Sunday, May 27, 2012

Of Mormon Men: A Review of Douglas Thayer's "Wasatch: Mormon Stories and a Novella"

Douglas Thayer’s “The Red-Tail Hawk” is a classic Mormon story about a rebellious young man who goes hunting a few days before Christmas, gets caught in a snow storm, and loses three fingers on his left hand—a loss that becomes the young man’s shame, a trauma his fragile sense of self cannot overcome. “At school,” he tells readers,

I kept my hand hidden in my pocket, or carried my books in that hand, and I quit gym. I couldn’t stand being dressed in a gym uniform, my arms bare, couldn’t stand it in the showers, without even a towel to cover my hand, couldn’t stand the other boys seeing me. Clutching my hand I prayed at night, even out loud, promised God everything, then woke in the early morning afraid to look. (16)

God never heals the hand, and this divine silence signals the end of the young man’s innocence. It’s a fate shared with other Thayerian heroes, boys who learn all too quickly that the seemingly ordered and secure world around them can also be hostile and unforgiving—even with a loving God in heaven. Indeed, “The Red-Tail Hawk”—first published in Dialogue in 1969—is the prototypical Thayer story; in it, readers find the core thematic tensions at play throughout the whole of Thayer’s fiction.

Appropriately, then, “The Red-Tail Hawk” opens Thayer’s latest book, Wasatch: Mormon Stories anda Novella (Zarahemla Books, 2011), a kind of greatest hits album showcasing twelve of the author’s best short fiction from the past forty-two years. Nine of the works, including the masterful “Wolves,” have been previously published, while three—“Yellowstone Country,” “Apache Ledges,” and “Fathers and Sons”—are original to the book. It is Thayer’s third collection of short stories and his seventh published book.

Readers familiar with Douglas Thayer’s fiction will find nothing out-of-step in Wasatch. The collection explores the fragile psyche of Mormon men—arguably Thayer’s uber-theme—through the author’s trademark concise, understated sentences. Absent, however, are the heedless, domineering patriarchs, those stereotypical brutes—think Robert Hodgsen Van Wagoner’s “Father” in Dancing Naked—so prevalent in fiction about Mormons. Thayer’s men feel largely inadequate, wearing their prescribed gender role like an ill-fitting shirt. Or, they feel out of place and time, as if the most important part of their life has somehow slipped away from them, passed unnoticed, leaving them disoriented and nostalgic for the person they once had been.

This mixture of fragility, loss, disorientation, and nostalgia manifests itself differently in each story and in each character. For some, like the young man’s father in “The Red-Tail Hawk” or the ironically-named Bliss in “The Locker Room,” it cankers into frustration and complex bursts of violence. For others, like Carl in “The Gold Mine,” it strips away meaning, essentially leaving him without a language to speak. Thayer’s young men are particularly susceptible to this fragility. Raised with high expectations, and still believing in heroes and miracles, these boys are worn raw by reality.

In “Carterville,” for example, one of the best stories in the collection, a boy aspires to catch a German brown trout large enough to win a local prize awarded for the biggest catch of the season. Throughout the story, he’s diligent, but unsuccessful until the day he hooks what he’s certain is “the biggest German brown trout I’d ever seen in my whole life.” Reeling it in, dreaming of the prize money and the beauty of the fish, he’s “full of joy, almost crying” until he sees “dimly in the half-light” the grotesque face of a carp, “the big unblinking eyes, the pig mouth, the sickly yellowness that was not gold.” The revelation is painful, leaving him with a kind of devastating wisdom he doesn’t quite understand:

I didn’t kill the carp, as I should have, leaving him to rot on the bank as a warning to other fishermen about the folly of hope and desire. I took the hook out of his mouth and eased him back into the Moss Hole because that seemed the way thing must be, even in Carterville. (64)  

Moments like these are frequent in Wasatch. Only occasionally do Thayer’s character’s recapture the past, accept its past-ness, and move on. These characters, like Philip in “Yellowstone Country” and the narrator of “Apache Ledges,” alone seem adjusted by story’s end. Interestingly, in both instances, the moving on involves the setting aside of a male-centered, fantasy-driven way-of-life for a life centered on companionship with a woman, usually a wife. For this reason, perhaps, women do not play a large role in this collection; for Thayer, their presence seems to offer too much stability and practical wisdom—and too little conflict.

Like any greatest hits album, Wasatch is neither Thayer’s best work nor his most innovative. It is, however, predictably good because Thayer’s work has consistently been that way. While not every story excels as “Wolves,” “Carterville,” “Yellowstone Country,” and “The Locker Room” do—“The Gold Mine” and “Ice Fishing,” for example, bored me—the collection is still a worthy addition to Mormon literature. If it has any weakness, though, it is the novella “Dolf,” a historical adventure about a New England student-turned-fur trapper on the run from a band of Blackfoot Indians. Lacking Mormon elements, and drawing upon outmoded themes and motifs that sit uneasily in post-colonial times, the novella seems out of place in an otherwise thoughtful, contemporary work.

Minor weaknesses aside, Wasatch proves that Douglas Thayer—eighty-three years old and counting—remains a vibrant, relevant force in Mormon fiction. Indeed, I recently had the opportunity to attend a reading where Thayer read and spoke about “Wolves,” one of his finest stories. Hearing him speak about his work, listening to his insights, left me little reason to doubt why he enjoys the reputation that he does. He is twentieth-century Mormonism’s greatest literary chronicler, and the Mormon people--particularly the men he so earnestly and honestly portrays--are better because of him. 

NOTE: I received a review copy of Wasatch from its publisher, Zarahemla Books.

Friday, May 25, 2012

From the Vaults: Nephi Anderson's "The Straw"

"The Straw"

By Nephi Anderson
Improvement Era 1922

She saw him first as she was letting down the bars of the corral for the cows to go to the evening milking. Letting down bars, instead of opening gates, was typical of the Adler farm, for it was one of those old places where primitive ways and means still persisted. The poles which made up the bars were not light, and Mary Adler had to pay strict attention to her task, especially as she had to keep an eye on one of the cows which was prone to make a dash back to the greener meadow at the last moment.

The sun had just dipped down behind the western hills, and the long shadows had been obliterated in the coming darkness, as Earl Heron came walking along the wide and weedy road, swinging his straw hat in his hand. He did not see Mary, as he appeared to be looking at the vine-covered front porch instead of in the direction of the barn-yard; and so Mary, though seeking him, went on getting the cows secure for the night. Outwardly she appeared her normal self, but she could not wholly control the intensified beating of her heart. The Adler farm lay at the end of that village side street, so Earl Heron's destination was obvious.

Hidden for a moment by the granary, Mary instinctively looked at her soiled work apron and rough shoes. Then with a little don't-care brush of hand to hair, she stepped along the path to the house for the milk pails. Earl saw her then, stopped for an instant, then hurried through the front gate, around the house where he met her by the back steps.

"Mary, Mary-here you are," he said, as he extended both his hands in greeting.

She gave him but one, however, smiling unafraid up into his face.

And that face was good to look at, even though apparently few young men either in city or country had found it out. The beauties of a clean, sweet, honest heart shone unobstructedly from the face. To one whose gaze was not hindered too much by the outward attire and polish, the soul of Mary Adler opened as a rare and wondrous treasure house; and at that moment of greeting, Earl Heron, gifted with a keener insight, caught a glimpse of it, shining as it were, through the blue eyes of the girl.

"Why did you not tell me you were coming?" she asked.

"I got home only an hour ago. I came just as soon as I found out you were here. I could have telephoned, but-"

"Never mind. I'm glad to see you-but to catch me like this? Shall we go in?'

"Are you through with your work? I see you are still chore-boy."

"Yes and no. I have two cows to milk, and then-well, the usual evening work at a farm house. I can't very well get out of it this evening because father is away and mother is not well-but you're welcome anyway, Earl, and you can-"

"Help you," he broke in laughingly. "I believe I've entirely forgotten how to milk. The last time I tried was at a farm in Alabama where we were being entertained. The cow kicked the milk bucket over the fence."

"And you?"

"O, I survived."

"Well, come in and visit with mother while I milk the cows, feed the pigs, and throw some hay to the horses."

"See here-I'll say how-do-you-do to your mother, but I came here to see you. If you're going to be out in the yard all evening, I'm going to be with you."

"I'll not be long," she explained. "By the time you have answered two of the dozen questions mother will have to ask you about your missionary experiences, I'll be with you."

However, Earl was disposing of the mother's fourth question when Mary arrived. That she was a little delayed was no doubt owing to the fact that she had changed her dress, and otherwise tidied up a bit. Earl paused in his story to look at her as she entered. Yes, she was good to look at in her well-fitting, modest dress. She seated herself and listened to the missionary experiences.

She had time now to observe him closer. As usual with returned missionaries, Earl had grown in many ways. He was more manly, he spoke with greater ease and assurance. His face shone with fervor as he told of his faith-promoting experience in the field. And as Mary sat and looked and listened, she wondered whether or not she had made a mistake when she had refused to become betrothed to him some three years ago, before he went on his mission. He was certainly a fine looking young man now, and perhaps she had been a little too hard on him because of some of his bad habits. Anyway, here he was, calling on her. His mission had no doubt straightened out the little kinks in his character, given him a testimony of the truth of the gospel, and, in short, made a man of him. Was her long-sought-for ideal to be attained? Was her heart's yearnings to be satisfied? Were her prayers now to be answered?

The mother considerately ceased her questions and retired early, leaving them to go out to the ivy-covered front porch, where they sat without words for a little time, watching the stars grow brighter in the blue sky.

"It's good to be home," he said.

It's three months since you came home from your mission. Where have you been all the time?"

"Up in Montana. There was nothing doing here when I got back, so I had to go elsewhere to get work. You know, I tried to find you in the city, at the time; but I must have had the wrong address, and as I did not have much time between trains, I had to give up. How long are you going to stay at home?"

"Well, I hardly know. I'm rather undecided what to do. I've taught school for three years in the city, and they are holding out a rather flattering offer to get me back for next year. Mother needs me here, but then again, the money I can earn comes in very handy. I'm going to stay at home as long as I can, anyway, at least until I get a good coat of tan and freckles and my hands get to be as rough as my good old father's."

"Oh, well, a little tan and a few freckles are now easily covered up," he commented lightly. "It would not do for you to appear on the streets of the city without such covering. What would the fellows say and do?"

Mary hardly knew just how to reply to this. His words were lightly spoken, but he might mean them as a test. If so, he should have his answer.

"I don't care what the fellows say or do, as to that. I'm not going to paint my face like an Indian for anybody. I never have, and if I continue in my right mind, I never shall."

"Good for you, Mary, but-"

"You know, I'm an old fogy-have been for a long time. I would make a mighty poor imitation of the butterfly type of girl. I'm odd. I guess I'm different. I'm not a favorite with the boys. I make a fine decorative wall flower at the dances. The boys that I knew both here and in the city are more attracted to the scantily clad, giggling girl than to such as I who try to be sensible."

"Why, Mary!"

"Let me finish my indictment," she continued with a short laugh. "I know what I'm talking about. I've taken one of those modern surveys, and every girl of my kind in thought and feeling and action will tell you the same as I am telling you. Mark Twain's jest, 'Be good, and you'll be lonesome' is now true in fact. I've seen returned missionaries even, so chase after butterflies that one must conclude they have lost all the sober sense of values which their missionary training is supposed to have given them."

"But, Mary-"

"Ah, present company is always excepted, you know. You're not that kind of a man; but there's Tom Jones of this very town. What did he do when he got home? Why, quiet, sweet-souled Jennie, who had been waiting for him two years, was left-completely forgotten, when that little Molly Brown fluttered her short skirts before him. Naked shoulders, penciled eyebrows, and an energetic use of the lip-stick proved too much for him. They were married last week."

Earl Haren was quieted. Whether Mary Alder had surprised him into silence by her unwonted loquaciousness, or whether something in his own consciousness prevented speech, shall not be said. He looked queerly up to the star beyond the tree top.

"I'm through," said Mary.

He found it difficult to begin talking.

"I beg your pardon for breaking out like this," she said in a somewhat more humble tone. "Tell me about your mission, What do you think of the South and its people? I've always been interested in missionary work, and hope, some day, to go on a mission myself, especially as I'm not the marrying kind."

"Not the marrying kind? What do you mean. Surely, you believe in marriage?"

"Oh, yes, I believe in it all right; but I can't find any male member of the community who is of the same heart and mind as I."

"Don't be so sure of that, Mary. You know, I've always thought of you as the best girl ever." He reached out to take her hand, but she arose quickly as if she did not see the action, and stood by the pillar of the porch. Uncertainty still filled her mind. She did not understand herself, and while in that condition she must not allow the love-making which Earl seemed eager to begin. After a time, she sat down again, and the talk went on normally.

When he arose to go, she went with him down the path to the gate. He behaved himself very well at the parting, just shaking her hand calmly and goodnaturedly, even though he held it a little longer than ordinarily. Then he passed on down the street, and she went back to the house. She paused on the porch, and from behind the ivy screen she looked after him. The street was dark and so his form soon became indistinct until he reached the electric light which sputtered at the intersection of another street. She saw him stop there, take a cigarette from an inside pocket, strike a match, light the cigarette and place it between his lips as he walked away again into the dark.

Mary sank down trembling on the porch seat. What had she seen! Just a young man lighting and smoking a cigarette-a common enough sight. But this time it came as a great shock, for she knew that this simple act pictured justly the character of the man who did it. Straws show which way the wind blows, and some winds become storms which terminate in death and destruction, and this was a straw. To a young man of the world, Mary knew the smoking of a cigarette did not mean so much in the way of index to character, but to a Latter-day Saint, especially to a returned missionary, the simple act told volumes and revealed much.

The wind from the canyon blew cold. Mary went in and to her room. Quietly and soberly she prepared for bed. If she could have cried, it would have been such a relief. For a moment she had cherished the beautiful hope, but now she felt as if the sanctity of her heart had been defiled, by the presence even for so short a time, by one whom she now knew to be unworthy. She realized now that her treatment of Earl Haren three years before had been justified; but all these facts, all this cold, naked truth did not altogether ease the pain in her heart.

She said her prayers, with added length, then lay on her bed wide-eyed far into the night before peace and sleep came to her.

But Earl Heron slept soundly, not knowing that he had forever lost the greatest prize which had ever been placed within his grasp.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mormon Literature and the Disney Aesthetic

This past Sunday, ran a piece called “The Book of Mitt,” an excerpt from Alex Pareene’s e-book The Rude Guide to Mitt. The piece is neither very original—few pieces that use the phrase “magic underpants” are—nor does it provide readers the promised “everything you need to know” to talk about Romney’s Mormonism. Mostly it makes Pareene look like an ass with a handful of Mormon jokes recycled from better pundits.

Normally, pieces like “The Book of Mitt” make me angry for a few hours until I find something more interesting to distract me. This one has stayed with me all week, though, because of comments Pareene makes about the “modern Mormon aesthetic [being] deeply indebted to Walt Disney.” Again, like most of what Pareene says in the piece, this observation is securely in the realm (or should I say Kingdom?) of cliché. (Newsweek, for example, called The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd “Disneyesque” in their September 9, 2001 article “The Mormon Moment.”) Still, the guy has a point: the Mormon aesthetic can be as cheesy and square as Mickey's block of cheddar.  

Let me backtrack. As evidence of Mormonism’s debt to Disney, Pareene looks to temple architecture, LDS hymns, and the Hill Cumorah Pageant, which seems a little facile to me. The core aesthetics of two of these Mormon cultural products—temples and hymns—predate Disney by nearly a century, while the Hill Cumorah Pageant’s camp has nearly twenty years on Disneyland’s.  

Technicalities, I know. Even a Gilbert and Sullivan musical or a Dickens novel can be labeled “Disneyesque” in retrospect. And I suppose we can forgive Pareene’s examples and chalk them up to his being a shoddy observer of Mormonism. Heck, we can possibly be thankful that he is not so immersed in Mormon culture that he knows about the Living Scriptures cartoons or those ridiculous Liken the Scriptures musicals, both of which have a truer debt to Mr. Disney than temples or hymns ever will.

The same, by the way, can be said about most Mormon kitsch.

Which brings me to my issue: Is the modern Mormon aesthetic really embodied in Mormon kitsch? Recently, the fellows at Ship of Hagoth have argued that it is—at least to a certain extent—and point Horkheimer and Adorno-like to the mass appeal of low culture and its usefulness to a church with broad missionary aims. The correlation is insightful but a little disheartening. Like them, I wish How Rare a Possession and Man’s Search for Happiness were the Mormon mass culture norm rather than the exception.

At the same time, I wonder if the Mormon masses are ready for a grittier aesthetic. Mormon literature certainly has its share of Mormon cultural grit, from Richard Dutcher’s Brigham City to Todd Robert Petersen’s Family History, but it has never been warmly and widely received by Mormon consumers. Indeed, to date, the best received piece of Mormon cultural grit has been Saturday’s Warrior and its spandex naughtiness.

Unless you count the Book of Mormon, which I think could serve nicely as a model for a grittier faithful realism. Mormons may have a penchant for Disneyesque entertainment, with its superficial peril and happy endings, but they also embrace wholeheartedly a book with more real pathos and tragedy than most of what comes out of Hollywood.

Cultural critics of Mormonism, like Pareene, generally reduce the Book of Mormon to a misreading of Nephite/Lamanite dynamics, dismissing it without reading beyond the few verses in 2 Nephi they use to justify its dismissal. Mormons, likewise, tend to boil the book down to the famous “Pride Cycle” without thinking too much about the grit involved in that cycle. Moroni ends the book hopefully, no doubt, but not without first reminding readers of the cost of hope. “And I, Moroni, will not deny the Christ,” he writes; “wherefore I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of my own life” (Moroni 1:3). Abinadi, along the same vein, boldly affirms the truth of his word while burning to death at the stake.  

Do Mormons accept the Book of Mormon only by choosing to overlook its bleak view of mortal life? Maybe. The optimist in me, however, would like to think their acceptance of it represents a potential openness to a grittier Mormon aesthetic. Sure, Disney has Mormon culture in a headlock, but I choose to see it as a tag-team match. Just outside the ring is a wrestler of more depth and originality begging for a chance to beat the crap out of the mouse.

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.  

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.”


“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?”


“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.