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Elephants Through the Country

ISSUE:  Winter 1929

His perceptions were, in order: That it concerned him, that it concerned him vitally, that it involved his end of life which might, or might not, this time be avoided. These perceptions were so removed, they must cross so much of terrain to his bodily brain, that they succeeded only in alarming the latter and putting it on the alert with a painful and inexplicable interest. His brow wrinkled; his heart thumped, seemed to lose a beat, then resumed its march but more slowly and heavily; the unfolded county newspaper shook a little in his hands.


Everybody who could get there would go to Lockerby, that was twenty-five miles from Last Creek and Last Mountain. He could get there. He had a horse and wagon and he had a Ford, and it was likely enough that his mother and his sister would wish to go. Sometimes he went to Lockerby; once or twice, maybe, a year, when he had business. It was the only actual town and the county seat, and the real stores and the lawyers were there. A Show could only come there, nowhere else in Mountain County. He remembered Shows there. He had been just as eager to go as the other boys—or almost as eager. He didn’t think. . . . He could remember. . . . After about seventeen, he thought, he had kind of lost his taste for them, and for crowds, and towns anyway. It had stayed lost. . . .


No, he wasn’t going to Lockerby, August tenth.

His sister came to the door behind him and stood there looking out. “What does the Herald say this week, Norman?”

“It says there’s going to be good weather—only it don’t know. Chickens air twenty-five cents apiece.”

“There’s thirty ready, and I’ve got twelve dozen eggs. When you going to Little Town? Ma wants you to take her hook rugs to Mr. Warner’s.”

“I aimed to go Friday.”

Both returned to silence, she in the doorway, leaning against the jamb, looking out upon Last Mountain and Last Creek and the smoke tree and the tiger lilies in the door yard, and the ancient apple trees and the walnut tree; his long, gangling figure in butternut jeans seated on the porch steps under the gourd vine, the Lockerby Herald open in his hands. But presently she stepped across the porch and stood behind him, looking down upon the paper.


“There’s going to be a Show! Let’s go, Norman!”

“You can if you want to. You and Ma. You can have the Ford. Charley, will go with you.”

“Why don’t you go? I wouldn’t be such a hermit as you for worlds! That’s what Mr. Warner called you, but it’s just a fine name for it! I call it plain lazy—or feared!”

“Feared! Feared of what?”

“Don’t ask me! I know you’ll fight when somebody’s forced it on you for I’ve seen you do it. And you ain’t scared of the dark or of speaking your mind in meeting, or of a gun and hunting. And you can break a colt. And you ain’t feared of a kind of patient figuring a thing out, and I couldn’t exactly say you were feared of work. Not of moderate work. No, I don’t suppose you air afeared. But you certainly air a hermit!”

“I never could see the use of straying away from home where you’ve got your walls and your fire. It’s better to stay at home except now and then, to see how things air going on.”

“Well, I’d not live all my life between here and Little Town and back again! I’d go to Lockerby every month, and I’d go to the City on the train for the State Fair. I ain’t you, thank the Lord! Neither is Ma.”

“I never did know how I got into this family,” said Norman.

There were many things he did not know—he did not know—he did not know. That afternoon he went down to the mill. The mill, a small one, belonged to his mother. She had leased it, when his father died, to Jerry Wilson, and it stayed leased. He, Norman Manners, though he was forty-two, had never wanted to take it over. . . . The lease paid them enough, with chickens and eggs and small fruits, to live upon. Miranda had never married, he had never married. At the mill Jerry and Charley and old Bob Watts were reading the Herald. “Going to be a Show at Lockerby August tenth, Norman. Ain’t you going?”

“No. Charley, I thought I’d get you to take Ma and Miranda. You can have the Ford.”

“All right, I will. But why don’t you go yourself? You are getting to be the solitariest cuss!”

“It don’t suit me to go. That’s all. A man’s got a right to his ways.”

“Nobody on Last Mountain ever disputed that! That’s why we like it,” said old Bob Watts. “I’ve always said and maintained that you’ve a right to look and go about as though you’d kind of taken refuge here, but wasn’t quite certain how good the hiding was! Of course we know that isn’t the case, because you were born and grew up right here, and you’ve always been straight as this stick, though curious.”

“ ‘Hiding’!” said Norman. “Of all the ridiculous words!”

That evening, after supper, when the two women had read and vividly discussed every item in the Herald, he gathered the paper to himself and carried it with him when he went to bed. He slept in the small, sloping-roofed room that had been his when he was a boy. The Manners weren’t changing folk. There was the narrow bed, and a table and a bureau and a washstand and a chair. When he set the lamp upon the table the shadows sprang and stood and leaned. He lifted the window sash and propped it with the stick. Now you heard Last Creek and the endless murmur of the climbing woods, and insect life in the dry, warm summer. Moths began to fly into the lamp. He shut the window and undressed. The Lockerby Herald lay open upon the table.


Standing with his hands upon the table he read it over again and with the same wrinkled brow and interest that hurt. The name of what he felt was anxiety, fear of bodily, harm and death. But why he should feel that, he could not tell, nor what threatened him, nor what he could or should do about it. The one thing that rose out of a sense of mist about him, or rather of a cold and wide void, was that he wasn’t going to Lockerby. So long as he didn’t do that— He put out the light, opened the window again, and got into bed.

The next morning, as he dressed, his attention quite suddenly focussed upon the word “elephants.”

At breakfast, as he drank his scalding coffee, the women were again upon the price of chickens and the bundle of hook rugs. “Ma,” he said, as she stood beside him, helping him to batter bread, “you never got a scare, did you, before I was born, from elephants?”

“My land, Norman!” She put down the dish and moved back from him a step or two. “Well, of all and of all! No! I didn’t have a scare of any kind. I ain’t one of your scary ones.” She stopped speaking, but stood looking at him still without moving to take up the dish. “For the Lord’s sake! What ever put such a question into your head?”

“I don’t know.”

“I believe you! What’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing’s the matter with me. How many hook rugs have you got?”—though he knew how many she had.

On the road to Little Town with Whitefoot in the light wagon he thought for some time that he had escaped from that inexplicable, towering shadow and world of deep care. “I’ve got nothing against elephants, and elephants have nothing against me!” It was a bright high summer day, with stirring air and shimmering leaves. He felt idle and happy, and this lasted to the top of Middle Ridge.

From Middle Ridge, to either hand, spread a panorama of forest and mountain, continuous forest, and mountains in chains or broken into solitary and imposing masses. He checked Whitefoot; he always did so, just here. Below him, at no distance, lay Little Town, a mere hamlet, and small up-and-down farms and mountain clearings. Ahead rose Eagle Mountain and Hawk Mountain. Catamount River, a sunken streak of silver, divided the two. . . . There was the new bridge and the new county, road. He had voted against that; roads enough already. . . . Scattered faims and solitary houses, or two or three in a group, but very scattered; so sparsely settled, so backwoods and frontier-seeming still was Mountain County, that had no railroad after you left Lockerby until you came to Caerleon in the next county. . . . Before him, beyond forested waves of earth, through a great notch in the mountains, the mind perceived Caerleon that was twenty miles from Last Creek and almost double that from Lockerby. He turned in his seat and looked toward Lockerby, invisible under the climbing sun. All these mountains and Last Mountain. He was looking back now at Last Mountain. It had vast bulk, a long, high mountain. It stood like a wall between him and Lockerby, between Last Creek and the mill and his mother’s house and Lockerby. . . .

He perceived that that feeling was back upon him. “What is the matter with me, in God’s name? I reckon I’d better stop and see Dr. West.”

When the chickens and the eggs had been left at the general store in Little Town he stopped the wagon before the physician’s house, climbed out and found the doctor hoeing corn. “Good morning, Norman! What’s wrong with you? —Come to the well. I’m thirsty.”

Each drank out of the dark, old brimming bucket, then sat down upon the curb. “I was bringing some chickens and eggs and Ma’s hook rugs, and I thought I’d just stop. Doctor, what does it mean when a man’s plain afeard for his life and all because of nothing at all?”

“What do you mean by ‘nothing at all’?”

“I can’t get a clear picture of it at all. I first noticed it day before yesterday when I was sitting reading about the Show at Lockerby August the tenth. But I ain’t going, so how could it be that? Then yesterday, morning I had an awful feeling growing up around the word ‘elephants.’ But that’s just as foolish! The Show’s got elephants, but it’s just at Lockerby one day and I ain’t going.”

“Let me see your tongue. —Now your wrist.—Now I’m going to listen to your heart and then I’ll ask you some questions. . . . I’ll give you a fair bill of health. Not that you ever were, Norman, a monster of strength!”

“No, I know that, doctor.”

“It’s your mind just now. Some notion or other came drifting through and you let it get caught on some snag or other that’s itself in its turn just a hardened notion, and now there they both are interfering with the natural quick run of things, hooking other notions to them and setting up a kind of dam and swirl and backwater. . . . Best way to break it up is to keep active and think of other things. There isn’t any reality in it, you know. If I were you, I’d go to that Show at Lockerby.”


The country doctor looked at him with interest. “Well, it wasn’t a death warrant I was offering you! If you’ve got that much energy I’d certainly turn it to some account! I’d go and face my notion down. . . . Well, goodbye, Norman.”

The principal family in this part of the county had an old brick house a mile from Little Town. Here he left the hook rugs. “Mrs. Warner, I’d like to speak to Mr. Warner.” Mr. Warner was a bookworm and was found among his books. “Good morning, Norman!” — “Morning, Mr. Warner.”—”What can I do for you?”—”I thought maybe, sir, you had a book about elephants you’d be willing to lend me for a while?” There lay the Herald on a chair in the window. “Why yes, Norman, I’ll be glad to. Going to the Show at Lockerby?”

“No, I’m not. But I’ve got a notion I’d like to know more’n I do about some things.”

“That’s always a laudable notion,” said Mr. Warner, and stood upon a box to take down a big book and a little book.

Re-crossing Middle Ridge he reached the top not far from sunset, which meant that he would be home at dark. Again Whitefoot stood still. The big view rolled and spread. Sitting with the reins loosed in his hands, with his head sunken between his shoulders, he regarded in the afternoon Last Mountain and Lockerby that it hid, as in the morning he had faced Eagle and Hawk Mountains and Caerleon. Last Mountain—there was a big one!


The words formed for him, gigantic, in the pale blue heavens and the gulf of air. Each letter stood lofty, out there and in himself.


The line that he had reached rushed at him with the force of a bullet, passed through him, was gone and yet stayed.


“That’s it,” he said, “that’s it,” but a moment later did not know why he had been able to say, “That’s it.”

It was full dark when he got home. After supper and all the women’s questions he mounted heavily to his room, lighted the lamp and when the moths began to fly against it shut the window. He undressed, and in his long, country nightshirt sat beside the table and read in Mr. Warner’s books. Elephants. There was a deal about them. They seemed to have quite a history . . . old countries . . . hot old countries, cities and towers, swarming men… .


When he went to bed at last it was not to sleep. Lockerby—Lockerby—Lockerby. The tenth will come and the tenth will go. It will go and the show will go. The show will go on the train from Lockerby to Wrightsville. There’s a show train. It has to have a railroad track. The show will go on and Old Danger will pass.


The moon looked in—the moon looked in between the branches and showed his hiding-place. . . .

Four or five days passed. Forrest Brothers must cast their net over the whole of Mountain County. Pictures of the Hundred First Class Features appeared not only at Lockerby, plastered over convenient and purchasable walls, but at Little Town and Cross Roads and elsewhere. Barbaric and gorgeous pictures. The remote neighbourhoods, the folded away in creases of great mountains, the much out of hearing of the shriek of any locomotive, the served by narrow and faint roads, yet stared at these pictures.


“Air ye going, Norman Manners?”


“I’d like mighty well to see that elephant!”

“Would you? Well, I—”

They, stood and stared.


Norman jogged on past the barn adorned; then, having looked back to make sure that Dan Ellis had taken his own road and was hidden by the oak scrub, turned Whitefoot and came back to the apparition.


He talked to himself with dry lips. “They’ve pictured you in a spirited way. But you air just paper and colours. You can’t do anything. You air in a Show, and the Show’s on a railroad and has got to stick to it. You air a big slave in a Show. And the Show’s going to be in Lockerby just one day and I ain’t going there. I don’t even have to bother about making certain nobody’s going to pick me up and take me there. I know I’m not going. Then why can’t I rest?”

A small boy advanced to the barn. “O my stars!” He stood absorbed, his legs wide, his touzled head flung back. Norman said, “Air you going to Lockerby, Jim Bee?”

“I ain’t got the money.”

They continued to look at the flaming picture. “You’re so little, you can tuck in the Ford with Ma and Miranda and Charley, if you want to. It’s a pity,” said Norman, “that anybody that wants to go can’t go. I’ll give you a dollar.”

“You’ve always been good to me, Mr. Manners!” said Jim Bee. “And I thanks ye kindly! I’ll ask Maum, and I’ll take the dollar anyway. You know about part of the Show coming over Last Mountain to Caerleon?”

Norman sat quite still upon Whitefoot while his heart made four heavy beats. Then he said thickly. “What you talking about?” As he spoke he dismounted and leaned against the horse’s neck. It seemed to him that Cross Roads and the world were falling from beneath his feet. “What you saying? You’re fooling me, Jim Bee!”

“It’s in this week’s Herald. I been to the postoffice. They was reading it.”

“Reading what?”

“The Advertisement. It says, Forrest Brothers going to do what’s never been done in Mountain County. It’s going to show at Caerleon. Not all the Show, it says, but some of it. What they can bring over Last Mountain. It says they can bring elephants.” Jim Bee’s eyes shone and he wheeled like a top. “They’re going to bring elephants through the country. Over Last Mountain, walking along! This one walking along. Over Last Mountain. After the Show’s over at Lockerby, they’ll travel that night and in the morning they’ll come over Last Mountain. He’ll come! This one!”

Norman got back to Last Creek. “Has the Herald come?” Yes, it had. He spread it over his knees, sitting hunched on the step under the gourd vine. There it was. Garrett the Editor had something to say about it—a whole editorial. He read that; then opened upon the old advertisement.


But now below this ran another line.


The paper crackled dryly under his hands. His sister came out upon the porch and was excited about the Show. “Ma and I’ll see it at Lockerby, and then we’ll see the part of it that’s going by to Caerleon. My, land! Over Last Mountain. They gold-scrolled wagons and they white horses and they men and women dressed like fairies and they elephants!”

The night fell hot. He walked up and down in his room. He opened Mr. Warner’s two books, and stood looking down at the print and at wood cuts, then closed them and stood at the window. The moths streamed in, and the sound of Last Creek, and the hoot of an owl. “A week. . . . Then he’ll be at Lockerby and then he’ll be at Caerleon, and then he’ll be gone. But in between Lockerby and Caerleon he’ll cross Last Mountain.”

Last Mountain showed its bulk against the stars. “Who would have thought it? As Garrett says. . . .”

The next day he told his mother, “Ma, I think I’ll go to Old Church, to Tom Manners for a spell. I think I’ll go next week and stay to the middle of the month. I think it’ll do me good. I ain’t well.”

“No, you ain’t, Norman.”

“They say that iron spring of his does folk a power of good. . . . I’m just plain tired of this part of the country and of Last Mountain.”

“Yes, I’d go. Change is good for folks, and you ain’t never took much of it, Norman.”

“I’ll go next week.”

“You can’t go till Miranda and Charley and me are back from Lockerby,. I ain’t going to leave the house by itself.”

It had been in his mind to go the eighth. But of course if he left by dawn of the eleventh that would be time enough. He’d take the old saddle-bags and ride Whitefoot. Old Church and Tom Manners abode at right angles from Last Mountain and the road to Caerleon—a long way at right angles. But even while he thought this he saw that it wasn’t enough and that something would happen. Old Church and Tom Manners were flimsy things… .

The next day he rode to Little Town, again over Middle Ridge. Mr. Robertson the lawyer had a little white law office in a grove of pine trees. “Hello, Norman Manners! What can I do for you?”

Norman sat down, planting long, slender feet on the bare floor and resting long slender hands upon his bony knees. “Mr. Robertson, I desire to know. Ain’t there an injunction or something can be got out to keep Show People to the railroad track? What right have they got to come through country, bringing their wagons and their beasts over our roads that weren’t made for such? Bringing them through our streams and by our houses. Over Last Mountain and across Last Creek. I say they ain’t got any right, and there ought to be a way to stop them!”

Mr. Robertson stared. “Well, you’re a curiosity! Suppose, Norman, you get up a mass meeting of indignation! Speeches on the subject from men, women and children, not to mention rag, tag, and bobtail, between Cross Roads and Caerleon! Of course you are voicing general opinion?”

“I don’t care if I’m not! It’d be their opinion if they had any idea about things!”

“They say that the crazy cannot detect satire. So I don’t suppose you’re crazy. But again they’re said to be blind to a joke. So it may be that I am crazy.”

“Joking!” said Norman. “I am not joking. And as for your being satiric, I reckon it’s the ignorant that are satiric.”

“Your mind went up then several pegs,” said Mr. Robertson. “I recognize and respect the truth that you utter. But all the same I am afraid that you would make yourself unpopular with the course that you suggest. There are, you know, popular impossibilities and unpopular impossibilities. Don’t choose the last if you can avoid it.”

“Then it ain’t possible to enjoin them?”

“No, it ain’t. And why in thunder,” asked the lawyer, “do you want to? Is entertainment too frequent on Last Mountain and Last Creek? Think of them on the mountain, plastered against the sky, and rejoice, man, rejoice!”

Re-crossing Middle Ridge he checked Whitefoot at the old place.


Last Mountain stood before him. “I don’t rejoice, but I got to see it!”

He felt compulsion, though he didn’t understand that either. “I don’t reckon I’m going to Tom Manners. . . .”

In and out of season he began now inwardly to behold that procession diverging from Lockerby through the country to Caerleon. The Herald had more than two or three items about it. The mass of the show was going on the railroad, on its own train, to Wrightsville. It was not reasonable to expect the mass to show in Caerleon, or to cross Mountain County to do so. From Caerleon what did cross would have to rejoin at Wrightsville, where Forrest Brothers meant to rest a bit. They wouldn’t for instance bring the lions and tigers over the mountain. The elephants could come afoot: perhaps not all of their elephants, for they had a lot of them. Horses, too—and the men and women who, all spangled, would ride them. Certainly some of the gilded wagons, and a part of the band, and acrobats and trapeze performers and knife throwers and clowns. . . . All of these coming over Last Mountain. . . . The road was in better condition this summer than ever before. . . . It couldn’t well have happened before.


It was Garrett whom that sound and picture and earth-shaking tread fascinated. Over Last Mountain, into Last Creek country—Elephants. It pleased Garrett to take a saunter through geological time. It pleased him to paint them returning.


Garrett, apparently, did not think any more of him than of the others. It was just elephants that made the magic for him. He had no personal stake. . . .


In season and out of season, Norman now beheld the show winding through the country. But it was not blind; it had an eye in the face.

August was here, the first week dropping away.

The preacher, Brother Abraham Wills, riding his round, came to supper and to spend the night with the Manners. The women welcomed him gladly; Norman put up his lean old horse and conducted him to the spare room. The preacher splashed the water into the basin. “That feels good! It’s hot weather. I missed you, Norman, at Mount Moriah last Sabbath.”

“Brother Wills, I’d like to have a word with you after supper.”


Downstairs, Norman being out of hearing, he said to Mrs. Manners. “Norman’s got a kind of haunted look. What’s the matter with him?”

She spread her hands. “I’m glad you’ve come, Brother Wills! Maybe you can kind of straighten him out! It seems to Miranda and me that he’s going crazy about elephants. He’s got books about them. He’ll set and tell you about their ways, and how in them hot countries sometimes love grows up between them and men and sometimes hate. It’s that Show at Lockerby that’s put them in his head!”

“He missed Church last Sabbath,” said Brother Wills austerely. “When a man begins to do that—This Show’s a godless thing.”

Last Creek was known for its good meals. For supper there were fried chicken and potatoes, light biscuit and honey and scalding coffee. Brother Wills did full justice to all. When it was over and the two women were cleaning up he and Norman walked to the barn and then on to the stile. The west hung purple and red; a species of amber light bathed the top of the opposite wall that was Last Mountain. It was warm and still, the katydids and whippoorwills vieing, and Last Creek forever talking.

“What’s the matter with you, Norman?”

“I don’t know . . . Brother Wills, I feel all the time an awful sense of danger. . . an awful sense of danger, and deeps and deeps behind me, and yet I don’t know anything about the one or the other of them. I don’t know how I am connected with them if I could remember, but I can’t! Something came into my mind, but it ain’t enough. . . . Now it wasn’t sufficient to be at Lockerby, but he’s coming over Last Mountain . . . I could escape if I knew how. There must be a way to escape. I’ve tried before but I never could. I thought for a moment that maybe you knew, but I see now you don’t. . . . There’s Old Danger treading toward me! the same Old Danger!”

“Don’t shout! Air you going crazy?”

The two lank mountain men loomed in the dusk. The preacher seized the other and shook him. “Come to yourself, man, come to yourself! That’s a sense of sin that’s seized you, sudden and terrible! That’s your life you’re seeing and all your ways of wickedness! Let’s kneel right down here and pray!”

Again at the house, the dusk having closed in and a great moon rising, they prayed again, the two men and the two women. Brother Abraham Wills read from the Family Bible, and then he wrestled long and fervently in prayer. Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil. At intervals the women said, Amen! Amen! At last they all rose from their knees and returned to their chairs and Miranda, who had a sweet voice, raised a hymn. Then they went to bed; and in the morning Brother Abraham Wills rode on to Gurney’s over the shoulder of Last Mountain. His final words to Mrs. Manners and Miranda were, “You get him to come to church Sunday—and I’m not of the mind that I’d encourage him to go to Tom Manners. He’s a born scoffer, Tom Manners!”

It left the women unsettled again. “I reckon maybe we’d better not go to Lockerby after all. We’d better stay here and make him stay. I’ve always heard if you give in to fancies it’s the worse thing for them.”

Fifty small things arose to keep him from going to Tom Manners. But they weren’t needed; he wasn’t going anyway. Suddenly he saw that Last Mountain had turned into a magnet and was keeping him by its side.

At the mill, too, the men gloated over the coming show. They had already passed Lockerby in their minds, and were on the road to Caerleon. They were on Last Mountain. . . . His mother and Miranda used to come to the door and look at the bulk in the light and say, “My sakes! to think of the show coming along the top yonder!” They seemed to have been doing it for years. Time seemed as long as that, and yet night and day shifted like the spokes in a fan when you opened and shut it.

He returned to the barn at Cross Roads and looked on the picture there. Yes, that was him, that was the eye in the face.

He saw him now all the time, coming, coming. . . .

“Yet what does it mean to me? I don’t have to go up on Last Mountain any more than I have to go to Lockerby. He isn’t going to drop in for supper!”

At the mill old Bob Watts said that the whole neighborhood, he reckoned, would find business that day on Last. “I won’t,” said Norman. “I’ll keep the mill for you, so all of you can go.”

“That’s kind.”

“You mean you ain’t going even to squat by the roadside and watch them go by, over Last to Caerleon? My Lord! To be just quietly and soberly crossing Last for the five hundredth time, going along lonely on a lonely mountain road, where maybe from time to time you may, have seen a wild turkey or a fox or a deer, or even, for something to talk about, a bear, not to speak of snakes and rabbits, just to be riding or walking, thinking, or just going without thinking, climbing and climbing that on a hot day or a cold day never seems to end, or going along the long top that shows you the world with a few buzzards or hawks or just maybe an eagle, or begirming to drop down and drop down, loose and easy . . . to be just going along, dreaming maybe, and everything just as it was for ever, and there, turning a big rock, coming up the road to you, an elephant… . You not knowing anything about it. . . . . My Lord, you’d get a shudder up your spine! . . .” So old Bob Watts.

Norman looked at him desolately, then walked away softly over the black earth. Said Jerry, “If he isn’t the queerest cuss!”

The tenth of August came wheeling up, seconds, minutes, hours, the total day. His mother and Miranda went to Lockerby with Charley in the Ford. He made them go; he wanted the place to himself. They weren’t difficult to compel or persuade. Old Bob Watts stayed at the mill. A long, still solitude of a day, the heart of Mountain County departed for Lockerby.


He spread upon the porch floor the several Heralds and from the step under the gourd vine studied them.


“Nothing else matters,” he said.

The gourds and the gourd leaves made strange shadows about and over the spread papers. It was hot and dry, and still, the air a blue haze. He looked up and saw Last Mountain. Something came to him out of the Bible. First and last, he had been taught a good deal out of the Bible. “I see men as trees walking.”

In the evening the Ford came back with the three. They had had a full, magnificent day. Everybody was at Lockerby that could get there; they had met friends and kindred whom they had not met for a year. As for the show, the papers and the pictures had not lied. Mountain County had never seen a show like that before. The Three Rings and the Hundred Features were there. Miranda had liked one thing best, her mother another, Charley a third.

“Did you see the elephants?”

They described them, especially the big one. They had forgotten his strange scunner at them and their coming through the country. They were still excited and tired as well, and as soon as supper was over and they could make the house straight they went to bed. They wanted to know if anything had happened in their absence. “No. Nothing you could count as happening,” said Norman. “Of course a lot is happening all the time that we take no note of.”

His mother paused in her aimless wandering up and down in the room. “Ain’t you going tomorrow to Tom Manners? Maybe you’d better—”

“No, I ain’t going. It can’t get itself done.”

“Everybody on Last Creek almost is going to line up on the Caerleon road. Miranda and me thought we’d get the work done early and go with Charley to Covered Bridge. They say they won’t be hereabouts before ten o’clock.”

“Do what you please, Ma.”

“Why don’t you come along?”

“If I go I’ll go by myself. But I ain’t going. I ain’t going near the Caerleon road or Last Mountain.”

Miranda shut the front door and took up a candle. “Well, all I can say is if I was as interested as you are in elephants I’d go see them!”

When he knew that the women were asleep he took his shoes in his hand and stole down stairs and out of the house. He stepped into starshine and the sound of Last Creek. Stooping he put on his shoes, then crossed the dry grass to the gate and the road that carried you two miles into the Last Mountain road that was the road to Caerleon. “Roads now,” he thought. “There’s a saying that I’ve heard Mr. Warner say. ‘All roads lead to Rome’—or to the place you’ve got to go to. All roads lead to the place you’ve got to reach.” His brain felt very clear. “Something happened to me once and has kept on happening. It isn’t impossible that it would stop. But I don’t know how to make it possible. Maybe it’ll happen now or maybe it won’t happen, and I don’t know which.”

The word “placate” formed before him. ” ‘Placate’— that means to make at peace with you. If I could placate him.”

He wandered about through the dry, warm, star-lighted night. His feet knew the old paths. Sometimes he sat down or lay upon the earth. Placate—placate—placate— placate—placate. . . . It formed itself into a deliberate and ponderous tread . . . out of the big tent now, red, and on the road. . . .

When the coldest light was in the east he went back to the house. The others, too, were stirring early. Miranda, coming out upon the porch in the full sunrise, exclaimed. “You’ve saddled Whitefoot! You’re going then up the mountain?”

“I don’t know where I am going. I just thought I would ride.”

“I guess you will see it,” said Miranda. “You won’t be able to help it.”

“Maybe not.”

To himself he said, “She spoke a true word then. I know about a candle and I know about a magnet and I know about a will.”

They ate their breakfast and left the table. He put some matters from the store-room into a small bag. “Air you going to be away all day?”

“I may be. Yes, all day.”

In himself again he said, “You are telling the truth there. A long day. Yet it is possible. He might be placated. If you knew the secret, and didn’t indulge forever in mere fooleries.”

Who was talking he hardly knew. He was at a moment similar to that moment two weeks ago when he first unfolded the Herald upon that Advertisement. There was perception, but so removed, so faint, so nerveless and supine in the thick brain. . . . It died again. He drew a long sigh and shook his head and went out and got upon Whitefoot and rode away.

He passed the mill. “Where are you going, Norman? You going away from Last Mountain?”

“No, I don’t suppose I am. I’m just riding round and round.”

An hour later, having gone aimlessly for a while at a tangent from the mountain, he turned Whitefoot and they retraced their way. At the foot of Last he met Jim Bee. “Where are you going, Jim Bee?”

“I’m going to Top Rock. You kin see them coming, three turns below you.”

“It’s a long climb up Last. Get up behind me,”

“I sure will, and thank ye!”

Jim Bee sat behind him on Whitefoot, and they began to climb Last Mountain. “Folks ain’t settling so thick on the mountain side as they are by the Creek. There’s a few I hear say they are coming up so’s they can get a good look down on the roads as well as when they tramps right by. But most is gathering by Covered Bridge.”

No, they were not settling thick, for it was not a populous region. Norman and Jim Bee were not overtaken, nor did they overtake any, but from way up Last, looking back, they made out folk on the road. By, now they could view Last Creek that in size was like a small river, and Covered Bridge, and the region people gathering on either side the creek. Norman could see the mill and his mother’s house. One by one came into sight Middle Ridge and Mount Moriah Church and Little Town. The sun was well up and strong, a light haze over everything, the day promising heat and drouth. The extent of country seen increased. Whitefoot’s hoof struck musically enough the stones in the road. The road had been widened this year and worked. Forrest Brothers must have been apprised of that, else they never could have granted the feasibility of crossing this way to Caerleon. Jim Bee had the talking chiefly to himself, though now and then Norman spoke. Last was a big mountain. The road looped and looped, now through ancient timber, now through second-growth, burned-over tracts and scrub. The view widened. The face of Last became cliffy; on the one side of the road, gray, wild and broken masses running up to the top and the August heaven; on the other, rock still, plunging downward into ravines and rolling forest. Whitefoot plodded on. As the road wound and climbed, it was four good miles from Last Creek to the narrow and long plateau that formed the crest of Last Mountain. “They must be over First Mountain by now,” said Jim Bee. “It’s a little mountain, ain’t it? set by Last Mountain. . . . They say a man’s going ahead on horseback to tell everybody so that the roads will be clear and horses and such won’t get scared. My fathers! to think of they big things in Mountain County!”

They climbed. “I reckon there’s a hundred people down by Covered Bridge. More’n a hundred. And there’s some folk on the road below us. And there’s Top Rock away up yon.”

When they got to Top Rock, that was a vast boulder poised above the road, the latter being visible from it in a great double S, up and down. On the far side of the way occurred a downward plunge of sheer cliff and broken cliff, going a hundred feet down into a deep ravine with sides of oak and pine. From Top Rock on every hand spread Mountain County. They lowered themselves from Whitefoot and took him into the scrub behind the boulder and fastened him there securely. “Horses is sure tarrified at them!” said Jim Bee. “I was most tarrified myself, over yon at Lockerby! That big one—”

They swarmed up the boulder that was as big as a small house and standing on the roof looked down upon the road up Last. The morning was now advanced and the sun grown hot. Below them came toiling up three men afoot. “That’s Luke and Rob Corbin and Dave Smith,” said Jim Bee. “I reckon there ain’t any more but just us now.”

The three joined them. “Well, I vow and declare, Norman Manners, after all your saying you wasn’t coming!”

“Couldn’t resist it, could ye, Norman?”

“Whew, it’s hot! You might think it was the tropics!”

They sat, swinging their legs, upon a jut of the boulder.

“This is the place; there ain’t any doubt about that!”

At the foot of the mountain, approaching Covered Bridge, so far away that they seemed puppets, marionettes, too small for state or significance, could now be made out those parts of the great show that Forrest Brothers had elected to send through the country to Caerleon. It was no great procession, but it included painted and gilded wagons and in one of them musicians with horns and drums, and there were show horses, and bedecked men and women, acrobats and riders and trapeze specialists and clowns, and there were zebras and several camels and three elephants. “Yon they are! Yon’s the elephants!” It drew from out the woods upon the visible road, there by, Covered Bridge, so very much below Top Rock. The imagination caught faint, thin cheering.

All passed into Covered Bridge and all emerged upon the hither side, and all drew into the thick wood on the lower slopes of Last and vanished. “They’ve seen it!” crowed Jim Bee. “But we’re going to see it two-three times, and then right by us!”

Dave Smith grumbled. “Thar ain’t much of it, and they weren’t so big.”

“You jist wait till they come nearer! You jist wait till that one’s thar!”

In twenty minutes they saw it on the Old Cabin slope—just caught glints of it where the road intermittently showed, then it was gone again and Dave Smith said he was going to sleep, and to call him when it got to the Cold Spring turn. They called him, and he said it was getting larger, wasn’t it? and it was a sight now, wasn’t it?

Then again it was gone, as though it had gone into the mountain.

“Norman, you got book-learning. Tell us about they things!”

“I haven’t got any book-learning. I haven’t any learning at all.”

“Well, it’ll be a good long time before they get here now. Call me, boys, and don’t you forget it!”

The boulder reared itself part in sun, part in shadow. Dave Smith and the Corbins sprawled upon the shaded surface. There was a great view, with blue sky, and small clouds gathering and parting. Norman did not sprawl with the others but sat with his long, gangling figure drawn together, the old saddle bag beside him, and his eyes upon the road and upon the drop of cliff and the tree tops far below in the ravine. Down there, though hidden, brawled a stream. He heard it faintly, and it brought to him the night sounds from his window at home, when the lamp was lighted and the moths came to it. Jim Bee was as active as a cricket and did his own exploring. Presently Rob Corbin began to sing in a tuneful and powerful voice,

“Fire in the mountain!
Run, boy, run!”

When he had ended that one he tried another Mountain County song, and then another. Dave Smith sat up. “Thar they come! I dreamt it so I know ‘tis so!”

“There’s the man that rides ahead!”

A man on a black horse, a man dressed like a cowboy, appeared below the boulder. “Hey, you! Have you horses and are they well tied?”

“Only one. He’s fast tied, ain’t he, Norman?”

“Yes, he’s fast tied.”

“Because elephants don’t go through the country every day! And this morning the big one has got some bee in his bonnet… .”

He rode on, upward to the plateau that was the top of Last Mountain. Behind him stretched empty road, a little unstable to the eye in the August heat. Item by item, this became filled with the show that was going to Caerleon. Item by item, it arrived before and passed Top Rock. Last of all came the elephants, the lesser ones first, and then, the big one.

“Ooooh! Look at the big one!”

Jim Bee was the only one who noticed Norman leave Top Rock. “Where you going?” he cried after him. But Norman only shook his head and with the old saddle-bag scrambled down to the road. . . . The deliberate and ponderous tread. The deliberate and ponderous tread. Placate—placate—placate—placate… .

The elephant tenders shouted to him. “Don’t get in the way there!”

But he took brown maple sugar and yellow apples from the saddle-bag, and came out upon the road. The elephant turned a vast head and saw him. Into each of the small eyes leaped a red spark. The showmen shouted. “You fool there! get out of the road! Don’t you see he’s wicked today?” The Corbins and Dave Smith and Jim Bee shouted from the safety, of the boulder, “Come back here, Norman! Come back here!”

But Norman with widened and glazed eyes stepped farther into the road and held out the sweet stuff and the fruit. . . . But though he had the word he did not have the thing. He did not know how to placate. . . . The great beast, as though he had expected the incident, lifted his trunk and seizing Norman swung him aloft and out and amid objurgations and shouts of horror tossed him over the cliff a hundred feet into the depth of the ravine.


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