Friday, May 4, 2012

From the Vaults: Nephi Anderson's "Forfeits"

The following announcement appeared in the March 1918 issue of The Improvement Era. 

The "Era" Story Contest

In the January 5 contest, the committee selected a story entitled, The Retreat of the Dismal Night, by Elizabeth Cannon Porter, of Salt Lake City, for the first place; and The Real Thing, a story by Ethel K. Horsley, of Brigham City, for second place.

There were eighteen stories submitted to the Era for the February 5 contest. The first place was given to Mrs. Venice F. Anderson of Dupont, Washington; her story is entitled Corporal Ron of the 362nd. The second place was given to the story entitled Forfeits, by Nephi Anderson, of Salt Lake City; and to a story by Mrs. Elsie C. Carroll, of Provo, entitled The Miracle. The latter two were of such equal merit, in the opinion of the judges, that the second place was given to both.

Readers of the Era will find special pleasure in these five stories which will appear in due time in the magazine.

Writers will please take notice that the next contest will be held on the 5th of March. Stories for this contest should reach the editor by that date.

Nephi Anderson's "Forfeits" later appeared in the April 1918 issue. I think it may be the bleakest story I've yet read by Nephi Anderson.  

"Forfeits"
By Nephi Anderson

The train stopped long enough at the switch to let Gale Thompson alight, and then it rolled on down the valley. The young man stood for a moment and looked about him. His native village had not as yet attained to the importance of having a station house, and there was now no life about the spur nor the lone box-car which served for a shelter.

A little less than five years ago Gale had left home to seek adventure and perchance fortune in the world; and now as he swung up the dusty road it seemed to him that he had been away a few months only. True, the trees were larger and a few new houses had been built, but the village looked very much the same as of old, as it lay embowered in orchards of peach and cherry with the big, nearby Wasatch mountains rearing their craggy tops into the blue sky to the east.

On nearing the village, Gale slackened his pace, seeming in no great hurry to get home. No mother was awaiting him, and he did not know how his father would receive a son who had for many years paid little heed to wise counsel. His sister Laura-a kind, sweet soul, as he remembered her-would be quite a woman now. And then, there was Mell. For a year he had not heard from any of them. How would he find them? What kind of reception would he get?

The afternoon was warm, and Gale stopped in the shade of a big boxelder tree. He seated himself on the grass of the ditch bank, and as he had done many times as a boy, he looked into the clear irrigation stream which gurgled over the pebbles. He was lingering now as then, but for other and less definite reasons.

This home-coming was not the result of sudden whim nor repentant mood; it was, doubtless, just the homing instinct asserting itself. He did not want-he did not expect, any “fatted calf” demonstration over his return. He wanted just to slip quietly into his native town and as quietly readjust himself to the old-time home life. Of course, he wanted to see the folks-and then there was Mell.

Mell Andrews had been his boyhood girl-chum. She had lived next door to them, and as far as he knew, she lived there still. It was Mell who had faithfully kept him informed on things at home, and between the lines of her letters, had unconsciously confessed the condition of her heart to him. Over a year ago she had sent him her photograph. This, with the confessions, and the memory of a sweet, childish face looking trustfully up to his, had been among the forces which had drawn him home.

On the other side of the street had lived Dick Stevens, the young man who had gone with him to see the world. He and Dick had been close companions in many ups and downs until some two years ago when Dick had returned home. Where was he now? For a long time he had not heard from him.

Gale arose from the bank and walked on. He had not sent word that he was coming, so his arrival would be a surprise to all. Again he asked himself what would he find. Again he lingered. He realized he was somewhat prodigal. How quiet the little town was, how soothingly restful after the roar and the turmoil of the big cities! He felt as if he would like to stay at home a long time, yes, to settle down again-with Mell! His heart glowed at that thought. Mell had always been different from other girls, and now how sharply she stood out from those with whom he had recently associated! He had neglected her shamefully. Well, he would make up for all that now. Then he laughed softly at his own conceits. Mell might be married and settled long ago. He had best not indulge too much in fond dreams.

As Gale approached what was once the Stevens' vacant lot, he saw a new house on it. On the front porch sat a man reading a newspaper, which he lowered as Gale reached the gate. The two men stood for a moment looking at each other, then with mutual greetings, they met half way on the path.

“Dick, do you live here?” asked Gale.

“Sure-and so you've come home!” exclaimed the other. “Why didn't you let us know? You've surprised us all!”

Gale only smiled and said, “How's everybody?”

They walked to the porch where, in the shade of the vines, lay a young baby in a cradle. Gale glanced at it.

“Yours?” he asked.

“Yes; didn't you know?”

“I know nothing-haven't heard from any of you for a year.”

“Why, Gale-I married Laura!”

“What-my sister? Great guns! Shake again with your brother-in-law. And this is the baby?” Gale gently lifted the coverlet, and the child moved. Its sweet, tiny face lay upturned-its eyes were wide open-but there was something unnaturally strange about them. Gale looked steadily at the child for a moment, then touched tenderly the soft, pink cheeks.

“It's a fine kid, Dick; but what's the matter with its eyes?”

“It's blind.”

“Blind! My heavens, Dick, how's that?”

Dick turned away and did not answer. Gale's eyes were riveted on this helpless bit of humanity-this tiny body containing an immortal spirit which had so recently come from the realms of eternal light to a world of darkness. And this was his sister's child. Poor thing!

“Dick, Dick,” said Gale, as he saw the father's emotion, “I'm sorry. Gee, where's Laura?”

“She's gone to the store, and to do some other errands.”

“Is she well?”

“Yes-that is, as well as can be expected.”

“What do you mean, Dick?”

“Gale, are you as ignorant as I was? Are you yet such a consummate ignoramus as I was?”

“I don't quite get you yet.”

“Well, don't you go and get married. You keep away from the girls in this town if I had only known!”

“Is it as bad as that?” He began to understand what the other was aiming at.

“Bad!” Dick found his tongue. “It's hell-hell for me and for Laura, and it's the regions of darkness all her life for that little one-that's what it is. Sit down, Gale, I want to talk now. Laura will not be home for some time yet, and we two can speak plainly.”

“Yes.”

“We two thought we were smart when we left home to see the world. We thought it was an act of courage to dabble in forbidden things-and you know what happened in Chicago. You haven't forgotten what followed our fall from purity, but the ultimate results of our sins neither you nor I ever dreamed of. But I know now. That little innocent thing in the cradle is paying the debt-think of imposing such a debt on such a being! When I look on that child and think that though she may live to be a hundred, yet she will never see the light of day, then, Gale, I suffer the torments of the damned.”

Gale sat listening. He was overwhelmed with what had come to him so suddenly. The calloused crust of indifference with which he had smoothed over his past sins now seemed to be in a state of upheaval, threatening to cast into chaotic ruin all the fond hopes he had recently indulged in. He wished he had never come home. Could he get away again without being seen by anyone else? How could he face his father and Laura and Mell! They would read his terrible secret in his tell-tale eyes.

“I didn't know,” continued Dick, “that my child might have come into the world deformed, diseased, demented, or afflicted in various other ways than blindness. I didn't know until it was too late. I was ignorant-the kind of ignorance that is a breeder of sin with all its terrible consequences. And now, Dick Thompson, you keep away from Mell.”

“Mell-is, is she here?”

“Yes; Mell is still here; and a better, sweeter, more beautiful girl you'll go a long way to find. And although she is keeping company with Tom Mason, you remember him, yet I know the reason she keeps putting him off is because she hopes you will come back-and now you are here.”

Gale seemed unable to make any statement of protest or defense.

“That doctor we went to in Chicago was a fake,” continued Dick. He either didn't know better, or he lied to us when he said we were cured. We were not, never can be-never for certain. The cursed thing is in the blood, and it may crop out to afflict and kill, not only us, but our innocent offspring to the third and the fourth generation. That's what I have learned.”

Dick seemed to have talked himself out for the moment. The afternoon sun was nearing the hills as Gale looked up to them. How beautiful they were! Many a time he had roamed over them after the cows. He remembered distinctly just where the choicest choke-cherries grew on those hills, and where the service-berries were biggest and best. Many a pailful he and Mell had picked, and because these two had “stuck to their bush” and had not run all over the hills, they had filled their pails much sooner than the others. The sun went down, and the evening quiet settled over the village.

“Come in,” said Dick. “I'll light the lamp. Laura will be here any minute, and she will get supper.”

“No; I'll not go in. I'll not stay. I believe it will be best not to, at least, not now.”

Footsteps were heard, and Dick looked out through the vines. “Laura is coming,” he said, “wait for her.”

“No; she must not see me. How can I get away?”

Dick led the way through the back door. “Go down into the orchard, and stay there until I come,” he admonished. “I'll not be long.”

Gale hurried along the path under the trees until he was out of sight of the house. He leaned against a big apple tree, and looked up to the mountains, now glowing in the setting sun. How those big mountains appealed to him! After all, his home-hunger was not to be appeased. Might he not just look once more on his father, his sister, and Mell? Better not, better not.

Dick came walking to him. “It's all right,” he declared, “Laura did not see you. Now, don't be in such a hurry to leave. You might as well-”

“Dick-” and the speaker came close to his friend, “I've decided to go away again without being seen, if I can. Promise me that you'll not tell anyone that I've been here. I've forfeited my right to live among my people. I've forfeited what might have been ming: home, friends, wife, children.-you, Dick, so have you! Forgive me, but you're in it, and you have to stick. Do the right thing, Dick-promise me, or, by the fates, I'll come back.”

“Gale, Gale!”

“It will be no easier for you than for me-no, not so easy; but stick it out, Dick, stick it out. Will you?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now, if you are my friend, never let Mell know how near I have been to her, and how near she has been to disaster. Let her think I have forgotten her-let her marry Tom Mason and be happy. I shall never more come into her life. Goodby.”

Dick stood still in the darkening shadows of the trees and watched Gale walk through the orchard, across the open lot, and into the unfrequented back street. Along the stone wall which bordered this street, the retreating figure moved as a dark bulk against a sun-reddened surface. On he went to the end of the wall, then disappeared in the shadows at the bend of the road.

Dick lingered. The darkness deepened. A light gleamed from the kitchen window of his house, and a voice called. Then slowly and hesitatingly he turned his steps homeward.

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