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   Chapter 23 No.23

The Emigrant Trail By Geraldine Bonner Characters: 11875

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


From the day of the good news Courant rallied. At first they hardly dared to hope. Bella and Daddy John talked about it together and wondered if it were only a pause in the progress of his ailment. But Susan was confident, nursing her man with a high cheerfulness that defied their anxious faces.

She had none of their fear of believing. She saw their doubts and angrily scouted them. "Low will be all right soon," she said, in answer to their gloomily observing looks. In her heart she called them cowards, ready to join hands with death, not rise up and fight till the final breath. Her resolute hope seemed to fill the cabin with light and life. It transformed her haggardness, made her a beaming presence, with eyes bright under tangled locks of hair, and lips that hummed snatches of song. He was coming back to her like a child staggering to its mother's outheld hands. While they were yet unconvinced "when Low gets well" became a constant phrase on her tongue. She began to plan again, filled their ears with speculations of the time when she and her husband would move to the coast. They marveled at her, at the dauntlessness of her spirit, at the desperate courage that made her grip her happiness and wrench it back from the enemy.

They marveled more when they saw she had been right-Susan who had been a child so short a time before, knowing more than they, wiser and stronger in the wisdom and strength of her love.

There was a great day when Low crept out to the door and sat on the bench in the sun with his wife beside him. To the prosperous passerby they would have seemed a sorry pair-a skeleton man with uncertain feet and powerless hands, a worn woman, ragged and unkempt. To them it was the halcyon hour, the highest point of their mutual adventure. The cabin was their palace, the soaked prospect a pleasance decked for their delight. And from this rude and ravaged outlook their minds reached forward in undefined and unrestricted visioning to all the world that lay before them, which they would soon advance on and together win.

Nature was with them in their growing gladness. The spring was coming. The river began to fall, and Courant's eyes dwelt longingly on the expanding line of mud that waited for his pick. April came with a procession of cloudless days, with the tinkling of streams shrinking under the triumphant sun, with the pines exhaling scented breaths, and a first, faint sprouting of new green. The great refreshed landscape unveiled itself, serenely brooding in a vast, internal energy of germination. The earth was coming to life as they were, gathering itself for the expression of its ultimate purpose. It was rising to the rite of rebirth and they rose with it, with faces uplifted to its kindling glory and hearts in which joy was touched by awe.

On a May evening, when the shadows were congregating in the ca?on, Susan lay on the bunk with her son in the hollow of her arm. The children came in and peeped fearfully at the little hairless head, pulling down the coverings with careful fingers and eying the newcomer dubiously, not sure that they liked him. Bella looked over their shoulders radiating proud content. Then she shooed them out and went about her work of "redding up," pacing the earthen floor with the proud tread of victory. Courant was sitting outside on the log bench. She moved to the door and smiled down at him over the tin plate she was scouring.

"Come in and sit with her while I get the supper," she said. "Don't talk, just sit where she can see you."

He came and sat beside her, and she drew the blanket down from the tiny, crumpled face. They were silent, wondering at it, looking back over the time when it had cried in their blood, inexorably drawn them together, till out of the heat of their passion the spark of its being had been struck. Both saw in it their excuse and their pardon.

She recovered rapidly, all her being revivified and reinforced, coming back glowingly to a mature beauty. Glimpses of the Susan of old began to reappear. She wanted her looking-glass, and, sitting up in the bunk with the baby against her side, arranged her hair in the becoming knot and twisted the locks on her temples into artful tendrils. She would sew soon, and kept Bella busy digging into the trunks and bringing out what was left of her best things. They held weighty conferences over these, the foot of the bunk littered with wrinkled skirts and jackets that had fitted a slimmer and more elegant Susan. A trip to Sacramento was talked of, in which Daddy John was to shop for a lady and baby, and buy all manner of strange articles of which he knew nothing.

"Calico, that's a pretty color," he exclaimed testily. "How am I to know what's a pretty color? Now if it was a sack of flour or a spade-but I'll do my best, Missy," he added meekly, catching her eye in which the familiar imperiousness gleamed through softening laughter.

Soon the day came when she walked to the door and sat on the bench. The river was settling decorously into its bed, and in the sunlight the drenched shores shone under a tracery of pools and rillets as though a silvery gauze had been rudely torn back from them, catching and tearing here and there. The men were starting the spring work. The rocker was up, and the spades and picks stood propped against the rock upon which she and Low had sat on that first evening. He sat there now, watching the preparations soon to take part again. His lean hand fingered among the picks, found his own, and he walked to the untouched shore and struck a tentative blow. Then he dropped the pick, laughing, and came back to her.

"I'll be at it in a week," he said, sitting down on the bench. "It'll be good to be in the pits again and feel my muscles once more."

"It'll be good to see you," she answered.

In a week he was back, in two weeks he was himself again-the mightiest of those mighty men who, sixty year

s ago, measured their strength along the American River. The diggings ran farther upstream and were richer than the old ones. The day's takings were large, sometimes so large that the men's elation beat like a fever in their blood. At night they figured on their wealth, and Susan listened startled to the sums that fell so readily from their lips. They were rich, rich enough to go to the coast and for Courant to start in business there.

It was he who wanted this. The old shrinking and fear of the city were gone. Now, with a wife and child, he turned his face that way. He was longing to enter the fight for them, to create and acquire for them, to set them as high as the labor of his hands and work of his brain could compass. New ambitions possessed him. As Susan planned for a home and its comforts, he did for his work in the market place in competition with those who had once been his silent accusers.

But there was also a strange humbleness in him. It did not weaken his confidence or clog his aspiration, but it took something from the hard arrogance that had recognized in his own will the only law. He had heard from Daddy John of that interview with David, and he knew the reason of David's lie. He knew, too, that David would stand to that lie forever. Of the two great passions that the woman had inspired the one she had relinquished was the finer. He had stolen her from David, and David had shown that for love of her he could forego vengeance. Once such an act would have been inexplicable to the mountain man. Now he understood, and in his humility he vowed to make the life she had chosen as perfect as the one that might have been. Through this last, and to him, supremest sacrifice, David ceased to be the puny weakling and became the hero, the thought of whom would make Courant "go softly all his days."

The summer marched upon them, with the men doing giant labor on the banks and the women under the pine at work beside their children. The peace of the valley was broken by the influx of the Forty-niners, who stormed its solitudes, and changed the broken trail to a crowded highway echoing with the noises of life. The river yielded up its treasure to their eager hands, fortunes were made, and friendships begun that were to make the history of the new state. These bronzed and bearded men, these strong-thewed women, were waking from her sleep the virgin California.

Sometimes in the crowded hours Susan dropped her work and, with her baby in her arms, walked along the teeming river trail or back into the shadows of the forest. All about her was the stir of a fecund earth, growth, expansion, promise. From beneath the pines she looked up and saw the aspiration of their proud up-springing. At her feet the ground was bright with flower faces completing themselves in the sunshine. Wherever her glance fell there was a busyness of development, a progression toward fulfillment, a combined, harmonious striving in which each separate particle had its purpose and its meaning. The shell of her old self-engrossment cracked, and the call of a wider life came to her. It pierced clear and arresting through the fairy flutings of "the horns of elfland" that were all she had heretofore heard.

The desire to live as an experiment in happiness, to extract from life all there was for her own enjoying, left her. Slowly she began to see it as a vast concerted enterprise in which she was called to play her part. The days when the world was made for her pleasure were over. The days had begun when she saw her obligation, not alone to the man and child who were part of her, but out and beyond these to the diminishing circles of existences that had never touched hers. Her love that had met so generous a response, full measure, pressed down and running over, must be paid out without the stipulation of recompense. Her vision widened, dimly descried horizons limitless as the prairies, saw faintly how this unasked giving would transform a gray and narrow world as the desert's sunsets had done.

So gradually the struggling soul came into being and possessed the fragile tissue that had once been a girl and was now a woman.

They left the river on a morning in September, the sacks of dust making the trunk heavy. The old wagon was ready, the mess chest strapped to the back, Julia in her place. Bella and the children were to follow as soon as the rains began, so the parting was not sad. The valley steeped in crystal shadow, the hills dark against the flush of dawn, held Susan's glance for a lingering minute as she thought of the days in the tent under the pine. She looked at her husband and met his eyes in which she saw the same memory. Then the child, rosy with life, leaped in her arms, bending to snatch with dimpled hands at its playmates, chuckling baby sounds as they pressed close to give him their kisses.

Daddy John, mounting to his seat, cried:

"There's the sun coming up to wish us God-speed."

She turned and saw it rising huge and red over the hill's shoulder, and held up her son to see. The great ball caught his eyes and he stared in tranced delight. Then he leaped against the restraint of her arm, kicking on her breast with his heels, stretching a grasping hand toward the crimson ball, a bright and shining toy to play with.

Its light fell red on the three faces-the child's waiting for life to mold its unformed softness, the woman's stamped with the gravity of deep experience, the man's stern with concentrated purpose. They watched in silence till the baby gave a cry, a thin, sweet sound of wondering joy that called them back to it. Again they looked at one another, but this time their eyes held no memories. The thoughts of both reached forward to the coming years, and they saw themselves shaping from this offspring of their lawless passion what should be a man, a molder of the new Empire, a builder of the Promised Land.

FINIS

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