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   Chapter 29 No.29

Other Main-Travelled Roads By Hamlin Garland Characters: 22184

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The next morning he did not rise at all. The collapse had come. The bad air, the nervous strain, the lack of sleep, had worn down his slender store of strength, and when the great victory came he fell like a tree whose trunk has been slowly gnawed across by teeth of silent saw. His drowse deepened into torpor.

In the bright winter morning, seated in a gay cutter behind a bay colt strung with slashing bells, Mattie drove to Kesota for the doctor. She felt the discord between the joyous jangle of the bells, the stream of sunlight, and the sparkle of snow crystals, but it only added to the poignancy of her anxiety.

She had not yet reached self-consciousness in her regard for the young preacher-she thought of him as a noble human being, liable to death, and she chirped again and again to the flying colt, whose broad hoofs flung the snow in stinging showers against her face.

A call at the doctor's house set him jogging out along the lanes, while she sent a telegram to Herman. As she whirled bay Tom into the road to go home her heart rose in relief that was almost exaltation. She loved horses. She always sang under her breath, chiming to the beat of their bells, when alone, and now she loosened the rein and hummed an old love-song, while the powerful young horse squared away in a trot which was twelve miles an hour.

In such air, in such sun, who could die? Her good animal strength rose dominant over fear of death.

She came upon the doctor swinging along in his old blue cutter, dozing in country-doctor style, making up for lost sleep.

"Out o' the way, doctor!" she gleefully called.

The doctor roused up and looked around with a smile. He was not beyond admiring such a girl as that. He snapped his whip-lash lightly on old Sofia's back, who looked up surprised, and, seeming to comprehend matters, began to reach out broad, flat, thin legs in a pace which the proud colt respected. She came of illustrious line, did Sofia, scant-haired and ungracious as she now was.

"Don't run over me!" called the doctor, ironically, and, with Sofia still leading, they swung into the yard.

Mattie went in with the doctor, while Allen looked after both horses. They found Chapman attending Wallace, who lay in a dazed quiet-conscious, but not definitely aware of material things.

The doctor looked his patient over carefully. Then he asked, "Who is the yoong mon?"

"He's been teaching here, or, rather, preaching."

"When did this coom on?"

"Last night. Wound up a big revival last night, I believe. Kind o' caved in, I reckon."

"That's all. Needs rest. He'll be wearin' a wood jacket if he doosna leave off preachin'."

"Regular jamboree. I couldn't stop him. One of these periodical neighborhood 'awakenings,' they call it."

"They have need of it here, na doot."

"Well, they need something-love for God-or man."

"M-well! It's lettle I can do. The wumman can do more, if the mon'll be eatin' what they cuke for 'im," said the candid old Scotchman. "Mak' 'im eat! Mak' 'im eat!"

Once more Tom pounded along the shining road to Kesota to meet the six-o'clock train from Chicago.

Herman, magnificently clothed in fur-lined ulster and cap, alighted with unusually grave face, and hurried toward Mattie.

"Well, what is it, Sis? Mother sick?"

"No; it's the teacher. He is unconscious. I've been for the doctor. Oh, we were scared!"

He looked relieved, but a little chagrined. "Oh, well, I don't see why I should be yanked out of my boots by a telegram because the teacher is sick! He isn't kin-yet."

For the first time a feeling of confusion swept over Mattie, and her face flushed.

Herman's keen eyes half closed as he looked into her face.

"Mat-what-what! Now look here-how's this? Where's Ben Holly's claim?"

"He never had any." She shifted ground quickly. "Oh, Herman, we had a wonderful time last night! Father and Uncle Marsden shook hands-"

"What!" shouted Herman, as he fell in a limp mass against the cutter. "Bring a physician-I'm stricken."

"Don't act so! Everybody's looking."

"They'd better look. I'm drowning while they wait."

She untied the horse and came back.

"Climb in there and stop your fooling, and I'll tell you all about it."

He crawled in with tearing groans of mock agony, and then leaned his head against her shoulder. "Well, go on, Sis; I can bear it now."

She nudged him to make him sit up.

"Well, you know we've had a revival."

"So you wrote. Must have been a screamer to fetch Dad and old Marsden. A regular Pentecost of Shinar."

"It was-I mean it was beautiful. I saw father was getting stirred up. He prayed almost all day yesterday, and at night-Well, I can't tell you, but Wallace talked, oh, so beautiful and tender!"

"She calls him Wallace?" mused Herman, like a comedian. "Hush! And then came the hand-shaking, and then the minister came home with us because father asked him to, and stayed because he liked the chicken."

The girl was hurt, and she showed it. "If you make fun, I won't tell you another word," she said.

"Away Chicago! enter Cyene! Well, come, I won't fool any more."

"Then after Wallace-I mean-"

"Let it stand. Come to the murder."

"Then father came and asked me to send for you, and mother cried, and so did he. And, oh, Hermie, he's so sweet and kind! Don't make fun of him, will you? It's splendid to have him give in, and everybody feels glad that the district will be all friendly again."

Herman did not gibe now. His voice was gentle. The pathos in the scene appealed to him. "So the old man sent for me himself, did he?"

"Yes; he could hardly wait till morning. But this morning, when we came to call the teacher, he didn't answer, and father went in and found him unconscious. Then I went for the doctor."

Bay Tom whirled along in the splendid dusk, his nostrils flaring ghostly banners of steam on the cold, crisp air. The stars overhead were points of green and blue and crimson light, low-hung, changing each moment. Their influence entered the soul of the mocking young fellow. He felt very solemn, almost melancholy, for a moment.

"Well, Sis, I've got something to tell you all. I'm going to tell it to you by degrees. I'm going to be married."

"Oh!" she gasped, with quick, indrawn breath. "Who?"

"Don't be ungrammatical, whatever you do. She's a cashier in a restaurant, and she's a fine girl," he added, steadily, as if combating a prejudice. He forgot for the moment that such prejudices did not exist in Cyene.

Sis was instantly tender, and very, very serious.

"Of course she is, or you wouldn't care for her. Oh, I'd like to see her!"

"I'll take you up some day and show her to you."

"Oh, will you? Oh, when can I go?" She was smitten into gravity again. "Not till the teacher is well."

Herman pretended to be angry. "Dog take the teacher, the old spindle-legs! If I'd known he was going to raise such a ruction in our quiet and peaceful neighborhood, I never would have brought him here."

Mattie did not laugh; she pondered. She never quite understood her brother when he went off on those queer tirades, which might be a joke or an insult. He had grown away from her in his city life.

They rode on in silence the rest of the way, except now and then an additional question from Mattie concerning his sweetheart.

As they neared the farm-house she lost interest in all else but the condition of the young minister. They could see the light burning dimly in his room, and in the parlor and kitchen as well, and this unusual lighting stirred the careless young man deeply. It was associated in his mind with death and birth, and also with great joy. The house was lighted so the night his elder brother died, and it looked so to him when he whirled into the yard with the doctor when Mattie was born.

"Oh, I hope he isn't worse!" said the girl, with deep feeling.

Herman put his arm about her, and she knew he knew.

"So do I, Sis."

Allen came to the door as they drove in, and the careless boy realized suddenly the emotional tension his father was in. As the old man came to the sleigh-side he could not speak. His fingers trembled as he took the outstretched hand of his boy.

Herman's voice shook a little:

"Well, Dad, Mattie says the war is over."

The old man tried to speak, but only coughed and then he blew his nose. At last he said, brokenly:

"Go right in; your mother's waitin'."

It was singularly dramatic to the youth. To come from the careless, superficial life of his city companions into contact with such primeval passions as these made him feel like a spectator at some new and powerful and tragic play.

His mother fell upon his neck and cried, while Mattie stood by pale and anxious. Inside the parlor could be heard the mumble of men's voices.

In such wise do death and the fear of death fall upon country homes. All day the house had swarmed with people. All day this mother had looked forward to the reconciliation of her husband with her son. All day had the pale and silent minister of God kept his corpse-like calm, while all about the white snow gleamed, and radiant shadows filled every hollow, and the cattle bawled and frisked in the barn-yard, and the fowls cackled joyously, what time the mild, soft wind breathed warmly over the land.

Mattie cried out to her mother, in quick, low voice, "Oh mother, how is he?"

"He ain't no worse. The doctor says there's no immediate danger."

The girl brought her hands together girlishly, and said: "Oh, I'm so glad. Is he awake?"

"No; he's asleep."

"Is the doctor still here?"

"Yes."

"I guess I'll step in," said Herman.

The doctor and George Chapman sat beside the hard-coal heater, talking in low voices. The old doctor was permitting himself the luxury of a story of pioneer life. He arose with automatic courtesy, and shook hands with Herman.

"How's the sick man getting on?"

"Vera well-vera well-consederin' the mon is a complete worn-out-that's all-naethin' more. Thes floom-a-didale bezniss of rantin' away on the fear o' the Laird for sax weeks wull have worn out the frame of a bool-dawg."

Herman and Chapman smiled. "I hope you'll tell him that."

"Na fear, yoong mon," said the grim old warrior. "Weel, now, ai'll juist be takin' anither look at him."

Herman went in with the doctor, and stood looking on while the old man peered and felt about. He came out soon, and, leaving a few directions with Herman and Chapman, took his departure. Everything seemed favorable, he said.

There was no longer poignancy of anxiety in Mattie's mind, she was too much of a child to imagine the horror of loss, but she was grave and gay by turns. Her healthy and wholesome nature continually reasserted itself over the power of her newly attained woman's interest in the young preacher. She went to bed and slept dreamlessly, while Herman yawned and inwardly raged at the fix in which circumstances had placed him.

Like many another lover, days away from his sweetheart were lost days. He wondered how she would ta

ke all this life in Cyene. It would be good fun to bring her down, anyway, and hear her talk. He planned such a trip, and grew so interested in the thought he forgot his patient.

In the early dawn Wallace rallied and woke. Herman heard the rustle of the pillow, and turned to find the sick man's eyes looking at him fixedly, calm but puzzled. Herman's lips slowly changed into a beautiful boyish smile. "Hello, old man! How do you find yourself?" His hearty, humorous greeting seemed to do the sick man good. Herman approached the bed. "Know where you are?" Wallace slowly put out a hand, and Herman took it. "You're coming on all right. Want some breakfast? Make it bucks?" he said, in Chicago restaurant slang. "White wings-sunny-one up coff."

All this was good tonic for Wallace, and an hour later he sipped broth, while Mrs. Allen and the Deacon and Herman stood watching the process with apparently consuming interest. Mattie was still soundly sleeping.

Now began delicious days of convalescence, during which Wallace looked peacefully out at the coming and going of the two women, each possessing powerful appeal to him: one the motherly presence which had been denied him for many years, the other something he had never permitted himself to hope for-a sweetheart's daily companionship.

He lay there planning his church, and also his home. Into the thought of a new church came shyly but persistently the thought of a fireside of his own, with this young girl sitting in the glow of it waiting for him. His life possessed little romance. He had earned his own way through school and to college. His slender physical energies had been taxed to their utmost at every stage of his climb, but now it seemed as though some blessed rest and peace were at hand.

Meanwhile, the bitter partisans met each other coming and going out of the gate of the Allen estate, and the goodness of God shone in their softened faces. Herman was skeptical of its lasting quality, but was forced to acknowledge that it was a lovely light. He it was who made the electrical suggestion to rebuild the church as an evidence of good faith. "You say you're regenerated. Well, prove it-go ahead and regenerate the church," he said.

The enthusiasm of the neighborhood took flame. It should be done. A meeting was called. Everybody subscribed money or work. It was a generous outpouring of love and faith.

It was Herman also who counselled secrecy. "It would be a nice thing to surprise him," he said. "We'll agree to keep the scheme from him at home, if you don't give it away."

They set to work like bees. The women came down one day and took possession with brooms and mops and soap, and while the carpenters repaired the windows they fell savagely upon the grime of the seats and floors. The walls of the church echoed with woman's gossip and girlish laughter. Everything was scoured, from the door-hinges to the altar rails. New doors were hung and a new stove secured, and then came the painters to put a new coat of paint on the inside. The cold weather forbade repainting the outside.

The sheds were rebuilt by men whose hearts glowed with old-time fire. It was like pioneer days, when "barn-raisings" and "bees" made life worth while in a wild, stern land. The old men were moved to tears, and the younger rough men shouted cheery, boisterous cries to hide their own deep emotion. Hand met hand in heartiness never shown before. Neighbors frequented one another's homes, and the old times of visiting and brotherly love came back upon them. Nothing marred the perfect beauty of their revival-save the fear of its evanescence. It seemed too good to last.

Meanwhile love of another and merrier sort went on. The young men and maidens turned prayer-meeting into trysts and scrubbing-bees into festivals. They rode from house to house under glittering stars, over sparkling snows, singing:

"Hallelujah! 'tis done:

I believe on the Son;

I am saved by the blood

Of the Crucified One."

And their rejoicing chorus was timed to the clash of bells on swift young horses. Who shall say they did not right? Did the Galilean forbid love and joy?

No matter. God's stars, the mysterious night, the bells, the watchful bay of dogs, the sting of snow, the croon of loving voices, the clasp of tender arms, the touch of parting lips-these things, these joys outweigh death and hell, and all that makes the criminal tremble. Being saved, they must of surety rejoice.

And through it all Wallace crawled slowly back to life and strength. He ate of Mother Allen's chicken-broth and of toast from Mattie's care-taking hand, and gradually reassumed color and heart. His solemn eyes watched the young girl with an intensity which seemed to take her strength from her. She would gladly have given her blood for him, if it had occurred to her, or if it had been suggested as a good thing; instead, she gave him potatoes baked to a nicety, and buttered toast that would melt on the tongue, and, on the whole, they served the purpose.

One day a smartly dressed man called to see Wallace. Mattie recognized him as the Baptist clergyman from Kesota. He came in, and, introducing himself said he had heard of the excellent work of Mr. Stacey, and that he would like to speak with him.

Wallace was sitting in a rocking-chair in the parlor. Herman was in Chicago, and there was no one but Mrs. Allen and Mattie in the house.

The Kesota minister introduced himself to Wallace, and then entered upon a long eulogium upon his work in Cyene. He asked after his credentials, his plans, his connections, and then he said:

"You've done a fine work in softening the hearts of these people. We had almost despaired of doing anything with them. Yes, you have done a won-der-ful work, and now we must reorganize a regular society here. I will be out again when you get stronger, and we'll see about it."

Wallace was too weak to take any stand in the talk, and so allowed him to get up and go away without protest or explanation of his own plans.

When Herman came down on Saturday, he told him of the Baptist minister's visit and the proposition. Herman stretched his legs out toward the fire and put his hands in his pockets. Then he rose and took a strange attitude, such as Wallace had seen in comic pictures-it was, in fact, the attitude of a Bowery tough.

"Say, look here! If you want 'o set dis community by de ears agin, you do dat ting-see? You play dat confidence game and dey'll rat ye-sure! You invite us to come into a non-partisan deal-see?-and den you springs your own platform on us in de joint corkus-and we won't stand it! Dis goes troo de way it began, or we don't play-see?"

Out of all this Wallace deduced his own feeling-that continued peace and good-will lay in keeping clear of all doctrinal debates and disputes-- the love of Christ, the desire to do good and to be clean. These emotions had been roused far more deeply than he realized, and he lifted his face to God in the hope that no lesser thing should come in to mar the beauty of His Church.

There came a day when he walked out in the sunshine, and heard the hens caw-cawing about the yard, and saw the young colts playing about the barn. And the splendor of the winter day dazzled him as if he were looking upon the broad-flung robe of the Lord Most High. Everywhere the snow lay ridged with purple and brown hedges. Smoke rose peacefully from chimneys, and the sound of boys skating on a near-by pond added the human element.

The trouble of concealing the work of the community upon the church increased daily, and Mattie feared that some hint of it had come to him. She had her plan. She wanted to drive him down herself, and let him see the reburnished temple alone. But this was impossible. On the day when he seemed able to go, her father drove them all down. Marsden was there also, and several of his women-folks, putting down a new carpet on the platform. As they drew near the church, Wallace said:

"Why, they've fixed up the sheds!"

Mattie nodded. She was trembling with the delicious excitement of it-she wanted him hurried into the church at once. He had hardly time to think before he was whirled up to the new porch, and Marsden came out, followed by several women. He was bewildered by it all. Marsden helped him out with hearty voice, sounding:

"Careful now! Don't hurry!"

Mattie took one arm, and so he entered the church. Everything repainted! Everything warm and bright and cozy!

The significance of it came to him like a wave of light, and he took his seat in the pulpit chair and stared at them all with a look on his pale face which moved them more than words. He was like a man transfigured by an inward glow. His eyes for an instant flamed with this marvellous fire, then darkened, softened with tears, and his voice came back in a sob of joy, and he could only say:

"Friends-brethren!"

Marsden, after much coughing, said:

"We all united on this. We wanted to have you come to the church and-Well, we couldn't bear to have you see it again the way it was."

He understood it now. It was the sign of a united community. It set the seal of Christ's victory over evil passions, and the young preacher's head bowed in prayer, and they all knelt, while his weak voice returned thanks to the Lord for his gifts.

Then they all rose and shook off the oppressive solemnity, and he had time to look around at all the changes. At last he turned to Mattie and reached out his hand-he had the boldness of a man in the shadow of some mighty event which makes false modesty and conventions shadowy things of little importance. His sharpened interior sense read her clear soul, and he knew she was his, therefore he reached her his hand, and she came to him with a flush on her face, which died out as she stood proudly by his side, while he said:

"And Martha shall help me."

Therefore, this good thing happened-that in the midst of his fervor and his consecration to God's work, the love of woman found a place.

* * *

AN AFTERWORD:

OF WINDS, SNOWS AND THE STARS

O witchery of the winter night

(With broad moon shouldering to the west)!

In city streets the west wind sweeps

Before my feet in rustling flight;

The midnight snows in untracked heaps

Lie cold and desolate and white.

I stand and wait with upturned eyes,

Awed with the splendor of the skies

And star-trained progress of the moon.

The city walls dissolve like smoke

Beneath the magic of the moon,

And age falls from me like a cloak;

I hear sweet girlish voices ring,

Clear as some softly stricken string-

(The moon is sailing to the west.)

The sleigh-bells clash in homeward flight;

With frost each horse's breast is white-

(The big moon sinking to the west.)

*****

"Good night, Lettie!"

"Good night, Ben!"

(The moon is sinking at the west.)

"Good night, my sweetheart," Once again

The parting kiss while comrades wait

Impatient at the roadside gate,

And the red moon sinks beyond the west.

THE END

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