EARLY of a dewy morning the cow, Prudence, driven by Angelica and Willy Flint, came by the house of Mrs. Jerolamon on the Salem road, and, reaching over the fence, ate the tops off the geraniums which stood in brown pots in a row on the edge of the porch. Also she nosed over two of the pots, while Willy Flint looked on and argued as follows: —
“Mrs. Jerolamon’s a scratch cat. She ’ll lay for us pretty good.”
Mrs. Jerolamon was in the barnyard out of sight, Orphan Jane was in the kitchen. Prudence lumbered innocently up the Salem road, with ruin behind her and pleasure before, namely, the browsings in high pasture below the Cattle Ridge. A half hour passed, and nothing more yet happened at the Jerolamon house.
So it is in this world. Your lumbering and milky instinct upsets your orderly potted plants, devours with large warm mouth your careful blossoms, and goes its guileless way to other pleasures; and therefore if your desires are set on things of fragile artifice, let there be some space between your picket fence and your porch, for life goes vagrantly on the highway.
Prudence, the cow, then floated up the Salem road, and turned through the bars into the cattle lane that led past Cumming’s alder swamp and the parti-colored meadows to the hill pastures. Angelica and Willy Flint walked behind her, forgetful almost of Mrs. Jerolamon’s geraniums. They plotted how society might be tempted to other explosions.
Angelica had yellow hair, and a taste for swift emotions. Willy Flint had an industrious intelligence, which kept him experimenting with the eruptive forces that lay hidden in nature and society.
Prudence was a large reddish brown cow with an even disposition, and belonged to Willy and Angelica Flint. Orphan Jane was a person partially adopted by Mrs. Jerolamon. Some unknown ancestor must have passed down to her that temperament which caused her to be fond of silky surfaces; of sucking geranium blossoms, and fingering the leaves, half purring over them the while like a well-fed kitten. She was peculiar in that way, and had two meagre braids of hair, and plump shoulders, and was absentminded. Life under Mrs. Jerolamon had little that was velvety about it; Mrs. Jerolamon’s disposition might well be called “scratchy,” whereas Jane’s disposition resembled that of all creatures bland and bovine, who show by their looks and manner their love of slothful comforts in the flesh. The Salem road ran from the village of Hagar to the village of Salem.
When Jane came out on the front porch at length, in simple search of fallen geranium blossoms, she stopped and stared, seeing the ruins.
When Mrs. Jerolamon came, she cried out, and seized Orphan Jane by the twin braids, and dragged her within.
“I told you to let those geraniums alone!” she cried, slapping with horny hand. “You don’t have any breakfast! You stay there! ” She thrust her tyrannically by the shoulders into the coal shed, and locked the door.
Orphan Jane lay stretched on the coal, and wept in the darkness. Black despair was upon her. She had done no wrong, and was beaten for it, thrust into the coal shed on the hard, grimy coal. She hated slaps. Injustice and sharp-edged coal were both uncomfortable. The palm of Mrs. Jerolamon’s hand had a scratchy, uneven surface. Jane often wondered why she did not soften and smooth it before slapping; but Jane’s questionings never went farther than a certain limpid, incurious wonder.
After a time she lifted her aching eyes, and stared around, and listened; she heard no sound of Mrs. Jerolamon. The only light came through cracks in the boards, and that mainly around the trapdoor through which coal was dumped. The trap was fastened with a catch.
She got up on her knees and crept desperately across the rattling coal, unfastened the catch, and lifted the trap.
The Salem road was empty. The barnyard was empty, except for the hens and their drowsy broods. The meadows were empty, and sloped up to the pastures, which lay under the hazy woods of the Cattle Ridge, miles and miles of cool, deep, gracious woods with millions of green leaves.
She climbed through the trap-door, dropped on the grass, and clambered over the back fence. The barn lay between her and Mrs. Jerolamon’s notice and pursuit, and Mrs. Jerolamon’s slaps.
“I’ll run away, I will!” she said through her gulping sobs. “I’ll never come back! ” She ran across the meadows and past the alder swamp, and followed the cattle lane that wound and lingered upward. In half an hour she came to the hill pastures. The woods were near by.
“There’s Jane Jerolamon!” said Angelica. “She’s crying.” Willy Flint said, “Mrs. Jerolamon scratched her.” Prudence did not look up from the placid business of her appetite. Angelica shouted, “Hi! Jane!” and Orphan Jane came in among the ferns breathlessly.
“I’ll never go back, I won’t!” she broke out, sobbing again.
“Why?” said Angelica with sudden interest.
“I didn’t chew no geraniums, and I did n’t touch ’em! Oh, Oh!”
“Shut up, Angelica,” said Willy Flint calmly.
“You were going to.”
Angelica thought it over and admitted that she was. She put aside anger for the sake of interest. It was Prudence and not Jane who had eaten the geraniums, but let that pass. Angelica had thought of mentioning the fact, but she knew that Willy Flint’s mind worked to ends more important and elaborate than truth. Orphan Jane lay among Ihe ferns and seemed to feel more composed.
“I’m hungry,” she sighed.
“You can have some of Prudence’s milk,” said Willy Flint, dangerously affable. “She’s been milked, but she’s got some more.” He unfastened a tin cup from his belt. “We bring the cup, because sometimes we stay here all day, because it’s a good place, because people don’t come up so high mostly, and then you can hide in the edges of the woods and watch what they do.”
“Hi!” said Angelica, and sprang to her feet. “You can stay up here always, and live on Prudence and huckleberries. They’ll never find you, Jane. Gee whacks!” said Angelica, — for she was not subtle but direct, — “you can sleep nights in the woods and watch fireflies. I wish I was you! ”
Orphan Jane lay with one cheek in the cool moss and the other warmed by the sun. The contrast between the two sensations was interesting. Presently she drank of the milk of Prudence, and felt in all respects comfortable. Sufficient was the pleasantness of the moment. She had no far-seeing mind, industrious, inquisitive, like Willy Flint’s. She had no boiling energy in her, that needs must bubble and burst, like Angelica’s. Sleeping of nights in the woods with fireflies and leaves sounded pleasant enough. She had never done it. She imagined it but vaguely. She was satisfied with the blissful stillness of her comfort. There was no dish-washing here; no sweeping, mopping, dusting, ironing, or soaping; no painful cleanness of any kind; nobody to push one into coal cellars or into ways of life against one’s nature.
A woodchuck on a near-by hillock came out of his hole and crawled about, sprawling fatly along the ground. Prudence fed between the rocks, cropping violets and columbine, with heavy, somnolent breathing.
Between eleven and twelve by the church clock Willy Flint and Angelica came down the Salem road, and stopped at the Jerolamon house. Mrs. Jerolamon sat in the front room, looking grim.
“Mrs. Jerolamon,” said Willy Flint, “Prudence ate your geraniums this morning. She reached over the fence. I guess my mother’ll give you some others. I did n’t see you anywheres.”
“What!” said Mrs. Jerolamon.
“Prudence eats all sorts of things. Her mouth’s so big she don’t mind.”
Late in the afternoon a neighbor came to visit Mrs. Jerolamon, and found her weeping in the front room. She had fought with her conscience since noon, and was beaten.
“She’s run away!” she said. “I ain’t done right by the child.”
From then on inquiry ran through the village of Hagar: “Who’s seen Jane Jerolamon?” Willy and Angelica Flint fled from the breath of inquiry.
It was after five o’clock when they came to the hill pastures, and, searching, found no Orphan Jane, no Prudence, and said, “They must be in the woods.”
There was only one wood road leading up the Cattle Ridge from the pastures. It went up, winding, grassy, overshadowed, for a half mile, and then split and split again. One could wander back and about a score of miles on the Cattle Ridge, by trail and cart path, and still be in the woods.
The sun was low when they came out into the pastures again.
“Now you’ve done it, Willy Flint!” said Angelica. “You’re too smart for anything!”
“You can say you did n’t do it, if you like,” said Willy Flint coldly, and Angelica surrendered.
“I won’t either;” and she added proudly, “They would n’t believe it.”
“I guess they’re stirred up pretty good,” he said, looking down on the village of Hagar, as one looks on an anthill after poking it. “I wonder what Jane did.”
A generation ago empty houses, in lonely spots and by-roads of New England, used commonly to disappear piecemeal, as if eaten by mice. Let a few years pass, and nothing would be left but the chimney and cellar and a heap of plaster. Such a house, so deserted, would suffer little change now from year to year. Vagrancy laws have arisen and driven from the country roads those nibbling rodents, happy lotus-eaters, clients of chance and change, snatchers up of the world’s overflow, pilferers of the honey of industry. Elsewhere, men say, they are droning still, but no more, as in old times, are they common as bumblebees on summer highways of Hagar. The tramp is a decayed institution in the neighborhood. He has gone elsewhere. But hardly a day would pass then, except we saw one plodding in the sunlit road, or dozing aside in the shadow. They camped in barns and deserted houses, and shiftlessly used up their shelters for firewood.
Looking back through the perspective of years, I fancy they must have varied greatly in type, though most of them were possessed by a common instinct. Some were criminals, or petty thieves; some mere lumps of heavy indolence; some men of character and intelligence, some of intelligence without character; some permanent vagabonds, some temporary. But one and all, they gave to the children of Hagar of that generation an advantage over the children of this, who have lost one of the clues to those kingdoms of infinite outreachings, and to “that untraveled world whose margin fades forever.” Where did they come from, and where did they go to ? we asked. They were like the winds blowing where they listed. They came and went like night or heat, gradual, leisurely, and elemental.
When the noonday sun, that day, made it too hot among the ferns, Orphan Jane drove Prudence into the grassy cart path that led up the Cattle Ridge. She did not mean to go far from the pasture. The cool green duskiness drew her on, the scent of leaves and moss, and the flutings of wood-thrushes and veeries. Prudence ate a bit of herbage here and there. Paths and cart roads crossed and twisted. No one knows which paths they really followed. Jane could give no account of them, or say whether at some point she entered one that differed in its nature from the others, one that no woodchopper had cut, or cattle trod before. She reveled in the vague green light and the suave sense of idleness. When hungry she milked Prudence sufficiently into the tin cup. Somehow she must have reached the broad crest of the Cattle Ridge, which runs east and west.
Some time — and that far past the middle of the afternoon — she started up from the tufted moss, thinking that Willy Flint and Angelica would be coming to the pasture for Prudence. She realized that she had been asleep. She turned Prudence in the opposite direction from that in which she had come.
In the wood roads of the Cattle Ridge, turning in the opposite direction from that in which one had come did not mean, without doubt, that one got back to the starting point. There were critical choices, paths that hinted, faltered, and misled. Jane hurried on. She came at last into a track that went downward, overarched and grassy. By the growing duskiness it must be late. She saw the light below, where the road broke into the open. She hurried down rejoicing, and came out on a sloping pasture. A wide prospect lay before, of an unknown land.
The sun was setting in the east, instead of in the west as in commonly regulated countries. Far below and beyond stretched strange, dim farm lands, glints of a river, mysterious hills, and a distant lake winding and shimmering. There were spires of leafy villages in sight, but no village of Hagar, no touch of familiar landscape. It was all dim, eerie, and unknown, hushed, motionless, dimly beautiful. On the lower edge of the pasture stood a small, old, half-ruined house.
Prudence moved down the pasture, lowing uneasily. They came to the ruined little house, whose glassless windows stared at them.
A few hundred feet lower still a highway ran past, plunging downward through the woods.
They came about the corner of the house. A man in a long black coat sat on the grass, listening. He seemed to have been lying down, and was smoking a large whitish pipe with a hanging tassel. Prudence and Jane stopped short and were dumb.
The man in black looked to and fro, from one to the other. He said nothing for a long time, but smoked, looked at them. He seemed somewhat like Alice’s Caterpillar, who sat on a mushroom, and smoked a hookah, and was very critical. At last he took his pipe from his mouth, and said in a deep voice: —
“Are you two any relations?”
“I’m Jane, sir.”
“But no relations?”
“No, sir. She belongs to Willy Flint and Angelica.”
He put his pipe back in his mouth, and fell to smoking again, contemplative and impassive. Prudence moaned and grumbled. Jane asked timidly: —
“Can you tell me which is the way to go to Hagar?”
“Hagar!” said the man in black sharply. “Ah! Very likely. I suppose you may have been in some such place once. But, child, you don’t ‘go’ anywhere in this country, you know, or come, or travel at all between places. One is here, or there, or anywhere, just as one happens. You must have been translated, too, same as me.”
Jane remonstrated. “But I came from Hagar.”
“Tut! You are deceived. How do you fancy it happened?”
She came nearer, and stood beside him, and told of the day’s adventures, though he smoked silently all the time, and she felt more and more eerie and unsettled, — “different,” as she afterwards expressed it. The landscape was vanishing rapidly in the dusk.
“There it is!” he said at last. “I thought so. You go to sleep on the moss. You wake up. You don’t notice that things have changed, but they have, in the twinkle of an eye. It’s hobgoblins, or genii. They generally do things that way, and they’re always hanging around, you know. You come out of the woods, and where do you find yourself? Why, here, of course. It happened to me much the same. Why, you see, my name was Abdullah, Prince of Shinar, and this afternoon I was walking in my palace gardens, and lay down on a — on a bed of roses, and fell asleep, and woke up, and I was here. How ? Translated, of course. Where ? How should I know ? It’s all the same thing. There, you see how it is, Jane. We’re enchanted, you and I and Prudence. That’s the way we’re fixed. Perhaps you ’re not used to it, but it often happens to me. I get enchanted every two or three weeks. Likely we ’ll both be changed back some time to-night. Maybe Prudence will be translated to Hagar, maybe to Shinar.’ It depends on who does it. Genii always do things regular, but hobgoblins are tricky, so if you take my advice you shun hobgoblins and tie up to genii. Can you milk a cow ?”
“So can I, some, but not well. It dribbles.”
He lay on his back and talked while Jane milked cupfuls out of Prudence. They drank, taking turns, until both were satisfied, and Prudence more at ease; and indeed Jane held the state of being enchanted for a comfortable state. Wherever it might be situated, it did very well. The world according to Abdullah differed from the world according to Mrs, Jerolamon in a number of beneficial respects. One did not take pains in it, nor thoughts for the morrow.
A vast number of things he must have said to Jane, for so many of them to remain in her placid and literal memory. He must have maintained long sentimental monologues, while the great full moon came up and looked at them over the wood’s edge. Something about Jane must have pleased him, her serenity, perhaps, her uncritical acceptance.
“I like you, Jane, you and Prudence,” he said, “for you are sisters in soul. You never ask ‘Why?’ You and I, Jane, are also alike. I, too, object to the angles of this world. Its injustice disagrees with me. I think its ugliness not appropriate. Now, over such as you and me strange influences have power, which carry us whither we know not. We become minions of the moon, squires of the night’s body, pensioners of nature. Infinity is our patron. In the fashion of common speech, what are we now ? Such stuff as dreams are made of, occupants of a sleep. ’ ’ What he was saying when Jane fell asleep, or for some time back, she did not know. Ilis voice died away gradually in her ears, a monotonous murmur.
When Abdullah noticed this, he must have risen, and plucked armfuls of fern and other weeds, and softly covered her, for so covered she found herself in the morning. It may have been then — it was probably at least long before dawn — that he took a blank sheet of paper, perhaps from his pocket, and on it printed in large letters, that Jane might read, supposing her facility small, as follow’s: —
Take the road to the right. It leads to Salem. There are witches in Salem. They will tell you how to get to Hagar. Prudence was translated to Shinar.
He thrust a stick through the paper, and the stick upright in front of Jane. Still she slept under her coverlet of weeds. Did he linger to look at her face, pleasure-loving Jane, round-faced, guileless, dreaming Jane, Jane with the moonlight on her eyelashes, Jane watched and wondered at by the stars ? Certainly he milked Prudence somewhat, for he left the tin cup full, and on a stone hard by, against Jane’s awakening. Certainly he departed, driving Prudence before him, down the open to the highroad. There he must have turned her to the left, and vanished from the moonlight in the woods.
He was seen no more, nor Prudence. The land below had many roads. Whither such roads led, or what would happen to one who set himself to follow them earnestly, was always a mooted point with the children of Hagar.
Orphan Jane found her way back to Hagar, with the tin cup in her hand. Mrs. Jerolamon wavered in mind between weeping over Jane and putting her in the coal shed again, but wept in the end, and let the coal shed go. Prudence was never found. Reddish brown cows are not distinct and memorable, except to their intimates. Was she sold to some migrant cattle dealer ? Who knows ?
But the adventure of Orphan Jane became one of the possessions in legendry of the children of Hagar. Her shadowy wanderings, the meeting with Abdullah, both came to us only through Jane’s confused report. There was Abdullah’s letter, besides, which spoke of the translation of Prudence, but no more. Jane did not know how she got to Salem, except that she followed a road. She remembered no directions. Like “Kilmeny,” she “had been she knew not where,” save that it was on, or beyond, the Cattle Ridge; nor how, except that Abdullah called it enchantment; nor why, which, Abdullah said, was a word that wise persons would have nothing to do with.
Abdullah suffered a change as the myth grew in our minds. Sometimes we thought of him with Prudence in rose gardens of Shinar, but mainly we saw him forever going behind her, through moonlight and shadow, on endless but hopeful roads, on the Cattle Ridge, or the land beyond. The smoke of his pipe clothed the Cattle Ridge in haze. We heard the lowings of Prudence in those strange sounds in nature “ that come a-swooning over hollow grounds.”
In the story which is called Kilmeny, one reads, —
— which means an open space, pasture, or clearing, —
— that is to say, a house, —
— which means, not simply a person, but a companionable person,—
And down in yon green wood he walks his lane,”
that is, by himself, alone.
But you, O Abdullah, walk with Prudence. Out of your iniquities, which were doubtless many, out of your touch of kindness which was perhaps but casual, came a benefit unforgotten, the fine gift of a fruitful legend. It may well be that you were in fact a man whom some taint or degenerate tendency had driven out to be a pariah among men. It may have been but an odd incident in your singular life, in the course of your adventurous, and no doubt reproachful, career. We never knew, for you out of the unknown came, and went back, much as every soul in this world comes out of the unknown and goes back.