A Daughter of Martha
By Ivy Williams Stone
Winter found the Kirkman family safely established in a one-room log house, with a lean-to where the four boys slept. The finding of the precious five hundred dollars had made the home possible. Who was there to comment on the width of the floor boards, or to cast disparaging remarks about the dirt roof? Who else could boast better than four pane windows! Gloria felt a pardonable pride in this new home; a board floor to keep spotlessly scrubbed; a step-stove to polish.
Margaret Kirkman had never seen snow. The first was attractive and fascinating, but as it gathered for months, piling against the lone window, drifting under the floor, clinging to the stove wood and chilling her to the marrow, she needed to remember how it packed in the mountains and made crops possible another year. Margaret Kirkman had never done a washing. The black Kafir women in Africa had been faithful, if slow, servants. Now came the necessity for home-made soaps, for carrying water and heating it, for boiling tree barks to make a blueing, for grating potatoes to make starch. The boys had to have heavy woolen socks to meet the severe cold, and this task fell to the nimble-fingered Gloria. She soon mastered the technique of needles and stitches and with the coming of spring she allotted herself a “sock a day.” As she herded the cows on the nearby hills, her fingers automatically guided the needles, while her thoughts wandered through kaleidoscopic glory. She wanted to learn, to study, to read — there were marvelous tales in books — doors that opened to new worlds. That famous Jenny Lind had been a little girl with a voice. Gloria tried her voice on church hymns, but a robin she had been watching fled in surprise, and the echo was unpleasant.
Grinding wheat in a coffee mill for flour, carding, spinning and dyeing wool for the weavers, dressing the game which her brothers caught, making candles from tallow, gathering and drying berries for winter — these constituted her tasks. She ate her coarse foods with a youthful zest, although she did not know that dandelion greens contained any essential vitamins. She filled her pockets with whole wheat when she went to herd, unmindful of the calories of energy which it contained. She only knew that she was young and joyous and happy, that life in the mountains was very busy and very sweet.
In May of sixty-five came the news of the close of the Civil War. Margaret Kirkman could not understand why negroes should be free men. Equal rights with the white race! She shuddered, remembering the black Kafirs and the atrocities they committed.
“I’m glad we’re far beyond them,” she rejoiced.
“I wonder what Confederate currency is worth now,” grinned Stephen, remembering the sharkster who had tried to make the trade.
Following quickly came the news of the death of President Lincoln. An actor had become a murderer. Gloria, who had been practicing elocution with secret ambitions as she herded the cows and knitted, felt a sudden shame. Did all actors turn into murderers? The hillside had been her stage; the cows her audience, the sego lilies her bouquets. It was weeks before she resumed rehearsals.
To Gloria the daily passage of the stage was an important event. The red and green coaches, the galloping horses, the debonair drivers, the armed guards waving their Colts, and the fashionably dressed passengers represented a life beyond the hills. She had been obliged to watch and admire this daily event from the hills as she guarded the flock. Occasionally some thoughtful person returned the waved greeting of the child. On her fourteenth birthday her brother George left his woodcutting and tended the herd while Gloria celebrated by “dressing up,” and visiting the stage station. She had a daring hope. If one of those marvelous ladies spoke to her, she would give her an arrowhead. Several perfect ones clinked in her pocket as she hurried along.
The four horse equipage rolled into the station at what seemed a terrific speed, the mail bags swinging, the horses frothing, the driver waving his whip. He was a magnificent person in a linen duster, with a broad-rimmed hat and yellow gloves. He tossed his reins to an admiring lackey, who hung greedily upon his faintest smile. The horses were flecked with foam. They had galloped ten miles. The guard laid down his shot-gun and two revolvers. Inside the coach, ladies with their hair confined in “water fall” nets, shook out their long bustled skirts and smoothed down their tight basques.
Such marvelous colors — blue and brown and plum! What wondrous ruffles and flounces. The men were all bearded and erect, with braid-decorated coats. Every passenger and every detail of the coach represented a life which was withheld from the eager Gloria, and which she yearned to experience.
What possible treasure might be hidden in those dusty mail bags? Gold, maybe, from San Francisco. How rich these people must be to pay two hundred dollars for the trip East. How like lightning they traveled, taking only sixteen days from ‘Frisco to St. Louis.
A kindly-faced woman smiled at Gloria. She did not see the homespun dress nor the coarse, heavy shoes. She saw only hair of gold above a beautiful, eager, childish face.
“What a glorious crown!” she cried. “Look, Edgar.”
Edgar was engrossed in a book. “A desert crown,” he smiled absently.
“Would you like an arrow head?” Gloria was surprised at her own courage, as she offered a choice, perfect flint.
The lady cried out with delight, while the other passengers exclaimed and admired. The gentleman called Edgar reached toward his pocket.
“I suppose you want money?” his voice carried the cynicism of the traveler. But Gloria created a sensation by shaking her head.
“What would you like, my dear, as a gift from us?” The lady was as nice as she was beautiful, as lovely as her clothes. Gloria could only point at the book which the man held, for speech had deserted her.
“Why, Edgar, the child wants your old book. Milton would be gratified to know a child of the desert wants his poems.”
The man called Edgar became serious. “We will send you books from St. Louis, little girl. Books you can read. Books for girls.” In her gratitude Gloria put her remaining arrow heads into their laps.
The hostlers came out with fresh horses. The driver climbed leisurely to his seat, and deigned to accept the reins which were held up to him. A red tassel gleamed on the tip of the long whip which he cracked dexterously over the heads of the impatient steeds. Just at that crucial moment Stephen Kirkman’s slow, lumbering oxen pulled in from the cross road, dragging some hardgotten fire logs.
Instantly the driver became angry that a native had dared to cross his path. He cracked the long, tasseled whip menacingly toward Stephen and cried raucously:
“Clear the road! Get out of my way with your bull team!”
A second time the whip came dangerously near Stephen, who could not increase the speed of his oxen. As the driver made ready to swing the whip a third time, it made a downward sweep, ‘ere he raised his arm. As though she had been trained for the part, Gloria displayed a marvelous agility. With a sudden upward leap she caught the whip in a viselike grip and instantly wrenched it from the hand of the surprised driver. The little pug nose dilated with anger, and deep red suffused her face and neck as she cried angrily:
“Don’t you dare strike my brother!”
“Give me that whip!” ordered the driver.
Gloria glanced quickly toward Stephen, who was now nearly over the street.
“Come and get it,” she called and tossed the disputed leather into the dust, as she darted to Stephen for protection.
A hostler picked up the whip, cleaned it on his own shirt, and handed it to the driver. The whip cracked, the stage jolted and they were off.
For days Gloria Kirkman was the talk of the little village. She had dared to thwart a stage driver! Why, they could dispense favors or punishment as they willed. They exerted a real power. Who else but the flame-haired Gloria would dare to cross a wearer of lemon colored gloves?
After what seemed ages to the eager child, packages bearing an enormous postage began to arrive. They were addressed merely to “The little girl who wears a golden crown.” Uncle Tom’s Cabin, McGuffy’s Complete Readers, a book on natural science, Ray’s Arithmetic, Wilson’s Speller and Whittier’s Poems. Through the long winter Gloria knitted with fresh energy that she might have more time for the precious books. She taxed the family’s supply of candles as she studied and memorized. She spelled down her brothers and all the other children of the village. The days were too short for the things she wanted to learn.
Spring brought news of the Indian depredations in southern Utah. Margaret Kirkman became pale and ate even less than usual. When the call came for enlistments the four Kirkman boys, all tall and bronzed and skilled riflemen, marched away. Their mother did not try to stop them, but gave them a copy book for letter paper. She bit her lips to restrain emotion. Gloria trembled as she tried to fashion neat bundles of the socks she had knit for them. Black men — white men — red men; what difference did it make when the lust to kill filled their hearts?
“Indians are as wicked as the Kafirs,” whispered Margaret Kirkman. “Their scalping knives are as deadly as the assagais. Only a month ago they killed fifteen men in a stage station in Colorado.”
The necessity for labor gave Gloria no time to lament her brothers’ absence. She and her mother had to plow the field and seed the precious wheat. In a short time their supply of wood was exhausted, and Gloria had to gather oak brush for fuel. The early drought made irrigation necessary. While she guided the cold snow water over the fields and milked the one cow and guarded the sheep as they foraged, Gloria dreamed of better days to come. She felt all the emotions which had stirred Maud Muller when she raked her father’s field:
“A wish that she hardly dared to own
For something better than she had known.”
She wanted better things than her life offered. She wanted beauty in all her surroundings. Books were her crying passion. A chance to study, to learn, to experience all emotions. Her youth and vigor and health cried out for expression. The arithmetic was memorized; the copy of Whittier’s was worn from usage; the McGuffy readers had whetted her appetite for broader vistas. Even in her youth she had read and re-read the Book of Mormon.
The wheat was beginning to head before the boys came back from their ninety days’ enlistment. The letters from her father in far away Africa were few and irregular, and were always torn and opened upon arrival. He spoke of coming soon, but always something intervened. Every letter contained a reference to enclosed money, but it never reached its destination. Now, while his sons were away fighting Indians, John Kirkman wrote of wonderful news:
“A marvelous thing has happened to our Africa. A Boer’s child hunted pretty rocks on a river bank. One especially attractive proved to be a diamond. It stood the real test. The Boer named Jacobs sold his farm for fifty times its previous value. Another stone was found on the Vaal River. Twenty-two carats. Diamonds have been found where Gloria was born. I enclose a five pound note. I will see how quickly I can get rich and bring it all to my family in Utah.
There was no money in the letter. As they read this startling news, Gloria and her mother sat at a rough pine table, lighted by a flickering candle. The four chairs were home-made, their bed was a straw tick on rope slats. The fire in the stepstove was extinguished to save fuel. Outside, the lone cow mooed plaintively and a distant coyote howled his weird notes.
“O, Mother,” cried Gloria romantically, “why didn’t we stay? Diamonds, on the very spot where I was born!”
“Diamonds are not life, Gloria — nor religion. Here we can worship in freedom. Here we, at least are safe. What behooves riches when you are dead? Perhaps your father will bring you some diamonds when he comes. If our sons return safely, they will be all the riches I crave.”
A few days later when the entire settlement except Gloria had gone to watch “Drill Day,” she saw a band of Indians rounding the dugway which led into the village. They were an entire tribe — moving. Tent poles, pack horses, squaws, papooses, painted warriors, flies and dust. Gloria had been spinning and singing:
“Forty threads make a knot –
He spoke to the River Tiber that rolls on to the sea;
Ten knots make a skein –
How big was Alexander, Pa, was he so very high?”
She stopped abruptly, the height of King Alexander frozen upon her lips. The Indians were stopping. A squaw was coming toward the house, carrying a papoose. Finally a young Indian dismounted and overtook her. Gloria rushed to the one window and dropped the muslin curtain. She fastened the single door with the green drop pole. Then she waited and prayed, remembering the Indian who had sought to buy her on the plains. As the squaw came closer, Gloria heard a sickly, weak cry from the baby. The squaw tried the door, rattled the latch. The young Indian called loudly and pounded upon the door. Gloria stood petrified, knowing that a telltale streak of smoke from the chimney had showed the house was not deserted. The young Indian pointed to it and resumed his poundings. Finally the squaw called “Poor babe — seek.” An additional wail proved her assertion and Gloria mastered her fear. Here was not violence but distress. The little black-haired baby writhed with fever. Gloria learned they had fed him pine nuts and squirrel meat — fare for the gods!
Sweet oil, followed by baths of vinegar water soon brought relief, and the amazed parents stood by, while the white girl administered her magic. Late in the afternoon the baby slept tranquilly. Taking the bottle of oil as a future precaution, and all the bread in the house, the Indians departed. The whole train had stoically waited their return. As they left, the squaw petted Gloria’s riotous curls and muttered: “Purty — heap purty!”
The spinning was not finished, the cow had to be milked by candle light, but Gloria’s act of mercy proved to be bread upon the waters of life.
The next day Margaret Kirkman mixed all their remaining flour into bread, scraping the tin box for the last precious spoonful. Still the boys neither wrote nor returned. “No news is good news,” sang Gloria, vainly striving to chase the look of white despair from her mother’s face. What difference did it make, whether you were killed with a poisoned assaigai or a poisoned arrow?
Gloria developed a sudden, unexplainable antipathy for bread and milk and butter. She craved greens; dandelions, pig weed and even water cress, grown rank and stringy. Anything that could be flavored with candle grease was just to her taste. But she went outside while her mother ate the last slice of bread and whispered to the stars: “Diamonds by the chicken coop where I was born!” Later after prayers she muttered: “We believe in worshipping Almighty God according — ” “Maud Muller on a summer’s day — ” Fatigue and mountain water and water cress brought blessed sleep.
Morning brought her brothers who were unharmed and who had traveled all night. The whites had conquered the Indians, and the boys were laden with gifts from the grateful settlers. The Indians were subdued. The whites had returned to their homes. Margaret Kirkman made biscuits, bread and cake with white flour. Gloria produced many pairs of socks. The sons laughed at the crooked furrows their women folks had plowed, and at the scant supply of fuel. But their smiles held back tears, and presents furnished diversion from near emotion. There were shoes and two Dolly Varden hats, a pair of beautiful all woolen blankets. But they were as nothing compared to a book — a fifth reader which Gloria avidly consumed ere she slept. And when the cake was cold and the biscuits browned, Gloria’s appetite for flour returned, she lost that craving for greens.
“Captain Burton used your copy book for a log, Mother,” explained Stephen, “so we couldn’t write. ‘Twas the only paper in all our camp. It will go to the Governor.”
“O, Gloria,” Henry was bubbling with eagerness, “we saw your friend Jonas Whitman. That man you saved on the plains.” He grinned joyously at the sudden flame which covered Gloria’s face. “We stopped at his house. He’s a prosperous man. He’s got a farm and a store and a saw mill and two little children and a sickly wife. His house has a place what you grow flowers in. A conservatory, they call it. There’s a big piano and wax flowers, and a lily pond in his lawn and a room with nothing in it but books. He sent you that reader we brought.” Thanks to this new gift, “Horatio at the Bridge” was soon added to Gloria’s store of memorized poems.
The Kirkman boys were impressed with their father’s tales of diamonds. A twenty-two carat diamond where Gloria was born! Diamonds on the Orange River — diamonds at the junction of the Vaal and Orange, diamonds almost for the asking, if you were there.
“Well,” argued Thomas laconically, “diamonds ten thousand miles away aren’t worth any more to us than twinkling stars. The railroad’s coming soon — coming fast. Coming from ‘Frisco with Governor Stanford behind it. Coming from Omaha. They’re making history, and we can help make it too.”
“President Young has a contract for ninety miles of grading. We have horses now. We will make better wages than diamond diggers,” added George, who was usually noncommittal. His prediction was soon fulfilled. “On to Echo” became a popular slogan. Construction crews, Mongolian laborers, teamsters, scrapers, engineers and surveyors swarmed like ants about the two rival grades. Margaret Kirkman secured employment cooking for one crew, with Gloria as her helper. Gloria had never dreamed of such lavish supplies. All they needed to cook was theirs. Dried fruits, white flour, cured and fresh meats, butter in great wooden tubs. Margaret Kirkman was a good cook and very shortly men vied for places at her table. Gloria washed dishes, peeled potatoes, set tables, waited on the rough, voracious men. She, too, was helping to make history. She was turning her small cog in the wheel of the great Iron Horse. Every tie, every rail, every spike brought the vision closer. Rails would soon span the whole continent, linking the East and the West. Her dream of travel would be nearer. She smiled now to notice how the stage drivers became less arrogant. Some of them were even seeking employment on the railroad. The yellow dusters and the lemon colored gloves would pass into history along with the beautiful red and green stages. Postage would be cheaper. Perhaps the comfort of the railroad would spur her father’s coming. Maybe he would bring diamonds. He had said “await my coming.”
The first of May in sixty-nine found the two rival companies at fever heat. Parallel grades were being laid. The Union Pacific forged down Weber Canyon, while the Central Pacific rounded the Lake. A long stretch of grade was now useless. Ten miles of track were laid in one day. Twenty-five thousand men, ten thousand horses! They swarmed about like hills of disturbed ants. Abutments; blasting; scraping; gravel; ties; rails. Swearing men. Water boys. Wide-eyed Chinese rushing to cook for them all. Feverish haste, overtime. “Like two giants, hastening to meet on the shores of the Great Dead Sea.”
Knowing Gloria’s eagerness to go, and as an appreciation of Mrs. Kirkman’s many kindnesses, a construction engineer took them to Promontory on that eventful May 10th.
Although she later felt the whirl of mighty airplanes, Gloria never experienced another such thrill as that ride to Promontory on a glorious May morning. The swaying, creaking flatcar was like the wings of Perseus. She did not smell the smoke, nor see the cinders which floated backward. The Fort Douglas band played national airs. Governor Stanford was there, wearing a velvet coat. Ladies in wonderful, sweeping silk dresses, carrying fringed parasols; hilarity, speeches, whistles and cheers.
Chinamen laid the last two rails for the Central Pacific.
Europeans laid the last two rails for the Union Pacific.
A spike of gold. Twenty-three double eagles had gone into it! Almost as much as the fortune they thought they had lost on the plains. A silver spike from Nevada, a silver and gold one from Arizona. The last tie was polished laurel wood from California. Governor Stanford removed his velvet coat and drove that last spike. The crowd cheered; telegraph instruments clicked the news to the world; the two engines pushed together; the two engineers broke champagne bottles over the other’s headlight. A thousand miles from Missouri; seven hundred from ‘Frisco. A little Gloria Kirkman, with her red hair and pug nose was permitted to witness this!
When the speeches were over and the band had gone, Gloria felt a touch on her arm. There behind her stood Jonas Whitman — a little older, a little plumper, but the same courtesy in his voice, the same dreamy, visionary expression in his eyes.
“Crown of Glory,” he smiled, “how you have grown. You are a blossom now — no longer a bud. Are you going to marry one of these many surveyors or engineers?”
Gloria blushed, but answered modestly, “I await my father’s coming.”
“Ah, he may now come in peace and luxury. There will be no horses for the Indians to steal, and he will not need to lie in agony until a little girl finds him.”
“O, he is in danger now,” replied Gloria quickly. “The Kafirs kill white men whenever they dare.”
“Would that my wife could have health like yours!” Jonas Whitman looked long at the radiant and youthful beauty of Gloria Kirkman. “My wife gets weaker each day. Our tiny baby girl is not strong either. Every night I pray the Lord to spare the mother to rear the child.”
Gloria felt a surging wave of sympathy for this sick woman, who could not even care for her baby.
“If you lived closer to us, I could help,” she answered. But Jonas Whitman shook his head sadly.
“Only God can help,” he answered. “She is slipping away. I have prospered in worldly goods, but I am powerless to save her. But I must not spoil your wonderful day with my troubles. History and beauty have combined to make this day a memorable one.” He bowed gallantly, and soon he had again mingled in a group of men. Gloria noticed that they listened attentively whenever he spoke. Undoubtedly he was a leader. “Poor man!” she thought. “I guess he never stirred dandelion greens with a tallow candle. But soon he will have no wife, nor anyone to care for his little girl.”
The next spring Gloria’s brothers took her to conference. Margaret Kirkman felt her frail strength unequal to the long ride. She also was failing, so she voluntarily remained at home with a neighbor boy to milk.
The wheat stood four inches high when they left. Looking back at the little valley as they rounded a curve, Gloria noticed how like a beautiful green carpet the fields looked, smooth and slightly waving. A solid mass of green. When they returned four days later she could hardly believe her eyes. She rubbed them and looked again. The wheat fields were gone! Not beaten down by a violent rain; not scorched from a mountain wind; but every blade and shoot of green was as though it had never been. A scourge of grasshoppers had swept over the valley. They had clouded the sun. They had settled on each field, until no food remained, then rose, and passed on to another. The mill race was filled with their bodies. Margaret Kirkman had caught four sacks of them in the irrigation flume. Children, with rags tied to sticks, shooed them away from the potato plants. Only the pig weeds remained unscathed. No dandelions — no water cress; only pig weeds for humans and bunch grass for animals. A horde had settled on the railroad track and had stopped a train.
“It can’t be,” cried Gloria, “Our beautiful wheat.”
“’Tis lucky we have horses,” Stephen was always practical. “We can go south and burn charcoal, and send food home.”
Gloria thought of the plenteous table she had set before the railroad workers. Of the wife of Jonas Whitman, who no doubt, was too ill to eat the good things he provided; she thought of the diamonds discovered at her birthplace.
“God’s purpose is not yet revealed, but we will survive our affliction,” Margaret Kirkman’s voice held a quality more than earthly. As she spoke she did not glance at the diminishing sack of flour.
The following winter George went out with a shovel and cleaning some bare ground, dug up a panful of soil. This he thawed out slowly, behind the stove. Then he called the family together — unmistakable signs of grasshopper larvae were all through the soil.
“I guess,” he said in his slow methodical manner, “we boys had better go to burn charcoal again.”
The siege lasted four years. Gloria was fortunate to have shoes for Sundays and holidays. There were no berries or wild currants. No strawberries in the rank meadows. No blade of wheat was permitted to head or ripen. Even the sunflowers were eaten from the roof of their house; the few precious potatoes they were able to shield had to be hoarded for yeast. Fortunately, there was game and her brothers were able to keep the table fairly well supplied with meats and fish. Whenever Gloria felt rebellion surge, a glance at her mother’s peaceful countenance filled her with shame. She longed for the bully beef which they had all loathed when on board ship. Even dried and pressed vegetables would have been as nectar compared to the unchanging menu of pig weeds and bread, made from flour which her brothers hauled two hundred miles.
From one of their trips her brothers brought the news of the death of Jonas Whitman’s wife. The little baby girl was so weak she could not walk until she was three.
“Well, family,” Stephen assumed the role of parent in the absence of the father, “we are having a hard time. I don’t like our fare, and Mother weakens under it, I know. But in these past ten years history has been made. These United States have abolished slavery. They have passed a homestead law which makes it possible for the poor man to acquire land. They have laid the Atlantic Cable, so messages can go over the water. And now the railroad has come. It has been a marvelous ten years.”
Two years later when the fields were again full of promise, and the Kirkman boys felt they could afford to stay at home to cultivate their farms, Jonas Whitman came seeking the “Crown of Glory.”
Margaret Kirkman was failing rapidly. She wanted Gloria safely and wisely married while she was still with her. The two Whitman children needed a mother’s care. The tiny Anna, suffering from a physical weakness which threatened to be mental, needed hourly care from loving hands. Jonas Whitman had more than a dirt roof to his home and more than rough boards on his floors. He had a glass-roofed room where he experimented with moss roses, a library with books and books and more books. And his hair was no longer a rich brown, but thinning at the temples. His eyes held the dreamy, far-away expression which belongs to men of vision, but his coat lacked a button.
“I need you, Crown of Glory,” he pleaded. More than his words, Gloria noticed his collar had been scorched in the ironing. Here she could serve and render a real service to humanity. She would rear his children kindly — she would mother the weak Anna. So, after a week of whirlwind courtship and hasty preparations, Gloria Kirkman became Gloria Whitman. A gray flowered silk with a train, kid gloves that were more beautiful than the stage driver’s because they were a delicate gray, a hat with straw flowers to set upon the riotous, red curls! She would no longer be like Maud Muller who raked the hay. But with her change of fortunes she would:
“Feed the hungry and clothe the poor
And all should bless me who left my door.”
There need be no further scrapings of the flour can; no boiling of tagalder bark for dye, no need to use ravelings for thread.
The day of her marriage another infrequent letter came from John Kirkman in far away Africa:
“A diamond weighing 83 carats has been found on the Orange River. It is called “The Star of South Africa.” It sold for 25,000 pounds. They are beginning to dig into the earth. A certain blue soil contains diamonds, as well as river beds. I am joining a party going inland, in Boer trekking wagons. Do not expect me yet. When I come, I will be rich. I will no longer send money, just to be lost. I will bring a large diamond for my little Gloria.
“You are no longer his little Gloria, you are mine!” whispered Jonas Whitman. “Mine to keep, to love, to cherish. Mine, to change my desolate house into a home!”