VI. An Appeal to Nature

The autumn days were shortening imperceptibly and the sunsets had gained an almost articulate splendor: cloud calling unto cloud, the west horizon signaling to the east, and answering again, while the mute dark circle of hills sat like a council of chiefs with their blankets drawn over their heads. Soon those blankets would be white with snow.

Behind the Post where the hills climb toward the Cottonwood Creek divide, there is a little canon which at sunset is especially inviting. It hastens twilight by at least an hour during midsummer, and in autumn it leads up a stairway of shadow to the great spectacle of the day--the day's departure from the hills.

The canon has its companion rivulet always coming down to meet the stage-road going up. As this road is the only outlet hillward for all the life of the plain, and as the tendency of every valley population is to climb, one thinks of it as a way out rather than a way in. Higher up, the stage-road becomes a pass cut through a wall of splintered cliffs; and here it leads its companion, the brook, a wild dance over boulders, and under culverts of fallen rock. At last it emerges on what is called The Summit; and between are green, deep valleys where the little ranches, fields and fences and houses, seem to have slid down to the bottom and lie there at rest.

A party of young riders from the post had gone up this road one evening, and two had come down, laughing and talking; but the other two remained in the circle of light that rested on the summit. Prom where they sat in the dry grass they could hear a hollow sound of moving feet as the cattle wandered down through folds of the hills, seeking the willow copses by the water. On the breast of her habit Moya wore the blossoms of the wild evening primrose, which in this region flowers till the coming of frost. They had been gathered for her on the way up, and as she had waited for them, sitting her horse in silence, the brown owls gurgled and hooted overhead from nest to nest in the crannies of the rocks.

"You need not hold the horses," she commanded, in her fresh voice. "Throw my bridle over your saddle pommel and yours over mine.--There!" she said, watching the horses as they shuffled about interlinked. "That is like half the marriages in this world. They don't separate and they don't go astray, but they don't get anywhere!"

"I have been thinking of those 'two in the Garden,'" mused Paul, resting his dark, abstracted eyes on her. "Whether or no your humble servant has a claim to unchallenged bliss in this world, there's no doubt about your claim. If my plans interfere, I must take myself out of the way."

"Oh, you funny old croaker!" laughed the girl. "Take yourself out of the way, indeed! Haven't you chosen me to show you the way?"

"Moya, Moya!" said Paul in a smothered voice.

"I know what you are thinking. But stop it!" she held one of her crushed blossoms to his lips. "What was this made for? Why hasn't it some work to do? Isn't it a skulker--blooming here for only a night?"

"'Ripen, fall, and cease!'" Paul murmured.

"How much more am I--are you, then? The sum of us may amount to something, if we mind our own business and keep step with each other, and finish one thing before we begin the next. I will not be in a hurry about being good. Goodness can take care of itself. What you need is to be happy! And it's my first duty to make you so."

"God knows what bliss it would be."

"Don't say 'would be.'"

"God knows it is!"

"Then hush and be thankful!" There was a long hush. They heard the far, faint notes of a bugle sounding from the Post.

"Lights out," said Moya. "We must go."

"You haven't told me yet where our Garden is to be," he said.

"I will tell you on the way home."

When they had come down into the neighborhood of ranches, and Bisuka's lights were twinkling below them, she asked: "Who lives now in the grandfather's house on the Hudson?"

"The farmer, Chauncey Dunlop."

"Is there any other house on the place?"

"Yes. Mother built a new one on the Ridge some years ago."

"What sort of a house is it?"

"It was called a good house once; but now it's rather everything it shouldn't be. It was one of the few rash things mother ever did; build a house for her children while they were children. Now she will not change it. She says we shall build for ourselves, how and where we please. Stone Ridge is her shop. Of course, if Chrissy liked it--But Chrissy considers it a 'hole.' Mother goes up there and indulges in secret orgies of economy; one man in the stable, one in the garden--'Economy has its pleasures for all healthy minds.'"

"Economy is as delicious as bread and butter after too much candy. I should love to go up to Stone Ridge and wear out my old clothes. Did any one tell me that place would some day be yours?"

"It will be my wife's on the day we are married."

"That is where your wife, sir, would like to live."

"It is a stony Garden, dear! The summer people have their places nearer the river. Our land lies back, with no view but hills. For one who has the world before her where to choose, it strikes me she has picked out a very humble Paradise."

"Did you think my idea was to travel--a poor army girl who spends her life in trunks? Do we ever buy a book or frame a picture without thinking of our next move? As for houses, who am I that I should be particular? In the Army's House are many mansions, but none that we can call our own. Oh, I'm very primitive; I have the savage instinct to gather sticks and stones, and get a roof over my head before winter sets in."

To such a speech as this there was but one obvious answer, as she rode at his side, her appealing slenderness within reach of his arm. It did not matter what thousands he proposed to spend upon the roof that should cover her; it was the same as if they were planning a hut of tules or a burrow in the snow.

"It is a poor man's country," he said; "stony hillsides, stony roads lined with stone fences. The chief crop of the country is ice and stone. In one of my grandfather's fields there is a great cairn which Adam Bogardus, they say, picked up, stone by stone, with his bare hands, and carted there when he was fourteen years old. We will build them into the walls of our new house for a blessing."

"No," said Moya. "We will let sleeping stones lie!"