The Troll Garden and Selected Stories
"A Death in the Desert"
Everett Hilgarde was conscious that the man in the seat across the aisle was looking at
him intently. He was a large, florid man, wore a conspicuous diamond solitaire upon his
third finger, and Everett judged him to be a traveling salesman of some sort. He had the
air of an adaptable fellow who had been about the world and who could keep cool and
clean under almost any circumstances.
The "High Line Flyer," as this train was derisively called among railroad men, was
jerking along through the hot afternoon over the monotonous country between Holdridge
and Cheyenne. Besides the blond man and himself the only occupants of the car were two
dusty, bedraggled-looking girls who had been to the Exposition at Chicago, and who
were earnestly discussing the cost of their first trip out of Colorado. The four
uncomfortable passengers were covered with a sediment of fine, yellow dust which clung
to their hair and eyebrows like gold powder. It blew up in clouds from the bleak, lifeless
country through which they passed, until they were one color with the sagebrush and
sandhills. The gray-and-yellow desert was varied only by occasional ruins of deserted
towns, and the little red boxes of station houses, where the spindling trees and sickly
vines in the bluegrass yards made little green reserves fenced off in that confusing
wilderness of sand.
As the slanting rays of the sun beat in stronger and stronger through the car windows, the
blond gentleman asked the ladies' permission to remove his coat, and sat in his lavender
striped shirt sleeves, with a black silk handkerchief tucked carefully about his collar. He
had seemed interested in Everett since they had boarded the train at Holdridge, and kept
glancing at him curiously and then looking reflectively out of the window, as though he
were trying to recall something. But wherever Everett went someone was almost sure to
look at him with that curious interest, and it had ceased to embarrass or annoy him.
Presently the stranger, seeming satisfied with his observation, leaned back in his seat,
half-closed his eyes, and began softly to whistle the "Spring Song" from Proserpine, the
cantata that a dozen years before had made its young composer famous in a night. Everett
had heard that air on guitars in Old Mexico, on mandolins at college glees, on cottage
organs in New England hamlets, and only two weeks ago he had heard it played on
sleighbells at a variety theater in Denver. There was literally no way of escaping his
brother's precocity. Adriance could live on the other side of the Atlantic, where his
youthful indiscretions were forgotten in his mature achievements, but his brother had
never been able to outrun Proserpine, and here he found it again in the Colorado sand
hills. Not that Everett was exactly ashamed of Proserpine; only a man of genius could
have written it, but it was the sort of thing that a man of genius outgrows as soon as he
Everett unbent a trifle and smiled at his neighbor across the aisle. Immediately the large
man rose and, coming over, dropped into the seat facing Hilgarde, extending his card.