Christmas beeves the city butchers stick paper rosettes into, or the circus-band playing like mad while the tumbler who has had a fall is being carried out to the dressing-tent. Peter even offhandedly inquired, as he was going, if he might have Scotty to take care of, provided it was not expedient to take Dinkie's dog along to Calgary with us.... I'm not quite certain—I may be wrong, but there are moments, odd earthquakey moments, when I have a suspicion that Peter will be keeping more than Scotty after we've trekked off to Calgary!
Saturday the Fourth
This tearing up of roots is a much sorrier business than I had imagined. And more difficult. I find it hard to know what to take and what to leave behind. And there is so much to be thought of, so much to be arranged for, so much to be done. I have had to write Duncan and tell him I'll be a few days later than I intended. My biggest problem has been with Whinstane Sandy and Struthers. I called them in and had a talk with them and told them I wanted them to keep Casa Grande going the same as ever. Then I made myself into the god from the machine by calmly announcing the only way things could be arranged would be for the two of them to get married.
Struthers, at this suggestion, promptly became as coy as a partridge-hen. Whinnie, of course, remained Scottish and canny. He became more shrewdly magnanimous, however, after we'd had a bit of talk by ourselves. "Weel, I'll tak' the woman, rather than see her frettin' hersel' to death!" he finally conceded, knowing only too well he'd nest warm and live well for the rest of his days. He'd been hoping, he confessed to me, that some day he'd get back to that claim of his up in the Klondike. But he wasn't so young as he once was. And perhaps Dinkie, when he was grown to a man, could go up and look after his rights. 'Twould be a grand journey, he averred with a sigh, for a high-spirited lad turned twenty.
"I'll be stayin' with Pee-Wee and the old place here," concluded Whinstane Sandy, giving me his rough old hand as a pledge. And with tears in my eyes I lifted that faithful old hand up to my lips and kissed it. Whinnie, I knew, would die for me. But he would pass away before he'd be willing to put his loyalty and his courage and his kind-heartedness into pretty speeches. Struthers, on the other hand, has become too flighty to be of much use to me in my packing. She has plunged headlong into a riot of baking, has sent for a fresh supply of sage tea, and is secretly perusing a dog-eared volume which I have reason to know is The Marriage Guide.
Gershom, all things considered, is the most dolorous member of our home circle. He says little, but inspects me with the wounded eyes of a neglected spaniel. He will stay on at Casa Grande until the Easter holidays, and then migrate to the Teetzels'. As for Dinkie and Poppsy, they are too young to understand. The thought of change excites them, but they have no idea of what they are leaving behind.
Last night, when I was dog-tired after my long day's work, I remembered about Dinkie's school-essays and took them out to read. And having done so, I realized there was something sacred about them. They gave me a glimpse of a groping young soul reaching up toward the light.
"We have a Flag," I read, "to thrill our bones and be prod of and no man boy woman or girl" (and the not altogether artless diminuendo did not escape me!) "should never let it drag in the dust. It flotes at the bow of our ships and waves from the top of most post offices etc. And now we have a flag and a flag staf in front of our school and on holdays and when every grate man dies we put said flag up at haf mast.... It is the flag of the rich and the poor, the flag of our country which all of whose citizens have a right to fly, the hig" (obviously meant for high) "and the low, the rich and the poor. And we must not only keep our flag but blazen it still further with deeds nobely done. If ever you have to shed your blood for your country remeber its for the nobelest flag that flies the same being an emblen of our native land to which it represens and stands in high esteem by the whole people of a country." ... God bless his patriotic little bones! My bairn knew what he was trying to get at, but it's plain he didn't quite know how to get there.
But the drama of the Capture of Quebec plainly put him on easier ground. For here was a story worth the telling. And what could be more glorious than the death of Wolfe as I see it through my little Dinkie's eyes?
For I read: "The french said Wolfe" (can has first been written and then scratched out and would substituted) "never get up that rivver but Wolfe fooled them with a trick by running the french flag up on his shipps so the french pilots without fear padled out and come abord when Wolfe took them prissoners and made them pilot the english ships safe to the iland of Orlens. He wanted to capsture the city of Quebec without distroiting it. But the clifs were to high and the brave Montcalm dified Wolfe who lost 400 men and got word Amherst could not come and so himself took sick and went to bed. But a desserter from the french gave Wolfe the pass word and when his ships crept further up the rivver in the dark a french senntry called out qui vive and one of Wolfe's men who spoke french well ansered la france and the senntry said to himself they was french ships and let them go on. Next day Wolfe was better and saw a goat clime up the clifs near the plains of Abraham and said where a goat could go he could go to. So he forgot being sick and desided to clime up Wolfe's cove which was not then called that until later. It was a dark night and they went in row boats with all the oars mufled. It was a formadible sight that would have made even bolder men shrink with fear. But it was the brave Higlanders who lead with their muskits straped to their sholdiers climing up the steep rock by grabbing at roots of trees and shrubbs and not a word was wispered but the french senntrys saw the tree moving and asked qui vive again. The same sholdier who once studdied hard and lernt french said la france as he had done before and they got safe to the top and faced the city. At brake of day they stood face to face, french and english. But Montcalm marched out to cut them off there and Wolfe lined his men up in a line and said hold your fire until they are within forty paces away from us. The french caused many causilties but the english never wavered. Montcalm still on horse back reseaved a mortal wound, he would of fell off if two of his tall granadeers hadn't held him up and Wolfe too was shot on the wirst but went right on. Again he was shot this time more fataly and as they were laying him down one of the men exclaimed See how they run. Who run murmurred the dieing Wolfe. The enemy sir replied the man. Then I die happy said Generral Wolfe and with a great sigh rolled over on his side and died.... And when the doctor told Montcalm he could only live a few hours he said God be prased I shall not live to see Quebec fall. Brave words like those should not be forgoten and what Wolfe said was just as brave. No more fiting words could be said by anybody than those he said in the boats with the mufled oars that night that the paths of glory leed but to the grave." ...
I have folded up the carefully written pages, reverently, remembering my promise to return them to Peter. But for a while at least I shall keep them with me. They have set me thinking, reminding me how time flies. Here is my little boy, grown into an historian, sagely philosophizing over the tragedies of life. My wee laddie, expressing himself through the recorded word.... It seems such a short time ago that he was taking his first stumbling steps along the dim hallways of language. I have been turning back to the journal I began shortly after his birth and kept up for so long, the naive journal of a young mother registering her wonder at the unfolding mysteries of life. It became less minute and less meticulous, I notice, as the years slipped past, and after the advent of Poppsy and Pee-Wee the entries seem a bit hurried and often incoherent. But I have dutifully noted how my Dinkie first said "Ah goom" for "All gone," just as I have fondly remarked his persistent use of the reiterative intensive, with careful citations of his "da-da" and his "choo-choo car," and a "bow-wow" as applied to any living animal, and "wa-wa" for water, and "me-me" for milk, and "din-din" for dinner, and going "bye-bye" for going to sleep on his little "tum-tum." I even solemnly ask, forgetting my Max Mueller, what lies at the root of this strange reduplicative process. Then I come to where I have set down for future generations the momentous fact that my Dinkie first said "let's playtend" for "let's pretend," and spoke of "nasturtiums" as "excursions," and announced that he could bark loud enough to make Baby Poppsy's eyes "bug out" instead of "bulge out." And I come again to where I have affectionately registered the fact that my son says "set-sun" for "sunset" and speaks of his "rumpers" instead of his "rompers," and coins the very appropriate word "downer" to go with its sister word of "upper" and describes his Mummy as "wearing Daddy's coffee-cup" when he really meant using Daddy's coffee-cup.
It all seems very fond and foolish now, just as at one time it all seemed very big and wonderful. And I remember schooling my Poppsy to say "Daddy's all sweet" and how her little tongue, stumbling over the sibilant, converted it into the non-complimentary "Daddy's all feet," which my Dinky-Dunk so scowlingly resented. And I have even compiled a list of Dinkie's earliest "howlers," from the time he was first interested in Adam and Eve and asked to be told about "The Garden of Sweden" until he later explained one of Poppsy's crying-spells by announcing she had dug a hole out by the corral and wanted to bring it into the house. I used to smile a bit skeptically over these tongue-twists of children, but now I know they are re-born with each new generation, the same old turns of thought and the same old kinks of utterance. I don't know why, but there is even a touch of sadness about the old jokes now. The patina of time gathers upon them and mellows them and makes me realize they belong to the past—the past with its pain and its joy, that can never come back to mortal mothers again.
Monday the Thirtieth
"We die a little, when we go away." How true it is! By to-morrow we will be gone. My heart is heavy as lead. I go about, doing things for the last time, looking at things for the last time, and pretending to be as matter-of-fact as a tripper breaking camp. But there's a laryngitis lump in my throat and there are times when I'm glad I'm almost too busy to think.
I was hoping that the weather would be bad, as it ought to at this time of the year, so that I might leave my prairie with some lessened pang of regret. But the last two days have been miraculously mild. A Chinook has been blowing, the sky has been a palpitating soft dome of azure, and a winey smell of spring has crept over the earth.... To-night, knowing it was the last night, I crept out to say good-by to my little Pee-Wee asleep in his lonely little bed. It was a perfect night. The Lights were playing low in the north, weaving together in a tangle of green and ruby and amethyst. The prairie was very still. The moonlight lay on everything, thick and golden and soft with mystery. I knelt beside Pee-Wee's grave, not in bitterness, but bathed in peace. I knelt there and prayed.
It frightened me a little, when I looked up, to see Peter standing beside the little white fence. I thought, at first, that he was a ghost, he stood so still and he seemed so tall in the moonlight.
"I'll watch your boy," he said very quietly, "until you come back."
He made me think of the Old Priest in The Sorrowful Inheritance. He seemed so calmly benignant, so dependable, so safe in his simple other-worldliness.
"Oh, Peter!" was all I could say as I moved toward him in the moonlight. He nodded, as much to himself as to me, as he took my hand in his. I felt a great ache, which was not really an ache, and a new kind of longing which never before, in all my life, I had nursed or known. I must have moved closer to Peter, though I could feel his hand pull itself away from mine. It made me feel terribly alone in the world.
"Aren't you going to kiss me good-by?" I cried out, with my hand on his shoulder.
Peter shook his head from side to side, very slowly.
"Verboten!" he said as he put his hand over the hand which I had put on his shoulder.
"But I may never come back. Peter!" I whispered, feeling the tears go slowly down my wet cheek.
Peter took my unsteady fingers and placed them on the white pickets of the little rectangular fence.
"You'll come back," he said very quietly. And when I looked up he had turned away.
I could see him walking off in the yellow moonlight with his shoulders back and his head up. He walked slowly, with an odd wading movement, like a man walking through water. I was tempted, for a moment, to call after him. But some power that was not of me or any part of me prompted me to silence. I stood watching him until he seemed a moving shadow along the level floor of the world flooded with primrose-yellow, until he became a shifting stroke of umber on a background of misty gold. I stood looking after him as he passed away, out of my sight, and far, far off to the north a coyote howled and over Casa Grande I could see a thin pennon of chimney-smoke going up toward Arcturus.... Good-by, Peter, and God bless you....
Unlimited, indeed, is the power of Eros. For when I went to slip quietly into the house, I found Whinnie and Struthers seated together beside the kitchen range. And Struthers was reading Tam O'Shanter aloud to her laird.
"Read slow, noo, lassie, an' tak' it a' in," said the placidly triumphant voice of Whinstane Sandy, "for it'll be lang before ye ken its like!"
Thursday the Seventeenth
The migration has been effected ... I am alone in my room, I have two and three-quarters trunks unpacked, and I feel like a President's wife the night after Inauguration. It is well past midnight, but I am too tired and too unsettled to sleep. Things turn out so differently to what one expects! And all change, to the home-staying heart, can be so abysmally upsetting!...
We were a somewhat disheveled and intimidated flock when we emerged from our train and found Duncan awaiting us with an amazingly big touring-car which, as he explained with a short laugh at my gape of wonder, the Barcona Mines would pay for in a week.
"It's no piker you're pulling with now," he exclaimed as we climbed stiff and awkward into that deep-upholstered grandeur on wheels. He said that the children had grown but would have to be togged out with some new duds—little knowing how I had stayed up until long past midnight mending and pressing and doing my best to make my bucolic offspring presentable. And he told me it was some city I had come to, as I'd very soon see for myself. And it was some shack he'd corralled for his family, he added with a chuckle of pride.
I tried to be interested in the skyscrapers he showed me along Eighth Avenue, and the Palliser, and the concreted subway, and the Rockies, in the distance, with the wine-glow on their snow-clad peaks. And while I did my best to shake off the Maud-Muller feeling which was creeping over me, by studying the tranquillizingly remote mountain-tops, Duncan confided to me that he had first said: "Fifty thousand or bu'st!" But two months ago he had amended that to "A hundred thousand or bu'st!" and now he had his reasons for saying, with his jaw set: "Just a cool quarter of a million, before I quit this game!"
It was for us, I told myself as I looked down at my kiddies, that the Dour Man behind the big mahogany wheel was fighting. This, I felt, should bring me happiness, and a new sense of security. And it was only because my stomach was empty, I tried to assure myself, that my poor old prairie heart felt that way. I should have been happy, for I was going to a brand-new home—and it was one of those foot-hill late afternoons that make you think of the same old razor-blade muffled up in the same old panne-velvet, an evening of softness shot through with a steely sharpness. There was a Chinook arch of Irish point-lace still in the sky, very much like the one I had left behind me, and the sky itself was a canopy of robin-egg blue crepe de chine hemmed with salmon pink.
But as we whirled up out of the city into the higher ground of some boulevarded and terraced residential district the evening air seemed colder and the solemn old Rockies toward the west took on an air of lonesomeness. It made the thought of home and open fires and quiet rooms very welcome. The lights came out along the asphalted streets, spangling the slopes of that sedate new suburb with rectangular lines of brilliants. Duncan, in answer to the questions of the children, explained that he was taking the longer way round, so as to give us the best view of the house as we drove in.
"Here we are!" he exulted as we slowed down and turned into a crescent lined with baby poplar and Manitoba maple.
I leaned out and saw a big new house of tapestry brick, looking oddly palatial on its imposing slope of rising ground. My husband stopped, in fact, midway in a foolishly pillared gate that bisected a long array of cobble-stone walls, so that we might get a look at the gardens. They seemed very new gardens, but much of their newness was lost in that mercifully subduing light in which I saw trim-painted trellises and sepulchral white flower-urns and pergolas not yet softened with creepers. There was also a large iron fountain, painted white, which Duncan apparently liked very much, from the way he looked at it. From two of the chimneys I could see smoke going up in the quiet air. In the windows I could see lights, rose-shaded and warm, and beyond the shrubbery somewhere back in the garden a workman was driving nails. His hammer fell and echoed like a series of rifle-shots. From the garage chimney, too, came smoke, and it was plain from the sounds that somebody inside was busy tuning up a car-engine.
I sat staring at the grounds, at the cobble-stone walls, at the tapestry-brick house with the high-shouldered French cornices. It began to creep over me how it meant service, how it meant protection, how it meant guarded lives for me and mine, how it stood an amazingly complicated piece of machinery which took much thought to organize and much money to maintain. And the mainspring behind it all, I remembered, was the man sitting at the mahogany wheel so close to me. Light and warmth and comfort and safety—they were all to come from the conceiting and the struggling of my Dour Man, fighting for an empty-headed family who were scarcely worth it. He was, after all, the stoker down in the hole, and without him everything would stop. So when I saw that he was studying my face with that intent sidelong glance of his, I reached over and put my hand on his knee, as I had done so often, in the old days.
He looked down, at that, with what was almost an appearance of embarrassment.
"I want to play my part," I said with all the earnestness of my earnest old heart, as he let in his clutch and we started up the winding drive.
"It ought to be a considerable part," he said as we drew up under a bone-white porte-cochere where a small-bodied Jap stood respectfully impassive and waiting to open the door for us.
My husband got down out of the car. I sat wondering why I should feel so much like a Lady Jane Grey approaching the headsman's makura.
"Come on, kids!" Duncan called out with a parade of joviality, like a cheer-leader who realized that things weren't going just right. For Dinkie, I could see, was shrinking back in the padded seat. His underlip was trembling a trifle as he sat staring at the strange new house. But Poppsy, true little woman that she was, smiled appreciatively about at the material grandeurs which confronted her. If she'd had a tail, I'm sure, she'd have been wagging it. And this so tickled her dad that he lifted her out of the car and carried her bodily and triumphantly up the steps.
I waited for Dinkie, whose eye met mine. I did my best to show my teeth, that he might understand how everything was eventually to be for the best. But his face was still clouded as we climbed the steps and passed under the yoke.
The little Jap, whose name, I have since found out, is Tokudo, bowed a jack-knife bow and said "Irashai" as I passed him. And "Irashai" I have also discovered, is perfectly good Japanese for "Welcome."
We had dinner at seven. It was a well-ordered meal, but it went off rather dismally. I was depressed, for reasons I couldn't quite fathom, and the children were tired, and Duncan, I'm afraid, was a bit disappointed in us all. Tokudo had brought cocktails for us, and Duncan, seeing I wasn't drinking mine, stowed both away in his honorable stomach. He ate heartily, I noticed, and gave scant appearance of a man pining away with a broken heart. After dinner he sat back and bit off the end of a cigar.
"This is my idea of living," he proclaimed as he sent a blue cloud up toward the rather awful dome-light above the big table. "There's stir and movement here, all day long. Something more than sunsets to look at! You'll see—something to fill up your day! Why, night seems to come before I even know it. And before I'm out of bed I'm brooding over what's ahead of me for that particular date and day—Say, that girl of ours is falling asleep in her chair there!"
So I escaped and put the children to bed. And while thus engaged I discovered that some of Duncan's new friends were dropping in on him. I wanted to stay up-stairs, for my head was aching a lot and my heart just a little, but Duncan called to me from the bottom of the stairs. So down I went, like a dutiful wife, to the room full of smoke and talk, where two big men and one very thin woman in a baby-bear motor coat were drinking Scotch highballs with my lord and master. They were genial and jolly enough, but I couldn't understand their allusions and I couldn't see the points to their jokes. And they seemed to stay an interminable length of time. I was secretly uncomfortable, until they went, but I became still more uncomfortable after they had gone.
For as we sat there together, in that oppressive big room, I made rather an awful discovery. I found that my husband and I had scarcely anything we could talk about together. So I sat there, like an alligator in a bayou, wondering why his rather flushed face should be turned toward me every now and then.
My heart beat a little faster as I saw him take out his watch and wind it up.
"Let's go to bed," he said as he pushed it back in his waistcoat pocket. My heart stopped beating altogether, for a moment or two. I felt like a slave-girl in a sheik's tent, like a desert-woman just sold into bondage.
It was the smoky air and the highballs, I suppose, which left his eyes a little bloodshot as he turned slowly about and studied my face. Then he repeated what he had said before.
"I can't!" I told him, with a foolish surge of terror.
He sat quite a long time without speaking. I could see the corners of the Holbein-Astronomer mouth go down.
"As you say," he finally remarked, with a grim sort of quietness. But every bit of color had gone from his face. I was glad when Tokudo came in to take away the glasses.
Duncan stood up, after the servant had gone again, and bowed to me very solemnly.
"Oyasumi nasi," he said with a stabilizing ironic smile.
"What does that mean?" I asked, doing my best to smile back at him.
"That means 'sleep well,'" explained my husband. "But Tokudo would probably translate it into 'Condescend to enjoy honorable tranquillity.'"
Instead of enjoying honorable tranquillity, however, I am sitting up into the wee sma' hours of the night, patrolling the gloomy ramparts of my soul's unrest.
Wednesday the Twenty-Third
This change to the city means a new life to my children. But I can also see it means new dangers and new influences. The simplicity of ranch life has vanished. And Dinkie and Poppsy are already getting acquainted with their neighbors. A Ford truck came within an inch of running over Poppsy this morning. She has announced a curiosity to investigate ice-cream sodas, and Dinkie has proclaimed his intention of going to the movies Saturday afternoon with Benny McArthur, the banker's son in the next block. On Monday I'm to take my children to school. "One of the finest school-buildings in all the West," Duncan has proudly explained. I can't help thinking of Gershom and his little cubby-hole of a wooden building where he is even now so solemnly and yet so kind-heartedly teaching the three R's to a gathering of little prairie outlaws.
I shall have time on my hands, I see, for Hilton and his wife, our English gardener-chauffeur and our portly maid-of-all-work, pretty well cover what the wonderful Tokudo overlooks. And Tokudo is a wonder. That cat-footed little Jap does the ordering and cooking and serving; he answers the door and the telephone; he attends to the rugs and the hardwood floors; he rules over the butler's pantry and polishes the silver and inspects the linen, and even keeps the keys to Duncan's carefully guarded wine-cellar, which the mistress of the house herself has not yet dared to invade.
My husband seems to be very busy with his coal-mines and his other interests. He said last night that his idea of happiness is to be so immersed in his work as to be unconscious of time and undisturbed by its passing. And he has been happy, in that way. But Time, that patient remodeler of all things mortal, can still work while we sleep. And something has been happening, without Duncan quite knowing it. He has changed. He is older, for one thing. I don't mean that my husband is an old man. But I can see a number of early-autumnal alterations in him. He's a trifle heavier and stiffer. He's lost a bit of his springiness. And he seems to know it, in his secret heart of hearts, for he tries to make up for that loss with a sort of coerced blitheness which doesn't always carry. He affects a sort of creaking jauntiness which sometimes falls short of its aim. When he can't clear the hurdle, I notice, he has the habit of whipping up his tired spirits with a cocktail or a highball or a silver-fizz. But he is preoccupied, at times. And at other times he is disturbingly short-tempered. He announced this morning, almost gruffly, that we'd had about enough of this "Dinkie and Poppsy business," and the children might as well be called by their real names. So I shall make another effort to get back to "Elmer" and "Pauline Augusta." But I feel, in my bones, that those pompous appellatives will not be always remembered. It has just occurred to me that my old habit of calling my husband "Dinky-Dunk" has slipped away from me. Endearing diminutives, I suppose, are not elicited by polar bears.
Thursday the Thirty-First
I don't quite know what's the matter with me. I'm like a cat in a strange garret. I don't seem to be fitting in. I sat at the piano last night playing "What's this dull town to me, Robin Adair?" And Duncan, with the fit and natural spirit of the home-booster, actively resented that oblique disparagement of his new business-center. He believes implicitly in Calgary and its future.
As for myself, I am rigidly suspending all judgments. I'm at least trying to play my part, even though my spirit isn't in it. There are times when I'm tempted to feel that a foot-hill city of this size is neither fish nor fowl. It impresses me as a frontier cow-town grown out of its knickers and still ungainly in its first long trousers. But I can't help being struck by people's incorruptible pride in their own community. It's a sort of religious faith, a fixed belief in the future, a stubborn optimism that is surely something more than self-interest. It's the Dutch courage that makes deprivation and long waiting endurable.
It's the women, and the women alone, who seem left out of the procession. They impress me as having no big interests of their own, so they are compelled to playtend with make-believe interests. They race like mad in the social squirrel-cage, or drug themselves with bridge and golf and the country club, or take to culture with a capital C and read papers culled from the Encyclopedias; or spend their husbands' money on year-old Paris gowns and make love to other women's mates. The altitude, I imagine, has quite a little to do with the febrile pace of things here. Or perhaps it's merely because I'm an old frump from a back-township ranch!
But I have no intention of trying to keep up with them, for I have a constitutional liking for quietness in my old age. And I can't engross myself in their social aspirations, for I've seen a bit too much of the world to be greatly taken with the internecine jealousies of a twenty-year-old foot-hill town. My "day" in this aristocratic section is Thursday, and Tokudo this afternoon admitted callers from seven closed cars, two landaulets, three Detroit electrics and one hired taxi. I know, because I counted 'em. The children and I posed like a Raeburn group and did our best to be respectable, for Duncan's sake. But he seems to have taken up with some queer people here, people who drop in at any time of the evening and smoke and drink and solemnly discuss how a shandygaff should be mixed and tell stories I wouldn't care to have the children hear.
There's one couple Duncan asked me to be especially nice to, a Mr. and Mrs. Murchison. The latter, I find, is usually addressed as "Slinkie" by her friends, and the former is known as "Cattalo Charley" because he once formed a joint-stock company which was to make a fortune interbreeding buffalo and range-cattle, the product of that happy union being known, I believe, as "cattalo." Duncan calls him a "promoter," but my earlier impression of him as a born gambler has been confirmed by the report that he's interested in a lignite briquetting company, that he's fathering a scheme, not only to raise stock-yard reindeer in the sub-Arctics but also to grow karakule sheep in the valleylands of the Coast, that he once sold mummy wheat at forty dollars a bushel, and that in the old boom days he promoted no less than three oil companies. And the time will come, Duncan avers, when that man will be a millionaire.
As for "Slinkie," his wife, I can't be quite sure whether I like her or not. I at least admire her audacity and her steel-trap quickness of mind. She has a dead white skin, green eyes, and most wonderful hair, hair the color of a well-polished copper samovar. She is an extremely thin woman who affects sheathe skirts and rather reminds me of a boa-constrictor. She always reeks of Apres londre and uses a lip-stick as freely before the world as an orchestra conductor uses a baton or a street-sweeper a broom. She is nervous and sharp-tongued and fearless and I thought, at first, that she was making a dead set at my Duncan. But I can now see how she confronts all men with that same dangerous note of intimacy. Her real name is Lois. She talks about her convent days in Belgium, sings risque songs in very bad French, and smokes and drinks a great deal more than is good for her. In Vancouver, when informed that she was waiting for a street-car on a non-stop corner, she sat down between the tracks, with her back to the approaching car. The motorman, of course, had to come to a stop—whereupon she arose with dignity and stepped aboard. Duncan has told me this story twice, and tends to consider Lois a really wonderful character. I am a little afraid of her. She asked me the other day how I liked Calgary. I responded, according to Hoyle, that I liked the clear air and the clean streets and the Rockies looking so companionably down over one's shoulder. Lois hooted as she tapped a cigarette end against her hennaed thumb-nail.
"Just wait until the sand-storms, my dear!" she said as she struck a match on her slipper-heel.
Saturday the Second
My old friend Gershom has very slyly written a rondeau to me. I have just found it enclosed in my Golden Treasury, which he handed back to me that last night at Casa Grande. It's the first actual rondeau I ever had indited to my humble self, and while I'm a bit set up about it, I can't quite detach from Gershom's lines a vaguely obituarial atmosphere which tends to depress me.
I can see that it may not be the best rondeau in the world, but I'm going to keep it until my bones are dust, for good old Gershom's sake. And some day, when he marries the nice girl he deserves to marry, and has a kiddy or two of his own, I'll shame his gray hairs by parading it before his offspring! I have just been re-reading the lines, in Gershom's copperplate script. They are as follows:
To C. McK.
On Returning Her Copy of the Golden Treasury
This golden book, dear friend, wherein each line Holds close a charm for knowing eyes to meet, Holds doubly mystical and doubly sweet An inner charm no language may define:
For o'er each page a woman's soul divine Bent low a space for kindred souls to greet, And here her eyes were lit with gladness fleet Because of songs that graced with rare design This book of thine!
And now I give back into Beauty's hand Her borrowed songs, but I shall hold always Secret and safe from every care's demand, A flame of light to fill my emptier days, That quieter fellowship, which made a shrine This book of thine! G. B.
Tuesday the Fifth
The weather is balmier, and just a tinge of green is creeping into the tan of the foot-hill slopes. Spring is coming again.
I went shopping in the Hudson Bay Store yesterday and found it much more metropolitan than I had expected. And I find I am three whole laps behind in that steeplechase known as Style. But I got a raft of things for Pauline Augusta, and a Boy Scout outfit for my laddie.
One of the few women I like in Calgary is Dinkie's—I mean Elmer's—new school-teacher. Her name is Lossie Brown and she is an earnest-eyed girl who's saving up to go to Europe some day and study art. She's a trifle shy, and unmistakably moody, but her mind is as bright as a new pin. And some bright morning, when the rose of womanhood has really opened, she's going to wake up a howling beauty. I love her, too, for the interest she has taken in my boy, whom she reports as getting along much better than she had expected. So I have asked her to write a little note to Gershom Binks, advising him of his ex-pupil's advance. For Lossie is a girl I'd like Gershom to know. And she has done this for me. I ask her over to the house as often as I can and yesterday I had Dinkie slip a little platinum-banded fountain-pen, with a card, into the pocket of her rather threadbare ulster. Duncan, however, is not in the least interested in Lossie. He despises what he calls insignificant people.
On my way home from shopping I had Hilton drive me about some of the less-known parts of the city. And I have been compelled to recast some of my earlier impressions of Calgary. It is wonderful, in many ways, and some day, I can see, it will be beautiful, just as Lossie Brown will some day be beautiful.
In the first place, it is so happily situated, lying as it does half-way between the mountains and the plain. And the blue Bow comes dancing so joyously down from the Rockies and the older city sleeps so happily in the sunny crook of its valley-arm, while the newer suburbs seem to boil up and run over the surrounding hills like champagne bubbling over the rim of a glass. There are raw edges, of course, but time will eventually attend to these. Now and then, between the motor-cars, you will see a creaking Red River cart. Next to an office-building of gray sandstone you're likely to spot what looks like a squatter's wickyup of rusty galvanized iron. Yesterday, on our main street where the electric-cars were clanging and the limousines were throwing their exhaust incense to the gods of the future, I caught sight of a lonely and motionless figure, isolated in the midst of a newer world. It was the figure of a Cree squaw, blanketed and many-wrinkled and unmistakably dirty, blinking at the devil-wagons and the ceaseless hurry of the white man. And being somewhat Indianized, as my husband once assured me I was, I could sympathize with that stolid old lady in the blanket.
I'm even beginning to find that one can get tired of optimism, especially when it is being so plainly converted from a psychic abstraction into a municipal asset. There's a sort of communal Christian Science in this place which ordains that thought shall not dwell on such transient evils as drought or black rust or early frost or hail-storms or money stringencies. And there's a sort of youthful greediness in people's longing to live all there is of life to live and to know all there is of life to know. For there is a limit to the sensations we can digest, just as there is a limit to the meat we can digest. And out here we have a tendency to bolt more than is good for us, to bolt it without pausing to get the true taste of it. The women of this town remind me more and more of mice in an oxygen bell; they race round and round, drunk with an excitement they can't quite understand, until they burn up their little lives the same as the mice burn up their little lungs.
... I've had a letter from Whinstane Sandy to-day, writing about seed-wheat and the repairs for the tractor. It seems like a message from another world. He reports that poor old Scotty is eating again and no longer mourns day in and day out for his lost master. And Mr. Ketley has very kindly brought over the liniment for Mudski's shoulder. ... Whatever I may be, or whatever I may have done, I feel that I can still cleanse my heart by sacrifice.
Friday the Ninth
One can get out of the habit, apparently, of having children about. My kiddies, I begin to see, occasionally grate on Duncan. He brought tears to the eyes of Pauline Augusta yesterday by the way he scolded her for using a lead-pencil on the living-room woodwork. And the night before he shouted much strong language at Elmer for breaking a window-pane in the garage with Benny McArthur's new air-gun.
Elmer and his father, I'm afraid, have rather grown away from each other. More than once I've caught Duncan staring at his son and heir in a puzzled and a slightly frustrated sort of way. And Elmer's soul promptly becomes incommunicado when his iron-browed pater is in the neighborhood.
Duncan is very proud of his grand new house. He is anxious to build a conservatory out along the southwest wing. But he has asked how long a conservatory would last with two young mountain-goats gamboling along its leads.... Lossie, little suspecting the pang she was giving me, laughingly showed me a manuscript which she found by accident in my Dinkie's reader. It was a poem, dedicated to "D. O'L." And written in a stiff little hand I read:
"Your lips are lined with roses, Your eyes they shinne like gold If you call me from the sunlight, I'll answer from the cold. But I wonder why, Oh, why, You stay so far from me? If you whisper from the prarrie, I'll call from Calgary."
"Won't it be wonderful," said Lossie as I sat pondering over those foolish little lines, "won't it be wonderful, if Dinkie grows up to be a great poet?"
Monday the Eleventh
Elmer, alias Dinkie, after many days' mourning for his lost Scotty, is consoling himself, as other men do, with a substitute. Last Friday he Brought home a flop-eared pup with a drooping tail and an indefinite ancestry, explaining that he had come into possession of the aforementioned animal by the duly delivered purchase-price of thirty-seven cents.
Remembering Minty and certain matters of the past, I was troubled in spirit. But I couldn't see why my son shouldn't have an animal to love. And I have had Hilton fix a little box in one corner of the garage for Dinkie's new pet, which he has christened Rowdy.
Rowdy, I now see, is a canine of limited spirit and is not likely to repeat the offenses of Minty. But Dinkie really loves his new pup, despite the latter's indubitably democratic ancestry. And I begin to suspect that my laddie's weakness for mongrels may arise from his earlier experience with Duncan's blooded bulldog, which he struggled with for three whole days, fondly and foolishly trying to teach that stolid animal the art of "pointing."
On Saturday Dinkie smuggled the verminous Rowdy to the upper bathroom and gave him a thorough but quite unrelished soaping ... Dinkie, by the way, is now a "cub" in the Boy Scouts and after adorning himself in khaki goes off on hikes and takes lessons in woodcraft. Saturday the Scouts of his school marched behind a real band and Lossie and I sat in the car waiting for my laddie to appear. He wiggled one hand, and smiled sheepishly, as he caught sight of us. But he kept "eyes front" and refused to give any further sign as he marched bravely on behind that brave music. He is learning the law of the pack. For some first frail ideas of service are beginning to incubate in that egoistic little bean of his. And he's suffering, I suppose, the old contest between the ancestral lust to kill and the new-born inclination to succor and preserve. That means he may some day be "a gentleman." And I've a weakness for that old Newman definition of a gentleman as one who never inflicts pain—"tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd"—conducting himself toward his enemy as if he were some day to be his friend. And I also wish there were a few more of them in this hard old world of ours!
Speaking of gentlemen, there's a Captain Goodhue here whom I rather like. Lois Murchison brought us together in the tea-room of the Palliser. In more ways than one he reminds me of Peter. But Captain Goodhue is a much older man, and is English, coming from a very excellent family in Sussex. He's one of those iron-gray ex-Army men who still believe in a monocle and can be loyal to a queen even though she wears a basque with darts in it. And he doesn't talk to a woman with that ragging air of condescension which seems to be peculiar to western American civilization. He is courteous and thoughtful and sincere, though I noticed that he winced a trifle when I suddenly remembered, as he was taking his departure, that the McKails were living in what must have once been his house. He blinked, like a well-groomed old eagle, when I reminded him of this. I never dreamed, of course, that the subject would be painful to him. But it was an honor, he acknowledged with a bow, to pass his household gods on to a lady to whom so much had already been given.
When I asked Lois about it, later on, she rather indifferently acknowledged that the old gentleman had been making a mess of his different business ventures. He was much better at golf than getting in on the ground-floor of a land deal. He was too old fogy, said Slinkie, to make good in the West. He still kept his head up, but they'd pretty well picked him to the bones.... Lois, by the way, describes me as something new in her menagerie and drops in to see me at the most unexpected moments. Then her tongue goes like a mower-knife. She is persuaded that I should permanent-wave my hair, lower my waist-line, and go in for amethysts. "And interest yourself, my dear, in an outside man or two," she has sagely advised me. "For husbands, you'll find, always accept you at the other mutt's valuation!"
I was tempted to make her open her jade-green eyes, for a moment, by telling her I was already interested in an outside man or two and that my lord and master hadn't been much influenced by the extraneous appreciations. But I'm a little afraid of Slinkie and her serpent's tongue. And I'm a little afraid of this new circle into which my Duncan has so laboriously engineered himself. They more and more impress on my simple old prairie soul that the single-track woman is the woman who gets most out of life, that there's nothing really great and nothing really enduring that is not built on loyalty and truth. Character is Fate, as I once before inscribed in this book of my life. And I've been sitting up to-night, while the eternal bridge game is going on below, asking myself if all is well with Chaddie McKail. Have I, or have I not, conceded too much? Am I turning into nothing more than a mush of concession? Haven't I been bribed by comfort, and blinded to a situation which I am now almost afraid to face? Haven't I been selfishly scheming for the welfare of my children and endangering all their future and my own by the price I am paying? Haven't I been crazily manning a rickety old pump, trying to keep afloat a family hulk whose seams are wide open and whose timbers are water-logged? And how long can this sort of thing go on? And what will be the end of it?
I try to warn myself not to smash my goods to kill a rat, as the Chinese say. I try to flatter myself that I am not letting circumstances stampede me into any hasty decision. There's many a woman, I suppose, with a husband whose legal promise has outlived his loyalty. But all is not well here about my heart. I know that, by the way it keeps sending up little trial-balloons, to see which way the wind is really blowing.
... And Sunday night Cattalo Charlie went home quite drunk. And our local member, emboldened by his seventh highball, offhandedly invited me to accompany him on a little run up to Banff, stabbing me with a hurt look when I told him I'd see when Duncan could get away from his work....
I wonder if spring is coming to Casa Grande? And at Alabama Ranch? And are the pussy-willows showing in the slough-ends? And why doesn't Peter Ketley ever write to me?
Saturday the Sixteenth
Lossie and Gershom, I find, have drifted into the habit of writing to each other. It is, of course, all purely platonic and pedagogic, arising out of a common interest in my Dinkie's academic advancement. But Lossie borrowed Dinkie this morning to have a photograph taken with him, one copy of which she has very generously promised to send on to Gershom.... Struthers has sent me a very satisfactory report from Casa Grande, which I dreamed last night had burned to the ground, compelling me and my kiddies to live in the old prairie-schooner, laboriously pulled about the prairie by Tithonus and Calamity Kate. And when I applied at Peter's door for a handful of meal for my starving children, he called me worse than a fallen woman and drove me off into the wilderness.
Duncan asked me to-day if I'd motor up to the mines with him for the week-end. I had to tell him that I'd promised to take Elmer and Pauline Augusta to hear Kathleen Parlow and that it wouldn't seem quite fair to break my word. Duncan said that I was the best judge of that. Then he slammed a drawer shut and asked me, in his newer manner, how long I intended to pull this iceberg stuff. "For I can't see," he concluded after calling out for Tokudo to bring his hat and coat, "that I'm getting such a hell of a lot out of this arrangement!"
I asked him, as quietly as I could, what he expected of me. But I could feel my heart pounding quick against my ribs. I am not, and never pretended to be, any stained-glass saint. And there were a few things I felt it was about time to unload. But Tokudo cat-footed back with the coat, and I could hear Lossie's clear laugh as she came in through the front door with the returning Dinkie, and some inner voice warned me to hold my peace. So Duncan and I merely stood there staring at each other, for a moment or two, across an abysmal and unbridgeable gulf of silence. Then he strode out to his car without as much as a howdy-do to the startled and slightly mystified Lossie.
Monday the Eighteenth
I have just learned that we were blackballed from the Country Club. My husband, at least, has met with that experience.
It was Lois who let the cat out of the bag. She wasn't clear on all the details, but it was that old has-been of a Goodhue who was at the bottom of it all, according to the lady known as Slinkie. Duncan and he had clashed, from the first. Then Duncan had bought up his paper, and compelled him to mortgage his home. It was because of something to do with the Barcona Mines directorate, Lois thought, that Captain Goodhue had had Duncan blackballed when he applied for membership in the Country Club, the Captain being vice-president of the original holding company. Lois laughed none too pleasantly when she added that her Charley and my Duncan had joined hands to go after the old man's scalp. And they had got it. They turned him inside out, before they got through with him. They took his fore-lock and his teepee and his last string of wampum. And the old snob, of course, would never forgive them.
... They took his fore-lock, and his teepee ... And it was Chaddie McKail and her bairns who were now housing warm in that captured teepee! And all this toiling and moiling, on the part of my husband, all this scheming and intriguing and juggling with figures, had been a campaign for power, a plotting and working to get even with this haughty old enemy who could carry his defeat so lightly! To be blackballed like that, I remembered, was to be proclaimed not a gentleman. And it must have cut deep. At one time, I suppose, Duncan would have called his monocled captain out. But men seem to fight differently nowadays. They fight differently, but no less grimly. And Duncan, whether it is a virtue or a vice in his make-up, would always be a fighter.... Yet I have no sense of gratitude to Lois Murchison for depositing her painful truths in my lap. She warned me, in her artless soprano, that there wasn't much good in sentimentalizing the situation. But she has thrown a shadow across the house which I was trying to make into a home. Without quite knowing it, she has cheapened her life-mate in my eyes. Without quite intending it, she has left my own husband more ignominious than he once stood. I was trying hard to school myself into a respect for his material successes. I was struggling to excuse a great many things by the engrossing nature of his work. But the motive behind all his efforts seemed suddenly a sordid one, in many ways a mean one.
I keep remembering what Lois said about not sentimentalizing a situation. But I'm not yet such a mush of concession that I can't tell black from white. And there's some part of us, some vague but unescapable part of us, which we must respect, otherwise we have no right to walk God's good earth....
I want to get away, for a day or two, to think things out. I think, before Duncan gets back to-morrow, I shall take Poppsy and run up to Banff. I may get my view-point back. And the mountain quietness may do me good....
I keep having that same dull ache of disappointment which came to me as a girl, after I'd idolized a great man called Meredith and after I'd almost prayed to a great poet called Browning, on finding that one was so imperfectly monogamous and that the other philandered and talked foolishly to women. I had thrust my girlish faith in their hands, as so often befalls with the young, and they had betrayed it.... But for the second time since I married, I have been reading Modern Love. And I can almost forgive the Apollo of Box Hill for that betrayal which he knew nothing about.
Thursday the Twenty-Eighth
This is Thursday the twenty-eighth of April. I want to be sure of that. For there are very few things I can be sure of now.
The bottom has fallen out of my world. I sit here, telling myself to be calm. But it's not easy to sit quiet when you face the very worst that all life could confront you with. My Dinkie has run away.
My boy has left me, has left his home, has vanished like smoke into the Unknown. He is gone and I have no trace of him.
I find it hard to write. Yet I must write, for the mere expression of what I feel tends to ease the ache. It helps to keep me sane. And already I realize I was wrong when I wrote "the very worst that all life could confront you with." For my laddie, after all, is not dead. He must still be alive. And while there's life, there's hope.
I got back from Banff yesterday morning about nine, and Hilton was there with the car to meet me, as I had told him to be. I was anxious to know at once if everything was all right, but I found it hard to put a question so personal before that impersonal-eyed Englishman. So I strove to give my interrogation an air of the casual by offhandedly inquiring: "How's Rowdy, Hilton?"
"Dead, ma'am," was his prompt reply.
This rather took my breath away.
"Do you mean to say that Rowdy is dead?" I insisted, noticing Poppsy's color change as she listened.
"Killed, ma'am," said the laconic Hilton.
"By whom?" I demanded.
"Mr. Murchison, ma'am," was the answer.
"How?" I asked, feeling my vague dislike for that particular name sharpen up to something dangerously like hatred.
"He always comes up the drive a bit fast-like, ma'am. He hit the pup, and that was the end of him!"
"Does Dinkie know?" was my first question, after that.
"He saw it, ma'am," admitted my car-driver.
"Saw Mr. Murchison throw the dog over the wall into the brush!"
"What did he say?"
"He swore a bit, ma'am, and then laughed," admitted Hilton, after a pause.
"Dinkie laughed?" I cried, incredulous.
"No; Mr. Murchison, ma'am," explained Hilton.
"What did Dinkie say?" I insisted. And again the man on the driving-seat remained silent a moment or two.
"It was what he did, ma'am," he finally remarked.
"What did he do?" I demanded.
"Ran into the house, ma'am, and snatched the icepick off the kitchen table. Then he went to the big car like a mad 'un, he did. Pounded holes in every blessed tire with his pick!"
"And then what?" I asked, with my heart up in my throat.
Hilton waited until he had taken a crowded corner before answering.
"Then he found the dead dog, ma'am, and bathed it, and borrowed the garden spade from me. Then he took it somewheres back in the ravine and buried it. I gave him the tool-box off the old roadster, to put what was left of the pup in."
"And then?" I prompted, with a quaver in my voice I couldn't control.
"He met Mr. Murchison coming out and he called him w'at I'd not like to repeat, ma'am, until Mr. McKail stepped out to see what was wrong, and interfered."
"How did he interfere?" was my next question.
"By taking the lad into the house, ma'am," was my witness's retarded reply.
"Then what happened?" I exacted.
I waited, knowing what was coming, but I dreaded to hear it.
"He gave him a threshing, ma'am," I heard Hilton's voice saying, far away, as though it came to me over a long-distance telephone on a wet night.
I sat rigid as we mounted American Hill. I sat rigid as we swerved in through the ridiculous manor-like gate and up the winding drive and in under the ugly new porte-cochere. I didn't even wait for Poppsy as I got out of the car. I didn't even speak to Tokudo as he ran mincingly to take my things. I walked straight to the breakfast-room where I saw my husband sitting at the end of the oblong white table, stirring a cup of coffee with a spoon.
"Where's Dinkie?" I asked, trying to keep my voice low but not quite succeeding.
Duncan looked up at me with a coldly meditative eye.
"Where he usually is at this time of day," he finally answered.
"Where?" I repeated.
"At school, of course," admitted my husband as he reached out for a piece of buttered toast. He was making a pretense at being very tranquil-minded. But his hand, I noticed, wasn't so steady as it might have been.
"Is he all right?" I demanded, with my voice rising in spite of myself.
"Considerably better, I imagine, than he has been for some time," was the deliberate answer from the man with the bloodshot eyes at the end of the table.
"What do you mean by that?" I asked. And any one of intelligence, I suppose, could see I was making that question a challenge.
"I mean that since you saw him last he's had a damned good whaling," said Duncan, with his jaw squared, so that he reminded me of a King-Lud bulldog.
I paid no attention to Tokudo, who came into the room to repeat that his master was wanted at the telephone.
"Do you mean you struck that child?" I demanded, leaning on the table and looking straight into his eyes, which met mine quite unabashed, and with an air of mockery about them.
My husband nodded as he pushed back his chair.
"He got a good one," he asserted as he rose to his feet and rather leisurely brushed a crumb or two from his vest-front. He could even afford to smile as he said it. My expression, I suppose, would have made any man smile. But there was something maddening in his mockery, at such a moment. There was something gratuitously cruel in his parade of unconcern. Yet, oddly enough, as I looked at his slightly blotched face I couldn't help remembering that that was the face I had once kissed and held close against my cheek, had wanted to hold against my cheek. And now I hated it.
I had to wait and cast about for words of hatred strong enough to carry the arrows of enmity which nothing could stop me from delivering. But while I waited Tokudo announced for the third time that my husband was wanted at the telephone. And a very simple thing happened. My husband answered his call.
I saw Duncan turn and walk out of the room. I could hear his steps in the hallway, loud on the waxed hardwood and low on the rugs. I could hear his deliberated chest-tones as he talked over the wire, talked quietly and earnestly, talked me and my hatred out of his head and out of his world. And I realized, as I sat there at the table-end with my gloves twisted up under my hands and my heart even more twisted up under my ribs, that it was all useless, that it was all futile. He was beyond the reach of my resentment. We were in different worlds, forevermore.
I was still sitting there when he looked in at the door, with his hat and coat on, on his way out. I could feel him there, without directly seeing him. And I could feel, too, that he wanted to say something. But I declined to lift my head, and I could hear the door close as he went out to the waiting car.
I sat there for a long time, thinking about my Dinkie. Twice I almost surrendered to the impulse to telephone to Lossie Brown. But I knew it would be no easy matter to get in touch with her. And in two hours it would be twelve, and any minute after that my boy would be home again. I tried to cross-examine Tokudo, but I could get nothing out of that tight-lipped Jap. I watched the clock. I noticed Hilton, when he got back, raking blood-stains off the gravel of the driveway. I wandered about, like a lost turkey-hen, trying to dramatize my meeting with Dinkie, doing my best to cooper together some incident which might keep our first minute or two together from being too hard on my poor kiddie. I heard the twelve o'clock whistles, at last, and then the Westminster-chimes of the over-ornate clock in the library announce that noon had come. And still the minutes dragged on.
And when the tension was becoming almost unbearable I heard a step on the gravel and my heart started to pound.
But instead of Dinkie, it was Lossie, Lossie with smiling lips and inquiring brown eyes and splashes of rose in her cheeks from rapid walking.
"Where's Dinkie?" I asked.
She stopped short, still smiling.
"That's exactly what I was going to ask?" I heard her saying. Then her smile faded as she searched my face. "There's—there's nothing happened, has there?"
I groped my way to a pillar of the porte-cochere and leaned against it.
"Didn't Dinkie come to school this morning?" I asked as the earth wavered under my feet.
"No," acknowledged Lossie, still searching my face. And a frown of perplexity came into her own.
I knew then what had happened. I knew it even before I went up to Dinkie's room and started my frantic search through his things. I could see that a number of his more treasured small possessions were gone. I delved forlornly about, hoping that he might have left some hidden message for me. But I could find nothing. I sat looking at his books and broken toys, at the still open copy of The Count of Monte Cristo which he must have been poring over only the night before, at his neatly folded underclothes and the little row of gravel-worn shoes. They took on an air of pathos, an atmosphere of the memorial. Yet, oddly enough, it was Lossie, and Lossie alone, who broke into tears. The more she cried, in fact, the calmer I found myself becoming, though all the while that dead weight of misery was hanging like lead from my heart.
I went at once to the telephone and called up Duncan's office. He was still there, though I had to wait several minutes before I could get in touch with him.
I had thought, at first, that he would be offhandedly skeptical at the message which I was sending him over the wire, the message that my boy had run away. He might even be flippantly indifferent, and remind me that much worse things could have happened.
But I knew at once that he was genuinely alarmed at the news which I'd given him. It apparently staggered him for a moment. Then he said in his curt telephonic chest-tones, "I'll be up at the house, at once."
He came, before I'd even completed a second and more careful search. His face was cold and non-committal enough, but his color was gone and there was a look that was almost one of contrition in his troubled eyes, which seemed unwilling to meet mine. He questioned Lossie and cross-examined Hilton and Tokudo, and then called up the Chief of Police. Then he telephoned to the different railway stations, and carried Lossie off in the car to the McArthurs', to interview Benny, and came back an hour later with that vague look of frustration still on his face.
He sat down to luncheon, but he ate very little. He was silent for quite a long time.
"Your boy's all right," he said in a much softer voice than I had expected from him. "He's big enough to look after himself. And we'll be on his trail before nightfall. He can't go far."
"No; he can't go far," I echoed, trying to fortify myself with the knowledge that he must have taken little more than a dollar from the gilded cast-iron elephant which he used as a bank.