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Title: A Lost Lady (1923)
Author: Willa Cather
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Language:   English
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Title: A Lost Lady (1923)
Author: Willa Cather

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

Part One


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The boys laughed, and Niel looked unhappy.

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

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

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

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

When lunch time came they had done none of the things they meant to
do.  They had behaved like wild creatures all morning; shouting
from the breezy bluffs, dashing down into the silvery marsh through
the dewy cobwebs that glistened on the tall weeds, swishing among
the pale tan cattails, wading in the sandy creek bed, chasing a
striped water snake from the old willow stump where he was sunning
himself, cutting sling-shot crotches, throwing themselves on their
stomachs to drink at the cool spring that flowed out from under a
bank into a thatch of dark watercress.  Only the two German boys,
Rheinhold and Adolph Blum, withdrew to a still pool where the creek
was dammed by a reclining tree trunk, and, in spite of all the
noise and splashing about them, managed to catch a few suckers.
The wild roses were wide open and brilliant, the blue-eyed grass
was in purple flower, and the silvery milkweed was just coming on.
Birds and butterflies darted everywhere.  All at once the breeze
died, the air grew very hot, the marsh steamed, and the birds
disappeared.  The boys found they were tired; their shirts stuck to
their bodies and their hair to their foreheads.  They left the
sweltering marsh-meadows for the grove, lay down on the clean grass
under the grateful shade of the tall cottonwoods, and spread out
their lunch.  The Blum boys never brought anything but rye bread
and hunks of dry cheese,--their companions wouldn't have touched it
on any account.  But Thaddeus Grimes, the butcher's red-headed son,
was the only one impolite enough to show his scorn.  "You live on
wienies to home, why don't you never bring none?" he bawled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Picnic," said Ed Elliott.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"He'll complain to your father."

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this effrontery the boys shot amazed glances at one another, and
the brown Weaver twins broke simultaneously into giggles and rolled
over on the turf.

But Ivy seemed unaware that he was regarded as being especially
resourceful where dogs were concerned.  He drew from his pocket a
metal sling-shot and some round bits of gravel.  "I won't kill it.
I'll just surprise it, so we can have a look at it."

"Bet you won't hit it!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Run for water!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Surely I haven't!" Niel exclaimed.

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

"Do you think she is?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Like everybody else," the boy commented grimly.

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

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

"Yes?  And how is that?"

"Lovely.  Just lovely."

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Happy days!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Not too many.  I'll need them . . . to-night," he replied

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the blue shadows of approaching dusk were beginning to fall
over the snow, one of the Blum boys, slipping quietly along through
the timber in search of rabbits, came upon the empty cutter
standing in the brush, and near it the two ponies, stamping
impatiently where they were tied.  Adolph slid back into the
thicket and lay down behind a fallen log to see what would happen.
Not much ever happened to him but weather.  Presently he heard low
voices, coming nearer from the ravine.  The big stranger who was
visiting at the Forresters' emerged, carrying the buffalo robes on
one arm; Mrs. Forrester herself was clinging to the other.  They
walked slowly, wholly absorbed by what they were saying to each
other.  When they came up to the sleigh, the man spread the robes
on the seat and put his hands under Mrs. Forrester's arms to lift
her in.  But he did not lift her; he stood for a long while holding
her crushed up against his breast, her face hidden in his black

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

"It doesn't matter," she murmured.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stair door opened, and Mrs. Forrester came down in her Japanese
dressing-gown, looking very pale.

The dark shadows under her eyes seemed to mean that she had been
losing sleep.

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

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

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

When she came back she had dressed and rearranged her hair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Will they really be poor?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Happy days!"

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

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

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

Part Two


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

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

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

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

"Coming home to go into business?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Nonsense!  You have sweethearts?"


"Are they pretty?"

"Why they?  Isn't one enough?"

"One is too many.  I want you to have half a dozen,--and still save
the best for us!  One would take everything.  If you had her, you
would not have come home at all.  I wonder if you know how we've
looked for you?"  She took his hand and turned a seal ring about on
his little finger absently.  "Every night for weeks, when the
lights of the train came swinging in down below the meadows, I've
said to myself, 'Niel is coming home; there's that to look forward
to.'"  She caught herself as she always did when she found that she
was telling too much, and finished in a playful tone.  "So, you
see, you mean a great deal to all of us.  Did you find Mr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The cellar will go dry, some day."

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

"Was she confused?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"To whom, may I ask?"

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

"Peters?  I never heard of him."

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

Mr. Ogden frowned.  "And is he?"

"Some people think so."

"Is he trustworthy?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Twenty thousand dollars."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

He told her they were very pretty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And again: "Of Mrs. Forrester, no news is good news.  She is sadly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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