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- Northern Lights, Volume 3. - 5/10 -
"What Abner done killed his father," said Abel Baragar with dry emphasis. "Phenie Tyson was extravagant-wanted this and that, and nothin' was too good for her. Abner spoilt his life gettin' her what she wanted; and it broke old Ezra Lumley's heart."
George's wife looked at him for a moment with her eyes screwed up, and then she laughed softly. "My, it's curious how some folks go up and some go down! It must be lonely for Phenie waiting all these years for Abner to get free. . . . I had the happiest time in my life at Lumley's. I was getting better of my-cold. While I was there I got lots of strength stored up, to last me many a year when I needed it; and, then, George and I were married at Lumley's. . . ."
Aunt Kate came slowly over with the boy, and laid a hand on Cassy's shoulder, for there was an undercurrent to the conversation which boded no good. The very first words uttered had plunged Abel Baragar and his son's wife into the midst of the difficulty which she had hoped might, after all, be avoided.
"Come, and I'll show you your room, Cassy," she said. "It faces south, and you'll get the sun all day. It's like a sun-parlour. We're going to have supper in a couple of hours, and you must rest some first. Is the house warm enough for you?"
The little, garish woman did not reply directly, but shook back her red hair and caught her boy to her breast and kissed him; then she said in that staccato manner which had given her words on the stage such point and emphasis, "Oh, this house is a'most too warm for me, Aunt Kate!"
Then she moved towards the door with the grave, kindly old woman, her son's hand in her own.
"You can see the Lumleys' place from your window, Cassy," said Black Andy grimly. "We got a mortgage on it, and foreclosed it, and it's ours now; and Jerry Lumley's stock-riding for us. Anyhow, he's better off than Abner, or Abner's wife."
Cassy turned at the door and faced him. Instinctively she caught at some latent conflict with old Abel Baragar in what Black Andy had said, and her face softened, for it suddenly flashed into her mind that he was not against her.
"I'm glad to be back West," she said. "It meant a lot to me when I was at Lumley's." She coughed a little again, but turned to the door with a laugh.
"How long have you come to stay here--out West?" asked the old man furtively.
"Why, there's plenty of time to think of that!" she answered brusquely, and she heard Black Andy laugh derisively as the door closed behind her.
In a blaze of joy the sun swept down behind the southern hills, and the windows of Lumley's house at the Forks, catching the oblique rays, glittered and shone like flaming silver. Nothing of life showed, save the cattle here and there, creeping away to the shelter of the foothills for the night. The white, placid snow made a coverlet as wide as the vision of the eye, save where spruce and cedar trees gave a touch of warmth and refuge here and there. A wonderful, buoyant peace seemed to rest upon the wide, silent expanse. The birds of song were gone South over the hills, and the living wild things of the prairies had stolen into winter quarters. Yet, as Cassy Mavor looked out upon the exquisite beauty of the scene, upon the splendid outspanning of the sun along the hills, the deep plangent blue of the sky and the thrilling light, she saw a world in agony and she heard the moans of the afflicted. The sun shone bright on the windows of Lumley's house, but she could hear the crying of Abner's wife, and of old Ezra and Eliza Lumley, when their children were stricken or shamed; when Abel Baragar drew tighter and tighter the chains of the mortgage, which at last made them tenants in the house once their own. Only eight years ago, and all this had happened. And what had not happened to her, too, in those eight years!
With George--reckless, useless, loving, lying George--she had left Lumley's with her sickness cured, as it seemed, after a long year in the West, and had begun life again. What sort of life had it been? "Kicking up her heels on the stage," as Abel Baragar had said; but, somehow, not as it was before she went West to give her perforated lung to the healing air of the plains, and to live outdoors with the men--a man's life. Then she had never put a curb on her tongue, or greatly on her actions, except that, though a hundred men quarrelled openly, or in their own minds, about her, no one had ever had any right to quarrel about her. With a tongue which made men gasp with laughter, with as comic a gift as ever woman had, and as equally comic a face, she had been a good-natured little tyrant in her way. She had given a kiss here and there, and had taken one, but always there had been before her mind the picture of a careworn woman who struggled to bring up her three children honestly, and without the help of charity, and, with a sigh of content and weariness, had died as Cassy made her first hit on the stage and her name became a household word. And Cassy, garish, gay, freckled, witty and whimsical, had never forgotten those days when her mother prayed and worked her heart out to do her duty by her children. Cassy Mavor had made her following, had won her place, was the idol of "the gallery"; and yet she was "of the people," as she had always been, until her first sickness came, and she had gone out to Lumley's, out along the foothills of the Rockies.
What had made her fall in love with George Baragar?
She could not have told, if she had been asked. He was wayward, given to drink at times, given also to card-playing and racing; but he had a way with him which few women could resist and which made men his friends; and he had a sense of humour akin to her own. In any case, one day she let him catch her up in his arms, and there was the end of it. But no, not the end, after all. It was only the beginning of real life for her. All that had gone before seemed but playing on the threshold, though it had meant hard, bitter hard work, and temptation, and patience, and endurance of many kinds. And now George was gone for ever. But George's little boy lay there on the bed in a soft sleep, with all his life before him.
She turned from the warm window and the buoyant, inspiring scene to the bed. Stooping over, she kissed the sleeping boy with an abrupt eagerness, and made a little awkward, hungry gesture of love over him, and her face flushed hot with the passion of motherhood in her.
"All I've got now," she murmured. "Nothing else left--nothing else at all."
She heard the door open behind her, and she turned round. Aunt Kate was entering with a bowl in her hands.
"I heard you moving about, and I've brought you something hot to drink," she said.
"That's real good of you, Aunt Kate," was the cheerful reply. "But it's near supper-time, and I don't need it."
"It's boneset tea--for your cold," answered Aunt Kate gently, and put it on the high dressing-table made of a wooden box and covered with muslin. "For your cold, Cassy," she repeated.
The little woman stood still a moment gazing at the steaming bowl, lines growing suddenly around her mouth, then she looked at Aunt Kate quizzically. "Is my cold bad--so bad that I need boneset?" she asked in a queer, constrained voice.
"It's comforting, is boneset tea, even when there's no cold, 'specially when the whiskey's good, and the boneset and camomile has steeped some days."
"Have you been steeping them some days?" Cassy asked softly, eagerly.
Aunt Kate nodded, then tried to explain.
"It's always good to be prepared, and I didn't know but what the cold you used to have might be come back," she said. "But I'm glad if it ain't, if that cough of yours is only one of the measly little hacks people get in the East, where it's so damp."
Cassy was at the window again, looking out at the dying radiance of the sun. Her voice seemed hollow and strange and rather rough, as she said in reply:
"It's a real cold, deep down, the same as I had nine years ago, Aunt Kate; and it's come to stay, I guess. That's why I came back West. But I couldn't have gone to Lumley's again, even if they were at the Forks now, for I'm too poor. I'm a back-number now. I had to give up singing and dancing a year ago, after George died. So I don't earn my living any more, and I had to come to George's father with George's boy."
Aunt Kate had a shrewd mind, and it was tactful, too. She did not understand why Cassy, who had earned so much money all these years, should be so poor now, unless it was that she hadn't saved--that she and George hadn't saved. But, looking at the face before her, and the child on the bed, she was convinced that the woman was a good woman, that, singer and dancer as she was, there was no reason why any home should be closed to her, or any heart should shut its doors before her. She guessed a reason for this poverty of Cassy Mavor, but it only made her lay a hand on the little woman's shoulders and look into her eyes.
"Cassy," she said gently, "you was right to come here. There's trials before you, but for the boy's sake you must bear them. Sophy, George's mother, had to bear them, and Abel was fond of her, too, in his way. He's stored up a lot of things to say, and he'll say them; but you'll keep the boy in your mind, and be patient, won't you, Cassy? You got rights here, and it's comfortable, and there's plenty, and the air will cure your lung as it did before. It did all right before, didn't it?" She handed the bowl of boneset tea. "Take it; it'll do you good, Cassy," she added.
Cassy said nothing in reply. She looked at the bed where her boy lay, she looked at the angular face of the woman, with its brooding motherliness, at the soft, grey hair, and, with a little gasp of feeling, she raised the bowl to her lips and drank freely. Then, putting it down, she said:
"He doesn't mean to have us, Aunt Kate, but I'll try and keep my temper down. Did he ever laugh in his life?"
"He laughs sometimes--kind o' laughs."
"I'll make him laugh real, if I can," Cassy rejoined. "I've made a lot of people laugh in my time."
The old woman leaned suddenly over, and drew the red, ridiculous head to her shoulder with a gasp of affection, and her eyes were full of tears.
"Cassy," she exclaimed, "Cassy, you make me cry." Then she turned and hurried from the room.
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