A Mountain Woman and Other Stories HTML version
AFTER being dead twenty years, he walked out into the sunshine.
It was as if the bones of a bleached skeleton should join themselves on some forgotten
plain, and look about them for the vanished flesh.
To be dead it is not necessary to be in the grave. There are places where the worms creep
about the heart instead of the body.
The penitentiary is one of these. David Culross had been in the penitentiary twenty years.
Now, with that worm-eaten heart, he came out into liberty and looked about him for the
habiliments with which he had formerly clothed himself, -- for hope, self-respect,
courage, pugnacity, and industry.
But they had vanished and left no trace, like the flesh of the dead men on the plains, and
so, morally unapparelled, in the hideous skeleton of his manhood, he walked on down the
street under the mid-June sunshine.
You can understand, can you not, how a skeleton might wish to get back into its
comfortable grave? David Culross had not walked two blocks before he was seized with
an almost uncontrollable desire to beg to be shielded once more in that safe and shameful
retreat from which he had just been released. A horrible perception of the largeness of the
world swept over him. Space and eternity could seem no larger to the usual man than
earth -- that snug and insignificant planet -- looked to David Culross.
"If I go back," he cried, despairingly, looking up to the great building that arose above the
stony hills, "they will not take me in." He was absolutely without a refuge, utterly without
a destination; he did not have a hope. There was nothing he desired except the
surrounding of those four narrow walls between which he had lain at night and dreamed
those ever-recurring dreams, -dreams which were never prophecies or promises, but
always the hackneyed history of what he had sacrificed by his crime, and relinquished by
The men who passed him looked at him with mingled amusement and pity. They knew
the "prison look," and they knew the prison clothes. For though the State gives to its
discharged convicts clothes which are like those of other men, it makes a hundred suits
from the same sort of cloth. The police know the fabric, and even the citizens recognize
it. But, then, were each man dressed in different garb he could not be disguised. Every
one knows in what dull school that sidelong glance is learned, that aimless drooping of
the shoulders, that rhythmic lifting of the heavy foot.
David Culross wondered if his will were dead. He put it to the test. He lifted up his head
to a position which it had not held for many miserable years. He put his hands in his
pockets in a pitiful attempt at nonchalance, and walked down the street with a step which