Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/77

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this innocent-looking stream. After the cloudburst it became half a mile wide in some places. Houses, barns, wagons, and fences were tumbling along its boiling waters, together with pigs, goats, sheep, horses, and cows. This strange and fearful procession was moving through Maggie’s pasture at an astonishing speed when she saw a little boy about six years old clinging to the top of what remained of his home. Maggie waded into the water at once. Those who saw her said she was swept away before she had reached a depth of four feet. She and the child were both drowned. Their bodies were washed ashore together at a bend in the creek in our pasture.

Having accepted their mother’s ostracism all their lives, the boys prepared for a funeral at which they would be the only mourners. But the procession to the cemetery was more than a mile long. It was now absolutely safe for the first time to make public confession of that love for Maggie which all felt and which had tortured them through all the years when they bowed to their duty to hate her. There was something inexpressibly pathetic in the fact that Maggie had done the community such a signal service by her death. At last a burden was lifted from their hearts. They could henceforth claim her memory as they had never been able to claim her. It was now perfectly clear that she had caused them much more anguish than they had ever caused her.

For a long time I had wanted to find out exactly how the boys estimated their mother, aside from the fact that they loved her devotedly. It was some months after the funeral that I had an opportunity to talk with Howard Blake for a whole afternoon.

“Mother was elemental, like the weather or the moon,” he said. “I never judged her at all. Whatever she did was inevitable, without plan or design. You couldn’t quarrel with her ideas, because she was not conscious of having a philosophy of life. Yet she had as definite a philosophy as the world has ever known. Her utter lack of self-consciousness was her strength. All her life she gave and never asked anything. We boys loved her for the same reason and in very much the same way that you did. She won our love as honestly as any stranger might. She never claimed it as a