Elinore P. Stewart’s “Letters of a Woman Homesteader” continued:
August 15, 1910
Dear Mrs. Coney,—
It was just a few days after the birthday party and Mrs. O’Shaughnessy was with me again. We were down at the barn looking at some new pigs, when we heard the big corral gates swing shut, so we hastened out to see who it could be so late in the day.
It was Zebbie. He had come on the stage to Burnt Fork and the driver had brought him on here…. There was so much to tell, and he whispered he had something to tell me privately, but that he was too tired then; so after supper I hustled him off to bed….
Next morning … the men went off to their work and Zebbie and I were left to tell secrets. When he was sure we were alone he took from his trunk a long, flat box. Inside was the most wonderful shirt I have ever seen; it looked like a cross between a nightshirt and a shirt-waist. It was of homespun linen. The bosom was ruffled and tucked, all done by hand,—such tiny stitches, such patience and skill. Then he handed me an old daguerreotype. I unfastened the little golden hook and inside was a face good to see and to remember. It was dim, yet clear in outline, just as if she were looking out from the mellow twilight of long ago. The sweet, elusive smile,—I couldn’t tell where it was, whether it was the mouth or the beautiful eyes that were smiling. All that was visible of her dress was the Dutch collar, just like what is being worn now. It was pinned with an ugly old brooch which Zebbie said was a “breast-pin” he had given her. Under the glass on the other side was a strand of faded hair and a slip of paper. The writing on the paper was so faded it was scarcely readable, but it said: “Pauline Gorley, age 22, 1860.”
Next he showed me a note written by Pauline, simply worded, but it held a world of meaning for Zebbie. It said, “I spun and wove this cloth at Adeline’s, enough for me a dress and you a shirt, which I made. It is for the wedding, else to be buried in. Yours, Pauline.” The shirt, the picture, and the note had waited for him all these years in Mothie’s care. And now I will tell you the story.
Long, long ago some one did something to some one else and started a feud. Unfortunately the Gorleys were on one side and the Parkers on the other. That it all happened before either Zebbie or Pauline was born made no difference. A Gorley must hate a Parker always, as also a Parker must hate a Gorley. Pauline was the only girl, and she had a regiment of big brothers who gloried in the warfare and wanted only the slightest pretext to shoot a Parker. So they grew up, and Zebbie often met Pauline at the quiltings and other gatherings at the homes of non-partisans. He remembers her so perfectly and describes her so plainly that I can picture her easily. She had brown eyes and hair. She used to ride about on her sorrel palfrey with her “nigger” boy Cæsar on behind to open and shut plantation gates. She wore a pink calico sunbonnet, and Zebbie says “she was just like the pink hollyhocks that grew by mother’s window.” Isn’t that a sweet picture?
Her mother and father were both dead, and she and her brothers lived on their plantation. Zebbie had never dared speak to her until one day he had driven over with his mother and sisters to a dinner given on a neighboring plantation. He was standing outside near the wall, when some one dropped a spray of apple blossoms down upon him from an upper window. He looked up and Pauline was leaning out smiling at him. After that he made it a point to frequent places where he might expect her, and things went so well that presently Cæsar was left at home lest he should tell the brothers. She was a loyal little soul and would not desert, although he urged her to, even promising to go away, “plumb away, clean to Scott County if she would go.” She told him that her brothers would go even as far as that to kill him, so that they must wait and hope. Finally Zebbie got tired of waiting, and one day he boldly rode up to the Gorley home and formally asked for Pauline’s hand. The bullet he got for his presumption kept him from going to the war with his father and brother when they marched away.
Some time later George Gorley was shot and killed from ambush, and although Zebbie had not yet left his bed the Gorleys believed he did it, and one night Pauline came through a heavy rainstorm, with only Cæsar, to warn Zebbie and to beg him, for her sake, to get away as fast as he could that night. She pleaded that she could not live if he were killed and could never marry him if he killed her brothers, so she persuaded him to go while they were all innocent.
Well, he did as she wished and they never saw each other again. He never went home again until last Thanksgiving, and dear little Pauline had been dead for years. She herself had taken her little gifts for Zebbie to Mothie to keep for him. Some years later she died and was buried in the dress she mentioned. It was woven at Adeline Carter’s, one of the bitterest enemies of the Gorleys, but the sacrifice of her pride did her no good because she was long at rest before Zebbie knew. He had been greatly grieved because no stone marked her grave, only a tangle of rose-briers. So he bought a stone, and in the night before Decoration Day he and two of Uncle Buck’s grandsons went to the Gorley burying-ground and raised it to the memory of sweet Pauline. Some of the Gorleys still live there, so he came home at once, fearing if they should find out who placed the stone above their sister they would take vengeance on his poor, frail body.
After he had finished telling me his story, I felt just as I used to when Grandmother opened the “big chist” to air her wedding clothes and the dress each of her babies wore when baptized. It seemed almost like smelling the lavender and rose-leaves, and it was with reverent fingers that I folded the shirt, the work of love, yellow with age, and laid it in the box….
Well, Mrs. O’Shaughnessy returned, and early one morning we started with a wagon and a bulging mess-box for Zebbie’s home. We were going a new and longer route in order to take the wagon. Dandelions spread a carpet of gold. Larkspur grew waist-high with its long spikes of blue. The service-bushes and the wild cherries were a mass of white beauty. Meadowlarks and robins and bluebirds twittered and sang from every branch, it almost seemed. A sky of tenderest blue bent over us and fleecy little clouds drifted lazily across…. Soon we came to the pineries, where we traveled up deep gorges and cañons. The sun shot arrows of gold through the pines down upon us and we gathered our arms full of columbines. The little black squirrels barked and chattered saucily as we passed along, and we were all children together. We forgot all about feuds and partings, death and hard times. All we remembered was that God is good and the world is wide and beautiful. We plodded along all day. Next morning there was a blue haze that Zebbie said meant there would be a high wind, so we hurried to reach his home that evening.
The sun was hanging like a great red ball in the smoky haze when we entered the long cañon in which is Zebbie’s cabin. Already it was dusky in the cañons below, but not a breath of air stirred. A more delighted man than Zebbie I never saw when we finally drove up to his low, comfortable cabin. Smoke was slowly rising from the chimney, and Gavotte, the man in charge, rushed out and the hounds set up a joyful barking. Gavotte is a Frenchman, and he was all smiles and gesticulations as he said, “Welcome, welcome! To-day I am rejoice you have come. Yesterday I am despair if you have come because I am scrub, but to-day, behold, I am delight.”
I have heard of clean people, but Gavotte is the cleanest man I ever saw. The cabin floor was so white I hated to step upon it. The windows shone, and at each there was a calico curtain, blue-and-white check, unironed but newly washed. In one window was an old brown pitcher, cracked and nicked, filled with thistles. I never thought them pretty before, but the pearly pink and the silvery green were so pretty and looked so clean that they had a new beauty. Above the fireplace was a great black eagle which Gavotte had killed, the wings outspread and a bunch of arrows in the claws. In one corner near the fire was a washstand, and behind it hung the fishing-tackle. Above one door was a gun-rack, on which lay the rifle and shotgun, and over the other door was a pair of deer-antlers. In the center of the room stood the square home-made table, every inch scrubbed. In the side room, which is the bedroom, was a wide bunk made of pine plank that had also been scrubbed, then filled with fresh, sweet pine boughs, and over them was spread a piece of canvas that had once been a wagon sheet, but Gavotte had washed it and boiled and pounded it until it was clean and sweet. That served for a sheet.
Zebbie was beside himself with joy. The hounds sprang upon him and expressed their joy unmistakably. He went at once to the corrals to see the “critters,” and every one of them was safely penned for the night. “Old Sime,” an old ram (goodness knows how old!), promptly butted him over, but he just beamed with pleasure. “Sime knows me, dinged if he don’t!” was his happy exclamation. We went into the cabin and left him fondling the “critters.”
Gavotte did himself proud getting supper. We had trout and the most delicious biscuit. Each of us had a crisp, tender head of lettuce with a spoonful of potato salad in the center. We had preserves made from canned peaches, and the firmest yellow butter. Soon it was quite dark and we had a tiny brass lamp which gave but a feeble light, but it was quite cool so we had a blazing fire which made it light enough.
When supper was over, Zebbie called us out and asked us if we could hear anything. We could hear the most peculiar, long-drawn, sighing wail that steadily grew louder and nearer. I was really frightened, but he said it was the forerunner of the windstorm that would soon strike us. He said it was wind coming down Crag Cañon, and in just a few minutes it struck us like a cold wave and rushed, sighing, on down the cañon. We could hear it after it had passed us, and it was perfectly still around the cabin. Soon we heard the deep roaring of the coming storm, and Zebbie called the hounds in and secured the door. The sparks began to fly up the chimney. Jerrine lay on a bearskin before the fire, and Mrs. O’Shaughnessy and I sat on the old blue “settle” at one side. Gavotte lay on the other side of the fire on the floor, his hands under his head. Zebbie got out his beloved old fiddle, tuned up, and began playing. Outside the storm was raging, growing worse all the time. Zebbie played and played. The worse the tumult, the harder the storm, the harder he played. I remember I was holding my breath, expecting the house to be blown away every moment, and Zebbie was playing what he called “Bonaparte’s Retreat.” It all seemed to flash before me—I could see those poor, suffering soldiers staggering along in the snow, sacrifices to one man’s unholy ambition. I verily believe we were all bewitched. I shouldn’t have been surprised to have seen witches and gnomes come tumbling down the chimney or flying in at the door, riding on the crest of the storm. I glanced at Mrs. O’Shaughnessy. She sat with her chin in her hand, gazing with unseeing eyes into the fire. Zebbie seemed possessed; he couldn’t tire.
It seemed like hours had passed and the tumult had not diminished. I felt like shrieking, but I gathered Jerrine up into my arms and carried her in to bed. Mrs. O’Shaughnessy came with us. She touched my elbow and said, “Child, don’t look toward the window, the banshees are out to-night.” We knelt together beside the bed and said our beads; then, without undressing save pulling off our shoes, we crawled under our blankets and lay on the sweet, clean pine. We were both perfectly worn out, but we could not sleep. There seemed to be hundreds of different noises of the storm, for there are so many cañons, so many crooks and turns, and the great forest too. The wind was shrieking, howling, and roaring all at once. A deep boom announced the fall of some giant of the forest. I finally dozed off even in that terrible din, but Zebbie was not so frenzied as he had been. He was playing “Annie Laurie,” and that song has always been a favorite of mine. The storm began gradually to die away and “Annie Laurie” sounded so beautiful. I was thinking of Pauline and, I know, to Zebbie, Annie Laurie and Pauline Gorley are one and the same.
I knew no more until I heard Zebbie call out, “Ho, you sleepy-heads, it’s day.” Mrs. O’Shaughnessy turned over and said she was still sleepy. My former visit had taught me what beauty the early morning would spread before me, so I dressed hastily and went outdoors. Zebbie called me to go for a little walk. The amber light of the new day was chasing the violet and amethyst shadows down the cañons. It was all more beautiful than I can tell you. On one side the cañon-walls were almost straight up. It looked as if we might step off into a very world of mountains. Soon Old Baldy wore a crown of gleaming gold. The sun was up. We walked on and soon came to a brook. We were washing our faces in its icy waters when we heard twigs breaking, so we stood perfectly still. From out the undergrowth of birch and willows came a deer with two fawns. They stopped to drink, and nibbled the bushes. But soon they scented strangers, and, looking about with their beautiful, startled eyes, they saw us and away they went like the wind. We saw many great trees uptorn by the storm. High up on the cliffs Zebbie showed me where the eagles built every year…. We turned homeward and sat down upon the trunk of a fallen pine to rest and take another look at the magnificent view. Zebbie was silent, but presently he threw a handful of pebbles down the cañon wall. “I am not sorry Pauline is dead. I have never shed a tear. I know you think that is odd, but I have never wanted to mourn. I am glad that it is as it is. I am happy and at peace because I know she is mine. The little breeze is Pauline’s own voice; she had a little caressing way just like the gentlest breeze when it stirs your hair. There is something in everything that brings back Pauline: the beauty of the morning, the song of a bird or the flash of its wings. The flowers look like she did. So I have not lost her, she is mine more than ever. I have always felt so, but was never quite sure until I went back and saw where they laid her. I know people think I am crazy, but I don’t care for that. I shall not hate to die. When you get to be as old as I am, child, everything will have a new meaning to you.”
At last we slowly walked back to the cabin, and at breakfast Zebbie told of the damage the storm had done. He was so common-place that no one ever would have guessed his strange fancy….
I shall never forget Zebbie as I last saw him. It was the morning we started home. After we left the bench that Zebbie lives on, our road wound down into a deeper cañon. Zebbie had followed us to where a turn in the cañon should hide us from view. I looked back and saw him standing on the cliffs, high above us, the early morning sun turning his snowy hair to gold, the breeze-fingers of Pauline tossing the scanty locks. I shall always remember him so, a living monument to a dead past.