The Untempered Wind
JOANNA E. WOOD
J. SELWIN TAIT AND SONS
65 FIFTH AVENUE
COPYRIGHT, 1894, BY
J. SELWIN TAIT & SONS.
All Rights Reserved.
THE UNTEMPERED WIND.
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation:"—
It was early spring, the maples were but budding, thebirds newly come and restless, the sky more gray thanblue, and the air still sharp with a tang of frost.Jamestown's streets, however, looked both bright and busy.
Groups of children went to school, hurrying out to thestreet, and looking this way and that for a companion. Amother came to a gate with a little girl, and pointing nowto right, now to left, seemed to give her directions whichway to go. The little girl started bravely. She wore apink cap, and carried a new school-bag. "Hurry on!" agirl called to her, and she advanced uncertainly. Ahesitating dignity born of the new school-bag forbade a decidedrun; her friend's haste forbade her to linger. They metand passed on together.
An old man, with ophthalmia, feeling his way with astick and muttering to himself with loose lips, went by.Two brothers crossed the street together, one swingingalong easily, smoking a pipe, and carrying an axe over hisshoulder; the other advancing with that spasmodic appearanceof haste which seems the only gait to which crutchescan be compelled.
An alert dog rushed madly up the middle of the street,pausing abruptly now and then to look round him withsharp interrogation, as if daring anything to "come on!" Hischallenge was vain, and he was fain to solace himselfby scattering a convention of sparrows, dashing into themidst of them and sending the birds up into the maples,followed by insulting yelps, in reply to which theytwittered in derision.
Homer Wilson drove his team of heavy brown horsesthrough the street at a trot, his sinewy frame clad inweather-beaten blue jeans, his hat pushed far back on hishead, as if to emphasize the defiant breadth of hisforehead.
The woman still strained her eyes after the little girl,now only distinguishable by the brightness of her cap.They say that mothers often watch by the gateways of life.
The groceryman passed to open his store—the baker andbutcher were already busy.
Through this scene of busy commonplace interest andbustle passed a woman, somewhat below the average height,and of strong but symmetrical build. Her face was down-bentand almost hidden in the depths of a dark sunbonnetof calico. All that could well be discerned in this shadowwere two soft, sorrowful eyes, pale cheeks, anddown-drooped lips. No one spoke to her, and she addressed noone. She went from place to place, out of one shop intoanother, with downcast eyes, and with something of thatswift directness with which a bird, startled from its nest atevening, darts with folded wings from covert to covert.She was Myron Holder—a mother, but not a wife.
When under no more sacred canopy than the topaz of asummer sky—with no other bridal hymn than the choralof the wind among the trees—in obedience to no law butthe voice of nature—and the pleading of loved lips—withno other security than the unwitnessed oath of a man—awoman gives herself utterly, then she is doubtless lost.But it must be remembered that the law she breaks is anartificial law enacted solely for her protection: and itmust be conceded that there may be a great and self-subversivegenerosity which permits her to give her all,assuming bonds of sometimes dreadful weight, whilst therecipient goes his way unshackled—uncondemned.
There may be nothing to be said in defence of MyronHolder; but there is much that could be told only withbleeding lips, written only by a pen dipped in wormwood,of the attitude of her fellows towards her.
The world of to-day sees its Madonna, with haloed head,standing amid lilies. The world of her day saw neithernimbus nor flowers; they saw what, to their unbelievingeyes, was but her shame. Let those who jeer withrighteous lips at women such as this poor village outcast,remember that the meek Maid-Mother whom they adoreperchance shrank before the cruel taunts and pointingfingers of women at the doorways and the wells.
Myron Holder left the butcher's to go to the grocerystore; from thence she crossed diagonally to Mrs. Warner's,the woman who, half an hour before, had looked so lingeringlyafter her child. Myron stood at the back door waiting,whilst Mrs. Warner came down stairs to answer herknock. "Mrs. Deans wanted to know if Mrs. Warnerwould lend her the quilting-frames." Mrs. Warnerwould.
Mrs. Warner was a very good woman, therefore shelooked unutterable contempt at Myron Holder, and lefther on the doorstep, whilst she brought out the heavywooden quilting-frames. Mrs. Warner's husband drovethe mail wagon which made one trip daily to the city andback to Jamestown. He would in one hour, as his wifevery well knew, pass Mrs. Deans' door, but she did notconsider that; and as she had watched her own child outof sight, so she watched Myron Holder's laden form passdown the street, out into the country—a large basket inone hand, and the heavy quilting-frames over her shoulder,pressing sorely upon "the sacred mother-bosom," alreadyyearning for the easing child lips.
When clear of the village, Myron Holder slackened herpace a little and setting the basket down for a momentturned back the deep scoop of her sunbonnet, that thecooling wind might breathe its benison upon her cheeks,flushed with shame and hot from the exertion of her rapidwalk with her burden. Stooping slowly down sideways,she reached her basket and taking it up proceeded onher way. Her face shone forth from the dark folds of hersunbonnet, and seemed by its purity of line and expressionto give the lie to the eyes filmed by acknowledged shame;only filmed, however, for the eyes themselves held no vilemeanings, no defiant avowal of guilt, no hint of sinfulknowledge, no glance of callous indifference. She walkedon steadily, the spongy earth beneath her feet seeming tobreathe forth the essence of spring as it inhaled thewarmth of the sunshine.
Presently the sound of wheels came to her. She strovewith her burdened hand to brush forward the shelteringfolds of her sunbonnet, but in vain, as her haste defeatedits object. Her cheeks were shrouded but in a flamingblush as Homer Wilson drove past. He stared at hersteadily; but she did not raise her eyes, and he passed on.His springless wagon jolted over all the stones andinequalities of the country roads; just as Homer Wilsonneither brushed aside obstacles nor skirted them whenthey opposed his path, but, in his obstinate, hard-headedway, rode rough-shod over them, feeling, perhaps, thehurt of their opposition, but never showing that hedid.
Again there was silence on the road. It was too earlyyet for any insect life, and the sparrows did not fly so farfrom the houses, but
"Above in the wind was the swallow
Chasing itself at its own wild will."
The flush for a space died out of her cheeks. As shecontinued on her way the snake-fence changed to a neatboard one, that in turn gave place to one of ornate wire.In the middle of this was a little gate, which she passed;then came a wider five-barred gate through which sheentered, and found her way to the rear of a large whiteframe house, standing in an old apple orchard.
Her steps were bent to the "cook house," an erection ofunplaned pine boards, where, in summer, the kitchen-workof Mrs. Deans' household was carried on. BeforeMyron Holder crossed its threshold, she sent one long lookover to the left, where, leafless yet and gray—save wherea cedar made a sullen blotch of green—the trees ofMr. Deans' woodland bounded her vision in a semi-circularsweep. As she turned her to the doorway, a new expressionhad found place within her eyes—upon her lips—poignantbut indecipherable. For resolution, resignation,and despair are sometimes so analogous as to be inseparable.
"A treasure of the memory, a joy unutterable."
"Her tears fell with the dews at even;
Her tears fell ere the dews were dried.
She could not look at the sweet heaven
Either at morn or eventide."
Myron Holder's father was Jed Holder, the broom-maker.His death occurred when Myron was eighteenyears old. He had clung to his quaint occupation to thelast, after factory-made brooms stood even at the storedoors in Jamestown.
His fortunes had fallen off sadly in the last few years ofhis life, but he worked away as steadily at his trade as inthe old days, when, looking from his door, his eyes weremet by the mast-like masses of a Kentish hop orchard.He had planted hopvines all about the fence of his littlehouse in Jamestown. They clambered up the sides ofthe house, twined insinuatingly about the disdainfulsunflowers, and throwing their tendrils abroad from the rootswound round and round the tall stalks of grass, weighingthem down with the burden of their unsought embrace.
Little Myron was often impressed with the truth that asingle leaf broken from a growing hopvine kills the wholespray. She learned to "pick up her feet," as her fatherexpressed it, and step daintily between the wanderingvines, so that no slurring footstep might injure them.
Jed Holder had carried on the broom-making for manyyears very systematically. Year by year he rented fromSol Disney a bit of the virgin soil of the woodland, andthe tall brown tassel of the broom corn overtopped thestamps in the clearing. Year by year the little patch ofcorn crept nearer and nearer the limit of Disney'sdiminishing woodland—seeming, as Jed Holder said, "tosweep the trees off before it," but being in its turn sweptaside by waves of golden grain.
It was a sore day to Jed Holder when he sent off his firstorder for Western broom corn, forced to do so by theimpossibility of renting ground rich enough to perfectand mature his crop.
In the short winter days Jed used to work in Disney'sbrush helping to "clear" it. In return for his services hereceived all the young maples they encountered: out ofthese in the long winter evenings he fashioned his broomhandles.
Jed never could remember how the knowledge wasconveyed to him that broom handles were being made by thethousands by a machine out of the refuse in the wake oflogging camps.
If the recognition of this iconoclastic fact was not anintuition, it must have been something very like one—sometransmission of a half contemptuous thought fromthe brain of the smart groceryman in the city when heridiculed the price Jed asked for his hand-made brooms.Jed pondered over the matter much, but never could recallthe source of his information. But when he lay in hislast illness, watching the shadow of the hopvine on theblinds, all these tormenting thoughts vanished. Themurmurs that fell from his lips were all of other days, ofhop picking, of England, of Kentish lanes and birds, ofone whom he named lovingly as "Myron lass" and yet didnot seem to identify with the girl who waited upon himso untiringly, under the direction of her grandmother, anold, old woman, bent with rheumatism, and hard of faceand heart, whose lips set cruelly and eyes grew stony whenher gray-haired son babbled of "Myron lass." When helay in his coffin she could not grieve, for raging that hewas not to lie with all his kin in Kent.
She made Myron suffer vicariously for her long deadmother, whose death coming soon after Myron's birth haddriven Jed Holder to seek strange scenes, away from wherehe had known the fullest happiness of which he was capable.
But Myron bore her grandmother's bad temper withpatience and without bitterness. Her father often saidto her, "The yeast is bitter, but it is the yeast