A Mountain Woman and Other Stories
"Is life worth keeping at the cost of a lot like that?" she would ask. She felt ashamed of
her own ease. She apologized for her own serene and perfect happiness. She even felt
sorry for those mothers who had not children as radiantly beautiful as her own.
"Kate must have a change," the major had given out. He was going West on business and
insisted on taking her with him. Jack looked doubtful. He wasn't sure how he would get
along without Kate to look after everything. Secretly, he had an idea that servants were a
kind of wild animal that had to be fed by an experienced keeper. But when the time came,
he kissed her good-by in as jocular a manner as he could summon, and refused to see the
tears that gathered in her eyes.
Until Chicago was reached, there was nothing very different from that which Kate had
been in the habit of seeing. After that, she set herself to watch for Western characteristics.
She felt that she would know them as soon as she saw them.
"I expected to be stirred up and shocked," she explained to the major. But somehow, the
Western type did not appear. Commonplace women with worn faces -- browned and
seamed, though not aged -- were at the stations, waiting for something or some one. Men
with a hurried, nervous air were everywhere. Kate looked in vain for the gayety and
heartiness which she had always associated with the West.
After they got beyond the timber country and rode hour after hour on a tract smooth as a
becalmed ocean, she gave herself up to the feeling of immeasurable vastness which took
possession of her. The sun rolled out of the sky into oblivion with a frantic, headlong
haste. Nothing softened the aspect of its wrath. Near, red, familiar, it seemed to visibly
bowl along the heavens. In the morning it rose as baldly as it had set. And back and forth
over the awful plain blew the winds, -- blew from east to west and back again, strong as if
fresh from the chambers of their birth, full of elemental scents and of mighty
"This is the West!" Kate cried, again and again.
The major listened to her unsmilingly. It always seemed to him a waste of muscular
energy to smile. He did not talk much. Conversation had never appealed to him in the
light of an art. He spoke when there was a direction or a command to be given, or an
inquiry to be made. The major, if the truth must be known, was material. Things that he
could taste, touch, see, appealed to him. He had been a volunteer in the civil war, -- a
volunteer with a good record, -- which he never mentioned; and, having acquitted himself
decently, let the matter go without asking reprisal or payment for what he had freely
given. He went into business and sold cereal foods.
"I believe in useful things," the major expressed himself. "Oatmeal, wheat, -men have to
have them. God intended they should. There's Jack -- my son -Jack Shelly -- lawyer.
What's the use of litigation? God didn't design litigation. It doesn't do anybody any good.
It isn't justice you get. It's something entirely different, -- a verdict according to law.
They say Jack's clever. But I'm mighty glad I sell wheat."