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8 The Choice of the New Daughter Although my mother met me each morning with a happy smile, she walked with slower movement,and in studying her closely,after three months’ absence, I perceived unwelcome change. She was not as alert mentally or physically as when I went away. A mysterious veil had fallen between her wistful spirit and the outer world. Her vision was dimmer and her spirit at times withdrawn, remote. She laughed in response to my jesting, but there was an absent-minded sweetness in her smile, a tremulous quality in her voice which disturbed me. Her joy in my return, so accusing in its tenderness, led me to declare that I would never again leave her, not even for a month. “You may count on me hereafter,” I said to her.“I’m going to quit traveling and settle down near you.” “I hope you mean it this time,” she replied soberly, and her words stung for I recalled the many times I had disappointed her. With a mass of work and correspondence waiting my hand I went from my breakfast to my study. My forenoons thereafter were spent at my desk, but with the understanding that if she got lonesome, mother was privileged to interrupt, and it often happened that along about eleven I would hear a softly-opened stairdoor and then a call,—a timid call as if she feared to disturb me “Haven’t you done enough? Can’t you come now?” There was no resisting this appeal.Dropping my pen,I went below and gave the rest of my day to her. We possessed an ancient low-hung “Surrey,” a vehicle admirably fitted for an invalid, and in this conveyance with a stout mare as motive power we often drove away into the country of a pleasant afternoon, sometimes into Gill’s Coulee, sometimes to Onalaska. On these excursions my mother rode in silence,busied with the past. Each hill, each stream had its tender association.Once as we 83 Garland_Daughter_to press 10/20/06 3:43 PM Page 83 were crossing the Kinney Hill she said, “We used to pick plums along that creek.”Or again as we were driving toward Mindora,she said,“When McEldowney built that house we thought it a palace.” She loved to visit her brother William’s farm, and to ride past the old McClintock house in which my father had courted her.Her expression at such times was sweetly sorrowful.The past appeared so happy, so secure, her present so precarious, so full of pain. She sensed the mystery, the tragedy of human life, but was unable to express her conceptions,—and I was of no value as a comforter. I could only jest with a bitter sense of helplessness. On other days,when she was not well enough to drive,I pushed her about the village in a wheeled chair,which I had bought at the World’s Fair. In this way she was able to make return calls upon such of her neighbors as were adjacent to side-walks. She was always in my thought,—only when Franklin took her in charge was it possible for me to concentrate on the story which I had begun before going abroad,and in which I hoped to embody some of the experiences of my trip. Boy Life on the Prairie was also still incomplete , and occasionally I put aside The Hustler, as I called my fiction , in order to recover and record some farm custom, some pioneer incident which my mother or my brother brought to my mind as we talked of early days in Iowa. The story (which Gilder afterward called Her Mountain Lover) galloped along quite in the spirit of humorous extravaganza with which it had been conceived,and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it for the reason that in it I was able to relive some of the noblest moments of my explorations of Colorado’s peaks and streams.It was an expression of my indebtedness to the High Country. I made the mistake, however, of not using the actual names of localities.Just why I shuffled the names of trails and towns and valleys so recklessly,I cannot now explain,for there was abundant literary precedent for their proper and exact use. Perhaps I resented the prosaic sound of “Sneffles” and “Montrose Junction.”Anyhow, whatever my motive,I covered my tracks so well that it was impossible even for a resident to...


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