A Mountain Woman and Other Stories HTML version
was meant to be brisk, but which was in fact only uncertain. In his pocket were ten
dollars. This much the State equips a man with when it sends him out of its penal halls. It
gives him also transportation to any point within reasonable distance that he may desire
to reach. Culross had requested a ticket to Chicago. He naturally said Chicago. In the
long colorless days it had been in Chicago that all those endlessly repeated scenes had
been laid. Walking up the street now with that wavering ineffectual gait, these scenes
came back to surge in his brain like waters ceaselessly tossed in a wind-swept basin.
There was the office, bare and clean, where the young stoop-shouldered clerks sat
writing. In their faces was a strange resemblance, just as there was in the backs of the
ledgers, and in the endless bills on the spindles. If one of them laughed, it was not with
gayety, but with gratification at the discomfiture of another. None of them ate well. None
of them were rested after sleep. All of them rode on the stuffy onehorse cars to and from
their work. Sundays they lay in bed very late, and ate more dinner than they could digest.
There was a certain fellowship among them, -- such fellowship as a band of captives
among cannibals might feel, each of them waiting with vital curiosity to see who was the
next to be eaten. But of that fellowship that plans in unison, suffers in sympathy, enjoys
vicariously, strengthens into friendship and communion of soul they knew nothing.
Indeed, such camaraderie would have been disapproved of by the Head Clerk. He would
have looked on an emotion with exactly the same displeasure that he would on an error in
the footing of the year's accounts. It was tacitly understood that one reached the proud
position of Head Clerk by having no emotions whatever.
Culross did not remember having been born with a pen in his hand, or even with one
behind his ear; but certainly from the day he had been let out of knickerbockers his
constant companion had been that greatly overestimated article. His father dying at a time
that cut short David's school-days, he went out armed with his new knowledge of
doubleentry, determined to make a fortune and a commercial name. Meantime, he lived
in a suite of three rooms on West Madison Street with his mother, who was a good
woman, and lived where she did that she might be near her favorite meeting-house. She
prayed, and cooked bad dinners, principally composed of dispiriting pastry. Her idea of
house-keeping was to keep the shades down, whatever happened; and when David left
home in the evening for any purpose of pleasure, she wept. David persuaded himself that
he despised amusement, and went to bed each night at half-past nine in a folding bedstead
in the front room, and, by becoming absolutely stolid from mere vegetation, imagined
that he was almost fit to be a Head Clerk.
Walking down the street now after the twenty years, thinking of these dead but innocent
days, this was the picture he saw; and as he reflected upon it, even the despoiled and
desolate years just passed seemed richer by contrast.
He reached the station thus dreaming, and found, as he had been told when the warden
bade him good-by, that a train was to be at hand directly bound to the city. A few
moments later he was on that train. Well back in the shadow, and out of sight of the other
passengers, he gave himself up to the enjoyment of the comfortable cushion. He would
willingly have looked from the window, -- green fields were new and wonderful; drifting