The night horseman, p.36
The Night Horseman, p.36
THE DISCOVERY OF LIFE
This is the letter which Swinnerton Loughburne received over thesignature of Doctor Randall Byrne. It was such a strange letter thatbetween paragraphs Swinnerton Loughburne paced up and down his GramercyPark studio and stared, baffled, at the heights of the MetropolitanTower.
"I'll be with you in good old Manhattan about as soon as you get thisletter. I'm sending this ahead because I want you to do me a favour. IfI have to go back to those bare, blank rooms of mine with the smell ofchemicals drifting in from the laboratory, I'll--get drunk. That's all!"
Here Swinnerton Loughburne lowered the letter to his knees and graspedhis head in both hands. Next he turned to the end of the letter and madesure that the signature was "Randall Byrne." He stared again at thehandwriting. It was not the usual script of the young doctor. It wasbolder, freer, and twice as large as usual; there was a total lack ofregard for the amount of stationery consumed.
Shaking his head in bewilderment, Swinnerton Loughburne shook his finegrey head and read on: "What I want you to do, is to stir about and findme a new apartment. Mind you, I don't want the loft of some infernalArcade building in the Sixties. Get me a place somewhere betweenThirtieth and Fifty-eighth. _Two_ bed-rooms. I want a place to put someof the boys when they drop around my way. And at least one servant'sroom. Also at least one large room where I can stir about and wave myarms without hitting the chandelier. Are you with me?"
Here Swinnerton Loughburne seized his head between both hands again andgroaned: "Dementia! Plain and simple dementia! And at his age, poorboy!"
He continued: "Find an interior decorator. Not one of these fuzzy hairedwomen-in-pants, but a he-man who knows what a he-man needs. Tell him Iwant that place furnished regardless of expense. I want some deep chairsthat will hit me under the knees. I want some pictures on the wall--but_nothing out of the Eighteenth Century_--no impressionisticlandscapes--no girls dolled up in fluffy stuff. I want some pictures Ican enjoy, even if my maiden aunt can't. There you are. Tell him to goahead on those lines.
"In a word, Swinnerton, old top, I want to live. For about thirty yearsI've _thought_, and now I know that there's nothing in it. All thethinking in the world won't make one more blade of grass grow; put oneextra pound on the ribs of a long-horn; and in a word, thinking is thebunk, pure and simple!"
At this point Swinnerton Loughburne staggered to the window, threw itopen, and leaned out into the cold night. After a time he had strengthenough to return to his chair and read through the rest of the epistlewithout interruption.
"You wonder how I've reached the new viewpoint? Simply by seeing someconcentrated life here at the Cumberland ranch. My theories are blastedand knocked in the head--praise God!--and I've brushed a million cobwebsout of my brain. Chemistry? Rot! There's another sort of chemistry thatworks on the inside of a man. That's what I want to study. There arethree great preliminary essentials to the study:
1st: How to box with a man. 2nd: How to talk with a girl. 3rd: How to drink old wine.
Try the three, Swinnerton; they aren't half bad. At first they may giveyou a sore jaw, an aching heart, and a spinning head, but in the endthey teach you how to keep your feet and _fight!_
"This is how my eyes were opened.
"When I came out to this ranch it was hard for me to ride a horse. SoI've been studying how it should be done. Among other things, you shouldkeep your toes turned in, you know. And there are many other things tolearn.
"When I had mastered them one by one I went out the other day and askedto have a horse saddled. It was done, and a lantern-jawed cowpuncherbrought out a piebald gelding with long ears and sleepy eyes. Not alovely beast, but a mild one. So I went into the saddle according totheory--with some slight hesitations here and there, planted my feet inthe stirrups, and told the lantern-jawed fellow to turn loose the headof the piebald. This was done. I shook the reins. The horse did notmove. I called to the brute by name. One ear wagged back to listen tome.
"I kicked the beast in the ribs. Unfortunately I had forgotten that longspurs were on my heels. The horse was instantly aware of that fact,however. He leaped into a full gallop. A very jolty process. Then hestopped--but I kept on going. A fence was in the way, so I was halted.Afterwards the lantern-jawed man picked me up and offered to carry meback to the house or at least get a wheelbarrow for me. I refused withsome dignity. I remarked that I preferred walking, really, and so Istarted out across the hills and away from the house. My head was sore;so were my shoulders where I hit the fence; I began to think of the joyof facing that horse again, armed with a club.
"It was evening--after supper, you see--and the light of the moon wasalready brighter than the sunlight. And by the time I had crossed thefirst range of hills, it was quite dark. As I walked I brooded upon manythings. There were enough to disturb me.
"There was old Joe Cumberland, at death's door and beyond the reach ofmy knowledge; and he had been taken away from death by the wild man, DanBarry. There was the girl with the bright hair--Kate Cumberland. Ineducation, nothing; in brain, nothing; in experience, nothing; and yet Iwas attracted. But she was not attracted in the least until along camethe wild man again, and then she fell into his arms--actually fought forhim! Why? I could not tell. My name and the things I have done and evenmy money, meant nothing to her. But when he came it was only a glance, aword, a smile, and she was in his arms. I felt like Caligula. I wishedthe world had only one neck, and I an axe. But why should I have feltdepressed because of failures in the eyes of these silly yokels? Not oneof them could read the simplest chemical formula!
"All very absurd, you will agree, and you may get some inkling as to mystate of mind while I walked over those same dark hills. I seemed a partof that darkness. I looked up to the stars. They were merely like thepages of a book. I named them off hand, one after the other, and thoughtof their characteristics, their distances, their composition, andmeditated on the marvels the spectrum has made known to us. But nosooner did such a train of thoughts start in my brain, than I againrecurred to the girl, Kate Cumberland, and all I was aware of was a painat heart--something like homesickness. Very strange.
"She and the man are together constantly. The other day I was in JosephCumberland's room and we heard whistling outside. The face of the oldman lighted, 'They are together again,' he said. 'How do you guess atthat?' I asked. 'By the sound of his whistling,' he answered. 'For hewhistles as if he expected an answer--as if he were talking withsomeone.' And by the Lord, the old man was right. It would never haveoccurred to me!
"Now as I started down the farther slope of a hill a whistling sound ranupon me through the wind, and looking back I saw a horseman gallopingwith great swiftness along the line of the crest, very plainly outlinedby the sky, and by something of smoothness in the running of the horse Iknew that it was Barry and his black stallion. But the whistling--themusic! Dear God, man, have you read of the pipes of Pan? That night Iheard them and it made a riot in my heart.
"He was gone, suddenly, and the whistling went out like a light, butsomething had happened inside me--the first beginning of this process ofinternal change. The ground no longer seemed so dark. There were earthsmells--very friendly--I heard some little creature chirrupingcontentedly to itself. Something hummed--a grasshopper, perhaps. Andthen I looked up to the stars. There was not a name I could think of--Iforgot them all, and for the first time I was contented to look at themand wonder at their beauty without an attempt at analysis or labelling.
"If I say that I went back to the ranch-house with my feet on the groundand by heart up there among the stars, will you understand?
"I found the girl sewing in front of the fire in the living room.Simply looked up to me with a smile, and a certain dimness about theeyes--well, my breath stopped.
"'Kate,' said I, 'I am going away to-morrow morning!'
"'And leave Dad?' said she.
"'To tell you the truth,' I answered, 'there is nothing I can do forhim. There has never been anything I could do for him.'
"'I am sorry,' said she, and lifted up her eyes to me.
"Now, I had begun by being stiff with her, but the ringing of thatwhistling--pipes of Pan, you know--was in my ears. I took a chair besideher. Something overflowed in my heart. For the first time in whole daysI could look on her beauty without pain.
"'Do you know why I'm going?' I asked.
"'Because,' said I, and smiled right into her face, 'I love you, Kate,most infernally; and I know perfectly well that I will get never thedevil a bit of good out of it.'
"She peered at me. 'You aren't jesting?' says she. 'No, you're serious.I'm very sorry, Doctor Byrne.'
"'And I,' I answered, 'am glad. I wouldn't change it for the world. Foronce in my life--to-night--I've forgotten myself. No, I won't go awayand nurse a broken heart, but I'll think of you as a man should think ofsomething bright and above him. You'll keep my heart warm, Kate, tillI'm a very old man. Because of you, I'll be able to love some othergirl--and a fine one, by the Lord!'
"Something in the nature of an outburst, eh? But it was the music whichhad done it. All the time it rang and echoed through my ears. My wordswere only an echo of it. I was in tune with the universe. I was livingfor the first time. The girl dropped her sewing--tossed it aside. Shecame over to me and took my hands in a way that would have warmed eventhe icicles of your heart, Swinnerton.
"'Doctor,' says she, 'I know that you are going to be very happy.'
"'Happiness,' said I, 'is a trick, like riding a horse. And I think thatI've learned the trick. I've caught it from you and from Barry.'
"At that, she let go my hands and stepped back. The very devil is inthese women, Swinnerton. You never can place them for a minute at atime.
"'I am trying to learn myself,' she said, and there was a shadow ofwistfulness in her eyes.
"In another moment I should have made a complete fool of myself, but Iremembered in time and got out of the room. To-morrow I start back forthe old world but I warn you beforehand, my dear fellow, that I'mbringing something of the new world with me.
"What has it all brought to me? I am sad one day and gay the next. Butat least I know that thinking is not life and now I'm ready to fight.
The Night Horseman by Max Brand / Western have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on30 votes