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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Eagle's Heart - Part 1 - Chapter 6. The Cage Opens
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The Eagle's Heart - Part 1 - Chapter 6. The Cage Opens Post by :pcmarket Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :2008

Click below to download : The Eagle's Heart - Part 1 - Chapter 6. The Cage Opens (Format : PDF)

The Eagle's Heart - Part 1 - Chapter 6. The Cage Opens

PART I CHAPTER VI. THE CAGE OPENS

Before Harold's day of freedom came Mary was called home by a telegram from her father. She longed to see Harold before she left, but she was too much hurried to seek out Jack, the loyal go-between, and dared not send a letter by any other hands. She went away without sending him a word of good-by.

So it happened that the last week of Harold's captivity was spent in loneliness and bitter sorrow, and even when Jack came he brought very little information concerning Mary's flight, and Harold was bitter and accusing.

"Why didn't she write to me? Why didn't she come to see me?"

Jack pleaded for her as well as he was able. "She hadn't time, maybe."

Harold refused to accept this explanation. "If she had cared for me, she'd have sent me word--she could take time for that."

No letter came in the days which followed, and at last he put her out of his heart and turned his face to the sunset land which now called to the sad heart within him with imperious voice. Out there he could forget all his hurts.

On the morning when the jailer opened the door for him to leave the iron corridor in which he had spent so many months, his father met him, and the white face of the boy made the father's heart contract. Harold's cheeks were plump and boyish, but there was a look in his face which made him seem a youth of twenty.

The family stood in the jailer's parlor to receive him, and he submitted to their caresses with cold dignity. His manner plainly expressed this feeling: "You are all strangers to me." But he turned to Jack and gripped his hand hard. "Now for the plains!"

Side by side the father and son passed out into the sunshine. The boy drew an audible breath, as if in sudden, keen pain. Around him lay the bare, brown earth of March. The sun was warm and a subtle odor of lately uncovered sward was in the air. The wind, soft, warm, and steady, blew from the west. Here and there a patch of grass, faintly green, showed where sullen snow banks had lately lain. And the sky! Filled with clouds almost as fleecy and as white as June, the sky covered him, and when he raised his eyes to it he saw a triangular flock of geese sweeping to the northwest, serene and apparently effortless.

He could not speak--did not wish to hear any speech but that of Nature, and the father seemed to comprehend his son's mood, for he, too, walked in silence.

The people of the village knew that Harold was to return to freedom that day, and with one excuse or another they came to the doors to see him pass. Some of them were genuinely sympathetic, and bowed and smiled, intending to say, "Let by-gones be by-gones," but to their greetings Harold remained blankly unresponsive. Jack would gladly have walked with Harold, but out of consideration for the father fell into step behind.

The girls--some of them--had the grace to weep when they saw Harold's sad face. Others tittered and said: "Ain't he awful pale." For the most part, the citizens considered his punishment sufficient, and were disposed to give him another chance. To them, Harold, by his manner, intended to reply: "I don't want any favors. I won't accept any chance from you. I despise you and I don't want to see you again."

He looked upon the earth and the sky rather than upon the faces of his fellows. His natural love of Nature had been intensified by his captivity, while a bitter contempt and suspicion of all men and women had grown up in his mind. He entered his father's house with reluctance and loathing.

The day was one of preparation. Jack had carried out, so far as he well could, the captive's wishes. His gun, his clothing, and his valise were ready for him, and Mrs. Excell had washed and ironed all his linen with scrupulous care. His sister Maud had made a little "housewife" for him, and filled it with buttons and needles and thread, a gift he did not value, even from her.

"I'm going out West to herd cattle, not to cobble trousers," he said contemptuously.

Jack had a report to make. "Harry, I've found a chance for you," he said when they were alone. "There was a man moving to Colorado here on Saturday. He said he could use you, but of course I had to tell him you couldn't go for a few days. He's just about to Roseville now. I'll tell you what you do. You get on the train and go to Roseville--I'll let you have the money--and you strike him when he comes through. His name is Pratt. He's a tall old chap, talks queer. Of course he may have a hand now, but anyway you must get out o' here. He wouldn't take you if he knew you'd been in jail."

"Aren't you going?" asked Harold sharply.

Jack looked uneasy. "Not now, Harry. You see, I want to graduate, I'm so near through. It wouldn't do to quit now. I'll stay till fall. I'll get to Uncle John's place about the time you do."

Harold said no more, but his face darkened with disappointment.

The call to dinner brought them all together once more, and the minister's grace became a short prayer for the safety of his son, broken again and again by the weakness of his own voice and by the sobs of Maud and Mrs. Excell. Harold sat with rigid face, fixed in a frown. The meal proceeded in sad silence, for each member of the family felt that Harold was leaving them never to return.

Jack's plan was determined upon, and after dinner he went to hitch up his horse to take Harry out to the farm. The family sat in painful suspense for a few moments after Jack went out, and then Mr. Excell said:

"My son, we have never been friends, and the time is past when I can expect to win your love and confidence, but I hope you will not go away with any bitterness in your heart toward me." He waited a moment for his son to speak, but Harold continued silent, which again confused and pained the father, but he went on: "In proof of what I say I want to offer you some money to buy a horse and saddle when you need them."

"I don't need any money," said Harold, a little touched by the affection in his father's voice. "I can earn all the money I need."

"Perhaps so, but a little money might be useful at the start. You will need a horse if you herd cattle."

"I'll get my own horse--you'll need all you can earn," said Harold in reply.

Mr. Excell's tone changed. "What makes you say that, Harold? What do you mean?"

"Oh, I didn't mean anything in particular."

"Have you heard of the faction which is growing up in the church against me?"

Harold hesitated. "Yes--but I wasn't thinking of that particularly." He betrayed a little interest. "What's the matter with 'em?"

"There has been an element in the church hostile to me from the first, and during your trial and sentence these persons have used every effort to spread a feeling against me. How wide it is I can not tell, but I know it is strong. It may end my work here, for I will not cringe to them. They will find me iron."

Harold's heart warmed suddenly. Without knowing it the father had again struck the right note to win his son. "That's right," the boy said, "don't let 'em tramp on you."

A lump arose in the minister's throat. There was something very sweet in Harold's sympathy. His eyes smiled, even while they were dim with tears. He held out his hand and Harold took it.

"Well, now, my son, it's time for you to start. Don't you worry about me. I am a fighter when I am aroused."

Harold smiled back into his face, and so it was that the two men parted, for the father, in a flash of insight, understood that no more than this could be gained; but his heart was lighter than it had been for many months as he saw his son ride away from his door.

"Write often, Harold," he called after them.

"All right. You let me know how the fight comes out. If they whip you, come out West," was Harold's reply; then he turned in his seat. "Drive ahead, Jack; there's no one now but your folks for whom I care."

As they drove out along the muddy lanes the hearts of the two boys became very tender. Harold, filled with exaltation by every familiar thing--by the flights of ground sparrows, by the patches of green grass, by the smell of the wind, by the infrequent boom of the prairie chickens--talked incessantly.

"What makes me maddest," he broke out, "is to think they've cheated me out of seeing one fall and one winter. I didn't see the geese fly south, and now here they are all going north again. Some time I mean to find out where they go to." He took off his hat. "This wind will mighty soon take the white out o' me, won't it?" He was very gay. He slapped his chum on the shoulder and shouted with excitement. "We must keep going, old man, till we strike the buffalo. They are the sign of wild country that _is wild. I want to get where there ain't any fences."

Jack smiled sadly in reply. Harold knew he listened and so talked on. "I must work up a big case of sunburn before I strike Mr. Pratt for a job. Did he have extra horses?"

"'Bout a dozen. His girl was driving the cattle, but he said----"

"Girl? What kind of a girl?"

"Oh, a kind of a tomboy, freckled--chews gum and says 'darn it!' That kind of a girl."

Harold's face darkened. "I don't like the idea of that girl. She might have heard something, and then it would go hard with me."

"Don't you worry. The Pratts ain't the kind of people that read newspapers; they didn't stop here but a day, anyhow."

The sight of Mr. Burns and his wife at the gate moved Harold deeply. Mrs. Burns came hurrying out: "You blessed boy! Get right down and let me hug you," and as he leaped down she put her arms around him as if he were her own son, and Harold's eyes smarted with tears.

"I declare," said Mr. Burns, "you look like a fightin' cock; must feed you well down there?"

No note of doubt, hesitation, concealment, or shame was in their greetings and the boy knew it. They all sat around the kitchen, and chatted and laughed as if no ill thing had ever happened to him. Burns uttered the only doubtful word when he said: "I don't know about this running away from things here. I'd be inclined to stay here and fight it out."

"But it isn't running away, Dad," said Jack. "Harry has always wanted to go West and now is the first time he has really had the chance."

"That's so," admitted the father. "Still, I'm sorry to see him look like he was running away."

Mrs. Burns was determined to feed Harry into complete torpor. She put up enough food in a basket to last him to San Francisco at the shortest. Even when the boys had entered the buggy she ordered them to wait while she brought out some sweet melon pickles in a jar to add to the collection.

"Well, now, good-by," said Harold, reaching down his hand to Mrs. Burns, who seized it in both hers.

"You poor thing, don't let the Indians scalp ye."

"No danger o' that," he called back.

"Be good to yourself," shouted Burns, and the buggy rolled through the gate into the west as the red sun was setting and the prairie cocks were crowing.

The boys talked their plans all over again while the strong young horse spattered through the mud. Slowly the night fell, and as they rode under the branches of the oaks, Jack took courage to say:

"I wish Miss Yardwell had been here, Harry."

"It's no use talking about her; she don't care two straws for me; if she had she would have written to me, at least."

"Her mother may have been dying."

"Even that needn't keep her from letting me know or sending some word. She didn't care for me--she was just trying to convert me."

"She wasn't the kind of a girl who flirts. By jinks! You should see her look right through the boys that used to try to walk home with her after prayer meeting. They never tried it a second time. She's a wonder that way. One strange thing about her, she never acts like other girls. You know what I mean? She's different. She's going to be a singer, and travel around giving concerts--she told me so once."

Harold was disposed to be fair. "I don't want anybody to feel sorry for me. I suppose she felt that way, and tried to help me." Here he paused and his voice changed. "But when I'm a cattle king out West and can buy her the best home in Des Moines--maybe she won't pity me so much. Anyhow, there's nothing left for me but to emigrate. There's no use stayin' around here. Out there is the place for me now."

Jack put Harold down at the station and turned over to him all the money he had in the world. Harold took it, saying:

"Now you'll get this back with interest, old man. I need it now, but I won't six months from now. I'm going to strike a job before long--don't you worry."

Their good-by was awkward and constrained, and Harold felt the parting more keenly than he dared to show. Jack rode away crying--a brother could not have been more troubled. It seemed that the bitterness of death was in this good-by.

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