When A Man's A Man by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter VII. Things that Endure.
When Kitty Reid told Patches that it was her soul sickness, from too much of nothing at all, that had sent her to visit Mrs. Baldwin that afternoon, she had spoken more in earnest than in jest. More than this, she had gone to the Cross-Triangle hoping to meet the stranger, of whom she had heard so much. Phil had told Kitty that she would like Patches. As Phil had put it, the man spoke her language; he could talk to her of people and books and those things of which the Williamson Valley folk knew so little.
But as she rode slowly homeward after leaving Patches, she found herself of two minds regarding the incident. She had enjoyed meeting the man; he had interested and amused her; had taken her out of herself, for she was not slow to recognize that the man really did belong to that world which was so far from the world of her childhood. And she was glad for the little adventure that, for one afternoon, at least, had broken the dull, wearying monotony of her daily life. But the stranger, by the very fact of his belonging to that other world, had stimulated her desire for those things which in her home life and environment she so greatly missed. He had somehow seemed to magnify the almost unbearable commonplace narrowness of her daily routine. He had made her even more restless, disturbed and dissatisfied. It had been to her as when one in some foreign country meets a citizen from one's old home town. And for this Kitty was genuinely sorry. She did not wish to feel as she did about her home and the things that made the world of those she loved. She had tried honestly to still the unrest and to deny the longing. She had wished many times, since her return from the East, that she had never left her home for those three years in school. And yet, those years had meant much to her; they had been wonderful years; but they seemed, somehow--now that they were past and she was home again--to have brought her only that unrest and longing.
From the beginning of her years until that first great crisis in her life--her going away to school--this world into which she was born had been to Kitty an all-sufficient world. The days of her childhood had been as carefree and joyous, almost, as the days of the young things of her father's roaming herds. As her girlhood years advanced, under her mother's wise companionship and careful teaching, she had grown into her share of the household duties and into a knowledge of woman's part in the life to which she belonged, as naturally as her girlish form had put on the graces of young womanhood. The things that filled the days of her father and mother, and the days of her neighbors and friends, had filled her days. The things that were all in all to those she loved had been all in all to her. And always, through those years, from her earliest childhood to her young womanhood, there was Phil, her playmate, schoolmate, protector, hero, slave. That Phil should be her boy sweetheart and young man lover had seemed as natural to Kitty as her relation to her parents. There had never been anyone else but Phil. There never could be--she was sure, in those days--anyone else.
In Kitty's heart that afternoon, as she rode, so indifferent to the life that called from every bush and tree and grassy hill and distant mountain, there was sweet regret, deep and sincere, for those years that were now, to her, so irrevocably gone. Kitty did not know how impossible it was for her to ever wholly escape the things that belonged to her childhood and youth. Those things of her girlhood, out of which her heart and soul had been fashioned, were as interwoven in the fabric of her being as the vitality, strength and purity of the clean, wholesome, outdoor life of those same years were wrought into the glowing health and vigor and beauty of her physical womanhood.
And then had come those other years--the maturing, ripening years--when, from the simple, primitive and enduring elements of life, she had gone to live amid complex, cultivated and largely fanciful standards and values. In that land of Kitty's birth a man is measured by the measure of his manhood; a woman is ranked by the quality of her womanhood. Strength and courage, sincerity, honesty, usefulness--these were the prime essentials of the man life that Kitty had, in those years of her girlhood, known; and these, too, in their feminine expressions, were the essentials of the woman life. But from these the young woman had gone to be educated in a world where other things are of first importance. She had gone to be taught that these are not the essential elements of manhood and womanhood. Or, at least, if she was not to be deliberately so taught, these things would be so ignored and neglected and overlooked in her training, that the effect on her character would be the same. In that new world she was to learn that men and women are not to be measured by the standards of manhood and womanhood--that they were to be rated, not for strength, but for culture; not for courage, but for intellectual cleverness; not for sincerity, but for manners; not for honesty, but for success; not for usefulness, but for social position, which is most often determined by the degree of uselessness. It was as though the handler of gems were to attach no value whatever to the weight of the diamond itself, but to fix the worth of the stone wholly by the cutting and polish that the crystal might receive.
At first, Kitty had been excited, bewildered and fascinated by the glittering, sparkling, ever-changing, many-faceted life. Then she had grown weary and homesick. And then, as the months had passed, and she had been drawn more and more by association and environment into the world of down-to-dateism she, too, began to regard the sparkle of the diamond as the determining factor in the value of the gem. And when the young woman had achieved this, they called her education finished, and sent her back to the land over which Granite Mountain, gray and grim and fortress-like, with its ranks of sentinel bills? keeps enduring and unchanging watch.
During those first glad days of Kitty's homecoming she had been eagerly interested in everything. The trivial bits of news about the small doings of her old friends had been delightful. The home life, with its simple routine and its sweet companionship, had been restful and satisfying. The very scenes of her girlhood had seemed to welcome her with a spirit of genuineness and steadfastness that had made her feel as one entering a safe home harbor after a long and adventurous voyage to far-away and little-known lands. And Phil, in the virile strength of his manhood, in the simple bigness of his character, and in his enduring and unchanging love, had made her feel his likeness to the primitive land of his birth.
But when the glad excitement of those first days of her return were past, when the meetings with old friends were over and the tales of their doings exhausted, then Kitty began to realize what her education, as they called it, really meant. The lessons of those three years were not to be erased from her life as one would erase a mistake in a problem or a misspelled word. The tastes, habits of thought and standards of life, the acquirement of which constituted her culture, would not be denied. It was inevitable that there should be a clash between the claims of her home life and the claims of that life to which she now felt that she also belonged.
However odious comparisons may be, they are many times inevitable. Loyally, Kitty tried to magnify the worth of those things that in her girlhood had been the supreme things in her life, but, try as she might, they were now, in comparison with those things which her culture placed first, of trivial importance. The virile strength and glowing health of Phil's unspoiled manhood--beautiful as the vigorous life of one of the wild horses from which he had his nickname--were overshadowed, now, by the young man's inability to clothe his splendid body in that fashion which her culture demanded. His simple and primitive views of life--as natural as the instinct which governs all creatures in his God-cultivated world--were now unrefined, ignoble, inelegant. His fine nature and unembarrassed intelligence, which found in the wealth of realities amid which he lived abundant food for his intellectual life, and which enabled him to see clearly, observe closely and think with such clean-cut directness, beside the intellectuality of those schooled in the thoughts of others, appeared as ignorance and illiteracy. The very fineness and gentleness of his nature were now the distinguishing marks of an uncouth and awkward rustic.
With all her woman heart Kitty had fought against these comparisons--and continued to make them. Everything in her nature that belonged to Granite Mountain--that was, in short, the product of that land--answered to Phil's call, as instinctively as the life of that land calls and answers Its mating calls. Everything that she had acquired in those three years of a more advanced civilization denied and repulsed him. And now her meeting with Patches had stirred the warring forces to renewed activity, and in the distracting turmoil of her thoughts she found herself hating the land she loved, loathing the life that appealed to her with such insistent power, despising those whom she so dearly esteemed and honored, and denying the affection of which she was proud with a true woman's tender pride.
Kitty was aroused from her absorption by the shrill boyish yells of her two younger brothers, who, catching sight of their sister from the top of one of the low hills that edge the meadow bottom lands, were charging recklessly down upon her.
As the clatter and rumble of those eight flying hoofs drew nearer and nearer, Midnight, too, "came alive," as the cowboys say, and tossed his head and pranced with eager impatience.
"Where in the world have you been all the afternoon?" demanded Jimmy, with twelve-year-old authority, as his pony slid to a halt within a foot or two of his sister's horse.
And, "We wanted you to go with us, to see our coyote traps," reproved Conny--two years younger than his brother--as his pinto executed a like maneuver on the other side of the excited Midnight.
"And where is Jack?" asked the young woman mischievously, as she smilingly welcomed the vigorous lads.
"Couldn't he help?"
Jack was the other member of the Reid trio of boys--a lusty four-year-old who felt himself equal to any venture that interested his brothers.
Jimmy grinned. "Aw, mama coaxed him into the kitchen with something to eat while me and Conny sneaked down to the corral and saddled up and beat it."
Big sister's dark eyebrows arched in shocked inquiry, "Me and Conny?"
"That is, Conny and I," amended Jimmy, with good-natured tolerance of his sister's whims.
"You see, Kitty," put in Conny, "this hero coyote traps pin' ain't just fun. It's business. Dad's promised us three dollars for every scalp, an' we're aimin' to make a stake. We didn't git a blamed thing, to-day, though."
Sister's painful and despairing expression was blissfully ignored as Jimmy stealthily flicked the long romal at the end of his bridle reins against Midnight's flank.
"Gee!" observed the tickled youngster, as Kitty gave all her attention to restraining the fretting and indignant horse, "ol' Midnight is sure some festive, ain't he?"
"I'll race you both to the big gate," challenged Kitty.
"For how much?" demanded Jimmy quickly.
"You got to give us fifty yards start," declared Conny, leaning forward in his saddle and shortening his reins.
"If I win, you boys go straight to bed to-night, when it's time, without fussing," said Kitty, "and I'll give you to that oak bush yonder."
"Good enough! You're on!" they shouted in chorus, and loped away.
As they passed the handicap mark, another shrill, defiant yell came floating back to where Kitty sat reining in her impatient Midnight. At the signal, the two ponies leaped from a lope into a full run, while Kitty loosed the restraining rein and the black horse stretched away in pursuit. Spurs ring, shouting, entreating, the two lads urged their sturdy mounts toward the goal, and the pintos answered gamely with all that they had. Over knolls and washes, across arroyos and gullies they flew, sure-footed and eager, neck and neck, while behind them, drawing nearer and nearer, came the black, with body low, head outstretched and limbs that moved apparently with the timed regularity and driving power of a locomotive's piston rod. As she passed them, Kitty shouted a merry "Come on!" which they answered with redoubled exertion and another yell of hearty boyish admiration for the victorious Midnight and his beautiful rider.
"Doggone that black streak!" exclaimed Jimmy, his eyes dancing with fun as they pulled up at the corral gate.
"He opens and shuts like a blamed ol' jack rabbit," commented Conny. "Seemed like we was just a-sittin' still watchin' you go by."
Kitty laughed, teasingly, and unconsciously slipped into the vernacular as she returned, "Did you kids think you were a-horseback?"
"You just wait, Miss," retorted the grinning Jimmy, as he opened the big gate. "I'll get a horse some day that'll run circles around that ol' black scound'el."
And then, as they dismounted at the door of the saddle room in the big barn, he added generously, "You scoot on up to the house, Kitty; I'll take care of Midnight. It must be gettin' near supper time, an' I'm hungry enough to eat a raw dog."
At which alarming statement Kitty promptly scooted, stopping only long enough at the windmill pump for a cool, refreshing drink.
Mrs. Reid, with sturdy little Jack helping, was already busy in the kitchen. She was a motherly woman, rather below Kitty's height, and inclined somewhat to a comfortable stoutness. In her face was the gentle strength and patience of those whose years have been spent in home-making, without the hardness that is sometimes seen in the faces of those whose love is not great enough to soften their tail. One knew by the light in her eyes whenever she spoke of Kitty, or, indeed, whenever the girl's name was mentioned, how large a place her only daughter held in her mother heart.
While the two worked together at their homely task, the girl related in trivial detail the news of the neighborhood, and repeated faithfully the talk she had had with the mistress of the Cross-Triangle, answering all her mother's questions, replying with careful interest to the older woman's comments, relating all that was known or guessed, or observed regarding the stranger. But of her meeting with Patches, Kitty said little; only that she had met him as she was coming home. All during the evening meal, too, Patches was the principal topic of the conversation, though Mr. Reid, who had arrived home just in time for supper, said little.
When supper was over, and the evening work finished, Kitty sat on the porch in the twilight, looking away across the wide valley meadows, toward the light that shone where the walnut trees about the Cross-Triangle ranch house made a darker mass in the gathering gloom. Her father had gone to call upon the Dean. The men were at the bunk-house, from which their voices came low and indistinct. Within the house the mother was coaxing little Jack to bed. Jimmy and Conny, at the farther end of the porch, were planning an extensive campaign against coyotes, and investing the unearned profits of their proposed industry.
Kitty's thoughts were many miles away. In that bright and stirring life--so far from the gloomy stillness of her home land, where she sat so alone--what gay pleasures held her friends? Amid what brilliant scenes were they spending the evening, while she sat in her dark and silent world alone? As her memory pictured the lights, the stirring movement, the music, the merry-voiced talk, the laughter, the gaiety, the excitement, the companionship of those whose lives were so full of interest, her heart rebelled at the dull emptiness of her days. As she watched the evening dusk deepen into the darkness of the night, and the outlines of the familiar landscape fade and vanish in the thickening gloom, she felt the dreary monotony of the days and years that were to come, blotting out of her life all tone and color and forms of brightness and beauty.
Then she saw, slowly emerging from the shadows of the meadow below, a darker shadow--mysterious, formless--that seemed, as it approached, to shape itself out of the very darkness through which it came, until, still dim and indistinct, a horseman was opening the meadow gate. Before the cowboy answered Jimmy's boyish "Hello!" Kitty knew that it was Phil.
The young woman's first impulse was to retreat to the safe seclusion of her own room. But, even as she arose to her feet, she knew how that would hurt the man who had always been so good to her; and so she went generously down the walk to meet him where he would dismount and leave his horse.
"Did you see father?" she asked, thinking as she spoke how little there was for them to talk about.
"Why, no. What's the matter?" he returned quickly, pausing as if ready to ride again at her word.
She laughed a little at his manner. "There is nothing the matter. He just went over to see the Dean, that's all."
"I must have missed him crossing the meadow," returned Phil. "He always goes around by the road."
Then, when he stood beside her, he added gently, "But there is something the matter, Kitty. What is it? Lonesome for the bright lights?"
That was always Phil's way, she thought. He seemed always to know instinctively her every mood and wish.
"Perhaps I was a little lonely," she admitted. "I am glad that you came."
Then they were at the porch, and her ambitious brothers were telling Phil in detail their all-absorbing designs against the peace of the coyote tribe, and asking his advice. Mrs. Reid came to sit with them a-while, and again the talk followed around the narrow circle of their lives, until Kitty felt that she could bear no more. Then Mrs. Reid, more merciful than she knew, sent the boys to bed and retired to her own room.
"And so you are tired of us all, and want to go back," mused Phil, breaking one of the long, silent periods that in these days seemed so often to fall upon them when they found themselves alone.
"That's not quite fair, Phil," she returned gently. "You know it's not that."
"Well, then, tired of this"--his gesture indicated the sweep of the wide land--"tired of what we are and what we do?"
The girl stirred uneasily, but did not speak.
"I don't blame you," he continued, as if thinking aloud. "It must seem mighty empty to those who don't really know it."
"And don't I know it?" challenged Kitty. "You seem to forget that I was born here--that I have lived here almost as many years as you."
"But just the same you don't know," returned Phil gently. "You see, dear, you knew it as a girl, the same as I did when I was a boy. But now--well, I know it as a man, and you as a woman know something that you think is very different."
Again that long silence lay a barrier between them. Then Kitty made the effort, hesitatingly. "Do you love the life so very, very much, Phil?"
He answered quickly. "Yes, but I could love any life that suited you."
"No--no," she returned hurriedly, "that's not--I mean--Phil, why are you so satisfied here? There is so little for a man like you."
"So little!" His voice told her that her words had stung. "I told you that you did not know. Why, everything that a man has a right to want is here. All that life can give anywhere is here--I mean all of life that is worth having. But I suppose," he finished lamely, "that it's hard for you to see it that way--now. It's like trying to make a city man understand why a fellow is never lonesome just because there's no crowd around. I guess I love this life and am satisfied with it just as the wild horses over there at the foot of old Granite love it and are satisfied."
"But don't you feel, sometimes, that if you had greater opportunities--don't you sometimes wish that you could live where--" She paused at a loss for words. Phil somehow always made the things she craved seem so trivial.
"I know what you mean," he answered. "You mean, don't the wild horses wish that they could live in a fine stable, and have a lot of men to feed and take care of them, and rig them out with fancy, gold-mounted harness, and let them prance down the streets for the crowds to see? No; horses have more sense than that. It takes a human to make that kind of a fool of himself. There's only one thing in the world that would make me want to try it, and I guess you know what that is."
His last words robbed his answer of its sting, and she said gently, "You are bitter to-night, Phil. It is not like you."
He did not answer.
"Did something go wrong to-day?" she persisted.
He turned suddenly to face her, and spoke with a passion unusual to him. "I saw you at the ranch this afternoon--as you were riding away. You did not even look toward the corral where you knew I was at work; and it seemed like all the heart went clear out of me. Oh, Kitty, girl, can't we bring back the old days as they were before you went away?"
"Hush, Phil," she said, almost as she would have spoken to one of her boy brothers.
But he went on recklessly. "No, I'm going to speak to-night. Ever since you came home you have refused to listen to me--you have put me off--made me keep still. I want you to tell me, Kitty, if I were like Honorable Patches, would it make any difference?"
"I do not know Mr. Patches," she answered.
"You met him to-day; and you know what I mean. Would it make any difference if I were like him?"
"Why, Phil, dear, how can I answer such a question? I do not know."
"Then it's not because I belong here in this country instead of back East in some city that has made you change?"
"I have changed, I suppose, because I have become a woman, Phil, as you have become a man."
"Yes, I have become a man," he returned, "but I have not changed, except that the boy's love has become a man's love. Would it make any difference, Kitty, if you cared more for the life here--I mean if you were contented here--if these things that mean so much to us all, satisfied you?"
Again she answered, "I do not know, Phil. How can I know?"
"Will you try, Kitty--I mean try to like your old home as you used to like it?"
"Oh, Phil, I have tried. I do try," she cried. "But I don't think it's the life that I like or do not like that makes the difference. I am sure, Phil, that if I could"--she hesitated, then went on bravely--"if I could give you the love you want, nothing else would matter. You said you could like any life that suited me. Don't you think that I could be satisfied with any life that suited the man I loved?"
"Yes," he said, "you could; and that's the answer."
"What is the answer?" she asked.
"Love, just love, Kitty--any place with love is a good place, and without love no life can satisfy. I am glad you said that. It was what I wanted you to say. I know now what I have to do. I am like Patches. I have found my job." There was no bitterness in his voice now.
The girl was deeply moved, but--"I don't think I quite understand, Phil," she said.
"Why, don't you see?" he returned. "My job is to win your love--to make you love me--for myself--for just what I am--as a man--and not to try to be something or to live some way that I think you would like. It's the man that you must love, and not what he does or where he lives. Isn't that it?"
"Yes," she answered slowly. "I am sure that is so. It must be so, Phil."
He rose to his feet abruptly. "All right," he said, almost roughly. "I'll go now. But don't make any mistake, Kitty. You're mine, girl, mine, by laws that are higher than the things they taught you at school. And you are going to find it out. I am going to win you--just as the wild things out there win their mates. You are going to come to me, girl, because you are mine--because you are my mate."
And then, as she, too, arose, and they stood for a silent moment facing each other, the woman felt his strength, and in her woman heart was glad--glad and proud, though she could not give all that he asked.
As she watched him ride away into the night, and the soft mystery of the darkness out of which he had come seemed to take his shadowy form again to itself, she wondered--wondered with regret in the thought--would he, perhaps, go thus out of her life? Would he?
When Phil turned his horse into the meadow pasture at home the big bay, from somewhere in the darkness, trumpeted his challenge. A low laugh came from near by, and in the light of the stars Phil saw a man standing by the pasture fence. As he went toward the shadowy figure the voice of Patches followed the laugh.
"I'll bet that was Stranger."
"I know it was," answered Phil. "What's the matter that you're not in bed?"
"Oh, I was just listening to the horses out there, and thinking," returned Patches.
"Thinking about your job?" asked Phil quietly.
"Perhaps," admitted the other.
"Well, you have no reason to worry; you'll ride him all right," said the cowboy.
"I wish I could be as sure," the other returned doubt fully.
And they both knew that they were using the big bay horse as a symbol.
"And I wish I was as sure of making good at my job, as I am that you will win out with yours," returned Phil.
Patches' voice was very kind as he said reflectively, "So, you have a job, too. I am glad for that."
"Yes," the tall man placed a hand on the other's shoulder as they turned to walk toward the house, "because, Phil, I have come to the conclusion that this old world is a mighty empty place for the man who has nothing to do."
"But there seems to be a lot of fellows who manage to keep fairly busy doing nothing, just the same, don't you think?" replied Phil with a low laugh.
"I said man'," retorted Patches, with emphasis.
"That's right," agreed Phil. "A man just naturally requires a man's job."
"And," mused Patches, "when it's all said and done, I suppose there's only one genuine, simon-pure, full-sized man's job in the world."
"And I reckon that's right, too," returned the cowboy.