Ana səhifə

The Salamanca Corpus: Wandering Heath (1896)

Yüklə 442 Kb.
ölçüsü442 Kb.
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9

“By ten o'clock I had saddled the brown horse, and was walking him down the track at an easy pace. Hewson had omitted to praise its beauty. Pine-needles lay underfoot as thick and soft as a Persian carpet; and what with the pine-tops arching and almost meeting overhead, and the red trunks raying out left and right into aisles as I went by, and the shafts of light breaking the greenish gloom here and there with glimpses of aching white snowfields high above, 'twas like walking in a big cathedral with bits of the real heaven shining through the roof. The river ran west for a while from Cornice House, and then tacked northeast with a sudden bend round the base of the foot-


hills; and since my track formed a sort of rough hypotenuse to this angle, I heard the voice of the rapids die away and almost cease, and then begin again to whisper and murmur, until, as I came within a mile or so of Eucalyptus, they were loud at my feet, though still unseen. I am not a devout man, but I can take off my hat now and then; and all the way that morning a couple of sentences were ring-dinging in my head: ' Lift up your hearts! We lift them up unto the Lord! ' You know where they come from, I dare say.

“By and by the track took a sharp and steep trend down hill, then a curve; the trees on my right seemed to drop away; and we found ourselves on the edge of a steep bluff overhanging the valley, the whole eastern slope of which broke full into sight in that instant, from the river tumbling below—by sticking out a leg I could see it shining through my stirrup—to the rocky aretês and smoothed-out snowfields around the peaks. It made a big spectacle, and I suppose I must have stared at it till my eyes were dazzled, for, on turning again to follow the track, which at once dived among the pines and into the dusk again, I did not


observe, until quite close upon her, a woman coming towards me.

“And yet she was not rigged out to escape notice. She had on a scarlet Garibaldi, a striped red-and-white skirt, bunched up behind into an immense polonaise, and high-heeled shoes that tilted her far forward. She wore no hat, but carried a scarlet sunshade over her shoulder. Her hair, in a tousled chignon, was golden, or rather had been dyed to that color; her face was painted; and she was glaringly drunk.

“This sudden apparition shook me down with a jerk; and I suppose the sight of me had something of the same effect on the woman, who staggered to the side of the track, and, plumping down amid her flounces, beckoned me feebly with her sunshade. I pulled up, and asked what I could do for her?

“'You're the doctor?' she said slowly, with a tight hold on her pronunciation.

“'That's so.'

'' ' From Cornice House? '

“I nodded.

“She nodded back. ' That's so. Oh, dear, dear! you said that. I can't help it. I'm drunk, and it's no use pretending! '


“She fell to wringing her hands, and the tears began to run from her bistred eyes.

“‘Now, see here, Mrs.—Miss-------'


“‘Miss Florence Montmorency?' I hazarded as a translation.

“‘That's so. Formerly of the Haughty Coal.'

"'I beg your pardon? Ah! of the Haute Ecole? '

"'That's so: ' questrienne.'

"'Well, you'll take my advice, and return home at once and put yourself to bed.'

“‘Don't you worry about me. It's the Bishop you've got to prescribe for. I allowed I'd reach Cornice House and fetch you down if it took my last breath. Pete Stroebel at the drug store told me this morning that Mr. Hewson had a doctor come to stop with him, so I started right along.'

“‘And how far did you calculate to reach in those shoes? '

“‘I didn't calculate at all; I just started along. If the shoes hurt, I'd have kicked hem off and gone without, or maybe crawled.'

"'Very good,' said I. 'Now, before


we go any farther, will you kindly tell me who the Bishop is? '

“‘He's a young man, and he boards with me. See, here, mister,' she went on, pulling herself together and speaking low and earnest, ' he's good; he's good right through: you've got to make up your mind to that. And he's powerful sick. But what you've got to lay hold of is that he's good. The house is No. 67 West Fifteenth Street, which is pretty easy to find, seeing it's the only street in Eucalyptus. The rest haven't got beyond paper, and old Huz-and-Buz totes them round in his pocket, which isn't good for their growth.'

“‘Won't you take me there? ' "'Not to-day. I guess I've got to sit here till I feel better. Another thing is, you'll be doing me a kindness if you don't let on to the Bishop that you found me in this—this state. He never saw me like this: he's good, I tell you. And he'd be sick and sorry if he knew. I'm just mad with myself, too; but I swear I never meant to be like this to-day. I just took a dose to fix me up for the journey; but ever since I've been holding off from the whiskey the least drop gets into my walk. You didn't


happen to notice a spring anywhere hereabouts, did you? There used to be one that ran right across the track.'

"'I passed it about a hundred yards back.'

“I dismounted and led her to the spring, where she knelt and bathed her face in the water, cold from the melting snowfields above. Then she pulled out a small handkerchief, edged with cheap lace, and fell to dabbing her eyes.

'"Hullo! ' she cried, breaking off sharply.

"'Yes,' I answered, 'you had forgotten that. But another wash will take it all off, and, if you'll forgive my saying so, you won't look any the worse. After that you shall soak my handkerchief and bandage it round your forehead till you feel better. Here, let me help.'

“‘Thank you,' she said, as I tied the knot. ' And now hurry along, please. Sixty-seven, West Fifteenth Street. I'll be waiting here with your handkerchief.'

“I mounted and rode on. At the end of half a mile the track began to dip more steeply, and finally emerged by a big clearing and the two marble pillars of which Hewson had spoken; and here I tethered


the brown horse, and had a look around before walking down into Eucalyptus. Within the clearing a few groups of Norfolk pines had been left to stand, and between these were burial lots marked out and numbered, with here and there a painted wooden cross; but the inhabitants of this acre were few enough. Behind and above the ' Necropolis ' the hill rose steeply; and there, high up, were traces of the disused cinnabar mines —patches of orange-colored earth thrusting out among the pines.

The road below the cemetery ran abruptly down for a bit, then heaved itself over a green knoll and descended upon what I may call a very big and flat meadow beside the river. It was here that Eucalyptus stood; and from the knoll, which was really the beginning of the town, I had my first good view of it—one long street of low wooden houses running eastward to the river's brink, where a few decayed mills and wharves straggled to north and south—a T, or headless cross, will give you roughly the shape of the settlement. From the knoll you looked straight along the main street; with a field-gun you could have swept it clean from end to end, and, what's more, you


wouldn't have hurt a soul. The place was dead empty—not so much as a cur to sit on the sidewalk—and the only hint of life was the laughing and banjo playing indoors. You could hear that plain enough. Every second house in the place was a saloon, and every saloon seemed to have a billiard-table and a banjo-player. I never heard anything like it. I should say, if you divided the population into four parts, that two of these were playing billiards, one turn - tumming ' Hey, Juliana,' on the banjo, and the remaining fourth looking on and drinking whiskey, and occasionally taking part in the chorus. All the way down the sidewalk I had these two sounds—the click, click, of the balls and the thrum, thrum, tinkle, tinkle, of ' Juliana '—ahead of me, and left silence in my wake, as the inhabitants dropped their occupations and sauntered out to stare at 'the Last Invalid,' which was the name promptly coined for me by the disheartened but still humorous promoters of America's Peerless Sanatorium.

"You don't know 'Juliana'—neither tune nor words? Nor did I when I set foot in Eucalyptus; but I lived on pretty close terms with it for the next two months, and


it ended by clearing me out of the neighborhood. It was a sort of nigger camp-meeting song, and a hybrid at that. It went something like this:

'Oh, de lost ell-an'-yard is a-huntin' fer de morn'

The lost ell-and-yard is Orion's sword and belt, I may tell you—

'' ' Hey, Juliana, Juli-he-hi-holy!

An my soul's done sicken fer de Hallelujah horn,

Hey, Juliana, Juli-he-hi-ho!

Was it weary there,

In de wilderness?

Was it weary-y-y, 'way down in Goshen?
“‘Oh, de children shiver by de Jordan's flow,

Hey, Juliana, Juli-he-hi-holy!

An it's time fer Gaberl to shake his self an' blow,

Hey, Juliana, Juli-he-hi-ho!

For it's weary here

In de wilderness;

Oh, its weary-y-y, 'way down in Goshen!'

That was the sort of stuff, and it had any number of verses. I never heard the end of them. Also there were variants—most of them unfit for publication. The tune had swept up the valley like an epidemic disease: and, after a while, it astonished no dweller in Eucalyptus to find his waking


thoughts and his whole daily converse jigging to it. But the new-comer was naturally a bit startled to hear the same strain put up from a score of houses as he walked down the street.

"I found the house, No. 67, easily; and knocked. It looked neat enough, with a fence in front and some pots of flowers in a little balcony over the porch, and clean muslin curtains to the windows. The fence and house-front were painted a bright blue, but not entirely; for here and there appeared patches of green daubed over the blue, much as if. a child had been around experimenting with a paint-pot.

"'Open the door and come upstairs, please,' said an English voice right overhead. And, looking up, I saw a slim young man in a minister's black suit standing among the flower-pots and smiling down at me. I saw, of course, that this must be my patient; and I knew his complaint too. Even at that distance anyone could see he was pretty far gone in consumption.

“As I climbed the stairs he came in from the porch and met me on the landing, at the door of Miss Montmorency's best parlor—a spick-and-span apartment containing


a cottage piano, some gilded furniture of the Second Empire fashion, a gaudy lithograph or two, and a carpet that had to be seen to be believed.

“‘I had better explain,' said I, ' that this is a professional visit. I met Miss Montmorency just outside the town, and have her orders to call. I am a medical man.'

"Still smiling pleasantly, he took my hand and shook it.

“‘Miss Montmorency is so very thoughtful,' he said; then, touching his chest lightly, ' it's true I have some trouble here— constitutional, I'm afraid; but I have suffered from it, more or less, ever since I was fourteen, and it doesn't frighten me. There is really no call for your kind offices; nothing beyond a general weakness, which has detained me here in Eucalyptus longer than I intended. But Miss Montmorency, seeing my impatience, has jumped to the belief that I am seriously ill.' Here he smiled again. 'She is the soul of kindness,' he added.

“I looked into his prominent and rather nervous eyes. They were as innocent as a child's. Of course there was nothing un-


usual in his hopefulness, which is common enough in cases of phthisis—symptomatic, in fact; and, of course, I did not discourage him.

"'You have work waiting for you? Some definite post?' I asked.

“He answered with remarkable dignity; he looked a mere boy too.

“‘I am a minister of the gospel, as you guess by my coat: to be precise, a Congregational minister. At last, I passed through a Congregational training college in England. But nice distinctions of doctrine will be of little moment in the work before me. No, I have no definite post awaiting me—that is, I have not received a call from any particular congregation, nor do I expect one. The harvest is over there, across the mountains; and the laborers are never too many.'

"It was singular in my experience; but this young man contrived to speak like a book without being at all offensive.

“‘I was sent out to America,' he went on, ' mainly for my health's sake; and the voyage did wonders for me. Of course I picked up a lot of information on the way and in New York. It was there I first heard of the awful wickedness of the Pacific Slope,


the utter, abandoned godlessness of the mining camps throughout the golden and silver States. I had letters of introduction to one or two New England families—sober, religious people—and the stories they told of the Far West were simply appalling. It was then that my call came to me. It came one night— But all this has nothing to do with my health.'

“‘It interests me,' said I.

“‘It does one good to talk, if you're sure you mean that,' he went on, with a happy laugh. Then, with sudden gravity: ' It came one night—the clear voice of God calling me. I was asleep; but it woke me, and I sat up in bed with the voice still ringing in my ears like a bugle calling. I knew from that moment that my work lay out West. I saw that my very illness had been, in God's hands, a means to lead me nearer to it. As soon as ever I was strong enough, I started; and you may think me fanciful, sir, but I can tell you that, as sure as I sit here, every step of the way has been smoothed for me by the Divine hand. The people have been so kind all the way, for I am a poor man; and I have other signs— other assurances-------'


“He broke off, hesitated, and resumed his sentence at the beginning:

“‘The people have been so kind. I think the Americans must be the kindest people in the world; and good too. I cannot believe that all the wickedness they talk of out yonder can come from anything but ignorance of the Word. I am certain it cannot. And that encourages me mightily. Why, down in Bellefont they told me that Eucalyptus here was a little nest of iniquity; they spoke of it as of some City of the Plain. And what have I found? Well, the people are indeed as sheep without a shepherd; and who can wonder, seeing that there is not a single House of Prayer kept open in the municipality? There is a great deal of coarse levity, and even profanity of speech, and, I fear, much immoderate drinking; but these are the effects of blindness rather than of wickedness. From the heavier sins—from what I may call actual, conscious vice—Eucalyptus is singularly free. Miss Montmorency, indeed, tells me that in her experience (which, of course, is that of a single lady, and therefore restricted) the moral tone of the town is surprisingly healthy. You understand that I give her judgment no more


than its due weight. Still, Miss Montmorency has lived here three years; and for a single lady (and, I may add, the only lady in the place) to pass three years in it entirely unmolested-------'

"This was too much; and I interrupted him almost at random—

“'You remind me of the purpose of my call. I hope, if only to satisfy Miss Montmorency, you won't mind my sounding your chest and putting a few questions to you.'

“Seeing that I had already pulled out my stethoscope, he gave way, feebly protesting that it was not worth my trouble. The examination merely assured me of that which I knew already—that this young man's days were numbered, and the numbers growing -small. I need not say I kept this to myself.

'' ' You must let me call again to-morrow,' said I. ' I've a small medicine chest up at the Cornice House, and you want a tonic badly.'

“Upon this he began, with a confused look and a slight stammer: ' Do you know —I'm afraid you will think it rude, but I didn't mean it for rudeness—really. Your visit has given me great pleasure-------'


“It flashed on me that he had called himself ' a poor man.'

“‘I wasn't proposing to doctor you,' I put in; and it was a shameless lie. ' You may take the tonic or not; it won't do much harm, anyway. But a gentle walk every day among the pines here—the very gentlest, nothing to overtax your strength— will do more for you than any drugs. But if you will let me call, pretty often, and have a talk—I'm an Englishman, you know, and an English voice is good to hear-------'

"His face lit up at once. 'Ah, if you would! ' said he; and we shook hands.

“As I closed the front door and stepped out upon the sidewalk a tall man lounged across to me from the doorway of a saloon across the road—a lumberer, by his dress. He wore a large soft hat, a striped flannel shirt open at the neck, a broad leathern belt, and muddy trousers tucked into muddy wading-boots. His appearance was picturesque enough without help from his dress. He had a mighty length of arm and breadth of shoulders; a handsome, but thin and almost delicately fair, face with blue eyes, and a surprisingly well-kept beard. The


color of this beard and of his hair—which he wore pretty long—was a light auburn. Just now the folds of his raiment were full of moist sawdust; and as he came he brought the scent of the pine woods with him.

“‘How's the Bishop? ' asked this giant, jerking his head towards the little balcony of No. 67.

"Before I could hit on a discreet answer he followed the question up with another:

“'What'll you take?'

“I saw that he had something to say, and allowed him to lead the way to a saloon a little way down the road. ' Simpson's Pioneers' Symposium ' was the legend above the door. A small, pimply-faced man in seedy black—whom I guessed at once, and correctly, to be ' Huz-and-Buz '—lounged by the bar inside; and across the counter the barkeeper had his banjo slung, and was gently strumming the accompaniment of ' Hey, Juliana! '

“'Put that down,' commanded my new acquaintance; and then, turning to Huz-and-Buz, ' Git! '

“The architect raised the brim of his hat to me, bowed servilely, and left.

“'Short or long?'


“I said I would take a short drink.

“‘A brandy sour? '

“'A "brandy sour" will suit me well.'

'' He kept his eye for a moment on the bartender, who began to bustle around with the bottles and glasses; then turned upon me.

“'Now, then.'

“‘About the Bishop, as you call him? '

“He nodded.

"'Well, you're not to tell him so; but he's going to die.'


"'I think so.'

"He nodded. 'I knew that,' he said, and was silent for a minute; then resumed, 'No; he won't be told. We take an interest in that young man.'

“'Meaning by "we"? '

“‘The citizens of Eucalyptus as a body. My name's William Anderson: Captain Bill they call me. I was one of the first settlers in Eucalyptus. I've seen it high, and I've seen it low. And I'm going to be the last man to quit; that's the captain's place. And when I say this or that is public opinion in Eucalyptus, it's got to be. I drink to your health, Doctor.'


“‘Thank you,' said I. 'Then I may count on your silence? The poor chap is so powerfully set on crossing the Rockies and getting to close quarters with some real wickedness, that to tell him the truth might shorten the few days he has left.'

“Captain Bill smiled grimly.

"'Wickedness? Lord love you! He couldn't see any. He'd go through 'Frisco, and out at the far end, without so much as guessing the place had a seamy side to it. His innocence,' pursued the captain, 'is unusual. I guess that's why we're taking so much care of him. But I must say you've been spry.'

“‘Upon my word, I can't at this moment make head or tail of the business. I met Miss Montmorency on the road'------'

“'I guess she was looking like a Montmorency, too. Flyheel Flo is her name hereabouts; alluding to her former profession of circus-rider. Perhaps I'd better put the facts straight for you.'

“‘I wish you would.'

“‘Well, it'll be about two months back that the Bishop came to Eucalyptus. We were most of us here in Simpson's bar when the coach drove up at nine o'clock—same


time as it dropped you last night—and we loafed out to have a look. There was only one passenger got down; and he seemed of no account—a weedy-looking youngster with a small valise—looked like he might have come to be bartender to one of the small saloons. It was dark out there, you understand: nothing to see by but the lamps of the coach and the light of the doorway; besides which the fellow was pretty well muffled up in a big coat and wraps. Anyway he didn't seem worth a second look; so when the coach moved on we just sauntered back here, and I don't reckon there was a man in the room knew he'd followed us till he lifted up that reedy voice of his. "Gentlemen," he piped out, "would some one of you be kind enough to direct me to a nice, comfortable lodging?" Old Huz-and-Buz was drinking here with his back to the door. "Great Caesar's ghost!" he called out, dropping his glass, "what'n thunder's that?"—"Gentlemen," pipes up the young man again, "I am a stranger, this moment arrived by the coach; and it would be a real kindness to direct me to a comfortable lodging.''

By this time he'd unwound the muffler


about his neck and unbuttoned his outer wraps generally, and we saw he was rigged out in genuine sky-pilot's uniform. We hadn't seen one of that profession in Eucalyptus for more'n two years. "I'm afraid, your reverence,'' says one of the boys, mimicking the poor lad's talk, "I'm afraid the accommodation of this camp will hardly reach up to your style. I guess what you want is a cosey little nook with a brass knocker and a nice motherly woman to look after you. You oughter have sent the municipality word you was coming." "Thank you," answers the poor boy, as serious as can be; "of course I shall be glad of such comforts, but I assure you they are not indispensable. I'm an old campaigner," he says, drawing himself up to his poor little height and smiling proud-like. I tell you that knocked the wind out of our sails. It was too big to laugh at. We just stuck for half a minute and looked at him, till the mischief put it into old Huz-and-Buz's head to cackle out, "Better send him right along to Flyheel Flo! '' This put up a laugh, and I saw in half a minute that the proposition had caught on. It struck me as sort of' funny, too, at the time; so I steps


forward and says, "I know a lady who'd likely take you in and fix you up comfortable. This kind of thing ain't exactly in her line; but no doubt she'll put herself out to oblige a minister, specially if you take her a letter of introduction from me; Miss Florence Montmorency's. her name, and she lives at No. 67 along the street here. Here, pass along the ink-bottle and a pen," I says (for, barring Huz-and-Buz, I was about the only sinner present that hadn't forgotten how to spell); and inside of five minutes I'd fixed up the letter to Flo, and a dandy document it was! He took it and thanked me like as if it was a school prize; and I guess 'twas then it began to break in on me that we'd been playing it pretty low on the innocent. However, Pete caught up his valise, and two or three of us saw him along to Flo's door, and waited out on the sidewalk while he knocked. At the second knock Flo came down and let him in. I saw him lift his hat, and heard him begin with "I believe I am addressing Miss Montmorency; '' and what Flo was making ready to say in answer I'd give a dollar at this moment to know. But she looked over his shoulder, and with the tail of her eye glimpsed us outside, and


1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9

Verilənlər bazası müəlliflik hüququ ilə müdafiə olunur © 2016
rəhbərliyinə müraciət