The Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XLIII. Poor Pete.
They buried the artist in the cave as he had directed, close under the wall on the ledge above the canon, with no stone or mark of any sort to fix the place. The old mine which he had discovered was reached by one of the side passages far below in the depth of the mountain. The grave would never be disturbed.
For two weeks longer, Dr. Coughlan staid with his friend; out on the hills with him all day, helping to cook their meals at the ranch, or sitting on the porch at the Matthews place when the day was gone. When the time finally came that he must go, the little physician said, as he grasped the shepherd's hand, "You're doing just right, Daniel; just right. Always did; always did. Blast it all! I would stay, too, but what would Sarah and the girls do? I'll come again next spring, Daniel, sure, sure, if I'm alive. Don't worry, no one will ever know. Blast it all! I don't like to leave you, Daniel. Don't like it at all. But you are right, right, Daniel."
The old scholar stood in the doorway of his cabin to watch the wagon as it disappeared in the forest. He heard it rattle across the creek bottom below the ruined cabin under the bluff. He waited until from away up on Compton Ridge the sound of wheels came to him on the breeze that slipped down the mountain side. Still he waited, listening, listening, until there were only the voices of the forest and the bleating of the sheep in the corral. Slipping a book in his pocket, and taking a luncheon for himself and Pete he opened the corral gate and followed his flock to the hills.
All that summer Pete was the shepherd's constant companion. At first he seemed not to understand. Frequently he would start off suddenly for the cave, only to return after a time, with that look of trouble upon his delicate face. Mr. Howitt tried to help the boy, and he appeared gradually to realize in part. Once he startled his old friend by saying quietly, "When are you goin', Dad?"
"Going where? Where does Pete think Dad is going?"
The boy was lying on his back on the grassy hillside watching the clouds. He pointed upward, "There, where he went; up there in the white hills. Pete knows."
The other looked long at the lad before answering quietly, "Dad does not know when he will go. But he is ready any time, now."
"Pete says better not wait long, Dad; 'cause Pete he's a goin' an' course when he goes I've got to go 'long. Do you reckon Dad can see Pete when he is up there in them white hills? Some folks used to laugh at Pete when he told about the white hills, the flower things, the sky things, an' the moonlight things that play in the mists. An' once a fellow called Pete a fool, an' Young Matt he whipped him awful. But folks wasn't really to blame, 'cause they couldn't see 'em. That's what he said. An' he knew, 'cause he could see 'em too. But Aunt Mollie, an' Uncle Matt, an' you all, they don't never laugh. They just say, 'Pete knows.' But they couldn't see the flower things, or the tree things neither. Only he could see."
The summer passed, and, when the blue gray haze took on the purple touch and all the woods and hills were dressed with cloth of gold, Pete went from the world in which he had never really belonged, nor had been at home. Mr. Howitt, writing to Dr. Coughlan of the boy's death, said:
"Here and there among men, there are those who pause in the hurried rush to listen to the call of a life that is more real. How often have we seen them, David, jostled and ridiculed by their fellows, pushed aside and forgotten, as incompetent or unworthy. He who sees and hears too much is cursed for a dreamer, a fanatic, or a fool, by the mad mob, who, having eyes, see not, ears and hear not, and refuse to understand.
"We build temples and churches, but will not worship in them; we hire spiritual advisers, but refuse to heed them; we buy bibles, but will not read them; believing in God, we do not fear Him; acknowledging Christ, we neither follow nor obey Him. Only when we can no longer strive in the battle for earthly honors or material wealth, do we turn to the unseen but more enduring things of life; and, with ears deafened by the din of selfish war and cruel violence, and eyes blinded by the glare of passing pomp and folly, we strive to hear and see the things we have so long refused to consider.
"Pete knew a world unseen by us, and we, therefore, fancied ourselves wiser than he. The wind in the pines, the rustle of the leaves, the murmur of the brook, the growl of the thunder, and the voices of the night were all understood and answered by him. The flowers, the trees, the rocks, the hills, the clouds were to him, not lifeless things, but living friends, who laughed and wept with him as he was gay or sorrowful.
"'Poor Pete,' we said. Was he in truth, David, poorer or richer than we?"
They laid the boy beside his mother under the pines on the hills; the pines that showed so dark against the sky when the sun was down behind the ridge. And over his bed the wild vines lovingly wove a coverlid of softest green, while all his woodland friends gathered about his couch. Forest and hill and flower and cloud sang the songs he loved. All day the sunlight laid its wealth in bars of gold at his feet, and at night the moonlight things and the shadow things came out to play.
Summer and autumn slipped away; the winter passed; spring came, with all the wonder of the resurrection of flower and leaf and blade. So peace and quiet came again into the shepherd's life. When no answer to his letter was received, and the doctor did not return as he had promised, the old man knew that the last link connecting him with the world was broken.