Up the Gulch by Elia W. Peattie
"GO West?" sighed Kate. "Why, yes! I'd like to go West."
She looked at the babies, who were playing on the floor with their father, and sighed again.
"You've got to go somewhere, you know, Kate. It might as well be west as in any other direction. And this is such a chance! We can't have mamma lying around on sofas without any roses in her cheeks, can we?" He put this last to the children, who, being yet at the age when they talked in "Early English," as their father called it, made a clamorous but inarticulate reply.
Major Shelly, the grandfather of these very young persons, stroked his mustache and looked indulgent.
"Show almost human intelligence, don't they?" said their father, as he lay flat on his back and permitted the babies to climb over him.
"Ya-as," drawled the major. "They do. Don't see how you account for it, Jack."
Jack roared, and the lips of the babies trembled with fear.
Their mother said nothing. She was on the sofa, her hands lying inert, her eyes fixed on her rosy babies with an expression which her father-in-law and her husband tried hard not to notice.
It was not easy to tell why Kate was ailing. Of course, the babies were young, but there were other reasons.
"I believe you're too happy," Jack sometimes said to her. "Try not to be quite so happy, Kate. At least, try not to take your happiness so seriously. Please don't adore me so; I'm only a commonplace fellow. And the babies -- they're not going to blow away."
But Kate continued to look with intense eyes at her little world, and to draw into it with loving and generous hands all who were willing to come.
"Kate is just like a kite," Jack explained to his father, the major; "she can't keep afloat without just so many bobs."
Kate's "bobs" were the unfortunates she collected around her. These absorbed her strength. She felt their misery with sympathies that were abnormal. The very laborer in the streets felt his toil less keenly than she, as she watched the drops gather on his brow.
"Is life worth keeping at the cost of a lot like that?" she would ask. She felt ashamed of her own ease. She apologized for her own serene and perfect happiness. She even felt sorry for those mothers who had not children as radiantly beautiful as her own.
"Kate must have a change," the major had given out. He was going West on business and insisted on taking her with him. Jack looked doubtful. He wasn't sure how he would get along without Kate to look after everything. Secretly, he had an idea that servants were a kind of wild animal that had to be fed by an experienced keeper. But when the time came, he kissed her good-by in as jocular a manner as he could summon, and refused to see the tears that gathered in her eyes.
Until Chicago was reached, there was nothing very different from that which Kate had been in the habit of seeing. After that, she set herself to watch for Western characteristics. She felt that she would know them as soon as she saw them.
"I expected to be stirred up and shocked," she explained to the major. But somehow, the Western type did not appear. Commonplace women with worn faces -- browned and seamed, though not aged -- were at the stations, waiting for something or some one. Men with a hurried, nervous air were everywhere. Kate looked in vain for the gayety and heartiness which she had always associated with the West.
After they got beyond the timber country and rode hour after hour on a tract smooth as a becalmed ocean, she gave herself up to the feeling of immeasurable vastness which took possession of her. The sun rolled out of the sky into oblivion with a frantic, headlong haste. Nothing softened the aspect of its wrath. Near, red, familiar, it seemed to visibly bowl along the heavens. In the morning it rose as baldly as it had set. And back and forth over the awful plain blew the winds, -- blew from east to west and back again, strong as if fresh from the chambers of their birth, full of elemental scents and of mighty murmurings.
"This is the West!" Kate cried, again and again.
The major listened to her unsmilingly. It always seemed to him a waste of muscular energy to smile. He did not talk much. Conversation had never appealed to him in the light of an art. He spoke when there was a direction or a command to be given, or an inquiry to be made. The major, if the truth must be known, was material. Things that he could taste, touch, see, appealed to him. He had been a volunteer in the civil war, -- a volunteer with a good record, -- which he never mentioned; and, having acquitted himself decently, let the matter go without asking reprisal or payment for what he had freely given. He went into business and sold cereal foods.
"I believe in useful things," the major expressed himself. "Oatmeal, wheat, -- men have to have them. God intended they should. There's Jack -- my son -- Jack Shelly -- lawyer. What's the use of litigation? God didn't design litigation. It doesn't do anybody any good. It isn't justice you get. It's something entirely different, -- a verdict according to law. They say Jack's clever. But I'm mighty glad I sell wheat."
He didn't sell it as a speculator, however. That wasn't his way.
"I earn what I make," he often said; and he had grown rich in the selling of his wholesome foods.
. . . . . . .
Helena lies among round, brown hills. Above it is a sky of deep and illimitable blue. In the streets are crumbs of gold, but it no longer pays to mine for these; because, as real estate, the property is more valuable. It is a place of fictitious values. There is excitement in the air. Men have the faces of speculators. Every laborer is patient at his task because he cherishes a hope that some day he will be a millionnaire. There is hospitality, and cordiality and good fellowship, and an undeniable democracy. There is wealth and luxurious living. There is even culture, -- but it is obtruded as a sort of novelty; it is not accepted as a matter of course.
Kate and the major were driven over two or three miles of dusty, hard road to a distant hotel, which stands in the midst of greenness, -- in an oasis. Immediately above the green sward that surrounds it the brown hills rise, the grass scorched by the sun.
Kate yielded herself to the almost absurd luxury of the place with ease and complacency. She took kindly to the great verandas. She adapted herself to the elaborate and ill-assorted meals. She bathed in the marvellous pool, warm with the heat of eternal fires in mid-earth. This pool was covered with a picturesque Moorish structure, and at one end a cascade tumbled, over which the sun, coming through colored windows, made a mimic prism in the white spray. The life was not unendurable. The major was seldom with her, being obliged to go about his business; and Kate amused herself by driving over the hills, by watching the inhabitants, by wondering about the lives in the great, pretentious, unhomelike houses with their treeless yards and their closed shutters. The sunlight, white as the glare on Arabian sands, penetrated everywhere. It seemed to fairly scorch the eye-balls.
"Oh, we're West, now," Kate said, exultantly. "I've seen a thousand types. But yet -- not quite THE type -- not the impersonation of simplicity and daring that I was looking for."
The major didn't know quite what she was talking about. But he acquiesced. All he cared about was to see her grow stronger; and that she was doing every day. She was growing amazingly lovely, too, -- at least the major thought so. Every one looked at her; but that was, perhaps, because she was such a sylph of a woman. Beside the stalwart major, she looked like a fairy princess.
One day she suddenly realized the fact that she had had a companion on the veranda for several mornings. Of course, there were a great many persons -- invalids, largely -- sitting about, but one of them had been obtruding himself persistently into her consciousness. It was not that he was rude; it was only that he was thinking about her. A person with a temperament like Kate's could not long be oblivious to a thing like that; and she furtively observed the offender with that genius for psychological perception which was at once her greatest danger and her charm.
The man was dressed with a childish attempt at display. His shirt-front was decorated with a diamond, and his cuffbuttons were of onyx with diamond settings. His clothes were expensive and perceptibly new, and he often changed his costumes, but with a noticeable disregard for propriety. He was very conscious of his silk hat, and frequently wiped it with a handkerchief on which his monogram was worked in blue.
When the 'busses brought up their loads, he was always on hand to watch the newcomers. He took a long time at his dinners, and appeared to order a great deal and eat very little. There were card-rooms and a billiard-hall, not to mention a bowling- alley and a tennis-court, where the other guests of the hotel spent much time. But this man never visited them. He sat often with one of the late reviews in his hand, looking as if he intended giving his attention to it at any moment. But after he had scrupulously cut the leaves with a little carved ivory paper-cutter, he sat staring straight before him with the book open, but unread, in his hand.
Kate took more interest in this melancholy, middle-aged man than she would have done if she had not been on the outlook for her Western type, -- the man who was to combine all the qualities of chivalry, daring, bombast, and generosity, seasoned with piquant grammar, which she firmly believed to be the real thing. But notwithstanding this kindly and somewhat curious interest, she might never have made his acquaintance if it had not been for a rather unpleasant adventure.
The major was "closing up a deal" and had hurried away after breakfast, and Kate, in the luxury of convalescence, half-reclined in a great chair on the veranda and watched the dusky blue mist twining itself around the brown hills. She was not thinking of the babies; she was not worrying about home; she was not longing for anything, or even indulging in a dream. That vacuous content which engrosses the body after long indisposition, held her imperatively. Suddenly she was aroused from this happy condition of nothingness by the spectacle of an enormous bull-dog approaching her with threatening teeth. She had noticed the monster often in his kennel near the stables, and it was well understood that he was never to be permitted his freedom. Now he walked toward her with a solid step and an alarming deliberateness. Kate sat still and tried to assure herself that he meant no mischief, but by the time the great body had made itself felt on the skirt of her gown she could restrain her fear no longer, and gave a nervous cry of alarm. The brute answered with a growl. If he had lacked provocation before, he considered that he had it now. He showed his teeth and flung his detestable body upon her; and Kate felt herself growing dizzy with fear. But just then an arm was interposed and the dog was flung back. There was a momentary struggle. Some gentlemen came hurrying out of the office; and as they beat the dog back to its retreat, Kate summoned words from her parched throat to thank her benefactor.
It was the melancholy man with the new clothes. This morning he was dressed in a suit of the lightest gray, with a white marseilles waistcoat, over which his glittering chain shone ostentatiously. White tennis-shoes, a white rose in his buttonhole, and a white straw hat in his hand completed a toilet over which much time had evidently been spent. Kate noted these details as she held out her hand.
"I may have been alarmed without cause," she said; "but I was horribly frightened. Thank you so much for coming to my rescue. And I think, if you would add to your kindness by getting me a glass of water --"
When he came back, his hand was trembling a little; and as Kate looked up to learn the cause, she saw that his face was flushed. He was embarrassed. She decided that he was not accustomed to the society of ladies. "Brutes like that dog ain't no place in th' world -- that's my opinion. There are some bad things we can't help havin' aroun'; but a bull-dog ain't one of 'em."
"I quite agree with you," Kate acquiesced, as she drank the water. "But as this is the first unpleasant experience of any kind that I have had since I came here, I don't feel that I have any right to complain."
"You're here fur yur health?"
"Yes. And I am getting it. You're not an invalid, I imagine?"
"No -- no-op. I'm here be -- well, I've thought fur a long time I'd like t' stay at this here hotel."
"Yes. I've been up th' gulch these fifteen years. Bin livin' on a shelf of black rock. Th' sun got 'round 'bout ten. Couldn't make a thing grow." The man was looking off toward the hills, with an expression of deep sadness in his eyes. "Didn't never live in a place where nothin' 'd grow, did you? I took geraniums up thar time an' time agin. Red ones. Made me think of mother; she's in Germany. Watered 'em mornin' an' night. Th' damned things died."
The oath slipped out with an artless unconsciousness, and there was a little moisture in his eyes. Kate felt she ought to bring the conversation to a close. She wondered what Jack would say if he saw her talking with a perfect stranger who used oaths! She would have gone into the house but for something that caught her eye. It was the hand of the man; that hand was a bludgeon. All grace and flexibility had gone out of it, and it had become a mere instrument of toil. It was seamed and misshapen; yet it had been carefully manicured, and the pointed nails looked fantastic and animal-like. A great seal-ring bore an elaborate monogram, while the little finger displayed a collection of diamonds and emeralds truly dazzling to behold. An impulse of humanity and a sort of artistic curiosity, much stronger than her discretion, urged Kate to continue her conversation.
"What were you doing up the gulch?" she said.
The man leaned back in his chair and regarded her a moment before answering. He realized the significance of her question. He took it as a sign that she was willing to be friendly. A look of gratitude, almost tender, sprang into his eyes, -- dull gray eyes, they were, with a kindliness for their only recommendation.
"Makin' my pile," he replied. "I've been in these parts twenty years. When I come here, I thought I was goin' to make a fortune right off. I had all th' money that mother could give me, and I lost everything I had in three months. I went up th' gulch." He paused, and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.
There was something in his remark and the intonation which made Kate say softly:
"I suppose you've had a hard time of it."
"Thar you were!" he cried. "Thar was th' rock -- risin', risin', black! At th' bottom wus th' creek, howlin' day an' night! Lonesome! Gee! No one t' talk to. Of course, th' men. Had some with me always. They didn't talk. It's too -- too quiet t' talk much. They played cards. Curious, but I never played cards. Don't think I'd find it amusin'. No, I worked. Came down here once in six months or three months. Had t' come -- grub-staked th' men, you know. Did you ever eat salt pork?" He turned to Kate suddenly with this question.
"Why, yes; a few times. Did you have it?"
"Nothin' else, much. I used t' think of th' things mother cooked. Mother understood cookin', if ever a woman did. I'll never forget th' dinner she gave me th' day I came away. A woman ought t' cook. I hear American women don't go in much for cookin'."
"Oh, I think that's a mistake," Kate hastened to interrupt. "All that I know understand how to serve excellent dinners. Of course, they may not cook them themselves, but I think they could if it were necessary."
"Hum!" He picked up a long glove that had fallen from Kate's lap and fingered it before returning it.
"I s'pose you cook?"
"I make a specialty of salads and sorbets," smiled Kate. "I guess I could roast meat and make bread; but circumstances have not yet compelled me to do it. But I've a theory that an American woman can do anything she puts her mind to."
The man laughed out loud, -- a laugh quite out of proportion to the mild good humor of the remark; but it was evident that he could no longer conceal his delight at this companionship.
"How about raisin' flowers?" he asked. "Are you strong on that?"
"I've only to look at a plant to make it grow," Kate cried, with enthusiasm. "When my friends are in despair over a plant, they bring it to me, and I just pet it a little, and it brightens up. I've the most wonderful fernery you ever saw. It's green, summer and winter. Hundreds of people stop and look up at it, it is so green and enticing, there above the city streets."
"Mother's jest that way. She has a garden of roses. And the mignonette --"
But he broke off suddenly, and sat once more staring before him.
"But not a damned thing," he added, with poetic pensiveness, "would grow in that gulch."
"Why did you stay there so long?" asked Kate, after a little pause in which she managed to regain her waning courage.
"Bad luck. You never see a place with so many false leads. To-day you'd get a streak that looked big. To-morrow you'd find it a pocket. One night I'd go t' bed with my heart goin' like a race-horse. Next night it would be ploddin' along like a winded burro. Don't know what made me stick t' it. It was hot there, too! And cold! Always roastin' ur freezin'. It'd been different if I'd had any one t' help me stand it. But th' men were always findin' fault. They blamed me fur everythin'. I used t' lie awake at night an' hear 'em talkin' me over. It made me lonesome, I tell you! Thar wasn't no one! Mother used t' write. But I never told her th' truth. She ain't a suspicion of what I've been a-goin' through."
Kate sat and looked at him in silence. His face was seamed, though far from old. His body was awkward, but impressed her with a sense of magnificent strength.
"I couldn't ask no woman t' share my hard times," he resumed after a time. "I always said when I got a woman, it was goin' t' be t' make her happy. It wer'n't t' be t' ask her t' drudge."
There was another silence. This man out of the solitude seemed to be elated past expression at his new companionship. He looked with appreciation at the little pointed toes of Kate's slippers, as they glanced from below the skirt of her dainty organdie. He noted the band of pearls on her finger. His eyes rested long on the daisies at her waist. The wind tossed up little curls of her warm brown hair. Her eyes suffused with interest, her tender mouth seemed ready to lend itself to any emotion, and withal she was so small, so compact, so exquisite. The man wiped his forehead again, in mere exuberance.
"Here's my card," he said, very solemnly, as he drew an engraved bit of pasteboard from its leather case. Kate bowed and took it.
"Mr. Peter Roeder," she read. "I've no card," she said. "My name is Shelly. I'm here for my health, as I told you." She rose at this point, and held out her hand. "I must thank you once more for your kindness," she said.
His eyes fastened on hers with an appeal for a less formal word. There was something almost terrible in their silent eloquence.
"I hope we may meet again," she said.
Mr. Peter Roeder made a very low and awkward bow, and opened the door into the corridor for her.
That evening the major announced that he was obliged to go to Seattle. The journey was not an inviting one; Kate was well placed where she was, and he decided to leave her.
She was well enough now to take longer drives; and she found strange, lonely canyons, wild and beautiful, where yellow waters burst through rocky barriers with roar and fury, -- tortuous, terrible places, such as she had never dreamed of. Coming back from one of these drives, two days after her conversation on the piazza with Peter Roeder, she met him riding a massive roan. He sat the animal with that air of perfect unconsciousness which is the attribute of the Western man, and his attire, even to his English stock, was faultless, -- faultily faultless.
"I hope you won't object to havin' me ride beside you," he said, wheeling his horse. To tell the truth, Kate did not object. She was a little dull, and had been conscious all the morning of that peculiar physical depression which marks the beginning of a fit of homesickness.
"The wind gits a fine sweep," said Roeder, after having obtained the permission he desired. "Now in the gulch we either had a dead stagnation, or else the wind was tearin' up and down like a wild beast."
Kate did not reply, and they went on together, facing the riotous wind.
"You can't guess how queer it seems t' be here," he said, confidentially. "It seems t' me as if I had come from some other planet. Thar don't rightly seem t' be no place fur me. I tell you what it's like. It's as if I'd come down t' enlist in th' ranks, an' found 'em full, -- every man marchin' along in his place, an' no place left fur me."
Kate could not find a reply.
"I ain't a friend, -- not a friend! I ain't complainin'. It ain't th' fault of any one -- but myself. You don' know what a durned fool I've bin. Someway, up thar in th' gulch I got t' seemin' so sort of important t' myself, and my makin' my stake seemed such a big thing, that I thought I had only t' come down here t' Helena t' have folks want t' know me. I didn't particular want th' money because it wus money. But out here you work fur it, jest as you work fur other things in other places, -- jest because every one is workin' fur it, and it's the man who gets th' most that beats. It ain't that they are any more greedy than men anywhere else. My pile's a pretty good-sized one. An' it's likely to be bigger; but no one else seems t' care. Th' paper printed some pieces about it. Some of th' men came round t' see me; but I saw their game. I said I guessed I'd look further fur my acquaintances. I ain't spoken to a lady, -- not a real lady, you know, -- t' talk with, friendly like, but you, fur -- years."
His face flushed in that sudden way again. They were passing some of those pretentious houses which rise in the midst of Helena's ragged streets with such an extraneous air, and Kate leaned forward to look at them. The driver, seeing her interest, drew up the horses for a moment.
"Fine, fine!" ejaculated Roeder. "But they ain't got no garden. A house don't seem anythin' t' me without a garden. Do you know what I think would be th' most beautiful thing in th' world? A baby in a rose-garden! Do you know, I ain't had a baby in my hands, excep' Ned Ramsey's little kid, once, for ten year!"
Kate's face shone with sympathy.
"How dreadful!" she cried. "I couldn't live without a baby about."
"Like babies, do you? Well, well. Boys? Like boys?"
"Not a bit better than girls," said Kate, stoutly.
"I like boys," responded Roeder, with conviction. "My mother liked boys. She had three girls, but she liked me a damned sight the best."
Kate laughed outright.
"Why do you swear?" she said. "I never heard a man swear before, -- at least, not one with whom I was talking. That's one of your gulch habits. You must get over it."
Roeder's blond face turned scarlet.
"You must excuse me," he pleaded. "I'll cure myself of it! Jest give me a chance."
This was a little more personal than Kate approved of, and she raised her parasol to conceal her annoyance. It was a brilliant little fluff of a thing which looked as if it were made of butterflies' wings. Roeder touched it with awe.
"You have sech beautiful things," he said. "I didn't know women wore sech nice things. Now that dress -- it's like -- I don't know what it's like." It was a simple little taffeta, with warp and woof of azure and of cream, and gay knots of ribbon about it.
"We have the advantage of men," she said. "I often think one of the greatest drawbacks to being a man would be the sombre clothes. I like to wear the prettiest things that can be found."
"Lace?" queried Roeder. "Do you like lace?"
"I should say so! Did you ever see a woman who didn't?"
"Hu -- um! These women I've known don't know lace, -- these wives of th' men out here. They're th' only kind I've seen this long time."
"Oh, of course, but I mean --"
"I know what you mean. My mother has a chest full of linen an' lace. She showed it t' me th' day I left. 'Peter,' she said, 'some day you bring a wife home with you, an' I'll give you that lace an' that linen.' An' I'm goin' t' do it, too," he said quietly.
"I hope so," said Kate, with her eyes moist. "I hope you will, and that your mother will be very happy."
. . . . . . .
There was a hop at the hotel that night, and it was almost a matter of courtesy for Kate to go. Ladies were in demand, for there were not very many of them at the hotel. Every one was expected to do his best to make it a success; and Kate, not at all averse to a waltz or two, dressed herself for the occasion with her habitual striving after artistic effect. She was one of those women who make a picture of themselves as naturally as a bird sings. She had an opal necklace which Jack had given her because, he said, she had as many moods as an opal had colors; and she wore this with a crépe gown, the tint of the green lights in her necklace. A box of flowers came for her as she was dressing; they were Puritan roses, and Peter Roeder's card was in the midst of them. She was used to having flowers given her. It would have seemed remarkable if some one had not sent her a bouquet when she was going to a ball.
"I shall dance but twice," she said to those who sought her for a partner. "Neither more nor less."
"Ain't you goin' t' dance with me at all?" Roeder managed to say to her in the midst of her laughing altercation with the gentlemen.
"Dance with you!" cried Kate. "How do men learn to dance when they are up a gulch?"
"I ken dance," he said stubbornly. He was mortified at her chaffing.
"Then you may have the second waltz, " she said, in quick contrition. "Now you other gentlemen have been dancing any number of times these last fifteen years. But Mr. Roeder is just back from a hard campaign, -- a campaign against fate. My second waltz is his. And I shall dance my best."
It happened to be just the right sort of speech. The women tried good-naturedly to make Roeder's evening a pleasant one. They were filled with compassion for a man who had not enjoyed the society of their sex for fifteen years. They found much amusement in leading him through the square dances, the forms of which were utterly unknown to him. But he waltzed with a sort of serious alertness that was not so bad as it might have been.
Kate danced well. Her slight body seemed as full of the spirit of the waltz as a thrush's body is of song. Peter Roeder moved along with her in a maze, only half- answering her questions, his gray eyes full of mystery.
Once they stopped for a moment, and he looked down at her, as with flushed face she stood smiling and waving her gossamer fan, each motion stirring the frail leaves of the roses he had sent her.
"It's cur'ous," he said softly, "but I keep thinkin' about that black gulch."
"Forget it," she said. "Why do you think of a gulch when --" She stopped with a sudden recollection that he was not used to persiflage. But he anticipated what she was about to say.
"Why think of the gulch when you are here?" he said. "Why, because it is only th' gulch that seems real. All this, -- these pleasant, polite people, this beautiful room, th' flowers everywhere, and you, and me as I am, seem as if I was dreamin'. Thar ain't anything in it all that is like what I thought it would be."
"Not as you thought it would be?"
"No. Different. I thought it would be -- well, I thought th' people would not be quite so high-toned. I hope you don't mind that word."
"Not in the least," she said. " It's a musical term. It applies very well to people."
They took up the dance again and waltzed breathlessly till the close. Kate was tired; the exertion had been a little more than she had bargained for. She sat very still on the veranda under the white glare of an electric ball, and let Roeder do the talking. Her thoughts, in spite of the entertainment she was deriving from her present experiences, would go back to the babies. She saw them tucked well in bed, each in a little iron crib, with the muslin curtains shielding their rosy faces from the light. She wondered if Jack were reading alone in the library or was at the club, or perhaps at the summer concert, with the swell of the violins in his ears. Jack did so love music. As she thought how delicate his perceptions were, how he responded to everything most subtle in nature and in art, of how life itself was a fine art with him, and joy a thing to be cultivated, she turned with a sense of deep compassion to the simple man by her side. His rough face looked a little more unattractive than usual. His evening clothes were almost grotesque. His face wore a look of solitude, of hunger.
"What were you saying?" she said, dreamily. "I beg your pardon."
"I was sayin' how I used t' dream of sittin' on the steps of a hotel like this, and not havin' a thing t' do. When I used t' come down here out of the gulch, and see men who had had good dinners, an' good baths, sittin' around smokin', with money t' go over there t' th' bookstan' an' get anythin' they'd want, it used t' seem t' me about all a single man could wish fur."
"Well, you've got it all now."
"But I didn't any of th' time suppose that would satisfy a man long. Only I was so darned tired I couldn't help wantin' t' rest. But I'm not so selfish ur s' narrow as to be satisfied with THAT. No, I'm not goin' t' spend m' pile that way -- quite!"
He laughed out loud, and then sat in silence watching Kate as she lay back wearily in her chair.
"I've got t' have that there garden," he said, laughingly. "Got t' get them roses. An' I'll have a big bath-house, -- plenty of springs in this country. You ken have a bath here that won't freeze summer NOR winter. An' a baby! I've got t' have a baby. He'll go with th' roses an' th' bath." He laughed again heartily.
"It's a queer joke, isn't it?" Roeder asked. "Talkin' about my baby, an' I haven't even a wife." His face flushed and he turned his eyes away.
"Have I shown you the pictures of my babies?" Kate inquired. "You'd like my boy, I know. And my girl is just like me, -- in miniature."
There was a silence. She looked up after a moment. Roeder appeared to be examining the monogram on his ring as if he had never seen it before.
"I didn't understand that you were married," he said gently.
"Didn't you? I don't think you ever called me by any name at all, or I should have noticed your mistake and set you right. Yes, I'm married. I came out here to get strong for the babies."
"Got a boy an' a girl, eh?"
"How old's th' boy?"
"An' th' girl?"
"She'll soon be four."
"An' yer husband -- he's livin'?"
"I should say so! I'm a very happy woman, Mr. Roeder. If only I were stronger!"
"Yer lookin' much better," he said, gravely, "than when you come. You'll be all right."
The moon began to come up scarlet beyond the eastern hills. The two watched it in silence. Kate had a feeling of guilt, as if she had been hurting some helpless thing.
"I was in hopes," he said, suddenly, in a voice that seemed abrupt and shrill, "thet you'd see fit t' stay here."
"Here in Helena? Oh, no!"
"I was thinkin' I'd offer you that two hundred thousand dollars, if you'd stay."
"Mr. Roeder! You don't mean -- surely --"
"Why, yes. Why not?" He spoke rather doggedly. "I'll never see no other woman like you. You're different from others. How good you've been t' me!"
"Good! I'm afraid I've been very bad -- at least, very stupid."
"I say, now -- your husband's good t' you, ain't he?"
"He is the kindest man that ever lived."
"Oh, well, I didn't know."
A rather awkward pause followed which was broken by Roeder.
"I don't see jest what I'm goin' t' do with that thar two hundred thousand dollars," he said, mournfully.
"Do with it? Why, live with it! Send some to your mother."
"Oh, I've done that. Five thousand dollars. It don't seem much here; but it'll seem a lot t' her. I'd send her more, only it would've bothered her."
"Then there is your house, -- the house with the bath-room. But I suppose you'll have other rooms?"
Peter laughed a little in spite of himself.
"I guess I won't have a house," he said. "An' I couldn't make a garden alone."
"Hire a man to help you." Kate was trembling, but she kept talking gayly. She was praying that nothing very serious would happen. There was an undercurrent of sombreness in the man's manner that frightened her.
"I guess I'll jest have t' keep on dreamin' of that boy playin' with th' roses."
"No, no," cried Kate; "he will come true some day! I know he'll come true."
Peter got up and stood by her chair.
"You don't know nothin' about it," he said. "You don't know, an' you can't know what it's bin t' me t' talk with you. Here I come out of a place where there ain't no sound but the water and the pines. Years come an' go. Still no sound. Only thinkin', thinkin', thinkin'! Missin' all th' things men care fur! Dreamin' of a time when I sh'd strike th' pile. Then I seed home, wife, a boy, flowers, everythin'. You're so beautiful, an' you're so good. You've a way of pickin' a man's heart right out of him. First time I set my eyes on you I thought you were th' nicest thing I ever see! And how little you are! That hand of yours, -- look at it, -- it's like a leaf! An' how easy you smile. Up th' gulch we didn't smile; we laughed, but gen'ly because some one got in a fix. Then your voice! Ah, I've thought fur years that some day I might hear a voice like that! Don't you go! Sit still! I'm not blamin' you fur anythin'; but I may never, 's long's I live, find any one who will understand things th' way you understand 'em. Here! I tell you about that gulch an' you see that gulch. You know how th' rain sounded thar, an' how th' shack looked, an' th' life I led, an' all th' thoughts I had, an' th' long nights, an' th' times when -- but never mind. I know you know it all. I saw it in yer eyes. I tell you of mother, an' you see 'er. You know 'er old German face, an' 'er proud ways, an' her pride in me, an' how she would think I wuz awfully rich. An' you see how she would give out them linens, all marked fur my wife, an' how I would sit an' watch her doin' it, an' -- you see everything. I know you do. I could feel you doin' it. Then I say to myself: 'Here is th' one woman in th' world made fur me. Whatever I have, she shall have. I'll spend my life waitin' on her. She'll tell me all th' things I ought t' know, an' hev missed knowin'; she'll read t' me; she'll be patient when she finds how dull I've grown. And thar'll be th' boy --'"
He seized her hand and wrung it, and was gone. Kate saw him no more that night.
The next morning the major returned. Kate threw her arms around his neck and wept.
"I want the babies," she explained when the major showed his consternation. "Don't mind my crying. You ought to be used to seeing me cry by this time. I must get home, that's all. I must see Jack."
So that night they started.
At the door of the carriage stood Peter Roeder, waiting.
"I'm going t' ride down with you," he said. The major looked nonplussed.
Kate got in and the major followed.
"Come," she said to Roeder. He sat opposite and looked at her as if he would fasten her image on his mind.
"You remember," he said after a time, "that I told you I used t' dream of sittin' on the veranda of th' hotel and havin' nothin' t' do?"
"Well, I don't think I care fur it. I've had a month of it. I'm goin' back up th' gulch."
"No!" cried Kate, instinctively reaching out her hands toward him.
"Why not? I guess you don't know me. I knew that somewhere I'd find a friend. I found that friend; an' now I'm alone again. It's pretty quiet up thar in the gulch; but I'll try it."
"No, no. Go to Europe; go to see your mother."
"I thought about that a good deal, a while ago. But I don't seem t' have no heart fur it now. I feel as if I'd be safer in th' gulch."
"The world looks pretty big. It's safe and close in th' gulch."
At the station the major went to look after the trunks, and Roeder put Kate in her seat.
"I wanted t' give you something " he said, seating himself beside her, "but I didn't dare."
"Oh, my dear friend," she cried, laying her little gloved hand on his red and knotted one, "don't go back into the shadow. Do not return to that terrible silence. Wait. Have patience. Fate has brought you wealth. It will bring you love."
"I've somethin' to ask," he said, paying no attention to her appeal. "You must answer it. If we 'a' met long ago, an' you hadn't a husband or -- anythin' -- do you think you'd've loved me then?"
She felt herself turning white.
"No," she said softly. "I could never have loved you, my dear friend. We are not the same. Believe me, there is a woman somewhere who will love you; but I am not that woman -- nor could I have ever been."
The train was starting. The major came bustling in.
"Well, good-by," said Roeder, holding out his hand to Kate.
"Good-by," she cried. "Don't go back up the gulch."
"Oh," he said, reassuringly, "don't you worry about me, my -- don't worry. The gulch is a nice, quiet place. An' you know what I told you about th' ranks all bein' full. Good-by." The train was well under way. He sprang off, and stood on the platform waving his handkerchief.
"Well, Kate," said the major, seating himself down comfortably and adjusting his travelling cap, "did you find the Western type?"
"I don't quite know," said she, slowly. "But I have made the discovery that a human soul is much the same wherever you meet it."
"Dear me! You haven't been meeting a soul, have you?" the major said, facetiously, unbuckling his travelling-bag. "I'll tell Jack."
"No, I'll tell Jack. And he'll feel quite as badly as I do to think that I could do nothing for its proper adjustment."
The major's face took on a look of comprehension.
"Was that the soul," he asked, "that just came down in the carriage with us?"
"That was it," assented Kate. "It was born; it has had its mortal day; and it has gone back up the gulch."