“GO West?” sighed Kate. “Why, yes! I’d like to go West.”
She looked at the babies, who were playing on the floor with their father, and sighed again.
“You’ve got to go somewhere, you know, Kate. It might as well be west as in any other direction. And this is such a chance! We can’t have mamma lying around on sofas without any roses in her cheeks, can we?” He put this last to the children, who, being yet at the age when they talked in “Early English,” as their father called it, made a clamorous but inarticulate reply.
Major Shelly, the grandfather of these very young persons, stroked his mustache and looked indulgent.
“Show almost human intelligence, don’t they?” said their father, as he lay flat on his back and permitted the babies to climb over him.
“Ya-as,” drawled the major. “They do. Don’t see how you account for it, Jack.”
Jack roared, and the lips of the babies trembled with fear.
Their mother said nothing. She was on the sofa, her hands lying inert, her eyes fixed on her rosy babies with an expression which her father-in-law and her husband tried hard not to notice.
It was not easy to tell why Kate was ailing. Of course, the babies were young, but there were other reasons.
“I believe you’re too happy,” Jack sometimes said to her. “Try not to be quite so happy, Kate. At least, try not to take your happiness so seriously. Please don’t adore me so; I’m only a commonplace fellow. And the babies–they’re not going to blow away.”
But Kate continued to look with intense eyes at her little world, and to draw into it with loving and generous hands all who were willing to come.
“Kate is just like a kite,” Jack explained to his father, the major; “she can’t keep afloat without just so many bobs.”
Kate’s “bobs” were the unfortunates she collected around her. These absorbed her strength. She felt their misery with sympathies that were abnormal. The very laborer in the streets felt his toil less keenly than she, as she watched the drops gather on his brow.
“Is life worth keeping at the cost of a lot like that?” she would ask. She felt ashamed of her own ease. She apologized for her own serene and perfect happiness. She even felt sorry for those mothers who had not children as radiantly beautiful as her own.
“Kate must have a change,” the major had given out. He was going West on business and insisted on taking her with him. Jack looked doubtful. He wasn’t sure how he would get along without Kate to look after everything. Secretly, he had an idea that servants were a kind of wild animal that had to be fed by an experienced keeper. But when the time came, he kissed her good-by in as jocular a manner as he could summon, and refused to see the tears that gathered in her eyes.
Until Chicago was reached, there was nothing very different from that which Kate had been in the habit of seeing. After that, she set herself to watch for Western characteristics. She felt that she would know them as soon as she saw them.
“I expected to be stirred up and shocked,” she explained to the major. But somehow, the Western type did not appear. Common-place women with worn faces–browned and seamed, though not aged–were at the stations, waiting for something or some one. Men with a hurried, nervous air were everywhere. Kate looked in vain for the gayety and heartiness which she had always associated with the West.
After they got beyond the timber country and rode hour after hour on a tract smooth as a becalmed ocean, she gave herself up to the feeling of immeasurable vastness which took possession of her. The sun rolled out of the sky into oblivion with a frantic, head-long haste. Nothing softened the aspect of its wrath. Near, red, familiar, it seemed to visibly bowl along the heavens. In the morning it rose as baldly as it had set. And back and forth over the awful plain blew the winds,–blew from east to west and back again, strong as if fresh from the chambers of their birth, full of elemental scents and of mighty murmurings.