Read CHAPTER X of The Trimming of Goosie , free online book, by James Hopper, on

This is what Charles-Norton Sims is doing while his little wife, back in New York, sits desolate in her empty flat.

On the fourth day of his flight, sitting at the wide window of a Pullman which was clicking slowly along a high summit, he had caught between two snow-sheds a rapid glimpse of this nook in the chaos of the World. In a picture flashed clear for a moment to his eyes, he had seen the cabin, the meadow, and the lake; and his heart had given a leap like that of the anchor of a ship which at last has come to port. When, thirty minutes later, the train, now on the down-grade, had slid with set brakes by a little mining-camp huddled at the foot of a great red scar torn in the heart of a slanting pine forest, Charles-Norton, without more ado, had seized his grip and his blankets, and sidling out to the platform, had jumped lightly and neatly to the ground.

When the last gleaming rail of the train had vanished around a bend, Charles-Norton descended to the camp. It was a decrepit camp, the mine having given out. Charles-Norton found the whole population in the general store. It consisted of five men, about which seemed thrown an invisible but heavy cloak of somnolence. They had entered languidly but politely into his plans. The storekeeper had gladly parted with one-third of the comestible stock which was slowly petrifying on shelf and rafter; a little burro, grazing on the dump, had been transformed into a pack-animal; and after standing treat three times around, Charles-Norton, leading by a rope his fuzzy four-footed companion, to a great flapping of amicable sombreros had taken the trail winding toward the high hills.

The little burro, now obscurely melancholic, grazed in the meadow. Within the cabin, depending from the smoke-polished rafters, a sack of flour, a bag of sugar, a ham, and several sides of bacon were strung, while a pyramid of tins leaned against the blackened fireplace. The bunk against the right wall held Charles-Norton’s blankets; the one on the left wall was empty. In spite of this empty bunk, which at times yawned with an air of vague reproach, the cabin, with its wide fireplace, in the center of which a rotund kettle hung, with its neatly strung and stacked provisions, had a certain coziness, a sober, sedate expression of assurance for days to come.

And it was a fine life to live.

He would get up early in the morning, and reached the sill of the door with the sun. He would have his swim, his breakfast, and his smoke and then he was off.

He was off for an all-day winged romp. He made straight for the crest at first and lit upon the tip-top of its highest pinnacle, rising there out of the rocky chaos like an exclamation of gleaming granite. Its top, hollowed by the weathers, made a seat which just fitted him. To the north and to the south, the saw-toothed crest extended for miles to purple disappearances; within its folds, here and there, a glacier scintillated like a jewel. To the west and to the east, the mountain descended; at first in a cataract of polished domes and runs, then in long velvety waves of stirring pines, and finally in pale-yellow foothills, to the plains. These were very far and were elusive of aspect. Sometimes they were as a haze; sometimes like a carpet of twined flowers upon a slowly heaving sea; sometimes they were liquid, and then the one to the east was bluishly white, like milk, the one to the west like pooled molten gold.

Charles-Norton sat here long, his elbow on his knees, his chin in his hand, his wings drooping behind, along the perpendicular smoothness of the rock, and pondered his happiness. A profound satisfaction was within him; it was as if his blood, at last, were flowing submissively along a great cosmic stream, to some eternal behest. After a time, he rose a-tip-toe, like a diver above a gleaming sheet, extended his wings, and sprang.

At first he dropped plumb, into the abyss; then his spread wings caught the air and held his fall. He gave one soft flap, and then another, and rose. He floated upward; he was even with the top of the pinnacle, passed it slowly, saw it beneath his feet, and still, with slow, strong beat of wing, continued ascending. It was joyous work; he rose on powerful pinion; it was as if his head and shoulders continuously were emerging from one layer of the atmosphere into another more fresh and clear and more beautiful; the air streamed along his skin in a clean, cold caress that enveloped his soul. He passed big sad eagles that flew with lowered beaks, their wrinkled and worried eyes upon the peaks below; he laughed, and astounded, they fell off beneath him in vertiginous circles. The earth beneath was like a bowl, a bowl full of plashing sunshine. He kept on up, rising straight in the cold and hollow air, into a great silence, the only sound that of his wings, beating a solemn measure. He looked no longer down, now. Head rearing back, face to the sun, with half-closed eyes he went on up with outspread wings, an ecstasy clutching at his heart; clutching at it, clutching at it, till finally it was too exquisite to bear, and half-swooning, with dangling pinion he let himself swoop back through the dizzy spaces, back to the earth.

Again upon his pinnacle, he lay very still, long, on his back, breathing deeply, while slowly the ecstatic languor left his body. He was a little afraid of this game, this perpendicular assault of infinities, and allowed it to himself only once a day. It was his dissipation; there was something vaguely perilous in the absorption of it. So, having rested now, he betook himself to less audacious pastimes.

He selected a peak some ten miles away, and shot to it in a line which was impeccably straight. Then he repeated the flight, this time in a slight even curve, flowing and smooth as the rise, swell, and gradual fall of a musical chord. The next time, he flew to the peak in a zipping parabola that was as the course of a rocket.

This game was the consummation of the old yearning which, in days gone by, had impelled him to draw lines upon a sheet of paper. Where before, miserably and inadequately, tormented by a sense of impotence, he had drawn with a pencil lines upon paper, he now drew, with his whole gleaming white body, stupendous lines of beauty upon the blue of the sky.

He liked this. He sensed his evolution. He seemed to have within his brain a delicate instrument that recorded the movements of his body. As he cut through the azure, each flown line was deposited within him in a record of beauty. He flew from peak to peak, in lean, sizzling white lines; in shooting diagonals; in gentle floating curves; in zig-zags as of lightning; in rising and drooping lines that hoped and despaired; in soarings that aspired and broke; in arabesques that laughed; in gothic arches that prayed; in large undulations that wept. Sometimes he drew whole edifices fairy castles, domes, towers, spires which, once created, went floating off forever on the blue, freighted with their fantastic inhabitants, invisible, impalpable, and imperishable. And always within him was the record of the created thing, the record of created beauty, etched forever in the inner chamber of his soul.

Sometimes he played with his shadow; he tried to lose it. With a sudden bound that was meant to take it unaware, he was off, along the crest, at vertiginous speed. He went on thus, mile after mile; mile after mile, razing the peaks, he passed along the crest like a white thunderbolt, his wings a blur, his body streaming behind like an arrow. His head struck the air, broke it, parted it; it slid along his flanks in a caress that penetrated to his heart. But always beneath him, like a menace in water-depths, springing from peak to peak in huge flaccid leaps, stubborn and black his shadow followed him.

Of all the lines he knew, however, the one that he loved best was the one he drew when returning to the cabin at sunset. He would come to the meadow from the mountains at a high altitude, and then, placing himself carefully above it, he would fold his wings and drop.

He shot down like an arrow, in a long palpitant line, and then, two hundred yards from the sward, opened his wings in an explosion of fluffy whiteness.

Out of this line he obtained a profound sensation of beauty, of beauty in simplicity. It was as though he had drawn a long, slender stalk that opened in a white chalice; as though he had planted a flower, a cosmic flower, there in the bosom of the sky.

In the evening, after his meal and his pipe, he winged away to a last adventure which was as a prayer. Leaving the warm glow of his camp-fire, he soared upward into the violet night. The earth fell away beneath him, a blue blur, a shadow, till finally the shadow itself whelmed in nocturnal profundities, and of the earth there remained nothing but the little fire, the little fire gleaming red in the clearing. He rose. The night accepted him with silence and solemnity, in a velvety envelopment. He rose. The stars, at first, were all above him; gradually new cohorts of them appeared to his right and his left, on all sides; and finally, his fire, down in the clearing, itself become a star, closed a perfect sphere. He was the center of a universe of stars; the soft beating of his wings was as the hushed tolling of their eternities; the rustle of his wings the crackling of their flames. They moved as he moved; always their center, he could not approach them. And thus encircled, sometimes bewildered, he lost his way. He forgot which star was his; seized with sudden fright, he winged one way and another in mad dashes toward cold orbs which fled him.

But always, finally remembering, he could find his way merely by folding his wings.

He folded his wings, and immediately, of all the stars the little winking red one came rushing to him while the others slid by. It came rushing to him fiercely, with a sort of jealous and almost ludicrous haste, its face red with effort. And with it came the earth, a shadow, a fragrance; its warm, sweet breath fanned his cheek. Spreading largely his wings, he lit softly upon the meadow-grass, by the little fire, by the cabin, home for the night.