Hills Far Away
Plinkey could sense beauty in the Selkirks but it took something approaching an avalanche to open his eyes to the beauty that was Mary
OUTSIDE the schoolroom window, it was pure, unadulterated June. Inside, the soft, sweet warmness of the summer air had turned sticky-hot and stuffy: and the ecstatic trilling of the robins was lost in the horrid buzzing of a big black fly that bumped crazily about the room. In his accustomed place behind the old oak desk, stood Archibald Plinkey, the most conscientious, the most single-minded young high-school teacher in Manitoba. But, today, Archibald Plinkey was not himself. He gazed vaguely at his squirming geography class. From sheer force of habit he opened his mouth and the well-worn words of the last lecture of the year flowed in orderly succession from his lips, but, to the assembled inattentive ears, they sounded like the wavering wail of an old phonograph record. In other Junes, thi3 had been the most interesting lecture of the year, but now Archibald Plinkey was making a fizzle of it.
And all because he was listening to the fly that buzzed 30 busily around his head.
Never before, in all his well-planned thirty years, had his steady singleness of purpose been so much as ruffled by any extraneous sound or substance. The world might be torn by volcanic tremors or drowned in torrential down-pours; its people might revolve, shrieking, in a whirling maelstrom of frenzied finance, political campaigns, love, conflict, and tragedy; but Archibald Plinkey’s middle-sized, trudging feet did not turn from their course. From September until June this course continued on a dead-level through a maze of geography lectures and examination papers; then the path took a
sharp turn west—and skyward—and from June until September, Plinkey's steps and spirit scared toward snowy summits. For Archibald Plinkey was the most ardent, the most enthusiastic, young mountain climber who had ever been invited to join the Canadian Alpine Clu b.
And now, on the very eve of his annual high adventure, he was disturbed by the buzzing of a fly! It was unprecedented and unbearable. In desperation, he discontinued his lecture, seized a paper from the desk, and waving it wildly in the air, doggedly pursued the nagging creature until with one well-directed smack, he was able toshoo it out of the open window. He turned back to his desk, and was about to emit a long satisfied sigh, when he was appalled to discover that his ears were still filled with a persistent buzzing echo, as though static were interfering with an important radio message.
Decidedly, Archibald Plinkey was not himself!
He peered anxiously at his class and saw that the flyswatting episode had banished their listlessness. Running his fingers nervously through his rumpled, reddish hair, he braced himself to take advantage of their recaptured attention.
“Boys and girls,” he addressed them earnestly, “the year is over. I trust that I have made geography mean more to you than a mere map of the world. And, above all, it is my earnest hope that our imaginary journeyings to other lands have taught you to open your eyes and your hearts, so that you may see and appreciate the wonder and beauty that lies at your own door-steps. Good-luck and a happy vacation to you all!”
It was the same set speech with which he always concluded his last lecture. He was much relieved to feel that, at least, he had finished creditably with his oldtime fervor. The boys and girls filed out, and now nothing remained to be done but to clear the desk and lock the drawers.
V\ T'HEN Plinkey went to the cloak-room and took W down his hat it was as though he hung his schoolroom thoughts and duties like a coat on the empty hook, to await his return in September. He could go out through the schoolhouse door, unfettered and free as the sweet June air. He walked down the hall, stopping on the way to say goodbye to his fellow teachers.
“Off to the mountains to-night, as per the old schedule?’ some one called after him, and Plinkey was amazed that a faint feeling of reluctance tinged his answer!
“Semper idem—that’s me!”
He plodded off down the maple-bordered avenue toward his boarding-house. Plinkey was Mrs. Moffat’s only paying guest, so that he was able to have everything pretty much as he liked. He was very comfortable there, and much too busy and preoccupied to wonder whether he was missing anything by not having a home of his own. Mrs. Moffat had been very good to him all the years he had taught in the high school, and her daughter, Mary was—well, like a big sister to him, though she was six years younger. Stumbling blocks in the shape of girls had never obstructed Plinkey’s even path. But Mary was different. She didn’t trip him up, just sort of followed along, and stopped by the way to do useful things like darning his socks, and pressing his rather drab array of ties She always helped him pack his duffel bags for his journey to the mountains. Lately, though, Mary had been busy every evening with Captain Mannering, that handsome, blasé army officer from Winnipeg. Plinkey was sure the fellow didn’t have an ounce of brains to balance his hundred and eighty pounds of physical perfection. Not that Mary’s interest in the captain made any difference to Plinkey, except that his ties were mussy, and his feet were uncomfortable in holey socks.
He turned the corner, and a dozen more steps brought him to the gateway of Mrs. Moffat’s green-shuttered old brick house. Mary was standing on the verandah, her
small self almost hidden by the broad-backed khaki-clad figure on the steps. It occurred to Plinkey that nowadays the captain was forever hiding Mary. It was as though the light from Plinkey’s own individual small bright sun had been obscured by an intruding cloud.
Again Plinkey was disturbed by a sound that buzzed like an obstructed message in his ear. But there was no pestiferous fly in sight. Captain Mannering swaggered down the walk and saluted Plinkey with an amused air as he passed. Ordinarily a flicker of amusement on anyone’s face could not have penetrated Plinkey’s calm, but now unreasonably he identified the captain’s expression with the buzzing sound, and glared after him resentfully. Then he trudged on to the foot of the steps and looked up at Mary—sweet sunshiny Mary who had always been such a satisfying sister to him. She had interesting eyes. They were gray, really, but when they gazed at you intently, the pupils grew so big and round, they were like two black pools of mystery. Mystery that Plinkey would never presume to penetrate, though doubtless the captain had no such compunctions. Plinkey winced at a mental picture of Captain Mannering staring rudely into those velvet depths, and said: “Hello, Mary,” rather glumly.
“Hello, Plinkey!” she answered— she always said she couldn’t call him Archibald—“did you tell your boys and girls the same old story about opening their eyes so they could find the wonders of the world right at their own doorsteps?”
Even Mary was not herself to-day! If she were, Plinkey thought, she would not have spoken in such an odd tone—as though she shared the captain’s feeling of amused tolerance. It put Plinkey on the defensive.
“Well, why not?” he asked, crossly; “isn’t that a good thing to tell them?”
“It’s fine,” Mary agreed, and added slowly: “If you believe it!”
“Naturally I believe it!” asserted Plinkey, and put one foot on the second step. He hesitated and turned his head then waved triumphantly toward the bank of snowy blossoms that separated the Moffat’s place from the young couple’s next door. “There you are!” he told her, “what could be more wonderful than that spirea?”
Mary stared silently across the hedge at the pretty bungalow that was like a painted picture set in a white frame of flowers. Then: “Bridal wreath!” she contradicted, softly.
“Spirea!” Plinkey corrected her, stiffly, and climbed up the steps.
He opened the door for her. “Bridal Wreath,” she murmured under her breath, as she passed him.
“Spirea!” Plinkey ground out the word, and tramped upstairs to his room.
TJTE WAS upset. Mary never argued with him! He crossed over to the window, and frowned out at the little bungalow beyond the spirea hedge. Mary was forever raving about the happy family next door. Their ‘darling heuse’, their ‘cunning furniture’, their ‘adorable babies’. Of course Mary was the sort of girl who took a kindly interest in every one she knew—even in him. Or at least she used to. He turned his back on the bungalow, and saw that Mary had followed him and was standing in the doorway.
“I wish to goodness,” she said, “you’d do something different once in a while. Plinkey, stay home a week before you go to the mountains!”
“You know perfectly well,” he reminded her, “I always go to the mountains as soon as school closes.”
“But why,” she asked, in an exasperated tone, “do you always do just what you always did? I’d be glad if you’d sing all night and sleep all day— or eat your breakfast in the evening! Anything to get you off your silly beaten path!”
Plinkey was puzzled and distinctly annoyed.
“My path may be beaten,” he said coldly, “but
certainly it is not silly!” It was too bad, he thought, that Mary couldn’t be her old sunshiny, sympathetic self, just when he was going away. He went on: “I don’t think you appreciate the fact that my mountain climbing is going to benefit my country! I intend to do some exploring in the Selkirks this year. Professor So-and-So, from Ohio, and Herr Whoosit, from Berlin, are for ever making first ascents of our Canadian mountains. Well I’ll capture a few unclimbed peaks myself, and hand them over to the Canadian Geographic Board with my compliments.”
He waited a moment for a word of pleased commendation from Mary, but none came. It was all too plain that she was losing her interest in him and his work. He began to pull out drawers and boxes. Out of one of them he dumped a pile of wool socks on to the bed. Other Junes, Mary had carefully sorted out and mended his climbing socks a week ahead of time. Well, he could only hope that the moths had not been dining yarnily at his expense. Socks were very important when there were hours of strenuous footwork ahead. He looked reproachfully at Mary, but she only stood and watched him with a queer expression in her gray-black eyes. He tramped into the wardrobe and dragged out his brown canvas duffel bags. Then, suddenly, Mary broke the silence.
“Captain Mannering,” she said, “has been moved to Halifax. He leaves here the fifteenth of July, and he wants me to marry him that same day, and go with him.” Plinkey dropped the duffel bags. “Why, Mary,” he protested, “your mother could never get along without you!”
“Yes, she could,” Mary assured him; “she has a cousin who would jump at the chance of living with her, and mother wants me to have a home of my own. Mother says that no one can do anything finer for their country than to build a happy home! Like—like the one next door.” Plinkey went over to the bed, and picking up a sock, put his hand inside. Holes! His ears were tingling again and he thought of the fly in the school room. He hated that fly! Maybe if he had squashed it smearily on the wall, its buzzing would not still be echoing in his ears— buzzing some message that he couldn’t make out. As for Mary and her happy home-—well, it had nothing to do with him. He was only Mary’s mother’s paying guest. But it did seem too bad—Mrs. Moffat was certainly a fine woman—
“I should think,” he said severely, and poked a suggestive finger through the hole of his sock, “that you could find something better to do than to go off and leave your poor mother!”
Not a sound from Mary, so Plinkey went on in an injured tone—“On the fifteenth of July, while you’re getting married,
I’ll be climbing a wall of ice, hanging on by the skin of my teeth, and a thousand feet of vacancy behind me!”
Other Junes, Mary had been'much concerned cerned for his safety, had begged him in a gentle, big-sisterly way not to take chances, but to run the risk of failure, rather than broken bones. Now she only stood and stared at him, her big eyes blacker and more mysterious than he had ever seen them. She made no move to take the sock from his hand, so he laid it back on the bed, and, picking up another, found it to be in the same deplorably holey state.
Surely, Mary wasn’t going to let him leave for the mountains without mending his climbing socks! The silence between them seemed to vibrate, as though with vital words waiting to be spoken. But when Mary did speak she only said:
“Captain Mannering is coming back to dinner —so I won’t have time to help you pack this year.
And with an involuntary toss of her head she turned slowly, and
walked away, leaving Plinkey alone and deserted. He stood uncertain, and stared vaguely at the woolly sock dangling limply from his hand. Then he shuffled over to the bureau and poked about until he found a snarl of gray yarn and a needle. There was a small aluminum bowl in his camp outfit that would do for a darning egg. He slumped down on the edge of the bed. Mary had certainly changed, he decided, as he awkwardly poked the yarn through the eye of the needle, and he didn’t like changes. There he sat, all alone, and darned drearily until dinner time.
PLINKEY did not enjoy his dinner. He ate mechanically, and tried not to listen to Captain Mannering, who was discoursing volubly on the superior advantages that awaited him in Halifax. The captain turned to Plinkey finally, and said, with a smirk of amused condescension:
“Ah, Mr. Plinkey, I understand that you, like the bear, are going up the mountains to see what you can see! Do tell me—just why is an alpinist?”
“It’s a matter,” answered Plinkey, with his eyes glued to Mary’s face,” not of seeing, so much as feeling. There’s nothing—anywhere—”
He stumbled, dazed by a sudden sensation he had, as though he were drowning in the mysterious depths of Mary’s eyes. But he was left high and dry again, when the Captain abruptly claimed Mary’s attention with a scoffing: “‘Hills far away’—eh, Mary?”
After dinner, Plinkey trudged up to his room to pack. He had the whole operation down to a system, and knew in exactly what corner of which duffel bag each article belonged. This year he had a new sleeping bag of khaki waterproof silk, lined with a snug rcse-colored eiderdown. He had expected Mary to laugh gaily at the thought of his red head resting on all that rosiness, but Mary wasn’t there to watch him as he rolled up his bag, and packed it away on top of a pile of blankets. Cooking outfit, alpine rope, ice-axe, silk tent, the woolly socks—Plinkey hoped those darns wouldn’t feel bumpy—small waterproof sacks for provisions, his spiked shoes. A place for everything and everything in its place.
In an hour his packing was finished, and he was tightening the strap of the last duffel bag. His train left
between two and three in the morning, and he had already ordered a taxi. He seemed suddenly at loose ends; and the buzzing sound of voices downstairs annoyed him. He wanted to tell Mary more about his plans, but by the time that tiresome captain left, she would be all worn out. Crossing the room, he settled down dispiritedly on a chair beside his desk. From the desk drawer, he drew out
a bundle of snapshots,and thumbed them over and over_
pictures of Mount Robson, Mount Dawson, Mount Purity—lofty snow-decked cloud-encircled peaks soaring gloriously to the sky. To stand upon those supernal summits was to reach the very doors of heaven!
After Plinky had replaced the photographs, he picked up a book, and at last he heard the welcome sound of the front door closing. He listened to Mary’s footsteps—taptap across the hall to turn out the library light, tap-tap up the stairs to Plinkey’s open door. He saw that her eyes were still dark with mystery.
“Goodbye, Plinkey,” she said, very low.
He stood up. “Goodbye, Mary,” he answered. And that was all.
TWO hours later, he was speeding westward. All the next day, while the train chugged on, he was busy outlining his plans. The following morning brought him to the mountains. When the train was making its dramatic entrance into the Selkirks, Plinkey sat with his face pressed against the window, and told himself he was feeling all his accustomed thrill. He peered up at Mount Macdonald, and marveled at its gaunt grandeur LTp up up rumbled the train, across Rogers Pass to the summit ’ Then faster on the down grade, three miles to Glacier House. Here Plinkey alighted. He found his luggage all safe on the platform. He went into the hotel and learned that his reservations were just as he had ordered them and Joseph Imboden, his trusty Swiss guide of former years was ready and waiting for him. Everything was exactly right and Archibald Plinkey had net a care in the world! But the more satisfaction he tried to get out cf this supremely gratifying state, the farther his heart slumped down, down, down.
The three or four days he had planned to stay at Glacier House dragged out to ten more. He made a few desultory ascents of mountains easily accessible from the
hotel, but he couldn’t seem to get started on his exploring trip. Finally, on the eleventh of July, he was so disgusted with his vacillating self, that, by dint of fierce mental prodding, he managed to make up his mind to leave the next morning for the mountains farther west. Joseph Imboden looked vastly relieved.
“It’s not like you, Mr. Plinkey, sir,” hesaid, “to hang around so undecided-like.”
They had filled their packs, and were trudging along toward the Asulkan Valley, by ten the next morning Plinkey was glad he was leaving civilization behind. He would be all right now. Then suddenly, he became painfully aware that a cloud of mosquitoes had pursued them. Buzz-buzz — nag, nag, nag,—worse than a thousand buzzing flies.
“Imboden!” Plinkey stormed, “I’ll go crazy if we don’t soon climb away from these pests!” Joseph Imboden was plainly amazed. “Mr. Plinkey, sir, you really are not yourself this summer, you aren’t indeed. Why no insect used to trouble you—no more than—than a woman.”
HWhich was true enough. Certainly, Plinkey thought, no uoman had ever bothered him. The mosquitoes disappeared as the two men climbed higher, through the dense spruce forest, on and up above timber line. They went
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on across the pass, and down the southerly slope into the valley below. Here they made their camp.
That night they sat by the camp fire and completed their plans for the next day, which would be July the thirteenth. Plinkey was thankful that July the fifteenth would soon be over now. Mary’s wedding day. He shifted his position, and was struck by the air of utter content on the lined brown face of the guide.
“Not married yet, are you Imboden?” he asked.
Joseph Imboden’s small pale eyes beamed. “Indeed I am, sir,” he answered, “last year. I know you don’t take stock in women and marrying, but I sit here thinking about the little woman, and how I’ll be able to pay down a bit more on the home, after this trip is over. Home and the little woman! That’s my life, sir!”
Plinkey stared into the fire. Home and the little woman. He thought of Mrs. Moffat’s quaint idea, that it was patriotic to build a happy home for your country. Well, after all, there must be something sort of wonderful about a home when the thought of it could make Joseph Imboden’s leathery face glow like a parchment shade with a lighted lamp behind it. And there was that cozy bungalow next door to the Moffat’s. The country of happy homes! What a slogan!
The guide put another stick on the fire, and said something about supplies for their trip, but Plinkey didn’t want to talk. He was thinking of Mary’s eyes. What if they were not twin pools of mystery, but just two clear mirrors that reflected the unacknowledged desires of his own heart? What if Mary’s odd manner had meant she didn’t want him to go away and leave her? Why hadn’t he stayed, and begged her not to marry Mannering? ‘The wonder and beauty that lies at your own doorstep! That’s what he had preached to wide-awake boys and girls—he, deaf to his own words, and his eyes shut tight! Plinkey had a sudden overwhelming sensation of aloneness. The great dark emptiness that shut in the little camp-fire, was like a thick plush curtain drawn around the valley. The silence was so vast that it seemed one’s ears might detect the twinkle-twinkle of the stars overhead. Resting there in that dusky stillness, with his heart tuned in, Plinkey’s message came through at last. Mary and you— you and Mary—and a home all your own!’
Plinkey jerked to his feet. “Imboden!” he shouted. “When do the east-bound trains leave Glacier House?”
Imboden blinked. “Er—three in the morning, and three in the afternoon, sir.”
“All right!” Plinkey rasped. “We can make the three p.m. to-morrow—with luck. That’ll get me to my town by midnight of the fourteenth. Imboden, you’re right about this home and little woman stuff. I’m all set to fight a duel, bribe a clergyman, and steal a girl.” He grinned fiercely. “And that ought to get me off my ‘silly beaten path’.”
The bewildered guide stumbled to his feet, and looked up doubtfully at the sky. Plinkey’s heart sank, for he saw that the stars had been gradually blotted out while he was talking.
“You think it means bad weather?” he asked, alarmed.
“Tell you better in the morning, sir,” answered Imboden.
They went into the tent, and slid into their sleeping bags. But Plinkey could not rest. He was in a panic of uneasiness for fear some accident might prevent his catching the train. And sure enough, about midnight, a dismal drizzle commenced that by dawn had increased to a torrent. Impossible to climb through a deluge! With all hope of the afternoon train drowned in the down-pour, Plinkey clung to the straw that remained—the early morning train that would get him home by noon of the fifteenth.
About twelve o’clock, the rain stopped, and rolling up their tent, they slung their packs across their shoulders and started up the trail. Plinkey insisted on taking the lead, and by the time they reached the glacier, he was slipping and sliding in his eagerness to get ahead. The storm that had sent rain to the valley had brought to the mountain tops fresh snow that covered the trail like a blanket, and suddenly they discovered that, in their haste, they hopelessly had lost their path.
Plinkey refused to turn back. He was sure they could make the pass, and Imboden agreed to try. They fastened the alpine rope around their waists as an extra precaution, and the guide went ahead. He picked his way along the icy slope with the utmost care and precision, while Plinkey followed, doggedly. With the summit in sight, they were obliged to negotiate a difficult ledge. Below them was vacancy; above, a projecting shelf of snow and ice hung like a sword of Damocles. Plinkey clung to the steep, icy side of the mountain by the hand holes which the guide chipped with his axe. Then, just as Imboden stepped off the ledge, there was a sickening cracking sound above, and the overhanging shelf came crashing down. Desperately, Plinkey tried to flatten himself against the cliff, his face hidden, and his body taut for any unexpected jerk on the rope. Bits of flying ice struck his arms and shoulders, but the main part of the avalanche went over him. The danger past, he groaned in relief, and then discovered that Imboden was lying half-buried by snow. As quickly, and as cautiously as he could, Plinkey took the remaining steps along the ledge and began, frantically, to dig his companion out of the drift that covered him. Imboden was conscious and did not seem to be seriously injured, but when Plinkey tried to help him to his feet, they found his ankle was broken. It was an agonizing moment for Plinkey. Imboden urged him to go on, and send help from the hotel, but Plinkey could not desert a fellow mountaineer. He sat down in the snow beside the guide.
“There’s just one thing to do, Imboden,” he said, in as matter-of-fact a tone as he could muster, “we’ll leave our packs behind, and you’ll ride on my back. It’s been done before.”
By the time they had lunched, on dried prunes and chocolate, it was late afternoon. Plinkey took the axe and as much food as his pockets would hold, and fastened Imboden on his back with the rope. The rocky, treacherous climb to the summit was a back-breaking, hear-breaking job. But he did it, and once on the pass, he soon found the lost trail. Down the slippery path he staggered, taking infinite precaution. The silence was broken only by his own heavy breathing and an occasional stifled groan from poor Imboden. Progress was maddeningly slow, and it was dusk by the time they reached timberline.
Plinkey knew he must give up all hope of catching the last train that would get him back to Mary in time, and yet he stumbled doggedly on, until he was hopelessly beaten by the darkness and the rows of giant fir trees that stood like silent sentinels across his path. His mind and his heart and his body ached intolerably, but he managed to make Imboden fairly comfortable on the ground. Then he told him about Mary, and the guide forgot his own pain in his distress over Plinkey’s troubles.
“I deserve to suffer,” Plinkey told him. “Why even that stuffy captain, who I thought was all brawn and no brains, was amused because I was so intent on the hills far away that I couldn’t see what was within reach of my hand. Well, he was quick enough to reach out and grab.” He sighed, and added: “Don’t worry, Imbo-
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den, I’ll get back on my beaten path and
t rudge along with my eyes shut tight—”
And yet, when he lay down on the hard ground, with his head pillowed on an outflung arm, Plinkey stared into the impenetrable gloom, and groped for one more straw to cling to, before he let the waters of despair close over his head. Well, there was the telegraph! . Could he contrive a telegram forceful enough to stop a wedding? It was almost dawn when his weary brain stopped putting together the words that he would send off to Mary in the morning.
But, in the morning, there was no sign of a trail. They were lost again, and this time there was no beckoning mountain top to guide them. They were held captive by the giants of the forest. The great trees spread their branches above Plinkey’s head like a huge green parasol that shaded his face from the glare of the sun. But the gift of a sunshade which so hopelessly obscured his vision, seemed a hypocritical kindness on nature’s part. Ele helped Imboden to sit with his back against a tree trunk, and they finished the dried prunes and chocolate that Plinkey had in his pockets. Then Plinkey took up his human burden, and stumbled on through the thick undergrowth that snatched spitefully at his ankles as he passed. On he went—for hours, gauging his path by the slight downward slope of the ground beneath his feet. He was sure it was not far now to the hotel, and yet there seemed to be no way out. Finally, half-maddened by his thoughts, and utter fatigue, he stopped and eased Imboden to the ground again. For a minute he drooped against a tree, with his face buried in the crook of his arm. Then he straightened, and turned to the guide who was plainly suffering from the pain of his ankle.
“I’ll leave you here, Imboden,” he said, “until I find a way out of this. I can blaze a trail with my axe, so I’ll get back to you all right. That’s what I should have done hours ago.”
Joseph Imboden nodded silently, and Plinkey trudged off alone.
The sun was setting, and the shadows were gathering, when at last he came to the edge of the woods, and saw the familiar Glacier House valley below. As quickly as he could, he doubled back on his trail, and picked up his burden again. He was exhausted, heart-sick, and hungry. It was soon so dark that he was obliged to light matches to find the gashes on the tree-trunks that marked the way. On and on—step by step, through a gloom so sombre that it seemed to cast its shadows into the farthest corners of his soul.
Plinkey never knew just how or when he reached the hotel. His first moment of real consciousness was when he awoke in bed, and saw one of the maids standing beside him with a tray. He sat up, and found he was painfully stiff, and a bit light-headed.
“Put that down anywhere,” he said, hurriedly. “I must send a telegram. Is this July the fifteenth?”
“July the sixteenth, sir,” she answered, and Plinkley slumped back on to the pillow. “You were just about done in when you fell in front of the hotel, and you’ve been lying here like a log ever since.”
Plinkey groaned. Then: “Joseph
Imboden all right?” he managed to mut-
“All right, thanks to you, sir,” she assured him; “and the folks in the hotel think you’re a hero.”
She was quite right about that, Plinkey ! discovered, in the dragging days that followed. He had to sneak out the back way and go climbing all alone to get away from the congratulations that were showered on him. Imboden was soon limping about on crutches, and able to go back home to the loving care of his ‘little woman.’ And Plinkey made his check a generous one to insure a substantial payment on their house. He hoped the check would act as a plaster to heal his own lacerated heart.
IT WAS the first week in August when he finally gave up trying to find solace in his beloved far hills, and when he boarded the east-bound train from Glacier House, he was the Alpine Club’s saddest, most unenthusiastic member. And it was a very humble, very heart-sore geography teacher who alighted at his own station thirty-six hours later. For there is no pain quite so hard to bear as the one that is self-inflicted.
Plinkey arranged for his luggage to be sent to the boarding-house and plodded off down the maple-bordered avenue. As he turned the corner, he was wondering whether Mrs. Moffatt would have dinner ready for him. He went in through the gateway of the green-shuttered old brick house, and was halted by the sight of a sign that stood squarely in the center of the lawn next door. ‘For Sale’, it read. And he saw that all the dainty, frilly curtains were gone from the windows. His depression was unreasonably increased by this added change in the old order of things. The spirea hedge had lost all its snowy blossoms—the bloom, Plinkey was sure, had been rubbed off the whole wide weary world. He sighed forlornly, and trudging on, climbed drearily up the steps. Mrs. Moffat answered the bell, and broke into a delighted wordy welcome. But Plinkey wasn’t interested in what Mrs. Moffat had to say. Or was he?
“Mary’s over next door,” she was telling him cheerily. “The young couple left the key with her, and asked her—”
He didn’t wait to hear any more. He bounded down the steps. Resisting the temptation to leap the hedge, he dashed around it, and ran across the lawn to the bungalow. He saw a small figure flash past the window, and there was Mary, framed in the door-way.
“Mary!” he choked, “You re not—you didn’t?”
Mary beamed on him. “I didn’t do a thing Plinkey, but wait for you to come home again.” Sweet sunshiny Mary, who had always been—but it wasn’t a sister he wanted now. He covered the distance between them in one stride, and snatched at her hands.
“I thought,” he told her, “that you were going to Halifax.”
“How could I,” she asked him softly, “marry a man I didn’t love?”
“Oh, Mary—dear,” he groaned, “I was blind as a bat—I loved you all the time!” “I know,” she answered, “you were, and you did. But I was sure you would open your eyes some day.”
He looked past her into the bare rooms inside the house. Mary’s eyes followed his “You see,” she explained, “this wee place just wouldn’t hold three babies—so they had to move. And now the bungalow’s for sale.”
Plinkey squeezed her hands—hard. “Then we’ll buy it,” he told her, “and we’ll live in it—and we’ll plant hedges of —er—bridal wreath, on all sides.”
“Oh, Plinkey,” she cried, “we will.” He discovered now that her dark eyes were two deep wells of love and tenderness.
“And you can still,” she added, “climb mountains, if you want to.”
Plinkey pushed her through the open door into the cool friendly shadow of the empty house. He held her close, close in his arms, and his heart soared to a very pinnacle of happiness that was nearer heaven than the loftiest snow-capped summit of the Selkirks.
“Mary, dear,” he murmured, with his lips touching her hair, “I’ve climbed the highest mountain—right here where I found you!”