It was perhaps the women who suffered most in the transition from older lands to this new, wild region. The barren and monotonous prospect, the high-keyed air and the perpetual winds, thinned and wore out the fragile form of Mrs. Buford. This impetuous, nerve-wearing air was much different from the soft, warm winds of the flower-laden South. At night as she lay down to sleep she did not hear the tinkle of music nor the voice of night-singing birds, which in the scenes of her girlhood had been familiar sounds. The moan of the wind in the short, hard grass was different from its whisper in the peach trees, and the shrilling of the coyotes made but rude substitute for the trill of the love-bursting mocking bird that sang its myriad song far back in old Virginia.
Aunt Lucy’s soliloquizing songs, when she ceased the hymns of her fervid Methodism, turned always to that far-off, gentle land where life had been so free from anxiety or care. Of Dixie, of the Potomac, of old Kentucky, of the “Mississip’,” of the land of Tennessee—a score of songs of exile would flow unconscious from her lips, until at last, bethinking to herself, she would fall to weeping, covering her face with her apron and refusing to be comforted by any hand but that of Mary Ellen, the “young Miss Beecham,” whose fortunes she had followed to the end of the world.
Sometimes at night Mrs. Buford and her niece sang together the songs of the old South, Mary Ellen furnishing accompaniment with her guitar. They sang together, here beneath the surface of this sweeping sea of land, out over which the red eye of their home looked wonderingly. And sometimes Mary Ellen sang to her guitar alone, too often songs which carried her back to a morbid, mental state, from which not even the high voice of this glad, new land could challenge her. Very far away to her seemed even the graves of Louisburg. Father, mother, brothers, lover, every kin of earth nearest to her, had not death claimed them all? What was there left, what was there to be hoped here, cast away on this sea of land, this country that could never be a land of homes? Sad doctrine, this, for a young woman in her early twenties, five feet five, with the peach on her cheek in spite of the burning wind, and hands that reached out for every little ailing chicken, for every kitten, or puppy that wanted comforting.
But when the morning came and the sun rose, and the blue sky smiled, and all the earth seemed to be vibrant with some high-keyed summoning note—how difficult then it was to be sad! How far away indeed seemed the once-familiar scenes! How hard it was not to hope, here in this land of self-reliance and belief! It was the horror of Mary Ellen’s soul that when this sun shone she could not be sad. This land, this crude, forbidding, fascinating land—what was there about it that swept her along against her will?