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Produced by David Widger





THE INDIAN ON THE TRAIL

From "Mackinac And Lake Stories", 1899

By Mary Hartwell Catherwood


Maurice Barrett sat waiting in the old lime-kiln built by the British in
the war of 1812 - a white ruin like much-scattered marble, which stands
bowered in trees on a high part of the island. He had, to the amusement
of the commissioner, hired this place for a summer study, and paid a
carpenter to put a temporary roof over it, with skylight, and to make a
door which could be fastened. Here on the uneven floor of stone were set
his desk, his chair, and a bench on which he could stretch himself to
think when undertaking to make up arrears in literary work. But the days
were becoming nothing but trysts with her for whom he waited.

First came the heavenly morning walk and the opening of his study, then
the short half-hour of labor, which ravelled off to delicious suspense.
He caught through trees the hint of a shirt-waist which might be any
girl's, then the long exquisite outline which could be nobody's in the
world but hers, her face under its sailor hat, the blown blond hair, the
blue eyes. Then her little hands met his outstretched hands at the door,
and her whole violet-breathing self yielded to his arms.

They sat down on the bench, still in awe of each other and of the swift
miracle of their love and engagement. Maurice had passed his fiftieth
year, so clean from dissipation, so full of vitality and the beauty of a
long race of strong men, that he did not look forty, and in all out-door
activities rivalled the boys in their early twenties. He was an expert
mountain-climber and explorer of regions from which he brought his
own literary material; inured to fatigue, patient in hardship, and
resourceful in danger. Money and reputation and the power which attends
them he had wrung from fate as his right, and felt himself fit to match
with the best blood in the world - except hers.

Yet she was only his social equal, and had grown up next door, while
his unsatisfied nature searched the universe for its mate - a wild
sweetbrier-rose of a child, pink and golden, breathing a daring,
fragrant personality. He hearkened back to some recognition of her charm
from the day she ran out bareheaded and slim-legged on her father's lawn
and turned on the hose for her play. Yet he barely missed her when she
went to an Eastern school, and only thrilled vaguely when she came back
like one of Gibson's pictures, carrying herself with state-liness. There
was something in her blue eyes not to be found in any other blue eyes.
He was housed with her family in the same hotel at the island before he
completely understood the magnitude of what had befallen him.

"I am awfully set up because you have chosen me," she admitted at first.
He liked to have her proud as of a conquest, and he was conscious of
that general favor which stamped him a good match, even for a girl half
his age.

"How much have you done this morning?" she inquired, looking at his
desk.

"Enough to tide over the time until you came. Determination and
execution are not one with me now." Her hands were cold, and he warmed
them against his face.

"It was during your married life that determination and execution were
one?"

"Decidedly. For that was my plodding age. Sometimes when I am tingling
with impatience here I look back in wonder on the dogged drive of those
days. Work is an unhappy man's best friend. I have no concealments from
you, Lily. You know I never loved my wife - not this way - though I made
her happy; I did my duty. She told me when she died that I had made her
happy. People cannot help their limitations."

"Do you love me?" she asked, her lips close to his ear.

"I am you! Your blood flows through my veins. I feel you rush through
me. You don't know what it is to love like that, do you?"

She shook her head.

"When you are out of my sight I do not live; I simply wait. What is the
weird power in you that creates such gigantic passion?"

"The power is all in your imagination. You simply don't know me. You
think I am a prize. Why, I - flirt - and I've - kissed men!"

He laughed. "You would be a queer girl, at your age, if you
hadn't - kissed men - a little. Whatever your terrible past has been, it
has made you the infinite darling that you are!"

She moved her eyes to watch the leaves twinkling in front of the
lime-kiln.

"I must go," she said.

"'I must go'!" he mocked. "You are no sooner here than - ' I must go '!"

"I can't be with you all the time. You don't care for appearances, so I
have to.".

"Appearances are nothing. This is the only real thing in the universe."

"But I really must go." She lifted her wilful chin and sat still. They
stared at each other in the silence of lovers. Though the girl's face
was without a line, she was more skilled in the play of love than he.

"Indeed I must go. Your eyes are half shut, like a gentian."

"When you are living intensely you don't look at the world through
wide-open eyes," said Maurice. "I never let myself go before. Repression
has been the law of my life. Think of it! In a long life-time I have
loved but two persons - the woman I told you of, and you. Twenty years
ago I found out what life meant. For the first time, I knew! But I was
already married. I took that beautiful love by the throat and choked it
down. Afterwards, when I was free, the woman I first loved was married.
How long I have had to wait for you to bloom, lotos flower! This is
living! All the other years were preparation."

"Do you never see her?" inquired the girl.

"Who? That first one? I have avoided her."

"She loved you?"

"With the blameless passion that we both at first thought was the most
perfect friendship."

"Wouldn't you marry her now if she were free?"

"No. It is ended. We have grown apart in renunciation for twenty years.
I am not one that changes easily, you see. You have taken what I could
not withhold from you, and it is yours. I am in your power."

They heard a great steamer blowing upon the strait. Its voice
reverberated through the woods. The girl's beautiful face was full of a
tender wistfulness, half maternal. Neither jealousy nor pique
marred its exquisite sympathy. It was such an expression as an untamed
wood-nymph might have worn, contemplating the life of man.

"Don't be sad," she breathed.

Vague terror shot through Maurice's gaze.

"That is a strange thing for you to say to me, Lily. Is it all you can
say - when I love you so?"

"I was thinking of the other woman. Did she suffer?"

"At any rate, she has the whole world now - beauty, talent, wealth,
social prestige. She is one of the most successful women in this
country."

"Do I know her name?"

"Quite well. She has been a person of consequence since you were a
child."

"I couldn't capture the whole world," mused Lily. Maurice kissed her
small fingers.

"Some one else will put it in your lap, to keep or throw away as you
choose."

The hurried tink-tank of an approaching cow-bell suggested passers. Then
a whir of wheels could be heard through tangled wilderness. The girl
met his lips with a lingering which trembled through all his body, and
withdrew herself.

"Now I am going. Are you coming down the trail with me?"

Maurice shut the lime-kiln door, and crossed with her a grassy avenue
to find among birches the ravelled ends of a path called the White
Islander's Trail. You may know it first by a triangle of roots at the
foot of an oak. Thence a thread, barely visible to expert eyes, winds to
some mossy dead pines and crosses a rotten log. There it becomes a trail
cleaving the heights, and plunging boldly up and down evergreen glooms
to a road parallel with the cliff. Once, when the island was freshly
drenched in rain, Lily breathed deeply, gazing down the tunnel floored
with rock and pine-needles, a flask of incense. "It is like the
violins!"

In that seclusion of heaven Maurice could draw her slim shape to him,
for the way is so narrow that two are obliged to walk close. They parted
near the wider entrance, where a stump reared itself against the
open sky, bearing a stick like a bow, and having the appearance of a
crouching figure.

"There is the Indian on the trail," said Lily. "You must go back now."

"He looks so formidable," said Maurice; "especially in twilight, and,
except at noon, it is always twilight here. But when you reach him he is
nothing but a stump."

"He is more than a stump," she insisted. "He is a real Indian, and some
day will get up and take a scalp! It gives me a shiver every time I come
in sight of him crouched on the trail!"

"Do you know," complained her lover, "that you haven't told me once
to-day?"

"Well - I do."

"How much?"

"Oh - a little!"

"A little will not do!"

"Then - a great deal."

"I want all - all!"

Her eyes wandered towards the Indian on the trail, and the bow of her
mouth was bent in a tantalizing curve.

"I have told you I love you. Why doesn't that satisfy you?"

"It isn't enough!"

"Perhaps I can't satisfy you. I love you all I can."

"All you can?"

"Yes. Maybe I can't love you as much as you want me to. I am shallow!"

"For God's sake, don't say you are shallow! There is deep under deep in
you! I couldn't have staked my life on you, I couldn't have loved you,
if there hadn't been! Say I have only touched the surface yet, but don't
say you are shallow!"

The girl shook her head.

"There isn't enough of me. Do you know," she exclaimed, whimsically,
"that's the Indian on the trail! You'll never feel quite sure of me,
will you?"

Maurice's lips moved. "You are my own!"

She kept him at bay with her eyes, though they filled slowly with tears.

"I ama child of the devil!" exclaimed Lily, with vehemence. "I give
people trouble and make them suffer!"

"She classes me with 'people'!" Maurice thought. He said, "Have I ever
blamed you for anything?"

"No."

"Then don't blame yourself. I will simply take what you can give me.
That is all I could take. Forgive me for loving you too much. I will try
to love you less."

"No," the girl demurred. "I don't want you to do that."

"I am very unreasonable," he said, humbly. "But the rest of the world is
a shadow. You are my one reality. There is nothing in the universe but
you."

She brushed her eyes fiercely. "I mustn't cry. I'll have to explain it
if I do, and the lids will be red all day."

The man felt internally seared, as by burning lava, with the conviction
that he had staked his all late in life on what could never be really
his. She would diffuse herself through many. He was concentrated in her.
His passion had its lips burned shut.

"I am Providence's favorite bag-holder," was his bitter thought. "The
game is never for me."

"Good-bye," said Lily.

"Good-bye," said Maurice.

"Are you coming into the casino to-night?"

"If you will be there."

"I have promised a lot of dances. Good-bye. Go back and work."

"Yes, I must work," said Maurice.

She gave him a defiant, radiant smile, and ran towards the Indian on the
trail. He turned in the opposite direction, and tramped the woods until
nightfall.

At first he mocked himself. "Oh yes, she loves me! I'm glad, at any
rate, that she loves me! There will be enough to moisten my lips with;
and if I thirst for an ocean that is not her fault."

Why had a woman been made who could inspire such passion without
returning it? He reminded himself that she was of a later, a gayer,
lighter, less strenuous generation than his own. Thousands of men had
waded blood for a principle and a lost cause in his day. In hers
the gigantic republic stood up a menace to nations. The struggle for
existence was over before she was born. Yet women seemed more in earnest
now than ever before. He said to himself, "I have always picked out
natures as fatal to me as a death-warrant, and fastened my life to
them."

The thought stabbed him that perhaps his wife, whom he had believed
satisfied, had carried such hopeless anguish as he now carried. Tardy
remorse for what he could not help gave him the feeling of a murderer.
And since he knew himself how little may be given under the bond of
marriage, he could not look forward and say, "My love will yet be mine!"

He would, indeed, have society on his side; and children - he drew his
breath hard at that. Her ways with children were divine. He had often
watched her instinctive mothering of, and drawing them around her. And
it should be much to him that he might look at and, touch her. There was
life in her mere presence.

He felt the curse of the artistic temperament, which creates in man the
exquisite sensitiveness of woman.

Taking the longest and hardest path home around the eastern beach,
Maurice turned once on impulse, parted a screen of birches, and stepped
into an amphitheatre of the cliff, moss-clothed and cedar-walled. It
sloped downward in three terraces. A balcony or high parapet of stone
hung on one side, a rock low and broad stood in the centre, and an
unmistakable chair of rock, cushioned with vividly green-branched moss,
waited an occupant. Maurice sat down, wondering if any other human
being, perplexed and tortured, had ever domiciled there for a brief
time. Slim alder-trees and maples were clasped in moss to their waists.
The spacious open was darkened by dense shade overhead. Bois Blanc was
plainly in view from the beach. But the eastern islands stretched a line
of foliage in growing dusk. Maurice felt the cooling benediction of the
place. This world is such a good world to be happy in, if you have the
happiness.

When the light faded he went on, climbing low headlands which jutted
into the water, and sliding down on the other side; so that he reached
the hotel physically exhausted, and had his dinner sent to his room. But
a vitality constantly renewing itself swept away every trace of his hard
day when he entered the gayly lighted casino.

He no longer danced, not because dancing ceased to delight him, but
because the serious business of life had left no room for it. He walked
along the waxed floor, avoiding the circling procession of waltzers,
and bowing to a bank of pretty faces, but thinking his own thought,
in growing bitterness: "They who live blameless lives are the fools of
fate. If I had it to do over again, I would take what I wanted in spite
of everything, and let the consequences fall where they would!" Looking
up, he met in the eyes the woman of his early love.

She was holding court, for a person of such consequence became the
centre of the caravansary from the instant of her arrival; and she gave
him her hand with the conventional frankness and self-command that
set her apart from the weak. Once more he knew she was a woman to be
worshipped, whose presence rebuked the baseness he had just thought.

"Perhaps it was she who kept me from being worse," Maurice recognized in
a flash; "not I myself!"

"Why, Mrs. Carstang, I didn't know you were here!" he spoke, with warmth
around the heart.

"We came at noon."

"And I was in the woods all day." Maurice greeted the red-cheeked,
elderly Mr. Carstang, whom, according to half the world, his wife doted
upon, and according to the other half, she simply endured. At any rate,
he looked pleased with his lot.

While Maurice stood talking with Mrs. Carstang, the new grief and
the old strangely neutralized each other. It was as if they met and
grappled, and he had numb peace. The woman of his first love made him
proud of that early bond. She was more than she had been then. But Lily
moved past him with a smile. Her dancing was visible music. It had
a penetrating grace - hers, and no other person's in the world. The
floating of a slim nymph down a forest avenue, now separating from her
partner, and now joining him at caprice, it rushed through Maurice like
some recollection of the Golden Age, when he had stood imprisoned in a
tree. There was little opportunity to do anything but watch her, for she
was more in demand than any other girl in the casino. Hop nights were
her unconscious ovations. He took a kind of aching delight in her
dancing. For while it gratified an artist to the core, it separated her
from her lover and gave her to other men.

Next morning he waited for her in the study with a restlessness which
would not let him sit still. More than once he went as far as the
oak-tree to watch for a glimmer. But when Lily finally appeared at the
door he pretended to be very busy with papers on his desk, and looked
up, saying, "Oh!"

The morning was chill, and she seemed a fair Russian in fur-edged cloth
as she put her cold fingers teasingly against his neck.

"Are you working hard?"

"Trying to. I am behind."

"But if there is a good wind this afternoon you are not to forget the
Carstangs' sail. They will be here only a day or two, and you mustn't
neglect them. Mrs. Carstang told me if I saw you first to invite you."

Maurice met the girl's smiling eyes, and the ice of her hand went
through him.

"Isn't Mrs. Carstang lovely! As soon as I saw you come in last night, I
knew she was - the other woman."

"You didn't look at me."

"I can see with my eyelashes. Do you know, I have often thought I should
love her if I were a man!"

There was not a trace of jealousy in Lily's gentle and perfect manner.

"You resemble her," said Maurice. "You have the blond head, and the same
features - only a little more delicate."

"I have been in her parlor all morning," said Lily. "We talked about
you. I am certain, Maurice, Mrs. Carstang is in her heart still faithful
to you."

That she should thrust the old love on him as a kind of solace seemed
the cruelest of all. There was no cognizance of anything except this one
maddening girl. She absorbed him. She wrung the strength of his manhood
from him as tribute, such tribute as everybody paid her, even Mrs.
Carstang. He sat like a rock, tranced by the strong control which he
kept over himself.

"I must go,"-said Lily. She had not sat down at all. Maurice shuffled
his papers.

"Good-bye," she spoke.

"Good-bye," he answered.

She did not ask, "Are you coming down the trail with me?" but ebbed
softly away, the swish of her silken petticoat subsiding on the grassy
avenue.

Her lover stretched his arms across the desk and sobbed upon them with
heart-broken gasps.

"It is killing me! It is killing me! And there is no escape. If I took
my life my disembodied ghost would follow her, less able to make itself
felt than now! I cannot live without her, and she is not for me - not for
me!"

He cursed the necessity which drove him out with the sailing party, and
the prodigal waste of life on neutral, trivial doings which cannot be
called living. He could see Lily with every pore of his body, and grew
faint keeping down a wild beast in him which desired to toss overboard
the men who crowded around her. She was more deliciously droll than
any comédienne, full of music and wit, the kind of spirit that rises
flood-tide with occasion. He was himself hilarious also during this
experience of sailing with two queens surrounded by courtiers and
playing the deep game of fascination, as if men were created for the
amusement of their lighter moments. Lily's defiant, inscrutable eyes
mocked him. But Mrs. Carstang gave him sweet friendship, and he sat by
her with the unchanging loyalty of a devotee to an altar from which the
sacrament has been removed.

Next morning Lily did not come to the lime-kiln. Maurice worked
furiously all day, and corrected proof in his room at night, though
tableaux were shown in the casino, both Mrs. Carstang and Lily being
head and front of the undertaking.

The second day Lily did not come to the limekiln. But he saw her pass
along the grassy avenue in front of his study with Mrs. Carstang, a man
on each side of them. They waved their hands to him.

Maurice sat with his head on his desk all the afternoon, beaten and
broken-hearted. He told himself he was a poltroon; that he was losing
his manhood; that the one he loved despised him, and did well to
despise him; that a man of his age who gave way to such weakness must
be entering senility. The habit of rectitude would cover him like armor,
and proclaim him still of a chivalry to which he felt recreant. But it
came upon him like revelation that many a man had died of what doctors
had called disease, when the report to the health-officer should have
read: "This man loved a woman with a great passion, and she slew him."

The sigh of the woods around, and the sunlight searching for him through
his door, were lonelier than illimitable space. It was what the natives
call a "real Mackinac day," with infinite splendor of sky and water.

Maurice heard the rustle of woman's clothes, and stood up as Lily came
through the white waste of stones. She stopped and gazed at him with
large hunted eyes, and submitted to his taking and kissing her hands. It
was so blessed to have her at all that half his trouble fled before her.
They sat down together on the bench.

Much of his life Maurice had been in the attitude of judging whether
other people pleased him or not. Lily reversed this habit of mind, and
made him humbly solicitous to know whether he pleased her or not. He
silently thanked God for the mere privilege of having her near him.
Passionate selfishness was chastened out of him. One can say much behind
the lips and make no sound at all.

"If I drench her with my love and she does not know it," thought
Maurice, "it cannot annoy her. Let me take what she is willing to give,
and ask no more."

"The Carstangs are gone," said Lily.

"Yes; I bade them good-bye this morning before I came to the lime-kiln."

"You don't say you regret their going."

"I never seek Mrs. Carstang."

He sat holding the girl's hands and never swerving a glance from her
face, which was weirdly pallid - the face of her spirit. He felt himself
enveloped and possessed by her, his will subject to her will. He said
within himself, voicelessly: "I love you. I love the firm chin, the
wilful lower lip, and the Cupid's bow of the upper lip. I love the oval
of your cheeks, the curve of your ears, the etched eyebrows, and all the
little curls on your temples. I love the proud nose and most beautiful
forehead. Every blond hair on that dear head is mine! Its upward tilt
on the long throat is adorable! Have you any gesture or personal trait
which does not thrill me? But best of all, because through them you
yourself look at me, revealing more than you think, I adore your blue
eyes."

"What are you thinking?" demanded Lily.

"Of a man who lay face downward far out in the desert, and had not a
drop of water to moisten his lips."

"Is he in your story?"

"Yes, he is in my story."

"I thought perhaps you didn't want me to come here any more," she said.

"You didn't think so!" flashed Maurice.

"But you turned your cheek to me the last time I was here. You were too
busy to do more than speak."

Voicelessly he said: "I lay under your feet, my life, my love!
You walked on me and never knew it." Aloud he answered: "Was I so
detestable? Forgive me. I am trying to learn self-control."

"You are all self-control! If you have feeling, you manage very well to
conceal it."

"God grant it!" he said, in silence, behind his lips. "For the touch
of your hand is rapture. My God! how hard it is to love so much and be
still!" Aloud he said, "Don't you know the great mass of human beings
are obliged to conceal their feelings because they have not the gift of
expression?"

"Yes, I know," answered Lily, defiantly.

"But that can never be said of you," Maurice went on. "For you are so
richly endowed with expression that your problem is how to mask it."

"Are you coming down the trail with me? It is sunset, and time to shut
the study for the day."

He prepared at once to leave his den, and they went out together on the
trail, lingering step by step. Though it was the heart of the island
summer, the maples still had tender pink leaves at the extremities of
branches; and the trail looked wild and fresh as if that hour tunnelled
through the wilderness. Sunset tried to penetrate western stretches with
level shafts, but none reached the darkening path where twilight already
purpled the hollows.

The night coolness was like respite after burning pain. Maurice wondered
how close he might draw this changeful girl to him without again
losing her. He had compared her to a wild sweetbrier-rose. She was a
hundred-leaved rose, hiding innumerable natures in her depths.

They passed the dead pines, crossed the rotten log, and came silently


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Online LibraryMary Hartwell CatherwoodThe Indian On The Trail → online text (page 1 of 2)