PEOPLE began to remember that they had not seen their silent and singular little poet since the death and burial of the Gopher.
Surely he was ill. At all events, the Widow went boldly and regularly now to his cabin. And to the credit of the camp, be it said, it at last began to look with toleration on these missions to the humble vine clad hermitage of the sad and lonesome little poet.
Only once more he came out and sat by the door, pale and dreamy and full of mystery.
The schoolmaster, not an unkindly man, stopped a moment with his book and slate under his arm, as he led a little girl by the hand, and looking into the pallid face before him, said:
"It is a hard old world, Billie. A hard old world. At best we have to belabor the old earth; beat her to make her give us bread."
"Beat her !" The little thin hands clasped and lifted as if in prayer. "Belabor my dear mother Earth? Why, she gave us birth, she gives us all our bread, she gives us all that is beautiful and good. She will take us again to her bosom. I will pray to Earth, that I may have rest on her tranquil breast."
The schoolmaster passed on, and the sad little dreamer arose with difficulty, and passed for the last time from the light of the sun.
When the schoolmaster walked by next morning the door stood open. The little girl looked in, and then ran away as if afraid. Did she see with her child vision the face of death? The Schoolmaster, perhaps fearing to compromise his character by any association with this singular being, hurried on after the little girl, and did not turn around or look back till he had set foot over the sill of the little log school house on the hill. His heart was beating very wildly. He had said nothing, he had heard nothing, he had seen nothing. But somehow the man's heart was beating with a strange terror, and he wanted to turn back and enter the cabin, and speak once more to the lonely little sufferer.
The man called his school to order, however, took off his coat, hung it up behind the door, ran his two hands through his hair, time and again, but failing to pacify himself by this means, called out a little ,boy, and flogged him soundly.
He afterwards remembered that there was a black cat sitting in the door as he passed, quietly washing her face, yet at the same time looking intently at him out of her green eyes.
The heroes of the world are women. The women, as a rule, have done the great deeds of valor. Men, however, have written the histories and appropriated a great deal indeed to themselves.
I know very well that in a certain kind of noisy heroism man makes a great mark, and instances of valor, even in a quiet way, where man fights his battle alone and in the dark, without the observation or applause of the world, are not wanting. But the great battles, in darkness and disgrace, where death and ignominy waited, the small great battles, the heart the battle field, where no friend would come, where no pen should chronicle, these silent fights have been fought and won by women.
Understanding all this I can understand why the Widow chose to bear all the reproof, and let her friend, the refugee, the dreamer, the "Poet," live and die unknown and in peace.
The next morning as the Schoolmaster came by, with the little girl sliding up close to his legs, on the opposite side from the cabin, the Widow with a face of unutterable sadness was outside trying to tie a piece of something black to the door latch.
The man lifted his hat, and came reverently and slowly forward.
There was no need of saying anything now. He understood it all, and after assisting her in silence to do the office of respect for the dead within, he took the little girl's hand again in his, turned to go, took a few steps forward, and then stopping and turning around, again lifted his hat and said softly to the Widow:
"I will stop at the saloon and send up some of the boys to take charge of the body and prepare it for the grave."
"No," sighed the Widow in a voice that was scarcely heard above the beating of her heart, "No, George," and she came slowly and calmly up to the man and stood there with her white face lifted close into his. "No George, you will go back to the house, and get your mother and your sister to come and help her now at the last. For it is a woman that lies dead there in that little vine covered cabin."
The woman had kept the woman's secret. She had given her life as it were for the life of another. But now that all was over; the whole story was to be written in the single name on the little granite gravestone. It was the name of NANCY WILLIAMS.
THE ENDGo back to the Index