« PreviousContinue »
MARTHA HELYER'S HEART.
BY ELLIS YETTE.
IT was a sultry evening in July. All 1 day the sun had burnt and glared in the cañons, scorched the spare verdure of the streams, and melted the snow upon the mountain tops. All day the flowers had leant languidly over the streams, and the trout had floated listlessly in the deepest shadows of the rocks. All day the sky had been cloudless — piteously bright and promising.
This is what the day had been. The sun went down gorgeously in a golden sea, whose waves were purple and flame. The gold faded to gray, the purple to ashes, and the short western twilight drew on.
There was a little cañon in the Wa. satch Range, where the sun seemed to linger, as if it found pleasure in blazing on the granite rocks and sparkling on the glistening sand. Even the scrub. oaks threw long shadows, and the dingy sage-bush looked soft and hazy in the waning light.
Just as the last flush faded from the western sky, and the rocks were putting on their evening frown, the sharp sound of a bell resounded through the upper part of the cañon, and, at the same moment, a noisy mill — which had all day been waking the unwilling echoes – stopped for the night. The mill was a large, roughly-built building, standing in the widest part of the canon, which there opened out into space enough for two or three fields. Opposite it, on the other side of the road, stood the millhouse, a low log building, with small windows and widely open door, from which issued the odor of the evening meal. There was neither garden nor tree near the house ; only a potato-field
behind, and a cattle shed near by. Be. yond rose an almost perpendicular wall of rock — bare, brown, rugged, but fringed in some places with a low growth of hardy firs. High up, in the crevices of the rocks, waved delicate little blossoms, tiny yellow lilies, little purple cups, with their circle of green leaves ; but lower down the earth seemed to have been left to man's care, and there little grew save the wild sage and wilder weeds.
Meanwhile the workmen had left the mill, and, after washing themselves in an old wash-basin which stood on a bench in front of the house, were talking and laughing together in the road. They were four in number-rough, strongly-built men, who had been miners, loggers, cattle-tenders, woodchoppers, and were ready for any work that came to hand.
“Wa'al,” said the shortest, and apparently also the youngest, of the party, "It's time that supper was ready; what in creation 're they waiting for ?"
“Guess th' old man haint ready yetseein' t' th' oxen or suthin'," replied an. other. “Guess you're hungry, Billl”
“You bet!" replied the first speaker. "But where's Mat?” he added, look. ing round; “I don't see her no where."
“That gal's got the sulks or suthin'," said Jack Wheet, the shingle-maker. “She works awful — beats everything I ever see ; but ye can't get a decent word out of her.”
“I reckon she's got suthin' on her mind, Jack, an' don't you be hard on her,” replied Bill. “She 's a good galMat is."
“ You think well on her," retorted the other, “an' its a pity she don't re.
turn the compliment; but ef ye had to see that glum face o’hern all day, while she piled up shingles like blazes, an'ye couldn't get a civil word out o' her, ye wouldn't like it neither.”
"I know," returned the other, “Mat ain't like what she used to be; she's sort o' down-in-the-mouth like.”
Here the supper bell rang, and Bill whispered, under cover of the noise, " That fellow 's been using her bad, and she ain't got over it yet.”
Jack smiled scornfully, and whistling “There are as good fish in the sea as ever were caught,” went in to supper.
When supper was nearly over, a figure came slowly up a rough path that led down to the stream, and entered the house. She was a strongly built young woman of twenty or thereabouts, of medium hight, dressed in a coarse dark working suit. The face was large and broad, from which the thick brown hair had been carelessly brushed away; the mouth was full and firmly closed; the cheeks colorless, and the eyes were of a dark intense gray, which to-night wore an expression of dogged resistance.
As she entered the house a noisy laugh greeted her, and a sarcastic:
“Well, Mat, I suppose you've been mooning by the brook. Which are most plenty, fishes or beaus ?"
Without reply, Martha seated herself by the girl in pink ribbons who had thus addressed her, and began to eat her supper. The conversation went on- conjectures about a coming storm, some repairs wanted in the mill-dam, and the likelihood of catching some trout after supper, with an occasional interruption from the baby in the cradle.
“Mat," whispered Bill, as they left the table, "come down to the green trout-hole after a while."
Mat nodded, and began to gather up the supper things. Then Fanny took herself and the pink ribbons out to flirt with the young men in front of the
door, and the millman's wife and Mat put the house to rights.
It was nearly nine o'clock when Mat got away, and found Bill waiting for her on the rock overhanging the green trouthole. He made room for her to sit down beside him, which she did; but he kept on kicking loose stones into the water, and did not say a word.
Mat also was silent. She sat quietly looking up at the pale moon — struggling with the fleecy clouds which now overspread the sky — with a dull pain at her heart, and a feeling of pity for berself, as if she were pitying some one else.
“Bill," she said at last, “what do you want to say to me? It's late, an' I'm tired."
“I know, Mat, an' I'm a fool; but I'm yer friend, an' I wanted t' say that I'd be yer friend, an' stand by ye, if no body else don't; an' Mat," he added in an almost savage whisper, "if that fel. low don't use you right, I'll pay, him; by God, I will!"
“Don't, Bill,” said Mat, with a gasp, clenching her hands lest she should cry out, “don't Bill — you can't- no body can't help me."
“But he'll break yer heart-- the villain—an' I could break his neck —I could," and he sent down a stone that almost splashed the water into their faces.
“Bill," said Mat, "ye mean well, an’ I thank ye kindly; but 't isn't so. Don't ye nor nobody say that Alf Wert's breakin' my heart. He ain't. He's his own master; he kin do 's he likes, an' my heart ain't breakin'. I've had some trouble, Bill, that I can't tell ye about; but don't you nor nobody ever say that it's Alf Wert's doin's.”
“But, Mat, O Mat!" said the boy, as the moonlight fell on her face, and he saw how white it was, "if ye ever need a friend, come to me.”
As she turned to him and heard that tremor in his voice, it may have been
that she saw the shadow of a sorrow as heavy as her own.
“ Bill,” she said softly, “I will."
It was a hard wearing life that Martha Helyer lived — bundling shingles in the old mill. Hers had always been a hard life; there had been little in it save toil. When the girl first found herself, she was a dependent without home or kin. She had worked ever since. Hers had been the old tread mill life; she had worked, eaten and slept - perhaps with scarce a thought of any thing beyond. But she had ca. pacity for better things. Her earnest nature, her passionate loving heart, her strong though almost untaught mind, clinging to right and honor, migbt have made her a woman to be loved and reverenced. And she was worthy. She was a poor ignorant drudge; her path had always lain in the dark ways of life; no helping hand had ever been held out to her. But she was pure — she was true; her lamp was not the brightest, but she lived in its purest flame.
Aud she had a lover - Alf Wert of the “Lower Mill." He was different from her-less ignorant — more refined; he had mingled with more civilized people; and it was a proud day for Mat when she first knew that he came to see her. And she loved him. With out a thought of his returning it, she gave her love as freely as God gives us all his care. And she gave it all. She was a whole-souled loving woman, and she used her right of love as if she had been a man. Then Mat had lived. Then there had come to her the vision of a home, no matter how poor or humble, if only shared with him; a place where she could work for him, live for him, and as gladly die for him. No life could have been too hard if shared with him. All the passion and power of her womanhood went out to him ; her heart gloried and triumphed in her love.
But possession sometimes tempts to indifference; and when Alf knew that her heart was his, he did not seem to value it so highly as when he was certain what her answer would be. Then Fanny came to see her aunt, and flirt her ribbons; and it promised to be a repetition of the old old story. Fanny was pretty and selfish; Alf unstable and flattered by the new admiration; and Mat's heart was very heavy.
But there was something that lay more heavily on the poor girl's heart than Alf's indifference. It is hard to bury those we love to know that there will be “voice no more, heart no more, hand no more" — that what has been is past and gone forever; it is hard w lose our friends — to know that the world's tide has swept between us and shut them from our sight; but it is hard. est of all to lose faith in them— to know that it was not them we loved, but an ideal we called by their names that our love is objectless, our arms are empty!
Mat carried a sorrow that she was too loyal to breathe even to herself. She was inore jealous of Alf's honor than of her own; and, as she walked back to the house that night, she was striving to crush down the fears and doubts that arose in her mind. She looked up at the hurrying clouds — at the wan moon that seemed so sad and lonely - and she swore to herself that it was not true; that she would not believe it; that Alf was true and honest to himself, if not to her ; that she would prove it so, and then little matter if he did not love her—if he were only true.
“And so, Mattie, you don't care for me any more, and don't want to marry me; and a week ago you were jealous if I spoke to another girl! What do you mean, and what is it all about ?".
Alfred Wert looked rather angry and very much perplexed, as he talked to Martha, leaning against the half-open door.
Mat was laying shingles with unsteady more. And may be you'll think better hands, and she tried to go on with her of it, Mat.” work as she answered him:
She shook her head. " Because, Alf, you've been playing “Some times we wake up and find fast and loose long enough; an' you'd our dreams gone; but we don't often better marry Fanny, if she'll have break our hearts, Alf, only we are you."
sorry. An' now you'd better go," she 4. She'd have me fast enough," said. laughed Alf, scornfully; " but I don't “Say good-by, Mat, and that we'll be want her.”
friends." “ Yes you do, Alf, you want to marry “Yes, we'll be friends," repeated she, her or let her alone. It's time you done mechanically, giving him her hand. one thing or th' other."
He took it in his — her hard, brown, “ I'm going to marry you, Mat," said working hand- and perhaps he thought he, thoroughly roused by her opposition, of the many times he had held it fast, * so don't make such a confounded fuss, and pictured an easier life for her in but let a fellow have some peace, can't his own home. Perhaps a waft of the you?"
old sweetness came back upon him, like “You don't want to marry me," said the breath of a faded flower. But Mat, quietly, dropping her work and Fanny's light voice and gayer laugh relooking him steadily in the eyes; "you. called him, and, with one glance at the don't care for me as you used to,” here stony face before him, he was gone. her voice slightly trembled, “and you never shall marry me. You know me, There are times when the daily cares an' you might 's well talk to these and dull routine of life are almost madrocks. You know it- let it pass. But dening; when the petty tasks and trials that girl "
of daily life are almost unbearable, and “What's that to you ?" asked Alf, the heart beats and frets against them roughly. “If you turn me off, I shan't like a bird against the bars of its cage. answer to you, and it's none of your Life is a trial of patience, and it is business. I shall pay attentions to often easier to die than to live. whom I please."
Mat never knew how that summer "Alf," she replied calmly, “it's my wore itself away. The days had business, an’ it's the business of any never seemed so long, the nights so other decent woman, how you use that unending. The sun seemed to shine girl. She's a foolish young thing - not with double lustre, as if mocking the wife I hoped you'd have -- but she the brightness that had gone from loves you, an' if you don't marry her her life; and the gay songs of the you'd better let her alone. You could birds were the echoes of the joys that break my heart, but ye could never were past. It was a hard, bitter summer, make me lose my self-respect.”
and she was often tempted to curse “Nonsense, Mat! who wants to hear God and die. She was poor and friendany thing about self-respect ?'' exclaimed less; she had nothing but Alf. Fanny Alf. “You've turned me off, and you had home and friends, and the beauty needn't expect me to be preached to that had taken her all. Was it right? afterwards !"
Why had God made her poor, ignorant “O Alf!" sobbed the girl, “only tell and homeless ? Why had he given me ye mean honorable by her!"
Fanny all and her nothing? And from “Of course I do," said Alf, “and her work by day, and her hard bed at perhaps I won't come to see her any night, there went up an exceeding bitter
cry - a cry that her burden was heavier than she could bear. It was a hard, bitter life, hidden under a mask of in. difference and smiles that cost her un. told pain. It was a long, pitiful sum. mer; but at last it wore itself away. And the pain and weariness have been mercifully hidden and softened by the hand of time, as the ivy greenly covers the ruins to which it clings.
Autumn came at last, and the wild flowers faded one by one; the wild ber ries ripened, and the frosts painted the leaves with gold. The days were mild and dreamy; the sun shone softly on the rocks and streams, and the air was sadly laden with the breath of the dying year. The flowers had faded like Martha's hopes; the earth, like her heart, had put away its gladness; and she welcomed the fallen leaf and the shorter days as if they were her friends. She hoped that the birds and flowers, the cool shadows and the summer days, would take her old life with them and bury it from her sight. Then when the snow was piled in the cañon, and the winter wind drifted it in clouds, and the torrent lifted its white arms as it roared through the rocks - she would take up her life, patiently and calmly as might be, and carry it to the end. She was poor and ignorant and alone; but she had suffered, and suffering was the noblest teacher she could have. It had brought out the cravings of her better nature, and sent her blindly groping for an unseen light. Out of the mist and darkness she was slowly creeping struggling for foothold on the rocks of doubt and despair, and gathering strength for the journey to that blessed country where the tears shall be wiped from all eyes.
But she was to have one more strug. gle in the old life, one more fiery trial, before the days of pain were past. Her old friend Bill, who had watched her so long, and grieved over her white face and sleepless eyes, came to her one
day with a grave face, and they talked for a long time while she sat at work. What he told her no one ever knew; but in that hour she grew ten years older, and her face was as white as the snow that already lay thickly on the mountains.
That night she told the miller that the next day she must go down the cañon to the nearest town; that she would walk and come back the day after. To all his remonstrances about the distance, and advice of waiting until next day, when he was going down with a wagon, she replied that she could walk and she could not wait. The miller's wife hoped that she would see Fanny, and loaded her with messages to her friends. “Yes, she would be sure to see Fanny,” she said, and she bitterly thought that they did not know how sure.
All that night she tossed sleeplessly on her bed, often clinching her hands lest she should cry out in her misery, and sometimes fearing that she would lose her reason. For her all was gone -- her trust and faith; the sanctuary had been unveiled, the idol thrown down. But she might save Fanny from a sadder fate. If the girl would not believe her, she would tell her of the love that had trusted and believed him, and how this losing all faith in him had almost broken her heart. Nothing should be left unsaid, though the mere thought was almost more than she could bear. Then other thoughts came; temptations of the evil one. What was Fanny to her that she should so wring her heart for her? Had not the girl robbed her of all that was dear to her on earth? Why should she lower the man she loved in the eyes of the woman she hated ? Perhaps she would not be. lieve her-even after she had laid her heart bear to unpitying eyes - and Alf would hate her, and it would be very hard to bear.
There are martyrs whom the world