At the Foot of the Rainbow by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter VI. The Heart of Mary Malone
"This is the job that was done with the reaper,
Eat this wheat, by and by,
So sang Jimmy as he drove through the wheat, oats and rye accompanied by the clacking machinery. Dannie stopped stacking sheaves to mop his warm, perspiring face and to listen. Jimmy always with an eye to the effect he was producing immediately broke into wilder parody:
"Drive this mower, a little slower,
By and by, we'll cut the rye,
The larks scolded, fluttering over head, for at times the reaper overtook their belated broods. The bobolinks danced and chattered on stumps and fences, in an agony of suspense, when their nests were approached, and cried pitifully if they were destroyed. The chewinks flashed from the ground to the fences and trees, and back, crying "Che-wink?" "Che-wee!" to each other, in such excitement that they appeared to be in danger of flirting off their long tails. The quail ran about the shorn fields, and excitedly called from fence riders to draw their flocks into the security of Rainbow Bottom.
Frightened hares bounded through the wheat, and if the cruel blade sheared into their nests, Dannie gathered the wounded and helpless of the scattered broods in his hat, and carried them to Mary.
Then came threshing, which was a busy time, but after that, through the long hot days of late July and August, there was little to do afield, and fishing was impossible. Dannie grubbed fence corners, mended fences, chopped and corded wood for winter, and in spare time read his books. For the most part Jimmy kept close to Dannie. Jimmy's temper never had been so variable. Dannie was greatly troubled, for despite Jimmy's protests of devotion, he flared at a word, and sometimes at no word at all. The only thing in which he really seemed interested was the coon skin he was dressing to send to Boston. Over that he worked by the hour, sometimes with earnest face, and sometimes he raised his head, and let out a whoop that almost frightened Mary. At such times he was sure to go on and give her some new detail of the hunt for the fifty coons, that he had forgotten to tell her before.
He had been to the hotel, and learned the Thread Man's name and address, and found that he did not come regularly, and no one knew when to expect him; so when he had combed and brushed the fur to its finest point, and worked the skin until it was velvet soft, and bleached it until it was muslin white, he made it into a neat package and sent it with his compliments to the Boston man. After he had waited for a week, he began going to town every day to the post office for the letter he expected, and coming home much worse for a visit to Casey's. Since plowing time he had asked Dannie for money as he wanted it, telling him to keep an account, and he would pay him in the fall. He seemed to forget or not to know how fast his bills grew.
Then came a week in August when the heat invaded even the cool retreat along the river. Out on the highway passing wheels rolled back the dust like water, and raised it in clouds after them. The rag weeds hung wilted heads along the road. The goldenrod and purple ironwort were dust-colored and dust-choked. The trees were thirsty, and their leaves shriveling. The river bed was bare its width in places, and while the Kingfisher made merry with his family, and rattled, feasting from Abram Johnson's to the Gar-hole, the Black Bass sought its deep pool, and lay still. It was a rare thing to hear it splash in those days.
The prickly heat burned until the souls of men were tried. Mary slipped listlessly about or lay much of the time on a couch beside a window, where a breath of air stirred. Despite the good beginning he had made in the spring, Jimmy slumped with the heat and exposures he had risked, and was hard to live with.
Dannie was not having a good time himself. Since Jimmy's wedding, life had been all grind to Dannie, but he kept his reason, accepted his lot, and ground his grist with patience and such cheer as few men could have summoned to the aid of so poor a cause. Had there been any one to notice it, Dannie was tired and heat-ridden also, but as always, Dannie sank self, and labored uncomplainingly with Jimmy's problems. On a burning August morning Dannie went to breakfast, and found Mary white and nervous, little prepared to eat, and no sign of Jimmy.
"Jimmy sleeping?" he asked.
"I don't know where Jimmy is," Mary answered coldly.
"Since when?" asked Dannie, gulping coffee, and taking hasty bites, for he had begun his breakfast supposing that Jimmy would come presently.
"He left as soon as you went home last night," she said, "and he has not come back yet."
Dannie did not know what to say. Loyal to the bone to Jimmy, loving each hair on the head of Mary Malone, and she worn and neglected; the problem was heartbreaking in any solution he attempted, and he felt none too well himself. He arose hastily, muttering something about getting the work done. He brought in wood and water, and asked if there was anything more he could do.
"Sure!" said Mary, in a calm, even voice. "Go to the barn, and shovel manure for Jimmy Malone, and do all the work he shirks, before you do anything for yoursilf."
Dannie always had admitted that he did not understand women, but he understood a plain danger signal, and he almost ran from the cabin. In the fear that Mary might think he had heeded her hasty words, he went to his own barn first, just to show her that he did not do Jimmy's work. The flies and mosquitoes were so bad he kept his horses stabled through the day, and turned them to pasture at night. So their stalls were to be cleaned, and he set to work. When he had finished his own barn, as he had nothing else to do, he went on to Jimmy's. He had finished the stalls, and was sweeping when he heard a sound at the back door, and turning saw Jimmy clinging to the casing, unable to stand longer. Dannie sprang to him, and helped him inside. Jimmy sank to the floor. Dannie caught up several empty grain sacks, folded them, and pushed them under Jimmy's head for a pillow.
"Dannish, didsh shay y'r nash'nal flowerish wash shisle?" asked Jimmy.
"Yes," said Dannie, lifting the heavy auburn head to smooth the folds from the sacks.
"Whysh like me?"
"I dinna," answered Dannie wearily.
"Awful jagsh on," murmured Jimmy, sighed heavily, and was off. His clothing was torn and dust-covered, his face was purple and bloated, and his hair was dusty and disordered. He was a repulsive sight. As Dannie straightened Jimmy's limbs he thought he heard a step. He lifted his head and leaned forward to listen.
"Dannie Micnoun?" called the same even, cold voice he had heard at breakfast. "Have you left me, too?"
Dannie sprang for a manger. He caught a great armload of hay, and threw it over Jimmy. He gave one hurried toss to scatter it, for Mary was in the barn. As he turned to interpose his body between her and the manger, which partially screened Jimmy, his heart sickened. He was too late. She had seen. Frightened to the soul, he stared at her. She came a step closer, and with her foot gave a hand of Jimmy's that lay exposed a contemptuous shove.
"You didn't get him complately covered," she said. "How long have you had him here?"
Dannie was frightened into speech. "Na a minute, Mary; he juist came in when I heard ye. I was trying to spare ye."
"Him, you mane," she said, in that same strange voice. "I suppose you give him money, and he has a bottle, and he's been here all night."
"Mary," said Dannie, "that's na true. I have furnished him money. He'd mortgage the farm, or do something worse if I didna; but I dinna where he has been all nicht, and in trying to cover him, my only thought was to save ye pain."
"And whin you let him spind money you know you'll never get back, and loaf while you do his work, and when you lie mountain high, times without number, who is it for?"
Then fifteen years' restraint slid from Dannie like a cloak, and in the torture of his soul his slow tongue outran all its previous history.
"Ye!" he shouted. "It's fra Jimmy, too, but ye first. Always ye first!" Mary began to tremble. Her white cheeks burned red. Her figure straightened, and her hands clenched.
"On the cross! Will you swear it?" she cried.
"On the sacred body of Jesus Himself, if I could face Him," answered Dannie. "anything! Everything is fra ye first, Mary!"
"Then why?" she panted between gasps for breath. "Tell me why? If you have cared for me enough to stay here all these years and see that I had the bist tratemint you could get for me, why didn't you care for me enough more to save me this? Oh, Dannie, tell me why?"
And then she shook with strangled sobs until she scarce could stand alone. Dannie Macnoun cleared the space between them and took her in his arms. Her trembling hands clung to him, her head dropped on his breast, and the perfume of her hair in his nostrils drove him mad. Then the tense bulk of her body struck against him, and horror filled his soul. One second he held her, the next, Jimmy smothering under the hay, threw up an arm, and called like a petulant child, "Dannie! Make shun quit shinish my fashe!"
And Dannie awoke to the realization that Mary was another man's, and that man, one who trusted him completely. The problem was so much too big for poor Dannie that reason kindly slipped a cog. He broke from the grasp of the woman, fled through the back door, and took to the woods.
He ran as if fiends were after him, and he ran and ran. And when he could run no longer, he walked, but he went on. Just on and on. He crossed forests and fields, orchards and highways, streams and rivers, deep woods and swamps, and on, and on he went. He felt nothing, and saw nothing, and thought nothing, save to go on, always on. In the dark he stumbled on and through the day he staggered on, and he stopped for nothing, save at times to lift water to his parched lips.
The bushes took his hat, the thorns ripped his shirt, the water soaked his shoes and they spread and his feet came through and the stones cut them until they bled. Leaves and twigs stuck in his hair, and his eyes grew bloodshot, his lips and tongue swollen, and when he could go no further on his feet, he crawled on his knees, until at last he pitched forward on his face and lay still. The tumult was over and Mother Nature set to work to see about repairing damages.
Dannie was so badly damaged, soul, heart, and body, that she never would have been equal to the task, but another woman happened that way and she helped. Dannie was carried to a house and a doctor dressed his hurts. When the physician got down to first principles, and found a big, white-bodied, fine-faced Scotchman in the heart of the wreck, he was amazed. A wild man, but not a whiskey bloat. A crazy man, but not a maniac. He stood long beside Dannie as he lay unconscious.
"I'll take oath that man has wronged no one," he said. "What in the name of God has some woman been doing to him?"
He took money from Dannie's wallet and bought clothing to replace the rags he had burned. He filled Dannie with nourishment, and told the woman who found him that when he awoke, if he did not remember, to tell him that his name was Dannie Macnoun, and that he lived in Rainbow Bottom, Adams County. Because just at that time Dannie was halfway across the state.
A day later he awoke, in a strange room and among strange faces. He took up life exactly where he left off. And in his ears, as he remembered his flight, rang the awful cry uttered by Mary Malone, and not until then did there come to Dannie the realization that she had been driven to seek him for help, because her woman's hour was upon her. Cold fear froze Dannie's soul.
He went back by railway and walked the train most of the way. He dropped from the cars at the water tank and struck across country, and again he ran. But this time it was no headlong flight. Straight as a homing bird went Dannie with all speed, toward the foot of the Rainbow and Mary Malone.
The Kingfisher sped rattling down the river when Dannie came crashing along the bank.
"Oh, God, let her be alive!" prayed Dannie as he leaned panting against a tree for an instant, because he was very close now and sickeningly afraid. Then he ran on. In a minute it would be over. At the next turn he could see the cabins. As he dashed along, Jimmy Malone rose from a log and faced him. A white Jimmy, with black- ringed eyes and shaking hands.
"Where the Hell have you been?" Jimmy demanded.
"Is she dead?" cried Dannie.
"The doctor is talking scare," said Jimmy. "But I don't scare so easy. She's never been sick in her life, and she has lived through it twice before, why should she die now? Of course the kid is dead again," he added angrily.
Dannie shut his eyes and stood still. He had helped plant star- flowers on two tiny cross-marked mounds at Five Mile Hill. Now, there were three. Jimmy had worn out her love for him, that was plain. "Why should she die now?" To Dannie it seemed that question should have been, "Why should she live?"
Jimmy eyed him belligerently. "Why in the name of sinse did you cut out whin I was off me pins?" he growled. "Of course I don't blame you for cutting that kind of a party, me for the woods, all right, but what I can't see is why you couldn't have gone for the doctor and waited until I'd slept it off before you wint."
"I dinna know she was sick," answered Dannie. "I deserve anything ony ane can say to me, and it's all my fault if she dees, but this ane thing ye got to say ye know richt noo, Jimmy. Ye got to say ye know that I dinna understand Mary was sick when I went."
"Sure! I've said that all the time," agreed Jimmy. "But what I don't understand is, why you went! I guess she thinks it was her fault. I came out here to try to study it out. The nurse-woman, domn pretty girl, says if you don't get back before midnight, it's all up. You're just on time, Dannie. The talk in the house is that she'll wink out if you don't prove to her that she didn't drive you away. She is about crazy over it. What did she do to you?"
"Nothing!" exclaimed Dannie. "She was so deathly sick she dinna what she was doing. I can see it noo, but I dinna understand then."
"That's all right," said Jimmy. "She didn't! She kapes moaning over and over 'What did I do?' You hustle in and fix it up with her. I'm getting tired of all this racket."
All Dannie heard was that he was to go to Mary. He went up the lane, across the garden, and stepped in at the back door. Beside the table stood a comely young woman, dressed in blue and white stripes. She was doing something with eggs and milk. She glanced at Dannie, and finished filling a glass. As she held it to the light, "Is your name Macnoun?" she inquired.
"Yes," said Dannie.
"Dannie Macnoun?" she asked.
"Yes," said Dannie.
"Then you are the medicine needed here just now," she said, as if that were the most natural statement in the world. "Mrs. Malone seems to have an idea that she offended you, and drove you from home, just prior to her illness, and as she has been very sick, she is in no condition to bear other trouble. You understand?"
"Do ye understand that I couldna have gone if I had known she was ill?" asked Dannie in turn.
"From what she has said in delirium I have been sure of that," replied the nurse. "It seems you have been the stay of the family for years. I have a very high opinion of you, Mr. Macnoun. Wait until I speak to her."
The nurse vanished, presently returned, and as Dannie passed through the door, she closed it after him, and he stood still, trying to see in the dim light. That great snowy stretch, that must be the bed. That tumbled dark circle, that must be Mary's hair. That dead white thing beneath it, that must be Mary's face. Those burning lights, flaming on him, those must be Mary's eyes. Dannie stepped softly across the room, and bent over the bed. He tried hard to speak naturally.
"Mary" he said, "oh, Mary, I dinna know ye were ill! Oh, believe me, I dinna realize ye were suffering pain."
She smiled faintly, and her lips moved. Dannie bent lower.
"Promise," she panted. "Promise you will stay now."
Her hand fumbled at her breast, and then she slipped on the white cover a little black cross. Dannie knew what she meant. He laid his hand on the emblem precious to her, and said softly, "I swear I never will leave ye again, Mary Malone."
A great light swept into her face, and she smiled happily.
"Now ye," said Dannie. He slipped the cross into her hand. "Repeat after me," he said. "I promise I will get well, Dannie."
"I promise I will get well, Dannie, if I can," said Mary.
"Na," said Dannie. "That winna do. Repeat what I said, and remember it is on the cross. Life hasna been richt for ye, Mary, but if ye will get well, before the Lord in some way we will make it happier. Ye will get well?"
"I promise I will get well, Dannie," said Mary Malone, and Dannie softly left the room.
Outside he said to the nurse, "What can I do?"
She told him everything of which she could think that would be of benefit.
"Now tell me all ye know of what happened," commanded Dannie.
"After you left," said the nurse, "she was in labor, and she could not waken her husband, and she grew frightened and screamed. There were men passing out on the road. They heard her, and came to see what was the matter."
"Strangers?" shuddered Dannie, with dry lips.
"No, neighbors. One man went for the nearest woman, and the other drove to town for a doctor. They had help here almost as soon as you could. But, of course, the shock was a very dreadful thing, and the heat of the past few weeks has been enervating."
"Ane thing more," questioned Dannie. "Why do her children dee?"
"I don't know about the others," answered the nurse. "This one simply couldn't be made to breathe. It was a strange thing. It was a fine big baby, a boy, and it seemed perfect, but we couldn't save it. I never worked harder. They told me she had lost two others, and we tried everything of which we could think. It just seemed as if it had grown a lump of flesh, with no vital spark in it."
Dannie turned, went out of the door, and back along the lane to the river where he had left Jimmy. "`A lump of flesh with na vital spark in it,'" he kept repeating. "I dinna but that is the secret. She is almost numb with misery. All these days when she's been without hope, and these awful nichts, when she's watched and feared alone, she has no wished to perpetuate him in children who might be like him, and so at their coming the `vital spark' is na in them. Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy, have ye Mary's happiness and those three little graves to answer for?"
He found Jimmy asleep where he had left him. Dannie shook him awake. "I want to talk with ye," he said.
Jimmy sat up, and looked into Dannie's face. He had a complaint on his lips but it died there. He tried to apologize. "I am almost dead for sleep," he said. "There has been no rest for anyone here. What do you think?"
"I think she will live," said Dannie dryly. "In spite of your neglect, and my cowardice, I think she will live to suffer more frae us."
Jimmy's mouth opened, but for once no sound issued. The drops of perspiration raised on his forehead.
Dannie sat down, and staring at him Jimmy saw that there were patches of white hair at his temples that had been brown a week before; his colorless face was sunken almost to the bone, and there was a peculiar twist about his mouth. Jimmy's heart weighed heavily, his tongue stood still, and he was afraid to the marrow in his bones.
"I think she will live," repeated Dannie. "And about the suffering more, we will face that like men, and see what can be done about it. This makes three little graves on the hill, Jimmy, what do they mean to ye?"
"Domn bad luck," said Jimmy promptly.
"Nothing more?" asked Dannie. "Na responsibility at all. Ye are the father of those children. Have ye never been to the doctor, and asked why ye lost them?"
"No, I haven't," said Jimmy.
"That is ane thing we will do now," said Dannie, "and then we will do more, much more."
"What are you driving at?" asked Jimmy.
"The secret of Mary's heart," said Dannie.
The cold sweat ran from the pores of Jimmy's body. He licked his dry lips, and pulled his hat over his eyes, that he might watch Dannie from under the brim.
"We are twa big, strong men," said Dannie. "For fifteen years we have lived here wi' Mary. The night ye married her, the licht of happiness went out for me. But I shut my mouth, and shouldered my burden, and went on with my best foot first; because if she had na refused me, I should have married her, and then ye would have been the one to suffer. If she had chosen me, I should have married her, juist as ye did. Oh, I've never forgotten that! So I have na been a happy mon, Jimmy. We winna go into that any further, we've been over it once. It seems to be a form of torture especially designed fra me, though at times I must confess, it seems rough, and I canna see why, but we'll cut that off with this: life has been Hell's hottest sweat-box fra me these fifteen years."
Jimmy groaned aloud. Dannie's keen gray eyes seemed boring into the soul of the man before him, as he went on.
"Now how about ye? Ye got the girl ye wanted. Ye own a guid farm that would make ye a living, and save ye money every year. Ye have done juist what ye pleased, and as far as I could, I have helped ye. I've had my eye on ye pretty close, Jimmy, and if ye are a happy mon, I dinna but I'm content as I am. What's your trouble? Did ye find ye dinna love Mary after ye won her? Did ye murder your mither or blacken your soul with some deadly sin? Mon! If I had in my life what ye every day neglect and torture, Heaven would come doon, and locate at the foot of the Rainbow fra me. But, ye are no happy, Jimmy. Let's get at the root of the matter. While ye are unhappy, Mary will be also. We are responsible to God for her, and between us, she is empty armed, near to death, and almost dumb with misery. I have juist sworn to her on the cross she loves that if she will make ane more effort, and get well, we will make her happy. Now, how are we going to do it?"
Another great groan burst from Jimmy, and he shivered as if with a chill.
"Let us look ourselves in the face," Dannie went on, "and see what we lack. What can we do fra her? What will bring a song to her lips, licht to her beautiful eyes, love to her heart, and a living child to her arms? Wake up, mon! By God, if ye dinna set to work with me and solve this problem, I'll shake a solution out of ye! What I must suffer is my own, but what's the matter with ye, and why, when she loved and married ye, are ye breakin' Mary's heart? Answer me, mon!"
Dannie reached over and snatched the hat from Jimmy's forehead, and stared at an inert heap. Jimmy lay senseless, and he looked like death. Dannie rushed down to the water with the hat, and splashed drops into Jimmy's face until he gasped for breath. When he recovered a little, he shrank from Dannie, and began to sob, as if he were a sick ten-year-old child.
"I knew you'd go back on me, Dannie," he wavered. "I've lost the only frind I've got, and I wish I was dead."
"I havena gone back on ye," persisted Dannie, bathing Jimmy's face. "Life means nothing to me, save as I can use it fra Mary, and fra ye. Be quiet, and sit up here, and help me work this thing out. Why are ye a discontented mon, always wishing fra any place save home? Why do ye spend all ye earn foolishly, so that ye are always hard up, when ye might have affluence? Why does Mary lose her children, and why does she noo wish she had na married ye?"
"Who said she wished she hadn't married me?" cried Jimmy.
"Do ye mean to say ye think she doesn't?" blazed Dannie.
"I ain't said anything!" exclaimed Jimmy.
"Na, and I seem to have damn poor luck gettin' ye to say anything. I dinna ask fra tears, nor faintin' like a woman. Be a mon, and let me into the secret of this muddle. There is a secret, and ye know it. What is it? Why are ye breaking the heart o' Mary Malone? Answer me, or 'fore God I'll wring the answer fra your body!"
And Jimmy keeled over again. This time he was gone so far that Dannie was frightened into a panic, and called the doctor coming up the lane to Jimmy before he had time to see Mary. The doctor soon brought Jimmy around, prescribed quiet and sleep; talked about heart trouble developing, and symptoms of tremens, and Dannie poured on water, and gritted his teeth. And it ended by Jimmy being helped to Dannie's cabin, undressed, and put into bed, and then Dannie went over to see what he could do for the nurse. She looked at him searchingly.
"Mr. Macnoun, when were you last asleep?" she asked.
"I forget," answered Dannie.
"When did you last have a good hot meal?"
"I dinna know," replied Dannie.
"Drink that," said the nurse, handing him the bowl of broth she carried, and going back to the stove for another. "When I have finished making Mrs. Malone comfortable, I'm going to get you something to eat, and you are going to eat it. Then you are going to lie down on that cot where I can call you if I need you, and sleep six hours, and then you're going to wake up and watch by this door while I sleep my six. Even nurses must have some rest, you know."
"Ye first," said Dannie. "I'll be all richt when I get food. Since ye mention it, I believe I am almost mad with hunger."
The nurse handed him another bowl of broth. "Just drink that, and drink slowly," she said, as she left the room.
Dannie could hear her speaking softly to Mary, and then all was quiet, and the girl came out and closed the door. She deftly prepared food for Dannie, and he ate all she would allow him, and begged for more; but she firmly told him her hands were full now, and she had no one to depend on but him to watch after the turn of the night. So Dannie lay down on the cot. He had barely touched it when he thought of Jimmy, so he got up quietly and started home. He had almost reached his back door when it opened, and Jimmy came out. Dannie paused, amazed at Jimmy's wild face and staring eyes.
"Don't you begin your cursed gibberish again," cried Jimmy, at sight of him. "I'm burning in all the tortures of fire now, and I'll have a drink if I smash down Casey's and steal it."
Dannie jumped for him, and Jimmy evaded him and fled. Dannie started after. He had reached the barn before he began to think. "I depend on you," the nurse had said. "Jimmy, wait!" he called. "Jimmy, have ye any money?" Jimmy was running along the path toward town. Dannie stopped. He stood staring after Jimmy for a second, and then he deliberately turned, went back, and lay down on the cot, where the nurse expected to find him when she wanted him to watch by the door of Mary Malone.