Married ERB's brother Henry Studley (Harry) Burroughs in 1891.
Their son Studley Oldham Burroughs (ERB Artist) was born on Dec 26, 1892.
The station room was intolerably hot. . . . Around it were gathered sleepy-eyed young men and women waiting for daylight that they might return to the outlying ranches five, ten, twenty miles away. A dance in the freight-room during the night had drawn them together and they had been acting with the usual gusto of hearty young men and women when the advent of the bride and her husband had caused a silence as heavy as a woolen blanket to settle upon them. He had departed at once to find a conveyance, and the silence remained unbroken save for the restless scraping of a foot or the rasp of a husky throat.
The women all wore white or colored beaded fascinators and ungainly dark coats or jackets, with gay handkerchiefs knotted about the throats and soft hats pulled well down over the brows, giving their shadowed eyes a sinister expression.
And the bride in her brown cloth traveling suit, its modish cut outlining the grace of her young figure, a smart little toque with its scarlet feather resting upon the waves of her fine, dark hair, stood a little apart gazing out into the dismal expanse of mud and brooding sky, like a songbird from a sunny clime astray among the fowls of some farmyard domain.
They had reached this little station, which was the terminus of the railroad journey and the beginning of the long drive overland, at four o'clock in the morning - such a shivery, rainy April morning -- only to see ugly, low built houses flanking the one deep-rutted, muddy road on one side and the station on the other, from the narrow paned window of which the bride was gazing. A dreary little frontier town it was, with its water tank, three saloons, a rooming house and store, with here and there a one-roomed shack doing duty for man, woman and unlimited progeny. Here dwelt vice in all its meanest forms, while out beyond, where the air was clean, there was a vast loneliness. Small wonder that something not moisture from the steaming glass splashed on the window sill.
The rain ceased and the sky gleamed pearly gray in the early morning as they drove away, the horses' feet sinking suddenly in the muddy ruts, while a frosty wind blew from the distant mountains.
A mile or two out the sun broke through giving a sparkling champagne zest to the air, which set high lights shining in eyes grown wistful during the night and gave an upward curve to drooping lips. The bride's husband bent toward her with smiling quizzical eyes.
"Pretty dreadful, wasn't it, dear?"
"Awful," with an upward glance and a gleam of white teeth. "Especially the breakfast." She shuddered at the recollection.
"We will get as bad or worse at our cook-house."
"But we don't have to eat there, do we?"
"Why -- no -- that is -- " he stumbled on uncertainly.
The bride laughed softly. "Poh man!" she said with her pretty, Southern accent, "don't even know if his wife can cook." She nodded to the horses, whose ears kept twitching backward as though charmed with the unaccustomed sound of a girl's blithe voice.
She suddenly found her small chin tilted backward until mischievous brown eyes gazed straight into two serious gray ones.
"Well, can you?"
"A few ordinary things; yes, honestly!"
"Such as -- ?"
"Oh, cake and salad and --"
"Good Lord!" A kiss softened the exclamation, but there was a season of silence and meditation. Then, "My beloved child, we must find a hand-maiden somewhere "You are not fitted for the things a woman out here is compelled to do. The fact is, dear, I haven't given a thought to the practical details of our housekeeping and we must begin to consider such matters."
His words came jerkily as the horses bent low to a long hill climb, sweating along the flanks with the exertion an twitching their ears toward every sound in the nervous fashion of half-broken Western horses. The bride laid her cheek against his shoulder and felt it grow tense to her touch.
"We of the South have been spoiled by much negro service, so I don't know what I can do until I try. Will the boys" -- it was so he had always spoken of his partners o--" will they expect to have their meals with us?"
"Why -- er -- no, I don't think so, though home cooking would taste might good to them." O man of little discernment!
Into the heart of the girl came the resolve to prove equal to his unexpressed desire. Into her mind came a vision of home.
Back of her were generations of open-handed , hospitable dames; but, alas, it was the hospitality of abundant and capable service, while now there would be only her two white hands to do all there was to be done, and, though the spirit was most willing, her heart sank with misgiving.
No less busy were her husband's thoughts. Unconsciously his ideal of womanhood embraced a domestic capability, physical strength and mental directness as foreign to the training of his young wife as was this cold, crisp air to lungs accustomed to the warm, languid zephyrs of a Southern clime.
No wonder she lifted timid eyes and braced herself for an ordeal which must tax both spirit and body.
The long day and the long drive came to an end together, the sun sinking slowly in a gorgeous glory of color, which streamed along the horizon, blending and changing into softer and lovelier hues, until they faded and were lost in an all pervading gray. When they finally reached the hilltop overlooking the valley wherein lay the ranch, there was only a blur of distant objects which could convey nothing to the tired little bride of either ugliness or beauty.
Twilight soon merged into the shadows of night and lamp lights were gleaming rosily from cook-house and cottage as they drove into the enclosure. Before they reached the door it was thrown open and "the boys" stood smiling and calling a cheery "Welcome home!"
There was warmth and a sort of crude comfort in the big sitting-room into which her husband led her, stiff from the long drive and a bit chilled by the evening air, and as she sank into a hospitable chair, the weary girl gave a tremulous laugh, half nervousness, half relief. In the attitude of the three men waiting upon her, she discerned the same gentle homage to which she had been accustomed in their brothers of the South, and to which she responded with a friendliness so altogether feminine and winning, there vanished for all time any pretense of formality between her husband's partners and herself.
One was strong featured, tall, aggressive; the other short of limb, broad of shoulder, slow in speech and action. Both showed the same enthusiasm and energy so much a part of her husband's character. All were engrossed in their work and ambition ot the exclusion of everything else.
Supper was brought to her from the cook-house on an improvised tray and consisted of a twin brother in sized and weight to the breakfast biscuit, coffee in a thick mug, underdone bacon and an egg, its uncongealed white swimming in a bath of grease. The wave of physical repulsion with which this was viewed gave way to a delicious sense of humor at sight of her husband's face. Such mingling of masculine perplexity and wrath with an almost boyish look of helplessness braced her to an effort, the real value of which he could not know, three years of rough life having inured him to much worse fare than this.
Bit by bit she disposed of the unpalatable food, finding abundant reward in his look of relief and responsive smile.
During the rest of the evening she lay back in her chair and listened to the flow of eager talk between the three men.
A month's absence had brought many changes; new schemes for expansion; the need of more capital; optimistic plans to satisfy the get-rich-quick fever which possesses the young American business man whether East or West. One must leave at once for the East to interest investors; the other must start for Chicago on the morrow with a trainload of cattle. They had discovered mining possibilities on their lower ranch; that must be looked into -- maybe it meant big things; and son on and on with only a pause when, half asleep with fatigue, she rose to bid them good-night. She felt, with a little pang, the abstraction of her husband's kiss as he closed the door of their room and left her to resume his talk with his partners.
Long after she had retired and lay awake gazing into the darkness and thinking of many things, their voices rose and fell, growing loud in argument or low in confidence, but always eager, curt and in deadly earnest. They had not finished when weariness overcame her at last and she fell asleep.
When she awoke it was to find the sun hours' high and streaming into her room. The shades were up and there were no curtains at the windows, so the room as revealed in all its barrenness -- unpainted, unprepared, containing only a couple of wooden chairs and the bed. The glaring light, which in the Sough would have been full of gentle warmth, seemed to lay on surrounding objects like thin, transparent sheets of shining meal; a patch upon the floor, a triangular piece across the chair seat, flecks of it here and there.
The pillow beside her bore the imprint of her husband's head; thrown across the back of a chair lay his traveling suit, but not a sound was there of any other occupant of the house save herself. She closed her eyes to a rush of hot tears and lay rigid, holding back the sobs in her throat. She could not, would not, must not cry! She was made of sterner, braver stuff than that. Anyway, he had probably only slipped out to bring her some breakfast. Here a restless movement of her head caused the stiff rattle of paper and called her attention to a note pinned on the edge of her pillow.
"Sweetheart," she read, "there's the very dickens to pay this morning. Both the boys have to leave for town and not a soul on the place to drive them up. As our furniture ought to arrive to-day, it seemed the best thing all around for me to take them up and look after our household goods. There are still many things we ought to talk over before they leave and this will give us further opportunity. It seems like a base case of desertion, but you will understand. I kissed you, but you never blinked an eyelash, my tired, little girl. Will get back as soon as I can.
"Your own,"J --- ---"Go over to the cook-house for meals. Cook's name is Mrs. Savage, but -- she's not."She lay back on her pillow, dry eyed, thoughtful. So this was the real beginning of her married life. How crazily eager they had both been to get to their own domain; they had curtailed the honeymoon trip, she full of girlish curiosity, he with the uneasy realization that his presence was needed and, manlike, having secured his mate, quite willing to take up the absorbing business game again.
The silence of the bare rooms and the even greater silence without, broken only by the meadowlark's liquid note, became unbearable. Sound and motion of some kind she must have, if only from her own activity. A little mirror on the wall reflected her small, pale face in a weirdly green and crinkly light. The chilly air made her flesh feel strangely shrunken and stiff.
"What I need is a bracing cup of hot coffee and a walk in the sunshine," she said to herself valiantly and hastening her toilet soon emerged, looking a bit blue and pinched, but with a brave set to her sensitive mouth and chin. She knocked timidly at the cook-house door and when it was flung open beheld a man so huge of body, so toweringly tall, he seemed to fill the whole cabin. He stared at her with expressionless light-blue eyes, his yellow, tobacco-stained mustache drooping damply over a loose-lipped mouth. It seemed to the bride, standing in the chill wind, as though his slow wits would never understand the meaning of her presence. It was not until a guerulous voice bade him come inside and close the door that he removed his great bulk, allowing her to step into the steaming, ill-smelling room.
At one end stood an unmade bed, apparently screened at times by a gunny-sack curtain, now pulled to one side. All about it, on nails driven into the wall, hung clothing more or less ragged and soiled. Mud-covered boots sprawled about the floor, while at the opposite end was the cook stove sending out an almost intolerable heat, with steaming clothes hung on chairs about it. In the center of the room stood an oilcloth covered table, at which was seated a thin, angular woman, holding a great, fat baby.
In the middle of the table stood a glass filled with young onions. A dish bearing intricate designs in prune juice on its rim, with a few shriveled ovals of fruit within, flanked the onion on one side, with one of partially melted butter and some half-burned biscuits on the other. A big, rusty pot stood on the back of the stove, its odor of rank coffee mingling with the steam of drying clothes.
"Your man told us you'd be over," said the woman, nodding. "Jes' set down and Heber'll pour you some coffee. Yer ain't been sleeping all this time be ye?"
"I was very tired, "the bride murmured, sinking into a chair and trying to look away from the awful piece of infancy opposite her. Eyes like china blue marbles gazed vacantly; the loose-lipped mouth, like his father's, hung open, making no effort to close upon the food disposed therein by his mother.
"Babe, he ain't feelin' very well," the woman explained. "My first baby acted jes' that way before she took sick and died. I keep a-tellin' my man I gotta to have some one look at Babe and find out what's ailin' him. But men folks don't think about sech things until it's too late. Yer ain't had no experience yet, though, be ye?" She cackled mirthlessly, showing gums partially bereft of teeth, the remaining ones yellowed or black with decay. Yet in repose there were youthful curves to the face and the features were not unpretty.
The bride felt a contraction in her throat, a sickening sinking of the heart. Overcome by the heat of the room, the odors, the grim pitifulness of it all, she rose suddenly. "I - I have a headache, really ; it always makes me better if I fast a little," she stumbled on, confused by the steady glare of eyes grown suspicious. "If -- now, I could take a little milk over with me; it would be all I need for to-day."
"Guess our kind of cooking don't suit ye," said the woman, handing the child to her husband. Skimming every vestige of cream from a pan of milk, she poured the remainder into a dirty, cracked pitcher and handed it to the bride. Her murmured thanks were received in hostile silence and she turned away, conscious of an on-rush of scalding tears which could no longer be restrained.
Reaching the house, she threw herself into the big chair which had looked so hospitable the night before an d wept out all her misery and disappointment. In her walk across the road she had grasped every detail of the surrounding scenery: the stunted trees, the trampled, sun-baked earth, the unlovely shacks and the barren stretch of lava bluffs. Air and brilliant sunshine had no charm as yet, for in them there was nothing of Southern warmth. Down where the alfalfa looked so beautiful in its fresh green, with its hazy mist of purple where the first blossoms were beginning to show, there was silence and loneliness. Only an occasional figure rose and moved slowly at its task of irrigation. Most of the men had been sent out to the rodeo. Farther on was the Mormon elders' home, where dwelt a gray-faced woman with her brood of frightened-eyed children. And, across in the cook-house, as another woman of gray face, old before her time, but in her uncouthness more remote from her than one of the colored servants in her old home. And these were her neighbors.
All these thoughts and visions flitted across the girl's mind, but never once was there hint of blame for the young husband who had so unwittingly misled her. The climate to him was life-giving, exhilarating. He gloried in the lack of conventions, the easy clothes, the hard work and joy of conquest. There were other men like himself scattered over the big countryside, to whom a day's riding would bring him for congenial companionship. After a hard day's work the little white cottage seemed good to him, the coarse fare (rather worse than usual, she had gathered from the evening's conversation) was made palatable by a ravenous appetite and none too critical eyes. In fact, he and his partners lived, breathed, smoked and ate with but one consuming thought: to wrest from this land of rock and root, of arid plain and mountain fastness, financial success with its promise of future power.
And in this man-world of cattle and sweating horses, of rude living and breathless, almost brutal conquest, this petted, beauty-loving girl found herself a heart-sick alien. Oh, for the soft sound of Southern voices, of dainty laughter and endearing words! Oh, for the peace of the old garden with its magnolias, bleeding-hearts and lilies, its splashing fountain and, in the holy stillness of a moonlight night, the nightingale's song!
Spent with weeping, terribly hungry, for the milk had absorbed the odors of the cook-house and was impossible, she sat for hours listening to the wind increase in volume and watching little eddies of white powdery dust creep in through every crack and crevice.
The sight of this awoke the housewife spirit latent within her and she set valiantly to work to sweep and dust. But it was an unequal battle in which she was soon vanquished. As the air grew chill toward evening she slipped on her coat, lit the lamp and tried to read, but the floors creaked; strange, rustling noises awoke memories of old negro myths, at which she had been wont to laugh in the big, bright living-room at home, but to which now her loneliness and imagination lent new terrors.
Would he never come? Had the old life, with its absorbing interests, blotted out her existence from his mind? She checked the unworthy thought. There were a dozen good reasons for the delay; the distance was great; there might have been difficulty in getting their household goods loaded, and the the heavy wagons would travel slowly.
And right now she must begin to keep a watch upon herself. There was to be no repining, no mournful face. As far as it lay in her power he was never to repent his choice. Surely her love was big enough and deep enough to enfold them both and to banish this heart-breaking nostalgia. And thus, cold and hungry and lonely, a stranger in a strange land, she mad her resolve and prayed with all the fervor of a loving heart: "Dear Lord, let me not be weighed in the balance and found wanting!" So, when he came at last, grey with dust, "dog tired," he found her with the bravest sweetest smile in the world upon her white face.
Days followed days, weeks followed weeks, months followed months. the wind blew and the dust sifted in over the pretty rugs and furniture and into the piano.
A Chinaman took charge of the cook-house, while she, in her own domain, with unmeasured expenditure of nervous energy and food materials, learned to cook. Maids were hired, but proving both incompetent and immoral, were dismissed. the partners came and went, kindly unobservant of domestic details, absorbed in business.
There was no intervening home now between the YY ranches, for one night she had been summoned to the elder's home to watch the poor, over-worked wife give up her joyless life in mortal agony for lack of understanding and the medical aid which had been summoned too late. that night she had gathered the motherless brood around the supper table and watched them eat of the bread baked the day before by the dead woman lying in the next room. and he who ate heartiest and wept most sat at the head of the table. Doctor and nurse arrived during the night and as she drove away ion the gray light of the early morning, the bereft husband was already busy in the yard with saw and hammer driving the nails with steady strokes into a long narrow box. For days afterward those strokes seemed to beat upon her heart, while on the air was borne the wail of the newly born.
Letters came from her family, who were now in Europe traveling, the whole happy brood, sending back joyous descriptions of days spent in old art galleries; of concerts and plays which ravished the soul; of Vienna, Paris, Rome. Letters which she scanned while washing the dishes; passages which she recalled while bending over the hot stove.
All day long her husband rode about the ranches, directing the work from sun up to sun down; fencing in new land, branding calves, taking charge of the rodeo or dashing to town to send or receive messages regarding their constantly increasing interests. All through it all he remained big with health and enthusiasm.
She hungered for her family, for congenial society, for the great world of art and beauty, and, at last, for the outward demonstrations of love for which she yearned. She k new the love was there, deep, strong and abiding, but the careless caress, the hurried kiss, had nothing of the tenderness she craved. So not only was she starved in mind, but in heart as well. There was only time to eat and sleep and work.
And so the first year passed and the bride-that-was became the mother-to-be, whom in all reverence we will now call Mary.
The young husband, too, is now the man of affairs and we will name him John. Never mind the real names (for this is a real story). The Madonna was never more lovely than this girl of the spiritual face and dark, thoughtful eyes; and as for John, the name has substance and solidity and the force of brevity.
The Annunciation came in the spring with the birth of all kinds of tiny, growing things. It seemed a most lovely spring to Mary after the unplacable winter of unending snow and mournful winds. There had been days when she had felt a little crazed with the everlasting silence and monotony. But spring had come with its heavenly message and Mary was glad with an exceeding great gladness. She did not member ever experiencing so profound an emotion of joy. Old songs, old dreams, old hopes awoke in mind and heart. She found herself scribbling little verses as she had not done in many months. Her sweet voice broke softly into measures of half forgotten melody and rippled into laughter on the slightest pretext.
She even unearthed some sketches which in her girlhood, her teachers had called promising, and tried to finish them; warm bits of Southern landscapes which sent a glow through her veins like new wine.
Color -- color -- color! She grew wild for it. She took to gardening and planted masses of scarlet phlox. When the alfalfa was all a purple bloom she gathered it by the armful, in spite of John's laughing protest and filled the house with its clover-like fragrance.
Something in her face, still wan and white, but all alight with some inward fire, caught and held John's attention one day. It brought a shade of anxiety to his eyes and the longed for tenderness to his voice. He caught her in his arms and held her with much of the old lover like ardor and became more alarmed than ever when he felt how frail she had grown.
"My darling, are you ill? Are you keeping something from me?"
And so she told him. He stood very still, questioning her eyes, trying to catch something of her emotion -- and failing utterly. He had a confused remembrance of the birth of younger brothers and sisters, but it had all been well regulated, like other household matters, and, as far as he knew with none of these raptures and glorious expectations. His eyes wandered to the windows, to the work awaiting him outside, and she, feeling the relaxation of his arms, looked into his face and, understanding, moved apart and watched him on his way.
After that she did not talk much, but took up the routine of household tasks uncomplainingly. Her work was lightened by turning all outsiders over to the Chinaman; even the partners during their brief visits took their meals in the cook-house. She sent away then for dimity and lace an d silken fabrics and every spare moment was spent in cutting and shaping on the tiniest of garments.
In the early morning, after John's departure, when the sky was its loveliest blue and the distant mountains gleamed in silver, glistening points, through all the changing seasons, she would sit by the window and write in a small, white, gold-bound book, on the front page of which was inscribed in her delicate chirography:
"TO MY SON"My own dear boy," it began, "Your eyes will only rest upon these pages if I am not here to tell you what lies so deep within my heart.
"This mother, whom you may never know, is sitting in a little cottage surrounded by miles an d miles of land, covered with gray-green brush looking from a distance like vast flocks of sheep. The sun is a pitiless glare of light, showing the long roads leading from nowhere to nowhere, and a landscape with no grace of form or color. There are rabbits and coyotes out there somewhere, for I have glimpsed them from a distance, but they slink to cover at the first sound of human presence. And all the birds, except one brave little lark, have lost the art of singing. I think they are afraid of this all-enveloping gray silence and soon flit away to where there is warmth and light.
"The wind blows about the house and the dust rises in tall, gray shapes out on the road, like the ghosts of long dead travelers, who creep into the house only to disintegrate into little mounds of gray powder upon the floors and window casings.
"And you, my darling, are here, too, under my heart, but you know not the mournfulness of this joyless prairie world, and it is because I want you never to k now, except as you sense it through these pages, that I am writing this little book for you.
"I know what you are like, for you have walked beside me with your little hand in mine these many days. You will be nearly a man when your eyes first rest upon these pages, for this is not to be given to you until the eighteenth anniversary of your birth. But now you are to me a little lad, with a slender, straight body and with a head poised nobly like your father's. Your hair is dark and wavy, like mine, dear, and your eyes are deep with the shadows and the fire of your Southern forebears. But your mouth is straight and firm, your chin round and aggressive as any little New Englander's should be, if he would show the reserve and poise befitting a Puritan ancestry.
"Yet, whatsoever there may be of warring elements within you, one force will be stronger than all else: Puritan or Cavalier, it matters not, when, supreme, inspiring, glorifying all else, there burns a celestial fire in your soul; the pure, white flame lit by the gods on the altar of your heart. O my Artist son!
"By what powers I am able to know the things I cannot tell, but I know the dreams you will dream, the pictures you [will paint - great canvases of beauty and action: rare blossoms and bird plumage, blue of sky and and dazzling sunlight, stars that shine with a scintillating brightness that] glow from a velvet sky; where musk and fragrance and love are in the very air you breathe.
"later you may go to Rome, to Paris, wheresoever you will, to perfect your art, but shun this silent gray-green world, I beseech you, as you would shun a pestilence. You would starve as I have starved, child of my heart, bereft of all upon which such natures as yours and mine subsist."
And so each day she talked with this child whose personality had become so real to her, pouring out the love an longing of a lonely heart. Of his father she wrote often, telling of his strength of character, integrity and cleanness of life.
She and John were to leave for home not later than October, for this was to be a Christmas child, and she longed to spend the last months amid the warmth and comfort of her old home.
All this happy anticipation brought color to her cheeks and a blitheness to her voice which made her seem unusually strong and well. How was John to know, battling wit the the big outside forces, of the flagging appetite, the long hours when she lay awake at night struggling with the weary pain in her side which never left her?
He was busier than ever. Sometimes he was up before daylight, eating with the men in the cook-house, returning at night only to tumble into bed, too weary for anything but a brief exchange of words.
Midsummer came with its dry-blistering heat, with its dust storms and pest o insect life. Days when Mary grew faint and dizzy and cried in secret for her mother. One September morning, unnerved by several sleepless nights, she broke forth at last -- a pitiful homesick wail: "Oh, John, my dear, my dear, take me away; I cannot stand it any longer; I want the big cool rooms, my little white bed -- and mother. I want dad and the girls, the flowers, and my old black mammy!" Then she had been shaken by such a storm of sobs as only a long repressed grief could wring from a human heart.
Finding words of no avail as long as he could not promise one thing she wanted, John could only hold her in his arms, smoothing back the damp curls from her hot face, laying his lips to the thin cheek and murmuring little expressions of endearment, until, worn out, she lay, catching her breath like a hurt child.
"I wish I could, my darling. I wish I could," he said regretfully, "but I shall have to strain every nerve to get away even in October. Neither of the boys will be here for some time; the dredge we put on the river needs my attention now; besides, I am short of men to put in charge of the several outfits." Unconsciously a note of irritation crept into his voice and the line between his brows deepened.
They were sitting in the big armchair, and pushing herself up by his broad shoulders, she looked into his face, noting its keen intelligence and strong, force lines.
"Don't you mind about me, dear," she said kissing him lightly and twisting her poor, trembling little mouth into the semblance of a smile. "We -- we -- can stay here until the last month if it seems best, so you can leave with a clear conscience. This cry has helped me a lot" -- she paused to subdue the quiver in her voice. "I'll probably be quite decent for a long time to come."
"You are a plucky little woman," he said fondly, drawing her down to him again. "I know it's asking much of your patience, but when I leave I want to stay away several months. We'll have another honeymoon, darling, and we won't shorten it either."
So September passed and October came with fitful storms and long, bleak days. Blind to everything but the rush of work, John was away more and more, leaving Mary a prey to nightly terrors as well as bodily pain.
The travelers abroad had not yet started home, for there was some talk of spending the winter in Italy. Then at last, in November, Mary wrote to her mother.
By this time there had begun to be light falls of snow and a penetrating chill which seemed to reach the in-most recesses of her heart. Still John made no sign and she would not ask again. Sometimes she thought he had forgotten the peril in which she stood and there came the memory of a a desolate household in a weather -beaten cabin where an infant's wail mingled with the heavy hammer strokes on a long wooden box.
Then, when there had come a limit to even her loyal strength and patience, on the first day of the important month, John strode into the house, the cloud of responsibility lifted from his face, and announced the joyous tidings.
"Free at last, sweetheart; free to flit southward as fast as train can carry us. Marshall will be here in the morning and the next day we will leave."
She ran to him and clung in silent rapture, that awful fear vanishing before the joy of relief and anticipation. All day he stayed with her, helping to pack their belongings, responding to her excitement with a boyish abandon wholly at variance with his recent preoccupation and reticence. She was like a little wild thing in her impatience to be off, darting from one task to another, and both were too absorbed to note the howling wind and gathering storm without.
For the first time in many weeks Mary slept undisturbed fear or pain. But in the morning their startled eyes beheld a mad, white world, with stinging crystals blown against the window-panes and a tearing wind piling the snow in great drifts across the road. A wild, cruel wind that shrieked and moaned and whistled, driving the snow under the doors, shaking the windows and tearing at loosened boards like some fiendish monster bent on reaching its human victims.
An old time blizzard was upon them, such as John had often heard of, but never experienced in the three winters of his Western sojourn. He well knew there would be at least three days of this mad carouse of the elements, and not one could tell how many more before the roads would be passable even with a sleigh.
"Oh, John, can't we go?" Mary's face looked pinched and white again, with all the joy of the night before swept form it. She looked wretchedly ill in the gray light of the morning, purple shadows were beneath her eyes and lines of pain around the drooping lips. The fear which had lain upon her all these weary weeks gripped his heart at last.
He put his arms about her in silent sympathy and tried to speak encouragingly, but his heart felt like a thing of lead. He prevailed upon her to remain in bed while he built a fire and made coffee. But while his hands moved mechanically about his work, a fury of remorse and anger took possession of him. Over and over he berated himself.
"O fool, fool! What if you have delayed too long? What if anything should happen, shut in by the storm, without help of any kind?"
Even the men he retained through the winter months had been given leave of absence the day before to celebrate in the town the end of the season's work. Only the Chinaman remained in the cook-house, and it was beyond the bounds of reason to expect Marshall before the storm was over.
Had he sacrificed her, his brave uncomplaining little wife, to his thirst for success, his love for system, his desire to leave no loose ends in his business management?
He remembered that pitiful breakdown in September, when she had begged to be taken away. What was it she had said? "I cannot stand it any long!" Had she, too, been possessed by this fear that was tearing at his heart strings, beading his forehead with cold perspiration, making his strong hands tremble? Why had he not sent her from him months ago? There were others beside her family who would have welcomed her gladly. O blind, blind fool!
"God! What a life for a woman -- a woman like her!" Over him swept a memory of their first meeting; air pulsating with heat, heavy with fragrance. And mary in the old garden among the magnolias, bleeding-hearts and lilies, her white dress gleaming among the dark foliage, her sweet, laughing face turned toward him -- were there ever such loving, trusting eyes as hers?
And now -- dear God -- she lay with those sweet eyes sunken and with pinched, white features, almost in a tomb of ice and snow, the wind singing an awful dirge about her. His teeth clicked together and his nails bit into his palms.
Then he heard her calling -- calling in a voice wild with terror: "John, John, come to me. I am afraid - afraid!"
He found her sitting up in bed, her eyes wide with pain and fright. "Something is going wrong, dear; something is going wrong, and there is no help!" she moaned, clinging to him with her thin, cold little hands. "Oh! Oh! -- Oh-o-o-!" The shriek she vainly strove to stifle seemed to mingle with the wind. He held her until the anguish passed and she lay in his arms as white as the snowdrift outside the window.
But paroxysms followed in quick succession; he could not leave her for a moment all through that interminable day and night.
"God!" he gasped time and again under his breath. "God forgive a damnable fool and spare her!"
His face grew haggard and old, his arms ached with the weight of her tortured body; but still he bent over her while the snow piled higher and the wind moaned its awful dirge.
On the afternoon of the second day her mind wandered, down with mother and dad and the girls. She smiled a contorted little smile of mingled agony and mirth and tried to sing some heartbreaking, minor melody of the South. Again in scattered sentences she revealed the fear and loneliness of all the many months; the heart hunger for love and companionship.
And he who loved her as many a strong man loves, with a blind and selfish passion, suffered in mind all the torments which shook her slender frame.
At last, on the second evening, when the shadows of night gathered thick within the room, there came a feeble, wailing, baby cry, and Mary's body hung limp within his arms. For one brief space she seemed to linger like a brooding spirit, until the little form was carefully wrapped and laid to one side; then with a faint, flickering smile, her eyes closed -- her tired heart throbbed slowly -- like the heavy beating of a hammer -- and ceased -- forever.
Contrary to expectations, the morning broke clear and bright. The Chinaman shoveled a path across the road and finally it dawned upon his opium-befogged mind that something was wrong in the house opposite there was no sign of life about windows or doors.
So he floundered over and knocked. There was no answer and, softly turning the handle, he entered. Across the table, with his head buried in his arms, lay "the boss," his temples hollow and his big frame shrunken as by a mighty sickness. On the couch, drawn close to the fire, there was a bundle, and through an opening in the top there was a glimpse of a red, little face, a tiny, shriveled hand.
The Chinaman began to understand and, tiptoeing to the door of the adjoining room, he beheld Mary's beautiful face, looking like a statue carved from one of the icy mounds without.
A human tragedy, involving the hearts of a man and woman, with Life and Death as the leading characters, had been enacted within the space of two short days. One heart had given up the struggle forever; one lay numb within his breast, while a little child's beat out the first hours of its existence in slumber.
Only a Chinaman was there, with Oriental immobility to bring down the curtain on the closing act.
Through the long art galleries of one of our great cities wandered many people; idlers, connoisseurs, art dealers and collectors, with many artists of more or less note. There was the usual atmosphere of hushed observation, of critical scrutiny, broken here and there by little exclamations of enthusiasm or disappointment. All turned sooner or later into a small room given over entirely to the works of one artist. near the door to this apartment stood two gentlemen, one elderly, with gray, stern face and white hair. There was a commanding strength about his large frame and cold, clear-cut features, contrasting oddly with the drooping shoulders and hopeless sadness of his eyes.
The other, a young man, was as tall, but slighter; his head had the same fine poise, his mouth and chin the same firmness and strength. But where the elder man's check had once glowed fair and ruddy, the younger showed an olive tinge. Thick, dark hair waved above the white full brow of the dreamer, beneath which were eyes deep and dark and all alight with the fire of genius. Eyes and voice now were tinged with sadness and full of earnest pleading, as he turned to the older man.
"Come, father, let us leave. My pictures always grieve you and I am sorry beyond words. If you could only know how hard I tried to carry out her desire, if you could only understand --" His voice broke as they moved to one side where a little recess hid them from the passing throng.
"Ask any of my masters, my fellow students; they will tell you how strenuously, how faithfully, I have toiled to obtain that sense of color, that feeling without which no artist could paint as she so wished. Somehow upon my baby brain was impressed the things that so wrought upon her, until I can only feel and see that which she saw and felt. These others -- the artists out there -- think it wonderful that I have never seen with my physical eyes the scenes I paint. There was no need; the vision is with me always."
Again he paused an looked with pitying eyes upon the gray face and bowed shoulders beside him, throwing about the latter a protecting arm.
"Dear old dad, she never blamed you, nor do I. She thought you the best and finest gentleman in the world -- as do I -- but when I found I could never paint as she wished me to, I had to satisfy her ambition for me in the only way in my power, and so I have given the world all that I had to give. If your approval were only mine -- as is hers (and of that I am sure) --I should be far happier than I deserve."
Slowly the white head lifted and the sad eyes looked into the young and eager face. Something of a happier light came into into them.
"Forgive me, my son. You have done well and I will strive, with her, to be as glad as I am proud. Let us take one more look. You have done well and I will strive, with her, to be as glad as I am proud. Let us take one more look. I think I can bear it better now."
Strange indeed were. . . hung in the little . . . bleak and gray. . .prairies, covered with . . . growth of gray-green . . . skulking coyote in. . . eagle sweeping across. . . could feel the glinting. . . sunbeams, the head of the. . . This same prairie . . . snow, drifting in mounds. . . vast graveyard; near by. . . vulture gloating, its bald,. . . and cruel beak thrust forward . . . a skull lying in a little gully in the foreground.
There were large, medium and small pictures, all of this same scene in varying aspects. But there was atmosphere, oh, yes -- and a story as forceful as a blow in the face. For the gem of the collection, hung in the center of the north wall, had created a furor among artists, critics and the public in general -- a public which stood before it hour after hour in a strangely expressive silence.
There was this valley prairie again, with the snow-capped mountains in the distance, the bleak, barren lava bluffs below. In the foreground a small, white cottage surrounded by weather-beaten shacks. In the distance the hazy outline of a man on horseback following the winding road leading beyond the hills.
There was the same impression of vastness and silence, the same lack of warmth and life except for one vivid, human touch. In the doorway of the cottage stood a woman, a darling daughter of the South, with graceful round, young figure, a small oval face, olive skinned an d rose tinted, with a mouth made for laughter and kisses. But in the eyes, the lovely dark, beautiful eyes, there looked forth all the wistful questioning, the yearning and loneliness of a slowly breaking heart.
No man could view this picture without profound emotion; no woman without a rush of burning tears.
Beneath, on the dull gold frame, in ebony letters was inscribed:
Only a Chinaman was there, with Oriental immobility, to ring down the curtain on the closing act
This story is full of autobiographical references -
referring to the Burroughs Brothers' ranch in Idaho:
the Southern "bride" is a writer,
she is called "Mary" (ERB's grandmother was called Mary),
her husband is called John (a much-used family name
which was also used throughout ERB's writing - John Carter, John Clayton),
the YY (Yale) ranch in
a typical Idaho range country,
gold dredging activities
the colour grey is much used (grey-eyed heroes, Greystoke, etc.)
the son is an artist (Studley Burroughs)
descriptions of the ranch buildings and inhabitants, etc.
Visit our thousands of other sites at:
BILL AND SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.-
All Rights Reserved. ERB quotes ©ERB Inc.
All Original Work ©1996-2012/2018 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners