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I CONCERNING THE TRAIL AT BROKEN TREE
The trail begins at the Broken Tree with the hawk’s nest. As often as we have talked of it since, Herman and I, and that is as often as the ceanothus blooms untimely for a sign of rains delayed, or there is a low moon and a following star, or a wind out of the south with the smell of wild honey in it, we have agreed together that the trail begins at Broken Tree.

There were some other landmarks I was quite as sure of at the time, but the creek makes so many turns here I could never find them again, and the second time of Herman’s going in, he had altogether other things to think about. So as often as we have occasion to talk of it, we end by saying that it begins at Broken Tree.

10I remember very well how Fairshore looked that day as we stood gazing back at it from the edge of the plowed lands; the pines sketched blackly against the smudgy, fawn-colored slope, the sea as blue as lazuli, and the leaning surf. I had another reason for remembering it, since it was the last time of Herman’s asking and of my refusing to marry him. I don’t know why Herman’s being a professor of sociology should have led him to suppose that our liking the same sort of books and much the same people, and having between us an income fairly adequate to the exigencies of comfortable living, should have been reason enough for my marrying him, but he had spent a great deal of time that summer trying to convince me that it was. I recall being rather short with him that afternoon. For, in the first place, if I had meant to marry Herman I should not have put all I had into a house at Fairshore, and in the next place, though I had not got to the point of admitting it, the house was proving rather a failure.

For a long time I had believed that it needed but a little space of collected quietness for the vague presages of my spirit to burst freely 11into power. Somewhere within myself I was aware of a vast, undiscovered country full of wandering lights and crying voices, from whence the springs of great undertakings should issue. But now that the house was accomplished and my position in the English Department definitely resigned, all that I had got by it was an insuperable dryness of heart and a great deal of time which hung rather heavily upon my hands. I had done no work at Fairshore that I was willing to confess to in print. I know I should not, until I could escape from this inward desertness into that quarter from whence still, at times, I could feel a wind blowing that trumpeted up all the lagging forces of my soul. And just when I was wanting most to know passion and great freedom of feeling, Herman’s offer of a reasonable marriage, of which the particular recommendation was that no feeling went to it, took on the complexion of a personal affront. The more so since there was no very definite way in which I could make clear to Herman just what offended me.

He was going on that afternoon to explain to me how, in a marriage free from the disturbances of passion incidental to temperamental 12matings, I should be at ease to give myself wholly to the business of book-making. With all his understanding, Herman was fully possessed of that Academic notion that literature can be produced by taking pains instead of having them. He was very patient with me through it all, crediting my indifference to overwork and to nerves, as a man does with a woman when he is at a loss to know what is the matter with her. The truth was, if I was tired of anything, it was of being the very things Herman most admired in me. I was growing every moment more exasperated. By the time he had got to the point of wanting to know what more there was that he could say, I had reached the pitch of replying that there could be nothing more unless he wished to say the usual thing.

“And that?” He turned to me with a sincere and astonished inquiry in his lifted brows.

“Would be merely that you love me and can’t live without me.”

“Oh, if you want me to say what the grocer’s man says to the cook in the kitchen!”—he flushed—“but you know very well, Mona, that I am not going to insult your intelligence 13and mine with the clap-trap of passion. Certainly I’ve no such cheap sort of feeling for you, and I’m not such an infernal cad as to suppose you have——Mona?”

It might have been the wind that blew from the country beyond Broken Tree at that moment, or something in my face, that turned that last repetition of my name upon the point of interrogation. Though it was my crying objection to Herman that he could not produce in me those raptures and alarms and whirlings to and fro, out of which I knew all creative art to proceed, yet to have him so renounce for us both the possibility of such a relation filled me with sudden wounding and affront. And at that, or at some new shadow of wonder in his eyes with the turning of his voice upon the word, I found myself so little able to give back look for look, that it was a great relief to me to discover the hawk’s nest in the Broken Tree. The creek makes a turn here, and the stepping-stones were so far apart it was necessary for Herman to go ahead and reach me back his hand. As I swung past him I heard him say my name again with so new a touch of shamed credulity that I was glad to put my hand up over my eyes, making believe 14I had not heard him, and look very attentively at Broken Tree.

It stands on the upper bank of the creek, snapped off midway by the wind. Below the break two great sweeping boughs spread either way like the arms of a guide-post. The nest is in the splintered hollow of the trunk.

“It is a nest,” I said, as though a doubt I had were the reason for my not hearing him. Herman was so used to this sort of interruption when we walked in the woods together that I hoped it had a natural sound. He answered quite simply that if it was, it should be empty by this time of the year. Suddenly the hawk, unfurling from the upper branches, pitched a slow downward spiral above our heads, then beat back into upper air, uttering sharp cries, and, settling slowly to the left, preened himself and neglected us. As if being but a watchman, having cried our coming, he had no other interest in the affair.

Just beyond the pine there was a thicket of wild lilac grown across the way, and as I put up my hand to defend my face, I saw that a light spray of it had burst untimely into bloom. Though this was the second week in October the grass was brittle as new silk and 15the earth was hard with drought. I remember holding the branch toward Herman for him to see.

“Look how it calls the rain,” I said, and perhaps something more, though I do not remember what, about the effort of nature to rise to its own expectancy. I said that first because it was exactly the sort of thing I knew Herman, who thought he had entirely rationalized his attitude toward out of doors, liked least to hear me say. But, perhaps, because the shadow of the adventure which was to prove him wrong about that and so many things was already over us, he had no answer but to reach out across my shoulder and put up his hand over mine to bear back the heavy branch. This was so little the sort of thing I had learned to expect of Herman, and we were both so embarrassed by it, that we could never be quite sure which of us saw it first. When we had pushed aside the ceanothus there lay the beginning of the trail.

It began directly at the foot of the pine as though there was some reason for it, and ran shallow and well-defined through the lilac thicket and up the hill.

Herman said it was a deer trail. To the 16casual eye it did resemble one of those woodland tracks made by wild creatures, beginning at no particular point, and after continuing clear and direct for a little distance, breaking off for no reason. But there was about this trail a subtlety, a nuance, slight distinctions in the way the scrub was bent back from it, in the way it took the slope of the hill, that made it plainly a man trail. More than that, I felt the slight pricking of the blood, the quick response of the intelligence to the stimulus of variations so slight the observation of them lies almost below the plane of consciousness. Herman, wanting such witness in himself, could not believe, and was concerned over my mistake. So we went on walking in it, Herman very well satisfied with his argument, and I saying nothing more about it. As I frequently have to do when Herman gets talking of the things which are my province.

It was very quiet in the wood that day, scarcely a bird abroad; now and then a still, winged insect threaded the green and gold arcades of the great fern, or a long sigh from the sea, passed up the hill along the top of the pines.

The trail cleared the scrub and went between 17young trees, skirting a hollow planted with lean, sombre boles. The ground beneath was white with the droppings of shadow-haunting birds. Beyond that there was more open going among splay-footed oaks, crusted thick with emerald moss, all a-drip from their outer branches with the filmy lace of lichen. Then a pleasant grassy space of pines before the close locked redwoods began.

I do not know how long we had been following before we heard the jays, but we had come into a little open glade where lilies grew, through which the trail seemed to lead to one of those places where you have always wished to be. There we heard them crying our approach. Herman said they were jays, and the first one might have been. I know the high, strident call they have, which another hears and repeats, and another, until all the wood is cautious and awake. But one jay calls exactly like every other, and about this there was a modulation that assured while it warned; that said: “I have heard; have no concern for me.” And even I could not have fancied so much as that in the mere squawking of jays.

“Be still,” I said to Herman, who was protesting 18cheerfully behind me; “you have waked the wood people and now we shan’t see any of them.”

“What people?”

“The people who walk in the woods and leave the meadows warm and tender, whom you feel by the pricking between your shoulders when you come upon the places where they have been. The people who made this trail, whom we heard calling one to another just now. The people——” And just then we came upon the faggot.

It lay close beside the trail, little sticks all in order except a last handful dropped hurriedly on top when the faggot-gatherer had started at our approach.

“Look!” I said; “that is what they were doing when we came stumbling on them.”

It was a faggot, I shall always insist that it was a faggot, and I should have said so if nothing had happened afterward to prove it. Herman kicked it impatiently with his foot.

“There’s a literary temperament for you,” he protested. “You find a trail made by wood-choppers, you hear jays squawking and see a heap of brushwood. Straightway you create a race of people to account for them.”

19“You said it was a deer trail a while ago,” I hinted, and Herman laughed.

It was still and warm in the glade; the needles lay thick and soft and no grass grew. The scent of the yerba buena stole upon us intermittently, delicate pungent gusts answering each to each like speech. All around the sunlight lay, a thing palpable, as if, like the needles, it had not been lifted for a thousand years, but mellowed there like wine. Herman stretched himself on the brown thick litter beside me.

“Aha,” he said, “if this belongs to your wood people they know a good thing. It’s very nice of them to lend it to us for a while. I don’t seem to feel any pricks between my shoulders, but my heart beats remarkably; so don’t give me up yet, Mona.”

That was exactly like Herman, to argue with your best beliefs until you begin to think there is no other way than to subvert your whole scheme of existence, or to break off all connection with him. And then he abandons his position with a suddenness that leaves you toppling over your own defenses.

For a moment I thought he might be going to revert to the matter of my marrying him, 20but he lay tossing lightly at the dropped needles, and the even breathing silence of the wood closed in again. We sat so long that we were startled on discovering that if Herman got back to the Inn in time for the stage that was to take him to his train, we would have to run for it. And that, I suppose, was why we took so little notice of the landmarks going out, that, though I tried the very next afternoon, I could not find the trail again.

I wanted to find it too, for if I could once prove to Herman that there was a reality behind that sense of presence in the woods he credited to the whimseys of a literary imagination, I should somehow put myself in a better case for proving—well, I did not know quite what, but I wanted to find that trail.

I tried that day and the next. Twice I found the glade and the sun-steeped yerba buena, for the day was warm and the scent of it carried far, and once I got past Broken Tree, but I could never come into the trail in any manner.

Then one day when I had almost given up finding it, and had been a long time in the woods without thinking about it, I found myself walking in the glade again, and the first thing I noticed was that the faggot was gone. 21Although I had been so sure of its being a faggot in the first place, I was a little startled at missing it, but not in the least alarmed. The day was full of the warm dry fog that goes before a rain; it cleared the ground and curled midway of the tall, fluted trees like altar smoke. I followed along the track, which ran narrowly between the redwood boles toward an open space, at the back of which was the pool of a spring. It gleamed under a leaning bay tree, silver tipped with light. And there beside it was a man who so matched with the color of the dappled earth that, except for the motions of his singular employment, I might have missed seeing him altogether. He was of a long clean shape, dressed as to the upper part of his body in a close-fitting coat of gray mole-skin. His feet were covered with sandals. Long bands of leather and of a green cloth, coarse like linen, were laced about, midway of his thighs. His coat had been loosened at the shoulders, baring his breast and arms, and as he lay on the bank of the pool, he leaned above it and studied the reflection of his face. He had leaves of some strange herb in his hand which he squeezed together, and having dipped it in the water 22rubbed upon his face and hair, watching the effect in the pool.

It was his hair that caught my attention most, for it was thick and waving, and most singularly streaked with white. That was the more strange because the body of him looked lithe and young. It occurred to me that he might be remedying an offensive grayness as he dipped and rubbed and stooped to mirror himself the better in the bright water. But before I had made up my mind to anything further, he turned and saw me.

The first thing he did was to thrust the hand that held the herb straight down into the water with a deliberate movement—all the while holding my gaze with great fixity of purpose, as though he would not so much as let it question what he did. Presently withdrawing the hand empty, he stood up.

As he drew erect and clasped the upper part of his tunic, I saw that around his body was a sort of sash of green cloth wrapped several times, and stuck through the folds of it, various tools of the cruder sort of silversmiths. Also, though his figure was young, the skin of his face was drawn in fine wrinkles. He had a thin, high nose with a slightly mobile 23tip that seemed to twitch a little with distrust as he looked at me. The mouth below it was full and curved, his eyes bluish black, opaque and velvet-looking; windows out of which came and looked boldness, cunning and power, and the wistfulness of the wild creature questioning its kinship with man. All this without so much as altering a muscle of his face or removing his gaze from mine. Then he stepped back a pace against the yielding boughs, which seemed to give like doors, and received him without crackling or sensible displacement into the silence of the wood.


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