The Romance of Sunrise Rock
WHAT momentous morning arose with so resplendent a glory that it should have imprinted its indelible reflection on the face of this great Cumberland cliff ; what eloquence of dawn so splendid that the dumb, insensate stone should catch its spirit and retain its expression forever and forever ? A deep, narrow stream flowed around the base of the “ paint-rock.” Immense fissures separated it from its fellows. And charged with its subtler meaning it towered above them in isolated majesty. Moons waxed and waned ; nations rose and fell; centuries came and went. And still it faced the east, and still, undimmed by storm and time, it reiterated the miracle and the prophecy of the rising sun.
“ ’T war painted by the Injuns, — that’s what I hev always hearn tell. Them folks war mos’ly leagued with the Evil One. That’s how it kem they war gin the grasp ter scuffle up that thar bluff, ez air four hunderd feet high an’ ez sheer ez a wall; it ain’t got foothold fur a cockle-burr. I hev hearn tell that when they got ez high ez the pictur’ they war ’lowed by the devil ter stand on air. An’ I believes it. Else how’d they make out ter do that thar job ? ”
The hairy animal, whose jeans suit proclaimed him man, propounded this inquiry with a triumphant air. There was a sarcastic curve on the lips of his interlocutor. Clearly it was not worth his while to enlighten the mountaineer, — to talk of the unknown races whose work so long survives their names, to speculate upon the extent of their civilization and the mechanical contrivances that reached those dizzy heights, to confide his nebulous fancies clustering about the artist-poet who painted this grand, rude lyric upon the immortal rock. He turned from the strange picture, suspended between heaven and earth, and looked over the rickety palings into the dismal little graveyard of the mountaineers. Nowhere, he thought, was the mystery of life and death so gloomily suggested. Humanity seemed so small, so transitory a thing, expressed in these few mounds in the midst of the undying grandeur of the mountains. Material nature conquers ; man and mind are as naught. Only a reiteration of a wellconned lesson, for so far this fine young fellow of thirty had made a failure of life; the material considerations with which he had wrestled had got the better of him, and a place within the palings seemed rather preferable to his place without.
It was still strange to John Cleaver that his lines should have fallen in this wilderness ; that the door of that house on the slope of the Backbone should be the only door upon earth open to him; that such men as this mountaineer were his neighbors and associates. The fact seemed a grotesque libel on likelihood. As he rode away he was thinking of his costly education, the sacrifices his father had made to secure it, his dying conviction, which was such a comfort to him, that in it he had left his penniless son a better thing than wealth,—with such training and such abilities what might he not reach ? When John Cleaver returned from his medical studies in Paris to the Western city of his birth, to scores of charity patients, and to a fine social position by virtue of the prestige of a good family, there seemed only a little waiting needed. But the old physicians held on to life and the paying practice with the grip of the immortals. And he found it difficult to sustain existence while he waited.
At the lowest ebb of his fortunes there came to him a letter from a young lawyer, much in his own professional position, but who had confessed himself beaten and turned sheep-farmer. Here, among the mountains of East Tennessee, said the letter, he had bought a farm for a song ; the land was the poorest he ever saw, but served his purposes, and the house was a phenomenal structure for these parts, — a six-room brick, built fifty years ago by a city man with a bucolic craze and consumptive tendencies. The people were terribly poor ; still, if his friend would come he might manage to pick up something, for there was not a physician in a circuit of sixty miles.
So Cleaver had turned his face to the mountains. But unlike the sheep-farmer he did not meet his reverses lightly. The man was at bay. And like a savage thing he took his ill-fortune by the throat. Success had seemed so near that there was something like the pain of death in giving up the life to which he had looked forward with such certainty. He could not console himself with this comatose state, and call it life. He often told himself that there was nothing left but to think of what he might have done, and eat out his heart. His ambition died hard.
As his horse ambled along, a gruff voice broke his reverie. “ ’Light an’ hitch,” called out the master of a wayside hovel.
A man of different temperament might have found in Cleaver’s uncouth surroundings some points of palliation. His heart might have warmed to the ignorant mountaineers’ high and tender virtue of hospitality. A responsive respect might have been induced by the contemplation of their pride, so intense that it recognizes no superior, so inordinate that one is tempted to cry out, Here are the true republicans! or, indeed, Here are the only aristocrats ! The rough fellow was shambling out to stop him with cordial insistence. An old crone, leaning on a stick in the doorway, called after her son, “ Tell him ter ’light an’ hitch, Peter, an’ eat his supper along of we-uns.” A young girl sitting on the rude porch, reeling yarn, preparatory to weaving, glanced up, her sedate face suddenly illumined. Even the bare-fooled, tow-headed children stood still in pleased expectation. Certainly John Cleaver’s position in life was as false as it was painful. But the great human heart was here, untutored though it was, and roughly accoutred. And he himself had found that Greek and Latin do not altogether avail.
The little log-house was encompassed by the splendor of autumnal foliage. A purple haze clung to the distant mountains ; every range and every remove had a new tone and a new delight. The gray crags, near at hand, stood out sharply against the crimson sky. And high above them all in its impressive isolation loomed Sunrise Rock, heedless of the transitory dying day and the ineffective coming night.
The girl’s reel was still whirling; at regular intervals it ticked and told off another cut. Cleaver’s eyes were fixed upon her as he declined Peter Teake’s invitation. He had seen her often before, but he did not know as yet that that face would play a strange part in the little mental drama that was to lead to the making of his fortune. Her cheek was flushed ; her delicate crimson lips were slightly parted; the live gold of the sunbeams touched the dead-yellow lustreless masses of her hair. Here and there the clustering tendrils separated, as they hung about her shoulders, and disclosed bright glimpses of a red cotton kerchief knotted around her throat; she wore a dark blue homespun dress, and despite the coarse texture of her attire there was something of the mingled brilliance and softness of the autumn tints in her humble presence. Her eyes reminded him of those deep, limpid mountain streams with golden-brown pebbles at the bottom. Scornful as he was, he was only a man — and a young man. With a sudden impulse he leaned forward and handed her a pretty cluster of ferns and berries which he had gathered in the forest.
The reel stopped, the thread broke ; she looked up, as she received mechanically his woodland treasure, with so astonished a face that it induced in this man of the world a sense of embarrassment.
“ Air they good verbs fur somethin’ ? ” she asked.
A quick comprehension of the ludicrous situation flashed through his mind. She evidently made no distinctions in the healing art as practiced by him and the “ yerb-doctor,” with whom he occasionally came into professional contact. And the presentation of the “ yerbs ” seemed a prescription instead of a compliment.
“No,—no,” he said hastily, thinking of the possibility of a decoction. “ They are not good for tea. They are of no use, — except to look at.”
And he rode away, laughing softly.
Everything about the red brick house was disorganized and dilapidated; but the dining-room, which served the two young bachelors as a sitting-room also, was cheerful with the glow of a hickory fire and a kerosene lamp, and although the floor was bare and the tiny-paned windows curtained only with cobwebs, there was a suggestively comfortable array of pipes on the mantel-piece, and a bottle of gracious aspect. Sitting in front of the fire, the light full on his tawny beard and close-clipped, blonde hair, was a man of splendid proportions, a fine, frank, intellectual face, and a manner and accent that proclaimed him as distinctly exotic as his friend. He too had reared the great scaffolding of an elaborate education that he might erect the colossal edifice of his future. His hands beat the empty air and he had no materials wherewith to build. But there was the scaffolding, a fine thing in itself, — wasted, perhaps. For the sheepfarmer did not need it.
“ Well, old sinner!” he exclaimed smilingly, as Cleaver entered. “ Did you tell Tom to put up your ‘ beastis ’ ? He is so ‘ brigaty ’ that he might not stand.”
Were the two friends sojourning in the Cumberland Mountains on a camphunt, these excerpts from the prevalent dialect might have seemed to Cleaver a pleasantry of exquisite flavor. But they were no sojourners ; they were permanently established here. And he felt that every concession to the customs of the region was a descent toward the level of its inhabitants. He thought Trelawney was already degenerating in this disheveled life, — mentally, in manner, even in speech. For with a philologist’s zest Trelawney chased verbal monstrosities to their lair, and afterward displayed them in his daily conversation with as much pride as a connoisseur feels in exhibiting odd old china. As these reflections intruded themselves, Cleaver silently swore a mighty oath — an oath he had often sworn before — that he would not go down with him, he would not deteriorate too, he would hold hard to the traditions of a higher sphere.
But sins against convention could not detract from the impressiveness of the man lounging before the fire. If Trelawney only had money, how he would adorn the state of a nabob !
“ Brigaty ! ” he reiterated. “ That’s a funny word. It sounds as if it might be kin to the Italian brigata. Or, see here — briga ? — eh ? — brigadar — brigadarsi'? I wonder how these people come by it.”
A long pause ensued, broken only by the ticking of their watches : the waste of time asserted itself. All was silent without; no wind stirred ; no leaf nor acorn fell; the mute mists pressed close to the window. Surely there were no other creatures in all the dreary world. And this, thought Cleaver, was what he had come to, after all his prestige, all his efforts !
“ Trelawney,” he said suddenly, “ these are long evenings. Don’t you think that with all this time on our hands — I don’t know — but don’t you think we might write something together ? ”
A frank surprise was in his friend’s brown eyes. He replied doubtfully, “ Write what ? ”
“ I don’t know,” said the doctor despondently.
“ And suppose we had the talent to project ‘something’ and the energy to complete it, who would publish it ? ”
“ I don’t know,” said the doctor, more hopelessly still.
Another pause. The foxes were barking in the moonlight, in the red autumn woods. That a man should feel less lonely for the sound of a wild thing’s voice !
“ My dear fellow,” said John Cleaver, a certain passion of despair welling up in his tones,—he leaned forward and laid his hand on his friend’s knee, — “ it won’t do for us to spend our lives here. We must turn about and get back into the world of men and action. Don’t think I’m ungrateful for this haven, — you are the only one who held out a hand, — but we must get back, and go on with the rest. Help me, Trelawney, — help me think out some way. I’m losing faith in myself alone. Let us help each other. Many a man has made his pen his strongest friend; they were only men at last, just such as we are. Many of them were poor; the best of them were poor. We can try nothing else, Fred, — so little chance is left to us.”
Trelawney laid his warm strong hand upon the cold nervous hand trembling on his knee. “ Jack,” he said, “ I have given it all up. I am through forever with those cursed alternations of hope and despair. I don’t believe we could write anything that would do — do any good, I mean. I wore out all energy and afflatus — the best part of me — waiting for the clients who never came. And all the time my appropriate sphere, my sheep-farm, was waiting for me here. I have found contentment, the manna from heaven, while you are still sighing for the flesh-pots of Egypt. Ambition has thrown me once; I sha’n’t back the jade again. I am a shepherd, Jack, a shepherd.
Pascere oportet oves, deductum dicere carmen.’
That’s it, my dear old boy. Sing a slender song! We’ve pitched our voices on too high a key for our style of vocalization. We must sing small, Jack, — sing a slender song ! ”
“ I ’ll be damned if I do ! ” cried Cleaver, impetuously, springing to his feet and pacing the room with a quick stride.
But his friend’s words dogged him deep into the night. They would not let him sleep. He lay staring blankly at the darkness, his thoughts busy with his forlorn position and his forlorn prospects, and that sense of helplessness, so terrible to a man, pressing heavily upon his heart. In the midst of the memories of his hopes, his ambitions, and his failures he was like a worm in the fire. The vague presence of the majestic company of mountains without preyed upon him ; they seemed stolid, unmoved witnesses of his despair. The only human creature who might have understood him would not understand him. He knew that if he were writhing in pain with a broken limb, or the sentimental spurious anguish of a broken heart, Trelawney would resolve himself into every gracious phase of healing sympathy. But a broken life! — his friend would not make an effort. Yet why should he crave support? Was it true that he had pitched his voice too high ? In this day of over-education, when every man is fitted for any noble sphere of intellectual achievement and only inborn talent survives, might it not be that he had mistaken a cultivated aspiration for latent power ? And if indeed his purposes had outstripped his abilities, the result was tragic — tragic. He was as dead as if he were six feet deep in the ground. A bitter throe of shame came with these reflections. There is something so ludicrously contemptible in a great personal ambition and a puny capacity. Ambition is the only grand passion that does not ennoble. We do not care that a low thing should lift its eyes. And if it does, we laugh.
There was a movement in the hall below. He had left Trelawney reading, but now his step was on the stairs, and with it rose the full mellow tones of his voice. He was singing of the springtime in the chilly autumn midnight. Poor Fred ! It was always spring with him. He met his misfortunes with so cordial an outstretched hand that it might have seemed he disarmed them. It did not seem so to John Cleaver. He shifted his attitude with a groan. His friend’s fatal apathy was an added pang to his own sorrows. And now the house was still, and he watched through all the long hours the western moonlight silently scale the gloomy pines, till on their plumy crests the yellow beams mingled with the red rays of the rising sun, and the empty, lonely day broke in its useless, wasted splendor upon the empty loneliness of the splendid night.
Cleaver took little note at this period of those who came and went in his life; and he took little note of how he came and went in the lives of others. He had no idea of those inexplicable circles of thought and being that touch at a single point, and jar, perhaps. One day, while the Indian summer was still red on the hills, — he had reason to remember this day, — while the purple haze hovered over the landscape and mellowed to artistic delicacy the bold bright colors of Sunrise Rock, he chanced to drive alone in his friend’s rickety buggy along the road that passed on the opposite bank from the painted cliff and encircled the dreary little graveyard of the mountaineers. He became suddenly aware that there was a figure leaning against the palings ; he recognized Selina Teake as he lifted his absorbed eyes. She held her sun-bonnet in her hand, and her yellow hair and fair face were unshaded; how little did he or she imagine what that face was to be to him afterward! He drew up his horse and spoke: “ Well, this is the last place I should think you would want to come to.”
She did not understand his dismal little joke at the graveyard. She silently fixed upon him those eyes, so suggestive of deep, clear waters in which some luminous planet has sunk a starry reflection.
“ Did you intend to remain permanently ? ”
“ I war restin’ awhile,” she softly replied.
He had a vague consciousness that she was the first of these proud mountaineers whom he had ever seen embarrassed or shy. She was indubitably blushing as he looked at her, and as she falteringly looked at him. How bright her eyes were, how red her delicate lips, what a faint fresh wild-rose was suddenly abloom on her cheek.
“ Suppose you drive with me the remainder of the way,” he suggested.
This was only the courtesy of the road in this region, and with her grave, decorous manner she stepped lightly into the vehicle, and they bowled away together. She was very mute and motionless as she sat beside him, her face eloquent with some untranslated emotion of mingled wonderment and pleasure and pain. Perhaps she drew in with the balsamic sunlit air the sweetest experience of her short life. He was silent too, his thoughts still hanging drearily about his blighted prospects and this fatal false step that had led him to the mountains ; wondering whether he could have done better, whether he could have done otherwise at all, when it would end, — when, and how.
Trelawney was lounging against the rail fence in front of Teake’s house, looking, in his negligent attire, like a prince in disguise, and talking to the mountaineers about a prospective deerhunt. There was a surprised resentment on his face when Cleaver drove up, but the return of Selina with him made not a ripple among the Teakes. It would have been impossible to demonstrate to them that they stood on a lower social plane. Their standard of morality and respectability could not be questioned; there had never been a man or a woman of the humble name who had given the others cause for shame; they had lived in this house on their own land for a hundred years ; they neither stole nor choused; they paid as they went, and asked no favors ; they took no alms, — nay, they gave of their little ! As to the artificial distinctions of money and education, what do the ignorant mountaineers care about money and education!
Selina stood for a moment upop the cabin porch, her yellow hair gleaming like an aureola upon a background of crimson sumach leaves. A pet fawn came to the door and nibbled at her little sun-burned hands. As she turned to go in, Trelawney spoke to her. “ Shall I bring you a fawn again ? or will you have some venison from the hunt tomorrow ? ”
She fixed her luminous eyes upon him and laughed a little. There was no shyness in her face and manner now. Was Trelawney so accustomed an object in her life, Cleaver wondered.
“ Ah, I see,” said Fred, laughing too. “ I ’ll bring you some venison.”
He was grave enough as he and his friend drove homeward together, and Cleaver was roused to the perception that there was a certain unwonted coldness slipping insidiously between them. It was not until they were seated before the fire that Trelawney again spoke. “ How did it happen that you and she were together ? ” Evidently he had thought of nothing else since. “ Who ? — the Lady Selina? ” suggested Cleaver, mockingly. Trelawney’s eyes warned him to forbear. “ Oh, I met her walking, and I asked her to drive with me the rest of the way.”
Nothing more was said for a time. Cleaver was thinking of the fawn which Fred had given her, of the patent fact that he was a familiar object at the Teake house. His question, and his long dwelling upon the subject before he asked it, seemed almost to indicate jealousy. Jealousy ! Cleaver could hardly credit his own suspicion.
Trelawney broke the silence. “ Education,” he said abruptly, “ what does education accomplish for women in our station of life ? They learn to write a fashionable hand that nobody can decipher. They take a limited course of reading and remember nothing. Their study of foreign languages goes so far sometimes as to enable them to interject commonplace French phrases into their daily conversation, and render their prattle an affront to good taste as well as an insult to the understanding. They have converted the piano into an instrument of torture throughout the length and breadth of the land. Sometimes they are learned; then they are given over to ‘ making an impression,’ and are prone to discuss, with a fatal tendency to misapply terms, what they call ‘ philosophy.’ As to their experience in society, no one will maintain that their flirtations and husband - hunting tend greatly to foster delicacy and refinement. What would that girl,” nodding toward the log-cabin near Sunrise Rock, “ think of the girls of our world who pursue ‘ society ’ as a man pursues a profession, who shove and jostle each other and pull caps for the great matches, and ‘ put up ’ with the others when no better may be had? She is my ideal of a modest, delicate young girl, — and she is the only sincere woman I ever saw. Upon my soul, I think the primitive woman holds her own very finely in comparison with the resultant of feminine culture.”
Cleaver listened in stunned dismay. Could Trelawney have really fallen in love with the little mountaineer ? He had adapted himself so readily to the habits of these people. He was so far from the world; he was dropping its chains. Many men under such circumstances, under far happier circumstances, had fallen into the fatal error of a mésalliance. Positively he might marry the girl. Cleaver felt it an imperative duty to make an effort to avert this almost grotesque catastrophe. In its very inception, however, he was hopeless. Trelawney had always been so intolerant of control, so tenacious of impressions and emotions, so careless of results and the opinion of society. These seemed only originalities of character when he was the leader of a clique of men of his own social position. Was Cleaver a snob because they seemed to him, now that his friend was brought low in the world, a bull-headed perversity, a ludicrous eccentricity, an unkempt republicanism, a raw incapacity to appreciate the right relations of things ? In the delicately adjusted balance of life is that which is fine when a man is up, folly when a man is down ?
“ She is a pretty little thing,” he said, slightingly, “ and no doubt a good little thing. And, Trelawney, if I were in your place I would n’t hang around her. Your feelings might become involved — she is so pretty — and she might fall in love with you, and ” —
“ You ’ve said enough ! ” exclaimed Trelawney, fiercely.
It was monstrous ! Trelawney would marry her. And he was as helpless to prevent it as if Fred intended to hang himself.
“ Your railing at the women of society in that shallow fashion suggests the idea to me that you are trying to justify yourself in some tremendous folly. Do you contemplate marrying her ? ”
“ That is exactly what I propose to do,” said Trelawney.
“ And you are mad enough to think you are really in love with her ? ”
“ Why should I not be ? If she were differently placed in point of wealth and station would there be any incongruity ? I don’t want to say anything hard of you, Cleaver, but you would be ready to congratulate me.”
“ I admit,” retorted Cleaver, sharply, “ that if she were your equal in station and appropriately educated I should not have a word of objection to say.”
“ And after all, is it the accident of position and fortune, or the human creature, that a man takes to his heart ? ”
“ But her ignorance, Fred ” —
“ Great God! does a man fall in love with a society girl for the sake of what she calk her ‘ education ? ’ Whatever attracts him, it is not that. They are all ignorant; this girl’s ignorance is only relative.”
“ Ah, — you know all that is bosh, Fred.”
“ In point of manner you yourself must concede that she is in many respects superior to them. She has a certain repose and gravity and dignity difficult to find among young ladies of high degree whose education has not proved an antidote for flippancy. I won’t be hard enough on them to compare the loveliness of her face or her fine, unspoiled nature. You don’t want her to be learned any more than you want an azalea to be learned. An azalea in a green-house becomes showy and flaunting and has no fragrance, while here in the woods its exquisite sweetness fills the air for miles.”
“ Trelawney, you are fit for Bedlam.”
“ I knew you would say so. I thought so too at first. I tried to stamp it out, and put it down, and for a long time I fought all that is best in me.”
“ Does she know anything about your feelings ? ”
“ Not one word, as yet.”
“ Then I hope something—anything — may happen to put a stop to it before she does.”
This hasty wish seemed cruel to him afterward, and he regretted it.
“ It would break my heart,” said Trelawney, with an extreme earnestness. “ I know you think I am talking wildly, but I tell you it would break my heart.”
Cleaver fell to meditating ruefully upon the future in store for his friend in this desolate place. King Cophetua and the beggar-maid are a triumph of ideal contrast, eminently fascinating in an ideal point of view. But real life presents prosaic corollaries, — the Teakes, for example, on the familiar footing of Trelawney’s brothers-in-law ; the old crone with her pipe, his wife’s grandmother; that ignorant girl, his wife — oh, these sublunary considerations are too inexorable. In his sluggish, content he would never make another effort; he would always live here; he would sink, year by year, by virtue of his adaptability and uncouth associations nearer to the level of the mountaineers. This culminating folly seemed destined to complete the ruin of every prospect in a fine man’s life.
Cleaver did not know what was to come, and he brooded upon these ideas.
Those terrible problems of existence of which happier men at rare intervals catch a fleeting glimpse, and are struck aghast for a moment, pursued John Cleaver relentlessly day by day. He could not understand this world; he could not understand the waste of himself and his friend in this useless, purposeless way ; he could not even understand the magnificent waste of the nature about him. Sometimes he would look with haggard eyes on the late dawns and marvel that the sun should rise in such effulgence upon this sequestered spot; a perpetual twilight might have sufficed for the threnody, called life, here. He would gaze on Sunrise Rock, forever facing and reflecting the dawn, and wonder who and what was the man that in the forgotten past had stood on these red hills, and looked with his full heart in his eyes upon that sun, and smote the stone to sudden speech. Were his eyes haggard too ? Was his life heavy ? Were his fiery aspirations only a touch of the actual cautery to all that was sensitive within him ? Did he know how his world was to pass away ? Did he know how little he was in the world ? Did he too wring his hands, and beat his breast, and sigh for the thing that was not ?
He did the work that came to him conscientiously, although mechanically enough. But there was little work to do. Even the career of a humble country doctor seemed closed to him. He began to think he saw how it would end. He would be obliged to quit the profession ; in sheer manliness he would be obliged to get to something at which he could work. A terrible pang here. He cared nothing for money, — this man, who was as poor as the very mountaineers. He was vowed to science as a monk is vowed to his order.
It was an unusual occurrence, therefore, when Trelawney came in one day and found that Cleaver had been called out professionally. He sat down to dine alone, but before he had finished carving, his friend entered.
“ Well, doctor,” said Trelawney cheerily, “ how is your patient ? ”
Cleaver was evidently out of sorts and preoccupied. “ These people are as uncivilized as the foxes that they live among,” he exclaimed irrelevantly. “ A case of malignant diphtheria, a physician their nearest neighbor, and they don’t let him know till nearly the last gasp. Then they all go frantic together, and swear they had no idea it was serious. I could have brained that fool, Peter Teake. But it is a hopeless thing now.”
A premonition thrilled through Trelawney. “ Who is ill at Teake’s ? ”
Cleaver was stricken dumb. His professional indignation had canceled all realization of the impending crisis. He remembered Fred’s foolish fancy an instant too late. His silence answered for him. And Trelawney, a sudden blight upon his handsome face, rose and walked out heavily into the splendors of the autumn sunset. Cleaver was bitter with self-reproach. Still he felt an impotent anger that Fred should have persuaded himself that he was in love with this girl, and laid himself liable to this sentimental pain.
“ A heart ! ” thought Cleaver, scornfully. “ That a heart should trouble a man in a place like this ! ”
And yet his own well-schooled heart was all athrob with a keen, undreamedof anguish when once more he had come back from the cabin in the gorge. As he entered, Trelawney, after one swift glance, turned his eyes away. He had learned from Cleaver’s face all he feared to know. He might have learned more, a secret too subtly bitter for his friend to tell. King Cophetua was as naught to the beggar-maid. In her dying eyes John Cleaver had seen the fresh and pure affection that had followed him. In her tones he had heard it. Was she misled by that professional tenderness of manner which speaks so soothingly and touches so softly— as mechanical as the act of drawing off his gloves —that she should have been moved to cry out in her huskily pathetic voice, “ How good, how good ye air! ” and extend to him, amongst all her kindred who stood about, her little sun-burned hand ?
And after that she was speechless, and when the little hand was unloosed it was cold.
She had loved him, and he had never known it until now. He felt like a traitor as he glanced at his friend’s changed face, and he was crushed by a sense of the immense capacity of human nature for suffering. What a great heart-drama was this, with its incongruous and humble dramatis personœ : the little mountaineer, and these two poverty-stricken stragglers from the vast army of men of action, — deserters, even, it might seem. What chaotic sarcasm in this mysterious ordering of events, — Trelawney, with his grand sacrificial passion ; the poor little girl, whose first fresh love had unsought followed another through these waste places; and he, all unconscious, absorbed in himself, his worldly considerations and the dying throes of his dear ambitions. And now, for him, who had felt least of all, was rising a great vicarious woe. If he had known this girl’s heart-secret while she yet lived he might have thought scornfully of it, slightingly ; who can say how ? But now that she was dead it was as if he had been beloved by an angel, and was only too obtuse, too gross, too earthly-minded to hear the rustle of her wings. How pitiable was the thought of her misplaced affection ; how hard it was for his friend; how hard it was for him that he had ever discovered it. Did she know that he cared nothing? Were the last days of her short life embittered with the pangs of a consciously unrequited love ? Or did she tremble, and hope, and tremble again ? Ah, poor, poor, pretty thing !
He had no name for a certain vague, mysterious thrill which quivered through every fibre whenever he thought of that humble, tender love that had followed him so long, unasked and unheeded. It began to hang about him now like a dimly-realized presence. Occasionally it occurred to him that his nerves were disordered, his health giving way, and he would commence a course of medicine to forget it in his preoccupation, and discontinue it almost as soon as begun. What happened afterward was a natural sequence enough, although at the time it seemed wonderful indeed.
One misty midnight, when these strong feelings were upon him, it so chanced that he was driving from a patient’s house on the summit of the ridge, and his way lay beneath Sunrise Rock along the road which encircled the little graveyard of the mountaineers. The moon was bright; so bright that the wreaths of vapor, hanging motionless among the pines, glistened like etherealized silver; so bright that the mounds within the inclosure— Was it the mist ? Was it the moonbeam ? Was it the glimmer of yellow hair ? Did he see, leaning against the palings, “ restin’ awhile,” the graceful figure he remembered so? He was dreaming, surely; or were those deep, instarred eyes really fixed upon him with that wistful gaze which he had seen only twice before ? — once here, where he had met her, and once when she died. She was approaching him ; she was so close he might have touched her hand. Was it cold, he wondered ; cold as it was when he held it last ? He hardly knew, — but she was seated beside him, as in that crimson sunset-tide, and they were driving together at a frenzied speed through the broken shadows of the wintry woods. He did not turn his head, and yet he saw her face, drawn in lines of pallid light and eloquent with some untranslated emotion of mingled wonderment and pleasure and pain. Like the wind they sped together through the mist and the moonbeam, over the wild mountain road, through the flashing mountain waters, down, down the steep slope toward the red brick house, where a light still burned, and his friend was waiting. He did not know when she slipped from his side. He did not know when this mad pace was checked. He only regained his faculties after he had burst into the warm home atmosphere, a ghastly horror in his face and his frantic fright upon his lips.
Trelawney stood breathless.
“ Oh, forgive me,” cried Cleaver. “ I have spoken sacrilege. It was only hallucination ; I know it now.”
Trelawney was shaken. “ Hallucination?” he faltered, with quivering lips.
“ I did not reflect,” said Cleaver. “ I would not have jarred your feelings. I am ill and nervous.”
Trelawney was too broken to resent, to heed, or to answer. He sat cold and shivering, unconscious of the changed eyes watching him, unconscious of a new idea kindling there, — beginning to flicker, to burn, to blaze, — unconscious of the motive with which his friend after a time drew close to the table and fell to writing with furious energy, unconscious that in this moment Cleaver’s fortune was made.
And thus he wrote on day after day. So cleverly did he analyze his own mental and nervous condition, so unsparing and insidious was this curious introversion, that when his treatise on the Derangement of the Nervous Functions was given to the world it was in no degree remarkable that it should have attracted the favorable attention of the medical profession ; that the portion devoted to hallucinations should have met with high praise in high quarters ; that the young physician’s successful work should have brought him suddenly to the remembrance of many people who had almost forgotten poor John Cleaver. No one knew, no one ever knew, its romantic inspiration. No one ever knew the strange source whence he had this keen insight; how his imperious will had held his shaken, distraught nerves for the calm scrutiny of science ; how his senses had played him false, and that stronger, subtler critical entity, his intellect, had marked the antics of its double self and noted them down.
Among the men to whom his treatise brought John Cleaver to sudden remembrance was a certain notable physician. He was growing infirm now, his health was failing, his heavy practice was too heavy for his weakening hands. He gave to the young fellow’s work the meed of his rare approval, cleverly gauged the cleverness behind it, and wrote to Cleaver to come.
And so he returned to his accustomed and appropriate sphere. In his absence his World had flattened, narrowed, dulled strangely. People were sordid, and petty, and coarse-minded; and society — his little clique that he called society — possessed a painfully predominating element of snobs ; men who had given him no notice before were pleased to be noticed now, and yet the lucky partnership was covertly commented upon as the freak of an old man in his dotage, He was suddenly successful, he had suddenly a certain prospect of wealth, he was suddenly bitter. He thought much in these days of his friend Trelawney and the independent, money - scorning aristocrats of the mountains, of the red hills of the Indian summer, and the towering splendors of Sunrise Rock.
That high air was perhaps too rare for his lungs, but he was sensible of the density of the denser medium.
As to that vague and tender mystery, the ghost that he saw, it had been exorcised by prosaic science. But it made his fortune, it crowned his life, it bestowed upon him all he craved. Perhaps if she could know the wonderful work she had wrought in his future, the mountain girl, who had given her heart unasked, might rest more easily in her grave than on that night when she had come from among the moonlit mounds beneath Sunrise Rock, and once more sat beside him as he drove through shadow and sheen. For whether it was the pallid mist, whether it was the silver moon, whether it was the fantasy of an overwrought brain, or whether that mysterious presence was of an essence more ethereal than any, who can know ?
In these days he carried his friend’s interest close to his heart. He opened a way in the crowd, but Trelawney held back from the hands stretched out. He had become wedded to the place. The years since have brought him a quiet, uneventful, not unhappy existence. After a time he grew more cheerful, but not less gentle, and none the less beloved of his simple neighbors. They feel vaguely sometimes that since he first came among them he is a saddened man, and are moved to ask with sympathetic solicitude concerning the news from his supposititious folks “ down thar in the valley whar ye hails from.” The fortune in sheep-farming still eludes his languid pursuit. The red brick house is disorganized and dilapidated as of yore ; a sense of loneliness broods upon it, hardly less intense than the loneliness of the mighty encompassing forest. Deep in these solitudes he often strolls for hours, — most often in the crimson and purple eventides along the road that passes beneath Sunrise Rock and encircles the little graveyard of the mountaineers. Here Trelawney leans on the palings while the sun goes down, and looks with his sore heart bleeding anew upon one grassy mound till the shadows and the tears together blot it from his sight. Sometimes his heart is not sore, only sad. Sometimes it is tender and resigned, and he turns to the sunrise emblazoned on the rock and thinks of the rising Sun of Righteousness with healing in his wings. For the skepticism of his college days has fallen from him somehow, and his views have become primitive, like those of his primitive neighbors. There is a certain calm and strength in the old theories. With the dawn of a gentle and hopeful peace in his heart, very like the comfort of religion, he goes his way in the misty moon-rise.
And sometimes John Cleaver, so far away, as with a second sight becomes subtly aware of these things. He remembers how Trelawney is deceived, and a remorse falls on him in the still darkness, and tears and mangles him. And yet there are no words for confession, — there is nothing to confess. Would his conjecture, his unsupported conviction, avail aught; would it not be cruel to re-open old wounds with the sharp torture of a doubt ? And the daybreak finds him with these questions unsolved, and his heart turning wistfully to that true and loyal friend, with his faithful, unrequited love still lingering about the grave of the girl who died with her love unrequited.
Charles Egbert Craddock.