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- Quill's Window - 3/55 -
to lower yourself from the top of the rock. And in the second place, you can't get DOWN to it because it ain't allowed. The owner of all the land along that side of the river has got 'no trespass' signs up, and NOBODY'S allowed to climb to the top of that rock. She's all-fired particular about it, too. The top of that rock is sacred to her. Nobody ever thinks of violatin' it. All around the bottom of the slope back of the hill she's got a white picket fence, and the gate to it is padlocked. You see it's her family buryin'-ground."
"Buryin'-ground. Her father and mother are buried right smack on top of that rock."
The young man lifted his eyebrows. "Does that mean there are a couple of married ghosts fighting on top of the rock every night, besides the gang down in the--"
"It ain't a joking matter," broke in the other sharply.
"Go on, tell me more. The monstrosity gets more and more interesting every minute."
The old man chewed his cigar energetically for a few seconds before responding.
"I'll tell you the story tonight after supper,--not now. The only thing I want to make clear to you is this. Everybody in this section respects her wishes about keeping off of that rock, and I want to ask you to respect 'em, too. It would be a dirty trick for you to go up there, knowin' it's dead against her wishes."
"A dirty trick, eh?" said the young man, fixing his gaze on the blue-black summit of the forbidden rock.
THE STORY THE OLD MAN TOLD
David Windom's daughter Alix ran away with and married Edward Crown in the spring of 1894.
Windom was one of the most prosperous farmers in the county. His lands were wide, his cattle were many, his fields were vast stretches of green and gold; his granaries, his cribs and his mows, filled and emptied each year, brought riches and dignity and power to this man of the soil.
Back when the state was young, his forefathers had fared westward from the tide-water reaches of Virginia, coming at length to the rich, unbroken region along the river with the harsh Indian name, and there they built their cabins and huts on lands that had cost them little more than a song and yet were of vast dimensions. They were of English stock. (Another branch of the family, closely related, remains English to this day, its men sitting sometime in Parliament and always in the councils of the nation, far removed in every way from the Windoms in the fertile valley once traversed by the war-like redskins.) But these Windoms of the valley were no longer English. There had been six generations of them, and those of the first two fought under General Washington against the red-coats and the Hessians in the War of '76.
David Windom, of the fourth generation, went to England for a wife, however,--a girl he had met on the locally celebrated trip to Europe in the early seventies. For years he was known from one end of the county to the other as "the man who has been across the Atlantic Ocean." The dauntless English bride had come unafraid to a land she had been taught to regard as wild, peopled by savages and overrun by ravenous beasts, and she had found it populated instead by the gentlest sort of men and equally gentle beasts.
She did a great deal for David Windom. He was a proud man and ambitious. He saw the wisdom of her teachings and he followed them, not reluctantly but with a fierce desire to refine what God had given him in the shape of raw material: a good brain, a sturdy sense of honour, and above all an imagination that lifted him safely,--if not always sanely,--above the narrow world in which the farmer of that day spent his entire life. Not that he was uncouth to begin with,--far from it. He had been irritatingly fastidious from boyhood up. His thoughts had wandered afar on frequent journeys, and when they came back to take up the dull occupation they had abandoned temporarily, they were broader than when they went out to gather wool. The strong, well-poised English wife found rich soil in which to work; he grew apace and flourished, and manifold were the innovations that stirred a complacent community into actual unrest. A majority of the farmers and virtually all of the farmers' wives were convinced that Dave Windom was losing his mind, the way he was letting that woman boss him around.
The women did not like her. She was not one of them and never could be one of them. Her "hired girls" became "servants" the day she entered the ugly old farmhouse on the ridge. They were no longer considered members of the family; they were made to feel something they had never felt before in their lives: that they were not their mistress's equals.
The "hired girl" of those days was an institution. As a rule, she moved in the same social circle as the lady of the house and it was customary for her to intimately address her mistress by her Christian name. She enjoyed the right to engage in all conversations; she was, in short, "as good as anybody." The new Mrs. Windom was not long in transporting the general housework "girl" into a totally unexampled state of astonishment. This "girl,"--aged forty-five and a prominent member of the Methodist Church,--announced to everybody in the community except to Mrs. Windom herself that she was going to leave. She did not leave. The calm serenity of the new mistress prevailed, even over the time-honoured independence in which the "girl" and her kind unconsciously gloried. Respect succeeded injury, and before the bride had been in the Windom house a month, Maria Bliss was telling the other "hired girls" of the neighbourhood that she wouldn't trade places with them for anything in the world.
Greatly to the consternation and disgust of other householders, a "second girl" was added to the Windom menage,--a parlour-maid she was called. This was too much. It was rank injustice. General housework girls began to complain of having too much work to do,--getting up at five in the morning, cooking for half a dozen "hands," doing all the washing and ironing, milking, sweeping and so on, and not getting to bed till nine or ten o'clock at night,--to say nothing of family dinners on Sunday and the preacher in every now and then, and all that. Moreover, Mrs. Windom herself never looked bedraggled. She took care of her hair, wore good clothes, went to the dentist regularly (whether she had a toothache or not), had meals served in what Maria Bliss loftily described as "courses," and saw to it that David Windom shaved once a day, dressed better than his neighbours, kept his "surrey" and "side-bar buggy" washed, his harness oiled and polished, and wore real riding-boots.
The barnyard took on an orderly appearance, the stables were repaired, the picket fences gleamed white in the sun, the roof of the house was painted red, the sides a shimmering white, and there were green window shutters and green window boxes filled with geraniums. The front yard was kept mowed, and there were great flower-beds encircled by snow-white boulders; a hammock was swung in the shade of two great oaks, and--worst of all! a tennis-court was laid out alongside the house.
Tennis! That was a game played only by "dudes"! Passers-by looked with scorn upon young David Windom and his flaxen-haired wife as they played at the silly game before supper every evening. And they went frequently to the "opera house" at the county seat, ten miles up the river; they did not wait for summer to come with its circus, as all the other farmers were content to do; whenever there was a good "show" at the theatre in town they sent up for reserved seats and drove in for supper at the principal hotel. Altogether, young Mrs. Windom was simply "raising Cain" with the conventions.
Strange to say, David did not "go to smash." To the intense chagrin of the wiseacres he prospered despite an unprecedented disregard for the teachings of his father and his grandfather before him. The wolf stayed a long way off from his door, the prophetic mortgage failed to lay its blight upon his lands, his crops were bountiful, his acreage spread as the years went by,--and so his uncles, his cousins and his aunts were never so happy as when wishing for the good old days when his father was alive and running the farm as it should be run! If David had married some good, sensible, thrifty, hard-working farmer's daughter,--Well, it might not have meant an improvement in the crops but it certainly would have spared him the expense of a tennis court, and theatre-going, and absolutely unnecessary trips to Chicago or Indianapolis whenever SHE took it into her head to go. Besides, it wasn't natural that they should deliberately put off having children. It wasn't what God and the country expected. After a year had passed and there were no symptoms of approaching motherhood, certain narrow-minded relatives began to blame Great Britain for the outrage and talked a great deal about a worn-out, deteriorating race.
Then, after two years, when a girl baby was born to David and his wife, they couldn't, for the life of them, understand how it came to pass that it wasn't a boy. There had been nothing but boys in the Windom family for years and years. It appeared to be a Windom custom. And here was this fair-haired outsider from across the sea breaking in with a girl! They could not believe it possible. David,--a great, strong, perfect specimen of a Windom,--the father of a girl! Why, they emphasized, he was over six feet tall, strong as an ox, broad-shouldered,--as fine a figure as you would see in a lifetime. There was something wrong,--radically wrong.
The district suffered another shock when a nurse maid was added to David's household,--a girl from the city who had nothing whatever to do, except to take care of the baby while the unnatural mother tinkered with the flower-beds, took long walks about the farm, rode horseback, and played tennis with David and a silly crowd of young people who had fallen into evil ways.
She died when her daughter was ten years old. Those who had misunderstood her and criticized her in the beginning, mourned her deeply, sincerely, earnestly in the end, for she had triumphed over prejudice, narrow-mindedness, and a certain form of malice. The whole district was the better for her once hateful innovations, and there was no one left who scoffed at David Windom for the choice he had made of a wife.
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