THE SPINSTER LOSES SOME SLEEP
Somewhere at the eastern base of the Tetons did those hoofprints
disappear into a mountain sanctuary where many crooked paths have
led. He that took another man's possessions, or he that took
another man's life, could always run here if the law or popular
justice were too hot at his heels. Steep ranges and forests
walled him in from the world on all four sides, almost without a
break; and every entrance lay through intricate solitudes. Snake
River came into the place through canyons and mournful pines and
marshes, to the north, and went out at the south between
formidable chasms. Every tributary to this stream rose among high
peaks and ridges, and descended into the valley by well-nigh
impenetrable courses: Pacific Creek from Two Ocean Pass, Buffalo
Fork from no pass at all, Black Rock from the To-wo-ge-tee
Pass--all these, and many more, were the waters of loneliness,
among whose thousand hiding-places it was easy to be lost. Down
in the bottom was a spread of level land, broad and beautiful,
with the blue and silver Tetons rising from its chain of lakes to
the west, and other heights presiding over its other sides. And
up and down and in and out of this hollow square of mountains,
where waters plentifully flowed, and game and nature' pasture
abounded, there skulked a nomadic and distrustful population.
This in due time built cabins, took wives, begot children, and
came to speak of itself as "The honest settlers of Jackson's
Hole." It is a commodious title, and doubtless to-day more
accurate than it was once.
Into this place the hoofprints disappeared. Not many cabins were
yet built there; but the unknown rider of the horse knew well
that he would find shelter and welcome among the felons of his
stripe. Law and order might guess his name correctly, but there
was no next step, for lack of evidence; and he would wait,
whoever he was, until the rage of popular justice, which had been
pursuing him and his brother thieves, should subside. Then,
feeling his way gradually with prudence, he would let himself be
And now, as mysteriously as he had melted away, rumor passed over
the country. No tongue seemed to be heard telling the first news;
the news was there, one day, a matter of whispered knowledge. On
Sunk Creek and on Bear Creek, and elsewhere far and wide, before
men talked men seemed secretly to know that Steve, and Ed, and
Shorty, would never again be seen. Riders met each other in the
road and drew rein to discuss the event, and its bearing upon the
cattle interests. In town saloons men took each other aside, and
muttered over it in corners.
Thus it reached the ears of Molly Wood, beginning in a veiled and
A neighbor joined her when she was out riding by herself.
"Good morning," said he.
Don't you find it lonesome?" And when she answered lightly, he
continued, meaning well: "You'll be having company again soon
now. He has finished his job. Wish he'd finished it MORE! Well,
Molly thought these words over. She could not tell why they gave
her a strange feeling. To her Vermont mind no suspicion of the
truth would come naturally. But suspicion began to come when she
returned frown her ride. For, entering the cabin of the Taylors',
she came upon several people who all dropped their talk short,
and were not skilful at resuming it. She sat there awhile,
uneasily severe that all of them knew something which she did not
know, and was not intended to know. A thought pierced her: had
anything happened to her lover? No; that was not it. The man she
had met on horseback spoke of her having company soon again. How
soon? she wondered. He had been unable to say when he should
return, and now she suddenly felt that a great silence had
enveloped him lately: not the mere silence of absence, of
receiving no messages or letters, but another sort of silence
which now, at this moment, was weighing strangely upon her.
And then the next day it came out at the schoolhouse. During that
interval known as recess, she became aware through the open
window that they were playing a new game outside. Lusty screeches
of delight reached her ears.
"Jump!" a voice ordered. "Jump!"
"I don't want to," returned another voice, uneasily.
"You said you would," said several. "Didn't he say he would? Ah,
he said he would. Jump now, quick!"
"But I don't want to," quavered the voice in a tone so dismal
that Molly went out to see.
They had got Bob Carmody on the top of the gate by a tree, with a
rope round his neck, the other end of which four little boys were
joyously holding. The rest looked on eagerly, three little girls
clasping their hands, and springing up and down with excitement.
"Why, children!" exclaimed Molly.
"He's said his prayers and everything," they all screamed out.
"He's a rustler, and we're lynchin' him. Jump, Bob!"
"I don't want--"
"Ah, coward, won't take his medicine!"
"Let him go, boys," said Molly. "You might really hurt him." And
so she broke up this game, but not without general protest from
Wyoming's young voice.
"He said he would," Henry Dow assured her.
And George Taylor further explained: "He said he'd be Steve. But
Steve didn't scare." Then George proceeded to tell the
schoolmarm, eagerly, all about Steve and Ed, while the schoolmarm
looked at him with a rigid face.
"You promised your mother you'd not tell," said Henry Dow, after
all had been told. "You've gone and done it," and Henry wagged
his head n a superior manner.
Thus did the New England girl learn what her cow-boy lover had
done. She spoke of it to nobody; she kept her misery to herself.
He was not there to defend his act. Perhaps in a way that was
better. But these were hours of darkness indeed to Molly Wood.
On that visit to Dunbarton, when at the first sight of her
lover's photograph in frontier dress her aunt had exclaimed, "I
suppose there are days when he does not kill people," she had
cried in all good faith and mirth, "He never killed anybody!"
Later, when he was lying in her cabin weak from his bullet wound,
but each day stronger beneath her nursing, at a certain word of
his there had gone through her a shudder of doubt. Perhaps in his
many wanderings he had done such a thing in self-defence, or in
the cause of popular justice. But she had pushed the idea away
from her hastily, back into the days before she had ever seen
him. If this had ever happened, let her not know of it. Then, as
a cruel reward for his candor and his laying himself bare to her
mother, the letters from Bennington had used that very letter of
his as a weapon against him. Her sister Sarah had quoted from it.
"He says with apparent pride," wrote Sarah, "that he has never
killed for pleasure or profit.' Those are his exact words, and
you may guess their dreadful effect upon mother. I congratulate
you, my dear, on having chosen a protector so scrupulous."
Thus her elder sister had seen fit to write; and letters from
less near relatives made hints at the same subject. So she was
compelled to accept this piece of knowledge thrust upon her. Yet
still, still, those events had been before she knew him. They
were remote, without detail or context. He had been little more
than a boy. No doubt it was to save his own life. And so she bore
the hurt of her discovery all the more easily because her
sister's tone roused her to defend her cow-boy.
In her cabin, alone, after midnight, she arose from her sleepless
bed, and lighting the candle, stood before his photograph.
"It is a good face," her great-aunt had said, after some study of
it. And these words were in her mind now. There his likeness
stood at full length, confronting her: the spurs on the boots,
the fringed leathern chaparreros, the coiled rope in hand, the
pistol at hip, the rough flannel shirt, and the scarf knotted at
the throat--and then the grave eyes, looking at her. It thrilled
her to meet them, even so. She could read life into them. She
seemed to feel passion come from them, and then something like
reproach. She stood for a long while looking at him, and then,
beating her hands together suddenly, she blew out her light and
went back into bed, but not to sleep.
"You're looking pale, deary," said Mrs. Taylor to her, a few days
"And you don't eat anything."
"Oh, yes, I do." And Molly retired to her cabin.
"George," said Mrs. Taylor, "you come here."
It may seem severe--I think that it was severe. That evening when
Mr. Taylor came home to his family, George received a thrashing
"And I suppose," said Mrs. Taylor to her husband, "that she came
out just in time to stop 'em breaking Bob Carmody's neck for
Upon the day following Mrs. Taylor essayed the impossible. She
took herself over to Molly Wood's cabin. The girl gave her a
listless greeting, and the dame sat slowly down, and surveyed the
"A very nice home, deary," said she, "if it was a home. But
you'll fix something like this in your real home, I have no
Molly made no answer.
"What we're going to do without you I can't see," said Mrs.
Taylor. "But I'd not have it different for worlds. He'll be
coming back soon, I expect."
"Mrs. Taylor," said Molly, all at once, "please don't say
anything now. I can't stand it." And she broke into wretched
"Why, deary, he--"
"No; not a word. Please, please--I'll go out if you do."
The older woman went to the younger one, and then put her arms
round her. But when the tears were over, they had not done any
good; it was not the storm that clears the sky--all storms do not
clear the sky. And Mrs. Taylor looked at the pale girl and saw
that she could do nothing to help her toward peace of mind.
"Of course," she said to her husband, after returning from her
profitless errand, "you might know she'd feel dreadful.
"What about?" said Taylor.
"Why, you know just as well as I do. And I'll say for myself, I
hope you'll never have to help hang folks."
"Well," said Taylor, mildly, "if I had to, I'd have to, I guess."
"Well, I don't want it to come. But that poor girl is eating her
heart right out over it."
"What does she say?"
"It's what she don't say. She'll not talk, and she'll not let me
talk, and she sits and sits."
"I'll go talk some to her," said the man.
"Well, Taylor, I thought you had more sense. You'd not get a word
in. She'll be sick soon if her worry ain't stopped someway,
"What does she want this country to do?" inquired Taylor. "Does
she expect it to be like Vermont when it--"
"We can't help what she expects," his wife interrupted. "But I
wish we could help HER."
They could not, however; and help came from another source. Judge
Henry rode by the next day. To him good Mrs. Taylor at once
confided her anxiety. The Judge looked grave.
"Must I meddle?" he said.
"Yes, Judge, you must," said Mrs. Taylor.
"But why can't I send him over here when he gets back? Then
they'll just settle it between themselves."
Mrs. Taylor shook her head. "That would unsettle it worse than it
is," she assured him. "They mustn't meet just now."
The Judge sighed. "Well," he said, "very well I'll sacrifice my
character, since you insist."
Judge Henry sat thinking, waiting until school should be out. He
did not at all relish what lay before him. He would like to have
got out of it. He had been a federal judge; he had been an
upright judge; he had met the responsibilities of his difficult
office not only with learning, which is desirable, but also with
courage and common sense besides, and these are essential. He had
been a stanch servant of the law. And now he was invited to
defend that which, at first sight, nay, even at second and third
sight, must always seem a defiance of the 1a\v more injurious
than crime itself. Every good man in this world has convictions
about right and wrong. They are his soul's riches, his spiritual
gold. When his conduct is at variance with these, he knows that
it is a departure, a falling; and this is a simple and clear
matter. If falling were all that ever happened to a good man, all
his days would be a simple matter of' striving and repentance.
But it is not all. There come to him certain junctures, crises,
when life, like a highwayman, springs upon him, demanding that he
stand and deliver his convictions in the name of some righteous
cause, bidding him do evil that good may come. I cannot say that
I believe in doing evil that good may come. I do not. I think
that any man who honestly justifies such course deceives himself.
But this I can say: to call any act evil, instantly begs the
question. Many an act that man does is right or wrong according
to the time and place which form, so to speak, its context; strip
it of its surrounding circumstances, and you tear away its
meaning. Gentlemen reformers, beware of this common practice of
yours! beware of calling an act evil on Tuesday because that same
act was evil on Monday!
Do you fail to follow my meaning? Then here is an illustration.
On Monday I walk over my neighbor's field; there is no wrong in
such walking. By Tuesday he has put up a sign that trespassers
will be prosecuted according to law. I walk again on Tuesday, and
am a law-breaker. Do you begin to see my point? or are you
inclined to object to the illustration because the walking on
Tuesday was not WRONG, but merely ILLEGAL? Then here is another
illustration which you will find it a trifle more embarrassing to
answer. Consider carefully, let me beg you, the case of a young
man and a young woman who walk out of a door on Tuesday,
pronounced man and wife by a third party inside the door. It
matters not that on Monday they were, in their own hearts,
sacredly vowed to each other. If they had omitted stepping inside
that door, if they had dispensed with that third party, and gone
away on Monday sacredly vowed to each other in their own hearts,
you would have scarcely found their conduct moral. Consider these
things carefully,--the sign-post and the third party,--and the
difference they make. And now, for a finish, we will return to
Suppose that I went over my neighbor's field on Tuesday, after
the sign-post was put up, because I saw a murder about to be
committed in the field, and therefore ran in and stopped it. Was
I doing evil that good might come? Do you not think that to stay
out and let the murder be done would have been the evil act in
this case? To disobey the sign-post was RIGHT; and I trust that
you now perceive the same act may wear as many different hues of
right or wrong as the rainbow, according to the atmosphere in
which it is done. It is not safe to say of any man, "He did evil
that good might come." Was the thing that he did, in the first
place, evil? That is the question.
Forgive my asking you to use your mind. It is a thing which no
novelist should expect of his reader, and we will go back at once
to Judge Henry and his meditations about lynching.
He was well aware that if he was to touch at all upon this
subject with the New England girl, he could not put her off with
mere platitudes and humdrum formulas; not, at least, if he
expected to do any good. She was far too intelligent, and he was
really anxious to do good. For her sake he wanted the course of
the girl's true love to run more smoothly, and still more did he
desire this for the sake of his Virginian.
"I sent him myself on that business," the Judge reflected
uncomfortably. "I am partly responsible for the lynching. It has
brought him one great unhappiness already through the death of
Steve. If it gets running in this girl's mind, she may--dear me!"
the Judge broke off, "what a nuisance!" And he sighed. For as all
men know, he also knew that many things should be done in this
world in silence, and that talking about them is a mistake.
But when school was out, and the girl gone to her cabin, his mind
had set the subject in order thoroughly, and he knocked at her
door, ready, as he had put it, to sacrifice his character in the
cause of true love.
"Well," he said, coming straight to the point, "some dark things
have happened." And when she made no answer to this, he
continued: "But you must not misunderstand us. We're too fond of
you for that."
"Judge Henry," said Molly Wood, also coming straight to the
point, "have you come to tell me that you think well of
He met her. "Of burning Southern negroes in public, no. Of
hanging Wyoming cattle thieves in private, yes. You perceive
there's a difference, don't you?"
"Not in principle," said the girl, dry and short.
"Oh--dear--me!" slowly exclaimed the Judge. "I am sorry that you
cannot see that, because I think that I can. And I think that you
have just as much sense as I have." The Judge made himself very
grave and very good-humored at the same time. The poor girl was
strung to a high pitch, and spoke harshly in spite of herself.
"What is the difference in principle?" she demanded.
"Well," said the Judge, easy and thoughtful, "what do you mean by
"I didn't think you'd quibble," flashed Molly. "I'm not a lawyer
A man less wise than Judge Henry would have smiled at this, and
then war would have exploded hopelessly between them, and harm
been added to what was going wrong already. But the Judge knew
that he must give to every word that the girl said now his
"I don't mean to quibble," he assured her. "I know the trick of
escaping from one question by asking another. But I don't want to
escape from anything you hold me to answer. If you can show me
that I am wrong, I want you to do so. But," and here the Judge
smiled, "I want you to play fair, too."
"And how am I not?"
"I want you to be just as willing to be put right by me as I am
to be put right by you. And so when you use such a word as
principle, you must help me to answer by saying what principle
you mean. For in all sincerity I see no likeness in principle
whatever between burning Southern negroes in public and hanging
Wyoming horse-thieves in private. I consider the burning a proof
that the South is semi-barbarous, and the hanging a proof that
Wyoming is determined to become civilized. We do not torture our
criminals when we lynch them. We do not invite spectators to
enjoy their death agony. We put no such hideous disgrace upon the
United States. We execute our criminals by the swiftest means,
and in the quietest way. Do you think the principle is the same?"
Molly had listened to him with attention. "The way is different,"
"Only the way?"
"So it seems to me. Both defy law and order.
"Ah, but do they both? Now we're getting near the principle."
"Why, yes. Ordinary citizens take the law in their own hands."
"The principle at last!" exclaimed the Judge.
"Now tell me some more things. Out of whose hands do they take
"What made the courts?"
"I don't understand."
"How did there come to be any courts?"
"How did there come to be any Constitution? Who made it?"
"The delegates, I suppose."
"Who made the delegates?"
"I suppose they were elected, or appointed, or something.
"And who elected them?"
"Of course the people elected them."
"Call them the ordinary citizens," said the Judge. "I like your
term. They are where the law comes from, you see. For they chose
the delegates who made the Constitution that provided for the
courts. There's your machinery. These are the hands into which
ordinary citizens have put the law. So you see, at best, when
they lynch they only take back what they once gave. Now we'll
take your two cases that you say are the same in principle. I
think that they are not. For in the South they take a negro from
jail where he was waiting to be duly hung. The South has never
claimed that the law would let him go. But in Wyoming the law has
been letting our cattle-thieves go for two years. We are in a
very bad way, and we are trying to make that way a little better
until civilization can reach us. At present we lie beyond its
pale. The courts, or rather the juries, into whose hands we have
put the law, are not dealing the law. They are withered hands, or
rather they are imitation hands made for show, with no life in
them, no grip. They cannot hold a cattle-thief. And so when your
ordinary citizen sees this, and sees that he has placed justice
in a dead hand, he must take justice back into his own hands
where it was once at the beginning of all things. Call this
primitive, if you will. But so far from being a DEFIANCE of the
law, it is an ASSERTION of it--the fundamental assertion of
selfgoverning men, upon whom our whole social fabric is based.
There is your principle, Miss Wood, as I see it. Now can you help
me to see anything different?"
She could not.
"But perhaps you are of the same opinion still?" the Judge
"It is all terrible to me," she said.
"Yes; and so is capital punishment terrible. And so is war. And
perhaps some day we shall do without them. But they are none of
them so terrible as unchecked theft and murder would be."
After the Judge had departed on his way to Sunk Creek, no one
spoke to Molly upon this subject. But her face did not grow
cheerful at once. It was plain from her fits of silence that her
thoughts were not at rest. And sometimes at night she would stand
in front of her lover's likeness, gazing upon it with broth love