THE CALL OF THE CANYON
THE CALL OF THE CANYON
What subtle strange message had come to her out of the West? Carley Burch
laid the letter in her lap and gazed dreamily through the window.
It was a day typical of early April in New York rather cold and gray with
steely sunlight. Spring breathed in the air but the women passing along
Fifty-seventh Street wore furs and wraps. She heard the distant clatter of
an L train and then the hum of a motor car. A hurdy-gurdy jarred into the
interval of quiet.
"Glenn has been gone over a year" she mused "three months over a year--
and of all his strange letters this seems the strangest yet."
She lived again for the thousandth time the last moments she had spent
with him. It had been on New-Year's Eve 1918. They had called upon friends
who were staying at the McAlpin in a suite on the twenty-first floor
overlooking Broadway. And when the last quarter hour of that eventful and
tragic year began slowly to pass with the low swell of whistles and bells
Carley's friends had discreetly left her alone with her lover at the open
window to watch and hear the old year out the new year in. Glenn
Kilbourne had returned from France early that fall shell-shocked and
gassed and otherwise incapacitated for service in the army--a wreck of his
former sterling self and in many unaccountable ways a stranger to her.
Cold silent haunted by something he had made her miserable with his
aloofness. But as the bells began to ring out the year that had been his
ruin Glenn had drawn her close tenderly passionately and yet strangely
"Carley look and listen!" he had whispered.
Under them stretched the great long white flare of Broadway with its
snow-covered length glittering under a myriad of electric lights. Sixth
Avenue swerved away to the right a less brilliant lane of blanched snow.
The L trains crept along like huge fire-eyed serpents. The hum of the
ceaseless moving line of motor cars drifted upward faintly almost drowned
in the rising clamor of the street. Broadway's gay and thoughtless crowds
surged to and fro from that height merely a thick stream of black figures
like contending columns of ants on the march. And everywhere the monstrous
electric signs flared up vivid in white and red and green; and dimmed and
paled only to flash up again.
Ring out the Old! Ring in the New! Carley had poignantly felt the sadness
of the one the promise of the other. As one by one the siren factory
whistles opened up with deep hoarse bellow the clamor of the street and
the ringing of the bells were lost in a volume of continuous sound that
swelled on high into a magnificent roar. It was the voice of a city--of a
nation. It was the voice of a people crying out the strife and the agony of
the year--pealing forth a prayer for the future.
Glenn had put his lips to her ear: "It's like the voice in my soul!" Never
would she forget the shock of that. And how she had stood spellbound
enveloped in the mighty volume of sound no longer discordant but full of
great pregnant melody until the white ball burst upon the tower of the
Times Building showing the bright figures 1919.
The new year had not been many minutes old when Glenn Kilbourne had told
her he was going West to try to recover his health.
Carley roused out of her memories to take up the letter that had so
perplexed her. It bore the postmark Flagstaff Arizona. She reread it with
slow pondering thoughtfulness.
It does seem my neglect in writing you is unpardonable. I used to be a
pretty fair correspondent but in that as in other things I have changed.
One reason I have not answered sooner is because your letter was so sweet
and loving that it made me feel an ungrateful and unappreciative wretch.
Another is that this life I now lead does not induce writing. I am outdoors
all day and when I get back to this cabin at night I am too tired for
anything but bed.
Your imperious questions I must answer--and that must of course is a
third reason why I have delayed my reply. First you ask "Don't you love
me any more as you used to?" . . . Frankly I do not. I am sure my old love
for you before I went to France was selfish thoughtless sentimental
and boyish. I am a man now. And my love for you is different. Let me assure
you that it has been about all left to me of what is noble and beautiful.
Whatever the changes in me for the worse my love for you at least has
grown better finer purer.
And now for your second question "Are you coming home as soon as you are
well again?" . . . Carley I am well. I have delayed telling you this
because I knew you would expect me to rush back East with the telling. But-
-the fact is Carley I am not coming--just yet. I wish it were possible
for me to make you understand. For a long time I seem to have been frozen
within. You know when I came back from France I couldn't talk. It's almost
as bad as that now. Yet all that I was then seems to have changed again. It
is only fair to you to tell you that as I feel now I hate the city I
hate people and particularly I hate that dancing drinking lounging set
you chase with. I don't want to come East until I am over that you know. .
. Suppose I never get over it? Well Carley you can free yourself from
me by one word that I could never utter. I could never break our
engagement. During the hell I went through in the war my attachment to you
saved me from moral ruin if it did not from perfect honor and fidelity.
This is another thing I despair of making you understand. And in the chaos
I've wandered through since the war my love for you was my only anchor. You
never guessed did you that I lived on your letters until I got well. And
now the fact that I might get along without them is no discredit to their
charm or to you.
It is all so hard to put in words Carley. To lie down with death and get
up with death was nothing. To face one's degradation was nothing. But to
come home an incomprehensibly changed man--and to see my old life as
strange as if it were the new life of another planet--to try to slip into
the old groove--well no words of mine can tell you how utterly impossible
My old job was not open to me even if I had been able to work. The
government that I fought for left me to starve or to die of my maladies
like a dog for all it cared.
I could not live on your money Carley. My people are poor as you know. So
there was nothing for me to do but to borrow a little money from my friends
and to come West. I'm glad I had the courage to come. What this West is
I'll never try to tell you because loving the luxury and excitement and
glitter of the city as you do you'd think I was crazy.
Getting on here in my condition was as hard as trench life. But now
Carley--something has come to me out of the West. That too I am unable to
put into words. Maybe I can give you an inkling of it. I'm strong enough to
chop wood all day. No man or woman passes my cabin in a month. But I am
never lonely. I love these vast red canyon walls towering above me. And the
silence is so sweet. Think of the hellish din that filled my ears. Even
now--sometimes the brook here changes its babbling murmur to the roar of
war. I never understood anything of the meaning of nature until I lived
under these looming stone walls and whispering pines.
So Carley try to understand me or at least be kind. You know they came
very near writing "Gone west!" after my name and considering that this
"Out West" signifies for me a very fortunate difference. A tremendous
difference! For the present I'll let well enough alone.
Adios. Write soon. Love from
Carley's second reaction to the letter was a sudden upflashing desire to
see her lover--to go out West and find him. Impulses with her were rather
rare and inhibited but this one made her tremble. If Glenn was well again
he must have vastly changed from the moody stone-faced and haunted-eyed
man who had so worried and distressed her. He had embarrassed her too for
sometimes in her home meeting young men there who had not gone into the
service he had seemed to retreat into himself singularly aloof as if his
world was not theirs.
Again with eager eyes and quivering lips she read the letter. It
contained words that lifted her heart. Her starved love greedily absorbed
them. In them she had excuse for any resolve that might bring Glenn closer
to her. And she pondered over this longing to go to him.
Carley had the means to come and go and live as she liked. She did not
remember her father who had died when she was a child. Her mother had left
her in the care of a sister and before the war they had divided their time
between New York and Europe the Adirondacks and Florida Carley had gone
in for Red Cross and relief work with more of sincerity than most of her
set. But she was really not used to making any decision as definite and
important as that of going out West alone. She had never been farther west
than Jersey City; and her conception of the West was a hazy one of vast
plains and rough mountains squalid towns cattle herds and uncouth
So she carried the letter to her aunt a rather slight woman with a kindly
face and shrewd eyes and who appeared somewhat given to old-fashioned
"Aunt Mary here's a letter from Glenn" said Carley. "It's more of a
stumper than usual. Please read it."
"Dear me! You look upset" replied the aunt mildly and adjusting her
spectacles she took the letter.
Carley waited impatiently for the perusal conscious of inward forces
coming more and more to the aid of her impulse to go West. Her aunt paused
once to murmur how glad she was that Glenn had gotten well. Then she read
on to the close.
"Carley that's a fine letter" she said fervently. "Do you see through
"No I don't" replied Carley. "That's why I asked you to read it."
"Do you still love Glenn as you used to before--"
"Why Aunt Mary!" exclaimed Carley in surprise.
"Excuse me Carley if I'm blunt. But the fact is young women of modern
times are very different from my kind when I was a girl. You haven't acted
as though you pined for Glenn. You gad around almost the same as ever."
"What's a girl to do?" protested Carley.
"You are twenty-six years old Carley" retorted Aunt Mary.
"Suppose I am. I'm as young--as I ever was."
"Well let's not argue about modern girls and modern times. We never get
anywhere" returned her aunt kindly. "But I can tell you something of what
Glenn Kilbourne means in that letter--if you want to hear it."