Transcriber's Note: While this book is full of dialect and very odd spelling, there are a number of obvious typographical errors which have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the end of this document.
THE WAY OF THE WIND
ZOE ANDERSON NORRIS
Drawings by Oberhardt
New York Published by the Author 1911 Copyright, 1911, by Zoe Anderson Norris Printed in the United States of America Published in October, 1911. By Zoe Anderson Norris. Office of the East Side Magazine, 338 East 15th St., New York
And as the sturdy Pilgrim Fathers cut their perilous way through the dense and dangerous depths of the Forest Primeval for the setting up of their hearthstones, so the courageous pioneers of the desolate and treeless West were forced to fight the fury of the winds.
The graves of them lie mounded here and there in the uncultivated corners of the fields, though more often one wanders across the level country, looking for them in the places where they should be and are not, because of the tall and waving corn that covers the length and breadth of the land.
And yet the dead are not without memorial. Each steady stalk is a plumed standard of pioneer conquest, and through its palmy leaves the chastened wind remorsefully sighs requiems, chanting, whispering, moaning and sighing from balmy springtime on through the heat of the long summer days, until in the frost the farmers cutting the stalks and stacking them evenly about in the semblance of long departed tepees, leave no dangling blades to sigh through, nor tassels to flout.
The Way of the Wind
Looking back upon it, the little Kentucky town seemed to blossom for Celia like the rose, one broad expanse of sloping lawns bordered with flower beds and shaded by quiet trees, elms and maples, brightly green with young leaflets and dark with cedars and pines, as it was on the day when she stood on the vine-covered veranda of her mother's home, surrounded by friends come to say good-by.
Jane Whitcomb kissed her cheek as she tied the strings of her big poke bonnet under her chin.
"I hope you will be happy out theah, Celia," she said; "but if it was me and I had to go, I wouldn't. You couldn't get me to take such risks. Wild horses couldn't. All them whut wants to go West to grow up with the country can go, but the South is plenty good enough fo' me."
"Fo' me, too," sighed Celia, homesickness full upon her with the parting hour. "It's Seth makes me go. Accordin' to him, the West is the futuah country. He has found a place wheah they ah goin' to build a Magic City, he says. He's goin' to maik a fortune fo' me out theah, he says, in the West."
"Growin' up with the country," interrupted Sarah Simpson, tying a bouquet of flowers she had brought for Celia with a narrow ribbon of delicate blue.
"Yes," admitted Celia, "growing up with the country."
Sarah handed her the flowers.
"It's my opinion," concluded she, "that it's the fools, beggin' youah pahdon, whut's goin' out theah to grow up with the country, and the wise peepul whut's stayin' at home and advisin' of 'em to go."
"I'm ha'f afraid to go," she said. "They say the wind blows all the time out theah. They say it nevah quits blowin'."
"'Taint laik as if you wus goin' to be alone out theah," comforted Mansy Storm, who was busy putting away a little cake she had made with her own hands for Celia's lunch basket. "Youah husband will be out theah."
She closed the lid down and raised her head brightly.
"Whut diffunce does it maik?" she asked, "how ha'd the wind blows if you've got youah husband?"
Lucy Brown flipped a speck of dust from the hem of Celia's travelling dress.
"Yes," said she, "and such a husband!"
Celia looked wistfully out over the calm and quiet street, basking in the sunlight, peacefully minus a ripple of breeze to break the beauty of it, her large eyes sad.
"I'm afraid of the wind," she complained. "Sto'ms scah me."
And she reiterated:
"I'm afraid of the wind!"
Sarah suddenly ran down the walk on either side of which blossomed old fashioned flowers, Marsh Marigolds, Johnny-Jump-Ups and Brown-Eyed Susans. She stood at the front gate, which swung on its hinges, leaning over it, looking down the road.
"I thoat I heahd the stage," she called back. "Yes. Suah enuf. Heah it is, comin'."
At that Celia's mother, hurrying fearfully out the door, threw her arms around her.
Celia fell to sobbing.
"It's so fah away," she stammered brokenly, between her sobs. "I'm afraid ... to ... go.... It's so fah ... away!"
"Theah! theah!" comforted her mother, lifting up her face and kissing it. "It's not so fah but you can come back again. The same road comes that goes, deah one. Theah! Theah!"
"Miss Celia," cried a reproachful voice from the door. "Is you gwine away, chile, widout tellin' youah black Mammy good-by?"
Celia unclasped her mother's arms, fell upon the bosom of her black Mammy and wept anew.
"De Lawd be wid you, chile," cooed the voice of the negress, musical with tenderness, "an' bring you back home safe an' soun' in His own time."
The stage rolled up with clash and clatter and flap of curtain.
It stopped at the gate. There ensued the rush of departure, the driver, after hoisting the baggage of his one passenger thereto, looking stolidly down on the heartbreak from the height of his perch, his long whip poised in midair.
Celia's friends swarmed about her. They kissed her. They essayed to comfort her. They thrust upon her gifts of fruit and flowers and dainties for her lunch.
They bore her wraps out to the cumbersome vehicle which was to convey her to Lexington, the nearest town which at that time boasted of a railroad. They placed her comfortably, turning again and again to give her another kiss and to bid her good-by and God-speed.
It was as if her heartstrings wrenched asunder at the jerk of the wheels that started the huge stage onward.
"Good-by, good-by!" she cried out, her pale face at the window.
"Good-by," they answered, and Mansy Storm, running alongside, said to her:
"You give my love to Seth, Celia. Don't you fo'get."
Then breathlessly as the stage moved faster:
"If evah the Good Lawd made a man a mighty little lowah than the angels," she added, "that man's Seth."
The old stage rumbled along the broad white Lexington pike, past houses of other friends, who stood at gates to wave her farewell.
It rumbled past little front yards abloom with flowers, back of which white cottages blinked sleepily, one eye of a shuttered window open, one shut, past big stone gates which gave upon mansions of more grandeur, past smaller farms, until at length it drew up at the tollgate.
Here a girl with hair of sunshine, coming out, untied the pole and raised it slowly.
"You goin' away, Miss Celia?" she asked in her soft Southern brogue, tuneful as the ripple of water. "I heah sumbody say you was goin' away."
Celia smothered a sob.
"Yes," she answered, "I am goin' away."
"It's a long, long way out theah to the West," commented the girl wistfully as she counted out the change for the driver, "a long, long way!"
As if the way had not seemed long enough!
Celia sobbed outright.
"Yes," she assented, "it is a long, long way!"
"I am sawy you ah goin', Miss Celia," said the girl. "Good-by. Good luck to you!" And the stage moved on, Celia staring back at her with wide sad eyes. The girl leaned forward, let the pole carefully down and fastened it. As she did so a ray of sunshine made a halo of her hair.
Celia flung herself back into the dimness of the corner and wept out her heart. It seemed to her that, with the letting down of that pole, she had been shut out of heaven.
In all her life Celia had not travelled further from her native town than Lexington, which was thirty miles away. It was not necessary. She lived in the garden spot of the world, an Eden with all things sufficient for a simple life.
As she stood at the station, waiting for her train, an old negro shuffled by. He hummed the refrain of "Old Kentucky Home," "Fare you well, my lady!" It seemed meant for her. The longing was strong within her to fly back to the old town she loved so well; but the train, roaring in just then, intimidated her by its unaccustomed turmoil and she allowed herself to be hauled on board by the brakeman and placed in the car.
Passing into the open country, the speed of the train increased. The smoke and cinders poured into the open window. Timid because of her strange surroundings, she silently accepted the infliction, cowering into her seat without attempting to put the window down. When a man in the opposite seat leaned forward and pulled it down for her, she was too abashed to thank him, but retained her crouching position and began silently to weep.
A terrible night of travel began. It was a day car. Celia crouched into her seat, trying to sleep, afraid of everything, of the staring eyes of the porter, of the strange faces about her, of the jet black of the night that gloomed portentously through the window.
Then came the dawn and with it the long gray bridge spanning the drab and sullen Mississippi, then St. Louis, with its bustle and rush and more and more strange faces, a sea of strange faces through which she must pass.
After another weary day of travel through which she dozed, too tired to think, too tired to move, at twilight she reached Kansas City, a little town on the edge of the desert. Here, worn out mentally and physically, she was forced to stop and rest a night and sleep in a bed.
And the next day the wind!
A little way out from the town she could see it beginning, bending the pliant prairie grasses to earth, flinging them fiercely upward, crushing them flat again and pressing them there, whistling, whistling, whistling!
The car moved fairly fast for a car of that day, but the wind moved faster. It shook the windows with terrific force. It blew small grains of sand under the sill to sting Celia, moaning, moaning, moaning in its mad and unimpeded march across the country straight to the skies.
She looked out in dismay.
Back of her, on either side of her and beyond, stretched this vast prairie country, desolate of shrub, undergrowth, or tree, a barren waste, different from the beautiful, still, green garden spot that she called home, a spot redolent of flowers, sweet with the odor of new-mown grass, and pungent with whiff of pine and cedar, different as night is from day.
Her heart sank within her as she looked.
It was late in the afternoon when she came to her station, a collection of frame shanties dignified by that name, and Seth, tall, tanned and radiant, clasped her in his arms, and man though he was, shed tears of pure rapture.
His joy served to thrill her momentarily to the extent of forgetting the wind, but with his departure for the vehicle which was to convey her to their home, the discomfort of it returned to her.
The madness of it! The fury of it! Its fiendish joy! It tore at her skirts. It wrapped them about her. It snatched them away again, flapping them flaglike.
It was with difficulty that she kept her hat on her head. She held it with both hands.
The wind seemed to make sport of her, to laugh at her. It treated her as it would a tenderfoot. It tried to frighten her. It blew the shutters of the shanties open and slammed them to with a noise like guns. It shrieked maniacally as if rejoicing in her discomfort. At times it seemed to hoot at her.
Added to this, when Seth returned for her with the vehicle, it proved to be a common two-wheeled cart drawn by a mule, a tall, ungainly cart of dull and faded blue.
She kept back the tears as Seth helped her in.
Then she sat silently by him throughout their jolting journey over the prairie country into what seemed to her to be the Nowhere, listening to the wind chant, now requiems, now dirges, listening to its shriek and whistle, listening to it cry aloud and moan, die down to a whisper, then rise once more and wail like a living thing in unendurable pain.
Seth, too, by and by fell into silence, but from a different cause. The wind failed to distress him. He had become accustomed to it in the months spent in preparing her home. It was like an old friend that sometimes whispered in his tired ears words of infinite sweetness. He forgave the wanton shrieks of it because of this sweetness, the sweetness of a capricious woman, all the more sweet because of her capriciousness.
He was silent from pure happiness at having Celia there beside him, going over the same road with him in the old blue cart.
From time to time he glanced at her timidly as if half afraid if he looked too hard the wind might blow her away.
And, indeed, there did appear to be some danger; for the wind that had loved Seth from the first was apparently jealous of Celia. It tore at her as though to toss her to unreachable distances in the way it ripped the tumbleweeds from their small brittle stems and tossed them away.
Seth looked at her profile, white from the fatigue of the journey, but beautiful as alabaster; at the blue of her eyes; at the delicate taper of her small white hands that from her birth had done only the daintiest of service; at the small feet that had never once walked the rough and sordid pathway of toil.
His eyes caressed her. Except that he must hold the reins both arms would have encircled her. As it was, she rested in the strong and tender half-circle of one.
All at once the wind became frantic. It blew and blew!
Finding it impossible to tear Celia from the tender circling of that arm, it wreaked its vengeance upon the tumbleweeds, broke them fiercely from their stems, and sent them pell-mell over the prairie before the tall blue cart, about it, at the sides of it, a fantastic cortege, airily tumbling, tumbling, tumbling!
Yes. The wind was jealous of Celia.
Strong as it was, it failed of accomplishing its will, which would have been to snatch her from the cart and toss her to the horizon in company with the tumbleweeds. It shrieked its despair, the despair of a jealous woman balked of her vengeance, tumultuously wild.
At last at about twilight, at the time of day when the prairie skies are mellow with tints fit for a Turner and the prairie winds sough with the tenderness of lullabies, resting for a period, in order to prepare for the fury of the night, they came upon the forks of the two rivers, sparsely sheltered by a few straggling and wind-blown trees.
Seth reined in the animal, sprang down over the high wheel of the cart and helped Celia out.
"Darling," he said, "let me welcome you home!"
"Home," she repeated. "Where is it?"
For she saw before her only a slight elevation in the earth's surface, a mound enlarged.
Going down a few steps, Seth opened wide the door of their dugout, looking gladly up at her, standing stilly there, a picture daintily silhouetted by the pearl pink of the twilit sky.
"Heah!" he smiled.
Celia stared down into the darkness of it as into a grave.
"A hole in the ground," she cried.
Then, as the beflowered home she had left rose mirage-like in the window of her memory, she sobbingly re-stammered the words:
"A ... hole ... in ... the ... ground!"
It was not yet June, but the winds blow cold on the prairie later than June at nightfall. The moment the sun goes down, up come the chill winds.
Sick at heart, Seth coaxed the shuddering Celia down the steps into the cellar-like habitation dimly lighted by a single half window dug out mansard fashion at the side.
He was silent, hurt in every fibre of his being. His manner was one of profound apology. She was right. It was only a hole in the ground; but he, accustomed to dugouts during the months he had spent on the prairie preparing for the joy of her coming, had overlooked its deficiencies and learned to think of it as home.
There were two chairs. He was glad of that. For a long time there had been only one.
He placed her in the new one, bought in honor of her coming, seating her deferentially as if she had been a Queen, and went hurriedly about, building a fire of little dry twigs he had torn from shrubs along the river that the gay crackle of them might cheer her.
As she sat looking on, she saw in this humble service not his devotion, but his humiliation, not his great love for her which glorified all service humble or exalted, but the fact that he had so descended in the scale of life as to put his hand to work that she had been used to see done only by negroes.
Her pride, her only inheritance from haughty slave-holding ancestors, was wounded. Not all Seth's devotion, not all his labor in her behalf could salve that wound.
As he knelt before the blazing twigs, apparently doing their best to aid him in his effort to cheer her, something of this feeling penetrated to his inner consciousness.
Nevertheless, he piled on twig after twig until the refreshing flames brilliantly illumined the dugout.
From dirt floor to dirt roof they filled it with light.
The poor little twigs, eagerly flashing into flame to help him!
Better far if, wet and soggy, they had burned dimly or not at all; for their blaze only served to exhibit every deficiency Seth should have endeavored to hide. The thatch of the roof, the sod, the carpetless floor, the lack of furniture, the plain wooden bedstead in the corner with its mattress of straw, the crazy window fashioned by his own rude carpentry, the shapeless door which was like a slap in the face with its raw and unpainted color of new wood.
After the first wild glance about her, Celia buried her face in her hands, resolutely shutting out the view for fear of bursting into uncontrollable tears.
Seth, seeing this, rose from his knees slowly, lamely, as if suddenly very tired, and went about his preparations for their evening meal.
Men with less courage than it required to perform this simple duty have stood up to be shot at.
Knowing full well that with each act of humble servitude he sank lower and lower in the estimation of the one living creature in whose estimation he wished to stand high, he once more knelt on the hearth, placed potatoes in the ashes, raked a little pile of coals together and set the coffee pot on them.
He drew the small deal table out and put upon it two cups and saucers, plates and forks for two. There was but one knife. That was for Celia. A pocket knife was to serve for himself.
It had been his pleasure throughout his lonely days of waiting to picture this first meal which Celia and he should eat together.
Never once had he dreamed that the realization could come so near breaking a strong man's heart,—that things seemingly of small import could stab with a thrust so knife-like.
He felt the color leave his cheek at the thought that he had failed to provide a cloth for the table, not even a napkin. He fumbled at his bandana, then hopelessly replaced it in his pocket. He grew cold at the realization that every luxury to which she had been accustomed, almost every necessity, was absent from that plain board.
He had counted on her love to overlook much.
It had overlooked nothing.
When all was in readiness he drew up a chair and begged her to be seated.
He took the opposite chair and the meal proceeded in silence, broken only by the wail of the wind and the crackle of the little dry twigs that burned on the hearth.
"I am afraid of it," sighed Celia.
"Of what, sweet?" he asked, and she answered:
"I am afraid of the wind."
"There is nothing to be afraid of," he explained quickly. "It is only the ordinary wind of the prairies. It ain't a cyclone. Cyclones nevah come this way, neah to the forks of two rivers wheah we ah," and waxing eloquent on this, his hobby, he began telling her of the great and beautiful and prosperous city which was sometime to be built on this spot; perhaps the very dugout in which they sat would form its center. He talked enthusiastically of the tall steepled temples that would be erected, of the schools and colleges, of the gay people beautifully dressed who would drive about in their carriages under the shade of tall trees that would line the avenues, of the smiling men and women and children whose home the Magic City would be, and how he was confident they would build it here because, in the land of terrible winds, when people commenced to erect their metropolis, they must put it where no deadly breath of cyclone or tornado could tear at it or overturn it.
With that he went on to describe the destructive power of the cyclones, telling how one in a neighboring country had licked up a stream that lay in its course, showering the water and mud down fifty miles away.
"But no cyclone will ever come here," he added and explained why.
Because it was the place of the forks of two rivers, the Big Arkansas and the Little Arkansas. A cyclone will go out of its way, he told her, rather than tackle the forks of two rivers. The Indians knew that. They had pitched their tents here before they had been driven into the Territory and that was what they had said. And they were very wise about some things, those red men, though not about many.
But Celia could not help putting silent questions to herself. Why should a cyclone that could snatch up a river and toss it to the clouds, fight shy of the forks of two?
Looking fearfully around at the shadows, she interrupted him:
"I am afraid," she whispered. "I am afraid!"
Seth left his place at the table and took her in his arms.
"Po' little gurl," he said. "Afraid, and tiahd, too. Travelin' so fah. Of cose, she's tiahd!"
And with loving hands, tender as a mother's, he helped her undress and laid her on the rough bed of straw, covered with sheets of the coarsest, wishing it might be a bed of down covered with silks, wishing they were back in the days of enchantment that he might change it into a couch fit for a Princess by the wave of a wand.
Then he left her a moment, and walking out under the wind-blown stars he looked up at them reverently and said aloud:
(For in the dreary deserts of loneliness one often learns to talk aloud very openly and confidentially to God, since people are so scarce and far away:)
"Tempah the wind to this po' shiverin' lam, deah Fathah!"
Then with a fanatic devotion, he added:
"And build the Magic City!"
Upon each trip to the station for provision or grain Seth met with tail ends of cyclones, or heard of rumors of those that had just passed through, or were in process of passing, strange enough stories of capers cut by the fantastic winds.
He told these tales to Celia with a vein of humor meant to cheer her, but which had an opposite effect. Love blinded, he failed to see that the nervous laughs with which she greeted them were a sign of terror rather than amusement.
One night, he related, after a day whose sultriness had been almost unendurable, a girl had stood at the door to her dugout, bidding her sweetheart good night. She opened the door, he stepped outside, and a cyclone happening to pass that way, facetiously caught him into the atmosphere and carried him away somewhere, she never knew where.
Strewn in the path of that cyclone were window-sashes, doors, shingles, hair mattresses, remnants of chimneys, old iron, bones, rags, rice, old shoes and dead bodies; but not the body of her blue-eyed sweetheart.
For many months she grieved for him, dismally garbed in crape, which was extremely foolish of her, some said, for all she knew he might still be in the land of the living. Possibly the cyclone had only dropped him into another county where, likely as not, he was by this time making love to another girl.
But though she mourned and mourned and waited and waited for the wild winds to bring him back, or another in his place, none came.
"They've got to tie strings to their sweethearts in this part of the country," the old gray-haired man at the corner grocery had said, "if they want to keep them."
Another playful cyclone had snatched up a farmer who wore red and white striped socks. The cyclone had blown all the red out of the socks, the story teller had said, so that when they found the farmer flattened against a barn door as if he had been pasted there, his socks were white as if they had never contained a suspicion of red. They had turned white, no doubt, through fright.
Evidently knives had flown promiscuously about in another cyclone, he said. Hogs had been cut in two and chickens carved, ready for the table.
There were demons at work as well as knives.
A girl was engaged to be married. All her wedding finery had been made. Dainty, it was, too; so dainty that she laid it carefully away in a big closet in a distant wing of the house, far from the profane stare of strange eyes. She made discreet pilgrimages to look at those dainty things so dear to her, lingerie white and soft and fine, satin slippers, fans, gloves and a wedding gown of dazzling snowiness.
The day was set for the wedding. Unfortunately—how could she know that?—the same day was set for a cyclone.
The girl could almost hear the peal of the wedding bells; when along came the tornado, rushing, roaring, shrieking like mad, and grasping that wing of the house, that special and precious wing containing her trousseau, bore it triumphantly off.
A silk waist was found in one county, but the skirt to match it lay in another, many miles away. Her beplumed hat floated in a pool of disfiguring water, her long suede gloves lay in a ditch and her white satin wedding slippers, alas, hung by their tiny heels at the top of a tree in a neighboring township, the only tree in the entire surrounding county, put there, in all probability, to catch and hold them for her.
Naturally, the wedding was postponed until new wedding finery could be prepared, but alas! A man's will is the wind's will!
By the time the second trousseau was well on the way, the affections of the girl's sweetheart had wafted away and wound themselves about another girl.
Here and there the prairie farmers had planted out trees in rows and clumps, taking tree claims from the Government for that purpose.
In many instances cyclones had bent these prospective forests double in their extreme youth, leaving them to grow that way, leaning heavily forward in the attitude of old men running.
Of course, there were demons. God could have nothing to do with their devilments, Seth said. Seth had great belief in God.
One had maliciously torn up all the churches in a town by the roots, turned them upside down and stuck their steeples in the ground as if in mockery of religion.
"Why do you call them cyclones?" the old man at the corner grocery had asked. "They are not cyclones. They are tornadoes."
And this old man who had once been a doctor of medicine in an Eastern village and who was therefore learned, though he had been persuaded by some Wise men to go West and grow up with the Fools, went on to explain the difference.
"A cyclone," he said, "is miles and miles in width. It sweeps across the prairie screeching and screaming, but doing not so very much damage as it might do, just getting on the nerves of the people and helping to drive them insane. That is all.
"Then along comes a hailstone. It drops into the southeast corner of this cyclone and there you are! It generates a tornado and That is the Thing that rends the Universe."
Seth had listened to these stories undismayed; for what had they to do with his ranch and the Magic City upon which it was to be built?
A cyclone would never come to the forks of two rivers. The Indians had said so.
Tradition had it that an old squaw whose name was Wichita had bewitched the spot with her incantations, defying the wind to touch the ground on which she had lived and died.
It must have been that this old squaw still occupied the spot, that her phantom still stooped over seething kettles, or stalked abroad in the darkness, or chanted dirges to the slap and pat of the grim war dance of the Indians; for the winds, growing frightened, had let the forks of the river alone.
Seth was very careful to relate this to Celia, to reiterate it to this fearful Celia who started up so wildly out of her sleep at the maniacal shriek of the wind. Very tenderly he whispered the reassurance and promise of protection against every blast that blew, thus soothing her softly back to slumber, after which he lay awake, watching her lest she wake again and wishing he might still the Universe while she slept.
He redoubled his care of her by night and by day, doing the work of the dugout before he began the work of the fields, not only bending over the tubs early in the morning for fear such bending might hurt her, but hanging out the clothes on the line for fear the fierce and vengeful wind might tan her beautiful complexion and tangle the fine soft yellow of her hair.
For the same reason, he brought in the clothes after the day's labor was over, and ironed them. He also did the simple cooking in order to protect her beauty from blaze of log and twinkle of twig.
If he could he would have hushed the noise of the world for love of her.
And yet, day after day, coming home from his work in the fields, he found her at the door of their dugout, peering after the east-bound train, trailing so far away as to seem a toy train, with a look of longing that struck cold to his heart.
His affection counted as nothing. His care was wasted. In spite of which he was full of apologies for her.
Other women, making these crude caves into homes for themselves and their children, had found contentment, but they were women of a different fibre.
He would not have her of a different and coarser fibre, this exquisite Southern creature, charming, delicate, set like a rare exotic in the humble window of his hut.
It was not her fault. It was his. It was his place to turn the hut into a palace for his Queen; and so he would, when the Wise Men came out of the East and built the Magic City.
When the Fools had made the plains a fit place for human beings to inhabit, planting trees to draw down the reluctant rain from the clouds, sowing seed and raising crops sometimes, to their surprise and the amazement of those who heard of it, the Wise Men would appear and buy the land, and the building of great cities would begin.
Already they had reared a town that dared approach in size to a city on the edge of the desert, but what had happened?
An angry cyclone, hearing of it, had come along and snatched it into the clouds.
Furious at sight of its spick and span newness, its yellow frame shanties and shining shingles, it had carried it off as if it had been a hen coop and set it down somewhere in Texas, a state that had been longer settled and was therefore a better place for houses and fences, and left it there.
Then the Wise Men, growing discouraged, had gone away.
But they would come again, he promised himself. They would come again. They must. Not to pass through in long vestibule trains whose sparks out of pure fiendishness lighted the furious prairie fires that were so hard to put out, smothering the innocent occupants of the dugouts in their sleep and burning their grain. Not to gaze wild-eyed through the shining windows of these splendid cars as they passed on and on to some more promising unwind-blown country, to build there their beautiful cities of marble and of stone.
They would come to stay.
Why, when they should find a spot unvisited by cyclones, and that spot would be in the place of their dugout at the forks of these two rivers, the Big Arkansas and the Little Arkansas, the little river that had real water trickling along its shallow bed year in and year out, and the Big river whose bed was dry as a bone all the year round until June, when the melting snows of the Rockies sent the water down in floods.
In fierce, uncontrollable and pitiless floods to drown the crops that had been spared by the chinch bugs, the grasshoppers and the Hot Winds.
All this Seth told Celia, finishing with his old rapturous picture of the glory of the Magic City, which he called after the old witch who had driven the winds from the forks of the rivers, Wichita.
He talked on, trying hard not to let her listless air of incredulity freeze the marrow of his bones and the blood in his veins, or cut him so deeply as to destroy his enrooted hope in their splendid future.
Taking her in his arms, partly to hide her cold face from his view and partly to comfort her, he offered every possible apology for her unbelief, wrapping her about with his love and tenderness as with a mantle.
He thought by day of the coming of the child, and dreamed of it by night, trusting that, whether or not she shared his belief in the Magic City, when she held it warmly in her arms, that little baby, his and hers, the homesick look would give place to a look of content, and the hole in the ground would become to her a home.
Seth was toiling slowly along a furrow back of his plow, bending sidewise with the force of the wind, not resentfully that it persisted in making it so difficult for him to earn his bread, for resentment was not in his nature, besides which, Seth loved the wind,—but humming a little tune, something soft and reminiscent about his old Kentucky home, with its chorus of "Fare you well, my lady," when a broncho, first a mere speck on the horizon ahead of him, then larger and larger, rushed out of the wind from across the prairie with flashing eyes and distended nostrils, and lunged toward him.
At first he thought it was a wild broncho, untamed and riderless; but as his eyes became accustomed to dust and sunlight, he discovered that the saddle held a girl.
For the moment she had bent herself to the broncho's mane, which had the effect, together with the haze produced by the wind-blown dust, of rendering the animal apparently riderless.
Seth drew up his mule and halted.
At the same time the broncho was jerked with a sudden rein that sent him back on his haunches, his front feet pawing the air.
His rider, apparently accustomed to this pose, clung to him with the persistency of a fly to fly paper, righted him, swung herself from the saddle and stood before Seth, a tall, slim girl of twelve, a girl of complexion brown as berries, of dark eyes heavily fringed with thick lashes and dusky hair tinged redly with sunburn. Her hair, one of her beauties, blew about her ears in tangled curls that were unconfined by hat or bonnet.
She smiled at him, showing rows of rice-like teeth, of an exaggerated white in contrast with the sunburn of her face.
"Hello," she said.
"Hello," said Seth in return.
Then, in the outspoken manner of the prairie folk he asked:
"Who ah you?"
"I am Cyclona," she answered.
"Just Cyclona. I ain't got no other name."
Seth smiled back at her, she seemed so timidly wild, like those little prairie dogs that stand on their haunches and bark, and yet are ever mindful of the safety of their near-by lairs, waiting for them in case of molestation.
"Wheah did you come frum?" he queried.
"Two or three hundred miles from here," she answered, "where we had a claim."
"Who is we?" asked Seth.
"My father and me. He ain't my real father. He's the man what adopted me."
Always courteous, Seth stood, hand on plough, waiting for her to state her errand or move on.
She did neither.
"There be'n't many neighbors hereabout, be there?" she ventured presently, toying with her broncho's mane.
"No," said Seth. "They ah mighty scarce. One about every eighteen miles or so."
Cyclona looked straight at him out of her big dark eyes framed by their heavy lashes.
"I am a neighbor of yourn," she said.
"I'm glad of that," responded Seth with ready Southern cordiality. "Wheah do you live?"
Cyclona turned and pointed to the horizon.
"About ten or twelve miles away," she explained. "There!"
"Been theah long?" asked Seth.
"Come down last week," said Cyclona, adding lightly by way of explanation, "we blew down. Father and his wife and me. Never had no mother. A cyclone blew her away. That's why they call me Cyclona."
She drew her sleeve across her eyes.
"It's mighty lonesome in these parts," she sighed, "without no neighbors. Neighbors was nearer where we came from."
"What made you move, then?" Seth queried.
"We didn't move," said Cyclona. "We was moved. Father likes it here, but I get awful lonesome without no neighbors."
The plaint struck an answering chord.
"Look heah," said Seth. "You see that little dugout 'way ovah theah? That's wheah I live. My wife's theah all by herself. She's lonesome, too. Maybe she'd laik to have you come and visit her and keep her company. Will you?"
Cyclona nodded a delighted assent, caught the mane of her broncho, and swung herself into her saddle with the ease and grace of a cowboy.
Seth was suddenly engrossed with the fear that Celia, seeing the girl come out of the Nowhere, as she had come upon him, might be frightened into the ungraciousness of unsociability.
"Wait," he cried. "I will go with you."
So he took Cyclona's rein and led her broncho over the prairie to Celia's door, the girl, laughing at the idea of being led, chattering from her saddle like any magpie.
He knocked at Celia's door and soon her face, white, Southern, aristocratic, in sharp contrast with the sunburned cheek and wild eye of Cyclona, appeared.
He waved a rough hand toward Cyclona, sitting astride her broncho, a child of the desert, untamed as a coyote, an animated bronze of the untrammelled West emphasized by the highlights of sunshine glimmering on curl and dimple, on broncho mane and hoof, and backed by the brilliancy of sky, the far away line of the horizon and the howl of the wind.
"Look!" he called to her exultantly, in the voice of the prairies, necessarily elevated in defiance of the wind, "I have brought a little girl to keep you company."
It was in this way that Cyclona blew into their lives and came to be something of a companion to Celia, though, realizing that the girl was a distinct outgrowth of the country she so detested, she never came to care for her with that affection which she had felt for her Southern girl friends. The kindly interest which most women, settled in life, feel for the uncertain destiny of every girl child bashfully budding into womanhood was absent.
It is to be doubted if Celia possessed a kindly heart to begin with, added to which there was nothing of the self-conscious bud about Cyclona. She was ignorant of her beauty as a prairie rose. Strange as her life had been, encompassed about by cyclones, the episode of her moving as told by the gray-haired doctor at the corner grocery was stranger.
"The house was little," the doctor commenced, "or it might not have happened. There was only one room. It was built of boards and weighed next to nothing, which may have helped to account for it.
"On that particular day the house was situated in the northern part of the State."
He swapped legs.
"But the next day," he resumed. "Well, you can't tell exactly where any house will be the next day in Kansas.
"It was about noon and Cyclona's foster father was out in the cornfield, plowing. The wind, as usual, was blowing a gale. It was a mild gale, sixty miles an hour, so Jonathan did not permit it to interfere with his plowing. The rows were a little uneven because the wind blew the horse sidewise and that naturally dragged the plow out of the furrows, but as one rarely sees a straight row of corn in Kansas, Jonathan was not worried. If he took pains to sow the corn straight, in trim and systematic rows, like as not the wind would blow the seed out of the ground into his neighbor's cornfield, so what was the use?
"Like the horse and plough, Jonathan was walking crooked, bent in the direction of the wind. He seldom walks straight or talks straight for that matter, the wind has had such an effect on him.
"At any rate, leaving out the question of his reasoning which pursues a devious and zigzag course, varying according to the way the wind blows—and he is not alone in this peculiarity in Kansas, as I say—Jonathan steadily toiled against the wind, he stopped altogether, and taking out his lunch basket, he removed a pie and sat down on a log to eat it, while his horse, moving a little further along, propped himself against a cottonwood tree to keep from being entirely blown away, and also rested."
He swapped tobacco wads from one cheek to the other and continued:
"The pie was made of custard, Jonathan said, with meringue on the top. The meringue blew away, but Jonathan contentedly ate the custard, thankful that the hungry wind had not taken that.
"Mrs. Jonathan had been going about all morning with a dust rag in her hand, wiping the dust from the sills and the furniture.
"So, tired out at last, she had flung herself on the bed and was quietly napping when the cyclone came along.
"Of course, the house and the bed she was lying on were shaken, but Mrs. Jonathan had lived so long in Kansas she couldn't sleep unless the wind rocked the bed.
"She slept all the sounder, therefore, lulled by its whistling and moaning and sobbing, not waking even when Cyclona, this girl they had adopted, opened the door and shut it suddenly with herself on the inside, and a fortunate thing, too, that was for Cyclona, or the cyclone might have left her behind.
"Cyclona, standing by the window, saw it all, the swiftly passing landscape, the trees, the cows, as one would look from an observation car on a train.
"The house was at last deposited rather roughly on terra firma and the jar awoke Mrs. Jonathan. She sat up and rubbed her eyes open. Then she looked about her in some alarm.
"The furniture was tumbled together in one corner all in a heap, Jonathan says, and the pictures were topsy turvy. Pictures are never on a level on Kansas walls on account of the winds, so Mrs. Jonathan thought little of this, but the ceiling puzzled her. Instead of arching in the old way, it pointed at her. It was full of shingles, moreover, like a roof, and the point reached nearly to her head when she sat up in the bed, staring about her.
"'What on earth is the matter?' she asked of Cyclona.
"Cyclona turned away from the window.
"'We have moved,' said she.
"Mrs. Jonathan arose then, and going to the door, opened it and found that what Cyclona had said was true. The scenery was quite different. It is much further south here, you know, than in the northern part of the State. The grass was green and the trees, hardly budded at all where she came from, here had full grown leaves.
"There was little or no debris in the path of the cyclone, nearly everything, with the exception of the house, having been dropped before it arrived at that point.
"A few stray cows hung from the branches of the large cottonwood trees, Jonathan says...."
Here the Doctor was interrupted by a man who took his pipe out of his mouth and coughed.
"But they presently dropped on all fours," he continued, "and began to munch on the nice green grass growing all about them.
"The landscape thus losing all indications of the tornado's effect, assumed a sylvan aspect which was tranquil in the extreme.
"Not far off stood the horse still hitched to the plough, Jonathan said. The horse had a dazed look, but the plough seemed to be in fit enough condition. One handle, slightly bent, had evidently struck against something on the journey, which gave it a rakish aspect, but that was all."
"Did the horse have its hide on?" asked the man who had coughed.
"So far's I know," the Doctor replied. "Why?"
"Because there's a story goin' the rounds," answered the cougher, "to the effec' that a horse was blown a hundred miles in a cyclone and when they found him he was hitched to a tree and skinned."
There was a period of thoughtful silence before the Doctor went on with his story.
"As Mrs. Jonathan looked out the door," he said, "she saw Jonathan walking down the road in her direction. His slice of pie, which he had not had time to finish, was still in his hand.
"'Where are we at?' he asked her, curiously.
"'I am sure I don't know,' answered Mrs. Jonathan, beginning, woman-like, to cry, now that the danger was over.
"Jonathan began to finish his pie, which the cyclone had interrupted. Between mouthfuls he gave quick glances of surprise at the house.
"'What on earth!' he exclaimed, 'is the matter with the roof?'
"Mrs. Jonathan ran out to look.
"The tornado had been busy with the roof. It had blown it skyward and then, upon second thoughts, had brought it back again and deposited it not right side up, but upside down.
"The extreme suction caused by this sudden reversal of things had caught every rag of clothing in the house into the atmosphere where, adhering to the roof, they had been brought down with it, so that they hung in festoons all around the outside, the roof, fastening onto the walls with a tremendous jerk, securing all the different articles with the clinch of a massive and giant clothespin.
"'It was a strange sight,' Jonathan said.
"Mrs. Jonathan's and Cyclona's skirts, stockings, shirt waists, night dresses and handkerchiefs were strung along indiscriminately with Jonathan's trousers, coats, waistcoats and socks. Here and there, in between, prismatic quilts, red bordered tablecloths and fringed napkins varied the monotony.
"'How are we ever going to get them down?' asked Mrs. Jonathan, the floodgate of her tears loosed once more at sight of her household and wearing apparel hung, as it were, from the housetop.
"Jonathan said his wife didn't seem to think of the kindness of the cyclone in bringing her husband along with the house when it might so easily have divorced them by dropping him into the house of some plump widow. All she seemed to think of was those clothes.
"'Don't you worry,' he told her. 'We will just wait till another cyclone comes along and turns the roof right side up again.'
"For one becomes philosophical, you know, living in Kansas. One must, or live somewhere else....
"Jonathan looked delightedly about him.
"The green prairies sloped away to the skies; there was a clump of cottonwood trees near by and a little creek, the same that gurgles by Seth's claim, gurgled by his between twin rows of low green bushes.
"He admired this scenery, Jonathan did. He smiled a smile which stretched from one ear to the other when he discovered that his faithful and trusted horse had followed him down and was standing conveniently near by, ready for work.
"'I like this part of the country,' he declared, 'better than the part we came from. We'll just stake off this claim and take possession.'
"After a moment of thought, however, he added provisionally:
"'That is, until another cyclone takes a notion to move us.'"
Across the purple prairie, the wondering stars blinking down upon him, the wind tearing at him to know what the matter was, the tumbleweeds tumbling at the heels of his broncho, his heart in his mouth, Seth madly rode in the wild midnight to fetch the weazened old woman who tended the women of the desert, rode as madly back again, leaving the midwife to follow.
After an age, it seemed to him, she came, and the child was born.
Seth knelt and listened to the breathing of the little creature in the rapture felt by most mothers of newborn babes and by more fathers than is supposed.
Now and again this feeling, which more than any other goes to make us akin to the angels, is lacking in a mother.
Seth saw with a sadness he could not uproot that Celia was one of these. His belief, therefore, in the efficacy of the child to comfort her went the way of other beliefs he had been forced one by one to relinquish. When, after some weeks of tending her, the old woman was gone, and Celia was able to be about, it was he who took charge of the child, while she, in her weakness, gave herself up to an increased disgust for her surroundings and an even deeper longing to go back home.
It was in vain that he showed her the broad green of the wheat fields, smiling in the sunlight, waving in the wind.
Some blight would come to them.
Fruitlessly he pictured to her the little house he would build for her when the crop was sold.
She listened incredulously.
* * * * *
And then came the grasshoppers.
For miles over the vastness of the desert they rushed in swarms, blackening the earth, eclipsing the sun.
Having accomplished their mission of destruction, they disappeared as quickly as they had come, leaving desolation in their wake. The prairie farms had been reduced to wastes, no leaves, no trees, no prairie flowers, no grasses, no weeds.
One old woman had planted a garden near her dugout, trim, neat, flourishing, with its rows of onions, potatoes and peas in the pod. It was utterly demolished. She covered her head with her apron and wept old disconsolate tears at the sight of it.
Another was hanging her clothes on the line. When the grasshoppers were gone there were no clothes and no line.
As for the beautiful wheat fields that had shone in the sun, that had waved in the wind, they lay before Seth's tearless eyes, a blackened ruin.
Was it against God's wish that they make their feeble effort to cultivate the plains, those poor pioneer people, that He must send a scourge of such horror upon them?
Or had He forsaken the people and the country, as Celia had said?
Seth walked late along the ruin of the fields, not talking aloud to God as was his wont when troubled, silent rather as a child upon whom some sore punishment has been inflicted for he knows not what, silent, brooding, heartsick with wondering, and above all, afraid to go back and face the chill of Celia's look and the scorn of her eye.
But what one must do one must do, and back he went finally, opened the badly hung door and stood within, his back to it, with the air of a culprit, responsible alike for the terror of the winds, the scourge of the grasshoppers and the harshness of God.
"As a man," she said slowly, her blue eyes shining with their clear cold look of cut steel through slits of half-shut white lids, the words dropping distinctly, clearly, relentlessly, that he might not forget them, that he might remember them well throughout the endless years of desert life that were to follow, "you ah a failuah."
He hung his head.
"You ah right," he said.
For though he had not actually gone after the grasshoppers and brought them in a deadly swarm to destroy his harvest, he had enticed her to the plains it seemed for the purpose of witnessing the destruction.
"You ah right," he reiterated.
In the night Celia dreamed of home and the blue-grass hills and the whip-poor-wills and the mocking birds that sang through the moonlight from twilight till dawn.
Sobbing in her sleep, she waked to hear the demoniacal shriek of the tireless wind and the howl of a coyote, and wept, refusing to be comforted.
The next day she said to Seth firmly and conclusively:
"I am goin' home."
To do her justice, Celia would have taken the child with her; but young as he was, Seth refused to give him up. He would buy a little goat, he said, feed the baby on its milk and look after him.
At heart he said to himself that he would hold the child as ransom. Surely, if love for him failed, love for the little one would draw the mother back to the hole in the ground.
He found Cyclona and implored her to keep the child while he hitched up the cart and drove the mother away over the same road she had come to the station.
It was a silent drive; each occupied with individual thoughts running in separate channels; she glad that her eyes were looking their last on the wind-lashed prairies blackened by the scourge; he casting about in his mind for some bait with which to entice her to return.
"You will come back to the child?" he faltered.
But she made no answer.
"If the crops succeed," he ventured, "and I build you a beautiful house, then will you come back?"
For answer, she gave a scornful glance at the blackened plains, flowerless, grainless, grassless.
"If the Wise Men come out of the East," it was his last plea, "and build the Magic City, then you will come back?"
At that she laughed aloud and the wind, to spare him the sound of it, tossed the laugh quickly out and away with the jeer of its cruel mockery.
"The Magic City!" she repeated.
She laughed in derision of such violence that she fell to coughing.
"The Magic City!" she reiterated. "The Magic City!"
For one mad moment, such as comes to the bravest, Seth's impulse was to throw himself beneath the wheels of the car that was taking Celia away from him.
In another he would have lain a crushed and shapeless mass in their wake; but as he shut his eyes for the leap there came to him distinctly, pitifully, wailingly, the cry of the child.
Perhaps it came to him in reality across the intervening miles of wind-blown prairie. Perhaps the wind blew it to him. Who knows? Our Mother Earth often sends us help in our sorest need in her own way, a way which oftentimes partakes of mystery.
Perhaps it came only in memory.
However, it served.
He opened his eyes, and the madness had passed.
He pulled himself together dazedly, unfastened the hitch rein of the mule, mounted awkwardly into the high and ungainly blue cart and started off in the direction of the cry.
The wind which on the coming trip had appeared to take fiendish delight in trying to tear Celia's garments to ribbons, now suddenly died down, for the wind loved Seth.
It had done with Celia. She was gone. But not by one breath would it add to the grief of Seth. On the contrary, it spent its most dulcet music in the effort to soothe him. Tenderly as the cooing of a dove it whispered in his ear, reminding him of the child.
He answered aloud.
"I know," he said. "I had forgotten him. The po' little mothahless chile!"
And the wind kissed his cheek, its breath sweet as a girl's, caressing him, urging him over the vastness of the prairie to the child.
On the road to the station, Seth's mind had been filled with Celia to the exclusion of all else. He had not observed the devastation of the prairie.
Unlike her, his heart held no hatred for the wayward winds. They were of heaven. He loved them. Fierce they were at times, it was true, claws that clutched at his heart; but at other times they were gentle fingers running through his hair.
Their natures were opposite as the poles, his and hers.
The prairies were her detestation. He loved them.
He inherited the traits of his ancestors, the sturdy Kentucky pioneers who had lived in log huts and felled the forests in settling the country. Something not yet tamed within him loved the little wild things that had their homes in the prairie grasses:
The riotous birds, the bright-colored insects, the prairie dogs in their curious towns, sitting on their haunches at the doors of their little dugouts, so similar to his own, and barking, then running at whistle or crack of whip into the holes to their odd companions, the owls and the rattlesnakes; the herds of antelope emerging from the skyline and brought down to equally diminutive size by the infinite distance, disappearing into the skyline mysteriously as they had come.
But now he looked out on the prairie with a sigh.
It was like a familiar face disfigured by a burn, scarred and almost unrecognizable.
The prairie in loneliness is similar to the sea.
In one wide circle it stretches from horizon to horizon.
It stretched about him far as the eye could reach, scorched and hideous as the ruin of his life.
He shut his eyes. He dared not look out on the ruin of his life. What if the ghastly spectacle should turn his brain?
That had been known to happen among the prairie folk time out of number. Many a brain stupefied by the lonely life of the dugout, the solemn, often portentous grandeur of the great blue dome, under which the pioneers crawled so helplessly, had been blown zigzag by the wild buffetings of the wayward, wanton winds, punctuating the dread loneliness so insistently, so incessantly, so diabolically by its staccato preludes, by its innuendoes of interludes prestissimo, by its finales frantically furious and fiendishly calculated to frighten the soul and tear the bewildered and weakened brain from its pedestal.
The reproach of the thought held something of injustice, the wind blew with such gentleness, kissing his cheek.
His mind ran dangerously on in the current of insanity. He endeavored to quiet it.
The thought of his mother came to him.
Once he had heard her crying in the night, waiting for his father to come home, not knowing where he was, wondering as women will, and fearfully crying.
Then he heard her begin to count aloud in the dark:
"One, two. One, two, three," she had counted, to quiet her brain.
He fell mechanically to counting as she had done:
"One, two. One, two, three."
He must preserve his sanity, he said to himself, for the sake of the child. Otherwise it would be good to lose all remembrance, to forget, to dream, to lapse into the nothingness of the vacant eye, the down-drooping lid and the drivel.
"One, two. One, two, three," he counted, the wind listening.
In spite of the counting, with his eyes fixed on the desolation of the prairie, his thoughts on Celia, suddenly he felt himself seized by gusts of violent rage. The desire to dash out his brains against the unyielding wall of his relentless destiny tore him like the fingers of a giant hand.
"One, two. One, two, three," he counted, and between the words came the cry of the child.
If he could only render his mind a blank until it recovered its equilibrium, a ray of sunshine must leak in somewhere.
It must for the sake of the child.
But how was it possible for him to go back to the ghastliness of the dugout, the bereft house, where it was as if the most precious inmate had suddenly died—to the place that had held Celia but would hold her no more!
It was necessary to count very steadily here, to strangle an outcry of despair.
"One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three, four, five."
He could count no further.
The wind, seeing his distress, soughed with a weird sweet sound like aeolian harps in the effort to comfort him, but he dropped the reins and laid his face in the hollow of his arm.
It was the attitude of a woman, grief-stricken.
He had evidently fallen into a lethargy of grief from which he must be aroused.
So thought the wind. It blew a great blast. It whistled loudly as if calling, calling, calling!
Was it the wind or his heart? Was it his Mother Nature, his Guardian Angel, or God?
Again pitifully, distinctly, wailingly, came the cry of the child.
He raised his head, grasped the reins and hurried.
On he went, on and on, faster and faster, until at last he came to the door of the tomb.
He descended into it. He took the child from the arms of Cyclona, who sat by the fire cuddling it, and held it close to his heart.
"He has been crying," she told him, "every single minute since you have been gone. Crying! Crying! No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't quiet him."
On the following day Cyclona sat in the low rocking chair, rocking the baby, singing to it, crooning a lullaby, a memory of her own baby days when some self-imposed mother, taking the place of her own, had crooned to her.
"Sleep, baby, sleep, The big stars are the sheep. The little stars are the lambs, I guess, The moon is the shepherdess, Sleep, Baby, Sleep."
But the baby sobbed, looking in bewilderment up at the dark gypsy face above it in search of the pale and beautiful face of his mother.
Finding it not, he hid his eyes upon her shoulder, and sobbed.
The wind sobbed with him. Outside the window it wailed in eerie lamentation. It dashed a near-by shrub, a ragged rosetree that Seth had planted, against the window. The twigs tapped at the pane like human fingers.
"There, there!" soothed Cyclona, and she changed the baby's position, so that his little body curled warmly about her and his face was upturned to hers to coax him into the belief that she was Celia.
Once more she drifted into the lullaby, crooning it very softly in her lilting young voice:
"Sleep, baby, sleep. The big stars are the sheep, The little stars are the lambs, I guess, The moon is the shepherdess, Sleep, Baby, Sleep."
But the wind seemed to oppose her efforts at soothing the child whose startled eyes stared at the window against which tapped the attenuated fingers of the twigs. The wind shrieked at him. His sobs turned into cries.
Cyclona got up and going to the bed laid him on it, talking cooing baby talk to him. She prepared his food. She warmed the milk and crumbled bread into it.
Taking him up again, she fed it to him spoonful by spoonful, awkwardly, yet in a motherly way.
Then she patted him on her shoulder, and tried to rock him to sleep, singing, patting him on the back cooingly when the howl of the wind startled him out of momentary slumber.
The wind appeared to be extraordinarily perverse. It was almost as if, knowing this was Celia's child, that Celia whose hatred it had felt from the first, it took pleasure in punctuating his attempt to sleep with shrieks and wailings, with piercing and unearthly cries.
Once it tossed a tumbleweed at the window. The great round human-like head looked in and the child, opening his eyes upon it, broke into piteous moaning.
The wind laughed, snatched the tumbleweed and tossed it on.
"The wind seems to be tryin' itself," complained Cyclona, getting up once more and walking about with the child in her arms, singing as she walked:
"Sleep, baby, sleep, The big stars are the sheep, The little stars are the lambs, I guess, The wind is the shepherdess, Sleep, Baby, Sleep."
The wind grew furious.
With a wild yell it burst the door of the dugout open.
Cyclona put the baby back on the bed, faced the fury of the wind a moment, then cried out to it:
"Why can't you behave?"
Then she shut the door and placed a chair against it, taking the baby up and again walking it back and forth, up and down and back and forth.
"It's just tryin' itself," she repeated.
Again she endeavored with the coo of the lullaby to entice the child into forgetting the wind.
But the wind was not to be forgotten. It turned into a tornado. Failing of its effort to tear off the roof of the dugout, it stormed tempestuously, fretfully; it raved, it grumbled, it groaned.
It screamed aloud with a fury not to be appeased or assuaged.
Cyclona had taken her seat in the rocking chair near the hearth. She had laid the crying child in every possible position, across her knee face down, sitting on one of her knees, her hand to his back with gentle pats, and over her shoulder.
All to no avail. It seemed as if the child would never quit sobbing. The sense of her helplessness joined with pity for his distress saddened her to tears.
She was very tired. She had had charge of the child since early morning, when Seth, compelled to attend to his work in the fields, had left him to her.
She bent forward and looked out the window where the long fingers of the ragged rosebush, torn by the wind, tapped ceaselessly at the pane.
"Wind," she implored. "Stop blowing. Don't you know the little baby's mother has gone away? Don't you know the little baby hasn't any mother now; that she's left him and gone away?"
It seemed that the wind had not thought of it in this way. Occupied only with Celia's departure, it had not considered the desolation it had caused.
The long lithe fingers of the twigs ceased their tapping.
The wind sobbed fitfully a moment, little sad remorseful penitential sobs, and died away softly across the prairie as a breath of May.
The stillness which ensued was so deep and restful that the eyes of the child involuntarily closed. Cyclona pressed his little body close to her, his head in the hollow of her arm. She rocked him back and forth gently, singing:
"Sleep, baby, sleep," the words coming slowly, she was so tired.
"The big stars are the sheep, The little ... stars ... are ... the lambs, I guess. The moon ... is ... the ... shepher ... dess, Sleep, Baby ... Sleep ..."
Her eyes closed. She nodded, still rocking gently back and forth.
After a long time Seth pushed open the door and looked in.
He set back the chair and came tip-toeing forward.
Cyclona raised her head and looked at him dreamily.
"Hush!" she whispered. "Be very quiet ... He has gone to sleep."
"Brumniagen" is a name given to those wares which, having no use for them at home, England ships to other countries. The term, however, is not applied to one leading export of this sort: the scores of younger sons of impoverished Noblemen who are packed off to the wilds of Australia or to the Great Desert of America, to finish sowing their wild oats in remote places, where such agriculture is not so overdone as it is in England.
This economic movement resulted in a neighbor for Jonathan and Seth, a young, blue-eyed, well-built Englishman, whose name was Hugh Walsingham.
Jonathan walked out of his topsy turvy house one day to find the claim just north of his pre-empted by the young man who was evidently a tenderfoot, since his fair complexion had not yet become tanned by the ceaseless winds.
Walsingham had staked out the claim, and was busily engaged in excavating a cave in which he purposed to dwell.
Jonathan, never busy himself, lent a helping-hand, and he and Walsingham at once became friends.
The outdoor life of the prairie pleased Walsingham, the abundance of game rejoiced him. An excellent shot, his dugout was soon filled with heads of antelope, while the hide of a buffalo constituted the covering for his floor.
Surrounded by an atmosphere of sobriety, for even at that early date the fad of temperance had fastened itself upon Kansas, he became by and by of necessity a hard working farmer, tilling the soil from morning till night in the struggle to earn his salt.
There are not many women on the prairies now. Then they were even more scarce. It was not long before his admiring eyes centered themselves upon Cyclona. He fell to wondering why it was that she appeared to consider her own home so excellent a place to stay away from.
Personally he would consider the topsy turvy house a good and sufficient reason for continued absence, but according to his English ideas a girl should love her own roof whether it was right side up or inverted.
The thought of this brown-skinned girl of the rapt and steadfast gaze remained with him. It was, he explained to himself, the look one finds in the eyes of sailors accustomed to the limitless reach of the monotonous seas; it came from the constant contemplation of desert wastes ending only in skylines, of sunlit domes dust-besprinkled, of night skies scattered thick with dusty stars.
His interest grew to the extent that he issued from his dugout early of mornings in order to see her depart for her mysterious destination.
He waited at unseemly hours in the vicinity of Jonathan's curious dwelling to behold her as she came back home.
On one of these occasions, when he was turning to go, after watching her throw the saddle on her broncho, fasten the straps, leap into the saddle and speed away, to be swallowed up by the distances, Jonathan came out of the topsy turvy house and found him.
"Walk with me awhile," implored Walsingham, a sudden sense of the loneliness of the prairie having come upon him with the vanishing of the girl.
Jonathan, always ready to idle, filled his pipe and walked with him.
"Who is the girl?" asked Hugh.
"She is a little girl we adopted," explained Jonathan. "I don't know who she is or where she came from. Her mother blew away in a cyclone. That is all I know about her."
"A pretty girl," commented Hugh.
"And a mighty good girl," added Jonathan. "I don't know what we'd do without her."
"You seem to do without her a good deal," said Hugh, relighting his pipe which the wind had blown out. "She is away from home most of the time."
"Cyclona's playing nurse," said Jonathan. "She's taking care of a child whose mother has deserted him. He is a good big boy now, but Cyclona's taken care of that child ever since he come into the world putty near," and he recited the story of Celia's heartlessness.
"What sort of man is the father?" queried Hugh with a manner of exaggerated indifference.
"Seth? Why, Seth's one of the finest men you ever saw. And he's good-looking, too. Sunburnt and tall and kind of lank, but good-lookin'. He's got some crazy notion, Seth has, of buildin' a Magic City on his claim some time or other, but aside from that there ain't no fault to find with Seth. He's a mighty fine man."
* * * * *
On the plains all waited for letters. Walsingham was no exception to the rule. Few came. He was too far away. Younger sons of impoverished noblemen are sent to far-off places purposely to be forgotten. He employed the intervals between such stray notes as he received in studying Cyclona.
He wondered what his aristocratic sisters would do if they were obliged to saddle their own ponies. He wondered what they would do if they were obliged to wear such gowns as Cyclona wore. And yet Cyclona was charming in those old gowns, blue and pink cotton in the summer and a heavy blue one for winter wear.
Constantly in the open she possessed the beauty of perfect health. Her brown cheeks glowed like old gold from the pulsing of rich blood. An athletic poise of her shoulders and carriage of head added grace to her beauty.
But her chief charm for the young Englishman, surfeited with the affectation of English girls, lay in her natural simplicity.
Except for her association with Seth, whose innate culture could not but communicate itself, Cyclona was totally untutored. She knew nothing of coyness, caprice or mannerisms. Singleness of purpose and unselfishness shone in her tranquil and steadfast gaze which Hugh was fortunate enough now and then to encounter.
Walsingham found himself passing restless hours in the endeavor to devise means by which he might turn her frank gaze upon himself. In fancy he imaged her clothed in fitting garments, walking with that free, beautiful, lithe and swinging gait into the splendor of his mother's English home.
As the boy, whom Seth called Charlie, grew older, Seth cast about in his mind for some story to tell him which should serve to protect both Celia and himself.
Celia was not to blame for leaving him. He had long ago come to that conclusion. He was a failure, as she had said. Women as a rule do not care for failures, though there are some few who do.
They love men who succeed.
In personal appearance, aside from some angularities, considerable gauntness, and much sunburn, Seth told himself that he was not different from other men. It was not palpable to the casual observer that as men went he was a failure, but Seth realized the truth of Celia's judgment.
He had failed doubly. In the effort to provide her a home, and to imbue her with his belief in the Magic City. Since she had gone home he had sent her next to no money. He had none to send. Perhaps that was why she did not write. He never knew. Putting himself in her place, he concluded she was right. A delicate little woman, far away from a great failure of a husband who could not provide for her, ought to let him go without letters.
And so thinking, he seldom hung about the post-office waiting for the mail. He trained himself to expect nothing.
Yes. It had been impossible for him to send her money.
Disaster had followed disaster and he had been barely able to keep himself and the boy alive.
He was a failure of the most deplorable sort, but the boy did not know it. He did not even guess it. The standing monument of his failure in life to Celia was the dugout. In the eyes of the boy it was no failure at all. Born in it he had no idea of the luxury of a house and the luxuries we wot not of we miss not.
He was used to lizards on the roof, to say nothing of other creeping things within the house which are generally regarded as obnoxious, roaches, ants, mice. He rather liked them than otherwise, regarding them as his private possessions.
Besides, hadn't he Cyclona?
And as for the winds of which Celia complained so bitterly, he loved them. His ears had never been out of the sound of them and they were very gentle winds sometimes, tender and loving with their own child born on the desert. They lulled him. They cradled him. They were sweet as Cyclona's voice singing him to sleep.
In another State, where they failed to blow, it would in all probability have been necessary to entice a cyclone into his neighborhood to induce him to slumber.
Accustomed to the infinite tenderness of his father's care from the first, the boy loved him. Seth determined that if it were possible, this state of affairs should continue. If it were necessary to invent a story to fit the case, he would be as other men, or even better in the eyes of the child, until there came a time when he must learn the truth.
Perhaps the time would never come. If he could by any manner of means keep up the delusion until the Wise Men came out of the East and built the Magic City, he would be a failure no longer. He would be an instantaneous success.
Also, though he fully pardoned Celia for her desertion of himself, he had never quite come to understand or fully forgive her desertion of the boy, her staying away as she had done month after month, year after year, missing all the beauty of his babyhood.
He therefore found it impossible to tell the boy that his mother had heartlessly deserted him, as impossible as to tell him that his father was a failure.
Yet the child, like every other, insisted upon knowing something of his origin. To satisfy him, Seth evolved a story, adding to it from time to time. He told it sitting in the firelight, the boy in his arms.
It was the story of the Flying Peccary.
"Tell me how I came in the cyclone," Charlie would insist, nestling into the comfortable curve of his arm.
"The cyclone brought you paht of the way," corrected Seth, jealous of his theory that cyclones never touched the place of his dugout, the forks of the two rivers, "and the flyin' peccary brought you the rest. You've heard me tell about these little Mexican hawgs, the wildest, woolliest, measliest little hawgs that evah breathed the breath of life and how they ate up the cyclone?"
"Yes," nodded Charlie.
"Well, this was the first time, I reckon, that a cyclone evah met its match, becawse a cyclone was nevah known befo' to stop at anything until it had cleaned up the earth and just stopped then on account of its bein' out of breath and tiahd. But it met its match that time.
"You see, Texas is full of those measly little peccaries. You can hahdly live, they say, down theah for them. They eat up the rail fences, the wagon beds, the bahns and the sheep and the cows. They don't stop at women and children, I heah, if they get a good chance at them. And grit! They've got plenty of that, I tell you, and to spah, those little bad measly Mexican hawgs.
"Well, one day a herd of peccaries wah a gruntin' and squealin' around the prairie, huntin' for something to eat as usual, when a cyclone come lumberin' along.
"It come bringin' everything with it it could bring; houses, bahns, chicken coops and a plentiful sprinklin' of human bein's, to liven up things a little. A cyclone ain't very particular, any more than a peccary. It snatches up anything that comes handy. Sometimes it picks up a few knives and whacks things with them as it goes along. You know that, don't you, Cyclona?"
Cyclona nodded. She always lingered at the fireside to hear this story of the flying peccary which was her favorite as well as the child's.
"It brought me," she said.
The boy raised himself in Seth's arms.
"Maybe you are my sister!" he cried.
"Maybe I am," smiled Cyclona.
"At that theah Towanda cyclone," recommenced Seth, "that little Kansas town the cyclone got mad at and made way with, theah must have been a hundred knives or mo' flyin' around loose. They cut hogs half in two. You would have thought a butchah had done it. And the chickens were carved ready to be put on the table. It was wonderful the things that cyclone did."
"And the peccaries," Charlie reminded him.
"That cyclone," began Seth all over again, "came flyin' along black as night and thunderin' laik mad and caught up the whole herd of peccaries.
"Those peccaries ain't even-tempahd animals.
"They've got tempahs laik greased lightnin'. It made them firin' mad fo' a cyclone to take such liberties with them, and they got up and slammed back at it right and left. Well, they didn't do a thing to that cyclone. In the first place the whole herd of peccaries began to snap and grunt laik fury till the noise of the cyclone simmahd down into a sort of pitiful whine, laik the whine of a whipped dog. Imagine a cyclone comin' to that! Then, they tell me, you couldn't heah anything but the squealin' and gruntin' of those pesky little peccaries.
"Between squeals they bit into that theah cyclone fo' all it was wuth, takin' great chunks out of it, swallowin' lightnin' and eatin' big mouthfuls of thundah just as if they laiked it. All the stuff the cyclone was bringin' along with it wa'n't anything to them. They swallowed it whole and pretty soon, you'd hahdly believe it, but theah wa'n't anything lef' of that cyclone at all.
"They had eaten up ever' single bit of it except a tiny breeze they had fohgotten that died away mournful laik across the prairies, sighin' becawse it had stahted out so brash and come to such a sudden untimely and unexpected end.
"Then, theah was the herd of peccaries about five miles from wheah they had stahted, sittin' down, resting, a-smilin' at each othah and congratulatin' each othah, I reckon, on the way they had knocked the stuffin' out of that theah ole cyclone fo' good and all.
"They must have scahd the res' of the cyclones off, too, becawse with them and the forks of the rivahs, they haven't been seen or heahd of aroun' these pahts since."
"Exceptin' the tail end of that one that moved me," Cyclona reminded him.
"And what about me?" questioned Charlie.
"Oh, yes. One of these heah peccaries, a good-natured peccary, too, with a laikin' fo' little children, found you in the cyclone. You were a pretty little baby with big blue eyes the same's you've got now. I don't know exactly wheah the cyclone found you. Anyway, the peccary picked you up in his mouth. When he had rested as long as he wanted to with the other peccaries, he flew along and flew along—they had all got to be flying peccaries, you know, on account of swallowin' so much wind, until he came to the door of my dugout, this same dugout we are in now, and he laid you very carefully down by the door. Then I went out in the mawnin' and brought you in."
Charlie invariably at this point reached up his arms and put them around Seth's neck.
It was very kind of him, he thought, to go out and bring him in. What if the wolves had come along and eaten him! Or the little hungry coyotes they heard barking in the nights. Ugh!
"And then the peccary flew away again?" he asked. "Didn't he?"
"Yes," answered Seth. "He flew away with the rest of the flyin' peccaries."
"And haven't you ever seen them since?" asked Charlie, "or him?"
"Sometimes you can see them 'way up in the air," replied Seth, running his fingers through his hair, "but they ah so fah away and little, you can't tell them from birds."
Cyclona nodded again.
"Yes," she corroborated, "they are so far away and little you can't tell them from birds."
The Post Mistress at the station tapped her thimble on the window-pane at the chickens floundering in the flower-bed outside.
They turned, looked at her, then, rising, staggered off with a ruffled and uppish air, due partly to their indignation and partly to the fact that the wind blew their feathers straight up, and a trifle forward over their heads.
"It's bad enough," she said, "to try and raise flowers in Kansas, fighting the wind, without having to fight the chickens. It's a fight for existence all the way round, this living in Kansas."
Her companion was a man with iron-gray hair, a professor of an Eastern college who had come West, planted what money he had in real estate and lost it. He, however, still retained part of the real estate.
He frequently lounged about the office for an hour or two during the day, waiting for the mail, good enough company except that he occasionally interfered with the reading of the postal cards.
He looked up from a New York newspaper, three days old.
"Pioneer people," he observed laconically, "must expect to fight everything from real estate agents to buffaloes."
The Post Mistress laid down her sewing. Her official duties were not arduous. They left her between trains ample time to attend to those of her household, sewing and all, also to embroider upon bits of gossip caught here and there in regard to her scattered neighbors whose lights of nights were like so many stars dotting the horizon.
She looked out the window to where a tall lank farmer was tying a mule to the hitching post. Over the high wheel of the old blue cart he turned big hollow eyes her way.
"I hope he won't come before the train gets in," she sighed. "There ain't no letter for him, I hope he won't come. Sometimes I feel like I just can't tell him there ain't no letter for him."
"Who is it?" asked the Professor.
"Seth Lawson," she answered.
The Professor elevated his eyebrows.
"The man who owns the ground on which they are to build the Magic City?" he asked laughingly.
"It may happen," declared the Post Mistress tartly. "Anything is liable to happen in Kansas, the things you least expect."
"Everything in the way of cyclones, you mean," put in the Professor.
"Cyclones and everything else," affirmed the Post Mistress. "No matter what it is, Kansas goes other States one better. She raises the tallest corn—they have to climb stepladders to reach the ears—and the biggest watermelons in the world."
"When she raises any at all," the Professor inserted.
"They say," began the Post Mistress, "that in the Eastern part of the State, where they are beginning to be civilized, when a farmer plants his watermelon seed, he hitches up his fastest team and drives into the next county for the watermelon, it grows so fast. Even then, unless he has a pretty fast team somebody else gets it. If you find one on your claim, you know, it's yours."
"I've heard that story," the Professor politely reminded her.
"They do say," remembered the Post Mistress, "that the Indians tell that yarn, that a cyclone never came to Seth's ranch. It may be a fool notion and it may not.... Look at him," leaning forward and gazing out the window. "See how gaunt and haggard and wistful he looks. I don't believe he gets enough to eat. There ain't a sadder sight on these prairies than Seth Lawson. How many months has she been away from him now? May, June, July, August, September, November," counting on her fingers. "Seven months and one little letter from her to say she got home safe. A dozen from him to her. More. You could almost see the love and sadness through the envelope. And none from her in answer.
"Look at him now. Walkin' up and down, up and down, to pass away the time till the train comes. Waitin' for a letter. It won't come. It never will come. And him waitin' and waitin'. He'd as well wait for the dead to come to life or for that wife of his to leave her Kentucky home she's so much fonder of than she is of him or the baby or anything else in the world, to come back to him. What sort of woman can she be anyway to leave a little nursing baby?"
"Some cats leave their kittens before their eyes are open," the Professor said.
"But a woman isn't a cat," objected the Post Mistress. "At least she oughtn't to be. Do you know I've always said the worst woman was too good for the best man, but that woman has made me change my mind. She's gone for good. She don't have to stand the wind any longer or the sleet or the rain. She's gone for good. Then why couldn't she write him a little letter to keep the heart warm in him. What harm would that do her. How much time would it take?
"It don't seem so bad somehow for a woman to have the heartache. She's used to it, mostly. Some women ain't happy unless they do have it. Heartaches and tears make up their lives, they furnish excitement. But a man is different. You see a man holding a baby in long clothes. It's awkward, ain't it? Somehow it don't seem natural. If you have got any sort of mother's heart in your bosom, you want to go and take it out of his arms and cuddle it.
"It's the same with a man with the heartache. You want to go and take it away from him, even if you have to keep it yourself. It don't seem right for him to have it no more than it seems right for him to have to take care of a child.
"That man's got both. The little baby and the heartache. But what can you do for him? There's nothing goin' to cure him but a letter from her, and you can't get that. If ever a man deserved a good wife it's that man, Seth, and what did he get? A Southern woman!"
"Those Southern women make good wives," asserted the Professor, "if you give them plenty of servants and money. None better."
"Good fair-weather wives," nodded the Post Mistress, "but look out for storms. That's when they desert."
"It's a sweeping assertion," mused the Professor, "and not quite fair. It is impossible to judge them all by this weak creature, Celia Lawson. Many a woman in Kentucky braved dangers, cold, hunger and wild animals, living in log huts as these women live in their dugouts, before that State was settled and civilized."
"Some won't give in that it is civilized," objected the Post Mistress, "they're so given down there to killin' people."
"The only difference," went on the Professor, "was in the animals. They had bears. We have buffaloes. But sometimes you come across a woman who isn't cut out for a pioneer woman, and all the training in the world won't make her one. It's the way with Seth's wife."
"She's not only weak and incapable," vowed the Post Mistress, "but soulless and heartless."
"How these women love each other," the Professor commented.
"'Tain't that," flared the Post Mistress. "I'm as good a friend to a woman as another woman can be...."
"Just so," the Professor smiled.
"It's my theory," frowned the Post Mistress, "that women should stand by women and men by men...."
"Your Theory," mused the Professor.
"And I practice it," declared the Post Mistress. "Only in this case I can't. Nobody could. What sort of woman is she, anyway? I can't understand her. She's rid of him and the child and the wind and the weather. She's back there where they say it's cool in the summer-time and warm in the winter, where the cold blasts don't blow, and the hot winds don't blister, and still she can't take time to sit down and write a little note to the father of her child."
She looked away from the window and Seth to the Professor, who wondered why it was he had never before observed the beauty of her humid eyes.
"I can't bear to see him walking up and down," she complained, "waitin' and waitin'. It disgusts you with woman-kind."
The wind blew the shutter to with a bang. It flung it open again. Some twigs of a tree outside tapped at the pane. A whistle sounded.
Seth turned glad eyes in the direction of the sound. The train!
There was the usual bustle. A man brought in a bag of letters, flung it down, sped out and made a flying leap for the train, which was beginning to move on. The Post Mistress busied herself with distributing the mail and Seth walked back and forth, waiting.
Presently he came in at the door, stood at the grated window back of which she sorted out the letters and then went out again.
After a time he drove slowly by the house in the high blue cart.
"Was there anything for him?" asked the Professor.
The Post Mistress looked after the cart receding into a cloud of dust blown up by the wind and brushed her fingers across her eyes.
"There was nothing for him," she said.
On the winter following Celia's departure, Seth fared ill.
It was all he could do to keep warmth in the boy's body and his own, to get food for their nourishment.
And as for homesickness!
There were nights when he looked at the silver moon, half effaced by wind-blown clouds, and fought back the tears, thinking how that same moon was shining down on home and her.
Nights when he fell into very pleasant dreams of that tranquil beauteous and pleasant country where the wind did not blow. Dreams in which he beheld flowers, not ragged wind-torn flowers of a parched and ragged prairie, odorless, colorless flowers and tumbleweeds tossing weirdly over dusty plains, but flowers of his youth, Four o'Clocks, Marguerites and Daffy-Down-Dillies, nodding bloomily on either side of an old brick walk leading from door to gate, Jasmine hanging redolently from lattice, Virginia Creeper and Pumpkin-vine.
A radiant dream! Celia, walking out through vine and flower in all her fresh young beauty to meet him as in the old days, to open wide the door and welcome him.
Then as she had done, he waked sobbing, man though he was, but he hushed his sobs for fear of waking the child.
He dared not dwell on the word lest his few ideas, scattered already by the sough of the wind, the incessant moan and sob and wail of the wind, might blow away altogether; lest he throw to those winds his pride of independence, his resolute determination to make a home for her and himself and their child in the West, and go back to her.
This, whatever dreams assailed him, he resolved not to do.
And yet there was one dream which he thrust from him fiercely, afraid of it, turning pale at the remembrance of it. A dream of a night on that winter when he had gone to bed hungry.
It was a strange dream and terrible.
He thought it was night, he was out on the prairie, and the wolves were following him.
They had caught him.
Ravenously they were tearing the flesh from his body in shreds.
He waked in terror to hear the bark of a pack at his door, for in that winter of bitter cold the wolves also suffered.
"Was that to be his fate?" he asked himself.
Was he to strive and strive, to spend his life in striving, and then in the working out of destiny, in the survival of the fittest, of the stronger over the weaker, of those who are able to devour over those destined to be devoured, fall prey to the fangs of animals hungrier than he and stronger?