"If a woman makes a success of anything from walking a tight rope to painting a picture, giver her credit for it. Do not call her a crank because she has ideas. Do not cut her because she knows enough to make a living. Try to get to a point where you can admit that she is nice in spite of the fact that she has opinions. It's this fighting shy of the women who are trying to march with the marching time that I most deprecate in women. I don't like them to be afraid of genius. Genius isn't necessarily disreputable. Make way for the uncommon woman as well as the common ones." (Omaha World-Herald 21 August 1892: 16)
Elia Wilkinson Peattie, born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1862, grew up in a home without books and had to drop out of school at age thirteen to help her father in his job-printing office, then at fifteen go home to assist her mother with the children and housework. However, she had been attracted to writing and publishing all of her life. After her marriage in 1883 to Robert Peattie, a reporter for the Chicago Times, the couple spent their evenings writing stories together to supplement Robert's sporadic newspaper income. In 1886 Peattie officially joined the staff of the Chicago Tribune when editor R.W. Patterson asked her to report for the Art and Society pages. Peattie's talent distinguished her, and she soon became the first woman reporter for the Tribune and the second "girl" reporter in Chicago.
In 1888 the family, along with Elia's sister and Robert's mother, moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where Robert had accepted the position of Managing Editor of George L. Miller's Omaha Daily Herald, partly because Elia would also be hired as Staff Correspondent with the promise of bylined articles. When Gilbert Hitchcock decided to buy the Herald and merge the two newspapers into the Omaha World-Herald, he asked Robert to continue as Managing Editor and Elia as columnist and editorial writer.
By 1890 Peattie was given her own column, one of the most sought after assignments on a newspaper. Throughout the Omaha years, Elia made her voice heard and proved that not all of the women of the West were "gentle tamers." As one of the first Plains women to write editorial columns in a major newspaper that addressed public issues, Peattie's often irreverent remarks show us a side of the frontier often overlooked. An avid newspaper reader, not just of local papers but of news around the world, some of Peattie's most interesting articles and columns dealt with stories and issues that made front page news. Priding herself on the editorial nature of her features as well as her daily columns, Peattie's voice became stronger and stronger as she grew in experience and maturity. She became more outspoken on controversial current issues, such as the Wounded Knee Massacre, capital punishment and lynching, prostitution, the Omaha stockyards, beet-field workers in Grand Island, schools and child-rearing, and the need for orphanages, shelters for unwed mothers, and charity hospitals. Her views often conflicted with majority opinions, especially with those she considered to be of the materialistic, self-righteous, upper class. However, she always maintained a sense of humor, or at least a witty sarcasm, about human nature.
As an Omaha citizen, she worked tirelessly for philanthropic causes, was a founding member of the Omaha Woman's Club, and was active with the Rev. W. J. Harsha, who began the practice of collecting and delivering Christmas donations to the homes of poor families. As a writer for the Omaha World-Herald for eight years, she published over eight hundred editorials, feature stories, and daily columns as well as over three dozen works of fiction, including two serialized novels, "The Postmistress of Weeping Willow" and "The Fountain of Youth: A Romance of the Supernatural." Her years in Nebraska also afforded her material for some of her best short fiction, especially her stories about the Great Plains, the West, and the Southwest. She collected eight of them in A Mountain Woman published by Way and Williams in 1896.
After Peattie and her family left Omaha in 1896, they returned to Chicago, where she served as the literary critic on the Chicago Tribune until 1917, served actively in the Chicago Woman's Club, the Little Room literary club, and wrote and acted in plays performed at the settlement houses. Because Peattie's husband was often ill, she wrote commissioned works or rapidly produced stories in order to maintain the family income. At one point she wrote one hundred short stories for the Chicago Tribune in as many days to finance home remodeling. Her work appeared in such prestigious journals as Atlantic, Century, and Harper's, as well as in journals such as the Woman's Home Companion and The Youth's Companion. Many of her stories were collected in anthologies, such as The Mountain Woman, The Shape of Fear, and The Edge of Things, and she penned a series of children's books about the Blue Ridge mountains starring a young girl, Azalea. Many other stories, poems, and essays also appeared in newspapers and in unindexed journals. She based The Precipice, her 1914 suffrage novel about a social work pioneer, on the life of Katherine Ostrander, a woman who lived with the Peatties.
The Peatties had four children, Edward, Barbara, Roderick, and Donald. Barbara, a poet and mother, died in 1915. Robert and Elia retired in the early 1920s and moved with Elia's mother to "Dunwandrin'," their home in Tryon, North Carolina. Robert died in 1930 in Tryon at age 73, and Elia died of heart failure, also at 73, in 1935 at the home of the eldest of her three sons, Roderick, at Wallingford, Vermont.
The Peattie tradition continued in their children and grandchildren. Their eldest son Roderick became a professor of geology and a long-time faculty member at Ohio State who authored a number of books on human geography. Donald Culross Peattie became a world-renowned author and naturalist, and Edward a successful New York businessman. Donald's sons continued the Peattie writing tradition; Noel was a poet and librarian at the University of California–Davis, and Mark is an author of numerous books on modern Japanese history.
Born in the Gilded Age, Elia W. Peattie stood at the door of the Progressive Era and held it open for a new generation of women who would continue to seek careers, gain universal suffrage for women, promote birth control, and fight vice, filth, corruption, ugliness, ignorance, and exploitation. Her intellectual background, her use of irony and humor, her ability to employ various genres and literary approaches, and her undaunted "impertinence" produced a strong voice on the Great Plains. As a result, she became a vital catalyst for social change and a successful role model for promoting personal and professional independence for women. A loving and beloved mother and wife and a successful journalist, Peattie proved that a woman, if she wanted it, could have it all.
source : http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/peattie/ep.biography.html
A CHILD OF THE RAIN
IT was the night that Mona Meeks, the dressmaker, told him she didn't love him. He couldn't believe it at first, because he had so long been accustomed to the idea that she did, and no matter how rough the weather or how irascible the passengers, he felt a song in his heart as he punched transfers, and rang his bell punch, and signalled the driver when to let people off and on.
Now, suddenly, with no reason except a woman's, she had changed her mind. He dropped in to see her at five o'clock, just before time for the night shift, and to give her two red apples he had been saving for her. She looked at the apples as if they were invisible and she could not see them, and standing in her disorderly little dressmaking parlor, with its cuttings and scraps and litter of fabrics, she said:
"It is no use, John. I shall have to work here like this all my life -- work here alone. For I don't love you, John. No, I don't. I thought I did, but it is a mistake."
"You mean it ?" asked John, bringing up the words in a great gasp.
"Yes," she said, white and trembling and putting out her hands as if to beg for his mercy. And then big, lumbering fool, he turned around and strode down the stairs and stood at the corner in the beating rain waiting for his car. It came along at length, spluttering on the wet rails and spitting out blue fire, and he took his shift after a gruff "Good night" to Johnson, the man he relieved.
He was glad the rain was bitter cold and drove in his face fiercely. He rejoiced at the cruelty of the wind, and when it hustled pedestrians before it, lashing them, twisting their clothes, and threatening their equilibrium, he felt amused. He was pleased at the chill in his bones and at the hunger that tortured him. At least, at first he thought it was hunger till he remembered that he had just eaten. The hours passed confusedly. He had no consciousness of time. But it must have been late, near midnight, judging by the fact that there were few persons visible anywhere in the black storm, when he noticed a little figure sitting at the far end of the car. He had not seen the child when she got on, but all was so curious and wild to him that evening he himself seemed to himself the most curious and the wildest of all things that it was not surprising that he should not have observed the little creature.
She was wrapped in a coat so much too large that it had become frayed at the bottom from dragging on the pavement. Her hair hung in unkempt stringiness about her bent shoulders, and her feet were covered with old arctics, many sizes too big, from which the soles hung loose.
Beside the little figure was a chest of dark wood, with curiously wrought hasps. From this depended a stout strap by which it could be carried over the shoulders. John Billings stared in, fascinated by the poor little thing with its head sadly drooping upon its breast, its thin blue hands relaxed upon its lap, and its whole attitude so suggestive of hunger, loneliness, and fatigue, that he made up his mind he would collect no fare from it.
"It will need its nickel for breakfast," he said to himself. "The company can stand this for once. Or, come to think of it, I might celebrate my hard luck. Here's to the brotherhood of failures !" And he took a nickel from one pocket of his great-coat and dropped it in another, ringing his bell punch to record the transfer.
The car plunged along in the darkness, and the rain beat more viciously than ever in his face. The night was full of the rushing sound of the storm. Owing to some change of temperature the glass of the car became obscured so that the young conductor could no longer see the little figure distinctly, and he grew anxious about the child.
"I wonder if it's all right," he said to himself. I never saw living creature sit so still."
He opened the car door, intending to speak with the child, but just then something went wrong with the lights. There was a blue and green flickering, then darkness, a sudden halting of the car, and a great sweep of wind and rain in at the door. When, after a moment, light and motion reasserted themselves, and Billings had got the door together, he turned to look at the little passenger. But the car was empty.
It was a fact. There was no child there, not even moisture on the seat where she had been sitting.
"Bill," said he, going to the front door and addressing the driver, "what became of that little kid in the old cloak ?"
"I didn't see no kid," said Bill, crossly. "For Gawd's sake, close the door, John, and git that draught off my back."
"Draught !" said John, indignantly, "where's the draught ?"
"You've left the hind door open," growled Bill, and John saw him shivering as a blast struck him and ruffled the fur on his bear-skin coat. But the door was not open, and yet John had to admit to himself that the car seemed filled with wind and a strange coldness.
However, it didn't matter. Nothing mattered ! Still, it was as well no doubt to look under the seats just to make sure no little crouching figure was there, and so he did. But there was nothing. In fact, John said to himself, he seemed to be getting expert in finding nothing where there ought to be something.
He might have stayed in the car, for there was no likelihood of more passengers that evening, but somehow he preferred going out where the rain could drench him and the wind pommel him. How horribly tired he was ! If there were only some still place away from the blare of the city where a man could lie down and listen to the sound of the sea or the storm or if one could grow suddenly old and get through with the bother of living or if ...
The car gave a sudden lurch as it rounded a curve, and for a moment it seemed to be a mere chance whether Conductor Billings would stay on his platform or go off under those fire-spitting wheels. He caught instinctively at his brake, saved himself, and stood still for a moment, panting.
"I must have dozed," he said to himself.
Just then, dimly, through the blurred window, he saw again the little figure of the child, its head on its breast as before, its blue hands lying in its lap and the curious box beside it. John Billings felt a coldness beyond the coldness of the night run through his blood. Then, with a half-stifled cry, he threw back the door, and made a desperate spring at the corner where the eerie thing sat.
And he touched the green carpeting on the seat, which was quite dry and warm, as if no dripping, miserable little wretch had ever crouched there.
He rushed to the front door.
"Bill," he roared, "I want to know about that kid."
"What kid ?"
"The same kid ! The wet one with the old coat and the box with iron hasps ! The one that's been sitting here in the car !"
Bill turned his surly face to confront the young conductor.
"You've been drinking, you fool," said he. "Fust thing you know you'll be reported."
The conductor said not a word. He went slowly and weakly back to his post and stood there the rest of the way leaning against the end of the car for support. Once or twice he muttered:
"The poor little brat !" And again he said, "So you didn't love me after all !"
He never knew how he reached home, but he sank to sleep as dying men sink to death. All the same, being a hearty young man, he was on duty again next day but one, and again the night was rainy and cold.
It was the last run, and the car was spinning along at its limit, when there came a sudden soft shock. John Billings knew what that meant. He had felt something of the kind once before. He turned sick for a moment, and held on to the brake. Then he summoned his courage and went around to the side of the car, which had stopped. Bill, the driver, was before him, and had a limp little figure in his arms, and was carrying it to the gaslight. John gave one look and cried:
"It's the same kid, Bill ! The one I told you of !"
True as truth were the ragged coat dangling from the pitiful body, the little blue hands, the thin shoulders, the stringy hair, the big arctics on the feet. And in the road not far off was the curious chest of dark wood with iron hasps.
"She ran under the car deliberate !" cried Bill. "I yelled to her, but she looked at me and ran straight on !"
He was white in spite of his weather-beaten skin.
"I guess you wasn't drunk last night after all, John," said he.
"You, you are sure the kid is ... is there ?" gasped John.
"Not so damned sure !" said Bill.
But a few minutes later it was taken away in a patrol wagon, and with it the little box with iron hasps.
THE SHAPE OF FEAR
His mother had designed him for the priesthood, and at the age of fifteen, most of his verses had an ecclesiastical tinge, but, somehow or other, he got into the newspaper business instead, and became a pessimistic gentleman, with a literary style of great beauty and an income of modest proportions. He fell in with men who talked of art for art's sake, though what right they had to speak of art at all nobody knew, and little by little his view of life and love became more or less profane. He met a woman who sucked his heart's blood, and he knew it and made no protest; nay, to the great amusement of the fellows who talked of art for art's sake, he went the length of marrying her. He could not in decency explain that he had the traditions of fine gentlemen behind him and so had to do as he did, because his friends might not have understood. He laughed at the days when he had thought of the priesthood, blushed when he ran across any of those tender and exquisite old verses he had written in his youth, and became addicted to absinthe and other less peculiar drinks, and to gaming a little to escape a madness of ennui.
As the years went by he avoided, with more and more scorn, that part of the world which he denominated Philistine, and consorted only with the fellows who flocked about Jim O'Malley's saloon. He was pleased with solitude, or with these convivial wits, and with not very much else beside. Jim O'Malley was a sort of Irish poem, set to inspiring measure. He was, in fact, a Hibernian Mæcenas, who knew better than to put bad whiskey before a man of talent, or tell a trite tale in the presence of a wit.
The recountal of his disquisitions on politics and other current matters had enabled no less than three men to acquire national reputations; and a number of wretches, having gone the way of men who talk of art for art's sake, and dying in foreign lands, or hospitals, or asylums, having no one else to be homesick for, had been homesick for Jim O'Malley, and wept for the sound of his voice and the grasp of his hearty hand.
When Tim O'Connor turned his back upon most of the things he was born to and took up with the life which he consistently lived till the unspeakable end, he was unable to get rid of certain peculiarities. For example, in spite of all his debauchery, he continued to look like the Beloved Apostle. Notwithstanding abject friendships he wrote limpid and noble English. Purity seemed to dog his heels, no matter how violently he attempted to escape from her. He was never so drunk that he was not an exquisite, and even his creditors, who had become inured to his deceptions, confessed it was a privilege to meet so perfect a gentleman.
The creature who held him in bondage, body and soul, actually came to love him for his gentleness, and for some quality which baffled her, and made her ache with a strange longing which she could not define. Not that she ever defined anything, poor little beast ! She had skin the color of pale gold, and yellow eyes with brown lights in them, and great plaits of straw-colored hair. About her lips was a fatal and sensuous smile, which, when it got hold of a man's imagination, would not let it go, but held to it, and mocked it till the day of his death. She was the incarnation of the Eternal Feminine, with all the wifeliness and the maternity left out she was ancient, yet ever young, and familiar as joy or tears or sin.
She took good care of Tim in some ways: fed him well, nursed him back to reason after a period of hard drinking, saw that he put on overshoes when the walks were wet, and looked after his money.
She even prized his brain, for she discovered that it was a delicate little machine which produced gold. By association with him and his friends, she learned that a number of apparently useless things had value in the eyes of certain convenient fools, and so she treasured the autographs of distinguished persons who wrote to him autographs which he disdainfully tossed in the waste basket. She was careful with presentation copies from authors, and she went the length of urging Tim to write a book himself. But at that he balked.
"Write a book !" he cried to her, his gentle face suddenly white with passion. "Who am I to commit such a profanation ?"
She didn't know what he meant, but she had a theory that it was dangerous to excite him, and so she sat up till midnight to cook a chop for him when he came home that night.
He preferred to have her sitting up for him, and he wanted every electric light in their apartments turned to the full. If, by any chance, they returned together to a dark house, he would not enter till she touched the button in the hall, and illuminated the room. Or if it so happened that the lights were turned off in the night time, and he awoke to find himself in darkness, he shrieked till the woman came running to his relief, and, with derisive laughter, turned them on again. But when she found that after these frights he lay trembling and white in his bed, she began to be alarmed for the clever, gold-making little machine, and to renew her assiduities, and to horde more tenaciously than ever, those valuable curios on which she some day expected to realize when he was out of the way, and no longer in a position to object to their barter.
O'Connor's idiosyncrasy of fear was a source of much amusement among the boys at the office where he worked. They made open sport of it, and yet, recognizing him for a sensitive plant, and granting that genius was entitled to whimsicalities, it was their custom when they called for him after work hours, to permit him to reach the lighted corridor before they turned out the gas over his desk. This, they reasoned, was but a slight service to perform for the most enchanting beggar in the world.
"Dear fellow," said Rick Dodson, who loved him, "is it the Devil you expect to see ? And if so, why are you averse ? Surely the Devil is not such a bad old chap."
"You haven't found him so ?"
"Tim, by heaven, you know, you ought to explain to me.
A citizen of the world and a student of its purlieus, like myself, ought to know what there is to know ! Now you're a man of sense, in spite of a few bad habits such as myself, for example. Is this fad of yours madness ? which would be quite to your credit, for gadzooks, I like a lunatic ! Or is it the complaint of a man who has gathered too much data on the subject of Old Rye ? Or is it, as I suspect, something more occult, and therefore more interesting ?"
"Rick, boy," said Tim, "you're too inquiring !" And he turned to his desk with a look of delicate hauteur.
It was the very next night that these two tippling pessimists spent together talking about certain disgruntled but immortal gentlemen, who, having said their say and made the world quite uncomfortable, had now journeyed on to inquire into the nothingness which they postulated. The dawn was breaking in the muggy east; the bottles were empty, the cigars burnt out. Tim turned toward his friend with a sharp breaking of sociable silence.
"Rick," he said, "do you know that Fear has a Shape ?"
"And so has my nose !"
"You asked me the other night what I feared. Holy father, I make my confession to you. What I fear is Fear."
"That's because you've drunk too much or not enough.
'Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of Spring Your winter garment of repentance fling ”
"My costume then would be too nebulous for this weather, dear boy. But it's true what I was saying. I am afraid of ghosts."
"For an agnostic that seems a bit ..."
"Agnostic ! Yes, so completely an agnostic that I do not even know that I do not know ! God, man, do you mean you have no ghosts, no ... no things which shape themselves ? Why, there are things I have done "
"Don't think of them, my boy ! See, 'night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain top.'"
Tim looked about him with a sickly smile. He looked behind him and there was nothing there; stared at the blank window, where the smoky dawn showed its offensive face, and there was nothing there. He pushed away the moist hair from his haggard face that face which would look like the blessed St. John, and leaned heavily back in his chair.
"'Yon light is not daylight, I know it, I,'" he murmured drowsily, "'it is some meteor which the sun exhales, to be to thee this night '"
The words floated off in languid nothingness, and he slept. Dodson arose preparatory to stretching himself on his couch. But first he bent over his friend with a sense of tragic appreciation.
"Damned by the skin of his teeth !" he muttered. A little more, and he would have gone right, and the Devil would have lost a good fellow. As it is" he smiled with his usual conceited delight in his own sayings, even when they were uttered in soliloquy "he is merely one of those splendid gentlemen one will meet with in hell." Then Dodson had a momentary nostalgia for goodness himself, but he soon overcame it, and stretching himself on his sofa, he, too, slept.
That night he and O'Connor went together to hear "Faust" sung, and returning to the office, Dodson prepared to write his criticism. Except for the distant clatter of telegraph instruments, or the peremptory cries of "copy" from an upper room, the office was still. Dodson wrote and smoked his interminable cigarettes; O' Connor rested his head in his hands on the desk, and sat in perfect silence. He did not know when Dodson finished, or when, arising, and absent-mindedly extinguishing the lights, he moved to the door with his copy in his hands. Dodson gathered up the hats and coats as he passed them where they lay on a chair, and called:
"It is done, Tim. Come, let's get out of this."
There was no answer, and he thought Tim was following, but after he had handed his criticism to the city editor, he saw he was still alone, and returned to the room for his friend. He advanced no further than the doorway, for, as he stood in the dusky corridor and looked within the darkened room, he saw before his friend a Shape, white, of perfect loveliness, divinely delicate and pure and ethereal, which seemed as the embodiment of all goodness. From it came a soft radiance and a perfume softer than the wind when "it breathes upon a bank of violets stealing and giving odor." Staring at it, with eyes immovable, sat his friend.
It was strange that at sight of a thing so unspeakably fair, a coldness like that which comes from the jewel-blue lips of a Muir crevasse should have fallen upon Dodson, or that it was only by summoning all the manhood that was left in him, that he was able to restore light to the room, and to rush to his friend. When he reached poor Tim he was stone-still with paralysis. They took him home to the woman, who nursed him out of that attack and later on worried him into another.
When he was able to sit up and jeer at things a little again, and help himself to the quail the woman broiled for him, Dodson, sitting beside him, said:
"Did you call that little exhibition of yours legerdemain, Tim, you sweep ? Or are you really the Devil's bairn ?"
"It was the Shape of Fear," said Tim, quite seriously.
"But it seemed mild as mother's milk."
"It was compounded of the good I might have done. It is that which I fear."
He would explain no more. Later , many months later he died patiently and sweetly in the madhouse, praying for rest. The little beast with the yellow eyes had high mass celebrated for him, which, all things considered, was almost as pathetic as it was amusing.
Dodson was in Vienna when he heard of it.
"Sa, sa !" cried he. "I wish it wasn't so dark in the tomb ! What do you suppose Tim is looking at ?"
As for Jim O'Malley, he was with difficulty kept from illuminating the grave with electricity.
THEIR DEAR LITTLE GHOST
THE first time one looked at Elsbeth, one was not prepossessed. She was thin and brown, her nose turned slightly upward, her toes went in just a perceptible degree, and her hair was perfectly straight. But when one looked longer, one perceived that she was a charming little creature.
The straight hair was as fine as silk, and hung in funny little braids down her back; there was not a flaw in her soft brown skin, and her mouth was tender and shapely. But her particular charm lay in a look which she habitually had, of seeming to know curious things -- such as it is not allotted to ordinary persons to know. One felt tempted to say to her:
"What are these beautiful things which you know, and of which others are ignorant ? What is it you see with those wise and pellucid eyes ? Why is it that everybody loves you ?"
Elsbeth was my little godchild, and I knew her better than I knew any other child in the world. But still I could not truthfully say that I was familiar with her, for to me her spirit was like a fair and fragrant road in the midst of which I might walk in peace and joy, but where I was continually to discover something new.
The last time I saw her quite well and strong was over in the woods where she had gone with her two little brothers and her nurse to pass the hottest weeks of summer. I followed her, foolish old creature that I was, just to be near her, for I needed to dwell where the sweet aroma of her life could reach me.
One morning when I came from my room, limping a little, because I am not so young as I used to be, and the lake wind works havoc with me, my little godchild came dancing to me singing:
"Come with me and I'll show you my places, my places, my places !"
Miriam, when she chanted by the Red Sea might have been more exultant, but she could not have been more bewitching. Of course I knew what "places" were, because I had once been a little girl myself, but unless you are acquainted with the real meaning of "places," it would be useless to try to explain. Either you know "places" or you do not just as you understand the meaning of poetry or you do not. There are things in the world which cannot be taught.
Elsbeth's two tiny brothers were present, and I took one by each hand and followed her. No sooner had we got out of doors in the woods than a sort of mystery fell upon the world and upon us. We were cautioned to move silently, and we did so, avoiding the crunching of dry twigs.
"The fairies hate noise," whispered my little godchild, her eyes narrowing like a cat's.
"I must get my wand first thing I do," she said in an awed undertone. "It is useless to try to do anything without a wand."
The tiny boys were profoundly impressed, and, indeed, so was I. I felt that at last, I should, if I behaved properly, see the fairies, which had hitherto avoided my materialistic gaze. It was an enchanting moment, for there appeared, just then, to be nothing commonplace about life.
There was a swale near by, and into this the little girl plunged. I could see her red straw hat bobbing about among the tall rushes, and I wondered if there were snakes.
"Do you think there are snakes ?" I asked one of the tiny boys.
"If there are," he said with conviction, "they won't dare hurt her."
He convinced me. I feared no more. Presently Elsbeth came out of the swale. In her hand was a brown "cattail," perfectly full and round. She carried it as queens carry their sceptres the beautiful queens we dream of in our youth.
"Come," she commanded, and waved the sceptre in a fine manner. So we followed, each tiny boy gripping my hand tight. We were all three a trifle awed. Elsbeth led us into a dark underbrush. The branches, as they flew back in our faces, left them wet with dew. A wee path, made by the girl's dear feet, guided our footsteps. Perfumes of elderberry and wild cucumber scented the air. A bird, frightened from its nest, made frantic cries above our heads. The underbrush thickened. Presently the gloom of the hemlocks was over us, and in the midst of the shadowy green a tulip tree flaunted its leaves. Waves boomed and broke upon the shore below.
There was a growing dampness as we went on, treading very lightly. A little green snake ran coquettishly from us.
A fat and glossy squirrel chattered at us from a safe height, stroking his whiskers with a complaisant air.
At length we reached the "place." It was a circle of velvet grass, bright as the first blades of spring, delicate as fine sea-ferns. The sunlight, falling down the shaft between the hemlocks, flooded it with a softened light and made the forest round about look like deep purple velvet.
My little godchild stood in the midst and raised her wand impressively.
"This is my place," she said, with a sort of wonderful gladness in her tone. "This is where I come to the fairy balls. Do you see them ?"
"See what ?" whispered one tiny boy.
There was a silence. The older boy pulled at my skirt.
"Do YOU see them ?" he asked, his voice trembling with expectancy.
"Indeed," I said, "I fear I am too old and wicked to see fairies, and yet are their hats red ?"
"They are," laughed my little girl. "Their hats are red, and as small as small !" She held up the pearly nail of her wee finger to give us the correct idea.
"And their shoes are very pointed at the toes ?"
"Oh, very pointed !"
"And their garments are green ?"
"As green as grass."
"And they blow little horns ?"
"The sweetest little horns !"
"I think I see them," I cried.
"We think we see them too," said the tiny boys, laughing in perfect glee.
"And you hear their horns, don't you ?" my little godchild asked somewhat anxiously.
"Don't we hear their horns ?" I asked the tiny boys.
"We think we hear their horns," they cried. "Don't you think we do ?"
"It must be we do," I said. "Aren't we very, very happy ?"
We all laughed softly. Then we kissed each other and Elsbeth led us out, her wand high in the air.
And so my feet found the lost path to Arcady.
The next day I was called to the Pacific coast, and duty kept me there till well into December. A few days before the date set for my return to my home, a letter came from Elsbeth's mother.
"Our little girl is gone into the Unknown," she wrote "that Unknown in which she seemed to be forever trying to pry. We knew she was going, and we told her.
She was quite brave, but she begged us to try some way to keep her till after Christmas. 'My presents are not finished yet,' she made moan. 'And I did so want to see what I was going to have. You can't have a very happy Christmas without me, I should think.
Can you arrange to keep me somehow till after then ?' We could not 'arrange' either with God in heaven or science upon earth, and she is gone."
She was only my little godchild, and I am an old maid, with no business fretting over children, but it seemed as if the medium of light and beauty had been taken from me. Through this crystal soul I had perceived whatever was loveliest.
However, what was, was! I returned to my home and took up a course of Egyptian history, and determined to concern myself with nothing this side the Ptolemies.
Her mother has told me how, on Christmas eve, as usual, she and Elsbeth's father filled the stockings of the little ones, and hung them, where they had always hung, by the fireplace. They had little heart for the task, but they had been prodigal that year in their expenditures, and had heaped upon the two tiny boys all the treasures they thought would appeal to them.
They asked themselves how they could have been so insane previously as to exercise economy at Christmas time, and what they meant by not getting Elsbeth the autoharp she had asked for the year before.
"And now " began her father, thinking of harps. But he could not complete this sentence, of course, and the two went on passionately and almost angrily with their task. There were two stockings and two piles of toys. Two stockings only, and only two piles of toys ! Two is very little !
They went away and left the darkened room, and after a time they slept after a long time. Perhaps that was about the time the tiny boys awoke, and, putting on their little dressing gowns and bed slippers, made a dash for the room where the Christmas things were always placed. The older one carried a candle which gave out a feeble light. The other followed behind through the silent house. They were very impatient and eager, but when they reached the door of the sitting-room they stopped, for they saw that another child was before them.
It was a delicate little creature, sitting in her white night gown, with two rumpled funny braids falling down her back, and she seemed to be weeping. As they watched, she arose, and putting out one slender finger as a child does when she counts, she made sure over and over again three sad times that there were only two stockings and two piles of toys ! Only those and no more.
The little figure looked so familiar that the boys started toward it, but just then, putting up her arm and bowing her face in it, as Elsbeth had been used to do when she wept or was offended, the little thing glided away and went out. That's what the boys said. It went out as a candle goes out.
They ran and woke their parents with the tale, and all the house was searched in a wonderment, and disbelief, and hope, and tumult! But nothing was found. For nights they watched. But there was only the silent house. Only the empty rooms. They told the boys they must have been mistaken. But the boys shook their heads.
"We know our Elsbeth," said they. "It was our Elsbeth, cryin' 'cause she hadn't no stockin' an' no toys, and we would have given her all ours, only she went out jus' went out !"
The next Christmas I helped with the little festival. It was none of my affair, but I asked to help, and they let me, and when we were all through there were three stockings and three piles of toys, and in the largest one was all the things that I could think of that my dear child would love. I locked the boys' chamber that night, and I slept on the divan in the parlor off the sitting-room. I slept but little, and the night was very still so windless and white and still that I think I must have heard the slightest noise. Yet I heard none. Had I been in my grave I think my ears would not have remained more unsaluted.
Yet when daylight came and I went to unlock the boys' bedchamber door, I saw that the stocking and all the treasures which I had bought for my little godchild were gone. There was not a vestige of them remaining !
Of course we told the boys nothing. As for me, after dinner I went home and buried myself once more in my history, and so interested was I that midnight came without my knowing it. I should not have looked up at all, I suppose, to become aware of the time, had it not been for a faint, sweet sound as of a child striking a stringed instrument. It was so delicate and remote that I hardly heard it, but so joyous and tender that I could not but listen, and when I heard it a second time it seemed as if I caught the echo of a child's laugh. At first I was puzzled. Then I remembered the little autoharp I had placed among the other things in that pile of vanished toys. I said aloud:
"Farewell, dear little ghost. Go rest. Rest in joy, dear little ghost. Farewell, farewell."
That was years ago, but there has been silence since. Elsbeth was always an obedient little thing.
THE HOUSE THAT WAS NOT
Bart Fleming took his bride out to his ranch on the plains when she was but seventeen years old, and the two set up housekeeping in three hundred and twenty acres of corn and rye. Off toward the west there was an unbroken sea of tossing corn at that time of the year when the bride came out, and as her sewing window was on the side of the house which faced the sunset, she passed a good part of each day looking into that great rustling mass, breathing in its succulent odors and listening to its sibilant melody. It was her picture gallery, her opera, her spectacle, and, being sensible, or perhaps, being merely happy, she made the most of it.
When harvesting time came and the corn was cut, she had much entertainment in discovering what lay beyond. The town was east, and it chanced that she had never ridden west. So, when the rolling hills of this newly beholden land lifted themselves for her contemplation, and the harvest sun, all in an angry and sanguinary glow sank in the veiled horizon, and at noon a scarf of golden vapor wavered up and down along the earth line, it was as if a new world had been made for her. Sometimes, at the coming of a storm, a whip-lash of purple cloud, full of electric agility, snapped along the western horizon.
"Oh, you'll see a lot of queer things on these here plains," her husband said when she spoke to him of these phenomena. "I guess what you see is the wind."
"The wind!" cried Flora. "You can't see the wind, Bart."
"Now look here, Flora," returned Bart, with benevolent emphasis, "you're a smart one, but you don't know all I know about this here country. I've lived here three mortal years, waitin' for you to git up out of your mother's arms and come out to keep me company, and I know what there is to know.
Some things out here is queer so queer folks wouldn't believe 'em unless they saw. An' some's so pig-headed they don't believe their own eyes. As for th' wind, if you lay down flat and squint toward th' west, you can see it blowin' along near th' ground, like a big ribbon; an' sometimes it's th' color of air, an' sometimes it's silver an' gold, an' sometimes, when a storm is comin', it's purple."
Flora was more interested in the first part of Bart's speech than in the last.
"Oh, come on !" protested Bart, and he picked her up in his arms and jumped her toward the ceiling of the low shack as if she were a little girl, but then, to be sure, she wasn't much more.
Of all the things Flora saw when the corn was cut down, nothing interested her so much as a low cottage, something like her own, which lay away in the distance. She could not guess how far it might be, because distances are deceiving out there, where the altitude is high and the air is as clear as one of those mystic balls of glass in which the sallow mystics of India see the moving shadows of the future.
She had not known there were neighbors so near, and she wondered for several days about them before she ventured to say anything to Bart on the subject. Indeed, for some reason which she did not attempt to explain to herself, she felt shy about broaching the matter. Perhaps Bart did not want her to know the people. The thought came to her, as naughty thoughts will come, even to the best of persons, that some handsome young men might be "baching" it out there by themselves, and Bart didn't wish her to make their acquaintance. Bart had flattered her so much that she had actually begun to think herself beautiful, though as a matter of fact she was only a nice little girl with a lot of reddish-brown hair, and a bright pair of reddish-brown eyes in a white face.
"Bart," she ventured one evening, as the sun, at its fiercest, rushed toward the great black hollow of the west, "who lives over there in that shack ?"
She turned away from the window where she had been looking at the incarnadined disk, and she thought she saw Bart turn pale. But then, her eyes were so blurred with the glory she had been gazing at, that she might easily have been mistaken.
"I say, Bart, why don't you speak ? If there's any one around to associate with, I should think you'd let me have the benefit of their company. It isn't as funny as you think, staying here alone days and days."
"You ain't gettin' homesick, be you, sweetheart ?" cried Bart, putting his arms around her. "You ain't gettin' tired of my society, be yeh ?"
It took some time to answer this question in a satisfactory manner, but at length Flora was able to return to her original topic.
"But the shack, Bart ! Who lives there, anyway ?"
"I'm not acquainted with 'em," said Bart, sharply. "Ain't them biscuits done, Flora ?"
Then, of course, she grew obstinate.
"Those biscuits will never be done, Bart, till I know about that house, and why you never spoke of it, and why nobody ever comes down the road from there. Some one lives there I know, for in the mornings and at night I see the smoke coming out of the chimney."
"Do you now ?" cried Bart, opening his eyes and looking at her with unfeigned interest. Well, do you know, sometimes I've fancied I seen that too ?"
"Well, why not," cried Flora, in half anger. "Why shouldn't you ?"
"See here, Flora, take them biscuits out an' listen to me. There ain't no house there. Hello! I didn't know you'd go for to drop the biscuits. Wait, I'll help you pick 'em up. By cracky, they're hot, ain't they ? What you puttin' a towel over 'em for ? Well, you set down here on my knee, so. Now you look over at that there house. You see it, don't yeh ? Well, it ain't there ! No ! I saw it the first week I was out here. I was jus' half dyin', thinkin' of you an' wonderin' why you didn't write. That was the time you was mad at me. So I rode over there one day lookin' up company, so t' speak and there wa'n't no house there. I spent all one Sunday lookin' for it. Then I spoke to Jim Geary about it. He laughed an' got a little white about th' gills, an' he said he guessed I'd have to look a good while before I found it. He said that there shack was an ole joke."
"Why ... what ..."
"Well, this here is th' story he tol' me. He said a man an' his wife come out here t' live an' put up that there little place. An' she was young, you know, an' kind o' skeery, and she got lonesome. It worked on her an' worked on her, an' one day she up an' killed the baby an' her husband an' herself. Th' folks found 'em and buried 'em right there on their own ground. Well, about two weeks after that, th' house was burned down. Don't know how. Tramps, maybe. Anyhow, it burned. At least, I guess it burned !"
"You guess it burned !"
"Well, it ain't there, you know."
"But if it burned the ashes are there."
"All right, girlie, they're there then. Now let's have tea."
This they proceeded to do, and were happy and cheerful all evening, but that didn't keep Flora from rising at the first flush of dawn and stealing out of the house. She looked away over west as she went to the barn and there, dark and firm against the horizon, stood the little house against the pellucid sky of morning. She got on Ginger's back Ginger being her own yellow broncho and set off at a hard pace for the house. It didn't appear to come any nearer, but the objects which had seemed to be beside it came closer into view, and Flora pressed on, with her mind steeled for anything. But as she approached the poplar windbreak which stood to the north of the house, the little shack waned like a shadow before her. It faded and dimmed before her eyes.
She slapped Ginger's flanks and kept him going, and she at last got him up to the spot. But there was nothing there. The bunch grass grew tall and rank and in the midst of it lay a baby's shoe.
Flora thought of picking it up, but something cold in her veins withheld her. Then she grew angry, and set Ginger's head toward the place and tried to drive him over it. But the yellow broncho gave one snort of fear, gathered himself in a bunch, and then, all tense, leaping muscles, made for home as only a broncho can.
A LADY OF YESTERDAY
"A light wind blew from the gates of the sun," the morning she first walked down the street of the little Iowa town. Not a cloud flecked the blue; there was a humming of happy insects; a smell of rich and moist loam perfumed the air, and in the dusk of beeches and of oaks stood the quiet homes.
She paused now and then, looking in the gardens, or at a group of children, then passed on, smiling in content.
Her accent was so strange, that the agent for real estate, whom she visited, asked her, twice and once again, what it was she said.
"I want," she had repeated smilingly, "an upland meadow, where clover will grow, and mignonette."
At the tea-tables that night, there was a mighty chattering. The brisk village made a mystery of this lady with the slow step, the foreign trick of speech, the long black gown, and the gentle voice. The men, concealing their curiosity in presence of the women, gratified it secretly, by sauntering to the tavern in the evening.
There the keeper and his wife stood ready to convey any neighborly intelligence.
"Elizabeth Astrado" was written in the register, a name conveying little, unaccompanied by title or by place of residence.
"She eats alone," the tavern-keeper's wife confided to their eager ears, "and asks for no service. Oh, she's a curiosity ! She's got her story, you'll see !"
In a town where every man knew every other man, and whether or not he paid his taxes on time, and what his standing was in church, and all the skeletons of his home, a stranger alien to their ways disturbed their peace of mind.
"An upland meadow where clover and mignonette will grow," she had said, and such an one she found, and planted thick with fine white clover and with mignonette. Then, while the carpenters raised her cabin at the border of the meadow, near the street, she passed among the villagers, mingling with them gently, winning their good-will, in spite of themselves.
The cabin was of unbarked maple logs, with four rooms and a rustic portico. Then all the villagers stared in very truth. They, living in their trim and ugly little homes, accounted houses of logs as the misfortune of their pioneer parents. A shed for wood, a barn for the Jersey cow, a rustic fence, tall, with a high swinging gate, completed the domain.
In the front room of the cabin was a fireplace of rude brick. In the bedrooms, cots as bare and hard as a nun's, and in the kitchen the domestic necessaries; that was all.
The poorest house-holder in the town would not have confessed to such scant furnishing. Yet the richest man might well have hesitated before he sent to France for hives and hives of bees, as she did, setting them up along the southern border of her meadow.
Later there came strong boxes, marked with many marks of foreign transportation lines, and the neighbor-gossips, seeing them, imagined wealth of curious furniture; but the man who carted them told his wife, who told her friend, who told her friend, that every box to the last one was placed in the dry cemented cellar, and left there in the dark.
"An' a mighty ridic'lous expense a cellar like that is, t' put under a house of that char'cter," said the man to his wife who repeated it to her friend.
"But that ain't all," the carpenter's wife had said when she heard about it all, "Hank says there is one little room, not fit for buttery nor yet fur closit, with a window high up well, you ken see yourself an' a strong door. Jus' in passin' th' other day, when he was there, hangin' some shelves, he tried it, an' it was locked !"
"Well !" said the women who listened.
However, they were not unfriendly, these brisk gossips. Two of them, plucking up tardy courage, did call one afternoon. Their hostess was out among her bees, crooning to them, as it seemed, while they lighted all about her, lit on the flower in her dark hair, buzzed vivaciously about her snow-white linen gown, lighted on her long, dark hands. She came in brightly when she saw her guests, and placed chairs for them, courteously, steeped them a cup of pale and fragrant tea, and served them with little cakes. Though her manner was so quiet and so kind, the women were shy before her. She, turning to one and then the other, asked questions in her quaint way.
"You have children, have you not ?"
Both of them had.
"Ah," she cried, clasping those slender hands, "but you are very fortunate ! Your little ones, what are their ages ?"
They told her, she listening smilingly.
"And you nurse your little babes you nurse them at the breast ?"
The modest women blushed. They were not used to speaking with such freedom. But they confessed they did, not liking artificial means.
"No," said the lady, looking at them with a soft light in her eyes, "as you say, there is nothing like the good mother Nature. The little ones God sends should lie at the breast. 'Tis not the milk alone that they imbibe; it is the breath of life, it is the human magnetism, the power, how shall I say ? Happy the mother who has a little babe to hold !"
They wanted to ask a question, but they dared not wanted to ask a hundred questions. But back of the gentleness was a hauteur, and they were still.
"Tell me," she said, breaking her reverie, "of what your husbands do. Are they carpenters ? Do they build houses for men, like the blessed Jesus ? Or are they tillers of the soil ? Do they bring fruits out of this bountiful valley ?"
They answered, with a reservation of approval. "The blessed Jesus !" It sounded like popery.
She had gone from these brief personal matters to other things.
"How very strong you people seem," she had remarked. "Both your men and your women are large and strong. You should be, being appointed to subdue a continent. Men think they choose their destinies, but indeed, good neighbors, I think not so. Men are driven by the winds of God's will. They are as much bidden to build up this valley, this storehouse for the nations, as coral insects are bidden to make the reefs with their own little bodies, dying as they build. Is it not so ?"
"We are the creatures of God's will, I suppose," said one of her visitors, piously.
She had given them little confidences in return.
"I make my bread," she said, with childish pride, "pray see if you do not think it excellent!" And she cut a flaky loaf to display its whiteness. One guest summoned the bravado to inquire,
"Then you are not used to doing housework ?"
" I ?" she said, with a slow smile, "I have never got used to anything, not even living." And so she baffled them all, yet won them.
The weeks went by. Elizabeth Astrado attended to her bees, milked her cow, fed her fowls, baked, washed, and cleaned, like the simple women about her, saving that as she did it a look of ineffable content lighted up her face, and she sang for happiness. Sometimes, amid the ballads that she hummed, a strain slipped in of some great melody, which she, singing unaware, as it were, corrected, shaking her finger in self- reproval, and returning again to the ballads and the hymns. Nor was she remiss in neighborly offices; but if any were ailing, or had a festivity, she was at hand to assist, condole, or congratulate, carrying always some simple gift in her hand, appropriate to the occasion.
She had her wider charities too, for all she kept close to her home. When, one day, a story came to her of a laborer struck down with heat in putting in a culvert on the railroad, and gossip said he could not speak English, she hastened to him, caught dying words from his lips, whispered a reply, and then what seemed to be a prayer, while he held fast her hand, and sank to coma with wistful eyes upon her face. Moreover 'twas she who buried him, raising a cross above his grave, and she who planted rose-bushes about the mound.
"He spoke like an Italian," said the physician to her warily.
"And so he was," she had replied.
"A fellow-countryman of yours, no doubt ?"
"Are not all men our countrymen, my friend ?" she said, gently. "What are little lines drawn in the imagination of men, dividing territory, that they should divide our sympathies ? The world is my country and yours, I hope. Is it not so ?"
Then there had also been a hapless pair of lovers, shamed before their community, who, desperate, impoverished, and bewildered at the war between nature and society, had been helped by her into a new part of the world.
There had been a widow with many children, who had found baskets of cooked food and bundles of well-made clothing on her step. And as the days passed, with these pleasant offices, the face of the strange woman glowed with an ever-increasing content, and her dark, delicate beauty grew.
John Hartington spent his vacation at Des Moines, having a laudable desire to see something of the world before returning to his native town, with his college honors fresh upon him. Swiftest of the college runners was John Hartington, famed for his leaping too, and measuring widest at the chest and waist of all the hearty fellows at the university. His blond curls clustered above a brow almost as innocent as a child's; his frank and brave blue eyes, his free step, his mellow laugh, bespoke the perfect animal, unharmed by civilization, unperplexed by the closing century's fallacies and passions.
The wholesome oak that spreads its roots deep in the generous soil, could not be more a part of nature than he.
Conscientious, unimaginative, direct, sincere, industrious, he was the ideal man of his kind, and his return to town caused a flutter among the maidens which they did not even attempt to conceal.
They told him all the chat, of course, and, among other things, mentioned the great sensation of the year, the coming of the woman with her mystery, the purchase of the sunny upland, the planting it with clover and with mignonette, the building of the house of logs, the keeping of the bees, the barren rooms, the busy, silent life, the charities, the never-ending wonder of it all. And then the woman kind, yet different from the rest, with the foreign trick of tongue, the slow, proud walk, the delicate, slight hands, the beautiful, beautiful smile, the air as of a creature from another world.
Hartington, strolling beyond the village streets, up where the sunset died in daffodil above the upland, saw the little cot of logs, and out before it, among blood-red poppies, the woman of whom he had heard. Her gown of white gleamed in that eerie radiance, glorified, her sad great eyes bent on him in magnetic scrutiny. A peace and plenitude of power came radiating from her, and reached him where he stood, suddenly, and for the first time in his careless life, struck dumb and awed. She, too, seemed suddenly abashed at this great bulk of youthful manhood, innocent and strong. She gazed on him, and he on her, both chained with some mysterious enchantment. Yet neither spoke, and he, turning in bewilderment at last, went back to town, while she placed one hand on her lips to keep from calling him. And neither slept that night, and in the morning when she went with milking pail and stool out to the grassy field, there he stood at the bars, waiting. Again they gazed, like creatures held in thrall by some magician, till she held out her hand and said:
"We must be friends, although we have not met. Perhaps we ARE old friends. They say there have been worlds before this one. I have not seen you in these habiliments of flesh and blood, and yet, we may be friends ? "
John Hartington, used to the thin jests of the village girls, and all their simple talk, rose, nevertheless, enlightened as he was with some strange sympathy with her, to understand and answer what she said.
"I think perhaps it may be so. May I come in beside you in the field ? Give me the pail. I'll milk the cow for you."
She threw her head back and laughed like a girl from school, and he laughed too, and they shook hands. Then she sat near him while he milked, both keeping silence, save for the p-rring noise he made with his lips to the patient beast. Being through, she served him with a cupful of the fragrant milk; but he bade her drink first, then drank himself, and then they laughed again, as if they both had found something new and good in life.
"Come see how well my bees are doing." And they went. She served him with the lucent syrup of the bees, perfumed with the mignonette, such honey as there never was before. He sat on the broad doorstep, near the scarlet poppies, she on the grass, and then they talked was it one golden hour or two? Ah, well, 'twas long enough for her to learn all of his simple life, long enough for her to know that he was victor at the races at the school, that he could play the pipe, like any shepherd of the ancient days, and when he went he asked her if he might return.
"Well," laughed she, "sometimes I am lonely. Come see me in a week."
Yet he was there that day at twilight, and he brought his silver pipe, and piped to her under the stars, and she sung ballads to him, songs of Strephon and times when the hills were young, and flocks were fairer than they ever be these days.
"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow," and still the intercourse, still her dark loveliness waxing, still the weaving of the mystic spell, still happiness as primitive and as sweet as ever Eden knew.
Then came a twilight when the sweet rain fell, and on the heavy air the perfumes of the fields floated. The woman stood by the window of the cot, looking out. Tall, graceful, full of that subtle power which drew his soul; clothed in white linen, fragrant from her fields, with breath freighted with fresh milk, with eyes of flame, she was there to be adored. And he, being man of manliest type, forgot all that might have checked the words, and poured his soul out at her feet. She drew herself up like a queen, but only that she might look queenlier for his sake, and, bending, kissed his brow, and whispered back his vows.
And they were married.
The villagers pitied Hartington.
"She's more than a match for him in years an' in some other ways, as like as not," they said.
"Besides, she ain't much inclined to mention anything about her past. 'Twon't bear the tellin' probably."
As for the lovers, they laughed as they went about their honest tasks, or sat together arms encircling each at evening, now under the stars, and now before their fire of wood. They talked together of their farm, added a field for winter wheat, bought other cattle, and some horses, which they rode out over the rolling prairies side by side.
He never stopped to chat about the town; she never ventured on the street without him by her side. Truth to tell, their neighbors envied them, marvelling how one could extract a heaven out of earth, and what such perfect joy could mean.
Yet, for all their prosperity, not one addition did they make to that most simple home. It stood there, with its bare necessities, made beautiful only with their love.
But when the winter was most gone, he made a little cradle of hard wood, in which she placed pillows of down, and over which she hung linen curtains embroidered by her hand.
In the long evenings, by the flicker of the fire, they sat together, cheek to cheek, and looked at this little bed, singing low songs together.
"This happiness is terrible, my John," she said to him one night, a wondrous night, when the eastern wind had flung the tassels out on all the budding trees of spring, and the air was throbbing with awakening life, and balmy puffs of breeze, and odors of the earth. "And we are growing young. Do you not think that we are very young and strong ?"
He kissed her on the lips. "I know that you are beautiful," he said.
"Oh, we have lived at Nature's heart, you see, my love. The cattle and the fowls, the honey and the wheat, the cot the cradle, John, and you and me ! These things make happiness. They are nature. But then, you cannot understand. You have never known the artificial "
"And you, Elizabeth ?"
"John, if you wish, you shall hear all I have to tell. 'Tis a long, long, weary tale. Will you hear it now ? Believe me, it will make us sad."
She grasped his arm till he shrank with pain.
"Tell what you will and when you will, Elizabeth. Perhaps, some day when ..." he pointed to the little crib.
"As you say." And so it dropped.
There came a day when Hartington, sitting upon the portico, where perfumes of the budding clover came to him, hated the humming of the happy bees, hated the rustling of the trees, hated the sight of earth.
"The child is dead," the nurse had said, "as for your wife, perhaps " but that was all. Finally he heard the nurse's step upon the floor.
"Come, "she said, motioning him. And he had gone, laid cheek against that dying cheek, whispered his love once more, saw it returned even then, in those deep eyes, and laid her back upon her pillow, dead.
He buried her among the mignonette, level led the earth, sowed thick the seed again.
"'Tis as she wished," he said.
With his strong hands he wrenched the little crib, laid it piece by piece upon their hearth, and scattered then the sacred ashes on the wind. Then, with hard-coming breath, broke open the locked door of that room which he had never entered, thinking to find there, perhaps, some sign of that unguessable life of hers, but found there only an altar, with votive lamps before the Blessed Virgin, and lilies faded and fallen from their stems.
Then down into the cellar went he, to those boxes, with the foreign marks. And then, indeed, he found a hint of that dead life. Gowns of velvet and of silk, such as princesses might wear, wonders of lace, yellowed with time, great cloaks of snowy fur, lustrous robes, jewels of worth, a vast array of brilliant trumpery.
Then there were books in many tongues, with rich old bindings and illuminated page, and in them written the dead woman's name, a name of many parts, with titles of impress, and in the midst of all the name, "Elizabeth Astrado," as she said.
And that was all, or if there were more he might have learned, following trails that fell within his way, he never learned it, being content, and thankful that he had held her for a time within his arms, and looked in her great soul, which, wearying of life's sad complexities, had simplified itself, and made his love its best adornment.