Out—far out—in the great American West, the Boy wandered. And Paul Verdayne, understanding as only he could understand, felt how little use his companionship and sympathy really were at this crisis of the Boy’s life.
All through the month of August they travelled, the Boy looking upon the land he had been so eager to see with eyes that saw nothing but his own disappointment, and the barrenness of his future. The hot sun beat down upon the shadeless prairies with the intensity of a living flame. But it seemed as nothing to the heat of his own passion—his own fiery rebellion against the decree of destiny—altogether powerless against the withering despair that had choked all the aspirations and ambitions which, his whole life long, he had cultivated and nourished in the soil of his developing soul.
He thought again and again of the glories so near at hand—the glories that had for years been the goal of his ambition. He pictured the pageant to come—the glitter of armor and liveries, the splendor and sparkle of jewels and lights, and all the dazzling gorgeousness of royal equipments—the throngs of courtiers and beautiful women bowing before him, proud of the privilege of doing him homage—him, a mere boy—yet the king—the absolute monarch of his little realm, and supreme in his undisputed sway over the hearts of his people—his people who had worshipped his beautiful mother and, if only for her sake, made an idol of her son. He saw himself crowned by loving hands with the golden circlet he loved and reverenced, and meant to redeem from the stigma of a worthless father’s abuse and desecration; he saw his own young hands, strong, pure, and undefiled by any form of bribery or political corruption, wielding the sceptre that should—please God!—bring everlasting honor and fame to the little principality. He saw all this, and yet it did not thrill him any more! It was all Dead Sea fruit, dust and ashes in his hand. He wanted but one thing now—and his whole kingdom did not weigh one pennyweight against it.
But in spite of his preoccupation the freedom and massiveness of the West broadened the Boy’s mental vision. He absorbed the spirit of the big world it typified, and he saw things more clearly than in the crowded city. And yet he suffered more, too. He could not often talk about his sorrow and his loss, but he felt all the time the unspoken sympathy in Verdayne’s companionship, and was grateful for the completeness of the understanding between them.
Once, far out in a wide expanse of sparsely settled land, the two came upon a hut—a little rough shanty with a sod roof, and probably but two tiny rooms at most. It was nearing evening, and the red rays of the setting sun fell upon a young woman, humbly clad, sitting on a bench at the doorway, and cuddling upon her knee a little baby dressed in coarse, but spotlessly white garments. A whistle sounded on the still air, and through the waving grain strode a stalwart man, an eager, expectant light in his bronzed face. The girl sprang to meet him with an inarticulate cry of joy, and wife and baby were soon clasped close to his breast.