was in the summertime that the great pine sang his loudest song of winter,
for always the voice of the tree seemed to arouse in the listener a realization
of that which was past and to come, rather than of the present. In the
winter the tree seemed to sing of the slumberous peace under his gently
fanning boughs, and the deep swell of his aromatic breath in burning noons,
and when the summer traveller up the mountain-side threw himself, spent
and heated, beneath his shade, then the winter song was at its best. When
the wind swelled high came the song of the ice-fields, of the frozen mountain-
torrents, of the trees wearing hoary beards and bent double like old men,
of the little wild things trembling in their covers when the sharp reports
of the frost sounded through the rigid hush of the arctic night and death
The man who lay
beneath the tree had much uncultivated imagination, and, though hampered
by exceeding ignorance, he yet saw and heard that which was beyond mere
observation. When exhausted by the summer heat, he reflected upon the winter
with that keen pleasure that comes from the mental grasp of contrast to
discomfort. He did not know that he heard the voice of the tree and not
his own thought, so did the personality of the great pine mingle with his
own. He was a sailor, and had climbed different heights from mountains,
even masts made from the kindred of the tree.
he threw his head back, and stared up and up, and reflected what a fine
mast the tree would make, if only it were not soft pine. There was a stir
in a branch, and a bird which lived in the tree in summer cast a small,
wary glance at him from an eye like a point of bright intelligence, but
the man did not see it. He drew a long breath, and looked irresolutely
at the upward slope beyond the tree. lt was time for him to be up and on
if he would cross the mountain before nightfall. He was a wayfarer without
resources. He was as poor as the tree, or any of the wild creatures which
were in hiding around him on the mountain. He was even poorer, for he had
not their feudal tenure of an abiding place for root and foot on the mountain
by the inalienable right of past generations of his race. Even the little,
wary-eyed, feathered thing had its small freehold in the branches of the
great pine, but the man had nothing. He had returned to primitive conditions;
he was portionless save for that with which he carne into the world, except
for two garments that were nearly past their use as such. His skin showed
through the rents; the pockets were empty. Adam expelled from Eden was
not in much worse case, and this man also had at his back the flaming sword
of punishment for wrong-doing. The man arose. He stood for a moment, letting
the cool wind fan his forehead little longer; then he bent his shoulders
doggedly and resumed his climb up the dry bed of a brook which was in winter
a fierce conduit for the melting ice and snow. Presently he came to such
a choke of fallen trees across the bed that he had to leave it; then there
was a sheer rock ascent which he had to skirt and go lower down the mountain
The tree was left
alone. He stood quiescent with the wind in his green plumes. He belonged
to that simplest form of life which cannot project itself beyond its own
existence to judge of it. He did not know when presently the man returned
and threw himself down with a violent thud against his trunk, though there
was a slight shock to his majesty. But the man looked up at the tree and
cursed it. He had lost his way through avoiding the rocky precipice, and
had circled back to the tree. He remained there a few minutes to gain breath;
then he rose, for the western sunlight was filtering in gold drops through
the foliage be low the pine, and plodded heavily on again.
It might have been
twenty minutes before he returned. When he saw the pine he cursed more
loudly than before. The sun was quite low. The mountain seemed to be growing
in size, the valleys were fast becoming gulfs of black mystery .The man
looked at the tree malignantly. He felt in his pocket for a knife which
he used to own, then for a match, the accompaniment of the tobacco and
pipe which formerly comforted him, but there was none there. The thought
of the lost pipe and tobacco filled him with a childish savagery .He felt
that he must vent his spite upon something outside himself. He picked up
two dry sticks, and began rubbing them together. He had some skill in woodcraft.
Presently a spark gleamed; then another. He scraped up a handful of dry
leaves. Presently smoke arose pungently in his face, then a flame leaped
to life. The man kept on his way, leaving a fire behind him, and swore
with an oath that he would not be trapped by the tree again.
He struggled up
the old waterway, turning aside for the prostrate skeletons of giant trees,
clambering over heaps of stones which might have been the cairns of others,
and clawing up precipices like a panther. After one fierce scramble he
paused for breath, and, standing on a sheer rock ledge, gazed downward.
Below him was a swaying, folding gloom full of vague whispers and rustlings.
It seemed to wave and eddy before him like the sea from the deck of a ship,
and, indeed, it was another deep, only of air instead of water. Suddenly
he realized that there was no light, that the fire which he had kindled
must have gone out. He stared into the waving darkness below, and sniffed
hard. He could smell smoke faintly, although he could see no fire. Then
all at once came a gleam of red, then a leap of orange flame. Then, no
human being could have told how it happened, he himself least of all, what
swift motive born of deeds and experiences in his own life, born perhaps
of deeds and experiences of long-dead ancestors, actuated him. He leaped
back down the mountain, stumbling headlong, falling at times, and scrambled
to his feet again, sending loose stones down in avalanches, running risks
of life and limb, but never faltering until he was beside the pine, standing,
singing in the growing glare of the fire. Then he began beating the fire
fiercely with sticks, trampling it until he blistered his feet. At last
the fire was out. People on a hotel piazza down in the valley, who had
been watching it, turned away. "The fire is out," they said, with the regret
of those who miss a spectacular delight, although admitting the pity and
shame of it, yet coddling with fierce and defiant joy the secret lust of
destruction of the whole race. "The fire is out," they said; but more than
the fire had burned low, and was out on the mountain. The man who had evoked
destruction to satisfy his own wrath of spirit,. and then repented sat
for a few minutes outside the blackened circle around the great pine, breathing
hard. He drew his rough coat-sleeve across his wet forehead and stared
up at the tree, which loomed above him like a prophet with solemnly waving
arms of benediction, prophesying in a great unknown language of his own.
He gaped as he stared; his face looked vacant. He felt in his pocket for
his departed pipe, then withdrew his hand forcibly, dashing it against
the ground. Then he sighed, swore mildly under his breath an oath of weariness
and misery rather than of wrath. Then he pulled himself up by successive
stages of his stiff muscles, like an old camel, and resumed his journey.
After a while he again paused and looked back. The moon had arisen, and
he could see quite plainly the great pine standing crowned with white light,
tossing his boughs like spears and lances of silver. "Thunderin' big tree,"
he muttered, with a certain pride and self- approbation. He felt that that
majestic thing owed its being to him, to his forbearance with his own hard
fate. Had it not been for that it would have been a mere blackened trunk.
At that moment, for the first time in his history, he rose superior to
his own life. In some unknown fashion this seeming1y trivial happening
had, as it were, tuned him to a higher place in the scale of things than
he had ever held. He, through saving the tree from himself, gained a greater
spiritual growth than the tree had gained in height since it first quickened
with life. Who shall determine the limit at which the intimate connection
and reciprocal influence of all forms of visible creation upon one another
may stop? A man may cut down a tree and plant one. Who knows what effect
the tree may have upon the man, to his raising or undoing?.
Presently the man frowned and shook his head in a curious fashion, as if
he questioned his own identity; then he resumed his climb. After the summit
was gained he went down the other side of the mountain, then northward
through a narrow gorge of valley to which the moonbeams did not yet penetrate.
This valley, between mighty walls of silver-crested darkness, was terrifying.
The man felt his own smallness and the largeness of nature which seemed
about to fall upon him. Spirit was intimidated by matter. The man, rude
and unlettered, brutalized and dulled by his life, yet realized it. He
rolled his eyes aloft from side to side, and ran as if pursued.
When he had reached
the brow of a little decline in the valley road he paused and searched
eagerly with straining eyes the side of the mountain on the right. Then
he drew a long breath of relief. He had seen what he wished to seen,
a feeble glimmer of lamplight from a window of a house, the only one on
that lonely road for five miles in either direction. It was the dwelling-house
on a small farm which had been owned by the father of the woman whom the
man had married fifteen years before. Ten years ago, when he had run away,
there had been his wife, his little girl, and his wife's mother living
on the farm. The old farmer father had died two years before that, and
the man, who had wild blood in his veins, had rebelled at the hard grind
to wrest a livelihood by himself from the mountain soil. So one morning
he was gone, leaving a note saying that he had gone to sea, and would write
and send money, that he could earn more than on a farm. But he never wrote,
and he never sent the money. He had met with sin and disaster, and at last
he started homeward, shorn, and, if not repentant, weary of wrong- doing
and its hard wages. He had retreated from the broad way with an ignoble
impulse, desiring the safety of the narrow, and the loaves and fishes,
which, after all, can be found in it with greater certainty; but now, as
he hastened along, he became conscious of some thing better than that.
One good impulse begat others by some law of spiritual reproduction. He
began to think how he would perhaps do more work than he had formerly,
and please his wife and her mother.
He looked at the
light in the window ahead with something akin to thankfulness. He remembered
how very gentle his wife had been, and how fond of him. His wife's mother
also had been a mild woman, with reproving eyes only, never with a tongue
of reproach. He remembered his little girl with a thrill of tenderness
and curiosity .She would be a big girl now; she would be like her mother.
He began picturing to himself what they would do and say, what they would
give him for supper. He thought he would like a slice of ham cut from one
of those cured on the farm, that and some new-laid eggs. He would have
some of those biscuits that his wife's mother used to make, and some fresh
butter, and honey from the home bees. He would have tea and cream. He seemed
to smell the tea and the ham. A hunger which was sorer than any hunger
of the flesh came over him. All at once the wanderer starved for home.
He had been shipwrecked and at the point of death from hunger, but never
was hunger like this. He had planned speeches of contrition; now he planned
nothing. He feared no blame from those whom he had wronged; he feared nothing
except his own need of them. Faster and faster he went. He seemed to be
running a race. At last he was quite close to the house.
The light was in
a window facing the road, and the curtain was up. He could see a figure
steadily passing and repassing it. He went closer, and saw that it was
a little girl with a baby in her arms, and she was walking up and down
hushing it. A feeble cry smote his ears, though the doors and windows were
closed. It was chilly even in midsummer in the mountains. He went. around
the house to the side door. He noticed that the field on the left was waving
with tall, dry grass, which should have been cut long ago; he noticed that
there were no beanpoles in the garden. He noticed that the house looked
gray and shabby even in the moonlight, that some blinds were gone and a
He leaned a second
against the door. Then he opened it and entered. He carne into a little,
square entry; on one side was the kitchen door, on the other the room where
the light. was. He opened the door leading to this room. He stood staring,
for nothing which he had anticipated met his eyes, except the little girl.
She stood gazing at him, half in alarm, half in surprise, clutching close
the baby, which was puny, but evidently about a year old. Two little boys
stood near the table on which the lamp was burning, and they stared at
him with wide-open mouths and round eyes. But the sight which filled the
intruder with the most amazement and dismay was that of a man in the bed
in the corner. He recognized him at once as a farmer who had lived, at
the time of five miles away in the village. He remembered that his wife
was recently dead when he left. The man, whose blue, ghastly face was sunken
in the pillows, looked up at him. He thrust out a cadaverous hand as if
The little girl
with the baby and the two little boys edged nearer the bed, as if for protection.
- “Who be you?"
inquired the sick man, with feeble menace. "What d' ye want comin' in here
this way?" It was like the growl of a sick dog.
The other man went
close to the bed. "Where is my wife?" he asked, in a strange voice. It
was expressive of horror and anger and a rage of disappointment.
- "You ain't-Dick?"
gasped the man in bed.
- “Yes, I be; and
I know you, Johnny Willet. Where is my wife? What are you here for?"
- "Your wife is
dead," answered the man, in a choking voice. He began to cough; he half
raised himself on one elbow. His eyes bulged. He crowed like a child with
the croup. The little girl promptly laid the baby on the bed, and .ran
to a chimney cupboard for a bottle of , medicine, which she administered
with a spoon. The sick man lay back, gasping for breath. He looked as if
already dead; his jaw dropped; there were awful blue hollows in his face.
- “Dead!" repeated
the visitor, thinking of and not of the other image of death before him.
- “Yes, she's dead."
- “Where's my little
The sick man raised
one shaking hand and , the little girl who had taken up the whimpering
The sick man nodded.
The other eyed the
little girl, rather tall for her age, but very slim, her narrow shoulders
already bent with toil. She regarded him, with serious blue eyes in a little
face, with an expression of gentleness so pronounced that it gave the impression
of a smile. The man's eyes wandered from the girl to the baby in her arms
and the two little boys.
- "What be you all
a-doin' here?" he demanded, gruffly, and made a movement to wards the bed.
The little girl turned pale, and clutched the baby more closely. The sick
man made a feeble sound of protest and deprecation. "What be you all a
-doin' here?" demanded the other again.
- "I married your
wife after we heard your ship was lost. We knew you was aboard her from
Abel Dennison. He come home, and said you was dead for sure, some eight
year ago, and then she said she'd marry me. I'd been after her some time.
My wife died, and my house burned down, and I was left alone with out any
home, and I' d always liked her. She wasn't any too willin', but finally
she give in."
The man whom he
had called Dick glared at him speechlessly.
- "We both thought
you was dead, sure," said the sick man, in a voice of mild deprecation,
which was ludicrously out of proportion to the subject.
Dick looked at the
- "We had 'em,"
said the sick man. "She died when the baby was two months old, and your
girl Lottie has been taking care of it. It has been pretty hard for her,
but I was took sick, and 'ain't been able to do anything. I can jest crawl
round a little, and that's all. Lottie can milk
-we've got one cow left- and she feeds the hens, and my first wife's brother
has given us some flour and meal, and cuts up some wood to burn, and we've
worried along, but we can't stand it when winter comes, anyhow.
Somethin' has got
to be done." Suddenly an expression of blank surprise before an acquisition
of knowledge came over his face. "Good Lord! Dick," he gasped out, "it's
all yours. It's all yours, anyway, now."
"Where’s the old
woman?" asked Dick, abruptly, ignoring what the other said.
-"Your wife's mother?
She died of pneumonia about two year ago. Your wife she took it to heart
pretty bad. She was a heap of help about the children.".
Dick nodded. "The
old woman always was smart to work," he assented.
- "Yes, and your
wife she wa'n't over-strong."
- "Never was."
- "S'pose there
was enough to put her away decent?"
- "I sold the wood-lot
on the back road. There's a gravestone. Luckily I had it done before I
was took sick."
- "S'pose you're
pretty hard pinched now?" " Awful hard. We can't get along so much longer.
There's enough wood to cut, if I could do it, that would bring in somethin';
and there's the hay, that's spoilin'. I can't do nothin'. There's nothin'
but this house over our heads." Suddenly that look of surprised knowledge
came over his face again. "Lord! it's all yours, and the girl's, anyhow,"
- "She's been doin'
the work?" asked Dick, pointing to the girl.
- "Yes; she does
the best she can, but she ain't very big, and the children 'ain't got enough
to be decent, and we can't get much cooked."
Dick made a resolute
step towards the door.
- "Where be you
a-goin', Dick?" asked the sick man, with a curious wistfulness. "You ain't
- "What is there
in the house to eat?" "What's in the house, Lottie?"
- "There's some
meal and milk and eggs," answered the child, in a high, sweet voice.
- "Come here and
give us a kiss, Lottie," said Dick, suddenly.
The little girl
approached him timidly, staggering under the weight of the baby. She lifted
her face, and the man kissed her with a sort of solemnity. "I'm your father,
Lottie," said he.
The two looked at
each other, the child shrinking, yet smiling.
- "Glad I got home?"
asked the man.
- "Yes, sir."
Dick went out into
the kitchen, and the children followed and stood in the doorway, watching.
He gravely set to work with such utensils and materials as he found, which
were scanty enough. He kindled a fire and made a corn-cake. He made porridge
for the sick man and carried him a bowl of it smoking hot. "Ain't had nothin'
like this since she died," said the sick man.
After supper Dick
cleaned the kitchen. He also tidied up the other room and made the bed,
and milked, and split some wood wherewith to cook breakfast.
- "You ain't goin'
tonight, Dick?" the sick man said, anxiously, when he came in after the
work was done.
- "No, I ain't."
- "Lord! I forgot;
it's your house," said the sick man.
- "I wan't goin'
anyhow," said Dick. "Well, there's a bed upstairs. You 'ain't
got any more clothes
than what you've got on, have you?"
- "No, I 'ain't,"
replied Dick, shortly. "Well, there's mine in the closet out of this room,
and you might jest as well wear 'em till I get up. There's some shirts
and some pants."
- “All right”,
The next morning
Dick got the breakfast, cooking eggs with wonderful skill and frying corn-cakes.
Then, dressed in the sick man’s shirt and trousers, he set forth, axe in
hand. He toiled every day until he had sufficient wood cut, then he hired
a horse, to be paid for when the wood was sold. He carted loads to the
hotels and farmhouses where summer boarders were taken. He arose before
dawn and worked in the field and garden. He cut the hay. He was up half
the night setting the house to rights. He washed and ironed like a woman.
The whole establishment was transformed. He got a doctor for the sick man,
but he gave small encouragement. He had consumption, although he might
linger long. - "Who's going to take care of the poor fellow, I don't know,"
said the doctor.
- "I be," said
- "Then there are
the children," said the doctor.
- "One of 'em is
mine, and 1'11 take care of his," said Dick.
The doctor stared,
as one stares who sees a good deed in a naughty world, with a mixture of
awe, of contempt, and of incredu1ity. "Well," he said, "it' s lucky you
carne along. " After that Dick simp1y continued in his new path of 1ife.
He worked and nursed. It was inconceivable how much the man accomp1ished.
He developed an enormous capacity for work. In the autumn he painted the
house; the cellar was full of winter vegetables, the woodpi1e was compact.
The children were warmly clad, and Lottie went to school. Her father had
bought an old horse for a song, and he carried her to school every day.
Once in January he had occasion to drive around the other side of the mountain
which he had climbed the night of his return. He started early in the afternoon,
that he might be in season to go for Lottie.
It was a clear,
cold day. Snow was on the ground, a deep, glittering level, with a hard
crust of ice. The sleigh slid over the frozen surface with long hisses.
The trees were all bare and had suffered frightfully in the last storm.
The rain had frozen as it fell, and there had been a high gale. The ice-mauled
branches had snapped, and sometimes whole trees. Dick, slipping along on
the white line of road below, gazed up at the side of the mountain. He
looked and looked again. Then he desisted. He reached over and cut the
horse's back with the reins. "Get up!" he cried, harshly.
The great pine had
fallen from his high estate. He was no more to be seen dominating the other
trees, standing out in solitary majesty among his kind. The storm had killed
him. He lay prostrate on the mountain.
And the man on the
road below passed like the wind, and left the mountain and the dead tree