At The Station.
fHE lowering clouds had begun to empty themselves with a dreary drizzle by the time the little dirty train reached Temple, and when Anna got out she was almost glad of the dampness in her face. Both the conductor and the porter were busy with the numerous parcels of a party of young girls whose gay chatter had made them quite conspicuous during tire journey, so Anna had to make two trips to the waiting-room before she got her own baggage off. She put her telescope down in a vacant seat in the corner by a window, while she went back for her bag and lunch-box. She ran a little nervously across the platform, dragging her umbrella under her arm, and having a vague dread that she would not find her telescope when she returned. It had not been moved, however, and she put it down on the floor and sank down into the vacant seat dejectedly. The journey had not been a pleasant one. It had seemed to Anna that the dead level of the Texas plains depressed her. The sky touched the earth at too close an horizon to-day, the dull grey above melting into the dull grey below, leaving no vistas.
The clumps of mesquite and scriih oak lost their green in the general clullness; the sheep in the pastures huddled together, cold and shivering. The whole aspect was gloomy. Tlic cliill of tlie east wind crept into the badly-warmed and illy-ventilated coacli, and it had been in vain for Anna to l)utton her well-worn cloak uj) close about her throat : her feet and limbs were cold, though her face was feverishly hot.
The whole thing had set her head Xn aching, and she j)ressed it against the soiU'd pane now, looking out across the wet plains liopelessly. Now and tlien the door of the waiting room opened as a newcomer entered, and the sliarp gusts of wind that came in from the drear ()utside made her shiver. Within, in one corner of the spacious room, two boys were dealing out plug tobacco, ham sandwiches and coffee at an oil-cloth-covered lunch-counter. Poor, ill-fed women with dirty children and crying l)abies huddled about the stove, making frequent trips to the leaky water-tank with its rusty tin cup. Cow-boys with high-heeled boots and clinking spurs, walked restlessly about the room or stood and steamed their damp clothes before the lire. A Mexican UiiiKf/c vender who occupied the seat next Anna's, sat dozing with his arms folded over his smoking basket. The commingled odor of the damp shucks, greasy meat and steamed meal was sickening, but the girl felt almost too tired to move, and there seemed small chance of her getting another seat. A thin-chested, \vatery-eyed youth, with a soiled bandage covering half of his cankered mouth, was cracking pecans between his knuckles and flipping the hulls into the
saw-dust-box cuspidor across the aisle. Anua felt a twinge of pain every time a nut cracked, and now and then unconsciously pressed her fingers nervously against her throbbing temples. Outside the cars were switching back and forth, clanking and whistling, and the porters were tossing and tumbling trunks noisily on the soggy platform.
Life seemed to Anna utterly and altogether desolate, and she closed her eyes by and by to shut out the hideous, sordid details of it just around her. There are moments rare enough to most of us, thank God, when we seem to lose the connecting link which binds us in the chain of pulsing, breathing humanity, and leave us stranded upon an island Avhence we may see only the intricate mechanism of life^s hideous reality. Such a moment had come to Anna Kinloch, and when her closed lids turned her gaze inward, the tears trickled beneath her thin lids helplessly. It seemed to her tliat though her life had been one succession of battles, she had never known many victories, and all of them had left her some dead to bury; but it did not make her defeat any easier now to reflect that it was far from being the only one she had ever experienced. It did not help her to know that there had been extenuating circumstances in her favor. She had only taken the school on a venture, and the odds had been against her from the start. She had been too quiet, too reserved, too cultured, in fact, for the poor hard-featured narrow-minded settlers whose children she had tried to teach in the little bare Texas town that made scarce a blot on the spreading prairie. The children who had been brave enough to come to
school to her, sat and stared at her over their desks, their eyes big with fear and wonder: the women, poor, hard-worked, weary things, came to their doors to look after her as she passed, and the men stopped their teams and forgot to lift their hats when they saw her wandering alone about the prairies with her flower-press or her stone hammer in her hand. It only made the memory of all this harder now to reflect that she might have met the children's awestruck, lielpless gaze half-way and satisfied it: that she could have gone to the little bare houses sometimes and sat with the tired women and held their babies maybe, and talked with them about their work, which was all they knew% poor things: that she might have spoken a word or two now and then to the men, to show them she was neither dazed nor daft. These were the things she might have done and had not. Instead, she found herself driven more and more upon herself, and when mid-term came, the burden had grown too great, and she had shifted it. She had told the few children who were left staring at her, that they might pack up their books and go home, and the poor things had been too scared to ask why. There was nothing else to do but to lock up the school house and give the key to the old blacksmith next door, fiom whom she had obtained it in September.
" This here place ain't fittin' fur you, Miss," he had said to her that first day, and he only repeated it with a little look of pity, when she told him good-by. He was the nearest approach to a friend she had made during her stay.
Old Mrs. Gaddy, with whom she boarded, had shut her lips close when Anna told her she was going away. The five dollars which the girl paid her weekly was almost all that lay between the old woman and starvation, but deep down in her heart the poor thing felt a sense of relief.
'' Miss Kinloch's ways ain^t our ways/' she had told her neighbors when they came first to gossip with her at the back door about her boarder, and that was as much as she had ever learned of the quiet woman who occupied her best room and whom she seldom saw except at meals.
Anna thought of all this now, and though her defeat had not been very much of one, it pained her nevertheless. At thirty women begin to feel a little loosening of the tension, sometimes to lose faith in themselves, and Anna wondered if there were not as many mistakes behind her as there seemed to be dangers ahead. She looked back upon her years of struggle and called them wasted. She had striven to force her little stream of life into broader currents than it was made for, only to see its waters trickle and fall were the rocks were rough or the banks were steep. It was that comprehension of her impotence before that had sickened her and driven her to Texas for a brace up. But the current was too feeble to run over so broad a bed, and she had made no effort. Perhaps it did not matter, after all; she was alone in the world, and one failure could not count for much in the whole universe, she thought.
The tears still trickled down her cheeks, but she had ceased to start when the boy cracked his pecans 8
or when the door opened. The man with tamales got up and went out: a train had come in, and passengers were crowding off and on. The stools around the lunch-counter were filled with people, and the boys were busy filling plates and rattling cups. Anna opened her lunch-box listlessly, and was not surprised to find that Mrs. Gaddy had put up only enough for one meal.
"She owed me so much and no more," said the girl to herself, with a little hard smile.
She set the box down on top of her telescope and went over to the counter for a cup of coffee. When she held out her hand to receive it, a man on the stool just beside her gave an order. Anna turned sharply, facing him and letting the cup fall heavily upon the counter, whence it rolled noisily to the floor.
" Look what you're about, won't you ? " said the boy sharply.
*^ Look what you are about, youngster," said the man, springing to his feet and leaning over the counter. The boy winced and picked up the cup sulkily.
"Can I assist you, madame?" the man continued, turning to Anna and lifting his hat.
"Don't you know me, Robert Deering?" she asked.
"Why, it's Anna—Anna Kinloch, still?" he said pleasantly, holding out his hand.
She felt with a sudden thrill what a big, strong hand it was that she put hers into, and was not surprised a moment later to find herself following Deering to a neat little cloth covered table by a window in the corner. He had the same masterful way to him
that she knew so well in the old days, and it pleased her now as much as it had displeased her then, so she sat down at his bidding and waited for him to serve her.
" It\s nicer here/^ he said, pouring her a cup of coffee from the steaming pot which the boy brought at his direction.
^^ But you don't know how glad I am to see you, Miss Anna," he went on, filling his own cup and cutting a wedge from his sandwich; ^^ it seems quite like old times, doesn't it? And I don't believe you've changed one bit."
'^ Neither have you," she said, looking at him steadily for a moment before she spoke.
'^ Oh, never mind me, please," he said, hastily, almost nervous under her steady gaze. '^ We shall not mention my grey hairs, for instance, and I shall promise not to reproach you for the part you played in their production. I'm too glad to see you for that, and I only wish—" he began, looking through the window toward the sleeper that stood on the track without.
^' Oh, don't, Robert, please," she interrupted him eagerly.
The people at the lunch counter had begun to disperse, and the two had the waiting-room almost to themselves. ''Don't reproach me: I cannot bear it. You do not know how I have suffered, you do not know how glad I am to see you. It seems like one more chance of life left to me. I love you—" her words were coming rapidly, and though he looked up sharply she did not stop. " I love yon, Robert Deer-
ing, I love you. 1 loved you long ago, and I strove against it. I thought it was strength that made me : I know now it was weakness. I am stronger now, strong enough to tell you that I was not honest with you in those old days, that I was untrue to myself, and the falsehood has darkened all my life. I have been walking in the shadow."
She would have kept on, her grey eyes kindled, and her cheeks flushed, but Deering had risen to his feet. He thought, as he looked down into her upturned face, that she had never been so beautiful as she was then. He held his watch open in his palm, and without upon the platform the conductor hallooed, " All aboard !"
Anna heard the watch ticks like the thumping of great heart-beats. From between her tense lids she saw the grey hairs rise and fall on Deering's temples: she heard his quick breath stirring his mustache. From the window of the Pullman which was beginning slowly to move, a woman in a grey suit poked out her shapely head crowned with its smooth, fair braids. Deering lifted his hat and smiled back at her.
" That is my wife, Anna," he said gently.
For a moment he held the girl's hand in his, and in another he had stepped upon the rear end of the receding train, and was gone out of her life forever. Anna saw him like one in a dream, but the hoarse shriek of the departing whistle roused her.
In one moment she had broken down the reserve of years, and the overflow of pent-up passion left her stunned as by a blow. She stood dazed and helpless, leaning against the table where Deering had left her,
staring out through the open doorway. A man who had been walking back and forth on the platform came in by and by and stood quite close to her, his cap in hand, before she seemed aware of his presence.
'^ Can I get your baggage checked, or anything, Miss?^^ he said, politely. '^ B'lieve you said you's goin' north, an' your train will pass in a few minutes now."
Anna winced as she looked at him. He was the brakesman on the local train which had brought her in that morning; she remembered him by a pleasant little way he had of wrinkling his nose when he smiled.
^' If you will put ray things back on your train, please, I shall be glad. I am going back with you this afternoon."
The words seemed to have come from her without her own volition almost, but the sound of them strengthened her.
^' That's right," said the man, soothingly, trying not to show the surprise which he felt. " Better not turn loose once you've put your hands to the plow. Some of 'em was sayin' to me this mornin' they didn't know what they'd do 'bout a school now you'd left. They said you certainly made the children learn, whatever else you did." It was faint praise enough, but Anna grasped it eagerly.
^' Do you really think I can succeed if I try again ? " she asked simply.
'' I know you can," he said with a man's decisiveness. ^^ Now, if I's in your place," he went on kindly, " I'd go in the ladies' room there and rest up a bit.
There ain't many 'coinmodations but it's better'n out liere."
She followed him across the room gratefully. '^ I tell you/' he said, as he held the door open for her, '' s'pose you let me fetch a pitcher of hot water from the luncii stand over there. It'll do you the most good in the world. My wife says hot water beats all the patent medicines goin'. What do you say?"
'^ Oh, thank you so much ; you are very kind," and there were tears in Anna's eyes as she spoke. They Avere tears of repentance this time, and they softened her.
The steaming water upon her face and the back of her neck refreshed her beyond measure, and by the time she had recoiled her heavy liair she felt like a new person.
The clouds had driven on westward, and by the time the brakesman came for her baggage, the sky was beautifully clear. The great prairies fairly gleamed, and the trees glistened with the sunlight on their wet leaves. The whole vast plain was one realm of beauty, as boundless as hope, as full of happy possibilities. Anna opened her window to drink in the draughts of pure ozone and felt the rich blood of a new life quicken within her. Her way lay clear before her, fair as the sky and limitless as the horizon.
The friendly brakesman was on hand to help her off w^ien the train stopped. ^^I'm goin' to sen' my little girl to school to you," he said.
It was quite dark when Anna got to Mrs. Gaddy's, and she found the old woman taking her solitary supper in the little kitchen.
She hustled about, startled and disturbed by the girPs sudden appearance.
^^ You ain't met with no accident?" she asked sharply.
*' No/' said Anna, " I changed my mind about going, that is all, and I've come back to stay this time, if you will let me, please, Mrs. Gaddy."
" That's as you're a minter," said the old woman ungraciously. '^ Your room's as you left it. Better go in there tell I can cook vou up sumpnuther fittin' to eat."
" I should be so glad if you would just let me sit here and share your supper, please, Mrs. Gaddy," Anna said, taking otf her hat and cloak.
She found a plate and knife and fork on the shelf, and sat down on the other side of the deal table without waiting for the old woman to answer.
Mrs. Gaddy had a vague suspicion that the girl was daft, and scarce ate a morsel for wonderment.
When the meal was over, Anna turned up her sleeves and poured the water from the steaming kettle into the dish-pan.
'^ You must let me wash up dishes for you this evening, Mrs. Gaddy, if you don't mind," she said. "You see, I am beginning life over again, and it will remind me of when I was a little child, and mother used to tuck up my sleeves and stand me up in a chair beside her while she washed the dishes. Now and then she would give me a little piece from the scalding water to wipe, and it pleased me to think I was helping her."
" Your mother dead ? " asked Mrs. Gaddy.
^^ Yes/' said Anna, softly. '^ 1 am all alone in the world."
'^ Why didn't you tell me before, honey, why didn't you?" And the old woman put her arm about the girl's shoulders and looked at her with tears in her dim eyes. ^' Seem like I'd 'a knowed better how to ^a treated you if you'd a-told me."
She sat down by and by and got out her knitting, watching the girl eagerly as she went back and forth with the dishes. She was thinking of her own little girl, a slim, peaked, puny thing, who died when she was no higher than the table.
She told Anna about her after a while, dwelling on the meagre reminiscences that made up all that was left of her now. " Somehow you put me in mind of her when you's talkin' 'bout helpin'your Ma, and I can't help thinkin' what my little gal mought 'a been to me when I see you gittin' roun' so pyeart."
It had not been hard to find the way to one heart, Anna thought, as she went to sleep in her old bed that night.
She surprised the blacksmith by an early call for the key next morning, and had the schoolroom swept and a fire burning long before it was time to ring the first bell. Most of the poor little scared children, who never understood why they had been sent home the day before, were on hand when school opened, and before the week was out the desks were full.
^* We've got a new teacher," they said, and Anna smiled gratefully into their happy faces.
'^ You are gettin' on better. Miss, fur all the place ain't fittin' fur you," said the blacksmith.
" I was not fit for the place, before," Anna said.
¦ hi, Katton, /r//"—Page 113.