At the Foot of the Rainbow by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter X. Dannie's Renunciation
So they stretched Jimmy's length on Five Mile Hill beside the three babies that had lacked the "vital spark." Mary went to the Dolans for the winter and Dannie was left, sole occupant of Rainbow Bottom. Because so much fruit and food that would freeze were stored there, he was even asked to live in Jimmy's cabin.
Dannie began the winter stolidly. All day long and as far as he could find anything to do in the night, he worked. He mended everything about both farms, rebuilt all the fences and as a never-failing resource, he cut wood. He cut so much that he began to realize that it would get too dry and the burning of it would become extravagant, so he stopped that and began making some changes he had long contemplated. During fur time he set his line of traps on his side of the river and on the other he religiously set Jimmy's.
But he divided the proceeds from the skins exactly in half, no matter whose traps caught them, and with Jimmy's share of the money he started a bank account for Mary. As he could not use all of them he sold Jimmy's horses, cattle and pigs. With half the stock gone he needed only half the hay and grain stored for feeding. He disposed of the chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese that Mary wanted sold, and placed the money to her credit. He sent her a beautiful little red bank book and an explanation of all these transactions by Dolan. Mary threw the book across the room because she wanted Dannie to keep her money himself, and then cried herself to sleep that night, because Dannie had sent the book instead of bringing it. But when she fully understood the transactions and realized that if she chose she could spend several hundred dollars, she grew very proud of that book.
About the empty cabins and the barns, working on the farms, wading the mud and water of the river bank, or tingling with cold on the ice went two Dannies. The one a dull, listless man, mechanically forcing a tired, overworked body to action, and the other a self- accused murderer.
"I am responsible for the whole thing," he told himself many times a day. "I always humored Jimmy. I always took the muddy side of the road, and the big end of the log, and the hard part of the work, and filled his traps wi' rats from my own; why in God's name did I let the Deil o' stubbornness in me drive him to his death. noo? Why didna I let him have the Black Bass? Why didna I make him come home and put on dry clothes? I killed him, juist as sure as if I'd taken an ax and broken his heid."
Through every minute of the exposure of winter outdoors and the torment of it inside, Dannie tortured himself. Of Mary he seldom thought at all. She was safe with her sister, and although Dannie did not know when or how it happened, he awoke one day to the realization that he had renounced her. He had killed Jimmy; he could not take his wife and his farm. And Dannie was so numb with long-suffering, that he did not much care. There come times when troubles pile so deep that the edge of human feeling is dulled.
He would take care of Mary, yes, she was as much Jimmy's as his farm, but he did not want her for himself now. If he had to kill his only friend, he would not complete his downfall by trying to win his wife. So through that winter Mary got very little consideration in the remorseful soul of Dannie, and Jimmy grew, as the dead grow, by leaps and bounds, until by spring Dannie had him well-nigh canonized.
When winter broke, Dannie had his future well mapped out. And that future was devotion to Jimmy's memory, with no more of Mary in it than was possible to keep out. He told himself that he was glad she was away and he did not care to have her return. Deep in his soul he harbored the feeling that he had killed Jimmy to make himself look victor in her eyes in such a small matter as taking a fish. And deeper yet a feeling that, everything considered, still she might mourn Jimmy more than she did.
So Dannie definitely settled that he always would live alone on the farms. Mary should remain with her sister, and at his death, everything should be hers. The night he finally reached that decision, the Kingfisher came home. Dannie heard his rattle of exultation as he struck the embankment and the suffering man turned his face to the wall and sobbed aloud, so that for a little time he stifled Jimmy's dying gasps that in wakeful night hours sounded in his ears. Early the next morning he drove through the village on his way to the county seat, with a load of grain. Dolan saw him and running home he told Mary. "He will be gone all day. Now is your chance!" he said.
Mary sprang to her feet, "Hurry!" she panted, "hurry!"
An hour later a loaded wagon, a man and three women drew up before the cabins in Rainbow Bottom. Mary, her sister, Dolan, and a scrub woman entered. Mary pointed out the objects which she wished removed, and Dolan carried them out. They took up the carpets, swept down the walls, and washed the windows. They hung pictures, prints, and lithographs, and curtained the windows in dainty white. They covered the floors with bright carpets, and placed new ornaments on the mantle, and comfortable furniture in the rooms. There was a white iron bed, and several rocking chairs, and a shelf across the window filled with potted hyacinths in bloom. Among them stood a glass bowl, containing three wonderful little gold fish, and from the top casing hung a brass cage, from which a green linnet sang an exultant song.
You should have seen Mary Malone! When everything was finished, she was changed the most of all. She was so sure of Dannie, that while the winter had brought annoyance that he did not come, it really had been one long, glorious rest. She laughed and sang, and grew younger with every passing day. As youth surged back, with it returned roundness of form, freshness of face, and that bred the desire to be daintily dressed. So of pretty light fabrics she made many summer dresses, for wear mourning she would not.
When calmness returned to Mary, she had told the Dolans the whole story. "Now do you ixpict me to grieve for the man?" she asked. "Fiftane years with him, through his lying tongue, whin by ivery right of our souls and our bodies, Dannie Micnoun and I belanged to each other. Mourn for him! I'm glad he's dead! Glad! Glad! If he had not died, I should have killed him, if Dannie did not! It was a happy thing that he died. His death saved me mortal sin. I'm glad, I tell you, and I do not forgive him, and I niver will, and I hope he will burn----"
Katy Dolan clapped her hand over Mary's mouth. "For the love of marcy, don't say that!" she cried. "You will have to confiss it, and you'd be ashamed to face the praste."
"I would not," cried Mary. "Father Michael knows I'm just an ordinary woman, he don't ixpict me to be an angel." But she left the sentence unfinished.
After Mary's cabin was arranged to her satisfaction, they attacked Dannie's; emptying it, cleaning it completely, and refurnishing it from the best of the things that had been in both. Then Mary added some new touches. A comfortable big chair was placed by his fire, new books on his mantle, a flower in his window, and new covers on his bed. While the women worked, Dolan raked the yards, and freshened matters outside as best he could. When everything they had planned to do was accomplished, the wagon, loaded with the ugly old things Mary despised, drove back to the village, and she, with little Tilly Dolan for company, remained.
Mary was tense with excitement. All the woman in her had yearned for these few pretty things she wanted for her home throughout the years that she had been compelled to live in crude, ugly surroundings; because every cent above plainest clothing and food, went for drink for Jimmy, and treats for his friends. Now she danced and sang, and flew about trying a chair here, and another there, to get the best effect. Every little while she slipped into her bedroom, stood before a real dresser, and pulled out its trays to make sure that her fresh, light dresses were really there. She shook out the dainty curtains repeatedly, watered the flowers, and fed the fish when they did not need it. She babbled incessantly to the green linnet, which with swollen throat rejoiced with her, and occasionally she looked in the mirror.
She lighted the fire, and put food to cook. She covered a new table, with a new cloth, and set it with new dishes, and placed a jar of her flowers in the center. What a supper she did cook! When she had waited until she was near crazed with nervousness, she heard the wagon coming up the lane. Peeping from the window, she saw Dannie stop the horses short, and sit staring at the cabins, and she realized that smoke would be curling from the chimney, and the flowers and curtains would change the shining windows outside. She trembled with excitement, and than a great yearning seized her, as he slowly drove closer, for his brown hair was almost white, and the lines on his face seemed indelibly stamped. And then hot anger shook her. Fifteen years of her life wrecked, and look at Dannie! That was Jimmy Malone's work.
Over and over, throughout the winter, she had planned this home- coming as a surprise to Dannie. Book-fine were the things she intended to say to him. When he opened the door, and stared at her and about the altered room, she swiftly went to him, and took the bundles he carried from his arms.
"Hurry up, and unhitch, Dannie," she said. "Your supper is waiting."
And Dannie turned and stolidly walked back to his team, without uttering a word.
"Uncle Dannie!" cried a child's voice. "Please let me ride to the barn with you!"
A winsome little maid came rushing to Dannie, threw her arms about his neck, and hugged him tight, as he stooped to lift her. Her yellow curls were against his cheek, and her breath was flower- sweet in his face.
"Why didn't you kiss Aunt Mary?" she demanded. "Daddy Dolan always kisses mammy when he comes from all day gone. Aunt Mary's worked so hard to please you. And Daddie worked, and mammy worked, and another woman. You are pleased, ain't you, Uncle Dannie?"
"Who told ye to call me Uncle?" asked Dannie, with unsteady lips.
"She did!" announced the little woman, flourishing the whip in the direction of the cabin. Dannie climbed down to unhitch. "You are goin' to be my Uncle, ain't you, as soon as it's a little over a year, so folks won't talk?"
"Who told ye that?" panted Dannie, hiding behind a horse.
"Nobody told me! Mammy just said it to Daddy, and I heard," answered the little maid. "And I'm glad of it, and so are all of us glad. Mammy said she'd just love to come here now, whin things would be like white folks. Mammy said Aunt Mary had suffered a lot more'n her share. Say, you won't make her suffer any more, will you?"
"No," moaned Dannie, and staggered into the barn with the horses. He leaned against a stall, and shut his eyes. He could see the bright room, plainer than ever, and that little singing bird sounded loud as any thunder in his ears. And whether closed or open, he could see Mary, never in all her life so beautiful, never so sweet; flesh and blood Mary, in a dainty dress, with the shining, unafraid eyes of girlhood. It was that thing which struck Dannie first, and hit him hardest. Mary was a careless girl again. When before had he seen her with neither trouble, anxiety or, worse yet, fear, in her beautiful eyes?
And she had come to stay. She would not have refurnished her cabin otherwise. Dannie took hold of the manger with both hands, because his sinking knees needed bracing.
"Dannie," called Mary's voice in the doorway, "has my spickled hin showed any signs of setting yet?"
"She's been over twa weeks," answered Dannie. "She's in that barrel there in the corner."
Mary entered the barn, removed the prop, lowered the board, and kneeling, stroked the hen, and talked softly to her. She slipped a hand under the hen, and lifted her to see the eggs. Dannie staring at Mary noted closer the fresh, cleared skin, the glossy hair, the delicately colored cheeks, and the plumpness of the bare arms. One little wisp of curl lay against the curve of her neck, just where it showed rose-pink, and looked honey sweet. And in one great surge, the repressed stream of passion in the strong man broke, and Dannie swayed against his horse. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, and he caught at the harness to steady himself, while he strove to grow accustomed to the fact that Hell had opened in a new form for him. The old heart hunger for Mary Malone was back in stronger force than ever before; and because of him Jimmy lay stretched on Five Mile Hill.
"Dannie, you are just fine!" said Mary. "I've been almost wild to get home, because I thought iverything would be ruined, and instid of that it's all ixactly the way I do it. Do hurry, and get riddy for supper. Oh, it's so good to be home again! I want to make garden, and fix my flowers, and get some little chickens and turkeys into my fingers."
"I have to go home, and wash, and spruce up a bit, for ladies," said Dannie, leaving the barn.
Mary made no reply, and it came to him that she expected it. "Damned if I will!" he said, as he started home. "If she wants to come here, and force herself on me, she can, but she canna mak' me"
Just then Dannie stepped in his door, and slowly gazed about him. In a way his home was as completely transformed as hers. He washed his face and hands, and started for a better coat. His sleeping room shone with clean windows, curtained in snowy white. A freshly ironed suit of underclothing and a shirt lay on his bed. Dannie stared at them.
"She think's I'll tog up in them, and come courtin'" he growled. "I'll show her if I do! I winna touch them!"
To prove that he would not, Dannie caught them up in a wad, and threw them into a corner. That showed a clean sheet, fresh pillow, and new covers, invitingly spread back. Dannie turned as white as the pillow at which he stared.
"That's a damn plain insinuation that I'm to get into ye," he said to the bed, "and go on living here. I dinna know as that child's jabber counts. For all I know, Mary may already have picked out some town dude to bring here and farm out on me, and they'll live with the bird cage. and I can go on climbin' into ye alone."
Here was a new thought. Mary might mean only kindness to him again, as she had sent word by Jimmy she meant years ago. He might lose her for the second time. And again a wave of desire struck Dannie, and left him staggering.
"Ain't you comin', Uncle Dannie?" called the child's voice at the back door.
"What's your name, little lass?" inquired Dannie.
"Tilly," answered the little girl promptly.
"Well, Tilly, ye go tell your Aunt Mary I have been in an eelevator handlin' grain, and I'm covered wi' fine dust and chaff that sticks me. I canna come until I've had a bath, and put on clean clothing. Tell her to go ahead."
The child vanished. In a second she was back. "She said she won't do it, and take all the time you want. But I wish you'd hurry, for she won't let me either."
Dannie hurried. But the hasty bath and the fresh clothing felt so good he was in a softened mood when he approached Mary's door again. Tilly was waiting on the step, and ran to meet him. Tilly was a dream. Almost, Dannie understood why Mary had brought her. Tilly led him to the table, and pulled back a chair for him, and he lifted her into hers, and as Mary set dish after dish of food on the table, Tilly filled in every pause that threatened to grow awkward with her chatter. Dannie had been a very lonely man, and he did love Mary's cooking. Until then he had not realized how sore a trial six months of his own had been.
"If I was a praying mon, I'd ask a blessing, and thank God fra this food," said Dannie.
"What's the matter with me?" asked Mary.
"I have never yet found anything," answered Dannie. "And I do thank ye fra everything. I believe I'm most thankful of all fra the clean clothes and the clean bed. I'm afraid I was neglectin' myself, Mary."
"Will, you'll not be neglected any more," said Mary. "Things have turned over a new leaf here. For all you give, you get some return, after this. We are going to do business in a businesslike way, and divide even. I liked that bank account, pretty will, Dannie. Thank you, for that. And don't think I spint all of it. I didn't spind a hundred dollars all togither. Not the price of one horse! But it made me so happy I could fly. Home again, and the things I've always wanted, and nothing to fear. Oh, Dannie, you don't know what it manes to a woman to be always afraid! My heart is almost jumping out of my body, just with pure joy that the old fear is gone."
"I know what it means to a mon to be afraid," said Dannie. And vividly before him loomed the awful, distorted, dying face of Jimmy.
Mary guessed, and her bright face clouded.
"Some day, Dannie, we must have a little talk," she said, "and clear up a few things neither of us understand. 'Til thin we will just farm, and be partners, and be as happy as iver we can. I don't know as you mean to, but if you do, I warn you right now that you need niver mintion the name of Jimmy Malone to me again, for any reason."
Dannie left the cabin abruptly.
"Now you gone and made him mad!" reproached Tilly.
During the past winter Mary had lived with other married people for the first time, and she had imbibed some of Mrs. Dolan's philosophy.
"Whin he smells the biscuit I mane to make for breakfast, he'll get glad again," she said, and he did.
But first he went home, and tried to learn where he stood. Was he truly responsible for Jimmy's death? Yes. If he had acted like a man, he could have saved Jimmy. He was responsible. Did he want to marry Mary? Did he? Dannie reached empty arms to empty space, and groaned aloud. Would she marry him? Well, now, would she? After years of neglect and sorrow, Dannie knew that Mary had learned to prefer him to Jimmy. But almost any man would have been preferable to a woman, to Jimmy. Jimmy was distinctly a man's man. A jolly good fellow, but he would not deny himself anything, no matter what it cost his wife, and he had been very hard to live with. Dannie admitted that. So Mary had come to prefer him to Jimmy, that was sure; but it was not a question between him and Jimmy, now. It was between him, and any marriageable man that Mary might fancy.
He had grown old, and gray, and wrinkled, though he was under forty. Mary had grown round, and young, and he had never seen her looking so beautiful. Surely she would want a man now as young, and as fresh as herself; and she might want to live in town after a while, if she grew tired of the country. Could he remember Jimmy's dreadful death, realize that he was responsible for it, and make love to his wife? No, she was sacred to Jimmy. Could he live beside her, and lose her to another man for the second time? No, she belonged to him. It was almost daybreak when Dannie remembered the fresh bed, and lay down for a few hours' rest.
But there was no rest for Dannie, and after tossing about until dawn he began his work. When he carried the milk into the cabin, and smelled the biscuit, he fulfilled Mary's prophecy, got glad again, and came to breakfast. Then he went about his work. But as the day wore on, he repeatedly heard the voice of the woman and the child, combining in a chorus of laughter. From the little front porch, the green bird warbled and trilled. Neighbors who had heard of her return came up the lane to welcome a happy Mary Malone. The dead dreariness of winter melted before the spring sun, and in Dannie's veins the warm blood swept up, as the sap flooded the trees, and in spite of himself he grew gladder and yet gladder.
He now knew how he had missed Mary. How he had loathed that empty, silent cabin. How remorse and heart hunger had gnawed at his vitals, and he decided that he would go on just as Mary had said, and let things drift; and when she was ready to have the talk with him she had mentioned, he would hear what she had to say. And as he thought over these things, he caught himself watching for furrows that Jimmy was not making on the other side of the field. He tried to talk to the robins and blackbirds instead of Jimmy, but they were not such good company. And when the day was over, he tried not to be glad that he was going to the shining eyes of Mary Malone, a good supper, and a clean bed, and it was not in the heart of man to do it.
The summer wore on, autumn came, and the year Tilly had spoken of was over. Dannie went his way, doing the work of two men, thinking of everything, planning for everything, and he was all the heart of Mary Malone could desire, save her lover. By little Mary pieced it out. Dannie never mentioned fishing; he had lost his love for the river. She knew that he frequently took walks to Five Mile Hill. His devotion to Jimmy's memory was unswerving. And at last it came to her, that in death as in life, Jimmy Malone was separating them. She began to realize that there might be things she did not know. What had Jimmy told the priest? Why had Father Michael refused to confess Jimmy until he sent Dannie to him? What had passed between them? If it was what she had thought all year, why did it not free Dannie to her? If there was something more, what was it?
Surely Dannie loved her. Much as he had cared for Jimmy, he had vowed that everything was for her first. She was eager to be his wife, and something bound him. One day, she decided to ask him. The next, she shrank in burning confusion, for when Jimmy Malone had asked for her love, she had admitted to him that she loved Dannie, and Jimmy had told her that it was no use, Dannie did not care for girls, and that he had said he wished she would not thrust herself upon him. On the strength of that statement Mary married Jimmy inside five weeks, and spent years in bitter repentance.
That was the thing which held her now. If Dannie knew what she did, and did not care to marry her, how could she mention it? Mary began to grow pale, and lose sleep, and Dannie said the heat of the summer had tired her, and suggested that she go to Mrs. Dolan's for a weeks rest. The fact that he was willing, and possibly anxious to send her away for a whole week, angered Mary. She went.