Read CHAPTER X - HIS MOTHER of The Man of the Desert , free online book, by Grace Livingston Hill, on

Deserts and mountains remain, duties crowd and press, hearts ache but the world rushes on.  The weeks that followed showed these two that a great love is eternal.

Brownleigh did not try to put the thought of it out of his life, but rather let it glorify the common round.  Day after day passed and he went from post to post, from hogan to mesa, and back to his shanty again, always with the thought of her companionship, and found it sweet.  Never had he been less cheery when he met his friends, though there was a quiet dignity, a tender reserve behind it all that a few discerning ones perceived.  They said at the Fort that he was losing flesh, but if so, he was gaining muscle.  His lean brown arms were never stronger, and his fine strong face was never sad when any one was by.  It was only in the night-time alone upon the moonlit desert, or in his little quiet dwelling place when he talked with his Father, and told all the loneliness and heartache.  His people found him more sympathetic, more painstaking, more tireless than ever before, and the work prospered under his hand.

The girl in the city deliberately set herself to forget.

The first few days after she left him had been a season of ecstatic joy mingled with deep depression, as she alternately meditated upon the fact of a great love, or faced its impossibility.

She had scorched Milton Hamar with her glance of aversion, and avoided him constantly even in the face of protest from her family, until he had made excuse and left the party at Pasadena.  There, too, Aunt Maria had relieved them of her annoying interference, and the return trip taken by the southern route had been an unmolested time for meditation for the girl.  She became daily more and more dissatisfied with herself and her useless, ornamental life.  Some days she read the little book, and other days she shut it away and tried to get back to her former life, telling herself it was useless to attempt to change herself.  She had found that the little book gave her a deep unrest and a sense that life held graver, sweeter things than just living to please one’s self.  She began to long for home, and the summer round of gaieties, with which to fill the emptiness of her heart.

As the summer advanced there was almost a recklessness sometimes about the way she planned to have a good time every minute; yet in the quiet of her own room there would always come back the yearning that had been awakened in the desert and would not be silenced.

Sometimes when the memory of that great deep love she had heard expressed for herself came over her, the bitter tears would come to her eyes and one thought would throb through her consciousness:  “Not worthy!  Not worthy!” He had not thought her fit to be his wife.  Her father and her world would think it quite otherwise.  They would count him unworthy to mate with her, an heiress, the pet of society; he a man who had given up his life for a whim, a fad, a fanatical fancy!  But she knew it was not so.  She knew him to be a man of all men.  She knew it was true that she was not such a woman as a man like that could fitly wed, and the thought galled her constantly.

She tried to accustom herself to think of him as a pleasant experience, a friend who might have been if circumstances with them both had been different; she tried to tell herself that it was a passing fancy with them which both would forget; and she tried with all her heart to forget, even locking away the precious little book and trying to forget it too.

And then, one day in late summer, she went with a motoring party through New England; as frolicsome and giddy a party as could be found among New York society transferred for the summer to the world of Nature.  There was to be a dance or a house party or something of the sort at the end of the drive.  Hazel scarcely knew, and cared less.  She was becoming utterly weary of her butterfly life.

The day was hot and dusty, Indian summer intensified.  They had got out of their way through a mistake of the chauffeur, and suddenly just on the edge of a tiny quaint little village the car broke down and refused to go on without a lengthy siege of coaxing and petting.

The members of the party, powdered with dust and in no very pleasant frame of mind from the delay, took refuge at the village inn, an old-time hostelry close to the roadside, with wide, brick-paved, white-pillared piazza across the front, and a mysterious hedged garden at the side.  There were many plain wooden rockers neatly adorned with white crash on the piazza, and one or two late summer boarders loitering about with knitting work or book.  The landlord brought cool tinkling glasses of water and rich milk from the spring-house, and they dropped into the chairs to wait while the men of the party gave assistance to the chauffeur in patching up the car.

Hazel sank wearily into her chair and sipped the milk unhungrily.  She wished she had not come; wished the day were over, and that she might have planned something more interesting; wished she had chosen different people to be of her party; and idly watched a white hen with yellow kid boots and a coral comb in her nicely groomed hair picking daintily about the green under the oak trees that shaded the street.  She listened to the drone of the bees in the garden near by, the distant whetting of a scythe, the monotonous whang of a steam thresher not far away, the happy voices of children, and thought how empty a life in this village would be; almost as dreary and uninteresting as living in a desert-and then suddenly she caught a name and the pink flew into her cheeks and memory set her heart athrob.

It was the landlord talking to a lingering summer boarder, a quiet, gray-haired woman who sat reading at the end of the piazza.

“Well, Miss Norton, so you’re goin’ to leave us next week.  Sorry to hear it.  Don’t seem nat’ral ’thout you clear through October.  Ca’c’late you’re comin’ back to Granville in the spring?”

Granville!  Granville!  Where had she heard of Granville?  Ah!  She knew instantly.  It was his old home!  His mother lived there!  But then of course it might have been another Granville.  She wasn’t even sure what state they were in now, New Hampshire or Vermont.  They had been wavering about on the state line several times that day, and she never paid attention to geography.

Then the landlord raised his voice again.

He was gazing across the road where a white colonial house, white-fenced with pickets like clean sugar frosting, nestled in the luscious grass, green and clean and fresh, and seeming utterly apart from the soil and dust of the road, as if nothing wearisome could ever enter there.  Brightly there bloomed a border of late flowers, double asters, zinnias, peonies, with a flame of scarlet poppies breaking into the smoke-like blue of larkspurs and bachelor buttons, as it neared the house.  Hazel had not noticed it until now and she almost cried out with pleasure over the splendour of colour.

“Wal,” said the landlord chinking some loose coins in his capacious pockets, “I reckon Mis’ Brownleigh’ll miss yeh ’bout as much as enny of us.  She lots on your comin’ over to read to her.  I’ve heerd her say as how Amelia Ellen is a good nurse, but she never was much on the readin’, an’ Amelia Ellen knows it too.  Mis’ Brownleigh she’ll be powerful lonesome fer yeh when yeh go.  It’s not so lively fur her tied to her bed er her chair, even ef John does write to her reg’lur twicet a week.”

And now Hazel noticed that on the covered veranda in front of the wing of the house across the way there sat an old lady on a reclining wheeled chair, and that another woman in a plain blue gown hovered near waiting upon her.  A luxuriant woodbine partly hid the chair, and the distance was too great to see the face of the woman, but Hazel grew weak with wonder and pleasure.  She sat quite still trying to gather her forces while the summer boarder expressed earnest regret at having to leave her chosen summer abiding place so much earlier than usual.  At last her friends began to rally Hazel on her silence.  She turned away annoyed, and answered them crossly, following the landlord into the house and questioning him eagerly.  She had suddenly arrived at the conclusion that she must see Mrs. Brownleigh and know if she looked like her son, and if she was the kind of mother one would expect such a son to have.  She felt that in the sight might lie her emancipation from the bewitchment that had bound her in its toils since her Western trip.  She also secretly hoped it might justify her dearest dreams of what his mother was like.

“Do you suppose that lady across the street would mind if I went over to look at her beautiful flowers?” she burst in upon the astonished landlord as he tipped his chair back with his feet on another and prepared to browse over yesterday’s paper for the third time that day.

He brought his chair down on its four legs with a thump and drew his hat further over his forehead.

“Not a bit, not a bit, young lady.  She’s proud to show off her flowers.  They’re one of the sights of Granville.  Mis’ Brownleigh loves to have comp’ny.  Jest go right over an’ tell her I sent you.  She’ll tell you all about ’em, an’ like ez not she’ll give you a bokay to take ’long.  She’s real generous with ’em.”

He tottered out to the door after her on his stiff rheumatic legs, and suggested that the other young ladies might like to go along, but they one and all declined, to Hazel’s intense relief, and called their ridicule after her as she picked her way across the dusty road and opened the white gate into the peaceful scene beyond.

When she drew close to the side piazza she saw one of the most beautiful faces she had ever looked upon.  The features were delicate and exquisitely modelled, aged by years and much suffering, yet lovely with a peace that had permitted no fretting.  An abundance of waving silken hair white as driven snow was piled high upon her head against the snowy pillow, and soft brown eyes made the girl’s heart throb quickly with their likeness to those other eyes that had once looked into hers.

She was dressed in a simple little muslin gown of white and gray with white cloud-like finish at throat and wrists, and across the helpless limbs was flung a light afghan of pink and gray wool.  She made a sweet picture as she lay and watched her approaching guest with a smile of interest and welcome.

“The landlord said you would not mind if I came over to see your flowers,” Hazel said with a shy, half-frightened catch in her voice.  Now that she was here she was almost sorry she had come.  It might not be his mother at all, and what could she say anyway?  Yet her first glimpse told her that this was a mother to be proud of.  “The most beautiful mother in the world” he had called her, and surely this woman could be none other than the one who had mothered such a son.  Her highest ideals of motherhood seemed realized as she gazed upon the peaceful face of the invalid.

And then the voice!  For the woman was speaking now, holding out a lily-white hand to her and bidding her be seated in the Chinese willow chair that stood close by the wheeled one; a great green silk cushion at the back, and a large palm leaf fan on the table beside it.

“I am so pleased that you came over,” Mrs. Brownleigh was saying.  “I have been wondering if some one wouldn’t come to me.  I keep my flowers partly to attract my friends, for I can stand a great deal of company since I’m all alone.  You came in the big motor car that broke down, didn’t you?  I’ve been watching the pretty girls over there, in their gay ribbons and veils.  They look like human flowers.  Rest here and tell me where you have come from and where you are going, while Amelia Ellen picks you some flowers to take along.  Afterwards you shall go among them and see if there are any you like that she has missed.  Amelia Ellen!  Get your basket and scissors and pick a great many flowers for this young lady.  It is getting late and they have not much longer to blossom.  There are three white buds on the rose-bush.  Pick them all.  I think they fit your face, my dear.  Now take off your hat and let me see your pretty hair without its covering.  I want to get your picture fixed in my heart so I can look at you after you are gone.”

And so quite simply they fell into easy talk about each other, the day, the village, and the flowers.

“You see the little white church down the street?  My husband was its pastor for twenty years.  I came to this house a bride, and our boy was born here.  Afterwards, when his father was taken away, I stayed right here with the people who loved him.  The boy was in college then, getting ready to take up his father’s work.  I’ve stayed here ever since.  I love the people and they love me, and I couldn’t very well be moved, you know.  My boy is out in Arizona, a home missionary!” She said it as Abraham Lincoln’s mother might have said:  “My boy is president of the United States!” Her face wore a kind of glory that bore a startling resemblance to the man of the desert.  Hazel marvelled greatly, and understood what had made the son so great.

“I don’t see how he could go and leave you alone!” she broke forth almost bitterly.  “I should think his duty was here with his mother!”

“Yes, I know,” the mother smiled; “they do say that, some of them, but it’s because they don’t understand.  You see we gave John to God when he was born, and it was our hope from the first that he would choose to be a minister and a missionary.  Of course John thought at first after his father went away that he could not leave me, but I made him see that I would be happier so.  He wanted me to go with him, but I knew I should only be a hindrance to the work, and it came to me that my part in the work was to stay at home and let him go.  It was all I had left to do after I became an invalid.  And I’m very comfortable.  Amelia Ellen takes care of me like a baby, and there are plenty of friends.  My boy writes me beautiful letters twice a week, and we have such nice talks about the work.  He’s very like his father, and growing more so every day.  Perhaps,” she faltered and fumbled under the pink and silver lap robe, “perhaps you’d like to read a bit of one of his letters.  I have it here.  It came yesterday and I’ve only read it twice.  I don’t let myself read them too often because they have to last three days apiece at least.  Perhaps you’d read it aloud to me.  I like to hear John’s words aloud sometimes and Amelia Ellen has never spent much time reading.  She is peculiar in her pronunciation.  Do you mind reading it to me?”

She held a letter forth, written in a strong free hand, the same that had signed the name John Chadwick Brownleigh in the little book.  Hazel’s heart throbbed eagerly and her hand trembled as she reached it shyly towards the letter.  What a miracle was this! that his very letter was being put into her hand, her whom he loved-to read!  Was it possible?  Could there be a mistake?  No, surely not.  There could not be two John Brownleighs, both missionaries to Arizona.

“Dear little Mother o’ Mine:”  it began, and plunged at once into the breezy life of the Western country.  He had been to a cattle round-up the week before and he described it minutely in terse and vivid language, with many a flash of wit, or graver touch of wisdom, and here and there a boyish expression that showed him young at heart, and devoted to his mother.  He told of a visit he had paid to the Hopi Indians, their strange villages, each like a gigantic house with many rooms, called a pueblo, built on the edges of lofty crags or mesas and looking like huge castles five or six hundred feet above the desert floor.  He told of Walpi, a village out on the end of a great promontory, its only access a narrow neck of land less than a rod wide, with one little path worn more than a foot deep in the solid rock by the feet of ten generations passing over it, where now live about two hundred and thirty people in one building.  There were seven of these villages built on three mesas that reach out from the northern desert like three great fingers, Oraibi, the largest, having over a thousand people.  He explained that Spanish explorers found these Hopis in 1540, long before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, and called the country Tusayan.  Then he went on to describe a remarkable meeting that had been held in which the Indians had manifested deep interest in spiritual things, and had asked many curious questions about life, death and the hereafter.

“You see, dear,” said the mother, her eyes shining eagerly, “you see how much they need him, and I’m glad I can give him.  It makes me have a part in the work.”

Hazel turned back to the letter and went on reading to hide the tears that were gathering in her own eyes as she looked upon the exalted face of the mother.

There was a detailed account of a conference of missionaries, to attend which the rider had ridden ninety miles on horseback; and at the close there was an exquisite description of the spot where they had camped the last night of their ride.  She knew it from the first word almost, and her heart beat so wildly she could hardly keep her voice steady to read: 

“I stopped over night on the way home at a place I dearly love.  There is a great rock, shelving and overhanging, for shelter from any passing storm, and quite near a charming green boudoir of cedars on three sides, and rock on the fourth.  An abundant water-hole makes camping easy for me and Billy, and the stars overhead are good tapers.  Here I build my fire and boil the kettle, read my portion and lie down to watch the heavens.  Mother, I wish you knew how near to God one feels out in the desert with the stars.  Last night about three o’clock I woke to replenish my fire and watch a while a great comet, the finest one for many years.  I would tell you about it but I’ve already made this letter too long, and it’s time Billy and I were on our way again.  I love this spot beside the big rock and often come back to it on my journeys; perhaps because here I once camped with a dear friend and we had pleasant converse together around our brushwood fire.  It makes the desert seem less lonely because I can sometimes fancy my friend still reclining over on the other side of the fire in the light that plays against the great rock.  Well, little mother o’ mine, I must close.  Cheer up, for it has been intimated to me that I may be sent East to General Assembly in the spring, and then for three whole weeks with you!  That will be when the wild strawberries are out, and I shall carry you in my arms and spread a couch for you on the strawberry hill behind the house, and you shall pick some again with your own hands.”

With a sudden catch in her throat like a sob the reading came to an end and Hazel, her eyes bright with tears, handed the letter reverently back to the mother whose face was bright with smiles.

“Isn’t he a boy worth giving?” she asked as she folded the letter and slipped it back under the pink and gray cover.

“He is a great gift,” said Hazel in a low voice.

She was almost glad that Amelia Ellen came up with an armful of flowers just then and she might bury her face in their freshness and hide the tears that would not be stayed, and then before she had half admired their beauty there was a loud “Honk-honk!” from the road, followed by a more impatient one, and Hazel was made aware that she was being waited for.

“I’m sorry you must go, dear,” said the gentle woman.  “I haven’t seen so beautiful a girl in years, and I’m sure you have a lovely heart, too.  I wish you could visit me again.”

“I will come again some time if you will let me!” said the girl impulsively, and then stooped and kissed the soft rose-leaf cheek, and fled down the path trying to get control of her emotion before meeting her companions.

Hazel was quiet all the rest of the way, and was rallied much upon her solemnity.  She pleaded a headache and closed her eyes, while each heart-throb carried her back over the months and brought her again to the little camp under the rock beneath the stars.

“He remembered still!  He cared!” This was what her glad thoughts sang as the car whirled on, and her gay companions forgot her and chattered of their frivolities.

“How wonderful that I should find his mother!” she said again and again to herself.  Yet it was not so wonderful.  He had told her the name of the town, and she might have come here any time of her own accord.  But it was strange and beautiful that the accident had brought her straight to the door of the house where he had been born and brought up!  What a beautiful, happy boyhood he must have had with a mother like that!  Hazel found herself thinking wistfully, out of the emptiness of her own motherless girlhood.  Yes, she would go back and see the sweet mother some day; and she fell to planning how it could be.