At nine o'clock the mother came out to where the man was smoking on the piazza, with her bonnet on and ready for the little boat-trip. They were to go to the outlet of Lake Huron and back. They would have luncheon either at Sarnia or Port Huron. They would decide when the time came. They were two vagrants.
Dawdling in steamer chairs and looking upon the Michigan shore sat little mother of the country and big son of the city. The woman—the blessed silver-haired creature—forgot herself, and talked to the son as a crony. She pointed out spots upon the shore where she, an early teacher in the wilderness, had adventures before he was born. There was Bruce's Creek, emptying into the river; and Mr. Bruce, most long-lived of pioneers, had but lately died, aged one hundred and five years. There was where the little school-house stood in which she once taught school in 1836. There was where she, riding horseback with a sweetheart who later became governor of the state, once joined with him in a riotous and aimless chase after a black bear which had crossed the road. Her cheeks, upon which there were not many wrinkles, glowed as she told the story of her youth to the man beside her. He looked upon her with the full intelligence of a great relationship for the first time in his life. He fell in love with her.
It dawned upon this man, trained, cynical, an arrogant production of the city, what this woman had been to him. She alone of all the human beings in the world had clung to him faithfully. She had borne and bred, and now she cherished him, and for one who could see beneath the shell and see the mind and soul, she was wonderfully fair to look upon. He had neglected her in all that is best and most appreciated of what would make a mother happiest. But now he was in love. Here came in the man. He had the courage to go right in to the woman, a little while after they had reached home, and tell her all about it. And the foolish woman cried!
A man with a sweetheart has, of course, to look after her and provide for her amusement. So it happened that Jack the next morning announced in arbitrary way to his mother that they were going to Detroit.
Men who have been successful in love will remember that after the first declaration and general admission of facts the woman is for a time most obedient. So it came that this man's sweetheart obeyed him implicitly, and went upstairs to get ready for the journey. She came down almost blushing.
"My bonnet," she said, as she came from her room smelling of lavender and dressed for the journey, "is a little old-fashioned, but it just suits me; I am old-fashioned myself."
She was smiling with the happy look of a girl.
Jack looked at her admiringly. She wore the black silk dress which every American woman considers it only decent that she should have. It was made plainly, without ruffles or bugles or lace, and it fitted her erect, stately figure perfectly. A broad real lace collar encircled her neck, and Jack recognized with delight the solid gold brooch—in shape like nothing that was ever on sea or land—with which it was fastened. It was a relic from the dim past. Jack remembered that piece of jewelry as far back as his memory stretched.
The old lady's hands were neatly gloved, and her feet were shod with substantial, well-kept laced shoes. Everything about her was immaculate. Jack knew that she had never laid aside the white petticoats and stockings it was her pride to keep spotless. She abominated the new fashions of black and silk. Jack could hear her starched skirts rustle as she came toward him. Her bonnet was black and in style of two or three years back, and its silk and lace were a trifle rusty.
"Never mind, mother, we will buy you a bonnet 'as is a bonnet' before we come back," the man said as he kissed the happy, shining face.
The steamers which ply between Detroit and Port Huron and Sarnia are big and sumptuous, and upon them one sits under awnings in midsummer, and if knowing, takes much delight in the wonderful scenery passed. The St. Clair River pours into St. Clair Lake, and Lake St. Clair is one of the great idling places of those upon this continent who can afford to idle. It is a shallow lake, upon the American side stretching out into what are known as the "Flats," a vast area of wild rice with deep blue waterways through them, the haunt of the pickerel and black bass and of duck and wild geese. Upon the Canadian side, the Thames River comes through the lowlands, a deep and reed-fringed stream to contribute to the lake's pure waters. It was upon the banks of this stream, a little way from the lake, that the great Indian, Tecumseh, fought his last fight and died as a warrior should. There is nothing that is not beautiful on the waterway from Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair. It is just the place in which to realize how good the world is. It is just the place for lovers. So Jack, the man who had fallen in love, and his gray-haired sweetheart were vastly content as the steamer bore them toward Detroit.
The man looked upon the woman in a cherishing mood as she sat beside him in a comfortable chair. He noted again the gray hair, thinner than it was once, and thought of the time when he, a thoughtless boy, wondered at its mass and darkness. He compared the pale, aquiline features with the beauty of the woman who, centuries ago it seemed, was accustomed to take him in her lap and cuddle him and make him brave when childish misadventures came. A greater wave of love than ever came over him. He regretted the lost years when he might have made her happier, might have given her a greater realization of what she had done in the world with her firm example, in a new country, and the strong brood she had borne and suffered for. And he had manhood enough and a sudden impulse to tell her all about it. She listened, but said nothing, and clasped his hand. Mothers will cry sometimes.
The city was reached, and there was a proper luncheon, and then the arbitrary son dragged his sweetheart out upon the street with him. The first thing, the matter of great importance, was the bonnet, not that he cared for the bonnet particularly, but he was a-sweethearting. He was going to spoil his girl if he could, that was what he said. His girl only looked up with glistening eyes, and submitted obediently to be haled along in the direction of a "swell" milliner's place, the name of which Jack had secured after much examination of the directory and much inquiry in offices where he was acquainted.
As they walked along the busy street they met a lady of unmistakably distinguished appearance. Instantly she recognized the mother and son, and stopped to greet them.
She was an old playmate of Jack's and a protege of his mother's, now the wife of a man of brains, influence, money, and a leader in the social life of the City of the Straits.
There came an inspiration to the man. "Mrs. Sheldon," said he, "I want you to help us. We are this moment about to engage in a business transaction of great importance; in fact, if you must know the worst, we are going to buy a bonnet!"
Mrs. Sheldon entered into the shopping expedition with a zest which reminded Jack of the Scriptural battle-steed which sayeth "Ha-ha" to the trumpets. When the brief but brisk and determined engagement was over, Jack's mother appeared in a bonnet of delicate gray, just a shade darker than her silver hair. There was a pink rose in that bonnet, half hidden by lace, and in the cheeks of its wearer faintly bloomed two other pink roses. It was just a dream in bonnets as suited to the woman. The mother had protested prettily, had said the bonnet was "too young" and all that, but had been browbeaten and overcome and made submissive. Mrs. Sheldon was in her element, and happy. Well she knew the man of the world who had demanded her aid, and much she wanted to please him; but deeper than all, her woman's instinct told her of his suddenly realized love for his old mother, and she was no longer a woman of fashion alone, but a helpful human being. Even her own eyes were suspiciously moist as she dragged the couple off to dine with her.
They were to go to the theater that evening, the man and his sweetheart, and by chance stumbled upon a well-staged comic opera, with good music and brilliant and picturesque although occasionally scanty costumes. On the way down the son told the mother of how in Detroit, way back in the sixties, he had seen for the first time a theatrical performance. He told her what she had forgotten, how she had induced his father to take him to the city, and how, in what was "Young Men's Hall," or something with a similar name, he had seen Laura Keene in "A School for Scandal." Then she remembered, and was glad. They had seats in a box at the theater, and from the rising of the curtain till its final drop the man was in much doubt. The manner in which women were dressed upon the stage had changed since the last time when his mother had visited the theater. She was shocked when she saw the forms of women, which, if at least well covered, were none the less outlined.
There was talking in that box. The son explained. The blessed woman almost "bolted" once or twice, but finally accepted all that was told her with the precious though sometimes mistaken confidence a woman has in the matured judgment of the man-child she has borne. Then, having a streak of the Viking recklessness in her which she had given to her son, she enjoyed herself amazingly. It was a glorious outing.
Well, in the way which has been described, the man made love to the woman for a day or two. Then he took her home, and bade her good-by for a time, and told her, in an exaggeratedly formal way, which she understood and smiled at, that he and she must meet each other much oftener in the future. Then he hugged her and went away. And she, being a mother whose heart had hungered, watched his figure as it disappeared, and laughed and cried and was very happy.
"Louisa," said a dignified old lady, "I was mistaken in saying that all happiness from children comes in their youth. It may come in a greater way later—if!"
A TRAGEDY OF THE FOREST
It is Christmas eve. A man lies stretched on his blanket in a copse in the depths of a black pine forest of the Saginaw Valley. He has been hunting all day, fruitlessly, and is exhausted. So wearied is he with long hours of walking, that he will not even seek to reach the lumbermen's camp, half a mile distant, without a few moment's rest. He has thrown his blanket down on the snow in the bushes, and has thrown himself upon the blanket, where he lies, half dreaming. No thought of danger comes to him. There is slight risk, he knows, even were he to fall asleep, though the deep forests of the Saginaw region are not untenanted. He is in that unexplainable mental condition which sometimes comes with extreme exhaustion. His bodily senses are dulled and wearied, but a phenomenal acuteness has come to those perceptions so hard of definition—partly mental, partly psychological. The man lying in the copse is puzzled at his own condition, but he does not seek to analyze it. He is not a student of such phenomena. He is but a vigorous young backwoodsman, the hunter attached to the camp of lumbermen cutting trees in the vicinity. The man has lain for some time listlessly, but the feeling which he cannot understand increases now almost to an oppression. He sees nothing, but there is an unusual sensation which alarms him. He recognizes near him a presence—fierce, intense, unnatural. A rustle in the twigs a few feet distant falls upon his ears. He raises his head. What he sees startles and at the same time robs him of all volition. It is not fear. He is armed and is courageous enough. It is something else; some indefinable connection with the object upon which he looks which holds him. There, where it has drawn itself closely and stealthily from its covert in the underbrush, is a huge gray wolf.
The man can see the gaunt figure distinctly, though the somber light is deepening quickly into darkness. He can see the grisly coat, the yellow fangs, the flaming eyes. He can almost feel the hot breath of the beast. But something far more disturbing than that which meets his eye affects him. His own individuality has become obscured and another is taking its place. He struggles against the transformation, but in vain. He can read the wolf's thoughts, or rather its fierce instincts and desires. He is the wolf.
Undoubtedly there exists at times a relation between the souls of human beings. One comprehends the other. There is a transfer of wishes, emotions, impulses. Now something of the same kind has happened to the man with this dreadful beast. He knows the wolf's heart. The man trembles like one in fear. The perspiration comes in great drops upon his forehead, and his features are distorted. It is a horrible thing. Now a change comes. The wolf moves. He glides off in the darkness. The spell upon the man is weakened, but it is not gone. He staggers to his feet, and half an hour later is in the lumbermen's camp again. But he comes in like one insane—pallid of face and muttering. His comrades, startled by his appearance, ply him with questions, receiving only incoherent answers. They place him in his rude bunk, where he lies writhing and twisting about as under strong excitement. His eyes are staring, as if they must see what those about him cannot see, and his breath comes quickly. He pants like a wild beast. There is reason for it. His thoughts are with the wolf. He is the wolf. The personalities of the ravening brute and of the man are blended now in one, or rather the personality of the man has been eliminated. The man's body is in the lumbermen's camp, but his mind is in the depths of the forest. He is seeking prey!
* * * * *
"I am hungry! I must have warm blood and flesh! The darkness is here, and my time has come. There are no deer to-night in the pine forest on the hill, where I have run them down and torn them. The deep snow has driven them into the lower forest, where men have been at work. The deer will be feeding to-night on the buds of the trees the men have felled. How I hate men and fear them! They are different from the other animals in the wood. I shun them. They are stronger than I in some way. There is death about them. As I crept by the farm beside the river this morning I saw a young one, a child with yellow hair. Ah, how I would like to feed upon her! Her throat was white and soft. But I dare not rush through the field and seize her. The man was there, and he would have killed me. They are not hungry. The odor of flesh came to me in the wind across the clearing. It was the same way at this time when the snow was deep last year. It is some day on which they feast. But I will feed better. I will have hot blood. The deer are in the tops of the fallen trees now!"
Across frozen streams, gliding like a shadow through the underbrush, swift, silent, with only its gleaming eyes to betray it, the gaunt figure goes. Miles are past. The figure threads its way between the trunks of massive trees. It passes over fallen logs with long, noiseless leaps; it creeps serpent-like beneath the wreck left by a summer "cyclone"; it crosses the barren reaches of oak openings, where the shadows cast by huge pines adjacent mingle in fantastic figures; it casts a shifting shadow itself as it sweeps across some lighter spot, where faint moonbeams find their way to the ground through overhanging branches. The figure approaches the spot where the lumbermen have been at work. Among the tops of the fallen trees are other figures—light, graceful, flitting about. The deer are feeding on the buds.
The eyes of the long gray figure stealing on grow more flaming still. The yellow fangs are disclosed cruelly. Slowly it creeps forward. It is close upon the flitting figures now. There is a rush, a fierce, hungry yelp, a great leap. There is a crash of twigs and limbs. The flitting figures assume another character; the beautiful deer, wild with fright, bounding away with gigantic springs. The steady stroke of their hoofs echoes away through the forest. In the tree-tops there is a great struggle, and then the sound comes of another series of great leaps dying off in the distance. The prey has escaped. But not altogether! The grisly figure is following. The pace had changed to one of fierce pursuit. It is steady and relentless.
* * * * *
The man in the bunk in the lumbermen's camp half leaps to his feet. His eyes are staring more wildly, his breathing is more rapid. He appears a man in a spasm. His comrades force him to his bed again, but find it necessary to restrain him by sheer strength. They think he has gone mad. But only his body is with them. He is in the forest. His prey has escaped him. He is pursuing it.
* * * * *
"It has escaped me! I almost had it by its slender throat when it shook me off and leaped away. But I will have it yet! I will follow swiftly till it tires and falters, and then I will tear and feed upon it. The old wolf never tires! Leap away, you fool, if you will. I am coming, hungry, never resting. You are mine!"
With the speed of light the deer bounds away in the direction its fellows have taken. Its undulating leaps are like the flight of a bird. The snow crackles as its feet strike the frozen earth and flies off in a white shower. The fallen tree-tops are left behind. Miles are covered. But ever, in the rear, with almost the speed of the flying deer, sweeps along the trailing shadow. It is long past midnight. The moon has risen high, and the bright spots in the forest are more frequent. The deer crosses these with a rush. A few moments later there is in the same place the passage of shadow. Still they are far apart. Will they remain so?
Swiftly between the dark pines again, across frozen streams again, through valleys and over hills, the relentless chase continues. The leaps of the fleeing deer become less vaulting, a look of terror in its liquid eyes has deepened; its tongue projects from its mouth, its wet flanks heave distressfully, but it flies on in desperation. The distance between it and the dark shadow behind has lessened plainly. There is no abatement to the speed of this silent thing. It follows noiselessly, persistently.
The forest becomes thinner now. The flying deer bounds over a fence of brushwood and suddenly into a sea of sudden light. It is the clearing in the midst of which the farm-house stands. Across the sea of gold made by the moonshine on the field of snow flies the deer, to disappear in the depth of the forest beyond. It has scarcely passed from sight, when emerging from the wood appears the pursuing figure. It is clearly visible now. There are flecks of foam upon the jaws, the lips are drawn back from the sharp fangs, and even the light from above does not dim nor lessen the glare in the hungry eyes. The figure passes along the long bright space. The same scene in the forest beyond, but intensified. The distance between pursuer and pursued is lessening still. The leaps of the deer are weakening now, its quick panting is painful. And the thing behind is rushing along with its thirst for blood increased by its proximity. But the darkness in the forest is disappearing. In the east there is a faint ruddy tinge. It is almost morning.
"I shall have it! It is mine—the weak thing, with its rich, warm blood! Swift of foot as it is, did it think to escape the old wolf? It falters as it leaps. It is faint and tottering. How I will tear it! The day has nearly come. How I hate the day! But the prey is mine. I will kill it in the gray light."
* * * * *
The man in the bunk in the lumbermen's camp is seized with another spasm. He struggles to escape from his friends, though he does not see them. He is fiercely intent on something. His teeth are set and his eyes glare fiercely. It requires half a dozen men to restrain him.
* * * * *
The deer struggles on, still swiftly but with effort. Its breath comes in agony, its eyes are staring from its sockets. It is a pitiable spectacle. But the struggle for life continues. In its flight the deer had described a circle. Once more the forest becomes less dense, the clearing with the farm-house is reached again. With a last desperate effort the deer vaults over the brushwood fence. The scene has changed again. The morning has broken. The great snowy surface which was a sea of gold has become a sea of silver. The farm-house stands out revealed plainly in the increasing light. With flagging movement the fugitive passes across the field. But there is a sudden, slight noise behind. The deer turns its head. Its pursuer is close upon it. It sees the death which nears it. The monster, sure now of its prey, gives a fierce howl of triumph. Terror lends the victim strength. It turns toward the farm-house; it struggles through the banks of snow; it leaps the low palings, where, beside great straw-stacks, the cattle of the farm are herded. It disappears among them.
The door of the farm-house opens, and from it comes a man who strides away toward where the cattle are gathered, lowing for their morning feed. After the man there emerges from the door a little girl with yellow hair. The child laughs aloud as she looks over the field of snow, with its myriads of crystals flashing out all colors under the rays of the morning sun. She dances along the footpath in a direction opposite that taken by the man. Not far distant, creeping along a deep furrow, is a lank, skulking figure.
"Can it be? Has it escaped me, when it was mine? I would have torn it at the farm-house door but that the man appeared. Must I hunger for another day, when I am raging for blood! What is that! It is the child, and alone! It has wandered away from the farm-house. Where is the great hound that guards the house at night? Oh, the child! I can see its white throat again. I will tear it. I will throttle the weak thing and still its cries in an instant!"
* * * * *
The man in the bunk in the lumbermen's camp is wild again. His comrades struggle to hold him down.
* * * * *
A horrible, hairy thing, with flaming eyes and hot breath, which leaps upon and bears down a child with yellow hair. A hoarse growl, the rush of a great hound, a desperate struggle in the snow, and the still air of morning is burdened suddenly with wild clamor. There is an opening of doors, there are shouts and calls and flying footsteps; and then, mingling with the cries of the writhing brutes, rings out sharply the report of the farmer's rifle. There is a howl of rage and agony, and a gaunt gray figure leaps upward and falls quivering across the form of the child. The child is lifted from the ground unhurt. The great hound has by the throat the old wolf—dead!
* * * * *
The man in the lumbermen's camp has leaped from his bunk. His appearance is something ghastly. His comrades spring forward to restrain him, but he throws them off. There is a furious struggle with the madman. He has the strength of a dozen men. The sturdy lumbermen at last gain the advantage over him. Suddenly he throws up his hands and pitches forward upon the floor of the shanty—dead.
They could never understand—the simple lumbermen—why the life of the merry, light-hearted hunter of the party came to an end so suddenly on the eve of Christmas Day. He was well the day before, they said, in perfect health, but he went mad on the eve of Christmas Day, and in the morning died.
My friends, the Parasangs, both died last week. Mr. Parasang was carried off by a slight attack of pneumonia as dust is wiped away by a cloth, and Mrs. Parasang followed him within three days. He was in life a rather energetic man, and she always lagged a little behind him when they went abroad walking together, keeping pretty close to him, notwithstanding. So it was in death. It was the shock of the thing, they say, that killed her, she lacking any great strength; but to me it seems to have been chiefly force of habit and the effect of what romantic people call being in love. She was in love with her husband, as he had been with her. And what was the use of staying here, he gone?
They were buried together, and I was one of the pall-bearers at the double funeral; indeed, I was the directing spirit, having been so connected with the Parasangs that I was their close friend, and the person to whom every one naturally turned in the adjustment of matters concerning them. When Mr. Parasang died, the first instinct of his wife was to tell them to send for me, and when I reached their home—for I was absent from the city—I found that she had clung to and followed him as usual, as he liked it to be. It was what he lived for as long as he could live at all.
They had ordered a fine coffin for Parasang, and when I came he was lying in it. Mrs. Parasang was lying where she had died, in bed. And they had ordered another fine coffin for her. (Of course, when I refer to the bodies as Mr. and Mrs. Parasang it must be understood that I consider only the earthly tenements, for I am a religious man.) I did not like it. I went to the undertaker and asked him if he could not make a coffin for two. He answered that it was somewhat of an unusual order, that there were styles and fashions in coffins just as there are in shoes and hats and things of that sort, and that it would be a difficult work for him to accomplish, in addition to being most expensive. I did not argue with him at all, for I knew be had the advantage of me. I am not an expert in coffins, and, of course, could not meet him upon his own ground. If it had been the purchase of a horse or gun or dog, or a new typewriting machine, it would have been an altogether different thing.
I simply told the undertaker to go ahead and make such a coffin as I had ordered, regardless of expense. I wanted it softly cushioned, and I told him not to make it unnecessarily wide. I wanted them side by side, with their faces turned upward, of course, so that we could all have a fair last look at them, but I wanted them so close together that they would be touching from head to foot. I wanted it so that when they became dust and bone all would be mingled, and that even the hair, which does not decay for some centuries, which grows, you know, after death, would be all twined together.
The undertaker followed my instructions, for undertakers get to be as mechanical as shoemakers or ticket-sellers; but the relations of the Parasangs and close friends at home thought it an odd thing to have done. I overrode them and had things all my own way, for I knew I was right. I knew the Parasangs better than any one else. I knew what they would have me do were communications between us still possible.
There was something so odd about the love story of the Parasangs that it always interested me. It made me laugh, but I was in full sympathy with them, though sympathy was something of which they were not in need. The queer thing about it was their age.
Mr. Parasang and I were cronies. We were cronies despite the number of years which had elapsed since our respective births. He was seventy-eight. Mrs. Parasang was seventy-five. And they had been married but two years. I knew Mr. Parasang before the wedding, and it was because of my close intimacy with him that I came to know the relations between the two and the story of it. I was just forty years his junior.
I can't understand why the man died so easily. He was such a vigorous-looking person for his age, and seemed in such perfect health. He was one of your apparently strong, gray-mustached old men, and did not look to be more than sixty-five at most. His wife, I think, was really stronger than he, though she did not appear so young. It is often that way with women. The attack of pneumonia which came upon Parasang was not, the doctors told me, vicious enough to overthrow an ordinary man. I suppose it was merely that this man's life capital had run out. There is a great deal in heredity. Sometimes I think that each child is born with just such a capital and vitality, something which could be represented in figures if we knew how to do it; and that, though it is affected to an extent by ways of living, the amount of capital determines, within certain limits, to a certainty how long its possessor will do business on this round lump of earth. I think Parasang's time for liquidation had come. That is all. As for Mrs. Parasang, I think she could have stayed a little longer if she had cared to do so, but she went away because he had gone. One can just lie down and die sometimes.
I have drifted away from what I was going to say—this problem of dying always attracts—but I will try to get back to the subject proper. I was going to tell of the odd love story of the Parasangs, or at least what struck me as odd, because, as I have said, of their ages. There is nothing in it particular aside from that.
A little less than fifty years ago—that must have been about when Taylor was President—Parasang was engaged to marry a girl of whom he was very fond, and who was very fond of him. Well, these two, much in love, and just suited to each other, must needs have a difference of the sort known as a lovers' quarrel. That in itself was nothing to speak of, for most lovers, being young and fools, do the same thing. But it so happened that these two, being also high-spirited, carried the difference farther than is usual with smitten, callow males and females, and let the breach widen until they separated, as they thought, finally. And she married in course of time, and so did he. It's a way people have; a way more or less good or bad, according to circumstances. She lived with a commonplace husband until he died and left her a widow, aged sixty or thereabout. Mr. Parasang's wife died about the same time. What sort of a woman she was I do not know. I remember the old gentleman told me once that she was an excellent housekeeper and had the gift of talking late o' nights. I could not always tell what Parasang meant when he said things. He was one of the sort of old gentlemen who leave much to be inferred.
Parasang had drifted here, and was a reasonably well-to-do man. His old sweetheart had come also because her late husband had made an investment here, and she found it to her interest to live where her income was mostly earned. Neither knew how near the other was, and the years passed by. Eventually the two met by an accident of the sheerest kind. Possibly they had almost forgotten each other, though I don't think that is so. They met among mutual friends, and—there they were. I have often wondered how it must seem to meet after half a century. There is something about the brain which makes the reminiscences fresh to one sometimes, but of an early love story it must be like a dream to the aged. Something uncertain and vaguely sweet. Just think of it—half a century, more than one generation, had passed since these two had met. Their old love story must have seemed to them something all unreal, something they had but read long ago in a book.
Parasang was a large man, but Mrs. Blood—that was now his old sweetheart's name—was a small woman. Her hair was nearly white when I met her, but from the color of a few unchanged strands of it, I imagine that it must have been red when she was young. Maybe that was why the lovers' quarrel of over fifty years ago had been so spirited. She was both spirited and charming, even at seventy-two, and at twenty must have been a fascinating woman. Parasang was doubtless himself a striking person when he was young. I have already said what he was like in his old age. Both the man and woman had retained the personal regard for themselves which is so pleasant in old people, and Mrs. Blood was still as dainty as could be, in her trim gowns, generally of some fluffy black or silvery gray material, and Parasang was as strong and wholesome looking as an ox. I shall always regret that I was not present when they met. A study of their faces then would have been worth while.
Parasang once told me about this second wooing of his wife—and it was droll. There seemed nothing funny about it to him. He said that after being introduced to Mrs. Blood, and recognizing her in an instant after all those years, as she did him, they sat down on a sofa together, being left to entertain each other, as the two oldest people in the room; and that he uttered a few commonplace sentences, and she replied gently in the same vein for a little time; and that then each stopped talking, and that they sat there quietly gazing at each other. And he said that somehow, looking into her eyes, even with the delicate glasses on them, the earth seemed to be slipping away, and there was the girl he had known and loved again beside him; and then the years passed by in another direction, only more slowly. And the girl seemed to get a little older and a little older, and the hair changed and the cheeks fell a little at the sides just below the mouth, you know, and there came crow's feet at the outer corners of her eyes, and wrinkles across her neck, but that nothing of all this physical happening ever changed one iota the real look of her, the look which is from the heart of a woman when a man has once really known her. And so the years glided over their course, she changing a little with each, yet never really changing at all, until it came again up to the present moment, with her beside him on the sofa, real and tangible, just as he would have her in every way.
"I don't suppose you can understand it," he said, "for you are only a boy in such things yet" (those old fellows call everything under fifty a boy); "but I tell you it is a wonderful thing to know what a love is that can come out of the catacombs, so to speak, and be all itself again," and he said this as jauntily as if I, being so young, couldn't know anything about the proper article, as far as sentiment was concerned.
They sat there on the sofa, he said, still silent and looking at each other. At last, when he had fully realized it all, he spoke.
"I knew that you were a widow, Jennie, but I did not know that you were living here."
She explained that she had been in the city for some time and the reason of it, and then the conversation lagged again; and they were very much like two young people at a children's party, save that they were dreaming rather than embarrassed, and that, I suppose, they felt the dry germ of another age seeking the air and the sunshine of living. You know they have found grains of wheat in the Egyptian mummy cases, which were laid away over three thousand years ago, and that these grains of wheat, under the new conditions, have sprouted and grown and shot up green stalks and borne plump seeds again. And the love of Mr. and Mrs. Parasang has always reminded me of the mummy wheat.
They talked a little of old friends and of old times, but their talk was not all unconstrained, because, you see, they couldn't refer to those former times and scenes without recalling, involuntarily, some day or some hour when they two were together, and when there seemed a chain between their hearts which nothing in the world could break. It was an awful commentary on the quality of human love and human pledges that things should be as they had been and as they were. It was a reflection, in a sense, on each of them. How hollow had been everything—and it was all their fault.
They both kept looking at each other, and when they parted he asked if he might call upon her, and she assented quietly. He called next day, and found her all alone, for a niece who lived with her had gone away; and they became, he said, a little more at ease. And then began the most delicate of all wooings. I met them sometimes then and guessed at it, though as yet Parasang had not told me the story. He was more considerate, I imagine, than he had been in youth, and she, it may be, less exacting. It was a mellow relationship, yet with a shyness that was amazing. They were drifting together upon soft waves of memory, yet wondering at the happening.
And one day he asked her if she would be his wife. She had known, of course—a woman always knows—but she blushed and looked up at him, and tears came into her eyes.
And he thought of the time, so long ago, when he had asked her the same question. He could not help it. And somehow she did not seem less. He thought only of how foolish they had been to throw away a heritage of belonging to each other; and then he thought of how the man, the protector, the guardian of both, should have taken the broader view and have been above all pettishness and have yielded for the sake of both. She would not have thought more lightly of him. She would have understood some day. For the lost past he blamed himself alone.
She answered him at last, but it was not as she had answered once. She spoke sweetly and bravely of their age and of the uselessness of it all now, and of what people would say, and of other things. But her eyes were just as loving as when his hair was dark.
And when she had said all those things he did what made me like him. There was good stuff in Parasang. He merely took her in his arms. Furthermore, he told her when they would be married. And I was at the wedding on that day.
It was six months later when I got the habit of dining with them pretty regularly and of calling for Parasang on my way down town in the morning. She came into the hall with him, as do young wives, and kissed him good-by, and it pleased and interested me amazingly. The outlines of their mouths were not the same as they were half a century ago, and as he bent over her I thought each time of—
"And their spirits rushed together At the meeting of the lips";
and it would occur to me queerly that spirits had but slender causeway there. I was mistaken, though. I learned that later.
There was but this variation between the early wedded life of this aged pair and of what would possibly have happened had they married young. There were no differences and no "makings-up." It was a pleasant stream—I knew it would be—but the volume of it surprised me.
That is all. There is no plot to the story of what I know of these dear friends of mine whom I cannot see now. And it was but because of what I have told that I had them buried as they were. There was nothing, from the ordinary standpoint, which justified my course in overrunning those other people who would have buried the two apart; but I believe myself that one should, within reason, seek to gratify the fancies of one's closest friends.
LOVE AND A TRIANGLE
A man came out of a mine, looked about him, inhaled the odor from the stunted spruce trees, looked up at the clear skies, then called to a boy idling in a shed at a little distance from the mine buildings, telling him to bring out the horse and buckboard. The name of the man who had issued from the mine was Julius Corbett, and he was a civil engineer. Furthermore, he was a capitalist.
He was an intelligent looking man of about thirty-five, and a resolute looking one, this Julius Corbett, and as he stood waiting for the buckboard, was rather worth seeing, vigorous of frame, clear of eye and bronzed by a summer's work in a wild country. The shaft from which he had just emerged was that of a silver mine not five miles distant from Black Bay, one of the inlets of the northern shore of Lake Superior, and was a most valuable property, of which he was chief owner. He had inherited from an uncle in Canada a few hundred acres of land in this region, but had scarcely considered it worthy the payment of its slight taxes until some of the many attempts at mining in the region had proved successful, and it was shown that the famous Silver Islet, worked out years ago in Lake Superior, was not the only repository thereabouts of the precious metal. Then he had abandoned for a time the practice of his profession—he had an office in Chicago—and had visited what he referred to lightly as his "British possessions." He had found rich indications, had called in mining experts, who confirmed all he had imagined, and had returned to Chicago and organized a company. There was a monotonous success to the undertaking, much at variance with the story of ordinary mining enterprises. Corbett had become a very rich man within two years; he was worth more than a million, and was becoming richer daily. He was, seemingly, a person much to be envied, and would not himself, on the day here referred to, have denied such imputation, for he was in love with an exceedingly sweet and clever girl, and knew that he had won this same charming creature's heart. They were plighted to each other, but the date of their marriage was not yet fixed. He had closed up his business at the mine for the season, and was now about to hasten to Chicago, where the day of so much importance to him would be fixed upon and the sum of his good fortune soon made complete. This was in September, 1898.
It was not a commonplace girl whom Corbett was to marry. On the contrary, she was exceptionally gifted, and a young woman whose cleverness had been supplemented by an elaborate education. There was, however, running through her character a vein of what might be called emotionalism. The habit of concentration, acquired through study, seemed rather to intensify this quality than otherwise. Perhaps it made even greater her love for Corbett, but it was destined to perplex him.
In September the air is crisp along the route from Black Bay to Duluth, and from that through fair Wisconsin to Chicago, and Corbett's spirits were high throughout the journey. Was he not to meet Nell Morrison, in his estimation the sweetest girl on earth? Was he not soon to possess her entirely and for a permanency? He made mental pictures of the meeting, and drifted into a lover's mood of planning. Out of his wealth what a home he would provide for her, and how he would gratify her gentle whims! Even her astronomical fancy, Vassar-born, should become his own, and there should be an observatory to the house. He had a weakness for astronomy himself, and was glad his wife-to-be had the same taste intensified. They would study the heavens together from a heaven of their own. What was wealth good for anyhow, save to make happy those we love?
The train sped on, and Chicago was reached, and very soon thereafter was reached the home of the Morrisons. Corbett could not complain of his reception. The one creature was there, sweet as a woman may be, eager to meet him, and with tenderness and steadfastness shown in every line of her pretty face. They spent a charming day and evening together, and he was content. Once or twice, just for a moment, the young woman seemed abstracted, but it was only for a moment, and the lover thought little of the circumstance. He was happy when he bade her good-night. "To-morrow, dear," said he, "we will talk of something of greatest importance to me, of importance to us both." She blushed and made no answer for a second. Then she said that she loved him dearly, and that what affected one must affect the other, and that she would look for him very early in the afternoon. He went to his hotel buoyant. The world was good to him.
When Corbett called at the Morrison mansion the next day he entered without ringing, as was his habit, and went straight to the library, expecting to find Nell there. He was disappointed, but there were traces of her recent presence. There was an astronomical map open upon the table, and books and reviews lay all about, each, open, with a marker indicating a special page. A little glove lay upon the floor, and Corbett picked it up and kissed it.
He summoned a servant and sent upstairs to announce his presence; then turned instinctively to note what branch of her favorite study was now attracting his sweetheart's attention. He picked up one of the open reviews, an old one by the way, and read a marked passage there. It was as follows:
"It will always be more difficult for us to communicate with the people of Mars than to receive signals from them, because of our position and phases. It is the nocturnal terrestrial hemisphere that is turned toward the planet Mars in the periods when we approach most nearly to it, and it shows us in full its lighted hemisphere. But communication is possible."
He looked at a map. It was a great chart of the surface of Mars, made by the famous Italian Schiaparelli, and he looked at more of the reviews and found ever the same subject considered in the marked articles. All related to Mars. He was puzzled but delighted. "The dear girl has a hobby," he thought. "Well, she shall enjoy it to the utmost."
Nelly entered the room. Her face lighted up with pleasure when she met her fiance, but assumed a more thoughtful look as she saw what he was reading. She welcomed him, though, as kindly as any lover could demand, and he, of course, was joyously content. "Still an astronomer, I see," he said, "and apparently with a specialty. I see nothing but Mars, all Mars! Have you become infatuated with a single planet, to the neglect of all the others? I like it, though. We will study Mars together."
Her face brightened. "I am so glad!" she said. "I have studied nothing else for months. It has been so almost from the day you left us. And it is not Mars alone I am studying; it is the great problem of communication with the people there. Oh, Julius, it is possible, and the idea is something wonderful! Just think what would follow! It would be the beginning of an understanding between reasoning creatures of the whole universe!"
He said that it was something wonderful, indeed, maybe only a dream, but a very fascinating one.
"Oh, it is no dream," she answered. "It is a glorious possibility. Why, just think of it, we know, positively know, that Mars is inhabited. Think of what has been discovered. It was perceived years ago that Mars was intersected by canals, evidently made by human—I suppose that's the word—human beings. They run from the extremes of ocean bays to the extremes of other ocean bays, and connect, too, the many lakes there. Nature does not make such lines. They are of equal width, those canals, throughout their whole length, and Schiaparelli has even watched them in construction. First there is a dark line, as if the earth had been disturbed, and then it becomes bright when the water is let in. Sometimes, too, double canals are made there close to each other, running side by side, as if one were used for travel and transportation in one direction and one in another. And there are many other things as wonderful. The world of Mars is like our own. There are continents and seas and islands there—it is not a dead, dry surface like the moon—and it has clouds and rains and snows and seasons, just as we have, and of the same intensity as ours. Oh, Julius, we must communicate with them!"
"But, my dear, that implies equal interest on their part. How do we know them to be intelligent enough?"
"Why, there are the canals. They must be reasoners in Mars. Besides, how do we know but that they far surpass us in all learning! Mars is much older in one way than the Earth, far more advanced in its planet life, and why should not its people, through countless ages of advantage, have become wiser than we? Whatever their form, they may be superior to us in every way. We are to them, too, something which must have been studied for thousands of years. The Earth, you know, is to the people on Mars a most brilliant object. It is the most glorious object in their sky, a star of the first magnitude. Oh, be sure their astronomers are watching us with all interest!"
And Corbett, dazed, replied that he was overwhelmed with so much learning in one so fair, that he was very proud of her, but that there was one subject on his mind, compared to which communication with Mars or any other planet was but a trifle. And he wanted to talk with her concerning what was closest to his heart. It was the one great question in the world to him. It was, when should be their wedding day?
The girl looked at him blushingly, then paled. "Let us not talk of that to-day," she said, at length. "I know it isn't right; I know that I seem unkind—but—oh, Julius! come to-morrow and we will talk about it." And she began crying.
He could not understand. Her demeanor was all incomprehensible to him, but he tried to soothe her, and told her she had been studying too hard and that her nerves were not right. She brightened a little, but was still distrait. He left, with something in his heart like a vengeful feeling toward the planets, and toward Mars in particular.
When Corbett returned next day the girl was in the library awaiting him. Her demeanor did not relieve him. He feared something indefinable. She was sad and perplexed of countenance, but more self-possessed than on the day before. She spoke softly: "Now we will talk of what you wished to yesterday."
He pleaded as a lover will, pleaded for an early day, and gave a hundred reasons why it should be so, and she listened to him, not apathetically, but almost sadly. When he concluded, she said, very quietly:
"Did you ever read that queer story by Edmond About called 'The Man with the Broken Ear'?"
He answered, wonderingly, in the affirmative.
"Well, dear" she said, "do you remember how absorbed, so that it was a very part of her being, the heroine of that story became in the problem of reviving the splendid mummy? She forgot everything in that, and could not think of marriage until the test was made and its sequel satisfactory. She was not faithless; she was simply helpless under an irresistible influence. I'm afraid, love"—and here the tears came into her eyes—"that I'm like that heroine. I care for you, but I can think only of the people in Mars. Help me. You are rich. You have a million dollars, and will soon have more. Reach those people!"
He was shocked and disheartened. He pleaded the probable utter impracticability of such an enterprise. He might as well have talked to a statue. It all ended with an outburst on her part.
"Talk with the Martians," said she, "and the next day I will become your wife!"
He left the house a most unhappy man. What could he do? He loved the girl devotedly, but what a task had she given him! Then, later, came other reflections. After all, the end to be attained was a noble one, and he could, in a measure, sympathize with her wild desire. The lover in "The Man With a Broken Ear" had at least occasion for a little jealousy. His own case was not so bad. He could not well be jealous of an entire population of a distant planet. And to what better use could a portion of his wealth be put than in the advancement of science! The idea grew upon him. He would make the trial!
He was rewarded the next day when he told his fiancee what he had decided upon. She was wildly delighted. "I love you more than ever now!" she declared, "and I will work with you and plan with you and aid you all I can. And," she added, roguishly, "remember that it is not all for my sake. If you succeed you will be famous all over the world, and besides, there'll come some money back to you. There is the reward of one hundred thousand francs left in 1892 by Madame Guzman to any one who should communicate with the people of another planet."
He responded, of course, that he was impelled to effort only by the thought of hastening a wedding day, and then he went to his office and wrote various letters to various astronomers. His friend Marston, professor of astronomy in the University of Chicago, he visited in person. He was not a laggard, this Julius Corbett, in anything he undertook.
Then there was much work.
Marston, being an astronomer, believed in vast possibilities. Being a man of sense, he could advise. He related to Corbett all that had been suggested in the past for interstellar communication. He told of the suggested advice of making figures in great white roads upon some of Earth's vast plains, but dismissed the idea as too costly and not the best. "We have a new agent now," he said. "There is electricity. We must use that. And the figures must, of course, be geometrical. Geometry is the same throughout all the worlds that are or have been or ever will be."
And there was much debate and much correspondence and an exhibition of much learning, and one day Corbett left Chicago. His destination was Buenos Ayres, South America.
The Argentine Republic, since its financial troubles early in the decade, had been in a complaisant and conciliating mood toward all the world, and Corbett had little difficulty in his first step—that of securing a concession for stringing wires in any designs which might suit him upon the vast pampas of the interior. It was but stipulated that the wires should be raised at intervals, that herding might not be interfered with. He had already made a contract with one of the great electric companies. The illuminated figures were to be two hundred miles each in their greatest measurement, and were to be as follows:
It was found advisable, later, to dispense with the last two, and so, only the square, equilateral triangle, circle and right-angled triangle, it was decided should be made. The work was hurried forward with all the impetus of native energy, practically unlimited money and the power of love. This last is a mighty force.
And great works were erected, with vast generators, and thousands and thousands of miles of sheets of wires were strung close together, until each system, when illuminated, would make a broad band of flame surrounding the defined area. From the darkened surface of the Earth, at the time when the Earth approached Mars most nearly, would blaze out to the Martians the four great geometrical figures. The test was made at last. All that had been hoped for in the way of an effort was attained. All along the lines of those great figures, night in the Argentine Republic was turned into glorious day. From balloons the spectacle was something incomparably magnificent. All was described in a thousand letters. A host of correspondents were there, and accounts of the undertaking and its progress were sent all over the civilized world. Each night the illumination was renewed, and all the world waited. Months passed.
Corbett had returned to Chicago. He could do no more. He could only await the passage of time, and hope. He was not very buoyant now. His sweetheart was full of the tenderest regard, but was in a condition of feverish unrest. He was alarmed regarding her, so great appeared her anxiety and so tense the strain upon her nerves. He could not help her, and prepared to return again to a season at his mine.
The man was sitting in his room one night in a gloomy frame of mind. What a fool he had been! He had but yielded to a fancy of a dreaming girl, and put her even farther away from him while wasting half a fortune! He would be better on the rugged shore of Lake Superior, where the moods of men were healthy, and where were pure air and the fragrance of the pines. There was a strong pull at his bell.
A telegraph boy entered, and this was on the message he bore:
Come to the observatory at once. Important. MARSTON.
To seek a cab, to be whirled away at a gallop to the university, to burst into Marston in his citadel, required but little time. The professor was walking up and down excitedly.
"It has come! All the world knows it!" he shouted as Corbett entered, and he grasped him by the hand and wrung it hardly.
"What has come?" gasped the visitor.
"What has come, man! All we had hoped for or dreamed of—and more! Why, look! Look for yourself!"
He dragged Corbett to the eye-piece of the great telescope and made him look. What the man saw made him stagger back, overcome with an emotion which for the moment did not allow him speech. What he saw upon the surface of the planet Mars was a duplication of the glittering figures on the pampas of the South American Republic. They were in lines of glorious light, between what appeared bands of a darker hue, provided, apparently, to make them more distinct, and even at such vast distance, their effect was beautiful. And there was something more, a figure he could not comprehend at first, one not in the line of the others, but above. "What is it—that added outline?" he cried.
"What is it! Look again. You'll determine quickly enough! Study it!" roared out Marston, and Corbett did as he was commanded. Its meaning flashed upon him.
There, just above the representation of the right-angled triangle, shone out, clearly and distinctly, this striking figure:
What could it mean? Ah, it required no profound mathematician, no veteran astronomer, to answer such a question! A schoolboy would be equal to the task. The man of Mars might have no physical resemblance to the man of Earth, the people of Mars might resemble our elephants or have wings, but the eternal laws of mathematics and of logic must be the same throughout all space. Two and two make four, and a straight line is the shortest distance between two points throughout the universe. And by adding this figure to the others represented, the Martians had said to the people of Earth as plainly as could have been done in written words of one of our own languages:
Yes, we understand. We know that you are trying to communicate with us, or with those upon some other world. We reply to you, and we show to you that we can reason by indicating that the square of the hypothenuse of a right-angled triangle is equivalent to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. Hope to hear from you further.
There was the right-angled triangle, its lines reproduced in unbroken brilliancy, and there were the added lines used in the familiar demonstration, broken at intervals to indicate their use. The famous pons asinorum had become the bridge between two worlds.
Corbett could scarcely speak as yet. Telegraph messengers came rushing in with dispatches from all quarters—from the universities of Michigan and California, and Yale and Harvard, and from Rochester and all over the United States. Cablegrams from England, France, Germany and Italy and other regions of the world but repeated the same wonderful observation, the same conclusion: "They have answered! We have talked with them!"
Corbett returned to his home in a semi-delirium. He had the wisdom, though it was midnight, to send to Nelly the brief message, "Good news," to prepare her in a degree for what the morning papers would reveal. He slept but fitfully. And it was at an early hour when he called upon his fiancee and found her awaiting him in the library.
She said nothing as he entered, but he had scarcely crossed the threshold when he found his arms full of something very tangible and warm, and pulsing with all love. It has been declared by thoughtful and learned people that there is no sensation in the world more delightful than may be produced by just this means, and Corbett's demeanor under the circumstances was such as to indicate the soundness of the assertion. He was a very happy man.
And she, as soon as she could speak at all, broke out, impulsively:
"Oh, dear, isn't it glorious! I knew you would succeed. And aren't you glad I imposed the hard condition? It was hard, I know, and I seemed unloving, but I believed, and I could not have given you up even if you had failed. I should have told you so very soon. I may confess that now. And—I will marry you any day you wish."
She blushed magnificently as she concluded, and the face of a pretty women, so suffused, is a pleasing thing to see.
Of course, within a week the name of Corbett became familiar in every corner of the civilized globe, the incentive which had spurred him on became somehow known, and the romance of it but added to his fame, and a few days later, when his wedding occurred, it was chronicled as never had a wedding been before. They made two columns of it even in the far-away Tokio Gazette, the Bombay Times and the Novgorod News. But the social feature was nothing; the scientific world was all aflame.
We had talked with Mars indeed, but of what avail was it if we could not resume the conversation? What next step should be taken in the grand march of knowledge, in the scientific conquest of the universe? Never in all history had there been such a commotion among the learned. Corbett and his gifted wife were early ranked among the eager, for he soon became as much of an enthusiast as she—in fact, since the baby, he is even more so—and derived much happiness from their mutual study and speculation. All theories were advanced from all countries, and suggestions, wise and otherwise, came from thousands of sources. And so in the year 1900 the thing remains. As inscrutable to us have been the curious symbols appearing upon Mars of late as have apparently been to them a sign language attempted on the pampas. It is now proposed to show to them the outline of a gigantic man, and if Providence has seen fit to make reasoning beings in all worlds something alike, this may prove another bit of progress in the intercourse, but all is in doubt.
Given, the problem of two worlds, millions of miles apart, the people of which are seeking to establish a regular communication with each other, each already acknowledging the efforts of the other, how shall the great feat be accomplished? Will the solution of the vast problem come from a greater utilization of electricity and a further knowledge of what is astral magnetism? There have been, of late, some wonderful revelations along that line. Or will the sign language be worked out upon the planets' surfaces? Who can tell? Certainly all effort has been stimulated, in one world at least. The rewards offered by various governments and individuals now aggregate over five million dollars, and all this money is as nothing to the fame awaiting some one. Who will gain the mighty prize? Who will solve the new problem of the ages?
AN EASTER ADMISSION
This is not, strictly speaking, an Easter tale, nor a love story. It is merely the truthful account of certain incidents of a love affair culminating one Easter Day. It may be relied upon. I am familiar with the facts, and I want to say here that if there be any one who thinks he could relate similar facts more exactly—I will admit that he might do the relation in much better form—he is either mistaken or else an envious person with a bad conscience. I am going to tell that which I know simply as it occurred.
There is a friend of mine who is somewhat more than ordinarily well-to-do, who is about thirty years of age, and who lives ordinarily in the city of Chicago. Furthermore, he is a gentleman of education, not merely of the school and university, but of the field and wood. He knows the birds and beasts, and delights in what is wild. Four or five years ago he purchased a tract of land studded closely with hardwood trees, chiefly the beech and hard maple, and criss-crossed by swift-flowing creeks of cold water. This tract of land was not far from the northern apex of the southern peninsula of the State of Michigan. There were ruffed grouse in the woods, in the creeks were speckled trout in abundance, and my friend rioted among them. He had built him a house in the wilderness; a great house of logs, forty or fifty feet long and thirty wide, with chambers above, with a great fireplace in it, with bunks in one great room for men, and with an apartment better furnished for ladies, should any ever be brought into the wilderness to learn the ways of nature.
Two years ago my friend gave his first house party, and the duration of it included Easter Day, and so was, necessarily, in a happy season. It is pleasant for us in this northern temperate zone that the day, with all its glorious promises, in a spiritual sense, is as full of promise also in the physical sense, in that it corresponds with the awakening of nature and the renewed life of that which so makes humanity. It is a good thing, too, that since the date of Easter Day is among those known as "movable," it means the real spring, but a little farther north or farther south, as the years come and go. So it chanced that the Easter Day referred to came in the northern peninsula of Lower Michigan just when the buds upon the trees showed well defined against one of the bluest skies of all the world, when the teeming currents of the creeks were lifting the ice, and the waters were becoming turbulent to the eye; when the sapsuckers and creeping birds were jubilant, and the honk of the wild goose was a passing thing; when, with the upspring of the rest of nature, the trees threw off their lethargy, and through the rugged maples the sap began to course again. It was only a few days before Easter that my friend—his name was Hayes, "Jack" Hayes, we called him, though his name, of course, was John—had an inspiration.
Jack knew that so far as his own domain was concerned the time had arrived for the making of maple sugar, and there was promise in the making there, for the wilderness was still virgin. He decided that he would have a regular "sugar-camp" in the midst of his "sugar-bush," and that there should be much making of maple syrup and sugar, with all the attendant festivities common formerly to areas farther south—and here comes an explanation.
Not many months before, this friend of mine had done what men had done often—that is, he fell in love, and with great violence. He fell in love with a stately young woman from St. Louis, a Miss Lennox, who was visiting in Chicago; a girl from the city where what is known as "society" is old and generally clean; where the water which is drunk leaves a clayey substance all round the glass when you partake of it, and which is about the best water in the world; where the colonels who drink whisky are such expert judges of the quality of what they consume that they live far longer than do steady drinkers in other regions; where the word of the business man is good, and where the women are fair to look upon. To a sugar-making Jack had decided to invite this young woman, with a party made up from both cities.
The party as composed was an admirable one of a dozen people, men and women who could endure a wholesome though somewhat rugged change, and of varying fancies and ages. There were as many men as women, but four were oldsters and married people, and of these two were a rector and his wife. It was an eminently proper but cheerful group, and the rector was the greatest boy of all. We tried to teach him how to shoot white rabbits, but abandoned the task finally, out of awful apprehension for ourselves. Had the reverend gentleman's weapon been a bell-mouth, some of us would assuredly have been slain. We were having a jolly time, our host furnishing, possibly, the one exception.
Of the wooing of Hayes it cannot be said that it had prospered altogether to his liking. Possibly he had been too reticent. He was a languid fellow in speech, anyhow, and, excellent woodsman as he was, generally languid in his movements. There was vigor enough underneath this exterior, but only his intimates knew that. The lady had been gracious, certainly, and she must have seen in his eyes, as women can see so well, that he was in love with her, and that a proposal was impending; but she had not given him the encouragement he wanted. Now he was determined to stake his chances. There was to be a visit one forenoon to the place where the sugar-making was in progress, and he asked her to go with him ahead of the others, that he might show her how full the forest was of life at all times. He had resolved. He was going to ask her to be his wife.
There was written upon the white sheet of freshly fallen snow the story of the night and morning, of the comedies and tragedies and adventures of the wild things. Their tracks were all about. Here the grouped paws of the rabbits had left their distinct markings as the animals had fed and frolicked among the underwood; and there, over by the group of evergreens, a little mass of leaves and fur showed where the number of the frolickers had been decreased by one when the great owl of the north dropped fiercely upon his prey; there showed the neat tracks of the fox beside the coverts. The twin pads of the mink were clearly defined upon the snow-covered ice which bordered the tumbling creek, and at times the tracks diverged in exploration of the recesses of some brush heap. Little difference made it to the mink whether his prey were bird or woodmouse. Far into the morning, evidently, his hunting had extended, for his track in one place was along that of the ruffed grouse; and the signs showed that he had almost reached his prey, for a single brown black-banded tail-feather lay upon the wing-swept snow, where it could be seen the bird had risen almost as the leap came. The sun was shining, and squirrel tracks were along the whitened crest of every log, and the traces of jay and snowbird were quite as numerous. There was clamor in the tree-tops. The musical and merry "chickadee-dee-dee" of the tamest of the birds of winter and the somewhat sadder note of the wood pewee mingled with the occasional caw of a crow, the shrill cry of a jay, or the tapping of woodpeckers upon the boles of dead trees. A flock of snow-bunting fluttered and fed in a patch of dry seed-laden weeds. Even the creek was full of life, for there could be seen the movements of creeping things upon its bottom, while through the clear waters trout and minnow flashed brilliantly. There were odors in the air. There was evidence everywhere that spring was real; and it occurred to Jack, as the two walked along and he read aloud to her the night's tale told upon the snow, that the poet who insisted that in the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love quite understood his business; not that it really required spring in his own case, but the season seemed at least to accentuate his emotions. He wondered if young women were affected the same way. He hoped so. At present his courage failed him.
They reached the "sugar-bush" proper, and wandered about among the big maples. They drank the sweet sap from the troughs, and finally settled themselves down comfortably upon one of the rude benches which had been placed about the fire, over which the kettles boiled steadily, under the watchful eye of an old sugar-maker, whose chief occupation was to lower into the bubbling surface a piece of raw pork attached by a string to a rod whenever the sap showed signs of boiling over. Others of the house party soon joined them. The sun had come out brightly now, and luncheon, brought from the house, was eaten and enjoyed. Then followed more rambling about the wood. The ground showed bare where the snow had melted on an occasional sandy knoll, and there was a search for wintergreen leaves. It was announced that all must be at the house again in time for an early dinner, since the great work of "sugaring-off" was to be the event of the night. It was then that Jack suggested to Miss Lennox that they go by another path of which he knew, but which he had not lately tried. The remainder of the party took the old route, and so the two made the journey once more alone. The man was resolved again. It was three o'clock in the afternoon now, and about as pleasant a day as any upon which man ever made a proposal. Jack took his fate in his hands.
He was simple and straightforward about it, and certainly made a rather neat job of the affair. He showed his intensity and earnestness; and it seemed rather hard that when he concluded he was not at once accepted by the handsome girl, who stood there blushing, but with a certain firmly regretful expression about the mouth.
Her voice trembled a little as she spoke. She said that she liked Mr. Hayes, liked him very much, and he knew it, but that it was only a great friendship. She had her ideal, and he did not fulfill it. "I cannot help it," she said, earnestly; "I have ambitions for the man whom I marry. I could really love only a man of action, of physical bravery, one who could not be content with a life of ease, however cultivated such a life. What have you done? You but enjoy existence! I want some one rugged. Why, even your physical movements are languid! I'd rather marry the roughest viking that ever sailed the seas than the most accomplished faineant. I—"
The sentence was completed with one of the most piercing and agonizing screams that ever issued from the throat of a fair young woman. At the same instant she disappeared from sight.
Jack stood for a single second utterly appalled, but he was recalled to life by a second scream, equaling the first in every way, and issuing from a hole in the snow beside him. He could see in the depths the top of a very pretty hat. He realized the situation in a moment. They had just rounded the upturned roots of a monster fallen pine, and Miss Lennox had broken through the crusted snow and dropped into the cavity beneath. He threw himself on the ground, reached down his arms, and finally calmed the fair prisoner sufficiently to enable her to do her part. She reached up her hands; he caught a firm hold of her wrists and began pulling her out. He lifted her thus until her head and shoulders were in the sunlight, then sought to put an arm around her waist to complete the task. He was not grumbling at the good the gods had sent him. He was not at first in a hurry. With one arm at last fairly encircling that plump person, with that soft breath upon his cheek, he was not going to be violent. He was going to lift slowly and intelligently until the goddess should be upon her feet again. Then, from beneath, came a growl which was almost a roar; there was another wild shriek from Miss Lennox, there was the sound of brushwood being torn away, and as Jack, with a mighty effort, lifted the girl to her feet beside him, there appeared at the hole the blazing eyes and red mouth of a bear, furious at having been aroused from its winter sleep.
A fragment of limb lay at Jack's feet. With the unconscious instinct of preservation for both, he seized it and struck the beast fairly on the snout. It fell back, but uprose again, growling horribly. The girl stood, too dazed to move, but Jack grasped her roughly by the shoulder, turned her about and shouted, hoarsely, "Run!" then made another blow at the scrambling animal. She reeled for a moment, then gathered herself together and ran like a scared doe. As she ran she screamed—about one scream to each five yards, as carefully estimated by the young man at a future period.
Despite her terror, the girl turned at a distance of a hundred yards, stopped and looked backward for an instant, and saw what was certainly an interesting spectacle, but which made her turn again and flee even more swiftly down the pathway, renewing her cries as she sped.
Affairs were becoming more than interesting for Mr. Jack Hayes. It may be said fairly and honestly of him, left facing that bear, gaunt and ugly and flesh-clamoring from the winter's sleep, though still muscular and enduring—as bears are made—that he demeaned himself as should become a modern gentleman. He could not or would not run away. He knew that the beast must not be released, and knew that unless faced it would clamber in a moment to the level surface.
I have read somewhere, as doubtless have you, because it has wandered throughout the newspapers of the world, the story of a famous Russian officer, famous, too, as a great swordsman, who once faced a brown bear robbed of her young, and beat her into insensibility, since his blows were swifter and more adroit than those delivered by her great forearms. In the midst of the battle, some thought of this hard Russian tale drifted through the mind of Hayes, as he dealt blow after blow upon the muzzle of the brute seeking daylight and vengeance upon its opponent. Each time as the bear upreared, the stout limb descended, but apparently with slight effect, and with each rush and tearing down of matted snow and twigs, the angle of ascent was lessening perceptibly. To say that Jack was exceedingly earnest and anxious would not be to exaggerate a particle. Furthermore, he was becoming warm and scant of breath. A portion of the breath which remained to him he utilized in whooping most lustily.
The girl burst into the great front room of the log house, where the preparations for Easter were in progress. Most of the guests had not yet reached the house, but there were the rector and two ladies. She staggered into the room, but partially recovered from the effect of her wild flight, and could only gasp out, "Jack!—a bear!—a little way up the eastern path!" and then fell promptly in a heap upon the furs of a great lounge.
The rector stood astonished for a moment, then realized the situation. Upon the wall hung a double-barreled gun, which he knew was loaded with buckshot, intended for the vagrant wild geese still seeking northern habitats. He leaped for the gun, and asked a question hurriedly:
"The east path?" he cried.
"Yes," the girl contrived to say, and the rector, gun in hand, dashed out of the doorway and to the eastern path, which he knew well, for he had been a guest the preceding autumn; and then over the snow of that pathway gave such an exhibition of clerical sprinting as probably never before occurred since Jonah fled for Tarsish. He reached the scene of an exceeding lively exchange of confidences in about two minutes, and saw what alarmed and at the same time inspirited him most mightily. He rushed up close to the fencing Hayes, and as the beast in the pit upreared himself head and shoulders, managed to discharge one barrel of the shotgun. The shot was well intended but ill-aimed. It was but a dispensation of Providence that Jack and not the bear was killed. The beast sank back for another rush, and at the same instant Jack tore the gun from the reverend gentleman's hands, and as the thing rose again poured the contents of the second barrel fairly into the middle of his throat. The episode was ended. Meanwhile, rushing and shouting along the pathway, came the full contingent of male guests. They arrived only in time to hear the story and to assist in heaving out the body of the bear, which was dragged down the pathway and to the house amid much clamor and gratulation. Jack, in a violent perspiration and extremely shaky, entered the house, where much was said, all of which he took modestly, and then everybody prepared for dinner. The feast and later the "sugaring-off" were occasions of much joyousness, but Jack and Miss Lennox conversed but little, save in a courteous and casual way. There was a fine time generally, and all slept the sleep of the more or less just. Easter morning broke fair and clear. It was good that morning to hear sounding out over the snow and in the sunlight the farewell notes of the flitting birds of the north and the greetings of the coming birds of the spring. It was certainly spring now, and all was life and hope and happiness. The Easter services were to begin at ten. It was nine o'clock, or maybe it was nine fifteen—it is well to be accurate about such important matters as this—that Jack and Miss Lennox met apart from the others, who were assisting in some arrangement of the greenery. There was something of the quality which is known as "melting" in her eyes when she looked at him, and the villain felt encouraged.
"It is Easter morning," he said. "Are you glad? Everything seems better."
She looked up into his face, and only smiled and blushed.
"Are you all right?" said he. "I've been troubled over you."
She said nothing at first, but the old critical and defiant look came into her face again. It had now, however, in it a trace of the gently judicial. "I was mistaken," she said; "you are a man of action."
"Will you be my wife, then?" said Jack.
"Yes," said she.
Well, they are married, as people so frequently are, and Jack is not going to the log-house in Michigan this spring, because that St. Louis-Chicago baby is too young to be abandoned. I like Easter and I like Jack and his wife, and I like babies, but I don't like being robbed of an outing in a region where spring comes in so suddenly and gloriously. How wise was the old pessimist who declared that "a man married is a man marred"—but, then, who will agree with me!
PROFESSOR MORGAN'S MOON
I am aware that attention has already been called in the daily newspapers to certain curious features of the astronomical discussion between Professor Macadam of Joplin University and Professor Morgan of the same institution; but newspaper comment has related only to the scientific aspects of the case, lacking all references to the origin of the debate and to the inevitable woman and the romance. As a matter of fact, the discussion which has set the scientific world, or at least the astronomical part of it, by the ears, had its inception in a love affair, and terminated with that affair's symmetrical development. It has seemed to me that something more than the dry husks of the story should be given to the public, and that a great many people might be quite as much interested in the romance as in the mathematical conclusions reached. That is why I tell the tale in full.
Had Professor Macadam never owned a daughter, or had the one appertaining to him been plain instead of charming, young Professor Morgan would never have broken a metaphorical lance with the crusty senior educator. But Professor Macadam did have a daughter, Lee—odd name for a girl—and she was about as pretty as a girl may grow to be, and sometimes they grow that way amazingly. She was clever, too, and good, and Professor Morgan had not known her for half a year when it was all up with him. It became essential for his permanent welfare, mental, moral and physical, that this particular young woman should be his, to have and to hold, and he did not deny the fact to himself at all. Without going into detail, it may be added that he did not deny the fact to her, either, and so exerted himself and improved his opportunities that before much time elapsed he had secured a strong ally in his designs. This ally was the young lady herself, and it will be admitted that Professor Morgan had thus made a fair beginning. But all was not to be easy for the pair, however faithful or resolved they were.