“John, you’re an old kidnapper, that’s what you are!”
“Sure I’m glad, but I think you’re a menace to the country, all the same.”
“What do you propose to do about it, Janie?”
“That’s just what I’m trying to figure out. Dangerous business, you know, to transplant a person several hundred miles without even giving them a chance to breathe. New York — presto! — the Maine woods.”
“But you are glad?”
“Yes, that’s the one flaw in my arguments. I am glad.”
“I want to be — oh, awfully good to you, Jane. After all, I took you away, almost by main force, to spend your nasty little two-weeks vacation at my sister’s house in Portland, and now I’ve got to be good.”
“You’re incredible, Johnnie. I always knew that — ever since you said: ‘Why doon’t ye pin a note on the duck?’ Remember?”
John threw back his head and laughed happily. His eyes met the rare blue of the sky over Maine on a clear day. She looked up too — not at tenements or skyscrapers, but into a wavering lattice of pine branches. A green and gold dragonfly whisked overhead. A song sparrow was chattering about summer time and the sun. This was Maine again. It had not been an illusion. There was really sunlight here.
Now that she was sure, she dared to remember a time, not long ago, when there had been a creeping darkness around her, over her — stifling, thunderous. She beat her wings in anguish against iron — and no release, no hope, no beauty, seemed even remotely true any more. The world was a glum black smudge. No prospect of its ever changing. You marched on, round and round, until you fell gasping from exhaustion. And she had too much strength to fall from exhaustion. Life was apparently hardest on strong people, then. The weaklings could simply die.
She remembered how she had cursed the world, hated the world, screamed at the world for driving Davidson off from her — for driving him off into the clean wide seas on an endless quest. In a way the victory was his, for he had not compromised with love. He had taken the iridescent essence of it in the palm of his hand, sorted out of it every grain of earthly dust, locked it up and thrown the key into his ocean. His victory and hers — but at the price of all the happiness in life. The sun had gone out — civilization had extinguished it as though it were a frail candle.
She had been deathly tired and sick — more so, it seemed, than during her days in the open boat. She remembered standing at Times Square one afternoon, waiting to cross to the subway entrance, and the ring of buildings had moved unsteadily and rocked in upon her, throwing ghastly shadows, and then wheeled back to leave cosmic spaces. Throngs and floods of people had swept by like an ugly wind; and over their roaring and droning a babel of sharper voices had hovered, each one clamoring for instant attention. “Jane, won’t you marry me?” “Aw, shucks, kid, cut out the lion-fever stuff. Don’t be a weepin’ willer.” “Have you seen my glasses, by any chance?” “Somewhere — there may be another island.”… The traffic lights changed — the currents of people mingled, conflicted, altered. She went on with them blindly, and fell down the subway entrance into complete darkness.…
“You’re right, Johnnie, I ought to be much more gracious about the way you yanked me out and set me down in my woods again. Tell me — I’m a little browner and sunnier today, aren’t I?”
“Yes, now you’re — you’re almost Jane, instead of that little wispy ghost with hollow cheeks and immense tragic eyes.”
“It’s the woods,” she told him, laughing. “I belong here, you know.”
Always the woods had calmed her. They were home. She could bend her body lithely among close brush and low branches. She could make her way with amazing soft-footedness — almost as quietly as the rustling squirrels and rabbits themselves. She loved the fragrance of wintergreen and sassafras leaves, and balsam needles. Years ago, when life had seemed very complex considering its futility, she would go out alone among leaves and moss, hills and streams, and they would sweep away the world’s tangles much as she brushed aside dewy cobwebs in the undergrowth. Now, in this bitterest experience of her life, had the woods lost their magic?
At first it seemed as though they had. Every creature, every leaf-shadow, every spore-laden fern, was in tune, while she was an outsider, grieving, unfulfilled. She felt white and conspicuous in a world where all colors blended as though they had grown there. And she could remember only the Lost Island forest, where she and Davidson had walked together, as part of each other and part of their world.
But after all there was sunlight here. Pastures ripe with steeplebush and gold-green hayscented ferns, luscious with blueberries. Pine groves and wild flowers and small animals. Walking alone for miles along narrow roads. Sometimes a deer dashed across in front of her, wide-eyed and alert, white tail in the air. Or a partridge would start up with a thunderous whir of wings. She would push into the woods after awhile, and wander quietly among shadows of leaf and light, quick to see a scattering of yellow lady-slippers or a cluster of white and lavender orchids. Sometimes a lizard — small curl of reddish color — would move against a wet brown leaf; or a chipmunk scurry by, his cheek pockets well stuffed. Veeries sang in golden spirals. And in the evening, hermit-thrushes answered each other from tree to tree.
There were countless things to be discovered when you roamed about outdoors, alone and in sunlight. She knew now the answer to a question she had asked long ago — when people were in love, were they still alone? Yes, always alone. Everyone on earth who thought about it at all was isolated, starkly, completely. Love gave a divine illusion. It gave companionship developed to the most subtle pitch — but beyond that it was an illusion. You were alone.
The Maine forest had taken her now, and it was pounding her against its earth, stripping away her half-shattered ragged rainbow. She was alone. And there was nothing to be counted on, anywhere. There were these woods, of course, but someday men from cities would come breaking in, and find here deposits of iron or of coal, or strip the place of its trees to build their own super-civilized dwelling places. Not even the woods, then, could really be counted on. Life was transitory, shifting, mirage-like.
Still, these forests would probably last her lifetime, after all. And then the candle goes out. She threw her arms impulsively around the trunk of a splendid young white pine, and laid her head against its rough bark. It reminded her of the day when she had first climbed the main rigging of the Annie Marlow, when she had clung to the sturdy topmast for strength and support. This was a very sympathetic white pine. Perhaps, in days gone by, it had been personally acquainted with that topmast. She almost felt that it was on communicative terms with her. A gust of wind shook its upper boughs — the masses of needles went sparking silver in the sun, and a vibration ran through the staunch old trunk. Its roots were in the earth, and its branches in the sun, and that was a good way to live.
Nothing could be counted on, all was transitory, and you were alone. Those facts were rather difficult foundations for a house of life, but perhaps you could build upon them, if you knew how. Or perhaps it was better to forget all houses and be like this tree, roots in the earth, boughs in the sun. A world of philosophy there — whole dusty bookshelves of it in two phrases!
This tree seemed permanent enough. For the time being, and for her, it could serve. Not even the earth was really permanent. Perhaps someday something would go wrong with the machinery of the universe — the balance would be upset — and the earth would go catapulting into its sun like a very small moth into a gigantic flame. But for the time being, this tree would serve well.
She looked straight up at the sky through surges of silver-green. Big bright clouds rolled by smoothly. She stared at them a long time, and then felt the swift sensation that she, her pine tree, and all the woods, all the world, were falling slantingly. She held on and watched, and drifted more and more into the swinging illusion of the thing. She and the pine tree were falling through space together. It was a long fall, and an oddly companionable one. She laughed a little at that. Life was relentless, but there was nothing more it could take away from her. She clung to her tree, ruthlessly divested by life of an entire world — a complete paradise — but the magic had been, and it was hers — as much hers and as real as anything could be in a transitory earth where no one could entirely possess anything.
The first thing to do was to dispose of this abysmal sorrow. Intellectually, logically, she had banished it long ago — in fact, on the day they had parted, and she had opened her arms to release him. “My mind’s right with you,” she told his shadow afterwards, “but oh, beloved, my heart’s making bad weather of it.”
He was right, of course. To take a love that had been divine, and force it to continue on a worldly plane, might have been cruel and heartless, and led to a towering disillusion. Better to sorrow, then — better to sorrow your heart out. This way, the essence of the rainbow could be forever treasured, preserved in its crystal. Uncared for, it might have waned until at last the crystal was only an empty shell.
Nothing in life was permanent. That was a terrible fact to take and be on friendly terms with. You were content to let most things shift and change, but there were a few you craved to hold with might and main. That was where bitterness came in — when you saw that this changing was a relentless river, eventually carrying everything away with it, bringing new things, carrying them away.
Even beauty changed. You changed. You were caught in the midst of complex currents of continual change. Perhaps it was good, if only you could accept it completely — if only your heartstrings would accept it. Perhaps it could keep you alive and happy and excited, if you knew how to use it. That was how you revolved in harmony with the world, instead of trying to buck it, to alter its direction according to yours.
Jane laughed, then. To complain, as she sometimes did, at the absence of change, then to struggle with the fact of continual change; to call herself a rebel, a hater of civilization, and then to philosophize about revolving along with the world…. It was impossible to solve anything there. You went round and round in circles. And all those conflicting thoughts had some measure of truth. She felt that at last she had come to a point of vantage — a mountain outlook where she could rest awhile and study the landscape. She saw it all below — a confusion of feelings and opinions and complaints spread out in complex circular patterns. All had a touch of absurdity. They were all true, they were all false, they all conflicted. Life was a complex circular pattern. It was absurd to believe anything too strongly — absurd to want anything too much — certainly absurd to be unhappy. She should be happier than most. She could survey the thing from a mountain outlook, and see it in totality, whereas if you lost yourself down there you took it all very seriously and followed some strand on and on without even realizing that it was circular and that there was no use in it. And she thought of the man pursuing the horizon in Stephen Crane’s poem….
Some of her feelings and thoughts she could confide to John. He would understand pieces of them, and they would discuss life animatedly as though it were an intellectual adventure. He would carefully follow all her winding passageways, but only with his mind. When it came to living, there were no winding passageways and no corners that were for him especially dark. When life was difficult, he went away and climbed a mountain, and came back with his heart washed in star-dust and his hope and faith high. If only she could go back from the Maine woods to New York feeling like that!
Till now she had hardly dared to think about New York, even for a minute. Now she would set to work systematically to map out and build up for herself a possible life there. Millie had gone on the road, so there was the question of a new roommate, for instance. And a job. Maybe there was another job in the world beside that grubby little one in Professor Myers’ office. She would ask John that evening. He had various surprising contacts with editors, printers, publishers. How about a bookstore? It might actually be fun to sell books. She would become adept at looking at a customer and knowing what was wanted. She would learn how to advise solicitous aunts what to buy for their infant nieces, or what a strapping father should present to his daughter on her birthday….
A qualm of despair rushed over her, a little shudder of rebellion. Why did people have to go on this way, fighting the world to wring a meager living out of it through devious channels? Channels? Gutters, rather! Why weren’t the trees enough? Why couldn’t one dance in fairy circles and thrive on frosty red wintergreen berries? Well, there was John. She distinctly saw that thought, overhead and a little to one side, hovering elusively. It must keep on hovering for some time before she could use it. Perhaps it would never come any nearer or be any brighter….
Now to stop rambling and get back to that city. She would miss this tree. She and it had lived through some vivid moments together…. There was the roommate question to attend to. She would need someone who was very happy. A happy person in New York? Doubtless there were a few, but they would be harder to find than fairies. One by one, she thought about the girls she knew, beginning, as nearly as she could judge, at the top of the happiness list. It was amusing to speculate about them this way. They ranged themselves in her mind like a row of marigolds, the brightest at one end, shading by degrees to duller, more wilted ones. After awhile she came to the very end of the line….
It was a long time since she had found courage to call on Margaret Kingsley, in her miserable corner down town, with not even a window-box of pansies for company. But now that the Maine woods had stiffened up her back a little, perhaps she could use this new strength — hold on to it by using it — by playing tree to somebody else. She had long been used as a tree by her friends. It was odd, and significant, that in her need she could turn only to the original tree itself — roots truly in the earth, branches waving in the sun!
Suddenly, from overhead, came a rush of song — notes that were clear and cool as moonstones, trailing up to a cascade of opals. Into the song of that hermit-thrush had crept all the joy mingled with all the sadness of her thoughts since she had come out by herself into the woods. As if the bird understood. Sunlight glanced through the leaves. The woods were alive and breathing gently. She was a pagan. She was in tune with them…. Clinging in silence to the white pine tree, she closed her eyes, but the cloud motion went on. She fell softly through infinite space, while a hermit-thrush sang. A far cry from New York!…
“Margie, you look grand this morning in that green dress.”
“Really like it, Jane? I think it’s not so bad.” Margaret Kingsley was brushing her hair thoughtfully in front of the little mirror.
“Yes, he’s meeting me at the store, after I finish selling corsets to my ugly old ladies.”
“Oh, well, I’ll be at my books all day, too — selling sex books to timid little women, books on woodcraft and fishing to pudgy business men, and the mediocrest novels you ever saw to everybody.”
“Don’t forget you found Howard Castle in that bookstore of yours.”
“You don’t let me forget it, do you?”
“Honest, Jane, I can’t so much as think about him without being practically electrocuted…. It’s a good life, you know.”
“Sure, I know. Nasty weather today, though.” Jane drew aside a rather dingy curtain and looked out into gray sheets of rain.
“Oh, by the way, Jane, I was thinking — whatever has become of John these days? Haven’t seen him in ages.”
“He went to Canada to nurse his battered emotions. Didn’t I tell you?”
Margaret turned around. “Why don’t you marry the poor guy and put him out of his misery?” she inquired.
“I may sometime.”
“I think he’s gorgeous,” said the other; then turned to her brushing again.
“Well, marry him yourself, and save me the trouble,” Jane suggested.
“Janie, you aren’t still — married to a ghost, are you?” A visible tremor went through the girl as she spoke. “Oh, Jane, it sounds so cold and shivery — married to a ghost.”
“Don’t talk about ghosts in weather like this. I’ve got to go to work, you know — smile all day at the dear customers — if any.”
It seemed to Jane that during the last year she and Margaret had pulled each other up pretty well, braced back to back. They had taken all the best odds and ends of life that they could find, and mingled them into a mosaic sort of pattern which was life. “Not much like the dreams, Marg, but it isn’t so bad, either, if we stick together.”
Still, Margaret was right. There was no sense at all in being married to a ghost. You could love the past and hold it sacred, but it was futile to try to live by it in the present — to mingle the two and build the present upon the dream that had been. Millie would doubtless have called her “Mrs. Ghost.” The thought made her chuckle, and she wished Millie were on hand to share it. She missed Millie a good deal, especially these last few weeks, for it seemed that Margaret’s standing was precarious — that any day now would see her carried off, body and soul, by her young poet. But then, any day now Millie would come home.
She would come in late some evening, with a great scuffling of heels and a gorgeous painted mouth, wearing a skin-tight black satin dress and a fluffy black fur-piece thrown casually over one shoulder. “Hello, lioness!” she would shout gaily. And Jane would never mention Mrs. Ghost at all….
And then it would be just as it was five years ago. Margaret would marry her poet, but Millie’s fifteenth — or was it sixteenth? — fiancé would be sent packing. Millie was now further along in the world of vaudeville and choruses, and Jane worked in a bookstore instead of an entomological research bureau, at a wage of five dollars a week more, but otherwise… it was fearful to think of civilization going on and on like this, trying to kid itself into believing it was eternal and immortal.
She had an odd sensation, then, as though, like the light princess in MacDonald’s enchanting fairy tale, she had lost her gravity. It was incredible that she should come back from her kingdom outside the world — come back and be able, even painfully, to adapt herself to life on earth again. It was incredible that the earth should still exist. She and it both should have undergone some supreme transformation. Instead of which — here she was. She was conscious that a few floating ragged streamers of rainbow still clung about her. She must carefully strip them off now, and put them into the trash-basket. In a few minutes it would be time to sally out to work. And you couldn’t go to a respectable job in a bookstore with rainbow rags drifting about your shoulders, or star-dust in your hair….
Jane laughed again, but there was a gleam of danger in her eye. Sometime, not too far off, she would stage another rebellion. It would not be the same kind of rebellion, though. One could never repeat the real adventures. That was why so many people were unhappy, she reflected. They tried to go back and repeat the things that had made them happy before. They tried to retrace the trail and visit again the places where they had known their highest ecstasies; whereas, if only they had the courage to push on, forward, over deserts and swamps and glaciers, they would sometime make new discoveries as bright as the others, or even brighter, perhaps…. One good way to start a rebellion was to buy a red, red skirt….
The rain surged down with a steady drone. Well, it was time to go to work. Couldn’t hang about the window all day. She peered out once more into the gray. As fas as she could see, not even a cat was out.
Although the name of the mountain hut isn’t given in Barbara’s story, she can only be referring to Lakes of the Clouds, which is about an hour’s walk from the summit of New England’s highest peak, Mt. Washington. Oakes Gulf, where “Jo” makes camp, is not far from the hut, to the south-south-east, between today’s Dry River Trail and Davis Path. It is beautiful country.
MOTHBALLS IN THE MOON by Barbara Newhall (sic) c/o N. Rogers, 3 Perrin Road, Brookline, Mass.
A wild dawn with the bare peak cutting it sharply–a surge of fire, setting aflame the wings of mist that clung about the tallest mountain of them all, the one that jutted up across an abyss of shadows. Nearer peaks stood in a long half circle, waiting for the sun. The distance was a blur of deep blue. Ravines were a nameless purple mystery. On the nearest peak, at its very summit, two figures stood in silhouette against red clouds–very small figures, alone and exalted. Each carried a pack. They were pilgrims, standing in awe before the creation of a world.
The sun thrust bright spears upward, and the mountains changed–softened a little through golden haze. Patches of yellow grass grew more yellow between gray rocks. Somewhere below in the scrub a white-throated sparrow called.
“That’s better than a cock crowing,” said one figure to the other.
Streamers of green scrub reached out of chasms; but the peaks escaped those grasping fingers–escaped jaggedly into the sun, which shone on their summits, leaving the rest of the earth in dark soft turmoil. In the gulch just below, a tiny lake gleamed among naked rocks. Not far from it stood a hut built of that same gray rock.
The two people lingered a moment more. Then they turned and went down the steep cone, with the confident sure-footedness of people who had done it many times and knew how. They were dressed in shorts and blue shirts. Both the man and the woman were very much browned by summer sun.
“This weather is unbelievable for the first of October,” he was saying. “It’s going to be hotter than midsummer–a midsummer’s day dream.”
“There’s hardly a breath of wind,” said the woman. “And the clouds are burning off fast. I’ve never yet been over this ridge in good weather.”
At a distance no one would have taken her for a woman. Shorter than her companion, she was very slender, but it was a slenderness which hinted at wiry strength and not fragility. Her short black hair was combed straight back from her forehead. She was plain but in the same way that mountains are plain; she was so much part of them that when she stood still you hardly noticed her–she became one with the landscape itself. When she smiled, which was often, there were clusters of fine wrinkles at the corners of her eyes. Blue eyes, in some lights very blue, under dark brows.
They trudged along in silence. Meanwhile the sun rose higher, lighting up the tall bare cones more and more, casting yellow trails into the ravines. Now they could see that the undulating blanket of trees on the floor of the world was aflame with the savage brilliance of New Hampshire autumn. The distance was composed of waves and waves of soft blue mountains.
To exclaim at the grandeur of the landscape was a little against the rules. It violated unspoken conviction that all this was far aloof from words–that to define it, describe it, was something of a profanity and a sacrilege. The man only said: “Let’s take our time. There’ll be a moon tonight.”
He was brown and rugged and rough, cut out to enjoy a strenuous life. Clear-eyed, straight-backed, with a big square chin; no city dust about him, or city polish, either. The sun had bleached his wavy brown hair until it was straw-colored on top. He had a wide mouth and a generous grin that came from deep down. Now that his face was so dark, the bleached hair and blue eyes looked out of place, as if oddly he were Nordic and Indian in one.
Their trail led steeply up the next peak. They were hot now–hard work, carrying a pack over this country. Their hobnails clicked on the rocks. They took long strides, bending their backs a little, breathing deeply. Presently Don stripped off his blue shirt. The hair on his chest was spun gold.
The sun was irresistible for basking. They stopped in the next hollow, and threw their packs into the springy growth of scrub fir, grasses, and hardy plants. There were tart red mountain cranberries to nibble.
“Well, Jo? Has this trip been up to the others?”
“I think it’s been the best of all,” she answered, smiling.
“How did the experiment of leaving your paints behind work out? Have you missed them much?”
“To tell the truth, I’ve felt freer without ’em, Don. I haven’t got the proper artistic spirit, I guess. The really great things can’t be painted, anyway. It’s fun to try, of course, but I’m glad I haven’t felt obliged to, this time.”
“There’s one thing, Jo, that’s puzzled me on and off these three years. Every summer we’ve thrown up all convention and gone camping together for as many weeks as we could wangle from our respective bosses. We’ve slept side by side; we’ve swum naked together; and–well, I don’t believe I’ve even kissed you, have I? How d’you explain that?”
“I don’t, she answered. “But I think it’s swell. This life out-of-doors doesn’t need any kissing mixed in.”
“It’s funny,” he said. “I like you in every way heaps better than the girls I run around with winters in Boston–and God knows I kiss them.”
“Well, I like you better than the men I kiss in New York. Who says kissing’s a measure of how you like a person?”
“You’re amazing, Jo. I don’t know another girl who can be honest, or who can walk five steps.”
“And I don’t know another man who can really swing an ax. But there’s no reason we should get married just because we’re good at having vacations together.”
“Some people think we ought to, though,” he reminded her.
“Don’t I know? Meddlesome old fools! What do they know about us? I don’t want to get married, anyway. Keeping house and raising brats isn’t my stuff, obviously. There are plenty of women good at that. Besides, you and I don’t need each other in the winter. You’ve got your engineering research in Boston, and I’ve got my job in New York teaching drawing, and trying to learn a little about it myself, on the side. We go back to work, tomorrow, and forget all about each other. Then next summer we get together, fall half in love in our particular curious way, without kissing…”
“Where shall we go next summer?” he asked.
“Well, how about that long-dreamed-of canoe trip in Maine that we’re always putting off in favor of something else?”
“How about going to Katahdin, and spending more time there?” he echoed.
“I’d like to go over the Mahoosucs again, for that matter, from south to north,” she said.
“What’s more, it would be fun to stay at that fern-pickers’ camp in the Green Mountains.”
“And sometime,” she went on, “we want to get to work on that shack we’ve been going to build for so long on an island in Moosehead Lake.”
Silence, and exchange of smiles.
“Want a piece of chocolate?” he inquired. “Might as well clean up those emergency rations now.”
“Thanks, but cranberries ‘ll do me fine.”
“About that canoe trip, Jo–which tent would you think?”
“Oh, the little one–the Baker.”
“Might be convenient to have the big one for a change,” he suggested. “We don’t have to go so light, with a canoe; and it would be easier to live in if we wanted to stop for a few days at some likely island.”
“We don’t live *inside*, Don. Besides, the little one’s so much easier to set up and take down.
“That’s true enough. I think I could improve a bit on the design of it, though. Remember how it caught the wind that day at Tyler Cove? If I cut it to taper at the back… make it another pound lighter, too.”
They had not talked much all summer. Now, as they were about to leave these wild free hills, they were overwhelmed with a host of things they wanted to say to each other. The forenoon slipped by in a long cascade of sunshine. Time for lunch–cheese, chocolate, and raisins. Don fetched out his pipe. Joanna had taken off her shirt, and was lying with her well-developed back in the sun. Straight brown back, like a young boy’s, and the sun gleaming coppery on ridges of muscle…. Good specimen, Don thought. Ever so much better than the city girls with their curves….
They talked in low voices, oblivious of time, confident of this strangely summer-like day that had come like a gracious farewell out of the autumn–confident of their own strength to go many miles in a short time; and counting on the moon that would rise soon after sunset, casting magic over the peaks, to light them to the hut where they would sleep tonight.
A little shiver seemed to run simultaneously down Joanna’s body and the great Range. Looking up, she saw that the sun had been momentarily dimmed by a curling wisp of cloud that had drifted in from nowhere–an innocent-looking wisp whose shadow went roaming stealthily along one side of a peak, and slipped into a ravine. Jo saw that the highest mountain, across the gulf, had gathered around its cone a clinging white mantle. A light wind had arisen.
“Sunbath’s over for this summer,” Don said. “We’d better be poking along. Looks as if we’re in for a bit of mist, after all.”
“I like mist,” said Joanna.
They put on their light shirts again, shouldered their packs, and took to the trail with a leisurely swing. More fragments came in, a little denser, blowing faster. The wind rose; mist pearled their eyelashes, hair, and the grass. It grew colder. About sunset they changed to flannel shirts. The clouds were swift, sinuous, witch-like.
They circled the next peak without going over the top of it; they were watching carefully for cairns, the piles of rock which marked the trail. The wind kept rising, and the cold increased. At last they had to put on their parkas, and mist gathered in drops on the fur that rimmed the hoods. They were leaning into the wind now, choosing their footsteps. Now and then they smiled at each other. This weather was not new or strange to them, even its sudden coming; it was the sun and the warmth which had seemed unreal and like a dream. Night descended upon them, very black, very dense, and the wind began a low droning wail.
Joanna was startled to feel a stinging against her cheeks. “Sleet!” she exclaimed. Their solitude, on that windswept ridge high above tree-line and far from shelter, was pretty terrifying, and rapidly becoming dangerous, too, but they did not think about that. They trudged on, with all the weather of the world driving into their faces.
“Frost feathers in the morning,” Joanna said to herself.
They could see only a few feet ahead. It became constantly harder to follow the trail. The feeble beam of their flashlight touched and brightened a fast, slanting stream of sleet. Often the cairns could not be distinguished at all. The wind roared from gulfs and heights which they could not see but felt in the storm, inscrutable and aloof. It was difficult to stand upright now. During the severest gusts they could make no progress. Mostly it was a matter of half-creeping from rock to rock. Mist had frozen solid in their eyebrows and parka fur.
They were hardy, but this strain began to tell. There was the everlasting suspense of picking out the trail–it would be so dismayingly easy to lose it, to wander for hours among the naked peaks, to die of cold and exhaustion, as others had died here before. Presently they did miss it–only by a few yards, perhaps, but it seemed miles. A wilderness of scudding sleet. Not a cairn to be seen, or any indication that any mortal had wandered here before. They scouted, alert and calm. It was a bad business–dangerous, treacherous business–but they knew each other’s mettle.
At last they picked up the faint path, and followed it with eyes and nerves taut. The wind buffeted and mauled them. They crouched for a tiny rest behind the boulder. Don’s hand met Jo’s, and pressed into it a reassuring chunk of chocolate… Rock to rock… three miles to go–and where now was that summer moon?…
“Well, if here isn’t Peary himself! And–oh, yes–glad to meetcha, Mr. Amundsen!”
The hut was a sudden burst of light and warmth, almost unbearable. Joanna was dimly conscious of any number of small cats on the kitchen floor; she was momentarily blinded, and felt weak. She leaned against the wall and smiled. “Hello, Bill! Hi there, Mac!”
“Swell night!” somebody observed.
She struggled out of her parka; chunks of frozen mist clattered to the floor. The wind was still roaring in her ears, the sleet driving in her sore, tired eyes. This was a dream. Somebody seemed to be putting a saucepan on the kerosene stove. A broom was sweeping the floor, and a cat frolicking with it in mad comic abandon. A voice announced cheerfully: “Gom’s ready, and I bet you are!”
The wind pawed impatiently at the windows, as if it was angry at being shut out–as if it wanted to continue its fierce battering of the two refugees. Joanna’s face was burning now. She sipped tomato soup slowly. She was not yet fully alive to what was going on, but every spoonful of that soup was a warm shudder of delight. Don was talking to the hut-master.
Mac was a weird anomaly, at least in appearance. He was young, with a young man’s blue eyes and full red lips; and he had the unkempt sandy hair and beard of some absent-minded old scientist. The surprise continued in the form of a loud black and white checked shirt, and dungarees, which clothed the clean-cut body of a mountaineer. Right now, to complete the picture, he was sitting on the table, strumming a guitar. Its chords wove a subtle background for Don’s recital of mountain adventures.
Bill, rattling dishes on the other side of the room, commented: “You know, I think it’s all mighty fine, Don. I admire your courage.”
“Why courage?” Joanna asked.
“Running off every summer; not giving a darn what anyone thinks.”
“You’re naturally courageous,” Mac put in, smiling through the beard. “You’ve got to buck conventions, after all, and no matter how scornful of ’em you may be, it isn’t easy.”
“Glad you approve, Mac. It’ll bring us luck.”
“Hope so–you don’t need me for that, though.”
Bill now had a pocket edition of a black cat by the scruff of the neck, and was brandishing it triumphantly. “Gaze upon this wildcat,” he invited everybody. “Little roughneck, if ever there was one.”
Don shook his head gravely. “Terrible life hut cats lead,” he protested. “Don’t wonder they’re roughnecks.”
“I wonder they grow up at all,” said Joanna.
“Oh, they thrive on hut life,” said Bill. “Now observe this specimen here. Black, you notice, with white paws curiously tinged pink. What do you make of that?”
“Strawberry jam,” said Joanna promptly.
Bill gave the kitten another swing. “It’s a new species,” he explained. “Unknown to science. Exists only high altitudes. Felix Mercurochromus!
Mac was smiling and singing “Old Man Noah.” The gaiety and laughter of the little party seemed odd, almost artificial, behind the thick stone walls of the hut outside which the mountains were talking in thunderous voices.
* * *
“It sounds marvellous,” said the girl with whom Don was dancing. “I wish you’d tell me some more. It’s like another world to me. I know so little about anything but–this.” And she cast an expressive glance around the big hotel ballroom with its myriad twinkling of iridescent lights.
Don looked at her intently, and it seemed to him that Cynthia was the living incarnation of all the beauty of his life–of the world–of a thousand lives, a million worlds. She was so lovely that looking at her was pain, as hearing music is sometimes pain. Her golden hair, a fluff of small curls about her face, gleamed in the colored light; her eyes shone blue almost beyond belief; he was conscious of the rare color of her cheeks and her lips, of the smooth perfection of her white neck and shoulders, of the light supple grace with which she moved. He was carried away in adoration of sheer physical beauty, which surpassed anything he had ever imagined.
“Would you–care to learn?” he asked. The conversation was unreal, impalpable, and enchanted, with the orchestra behind it.
“That would depend,” said Cynthia.
“What would it depend on?”
“The teacher,” she said, smiling frankly into his face.
“Do you think I’d do, at all?” he asked beseechingly.
She was happy when that tone came into men’s voices. She smiled more than ever. “Well, just possibly,” she conceded, stalling for time. She was trying to make up her mind…
He held her closer. He was so rapt in the enchantment that he saw no incongruity in the idea of Cynthia “roughing it.” He did not perceive that here, in the midst of music and men and expensive clothes, was the only world in which she could ever be at home. He did not even suspect that she was not suspended with him in the same cloud of rapture.
Her rapture was a different sort. She was rejoicing in another triumph–in the pleasure of bringing to her feet yet another attractive male. The way to bring them there was to humor them, listen with eager eyes to whatever they had to say, and so build up an illusory atmosphere of miraculous understanding. All men had their ridiculous little hobbies–and to listen was a woman’s fate.
Cynthia was seriously considering marriage, and Don was the likeliest specimen she had yet run into. He had money, but not an obnoxious amount, and it didn’t seem to spoil him. He kept his head and his job…. He was handsome, in his big rugged way, and looked less ridiculous than most in evening clothes. Furthermore, in spite of her calm calculation, there was something about him that interested her in spite of herself–a look of strength and freedom and high adventure.
The music stopped; they sat down together on a small sofa in a dim corner.
“Let’s be practical,” Don said surprisingly.
“Practical!” she echoed. “In the middle of a dream!”
“About next summer,” he persisted. “I can’t be happy, Cynthia, till we work it out. Can’t we mix our dreams a little?”
… Nice boy, she was thinking. Serious, yet has a sense of humor. Graceful. Doesn’t sprawl all over the place, or sit up too primly straight, either. Yes, he’s the best bet, all right. Handsome–even thrills me, rather. Guess I’ll marry him…. Well, here goes!
She placed her little hand in his. “Oh, do let’s!” she agreed.
“My mother runs a sort of camp on one of the lakes,” he told her. “I’d like you to come up there and be my guest for the summer.”
“I’d adore it,” she said softly, in a well-trained voice calculated to hold just the right amount of tenderness. “And–Don, I so much want to see those mountains of yours.”
He was in an exalted mist of happiness; and, because Cynthia carefully fostered it, the enchantment held. If anything, it increased. She had moments of being in love, herself. They were together as often as his job and her strenuous social exigencies would permit. They dined, danced, saw shows, talked, planned, drove, and kissed. After a while their engagement was announced. It was in fact shouted in the society columns of the Boston papers, where Cynthia had long been prominent. The match was approved by families and friends. Each was congratulated–separately–on “an admirable catch, my dear.”
Don wrote to Joanna in New York, enclosing clippings. “…We knew it never was love with us, Jo… Sorry we didn’t get in that Maine trip, but you won’t have any trouble finding someone to run around the hills with you. I’ll give you a good recommendation.”
To which Joanna briefly replied that she was glad.
To Don the magic lay in the thought that he was to be Cynthia’s privileged teacher in out-of-door matters. It seemed to him the most delightful situation imaginable: to take the most beautiful girl in the world, who adored him, and show her the life he loved, a life that was to her completely new. With Joanna, there had been so little to teach. There she was, ready-made, able to swing an ax and build a fire out of anything including green fir, knowing what kind of clothes to wear and what kind of pack to carry–his equal as a comrade. But Cynthia–he himself would show her the difference between hemlock and fir, between the songs of wood-thrush and hermit-thrush, how to paddle a canoe. She would become as efficient as Jo, and it would be due to him–in a way his creation…. Efficient as Jo? Well, perhaps not quite. Jo was almost too efficient. She was–masculine. That was a new thought, and perhaps explained why he had never wanted to kiss her…. Cynthia would stay a girl–a beautiful one, with curly blond hair…. Exalted mist of happiness….
* * *
Joanna climbed the last hundred yards at a lagging pace. She could just see a corner of the hut’s roof now through the scrub fir. The mid-July sun was hot, and her pack heavy. “I’m hungry, that’s the trouble,” she said to herself.
Mac looked around from the bowl of pastry in which was immersed to the elbows. He did not have so much beard–this was only July–but his eyes and lips were the same.
“Well, Jo! Swell to see you!” Ordinary words said all there was to say. “Sorry I can’t shake hands–but you see…. Sorrier still I can’t kiss you.”
“You can,” she said, presenting a brown cheek. “Can I assist?”
“Lord, I don’t know. I’m in all kinds of trouble. The eventual aim is to construct a pie. Now, you open the flour tin for me… maybe I can get some of this goo off my hands … where the hell is that rolling pin? … I miss Bill. He used to do all the pies. I’m great on goms, you know, where you just put everything in, but pies take subtlety!”
“Where is Bill?”
“He’s at Carter this summer. Took his pink-toed cat with him. Ray and Shorty are here with me–both out for grub now, I guess.” He thumped energetically with the rolling-pin. “Gosh, this is getting to be a floury atmosphere–no pun intended. Can’t see a thing. It’ll be a wonder if a kitten or two doesn’t get mixed in…. What you been doing, Jo?”
“Oh, I’m disgusted with myself. Been wandering for two weeks, from one mountain to another–alone, oh, yes. And I should have come straight here in the beginning. I began to suspect it yesterday, in the middle of the Carters.
“In the Carters yesterday? You’re tough, all right!”
“Not so very. Right now I’m hungry. Could eat a pie raw, kittens included.”
“You’ll have one cooked presently. No, I don’t mean… Now, Jo, why that skeptical look? Haven’t you any faith in me at all? … Well, that’s a challenge! Now if I don’t turn out the best pie you ever – – ” Thump, thump went the rolling-pin. “Why should you have come here in the beginning?” he asked suddenly.
“Oh, to see you engineer pies, talk to you, hear you play your guitar.”
“Whoa, child! I’m puffing up! Danger!”
“Heard the great news, Mac?”
“More than that. I’ve **seen** it!”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake! Where?”
“Moosilauke. A week ago.”
“Well, what did you think of it?”
Mac considered, rolling pin poised. “Tell you what–it’s a lady,” he summed up. “Guess what it had on.”
“Not an evening wrap!”
“Not quite, but a dainty little white skirt, and a ruffley little white top thing, and–beach sandals, Jo–rather battered by that time.”
Her shoulders went up in a jerk of incredulous merriment, and Mac returned with undaunted energy to his pie. “I don’t like this pie,” he complained. “It’s rebellious. It lacks the proper spirit. Hasn’t the slightest sense of cooperation. If I roll it north and south, it contracts east and west…. Oh, hell’s bells!… There, that’s the best I can do. Reach me that can of apples, will you?”
“Is she really as handsome as they say, Mac?”
“Yes, she is,” he conceded. “Open it for me–that’s the girl…. She was hot and tired and sunburned and sweaty, but she sure has a mug that would knock an angel off its feet. She knocked all the Moosilauke boys off **their** feet, and they’re no angels.”
“How about you, Mac?”
He glanced down. “You see, I’ve still got mine,” he observed, and shoved the pie vigorously into the oven.
“Hold on a minute, Mac! Isn’t it supposed to have a top crust on it–or isn’t it?”
“Oh, hell’s bells! I suppose it is.”
“Haul it out again; I’ll do the top,” she volunteered.
“Delighted! That’s fair–you’re going to eat half of it, you know.”
At last the pie was installed, and Jo washed her hands. “I knew I wanted to see you,” she said again. “My hunch was right. You make me feel content, deep down–for the first time in months. You make me feel as if I didn’t give a darn.”
“Let’s not burn it, now we’ve mercifully got it off our hands,” Mac suggested. “You must have had a hell of a winter,” he added sympathetically.
“Well, I did, pretty much. If anybody had asked me, before, if I loved Don, I’d have said I didn’t; but honestly, when that letter came, I thought I was going to drop dead. What do you think of it all, anyway? What does it amount to?”
“Absurdist thing I ever saw,” he told her. “I could hardly believe my eyes. Thought Don had sense. He must be in some kind of daze–golden fog, or whatever you get into in such cases. They don’t belong together any more than lace curtains would belong in these windows.”
“Horrid, isn’t it, what pretty women can do to strong men?” said Joanna.
“She can’t last, Jo. She sticks out all over the landscape, shining. These hills aren’t that way. They don’t want people to shine. She’s as out of place as a flying-fish in the Arctic Sea. And sometime the spell’s going to break. And then he’ll know that you’re worth ten thousand of her. And as for her mug–I like yours better, Jo, and I mean it. You match. You belong…. Gosh, if I don’t look out, I’ll be making love to you.”
“Better have a look at the pie.”
“Oh, give it time…. What’ll you do when the spell does break, Jo? Go back to him?”
“Haven’t thought that far. I’m not so sure that it will break, you know. Besides, even if it does, he can’t leave her now. He’s formally engaged to her. Think what society pow-wow there’d be! No, he’ll go through with it; and why shouldn’t he, after all? She’ll make him a good wife–charming hostess, and all. He never was committed to me. We were just roughneck pals. He never thought of me as a **girl**. I never specially wanted him to. Yet now he’s got himself a real girl, I’m mad and hurt–which is ridiculous.”
“I know you do–and it does help. I’ve been quite starved for kind words.”
“Well, any time you’re hard up again, just come and see me.”
“Will you serenade me on your guitar? I’ve often thought I’d like to be serenaded.”
“Sure. Tonight, if you like, in the moonlight by the pond… And now I guess it’s done.”
The pie was brown and bubbling. He set it on the table, and cut it accurately in half. They went on talking and laughing with their mouths full. They discussed the likelihood of “goofers” showing up for supper, and how pleasant it would be to have Jo on hand to help with the dishes. “Maybe Don and his Hyacinthia will come–who knows?” he suggested.
“Will you hide me, Mac?”
“Sure. Don’t you worry, I’ll look out for you. We’ll go serenading by the pond… if that wouldn’t be a good joke!… Say, what are you going to do this summer?”
“Well, that’s the main thing I want to talk to you about, Mac. I was thinking of just roaming by myself–prowling around the mountains all summer. Cat that walks by herself. But I’ve rather changed my mind. I think I’ll fix a little camp somewhere–make my trips from it, go back to it; paint, study flowers, cut wood –”
“And run up to see me once in a while,” he put in.
“Of course. What puzzles me a little is the whereabouts.”
“Yes, that’s a puzzle. You want to keep pretty much away from people and beaten tracks, don’t you?”
“I certainly do. It’s time I had myself to myself. I like solitude. I want to think. And I want to go around as naked as weather and bugs permit. That involves solitude, even in 1934.”
“M-m. Can I visit you?”
She smiled. “We’ll see. Where would you suggest, Mac, knowing the hills as you do?”
“Well, how about investigating Oakes Gulf? That looks pretty good, from the ridge. I’ve never been down into it.”
“It does look good,” she agreed.
“It would have advantages,” he went on. “You’d be really away from people. There isn’t even a trail in there yet. But you wouldn’t be too far to come and buy your grub up here at the hut. I’ll hang onto your mail, too.”
Joanna smiled. “I think I see what you’re driving at,” she said.
“Well, of course I want you to come up now and then. Don’t you think it’s a good idea?”
“Great! I’ll cut myself a secret trail up the headwall. Always liked the idea of a secret trail of my own.”
“Can’t I be in on it? You ought to have some help. That scrub fir’s tougher than the devil’s tail. We’ll hide it so no one going along the ridge can smell it out.”
“That’s grand, Mac. You’re a real pal, and all the rest of it…. Well, here’s to us! I’ll show them I can get along all right. I hope she has thirteen children and they all fall down Jobildunk…. Your pie’s swell. You’ve fed me in several ways. It looks as if I am going to have a summer, after all, thanks to you!”
* * *
Don had put his shirt in his pack to keep it dry. The rain ran down his brown shoulders, and streamed from his bleached hair. He swung light-heartedly along the ridge, his eyes shining. Cynthia was soaked to the bone. Her skirt clung to her and bound her knees. Nothing could be more annoying than to see someone obviously enjoying himself, while you were miserable.
In the woods, going steeply down, it was no better. Every time she touched a leaf or twig, or grabbed a small sapling, it precipitated another cascade upon her, as if through sheer malevolence. Queer, that those drops were always bigger, wetter, colder than the rain itself. She splashed mud over herself. The rain washed it off again.
This was carrying matters too far, and she meant to tell him so. There had been some good times during the summer, when, more nearly in love than ever in her life, she had been afire with zest to follow him anywhere. But this slopping around in the rain was kid nonsense that he had somehow carried along with him as he grew up. She would show him amusements that were more amusing!
In the car, on the way back to camp, and comfortable again in dry clothes, she decided she might as well have it out with him.
“Don–aren’t you ever going to settle down?”
“How do you mean–settle down?” he inquired with a smile.
“I mean, drop all this wild running around and be sensible,” she said.
He was silent, as if he had not heard or understood.
“I mean–this–the mountains,” she explained, a little frightened.
And then she saw the light go out of his eyes as suddenly and completely as when a candle is extinguished. “Cynthia–you don’t–like it any more?”
She scarcely raised her voice as she answered. “No, I don’t,” she admitted, with frank cruelty. “I never did, really. It was just new and exciting. I kept on hoping you’d see for yourself how absurd… I mean, that some day you’d grow up.”
“That isn’t true,” he whispered hoarsely. “We had swell times–all summer. I didn’t know–I thought you – -”
“Sure, we had good times,” she conceded gently. “But a little of it goes a long way, Don. When you’ve climbed one mountain, you’ve climbed them all.”
He sat quite silent at the wheel.
“I’ll give you all the details, if you like,” she said. “I don’t like the bugs; I don’t like being tired, or wet; I can’t stand smoke in my eyes. It’s not my stuff. I’m never comfortable, and I can’t feel at home, and I shan’t ever get used to it. Don’t you see?”
“I see,” he said under his breath. “But I can’t believe – – You seemed – – ”
“Sure–I did try pretty hard. But now I’m finished–completely, absolutely, and for always. I’ve learned my lesson–that a person can’t really change, and shouldn’t try.”
He still said nothing.
“You’ll have to choose,” she went on presently. “If you love me, honestly, you’ll have to quit all this nonsense.”
And then the enchantment failed, and the small calculations and deceptions that lay beneath its fragile surface were suddenly clear to him. He cried “Cynthia!” brokenly, and stopped the car; and her beauty confronted him, tormenting, irresistible.
“Don’t take it like that,” she said gently. “You’ll soon forget it all. There are lots of things that are more fun.” She pressed her cheek against his. His whole big frame shuddered …
That night he paced the floor of his room, steadily, tensely; and Cynthia’s beauty rose up again in his throat as if it would choke him–the beauty he had promised his life to, willingly. Everything except that beauty was broken now. The mountains were gone, and the old tranquility. Forget? Choose between her and the mountains? How could that be, when both were necessary to his existence?
Back and forth, in agonized restlessness. When he stopped, and peered out into the night, the torture increased; walking seemed to soothe it a little. So he dared not stop…. He imagined himself married to Cynthia, thrown into a maelstrom of high society, winter and summer. He would go with her to the fashionable resorts she was fond of. He would play bridge with unamusing people. He would not be allowed to run away to his hills. His muscles would soften. There would be children–and all the new world of worries, bewilderments, small crises, and heart-aches that children would bring. Cynthia would grow older, and probably eat too many chocolates. He himself would doubtless grow a “tummy” and a double chin. Life would go on and on….
And, stowed away to collect dust in the attic of a Chestnut Hill residence, would be the little Baker tent that had sheltered him and Jo; his cooking-kit; the ax he had carried for years; his sleeping-bags–a very light one for summer, and an eider-down for fall and winter; and his flannel shirts, three of them, packed away in the bottom drawer of a discarded bureau–with mothballs. His thoughts clung morbidly to that insignificant detail. It would not leave him–a nightmare vision of mothballs, sitting solidly on his flannel shirts. He could even smell them. Throughout years–decades–they would sit there, presiding triumphantly over the good old shirts that had served him well, that he would never wear again.
He peered restlessly out of the window once more. The moon had risen, and cast a glimmer of enchantment among the pine trees outside. The moon? What had he to do with the moon now? See it from hotel roof gardens, maybe. Never would he see it again without thinking of mothballs. He was tied down, hand and foot…. And suddenly he felt a surge of hot anger against Cynthia and all her beauty, and the magic net in which she had entangled him. Did she think she could take his life–the best of it–the best he knew–and twist it, with a confident smile, round and round her little finger? He clenched his teeth, and thought bitterly of his flannel shirts, held down by prim rows of placid mothballs, waiting, waiting…
* * *
It seemed to Joanna that the brook had never sung so well. Mingled with its low-voiced chuckling as it slipped over mossy stones, was a strain of higher laughter. She listened to it between the blows of her ax, which she was swinging sturdily, putting her back into the last few strokes. The sun was low. Time to get ready for supper. With a sigh of content, she went up the bank to the spruce grove on the dry hillock where her tent was pitched.
Her camp was so neat that the wildest of forest nymphs could not have resented it. Inside the tent was a deep fir bed and her sleeping-bag, pack, hobnailed boots, water-colors and brushes, a box of food, a cooking-kit. Outside, a crude work-table and bench, a substantial wood-pile, and her fireplace, built on a flat rock.
It was as though she had created a complete world for herself, the hard labor of her own arms. There was no trace of any other mortal. The little paths here and there through the woods were made by her, and belonged to her, and she shared them with the deer. Behind the screen of forest were the mountains. She was triumphant. This was the beginning of the second summer that she had made a good life for herself alone.
The secret was to keep very busy. She discovered that during the first summer, while trying to fight its spells of racking sadness. In fine weather she left her camp before sunrise, and took brushes and colors to a high ridge or peak, where she spent many hours, struggling to catch the feeling of a shadow, the brightness of patches of grass, a feathery curl of cloud. Sometimes she wandered aimlessly in the woods; more often she went on some definite quest–for blueberries on the plateaus, and later in the season for cranberries. She had brought with her two or three text-books, and spent a good deal of time studying and identifying flowers and shrubs–“with special reference to edible mushrooms,” she told Mac–“but it all seems so complicated–I haven’t dared to try any yet.” She made packing trips to the hut for food; sometimes she stayed for supper, and allowed Mac to “serenade” her. Once in a while he came down, bringing mail or just himself, on the trail they had engineered together. They would cook up some kind of “gom,” and eat it more or less in silence beside her fireplace.
The winter following that first summer had been like other winters. She heard little of Don, except that his marriage had been postponed. She was kept busy with her job and her friends. Once she was surprised by Mac, who came to see her at Christmas time, all carefully shaved and conventionally clothed, so that except for his eyes she would have had a hard time recognizing him…. “Sure I’m coming back to the Gulf, as soon as I can get away,” she told him.
And now she was part of these woods once more–so much part of them that she could persuade a small brown rabbit to eat out of her hand. Even the shy graceful deer, who tripped down to drink at the brook, were not very much afraid of her now. Red squirrels were impudent and noisy, and would have carried her camp away piecemeal if she had given them the chance. There were porcupines about, and an occasional skunk. Sometimes at night the wood resounded with the eerie calling of owls, one to another across long darknesses…. “There’s really no reason to be lonely, you see,” she would explain to Mac. “But sometimes I am….”
She had finished peeling a handful of potatoes, and sat considering a minute, wondering what else was going into the “gom” for supper. She lighted a fire, and put the potatoes to boil. Even the fire was friendly. It crackled, and burned as if it were enjoying life. Steam began to curl out of the blackened pot. She watched a minute, then, chuckling to herself, went inside for onions.
Suddenly she listened, alert. A stone had been loosened far above the headwall of the gulf. It rattled down, plunging and bounding. She set herself to cutting up the onions, but every now and then she stopped to listen again. At last there was no longer any doubt–someone was coming down her trail–at a whale of a pace, too. Mac, the old rascal, for supper! That would necessitate more potatoes…. He was certainly in a tall hurry tonight.
She stood up, smiling, to meet him, and at the same instant found herself face to face with Don. It was so unexpected, even impossible, that she was left quite cold, not in the least excited. “Oh, hello!” she said naturally, and held out her hand.
“Hello, Joanna! What are you doing?”
“You see. Making gom.” She put a stick on the fire, but she had no sense of reality. “He’s come out of curiosity, I suppose,” she thought quickly. “Why couldn’t he let me be?” And she looked again at his face–taut and strained and worried. He swung down his pack.
“Joanna, I want to talk,” he said with a quick, low voice. “I want you to listen, and afterwards I’ll go away and never come back.” The first numbness of surprise was vanishing; it was real, after all; he was here, and now her heart was pounding unconscionably hard, for no good reason. She said nothing.
“I couldn’t help myself,” he told her. “It was like being drunk. I was in a trance. She was beautiful, Jo. God, I can’t even tell you…. I was helpless, lost. I had some wild dream–I would create a perfect woman with my own hands, by making you and her into one. I taught her about the woods. Oh, Joanna, she was beautiful, and she climbed around dressed for a tea-party!” He watched Joanna’s face for a moment. She did not seem to be really smiling, yet the corners of her eyes were wrinkling pleasantly. He had a feeling that she knew a good deal about all this already. She went into the tent for more potatoes, and peeled them very quietly, tending her fire.
“I loved her–don’t you see?–because she didn’t know anything, and I had to teach her and look out for her. She was helpless as a baby, and out of place, like, like – -”
“A flying-fish in the Arctic sea,” said Joanna.
“She was–a lady,” Joanna said.
He chuckled bitterly.
“She shone out all over the landscape, didn’t she, Don? And these hills aren’t that way. They don’t want people to shine.”
“She got wet one day in the rain,” said Don. “Told me she was finished, and I’d have to quit, too, if I wanted her. ‘I thought you’d settle down some day,’ she said.”
Joanna had noticed a movement among nearby ferns, and now she softly warned him to be silent. He watched, curious, and the rabbit came to her, hesitating. Her smile was not for Don, then; and a kind of desperation seized him; for it seemed that she was happy, and did not need him in this life of hers. Had she ever missed him at all? He glanced around at her neat wood-pile; he remembered the clean-cut little trail he had followed to her. She was free. And, now that it was too late, he was noticing what Mac had noticed two years ago–that she was a girl–and not less a girl because she wore an old flannel shirt and dungarees, and could swing an ax almost as expertly as he…. Well? Was it too late, then? If she was a girl, was she really happy in her independence?
The rabbit hopped away. “That’s swell,” he said. “How do you make them do it?”
“You see, I like them so much,” she said simply. The fire needed attention again. She put a couple of sticks on it, and stirred the stew.
“I had to find you,” he said. “I got your mail address from New York. Mac wouldn’t tell me anything–not until I practically licked the floor in front of him. Said he was looking out for you. Then he showed me the top of your trail. I had to find you…. You see, Joanna, I had to choose. Her or the mountains–and forever.”
“What made you decide?” she asked.
“It was a silly thing. Just the thought of me growing old and fat away from the hills, and my flannel shirts tucked away in mothballs. Joanna, it was the mothballs that made me decide.”
She smiled openly for a minute, in the old comradely way. “They are awful things,” she agreed.
“They almost drove me insane. Whatever I did, wherever I went, I saw and smelt nothing but mothballs. Mothballs in my food, under my pillow; mothballs in the sky instead of stars. I hated her then. I stuck it out that winter, because I was committed. But I saw it was no use. I was committed to my shirts first. Somehow I got away. I don’t know how. It was a very hell.”
Dark was coming. Overhead a few fireflies sparkled, and a hermit-thrush was singing cool magic phrases. The firelight flickered in Joanna’s face, making it harder than ever to know whether she was really smiling.
“Joanna, do you want me to go? I want you. You’d be right, maybe, to chuck me; but I’m finished with all that–and I want you. I was dreaming, but I’m awake now, and alive. Do you really want to be alone–all, all alone with your rabbits? Do you ever think of the old days–or of that canoe trip we’re going to take? Don’t you think you might conceivably want–to be kissed? Did you miss me at all? Jo, could you possibly have any use for me any more?”
There was a hush. In the west a last lingering light of sunset shone through shaggy spruces. The thrush was still calling, very sadly or very happily–you could not tell. Perhaps it was all the same.
“What do you say?” Don questioned once more.
She stood up straight. The firelight leaped; it cast dancing witch-like shadows among the spruces, and was reflected, a dull copper-red glow, in the round side of the cooking-pot she held between her hands.
In the summer of 1931, Barbara, Nick Rogers, and two friends spent some time camping and exploring the Katahdin area of Maine. Later, Barbara wrote about her relationship with the great mountain in an unpublished story entitled Rocks.
Transcribing Rocks was a moving experience for me. I’ve climbed Katahdin three times and remember many of the landmarks Barbara describes: Chimney Pond, The Chimney, The Monument, Pamola Peak, and, of course, Knife-Edge, one of the more exhilarating 1.1 miles of trail I’ve walked. Here’s a taste of what it’s like, with thanks to YouTube user roh92cp:
This was the “Knife-Edge” of Mount Katahdin. It was a ragged edge of rock suspended in a space of clouds.
I was trying to climb backwards down a bristling hump, and the foothold I had got up by seemed to have vanished. I felt for it helplessly with one foot. I couldn’t see below, because the rocks were in the way. There seemed nothing to do. I clung, trembling a little. All around, great swift drops into space that swirled with mist. Everything was wet–grasses and hardy vines were pearled with small drops; so were my hair and eyelashes.
I took a chance, and jumped, backwards, for a narrow ledge below. Then the mountain and I came together in a clash. I bounced over a grassy shelf, and whirled through the air. “Nothing matters now,” I thought. A fleeting, heroic second… I up-ended ridiculously on hands and knees, clinging to a thick tuft of grass. Well! It wasn’t a sheer drop, after all. Vaguely disappointing–life would have to go on, then. My face was cut and my nose bleeding. I got up slowly and laughed, because it had been drilled into me that it was good sportsmanship to laugh when such things happened. The faces of my three comrades were horror-struck and rather absurd.
The mountain changed after that. I was afraid of it. Afraid to step over a fissure from one rock to another, to worm around on narrow ledges, or walk cautiously down smooth steep inclines. All the way down Pamola Peak back to camp, I was frightened. Mist swirled. Rocks, rocks–peaked, rounded, rough, smooth, edgy–gray rocks and mist and a malevolent mountain…
The next day it rained. The gaunt, sheer walls that towered over Chimney Pond and surrounded it on three sides, were covered with a network of silver waterfalls. The pond rose and rose. Everybody’s butter and bacon, placed carefully in the brook to keep cool, were swept away. The shelter roof leaked. I glanced up at those rock walls that went up sheer and were lost in the clouds, and knew that I should always be afraid of them, unless somehow I could contrive to slip away from everyone and go exploring, quietly and alone…
There was a hunk of chocolate in my pocket, and that was all the equipment I needed. We had bailed out the shelter, and hung our sleeping-bags in the sun.
“I think I’ll run down to Basin Pond and pick a pail of blueberries,” I said.
But what I really did was double back through the woods behind the shelter, and join the trail toward Saddle Slide, feeling half-gleeful, half-afraid.
The upper end of that trail, the slide itself, is grueling. It is very steep, and the footing is a specially pernicious kind of loose sandy stuff. It rolls out from under you. You slide back. It buries you to the ankles. The whole mountain is a running river of gravel. You stand in it and wonder when it will stop. You bend your back and struggle on, sometimes on hands and feet. It is heart-breaking, but short. You gain the brim quickly, and step over on to level solid plateau that forms almost a right angle with the slide. There you are, panting, glad to see that the mountain is still there.
I stood in sunlight on the brim, with the wind blowing through my hair. Katahdin was spread out before me and around me. Below was the great North Basin, scooped out of the mountain; Chimney Pond and the camp lay in the bottom of it. Across this gulf loomed the gray shoulder of Pamola, eastern pillar of the semicircular wall. The jagged line of the Knife-Edge, really more of a saw-edge, joined Pamola to the rocky and wild Monument, highest peak of all. On this western side where I was standing, the mountain spread out monstrously–an ocean of gray-green plateaus, undulating, rising to an occasional dome or rocky point, dipping off into gulfs and ravines, or unexplored basins with ponds shining in their depths. Grassy stuff in springy tufts grew on these plateaus; also small shrubs and vines, such as mountain cranberries, so hardy that the berries survive the first snows; black crow-berries; curiously flavored mountain blueberries. Small bright flowers in sheltered places. Acres of knee-high and waist-high scrub fir, almost impossible to make way through. It spreads its branches flat, growing horizontally–in places you can walk on it as on a springy carpet.
Vast, lonely old mountain, it reared up, 5200 feet high, over low smooth hills, shallow valleys, soft furry forests of blue and green–a country riddled silver with twisted lakes and ponds and rivers. I stood on the rim of of it, and looked over it, and it was mine.
Slowly I followed the faint trail toward the North Peak. At Caribou Spring, I kneeled on damp sphagnum moss to drink. And I thought of Dinny, back in the shelter at Chimney Pond. We had drunk together out of this spring, she kneeling on one side of it and I on the other, red head and brown head in the center; John had come frisking up and dropped down between us, impishly grinning. “Room for another caribou?” he asked. Red head, brown head, gold head… But this time I was alone; and half expected, looking up, to see a caribou’s brown ghost staring at me with soft eyes…
Again the space of mountain prairie with its green swoops into ravines. The trails on this northern part of the mountain were faint and hard to follow–no more than lines of small and infrequent cairns strung out over long slopes. Sometimes you could see one squatting on top of a big rock against the skyline, hundreds of feet ahead. If mist should come up thick, you could lose yourself on these great wide plateaus as easily as if you were far at sea. I had a vision of wandering listlessly through miles of quivering grass and flat fir, finding only a wet sky and this gray-green waste, coming now and then to the crumbly edge of a prodigious unknown ravine choked with mist, on the wrong side of the mountain. I would lie on the edge of it and gaze down. Somewhere below, through the swirling masses of cloud, I would hear the voice of a great waterfall…
Above the expansive vagueness of these plateaus, the grim old Monument loomed, built of the jagged gray rocks I was afraid of… Always I had known mountains, not always in friendly mood. I had been lost in a sleet storm after dark with a failing flashlight on the peak of Liberty, wind howling like a mad wolf; I had been bound for a week by snow and fog in the old house on Moosilaukee. A long succession of mountain adventures, one mountain following another down the skyline like great blue billows. I had cast about in vain to find the meaning of their beauty and strange power: the storm of feeling with which they could shake me; the longing for them which sometimes fevered me; the completeness of the satisfaction they gave.
But this one–this isolated, untamed old mountain–why was it so dispiriting? Was it because of the tales I had heard–of guides coming back to camp insane with fear, of people lost, caught on exposed places in savage weather–of people hurt, killed, on sheer headwalls? Or was it because of the wilderness of forest and swamp in which the mountain stands, where wildcats prowl?
I would come to terms with this mountain. Those rocks must be explored–tranquilly, easily. They were grim and formidable, but maybe one could make friends with them.
Past the top of the Saddle Slide trail again, up the well-marked trail to the Monument. I felt secret exultation, because, in spite of awe and fear, here I was, a very, very small thing, quite alone, scrambling toward the peak of this old Jinx of a mountain.
Quiet gray rocks … Why should anyone be afraid of quiet gray rocks?
Three men were coming down the peak, far above. Presently we met. They looked surprised. One of them had a coil of rope over his shoulder. They had crawled up the “Chimney” that morning. We discussed the weather; passed on; were lost from sight among–rocks.
“I went up the Chimney, too,” I said aloud …
* * *
I had been frightened almost cruelly. It was the first time I had been hitched up in a rope party, or done anything that could be called “rock-climbing.” The Chimney is a steep and narrow channel, a cleft that goes straight up, starting a little above Chimney Pond, and ends in a gulch between Pamola Peak and the Knife-Edge. This cleft has been blocked in places by enormous “chokestones,” which have to be got over, or under, or through, or around.
The four of us had roped up, for the “fun” of it and for practice, near the bottom, before there was any danger. We scrambled over big rocks and up ledges, trying to keep out of waterfalls. Sometimes we looked up at the chimerical steepness and narrowness of the passageway filled with mist–a crude rock passageway that had no summit–that merely was lost in clouds. And after some time we could see the dark shape of the first chokestone, looming and menacing, pinioned treacherously between the two walls of the gorge.
John was the most capable one of us: later on it appeared that he was the only capable one of us. He knew about rocks; was at home with a rope around his middle. He took the lead, and after a good deal of clumsiness and some anxious moments, we all managed to get over the first of the barriers. Then up the rocks again, in the mist. In this sort of climbing you use not only feet and hands, but knees, elbows, shoulders. The going got harder, and the healthy cold brook which tumbled down the gorge did not help. We were slower and slower. Every step was a problem to be puzzled out. And then the second chokestone intruded itself, a massive black wall almost over our heads–the end of the world–surely there could be nothing above that but mist! We looked back down; the way we had come dipped off and was as completely lost in clouds as the way above. We were on the precarious edge of everything concrete.
John, surprisingly, clung to a faith that there was really something beyond, and he began to figure out ways and means of getting to it. He was in favor of a desperate, improbable passage through the grim body of that chokestone and cut through a fissure at the top. There was a crude landing-place–a sort of shallow cave–part way up the side, and the brook ran through that. We began to straggle up to this gloomy ledge, only one of us moving at a time; but there was no room when we got there–no rest–nothing for it but to struggle on through the rock. It looked very nasty, the next bit of climbing–up and around a wet black corner to an even more uncomfortable little cave, above the first one and completely out of sight. No room there, either; so I, who came last, had to wait at the first landing, while the rest of them took breath and considered matters. I was jammed in against damp rocks, and after a while became aware that I was also crouching in a waterfall–a small one, but very cold.
It was lonely. The others were scrambling about. I had nothing for company except an end of rope. I waited–continued to sit in the waterfall, because there was nowhere else. It wasn’t very comfortable. It was dripping down the back of my neck. Devilishly lonely. I was frightened, too. It was a precarious position, what with the waterfall, and the narrowness and slight downward angle of the ledge. If I so much as moved a toe, showers of loose pebbles and dirt went cavorting off down the mountain-side–bouncing and rattling and echoing disconsolately–farther and farther away until they were swallowed and hushed in the mist-filled gorge. Life was very cold and wet.
I waited. Sometimes they communicated from above. I couldn’t hear very well, because they tended all to talk at once. But it seemed that they were having a dickens of a time. There would be silence, consultation, then desperate scrambles and showers of pebbles. They might have been in another world. I began to wonder if I should ever get off that ledge, or if I should presently fall off into the long steep gorge. I was stiff with cold by now; and that climb up to the next cave wasn’t at all appealing. You had to swing outward, abandoning everything of any solidity, and wriggle up a slippery-looking tube of rock. The longer I waited, the worse it looked. Even at the end of a rope…
Even the rope was gone now. They needed the whole length of it up there. From the scraps of talk that came down to me, I realized that John had got out of the fissure at the top, and was trying to get Dinny out. Nick was crouching in a corner; she would “take off” from his shoulders, and then scramble desperately, while John held the rope from above, to make progress up a sheet of rock that not only was just about vertical, but also wet. And she couldn’t quite make it. She would slide back and try again.
I shivered. Their comments and exclamations were anything but reassuring, and I didn’t at all like the sound of the things that were happening to Dinny. I continued to balance in the waterfall on the edge of nothing, without even a rope for company, and tried to philosophize. The world was coming to an end, but there was chocolate in my jacket. I munched and felt better. Chocolate was good even when the world was coming to an end.
My turn at last. A miracle had happened: Dinny was out. They slid the rope back to me–an anxious job, since it had to come around a corner, and I had to lean outward precariously to reach it–and then all three began calling instructions and encouragements at once. I asked them to say it over again, one at a time.
Nick’s voice came out of the little cave above. “Tie a bowline! Your life depends on it.”
“All right,” I said. “I’ll be glad to get out of this waterfall.” But it was very hard to move. I was stiff, and anyway moving hardly seemed advisable. The mountain continued to slide out from beneath me.
“Are you O.K.?” asked Nick. His voice did not sound right.
“Oh, sure,” I said, “only this here mountain’s coming to pieces under me. I can’t remember how to tie a bowline.”
“Rabbit comes out of his hole, runs around a tree–back in hole,” he reminded me.
I sat in the waterfall and thought it out quietly. “All right,” I said at last. “Keep that rope good and tight, Nick, but for God’s sake don’t pull me. I want to come up under my own power, you understand.”
He said: “Be careful. I can’t stand much strain–things are pretty rickety up here.”
“Nicky,” said I, “isn’t there anything firm and strong and solid left in life?”
“Let’s hope the rope is,” he said.
I clenched my teeth, and got off that horrible little ledge. Braced on the rope, I got a kind of foothold–lost it–got something with my hands–rested a minute. “All right up there?” I queried.
“Yup. You’ve got a knee-hold a wee bit higher up.”
So I had. Knees and elbows. I suspended myself between the walls of the little dark passageway. The next crack was right above. Nick sat huddled in it, braced on nothing much. I rested again, heaved, and was up. And then I saw that I wasn’t a bit better off than before, except that here there was no waterfall.
There’s nothing amusing to tell about that next bit of climbing. Obviously, I got out at last through the fissure–mostly by dint of John’s hauling me out by brute force. He hauled and I scrabbled like mad; but there were moments when I simply dangled in space by the arm-pits. The thing I was supposed to be climbing rose practically parallel to my helpless body, and offered not so much as a small fret or notch to grab it by. When finally I was out of there, standing on top of that beast of a chokestone, I discovered that I was rather banged up. Both knees and elbows were raw, and I was conscious of minor scrapes and bruises by the dozen. I shivered a little, and listened with a half-smile to Nick tying himself into the rope, humming to reassure himself. His voice was quavering badly.
After that progress was more possible, although there were bad times as we squeezed along too narrow ledges, or shinned over slippery ridges, always with the mist blowing down cold from the Knife-Edge into our faces. Finally we passed underneath the last chokestone, which, suspended high between the walls of the gully, formed a sinister bridge. It was our gateway of triumph. The grade was a little less steep now–“rolling over”–the sky was close, full of its scudding mist…
We had climbed over that first bristling hump of the Knife-Edge, to see what it was like. It was very fierce and narrow. The sky was a blank of mist. The depths were a blank of mist. We walked on a narrow ragged edge of rock suspended in a space of clouds.
Back again over the first hump, into the gully below Pamola. And then–the lost foothold, the second or two of clinging, the little scrambling jump–and the falling, striking a ledge, and falling, falling ….
* * *
I awoke with a start out of this racking daydream. I was picking my way in leisurely fashion over jumbled rocks. By now I had nearly reached the top of the Monument, and suddenly I knew that all the fear and trouble were ended. I was alone with the mountain, and the rocks were essentially friendly rocks. Mist was drifting in–not solidly, but in preliminary wisps and fragments.
I stood surrounded by wind on the Monument itself, and looked out over a Maine dappled with clouds. Lakes were a quick gleam of silver in distant sunlight between wraiths of mist. Patches of sunlight strayed about the mountain–alighted on Pamola, went out, touched the little camp in the gulf, reappeared fleetingly over northern plateaus. In places the jagged line of the Knife-Edge, very sharp and black, pierced the gray sinuous fragments of mist, looming above a restless obscure space. The drops into that abyss, with the spruces and firs in its depths–fuzzy little toy trees–were almost sheer, from Hamlin Ridge in the north clear around the huge circle to Pamola. Between the long slant of the Ridge, and the grim tower of the peak, was the only gateway to Chimney Pond–the only break in that stern wall. All this I saw brokenly between quiet clouds.
To walk from here down on to the Knife-Edge was like venturing out along the top edge of a gigantic jagged wall. The saying that in some places the Knife-Edge is so narrow that you can straddle it as if it were some mythical horse, is no exaggeration. On one side, the gulf of the North Basin, you can distinctly see pebble-like things that are big boulders at the bottom of Chimney Pond. On the other side, the vastness of Maine.
I munched my chocolate, there on the Monument, and felt and smelt of the wind, not very strong. And so I slipped along quietly on the Knife-Edge trail. I knew now that these rocks were not going to hurt me. The clouds were companionable, too. They wandered in, white and pearly gray, from the southeast, slipped through the jags of the Knife-Edge, and drifted off, unscratched, untorn, into the great basin. They came quietly, swiftly, not very dense, with breaks between them. They made the world infinitely more beautiful by keeping it half-secret. Looking southward, there would be a glimpse of tender purple hills, or the soft blues and greens of far-reaching forest, of a wonderful velvety texture, like a rich Persian rug on the floor of the earth. Then white curtains. Once a small, swift break showed me, between ephemeral pale streamers, a wide lake, burnished gold in a flood of sunlight. It was more a dream than reality–coveted glimpses in a rare and magical crystal.
Sometimes a gray cataract of cloud would stream across the jag I was on; then the wings of blue sky, and all light and shadow and color would be lost; it would be cold for a moment, and wet, and gray, and this cloud seemed to fill the whole world. Again, a cloud would sail through just ahead of me, leaving me on a pedestal in a clear pool of sky, with wetness and grayness and coldness streaming transitorily past, almost within reach.
I wasn’t afraid. Only, when I came to the top of the Chimney, where the Knife-Edge dips into that sharp hollow under Pamola, where I had fallen, I worried a little. I thought, what a devil of a nuisance it would be if I should pull that stunt again and really get smashed up, now that there was no one to rescue me! I came to the brink of the thing–the bristling hump–and looked over; and there was no doubt that it was bad–just as bad as before. I looked some more; and all of a sudden discovered another way to get down–an easy way around a corner and down a grassy crevice. I laughed aloud happily.
Pamola was smothered in mist. However, I picked the right trail from several unmarked ones that diverge at the summit; and none of the great tumbled chaotic boulders, the narrow ledges, the difficult corners, the dark holes, seemed inimical. Quite a long way down I came into scrubby woods, where birches were growing at slants and angles and curves; some started horizontally, then suddenly changed their minds and grew upright. They were good things to hold on to. Farther down came ledges with rich deep moss covering them and spilling over the edges. Its greenness was striking after the gray pinnacles of a higher, more fantastic world.
This mountain and I had known a special and wondrous kindred solitude; and it was a culmination, a gigantic summing-up, of all adventure. There was no more haunting terror of gray rocks… Exultant, I went to find the rest of the crowd. I was awhirl with things I wanted to say. I wanted to describe the peaks and clouds, gold lakes shining through the fingers of white…
Laughter–high-pitched voices–the crackle of a supper fire–the warm sleepy smell of cocoa brewing…
“Hi there, old bean! Get many?”
“Blueberries, of course!”
“Oh, that… No, I–sort of forgot…”
They looked at me silently; then laughed, as though going to Basin Pond for blueberries, and then forgetting to pick any, was just what they expected from anyone so scatterbrained.
THE HOUSE WITHOUT WINDOWS AND EEPERSIP’S LIFE THERE By Barbara Newhall Follett. 166 pp. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $2.
Reviewed by Henry Longan Stuart. New York Times, February 6, 1927
In a “historical note” appended to “The House Without Windows” the father of the young author lets us into the secret of the happy accident to which we owe what may prove to be the most authentic and unalloyed document of a transient and hitherto unrecorded phase in plastic intelligence. “Almost above all,” says Mr. Wilson Follett (he has been telling of such special circumstances as a home education between child and parents in the great out of doors), “having used a typewriter as a plaything for a time she cannot remember, who was able to rattle off an easy 1,200 words an hour, without any awareness of the physical process, years before penmanship could have developed half the proficiency, even with intense concentration on the physical process alone.” Among all the implications to which this truly remarkable little book will give rise, the hint that a drudgery which invention has outdated may be slowing down mental processes at a critical mental age deserves at least a place.
In the mere theme of “The House Without Windows”–a little girl who escapes from her home with the entire heartlessness and heedlessness as to how others may feel about it which is so astonishing a trait in the immature, and becomes by turn a dryad and naiad in the woods and sea–there is no suspicion, as Mr. Follett very accurately points out, of precociousness. The mind of childhood is pantheistic. It invests the living creatures which come under its observation with all the qualities that its own little code of conduct have taught it to consider praiseworthy. It has a passion for smallness and snugness that is its subconscious defensive reaction to the girth and bulkiness that hems in its own little life and swoops upon it menacingly at bedtime and mealtime. The nest in the fork of the tree to which no grown person can climb, the squirrel’s hole or the mole’s run, at whose entry the grown person stands helpless, appear to it the most delicious retreats possible, and a conviction that it has been given the freedom of this diminutive world as a main element in the genesis of the fairy story, so far at least as children have invented it for themselves.
What is the most remarkable in the story of nine-year-old Barbara Follett’s heroine is that recourse is never once made to this order of fairy folk, who can, as it were, deputize the craving of a child to enter into the freer life of nature. From the moment of her escape on “the foothills of Mount Varcobis” to the last line of the book, Eepersip is the protagonist of her own adventure. No attempt is made to invest the birds and beasts that become her friends with any human attributes, far less human speech. An unbridled imagination is checked at every moment by a literalness of description that is apparently the amazing fruit of keen first-hand observation. On the one hand, the feeling of liberation can grow at times to something very like ecstasy. “The farther she went the more her heart began to leap within her joy in the life she was finding for herself” … “It seemed to happy Eepersip that all the wild was ready to make friends, as if nothing were afraid of her.” … “Great waves of happiness were flowing through her all the time.” On the other hand, at the moment when she is taking up her quarters in “a snug bedroom about five feet square and four and a half high” in a fox burrow, there can be the prim note: “The cordary berry grows during the Winter and is at its best at New Year. The seeds have sweet meats,” &c. The strange mingling of an extravagance which sets natural law is defiance and of the most minute descriptiveness is particularly noticeable in the chapter entitled “The Sea.” Eepersip, at home in the water from her first plunge as any fish, not to say mermaid, loses no opportunity to describe her new ambient. She notes that the loose sand is “like pepper,” a simile that alone is a guarantee of authenticity. Lying on a rock, she watches the gold and silver fish swimming across its shadow: “She observed how they nosed down and fed on the cozy sea plants on the bottom, which were covered with silver oxygen bubbles.” Barbara Follett may live and write to 90. But she will never give us the flight of sea birds more truly and vividly than in these dozen and a half words she wrote at the time: “Strong, narrow wings that beat down the air as the birds rose again, to hover and swoop and plunge.” “Beat down the air” for the motion of a hovering gull is more than an adequate phrase. It is the “inevitable” word upon which so many words have been spent. Here and there, too, like the silk thread of water mark on real paper money are the adorable naîvetés which remind us a child is writing: “Before long all the birds loved Snowflake–something that few kittens have attained!”
It is hard not to wax enthusiastic over this wonderful little book, bearing, as it does, every evidence, even in its meticulous literacy, that it is the fruit of one of those impulses which, as the young author’s father notes, “mostly fade into the light of common day a year or two before the dawn of that amount of mechanical articulacy which is necessary for a tangible expression of them,” and which, consequently, “are almost never expressed.” There can be few who have not at one time or another coveted the secret, innocent and wild at the same time, of a child’s heart. And here is little Miss Barbara Follett, holding the long-defended gate wide open and letting us enter and roam at our will over enchanted ground. And a typewriter did all this!
With thanks to Bruce for sending me his copy of the review.
THE HOUSE WITHOUT WINDOWS. By Barbara Newhall Follett. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1927. $2 Reviewed by Lee Wilson Dodd
This strange, delightful, and lovely book was written by a little girl as a present for her mother. When Barbara Follett has a birthday, she always gives her mother a present. Unhappily, one cannot commend this gentle custom to other children, since it loses all charm if not originally thought of by the giver. Barbara thought of it and adopted it; and when she was nine, she decided that on her tenth birthday she would make her mother a special present. [In fact, Barbara finished her story a few days after her ninth birthday, not her tenth.] So she set to work on her own typewriter and wrote down the story of Eepersip’s life in the House Without Windows. Fire destroyed the first manuscript in a jealous house with windows which, as I am convinced, burned itself to the ground out of sheer malice. That, I submit, would have settled the matter for most children–and for most adult authors, too. But Barbara (as Carlyle did, after John Stuart Mill’s famous housemaid incinerated the first draft of “The French Revolution”) set to work again. It is a second draft of Eepersip’s story, completed when Barbara was twelve, which is now before us.
If I mention these circumstances, it is because they are interesting in themselves, and not because I am soliciting grown-up indulgence for a fanciful story by a precocious child. In the first place, it is the contention of Barbara’s parents that she is not precocious. They believe her imagination to be that of a normal child of her years (granted her upbringing) and her extraordinary ability to record her imaginings in artistic prose to be due to the system of home-education which they devised for her and put in practise from her birth. In the words of her father:
She is not excessively gregarious and has not been regimented in schools and groups: therefore nothing has as yet standardized her, or ironed out her spontaneity, or made her particularly ashamed of it. She has been given plenty of time to know herself. And, almost above all, having used a typewriter as a plaything from a time she can’t remember, she was able to rattle off an easy 1,200 words an hour, without awareness of the physical process, years before penmanship could have developed half the proficiency, even with intense concentration on the physical process alone.
Well, it may be so… though I am not at all convinced that “The House Without Windows” can be attributed to any system by the mysterious system of Nature. However, I am not going to argue my way into the thorny thickets of “child psychology.” All I care about as a critic is that Barbara is somehow Barbara, and that her book, being beautiful, is its own excuse for being.
This book, as you have gathered, tells of Eepersip–who is the small daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Eigleen. They all lived in “a little brown shingled cottage on one of the foothills of Mount Varcrobis,” yet Eepersip was “rather lonely.” Her parents, advised by Eepersip, made for her “the most beautiful garden that was ever seen.” They were satisfactory parents, and Eepersip loved them, no doubt, in her own detached way. “But she was not a child who could be contented easily…” So she packed a small lunch-basket and ran away to an open glade on the upper slopes of Mount Varcrobis, and the first things she saw in the glade were “a doe and her daisied fawn…” Be astute enough to pause over that daisied fawn! In literature, as distinguished from the mass-production of books, it is the happy gift for putting things like that (“sea-shouldering whales,” for instance) that makes all the difference. Literature in any form of composition in which things are called by their right–that is, their essential–names. Barbara knows this quite well. For example, she points out later on that the Brunio twins were rather stupid because “they called their white kittens ‘White,” for her colour.” You see, “Eepersip thought the kitten was an exceptionally late bit of snow left on the grass.” And there is another glimpse of this unhappily named kitten which I prize. “Well, White didn’t care much about being left in the dewy grass, bewilderingly shaking first one paw, then another.” If you have ever owned or observed a kitten, that bit of description should give you the greatest confidence in Barbara’s artistic integrity.
The story of Eepersip is, if Barbara will forgive my stuffiness, a conte philosophique, and doubtless the only one ever written from the standpoint of an unspoiled childhood. It tells of one little girl’s escape from the tiresome world of grown-up mechanisms and compromises. Eepersip went outdoors and stayed there. She made friends with the doe and her daisied fawn, with a chipmunk, with grass and clouds and trees and the waves of the sea. This, obviously, was her world and she saw no reason why she should be asked to give it up. To submit to recapture was unthinkable. Heaven knows, poor Mr. and Mrs. Eigleen, with the help of the Ikkisfields (delightful people, who, when nobody in their village cared much for them, decided to go elsewhere!), did their best to entrap Eepersip again so that they might teach her all the silly, civilizing things the rest of us have learned to our cost! But they were no match for Eepersip and her newfound friends.
When the sun had dried the raindrops and the dew, the families started out to the great field to see what they could discover. The first thing they saw when they got to the edge of the slope was Eepersip skipping around. Then they saw her dance off to the woods and gather some long green branches and blossoms. Very soon she came back to the field, went over to a sleeping doe, and crowned her with the branches; upon which the doe got up and licked Eepersip’s cheek. She danced about in her delight. She was so beautiful, so graceful, that when her parents saw her they were amazed at the way in which her dancing and leaping had improved.
The Eigleens and the Ikkisfields did indeed on one occasion get hold of Eepersip.
But what could they do with her? How could they keep her securely? And, even so, if she was going to continue acting wildly, how much better off were they with her? This was a new question, which no one had thought of. But they decided that, if they could keep her safely, she would become tame and civilized again.
Happily, however, they were mistaken, though they locked her up in their house with windows.
“Eepersip could not go to sleep; she sat on the floor, whining softly in her misery. One of the bucks knocked gently on the glass door with his antler… The sound of breaking glass reached the ears of Mr. Ikkisfield… ‘Get up! get up! Sounds like high doings out there!’–Eepersip, on the little fawn’s back, had vanished toward the field.” So, naturally, “The families, after that adventure, were desperate; and they decided not to make any more plans just then…”
A wise decision, for no plans could have availed them. Eepersip was not as other little girls. She was destined, in the House Without Windows, to fulfil her mystical initiation. Little by little a deep magic is wrought within her. She passes from her meadow to the sea, from the sea to the lifting mountains. And one day she knew that she “was even happier than usual.”
And, when the sun again tinged the sky with color, a flock of butterflies, purple and gold and green, came swooping and alighted on her head in a circle, the largest in front. Others came in myriads and covered her dress with delicate wing-touches. Eepersip held out her arms a moment. A gold-and-black one alighted on each wrist. And then–she rose into the air, and hovering an instant over a great laurel-bush, vanished… She would be invisible for ever to all mortals, save those few who have minds to believe, eyes to see.
This is very beautiful writing. But there are moments when, for one reader, this book grows almost unbearably beautiful. It becomes an ache in his throat. Weary middle-age and the clear delicacy of a dawn-Utopia, beckoning… The contrast sharpens to pain. One closes the book and shuffles about doggedly till one finds the evening paper and smudges down to one’s element–that smudged machine-record of what man has made of man. Of man–and therefore of childhood! The dyer’s hand–subdued to what it works in… But need it be? Surely, in the words of another Eepersip who escaped: “Water, is taught by thirst.”
In: The American Girl, June, 1927 Barbara Follett Writes a Book by May Lamberton Becker
I have just been reading a book by a girl: it is called The House Without Windows (Knopf) and is by Barbara Newhall Follett, who is twelve years old now, but was nine when first she put this story upon paper. It was scarcely completed when it was destroyed in a fire from which her family had to run for their lives. One would have thought the story was quite gone, for the hardest thing to do with the memory is to bring back something that you have once written down and lost. But Barbara worked at it for three years; by that time it had grown into a longer and even more lovely story, and the author had come to the edge of her ‘teens.
It is the tale of a little girl named Eepersip, who lived with her parents in a house with a garden, pretty enough but set in a countryside far more interesting. So one day Eepersip packed a little lunch basket and started out.
“… She went east from her home on a shady path through beautiful woodlands, with her and there a grove of great massive pines. And as she walked she sang merrily.
“After quite a while she stepped out of the woodlands onto a large lawn. Close to the path there was a pool, with some tiny gold-fishes swimming about it in. Then she knew that she was nearing a house, and instead of pacing slowly along the path she began to run; for she was afraid that someone would see her and send her back home. But after a few minutes she grew tired and settled down to a reasonable pace. And as she slowed down she came into an enormous field of rhododendrons, lavender, white and brilliant red. Oh, what a gorgeous place that was! As Eepersip walked along, an oriole sang from a bush; she peeped into a hummingbird’s nest with two tiny white eggs in it; she startled a vireo from its nest in a low clump of grass, and, peeping into it, found three baby birds. The farther she went the more her heart began to leap within her for joy of the life she was finding for herself. Her loneliness decreased and she was free and happy as the birds or butterflies.’
A little further on she crosses a brook.
“She paused on the path suddenly, then drew back, for a doe and her daisied fawn were grazing close by. Eepersip took from her basket a lump of sugar, and held it out to the beautiful creatures. Very hesitatingly the doe moved forward, followed by her fawn, and at last took the lump of sugar from Eepersip’s fingers.
“… Could it be a dream, she thought? Eepersip had experienced the delightful sensation of the doe’s slightly rough tongue around her fingers, and suddenly she felt as if she could never leave them–as if she must stay always and play in the woods. Already she had become acquainted with a doe and a fawn, and they were not afraid of her!”
And this, to put the story in a nutshell, is just what she does do. She never comes back, though the family tries continually to entrap her, and once does manage to keep her within doors for a little while. But she escapes, and this time they realize that they can never keep her. She lives first in the meadows, then beside the sea, then upon a mountain: her companions are a squirrel and a white kitten that never grows to be a cat, just as Eepersip stays the same age though three years pass. There is one little boy who comes out to play with her, and then her own sister whom she induces to stay for awhile, but who grows to homesick to remain. But Eepersip is never homesick, for she is really more a fairy than a child; she is the fairy that lives in a little girl’s mind in those years when anything that grows out-of-doors is worth more to her than anything that can be found within walls, even of a palace. With most of us the fairy goes away before we are ten, and goes so completely that it is hard for us to remember it was ever there. But Eepersip becomes more and more a fairy, until at length, one day when she is leaping high in the air, happy and free, a gold and black butterfly alights on either wrist, and as they wave their wings Eepersip rises, rises, until she is at last lost to sight. She is a wood-nymph now, a spirit of nature.
As I read Barbara’s book, I thought about you, and I realized that some of Barbara’s experiences will be very interesting whether you intend to write or not. The first special thing is the means by which this book was written: I mean the mechanical means. Barbara has “used a typewriter as a plaything from a time that she can’t remember.” As a result, she wrote this book directly on the keys, scarcely aware of the process of writing. So her thought could flow freely, unhampered by the strain of cramped pencil or pen. Most of us tried to write a book when we were little and gave up because our hands gave out. Of course the typewriter did not provide Barbara with the story, but it made it easier for her to give the story to us.
In the second place, read over the little bit of the story that I have quoted, and see how the words, even in these few sentences, impress you as appropriate, and arranged with simplicity and grace. Now words do not come into our heads by themselves: we have to get them from somewhere. Barbara’s father says that when she was nine her vocabulary was made up of “deposits from the works of Walter de la Mare, George MacDonald, W. H. Hudson, Mark Twain, Shelly and Scott. No books meant more to her, between the ages of six and ten, than The Three Mulla-Muggars, A Little Boy Lost, and The Princess and the Goblin.
I know these books well; I know with what felicity the words in them are chosen and used. When you are gathering the words for your vocabulary, those words that you will use all through life–for most of us lay in our stock of words while we are young–it is important that you should become accustomed to beautiful English. Lord Dunsany, when he was a little boy, read Shakespeare, the Bible and old ballads: he did not know there was anything else to read. His English was formed by these influences: he writes like no one but himself, but his words are dignified and expressive, his sentences move like music, and he speaks sincerely, not in phrases that mean nothing. Suppose he had been brought up on comic strips that say “wanna” and “gotcha,” and on stories for boys whose style is without form or comeliness? Perhaps you have no idea of writing. But why be content with even talking like the Rover Boys, when your language may be like that of the girl in the fairy story who dropped pearls every time she spoke?
The third point is, not to be afraid to use beautiful or new words, once you have made their acquaintance. Try them on the family, if you are afraid the girls at school may think you are “stuck-up,” but try them on someone. Use them in sentences, not only in your exercises in English class, but in your everyday conversation. Every new word that you can really use is a new idea, no matter how near it may come to another word. When you come upon one that looks attractive, don’t let it stop upon the page: take it out for exercise. And be sure that the books you read most often are those whose sentences are like music, or whose words arouse your imagination and make you wish to make them part of your vocabulary–which means part of your life.
Published in the February, 1933, issue of The Horn Book Magazine
In Defense of Butterflies by Barbara Newhall Follett
A flash of black and orange outside the upstairs window; I sprang up, leaving arithmetic problems to solve themselves. “Butterfly!” I yelled, for the information of anyone who wanted to know. I grabbed my net and raced outdoors. A butterfly as lustrous as the one that had just sailed by was a tremendous adventure. Ever so much more exciting than arithmetic! what did anyone care about stodgy old numbers when the sun was shining and there were butterflies about?
I chased the shining wings over to a big red rhododendron bush. He hovered at the top of it, sampling flowers ruminatively, then swooped off toward the wide green field, I after him, net in hand, with all the energy of any healthy nine-year-old who wants very badly to capture a large black and orange butterfly.
My collection! Sheets and sheets of paper, a good-sized manuscript. But where were the butterflies? They were all safe and free, playing out in the field in the sunlight, communing subtly with buttercups. This butterfly collection did not consist of dry, faded wings. I had typewritten long, detailed descriptions of these iridescent friends, not couched in entomological terms, because I knew none, but in the prettiest words I could conjure up. While I was writing one of these portraits, the butterfly itself would flutter under a sieve placed beside my typewriter. When the last shining spot or stripe had been carefully recorded I would set him free once more.
By this time I was able to typewrite fast and accurately enough so that I enjoyed it immensely. It seemed to me a very efficient, logical, and delightful way of getting things said. Furthermore, at that time I was beginning to find a good deal that I wanted to talk about. When I discovered beauty in bird-songs, apple-blossoms, music, sunsets (but chiefly butterflies), I yearned to put it into tangible form so that I could keep it, hold it, understand it. I wrote masses of stuff, about everything under the sun, just for the pleasure and relief it gave me. This relief I could not have had in any other way. Handwriting would have been out of the question at that time, except for an occasional painfully scrawled line or two.
My little battered “portable” grew to be my best friend–with the possible exception of the butterflies. It was a constant companion, and the most important thing in my life. When I was happy or sad, ecstatic or anxious, I flew to the typewriter and poured my heart to it. It produced thousands of letters for me. It ticked off small stories and snatches of verse. A good many yards of its black ribbon went for purely fanciful purposes–a prodigious waste of time, if one believes that time spent happily is ever wasted.
It gave me hours of good practice in descriptive writing. Beside the butterflies, I kept a collection of sunsets. I would sit ensconced at a west window with the typewriter, feeling very much in touch with cosmic affairs, and write about the changes in color and cloud shapes as they took place. New Hampshire woods in the summer were full of things to be described. No sooner did I see light breaking silver on wet leaves, a smooth little red lizard in green moss, or some of Mr. de la Mare’s fairies ducketing among wild flowers, than I could write–write joyously about it all. And I was very happy.
Eventually daydreams took the form of a story, which grew into a small book, “The House without Windows.” This was the first more or less permanent result of the thousands of words I had typed since I was four years old. I don’t know anything about the importance of this story, in a literary sense; but it was important to me in that I had a great deal of fun writing it, editing, reading it in actual, honest-to-goodness galley proof, and eventually seeing it bound and sent out mysteriously into the world. (All this was in the happy, happy days before I awoke to learn that good writing does not flow like a singing brook, but must be hammered and beaten drop by drop from the heart’s blood!)
But beside daydreams and butterflies, the typewriter recorded faithfully actual events, such as mountain trips, canoe trips–thus taking the place of drawing or photography. From a ten-day voyage in a three-masted schooner, another small book was created, “The Voyage of the Norman D.” And of course, when my mother and I sailed on our very romantic roamings about the West Indies and the South Seas, our typewriters were our most important articles of baggage. As a matter of fact, they took the place of pocket-books!
I do not mean to imply that these two books were the most important result of my having learned to typewrite, or of my desire to write intensely about whatever entered my head. I should feel the same about the importance of the typewriter even if I had never written as much as a single word that would be permanent.
Too many people have for too long thought of the typewriter as an instrument or purely commercial value. I want to stress the point that for me that was the least of its values. It was not until after twelve years of intimate association with it that i made any use of its commercial value in an office. And this seemed decidedly a more tawdry use of its magic. Its beauty for me lay in the fact that it gave me a way to talk, to describe butterflies fluently and neatly–a way to keep my butterflies without putting pins through their shimmering wings.
I was gloriously free to talk about whatever I wished, whatever I considered important or beautiful. So I began to explore fare and wide in search of still more beauty which I could set down and make my own. I thought about flowers, and learned their names. I watched leaves and light, water and clouds more carefully. I listened for familiar bird-songs. I became acquainted with ferns and mosses, small flickering fishes in the lake, squirrels and chipmunks rustling the leaves. My typewriter was the efficient medium through which I poured out a young adoration of nature.
And then, somehow, the whole thing broke. I no longer could rattle off pages about anything that interested me. Writing began to involve an anguish of concentration, word by word production, revision, much rewriting and rearranging. The spontaneity and fluency were lost for me on the day I longed for sentences to be more perfect, words better chosen, paragraphs more artistically put together. I set for myself a standard which I was never able to reach. I should never again be able to sit down casually and innocently beside a sieve to describe a butterfly. I was gradually growing up, and it wasn’t much fun. It made the writing problem all of a sudden strangely complex and difficult.
But even now the typewriter did not fail me. It patiently limped back and forth across the pages with me. It was made to retrace its steps, to cross out words it had labored over, two write between the lines. Often an unfinished page would be torn from it impatiently, and we would have to start all over. And it very seldom lost its temper!
Sometimes, when I am in the throes of wrestling some beastly paragraph, I stop and sigh for the days when I could put words together as fast as my fingers could tap the keys. And I’m ore and more positive that having a typewriter during all that time was the best thing that could have happened to me. I have often wondered what would happen if every child of four were given a typewriter to work and play with. Knowing nothing about education or psychology or children of four, I couldn’t even venture a guess. Perhaps there would simply be a terrific wholesale destruction of typewriters. An effort would have to be made to impress upon children that a typewriter is magic, and a thing to be handled with gentle reverence. But seriously, I wonder if any child in the world would not find his life more full of meaning and of beauty, if he could have at his command a means of setting down the things he feels and enjoys.
Once I attended for a short time an up-to-date business school. I was rather dismayed when I saw how typewriting was being taught. It was terrifying to look at rows and rows of big belligerent business typewriters, without a single letter on a single key–blank, mute, expressionless. You knew, theoretically, where the letters were. You didn’t look at the keyboard anyhow. This, along with many charts on the wall, dreary exercise books, etc., constituted the modern “touch” system. Learning to typewrite was a matter of hard work and deadly earnest.
I smiled as I remembered how I had learned to typewrite. I hadn’t even known the letters of the alphabet for very long at that time. I could spell only a few simple words. Hands were so very insignificant that only the forefingers were strong enough to stand the strain of tapping typewriter keys. I began by writing my favorite words, notable “butterfly” and “clock.” Gradually, of course, I learned the proper fingering, and developed familiarity with the keyboard. But at no time was the typewriter a matter of dull, deadly drudgery and practice; it was never less than sheer delightful magic.
I should think, then, that the earlier a child can learn to handle a typewriter, the better. At seven or eight years old, the enchantment of butterflies (using the word now as a symbol of anything and everything) begins to come with a wild rush. With a typewriter, something can be done about it. Those first young appreciations of beauty can be cared for and made to grow, instead of being forced to fend for themselves in silence and perhaps to grow dim or fade out altogether.
Just what use now are all those pages of nature-worship I wrote long ago? I cannot answer that for sure, but I venture the suspicion that such things as leaves and flowers, mountains and rivers, and especially butterflies, mean very much more to me know that they would have meant if I had been forced, through lack of a proper tool, into mere passive acceptance. I should not, perhaps, been lured out over the fields in pursuit of brighter and rarer butterflies, had I not known that it was in my power to make them forever my own–immortal, as it were. And I imagine that the same holds true for many other things. This seems to hint at the rather momentous conclusion that perhaps all of life has for me been subtly affected, brightened, because it was never dammed up and forgotten, but given a constant outlet and stimulation through that little old “portable” or mine. Life was a running brook, instead of a tranquil pool. And if this is true of me, why not of others?
Perhaps this is a mere fanciful theory, which any educational expert would at once disprove. Anyway, I still like butterflies. And–but don’t tell anyone–I still don’t know their Latin names. I doubt very much if they need Latin names.