The House That Was Not
BART FLEMING took his bride out
to his ranch on the plains when she
was but seventeen years old, and the
two set up housekeeping in three
hundred and twenty acres of corn and rye.
Off toward the west there was an unbroken
sea of tossing corn at that time of the year
when the bride came out, and as her sewing
window was on the side of the house which
faced the sunset, she passed a good part of
each day looking into that great rustling mass,
breathing in its succulent odors and listening
to its sibilant melody. It was her picture
gallery, her opera, her spectacle, and, being
sensible, -- or perhaps, being merely happy,
-- she made the most of it.
When harvesting time came and the corn
was cut, she had much entertainment in dis-
covering what lay beyond. The town was
east, and it chanced that she had never rid-
den west. So, when the rolling hills of this
newly beholden land lifted themselves for her
contemplation, and the harvest sun, all in an
angry and sanguinary glow sank in the veiled
horizon, and at noon a scarf of golden vapor
wavered up and down along the earth line, it
was as if a new world had been made for
her. Sometimes, at the coming of a storm,
a whip-lash of purple cloud, full of electric
agility, snapped along the western horizon.
"Oh, you'll see a lot of queer things on
these here plains," her husband said when
she spoke to him of these phenomena. "I
guess what you see is the wind."
"The wind!" cried Flora. "You can't see
the wind, Bart."
"Now look here, Flora," returned Bart, with
benevolent emphasis, "you're a smart one,
but you don't know all I know about this here
country. I've lived here three mortal years,
waitin' for you to git up out of your mother's
arms and come out to keep me company,
and I know what there is to know. Some
things out here is queer -- so queer folks
wouldn't believe 'em unless they saw. An'
some's so pig-headed they don't believe their
own eyes. As for th' wind, if you lay down
flat and squint toward th' west, you can see
it blowin' along near th' ground, like a big
ribbon; an' sometimes it's th' color of air,
an' sometimes it's silver an' gold, an' some-
times, when a storm is comin', it's purple."
"If you got so tired looking at the wind,
why didn't you marry some other girl, Bart,
instead of waiting for me?"
Flora was more interested in the first part
of Bart's speech than in the last.
"Oh, come on!" protested Bart, and he
picked her up in his arms and jumped her
toward the ceiling of the low shack as if she
were a little girl -- but then, to be sure, she
wasn't much more.
Of all the things Flora saw when the corn
was cut down, nothing interested her so much
as a low cottage, something like her own,
which lay away in the distance. She could
not guess how far it might be, because dis-
tances are deceiving out there, where the alti-
tude is high and the air is as clear as one of
those mystic balls of glass in which the sallow
mystics of India see the moving shadows of
She had not known there were neighbors
so near, and she wondered for several days
about them before she ventured to say any-
thing to Bart on the subject. Indeed, for
some reason which she did not attempt to ex-
plain to herself, she felt shy about broaching
the matter. Perhaps Bart did not want her
to know the people. The thought came to
her, as naughty thoughts will come, even to
the best of persons, that some handsome
young men might be "baching" it out there
by themselves, and Bart didn't wish her to
make their acquaintance. Bart had flattered
her so much that she had actually begun to
think herself beautiful, though as a matter of
fact she was only a nice little girl with a lot
of reddish-brown hair, and a bright pair of
reddish-brown eyes in a white face.
"Bart," she ventured one evening, as the
sun, at its fiercest, rushed toward the great
black hollow of the west, "who lives over
there in that shack?"
She turned away from the window where
she had been looking at the incarnadined
disk, and she thought she saw Bart turn pale.
But then, her eyes were so blurred with the
glory she had been gazing at, that she might
easily have been mistaken.
"I say, Bart, why don't you speak? If
there's any one around to associate with, I
should think you'd let me have the benefit
of their company. It isn't as funny as you
think, staying here alone days and days."
"You ain't gettin' homesick, be you, sweet-
heart?" cried Bart, putting his arms around
her. "You ain't gettin' tired of my society,
It took some time to answer this question
in a satisfactory manner, but at length Flora
was able to return to her original topic.
"But the shack, Bart! Who lives there,
"I'm not acquainted with 'em," said Bart,
sharply. "Ain't them biscuits done, Flora?"
Then, of course, she grew obstinate.
"Those biscuits will never be done, Bart,
till I know about that house, and why you
never spoke of it, and why nobody ever comes
down the road from there. Some one lives
there I know, for in the mornings and at night
I see the smoke coming out of the chimney."
"Do you now?" cried Bart, opening his
eyes and looking at her with unfeigned inter-
est. "Well, do you know, sometimes I've
fancied I seen that too?"
"Well, why not," cried Flora, in half anger.
"Why shouldn't you?"
"See here, Flora, take them biscuits out an'
listen to me. There ain't no house there.
Hello! I didn't know you'd go for to drop the
biscuits. Wait, I'll help you pick 'em up.
By cracky, they're hot, ain't they? What you
puttin' a towel over 'em for? Well, you set
down here on my knee, so. Now you look
over at that there house. You see it, don't
yeh? Well, it ain't there! No! I saw it the
first week I was out here. I was jus' half
dyin', thinkin' of you an' wonderin' why you
didn't write. That was the time you was mad
at me. So I rode over there one day -- lookin'
up company, so t' speak -- and there wa'n't no
house there. I spent all one Sunday lookin'
for it. Then I spoke to Jim Geary about it.
He laughed an' got a little white about th'
gills, an' he said he guessed I'd have to look
a good while before I found it. He said that
there shack was an ole joke."
"Why -- what --"
"Well, this here is th' story he tol' me.
He said a man an' his wife come out here t'
live an' put up that there little place. An'
she was young, you know, an' kind o' skeery,
and she got lonesome. It worked on her an'
worked on her, an' one day she up an' killed
the baby an' her husband an' herself. Th'
folks found 'em and buried 'em right there
on their own ground. Well, about two weeks
after that, th' house was burned down. Don't
know how. Tramps, maybe. Anyhow, it
burned. At least, I guess it burned!"
"You guess it burned!"
"Well, it ain't there, you know."
"But if it burned the ashes are there."
"All right, girlie, they're there then. Now
let's have tea."
This they proceeded to do, and were happy
and cheerful all evening, but that didn't keep
Flora from rising at the first flush of dawn and
stealing out of the house. She looked away
over west as she went to the barn and there,
dark and firm against the horizon, stood the
little house against the pellucid sky of morn-
ing. She got on Ginger's back -- Ginger
being her own yellow broncho -- and set off at
a hard pace for the house. It didn't appear
to come any nearer, but the objects which had
seemed to be beside it came closer into view,
and Flora pressed on, with her mind steeled
for anything. But as she approached the
poplar windbreak which stood to the north
of the house, the little shack waned like a
shadow before her. It faded and dimmed
before her eyes.
She slapped Ginger's flanks and kept him
going, and she at last got him up to the spot.
But there was nothing there. The bunch grass
grew tall and rank and in the midst of it lay
a baby's shoe. Flora thought of picking it
up, but something cold in her veins withheld
her. Then she grew angry, and set Ginger's
head toward the place and tried to drive him
over it. But the yellow broncho gave one
snort of fear, gathered himself in a bunch,
and then, all tense, leaping muscles, made
for home as only a broncho can.
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